Emma McCluskey's classroom looks much like any other.
A verb chart,
posters and pupils' work adorn the walls. The children lean over their
desks, seven and eight-year-old brows furrowed in concentration.
In its essence, it is a scene that could have been recorded at any time since Shakespeare was at school.
Except it isn't. Instead of textbooks, the pupils are pouring over tablet computers linked in to a wireless broadband network.
There are still pencils in their hands but for how much longer?
an age when toddlers learn to use touchscreens before they can speak,
tablet technology is about to take teaching into a brave new word, and
McCluskey's students have been invited to the preview.
September, the British School of Paris (BSP), where McCluskey teaches,
became one of a handful of schools across Europe to take the plunge and
decide to restructure their teaching around the technology that is
already integral to its students' lives.
Every pupil at the
international school on the outskirts of Paris, from four-year-olds to
university-bound 18-year-olds and every member of staff, was issued with
an iPad at the start of the autumn term.
Not everyone was
convinced. Parents fretted that their children would be on Facebook as
soon as their teachers' backs were turned, or that an iPad in the bag
would make then a target for mugging.
Three months on, everyone
involved is still adapting and the experiment has not been without
hiccups. Surfing on the move during break times, for example, had to be
banned after a few children took a tumble.
But overall, the verdict is positive from both pupils and staff.
it's quite a drabby kind of topic but it's brilliant now," said
McCluskey. "We're going to be taking birds eye view photographs with the
iPad and then were doing a (virtual) tour of the school."
most European schools, the BSP was already linked into a virtual
learning environment, with resources increasingly drawn from the
Internet and classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards. But a
traditional computer room arrangement meant even a well-resourced school
like BSP could only get its pupils online for as little as two hours
In that context, giving each pupil the means to access
the available resources at their own pace, was a no-brainer for Steffen
Sommer, the headmaster of the school.
"Unlike us adults, today's
children are natives of this technology," he said. "They have an urge to
communicate, they have an urge to research.
"It is very different
from what education used to be like, It's wrong to ask the children to
learn in a 20th-Century style when they're clearly living in a different
The tablets did not come cheap. Wear-and-tear and the
pace of technological innovation mean they will last only two or three
The school has also had to shell out 200,000 euros
($256,000) to upgrade its wireless network, which uses a "smooth wall,"
to keep students off inappropriate websites.
But savings on ink
and paper, which alone was costing the school 100,000 euros per year,
and the lower price of e-textbooks, means the new technology should pay
for itself in the medium term, as well as being more environmentally
In McCluskey's classroom, students follow along on their
tablets as she guides them to online math worksheets tailored to their
Her students come from all over the world,
some initially speak little English, and a few have learning
difficulties. Across that spectrum, she reports improved motivation.
they have to do something on the iPad they really can't wait to get
started - if it's in their book it takes them about 10 minutes sometimes
just to get the date written," she said.
The time saved by the
devices is a recurring theme. Older students play games on them and
access social media (outside class, of course) but they are also used to
snap photos or record audio of their homework assignments, gaining
precious minutes in the end-of-lesson rush.
In the evenings they can ask each other questions or work with other students on group projects using video chat.
a few people lost their homework last year because we had so many
papers and things that we had to give in," said 12-year-old Mia Lawson.
"It's quite fun because you get to make different things on it and there are loads of different apps that you can get."
initial plan was to ask parents to ensure each student brought their
own tablet-style device but it was decided that operating on different
platforms would be too complicated.
Apple's iPad was chosen partly
because its extended battery life suits the school day and, for the
moment, gives it an edge over rivals, but also because of resources
available through from the world's most valuable company.
programs for creating interactive resources, a huge number of textbooks
available for download, and more than 20,000 educational apps, Apple has
spent years positioning itself in anticipation of an explosion of sales
of mobile internet devices in the education sector, according to tech
website Wired.com's Tim Carmody.
"It's not just about engaging students. It's about engaging everyone in the education and publishing industries," Carmody wrote.
the release for their textbook apps in January, Apple's Phil Schiller
said that 1.5 million iPads were currently being used in education. The
new mini-iPad, launched last month, has been designed specifically with
the education market in mind.
BSP headmaster Sommer says its up to
each teacher to decide how much use they make of the device at their
disposal. What matters is creating active learners.
"The notion of
problem solving is a most fundamental 21st century skill, much more so
than detailed knowledge which might be obsolete tomorrow," he said.
"They're given a task and with the technology they are working out by themselves how they can solve that task."