An ancient city hosts a technological giant

| September 22, 2010
By Sean Porter

Technology giant Apple’s choice of venue for its recent Education Leadership Summit – the International School of Prague (ISP) – was deliberate: the school has bought totally into the Apple philosophy.


At the ISP, laptops (MacBooks) are compulsory from Grade 4 – supplied by the school from Grade 4 to Grade 8. From Grade 9, it is compulsory for each child to have his/her own MacBook. Maintenance and upkeep of laptops poses a big challenge and the IT support team at the school is 11-strong.

As this was an Apple conference, we were shown the ‘wonders’ of the software Apple has developed and how it could be used in education. What was heartening was the mention of so-called ‘weaker’ pupils who, thanks to a medium familiar to them – IT – could express themselves and achieve what they and society might have imagined to be impossible.

Music and technology to help youngsters succeed

On day one, delegates were addressed by Marco Torres, a high school Social Studies teacher based in San Fernando, California. Torres was California Teacher of the Year, and serves on the board of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. A passionate teacher, he focuses on helping students to acquire the skills they need to thrive in our 21st century digital culture. He assists students in learning to market themselves, because test scores cannot and do not sum up the capabilities and potential of human beings.

In his address, entitled ‘Take Action: Make a Difference’, Torres spoke of teaching in some of the poorer schools in America, where he encountered pupils with terrible obstacles to overcome. He focussed on music. As a result, many students produced their own music, using the available Apple software called GarageBand. Some of his pupils landed contracts compiling soundtracks to movies. None of this would have been possible without his passion and commitment, and the use of a medium that inspired the pupils.

Where teachers use technology responsibly, everyone is empowered

This was followed with an address by Stephanie Hamilton, an Apple employee with an educational background. In her address, titled ‘Strive for Transformation’, she pointed out that teachers have many tools at their disposal, but do not always know how to use them. She challenged teachers to change their mindsets when teaching the current generation.

In ‘Science Escapes the Lab: So How Do I Measure Success?’, Chris Warnecke, a teacher at ISP, explained how he maximises the interactivity and  ease of communication made possible by Apple Macs. He demonstrated how his students could track and record their progress and results throughout the course of a given assignment. The first day closed with an address called ‘Today’s Learner’. The pupils of today are living in a world where their jobs or career paths do not yet exist.

The days of many years’ commitment to one company are gone – short-lived job ‘spells’ and ‘job hopping’ are facts, because technology is moving at such a rapid rate and so are the needs of organisations.

Teachers are conductors

Day two was dominated by an address delivered by Itay Talgam, an Israeli conductor. It was entitled ‘Music as a Metaphor for Leadership and Learning’. He used video clips of conductors to show how they lead orchestras in different ways. Some styles are eccentric and flamboyant, some egocentric and some quiet, yet authoritarian.

He used each style and its strengths and weaknesses as a metaphor for teaching approaches. Each teacher has a different style and expects different things, yet we expect our pupils to ‘play’ equally well for all types. It stands to reason that the pupils will react positively to one style and not as well to another. Teachers need to get to know their ‘orchestras’ and where their strengths and weaknesses lie; in this way they can create a ‘masterpiece’.

This got me thinking that, no matter how sophisticated or how ingrained technology becomes in the classroom, the teacher is still the driving force behind the learning experience. What is clear is that, through the use of IT and technology in general, I can make my teaching more exciting, interactive, creative and more relevant to ‘today’s child’. It is somewhat reassuring to know that, as a teacher, I am needed!

Sean Porter is a Grade 6 teacher and Housemaster at St Peter’s School for Boys. Contact him at sporter@stpeters.co.za

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Category: e-Education, Spring 2010 Edition

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