Doing it ourselves: developing a ‘teach-know-logical APProach’ at Woodlands International College

| November 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Clint Gaffney

After a lengthy series of discussions and much research, Woodlands International College in Boksburg on the East Rand in Gauteng recently made the following critical educational decision: technology is not something that we should be waiting around to discover after the fact. Rather, we as a college should spearhead a ‘teach-know-logical APProach’.

The manner in which children of today relate to each other and to the world around them is both dynamic and increasingly interactive. It seems amiss to expect these children to engage with academic material in a stagnant, hands-off manner. The roles of teacher as great provider of all knowledge and the students mere vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge are long gone, too. The days of the students being expected to learn from a single black-and-white print resource, have also – thankfully – become a thing of the past.

At Woodlands International College, we firmly believe that learning is a lifelong journey, and to this end, all our staff members have embraced this new learning curve so that they themselves are students of the 21st century, knowing full well that they are preparing young professionals for future careers that have not yet been invented.

The ‘teach-know-logical APProach’ timeline

The year 2013 saw the introduction of iPads for all staff and students in grades 8 and 9. Using digital textbooks created by external publishers, the college was able to start a rapid and successful integration of this technology into the learning lives of the students. When implementing new approaches to teaching, one needs to take time to reflect on what has transpired – both positively and negatively – so that further improvements can be identified and incorporated. Midway through 2013, we realised some challenges: our staff were still supplementing digital learning with additional print resources to ensure that comprehensive comprehension was taking place.

It seemed as though our giant leap into the technology of learning was, in fact, only a small step forward. Further integration and an improved digital learning experience were needed, and so we went back to the ‘think tank’ with our staff. What became increasingly evident was that our best educational resources were, in fact, our own teachers. It became obvious that, as the masters of their subjects and their classrooms, our teachers should be at the forefront of creating digital content for this technological revolution at Woodlands.

And so it was that we decided to develop our own Interactive Woodlands iBooks (IWiBs). The college took the decision to purchase MacBook computers for the staff, thereby providing them with the necessary tools and training that would allow them to develop media-rich, interactive digital textbooks.

What exactly are IWiBs?

  • IWiBs comprise videos, podcasts, animations and media galleries that require active student engagement.
  • IWiBs allow students to highlight and add notes to digital content, and are hence interactive.
  • IWiBs have been expertly developed by the staff of Woodlands International College to match the college’s specific curricular needs.
  • IWiBs have been developed using iBooks Author, an Applebased software programme.
  • All the IWiBs are housed on the college server and students are able to log onto

Because these digital resources were created by our own staff, content and context can be updated almost immediately. Let’s say, for example, that an earthquake occurs, or the stock exchange crashes, or a new scientific discovery takes place – the resulting media images, video footage and information can be incorporated into the IWiBs.

This year saw the introduction of IWiBs for all subjects, except maths in Grade 8, Grade 9 and Grade 10. In 2015, our aim will be to consolidate and improve on the existing IWiBs before we begin to create the Grade 11 IWiBs. We will, however, roll-over the use of the iPads to Grade 11, using pdf-based textbooks available in the Apple ZA Books store.1 These books will be supplemented with media-rich resources that will enhance the learning of the students.

Grade 7 now part of the senior college

Next year will see another revolutionary approach to be implemented at Woodlands International College. Not only are we introducing iPads to Grade 7 students, but more importantly, for both teachers and students to learn how to maximise digital opportunities and acquire a host of 21st century skills, we have taken a decision to incorporate Grade 7 into the senior college. To this end, the college, catering for Grade 000 to Grade 12 students, will be split into the following phases:

Primary school:

  • Grade 000-Grade 0: The pre-primary school is located on our second, environmentally friendly, campus.
  • Grade 1-Grade 3: The junior college.
  • Grade 4-Grade 6: The middle college.

High school:

  • Grade 7-Grade 9: The junior high school.
  • Grade 10-Grade 12: The senior college.

We believe that with an extra year in the senior college in the junior high phase, young teenagers will be better prepared for one of the most important academic decisions of their high school careers – their choice of subjects at the end of Grade 9. Significantly, Grade 7 students will now have even more time to become immersed in a digitally enriched environment.

A balancing act We have managed to turn the traditional textbook into a digital learning experience, augmented by apps, to further enrich and reinforce learning concepts. What is critical, though, is that students can demonstrate the ability to communicate through writing and drawing with pen and pencil.

All students at Woodlands International College still complete all their work in actual notebooks (although we welcome the submission of certain assignments in a digital format), and at the end of the year are assessed on their understanding of the subjects, the content and the contexts through written examinations. For the foreseeable future, our students will continue to sit down to write a final examination at the end of matric.

The driving force

Says Hilary Robinson, senior college principal: “Such innovation requires vision, financial input and the utmost faith in the teaching staff.” Enormous support and encouragement can be found in the driving force behind Woodlands International College – the Ronnie Matthews family, who are the owners and directors. The family established the college in 2002 and have continued to take the college forward in leaps and bounds. These latest innovations are, in no small part, a result of their understanding of the business world in which they started.

Knowing the demands of the private sector is what drives the directors, through the principals and teaching staff, to ensure that Woodlands International College students are learning more than mere academics. Rather, they want to ensure that the youngsters who matriculate from Woodlands do so with every possible skill needed to allow them to cope with and grow in the world beyond high school.

Clint Gaffney is deputy principal: senior college, at Woodlands International College.
Reference:
1. ZA Books is a digital bookstore and iPad app that provides South African schools access to curriculum-relevant textbooks. (Source: http://www.applenews.co.za/blog/2013/2/7/za-books-launches-in-southafrica.html.)

Category: e-Education, Summer 2014

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