Portugal Cycle 1 – PD 1

Date and Time: 11.2.2011, 17.00 – 19.30

Participants: Three secondary school teachers: (1) Maria Manuel, teaches Physics and Chemistry. She has been a teacher for 24 years and is very keen on implementing projects with her students in a subject called Project Area: (2) Sofia, teaches Mathematics. She has been a teacher for 13 years and is a regular user of ICT for preparing her classes. She uses ICT with her students and the local Moodle platform; (3) Rui, teaches Mathematics teacher. He has been a teacher for 13 years and is a “compulsive” user of ICT. He is a teacher trainer in the educational use of ICT in Mathematics education and manages the local Moodle platform as well as the school site.

Scenarios discussed: Collaborative media project, Outdoor study projects, and Teacher support network

1. Collaborative media project

All three teachers found this scenario very interesting. It is a motivating project and it exemplifies what teaching nowadays is about: linking what is taught at school to reality “outside”, connecting syllabi to what goes on in “real life”, parents being asked to come to school and experience what their children have been learning and doing (that is, parents are asked to come to school for “good reasons”). Students’ interests are taken into account and that adds to their motivation to learn. The use of VLEs as a tool to support the student as she is developing her project was also seen in a quite positive way.

The image depicts a few very attentive students. The learning environment is very relaxed and this seems an almost idyllic scenario which is not at all the reality of a school’s daily life.

In Portugal, there is a subject which has no syllabus of and in itself. It is called Project Area and teachers teaching it should adopt the kind of practice that is depicted in this scenario. One of the teachers in the group declared “This is what I do in my Project Area classes.” One of the big differences between this scenario and what she has been doing lies in the number of students in each of her classes, in the fact that in her case students work in groups and the establishment of partnerships with universities and other relevant entities and organisations.

This way students learn and deepen and enhance their knowledge and skills, and these may be useful in their future life.

The presence of an external expert was particularly liked and was deemed of paramount importance in the success of the project to be undertaken.

This kind of project adds in a positive way to a teacher’s daily routine.

In order to implement such a project, students must be mature enough and have by then acquired the necessary skills in smaller scale ones.

Small classes and a relaxed learning environment are really important. All the necessary resources must be readily available and the interaction with the expert was considered very important too.

Self-assessment was considered essential as well as the feedback the student received from others (teacher, expert), which led her to reflect on her learning trajectory and inflect it if and when necessary.

All teachers agreed that this kind of scenario is terribly time-consuming, for teachers involved must work “round the clock” in order to get things done in due time. Assessing a whole class this way would be almost impossible in a “regular” subject, unless some kind of team teaching scheme was put into practice.

All of them said that the extinction of Project Area from next year is a great loss.

This is a scenario that is difficult to implement in “regular” subjects other than “Project Area”. All three teachers also agreed that it would be rather hard to do this with younger students.

All three teachers thought that this scenario should be advanced through further projects. On the other hand, they were also of the opinion that other students might profit from watching the videos and “extract” ideas for their own projects. Finally, they believe that it would be interesting if the project had some real impact on “life outside school”.

2. Outdoor study projects

Once again it was stated by all present that the so-called Project Area was most suited to implement this kind of project. In “regular classes” it would be much more difficult to “make it happen”.

One of the teachers said that she did this kind of activity in her regular classes, namely when students study biodiversity. What her students do is very similar to what is presented in the scenario: in her case, students collect water samples in the fields both inside and outside school. They collect data, take pictures and film their outings. They then use various software programmes to put everything together and present the results not only to their classmates but also to students from other classes. They keep a blog where they post the results of their research, where students from other classes leave comments and ask questions. Even though this actually works, this teacher says that this is much harder to implement in regular classes than in Project Area.

Another teacher said that she did not undertake this kind of project with her students but that it would be interesting to do something similar when they are learning Statistics. Interacting with other colleagues teaching subjects such as Biology and Geography would add to students’ motivation. ICT teachers should also be part and parcel of the group of teachers involved.

However, it was also added that interdisciplinary work implies open minds, lots of meetings to find “connections” and “proper timings” between subjects and added motivation on the part of all those involved. A third teacher added that this kind of activity should be done when and only when it makes sense to implement and not only because it is fashionable or considered somehow innovative.

One of the drawbacks of these projects is that they are time-consuming for both teachers and students. For the former mainly because they have to monitor the whole enterprise.

They all considered the image to reflect what the scenario is about. However, the number of students is still rather small when compared to classes comprising around 26-28 students in Portugal.

3. Teacher support network

All three teachers agreed that this is a feasible, useful scenario. They all work with colleagues both from their own school and from schools distant from the ones where they teach. This, according to them, is the way forward.

Sharing is crucial in a profession that is rather “individualistic” and more often than not “lonely”.

One of the teachers pointed out that he is part of an informal network of teachers teaching the same subject, with whom he shares materials, tests, ideas, etc. However, it would be really useful if there was a more formal network. This could include communication tools but also a repository of educational resources created by all members of the community who would share what resources they had created. The other colleagues would in turn comment on them and help improve them.

The fact that Miss James – the teacher depicted in the scenario – contacts one of his colleagues during class to get help with a resource she had been showing her students was received with mixed feelings. They all thought that it would be great to be able to do it as the class was unfolding, but that this could be construed by students as a failure on the teacher’s part. What she did corresponds to the notion that all of them share that a teacher should act as a facilitator rather than the sage on the stage. However, this kind of “teaching behaviour” is something that is still not socially well accepted and it may take quite a while before it is.

4. Specific ideas concerning iTEC technologies

After discussing these three scenarios teachers were asked to describe what kind of technology they saw as fit to implement them.

All of them were unanimous in that the system would revolve around a collaborative platform of some kind, including not only interaction tools but an educational repository which might be added to by the different members of the teacher community. They felt unable to actually draw such a system.

This collaborative platform should be open to student-student interactions as well as those between students and teachers and teachers with their own peers. It should also be open to those experts who might be asked to help. Finally, if possible, the platform should include authoring and editing tools.

Resources would include computers themselves, Internet access, IWBs, and any other materials and technologies which would be deemed useful or necessary to implement projects with students.

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