A group of students from our school were recently hosted by the Microsoft Innovation Centre for a Minecraft Education in the Classroom session. The event was led by Immersive Minds from Scotland, a company that specialises in creating innovative and transformative learning through digital technologies.
In 2009, when I started my teaching at St Catherine’s High school, this technology was still at its inception. Where we stand today is the result of nearly a decade of studies, risk taking and exploration of tools and resources that enable students to take control of their learning by immersing themselves in a self-driven and motivating methodology for learning.
For these past four years, besides carrying out my class teaching duties, the school entrusted me with the coordination of digital literacy lessons across the primary years. In these lessons, new skills were explored and applied in the classroom, including the use of innovative tools such as coding, Minecraft, embarking on eTwinning projects and communicating with Skype from inside the classroom.
The success and the progress we experienced across the primary school classes encouraged us to take this project to the next level, and as from this year, the school entrusted me with a new and exciting project focused on digital literacy at senior level. I was also assigned a mentoring role to support and engage with the other teachers in the school.
We create cross-curricular projects on a weekly and fortnightly basis. This not only introduces students to a more comprehensive ICT syllabus but also teaches them how to apply learned skills across the board and how to implement them through technology.
Among the projects that we have carried out is the publication of our own augmented reality ‘Free to Fly’ book, which saw students creating, illustrating and using technology to embed augmented reality and showcasing their own little stories.
We have collaborated with a class in the Canary Islands, and through field trips, students have researched, reported and created places of interest in Malta, using Minecraft as a tool. This not only catered for their love and passion for games, but it also gave us the opportunity to apply gamification as another tool specifically designed for classrooms environments.
The first project won us an Award for Best Primary Project during Embed ’15 and Embed ’16 and we placed second for Innovative Projects during Embed ’17 with our second project.
One of the latest investments at St Catherine’s is the use of virtual reality (VR) in the classroom. We are the first school in Malta to use VR as a pedagogical tool in the classroom. VR not only opens the doors to new worlds but it literally shifts mind-sets and classroom walls.
Our students can visit historic buildings or even eras in time, such as Ancient Greece, Rome. Using VR, they can visit the Louvre or the Champs-Élysées in Paris, from their classroom, exploring and recording aspects that interest them most. This not only gives a new life to their learning experience beyond books or online media but it also motivates and engages students in a way that takes learning to different levels of attainment.
VR can also be applied in many other areas of the curriculum such as maths, English, science, history, geography, languages and other subjects such as design technology. One recent example was the use of VR for mathematical calculations. Instead of presenting students with a typical handout, we created a world where students found mathematical problems while walking through a village square. This same data was then transferred onto worksheets which could be carried home so that the students could see their given tasks to an end. This is so fascinating!
As a teacher and parent, I look at today’s generation of students growing up in a digital world where the use of digital devices is a huge part of their everyday experience when they are not at school. With technology playing such a prominent role in our students’ lives, the main challenge for the teaching profession today is how to harness all this technology in a way that facilitates learning inside the classroom and at home. Teachers are being called to be more than just teachers but to assume the role of facilitators and coaches in an increasingly collaborative learning environment.
Not every teacher may feel confident enough to apply technology in the classroom, so support, guidance and mentoring is crucial. Schools do well to invest in in-house qualified and innovative educators who can be the link between their school and these new tools and methodologies as they support and promote this mind shift in their school and their respective communities.
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