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Column: 'My school was unable to have a dedicated higher maths class, so I studied through video-link'

Through ‘Connected Classroom’ four students participated in higher-level maths classes through a video link-up with their sister school, Coláiste Bríde in Clondalkin.

Avril Watson

I’VE ALWAYS HAD a flair for maths and science, and it’s always been my dream to study something maths-related in college. When I came into fifth year at Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount, I was determined to do higher-level maths and give it my best shot in the Leaving Certificate.

But I was one of only a few students in my year who wanted to study maths at higher level. Due to this low demand – and limited resources – the school was not able to have a dedicated higher-level maths class for my year.

Working with The Digital Hub, however, the school came up with a solution: they established a ‘Connected Classroom’, whereby myself and three classmates participated in higher-level maths classes through a video link-up with our sister school, Coláiste Bríde in Clondalkin.

Learning 

This ‘Connected Classroom’ was part of a wider project underway at the school: the Schools Broadband Exemplar Project, which was developed by The Digital Hub with support from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Source: THEDIGITALHUB/YouTube

Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount had been one of the first schools in the country to receive a 100 Mbps connection under the Government’s schools broadband scheme in 2009 but, until 2011, due to a lack of internal capacity and know-how, little had been done to maximise it.

In 2011, however, the principal Gwen Brennan began working with The Digital Hub – the school’s neighbours in Dublin 8 – to explore how high-speed broadband could enhance the school.

Over the next two years, all of us students at the school saw our learning environment slowly transformed. Our teachers starting using more technology in the classroom; we got a laptop trolley, so communal laptops could be brought around and used by students in different rooms; and we started using blogs, apps and other digital tools in our day-to-day work. Our lessons became more interactive; teachers began using external resources such as video, music and pictures. The curriculum at our school began to diversify.

Source: THEDIGITALHUB/YouTube

The ‘Connected Classroom’ initiative was part of this Schools Broadband Exemplar Project. For me, it meant I could join a dedicated higher-level maths class and complete the higher-level course for my Leaving Cert.

Every day, for maths, myself and the other girls doing higher-level took ourselves to a separate classroom, set up the screen, laptop, and interactive white board, and joined in with Ms. Broderick’s maths class in Clondalkin.

Lessons

In her room 10 kilometres away, Ms. Broderick used two screens – one for the lesson content and one for monitoring us – and her white board was connected to ours.

I’ve been asked countless times how strange it must have been to be communicating via video with an entirely different class but, honestly, it just became normal for us. We were never excluded from the class, and we felt as much a part of the class as if we were sitting in Clondalkin – if we looked away for a second or were caught talking, Ms. Broderick was straight on our case!

When we actually visited our classmates in Coláiste Bríde and had face to face maths lessons with them, who would have guessed how alien it would feel for us Warrenmount girls who were so used to sitting in front of a TV screen!

The maths teachers in Warrenmount were also hugely supportive of the initiative, and provided additional support for us in their own time.

Self-learning

In the first year of the “Connected Classroom” initiative, we occasionally had technical difficulties and sometimes it was problematic scheduling our classes to match with Coláiste Bríde’s timetable. A lot of responsibility was placed on us to self-learn, and I think this was hugely beneficial: Ms. Broderick would email the exercises and notes to us for the class, and it was entirely our responsibility to ensure we had them with us and were prepared for each class; we never had notes printed and handed out to us.

This, I think, was an excellent preparation for third-level, where all students have to be very independent and proactive.

Success

Studying for the Leaving Cert is always going to be a stressful time, and there were times when I asked myself why I was taking on this extra load. But, having come out the other end, I now see the benefits. I am proud to say I achieved a B3 in higher-level maths, and I have just started to study Science in Trinity College Dublin – a course I couldn’t have applied for if I didn’t have maths at higher level.

I’m a bit nervous about starting college and having to make new friends, but I know I have the ability to learn by myself and I see how technology can help. I won’t be depending on lecturers to spoon-feed me notes!

The Schools Broadband Exemplar Project has transformed Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount. It has helped the school improve learning outcomes and save money and, best of all, it has given students and teachers a new lease of life.

For people my age, we use technology all the time at home. We expect to see it used efficiently in a learning environment too, and that’s what this project was all about.

Avril Watson was one of the speakers at a showcase event to promote the findings of The Digital Hub’s Schools Broadband Exemplar Project. The project – developed by The Digital Hub with support from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – ran at Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount in Dublin’s south-west inner city over the past two years. Its aim was to pilot and test learning, teaching and management solutions made possible due to the school’s high-speed broadband connection.

About the author:

Avril Watson

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