PCR visits a school: Ebuyer backs school workshops

Ebuyer and Microsoft are investing in a series of workshops designed to help students and teachers use technology in lessons. Dominic Sacco visits St Norbert’s Catholic Primary School in Lincolnshire to see the lessons in action…

The school gym is abuzz with activity as children work on a variety of tech-based tasks.

One group is using a PC to move a robot arm, while another is building a bridge from Lego to create a stop motion animation. Others are programming with Microsoft Linx tablets to form 2D shapes accurately using angles, move a character around a 3D puzzle room and more.

At the far end of the room there’s a mock crime scene complete with police tape, a pretend bullet hole and an outline of a body drawn in chalk, with children able to take evidence from QR codes and analyse data on tablets.

It’s the work of the Tablet Academy, a group of current and former teachers who visit schools in the UK and six other countries to help them use technology in lessons – with Ebuyer and Microsoft backing the workshops.

Louise Yarnell, headteacher at St Norbert’s Catholic Primary School, tells PCR: “We’re trying to make learning as fun and practical as possible for our children. We’re giving them the opportunity to have that curiosity of real life opportunities and investigations with time to solve problems and be critical in their thinking. And they can apply this to life positions in engineering, in computing, and in mathematical terms – the skills they’re developing actually have a place in the world.”

While the new curriculum came into play last year with a focus on computer coding and engineering, with St Norbert’s adapting well to the changes, Tablet Academy MD Mark Yorke says not all teachers across the UK are comfortable with new tech.

“The biggest gap in the industry at the moment is a lot of schools are investing in IT, but they haven’t invested in CPD (Continuing Professional Development) training for their staff,” he adds. “So new technologies are introduced into lessons like tablets, but teachers are just using them for browsing the web because they haven’t been given training in how to utilise them in a different way such as Augmented Reality (AR) or QR codes.”

So why are the likes of Ebuyer and Microsoft getting involved with all of this, providing sponsorship and Linx tablets? “It’s about getting the school to realise the potential of having technology,’” explains Ebuyer’s head of business sales Phil Bates. “If we can educate the school on what the benefit is and how cheaply they can get the equipment… that’s where Microsoft comes in.

“Schools budget for iPads, then realise that actually they can have three or four times as much kit for the same price, if they go down the Microsoft route. The IT manager can look after Linx tablets remotely, whereas iPads aren’t suitable for schools.

“We try to show teachers what’s available so they can make the right choice. It’s about us engaging closer with our customers and understanding what they need, rather than just selling them cheap kit.”

Ebuyer has a solutions team that sells to some 3,000 schools directly, and the etailer estimates around 55 to 70 per cent of its business comes from B2B sales. Its sponsorship of the Tablet Academy program is for about half a year, covering a host of workshops in different schools and costing around £70,000 (which Ebuyer says comes from different sources, including Microsoft). Bates says it’s part of a long-term plan: “It’s a trust thing, it’s a brand-building thing, it’s a respect thing in the industry – that’s why we’re doing it.”

As well as this workshop, St Norbert’s school is also starting a ‘Digital Leaders’ initiative next year, which lets year five and six pupils train to become a digital leader, before leading clubs and passing on information to other classes and schools. It’s a reminder that this entire tech push is for the benefit of children’s education.

IT subject leader India Whyles explains: “With today’s workshop, the children are experiencing using technology in different ways. Children are the digital natives of the world – they aren’t afraid to have a go. It’s easy for adults to think: ‘Well, they need to know this. We’ve got targets and the curriculum to follow.’ But sometimes children are the creative light behind it and having that inspirational leadership from children is really important.”

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Education is running throughout August – click here for more articles

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