Education news

Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning helps teachers adapt

P6 pupils Mollie O'Gorman and Brodie McGuinness speak to children in Nepal via their school IT suite, pre-lockdown

TEACHERS' experience with an online, worldwide learning programme has helped them make a seamless transition from classroom to virtual education.

Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL) has assisted staff in schools across Northern Ireland moving to online teaching during the Covid-19 crisis.

The programme aims to help teachers equip pupils with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to act more thoughtfully, ethically and responsibly as citizens and contributors to society.

It is run by the British Council in partnership with the UK's Department for International Development.

St Mary's PS in Mullaghbawn, Co Armagh leads a cluster of 10 schools in a partnership with schools in Nepal through CCGL.

A group of the Northern Ireland teachers just returned from a study visit to Nepal when travel restrictions were introduced.

Other schools involved include Holy Rosary PS in Belfast, Assumption Grammar Ballynahinch and St Oliver Plunkett Nursery and PS in Beragh.

Training in Digital Literacy and Google Suites gained through CCGL before Covid-19 hit meant teachers have been able to use their experience of collaborating across different time zones with Google Classroom and Teams to switch to online teaching - quickly setting up timetables and virtual classes.

For the pupils, their experience of using Google Classroom to share work with their counterparts in Nepal meant that remote learning was not totally unfamiliar.

Now, the Northern Ireland schools are keeping the partnership moving forward through video conferences with their Nepalese colleagues - sharing their experiences of virtual lesson planning and assessment, discussing the infrastructure required to accommodate remote learning, and talking about e-safety best practice.

Next they plan to pair individual Nepalese and Northern Ireland teachers to work together on a project using Google Drive and Google Classroom to share photos, messages, and seasonal greetings – working towards teaching and learning about UN Sustainable Development Goals together.

Jonathan Stewart, Director of the British Council Northern Ireland, said he was impressed by the hard work and innovation shown by teachers in the face of Covid-19 and the disruption it has brought.

"Collaboration across different cultures, societies and countries is more important now than ever and it is great to see the valuable international connections created by these schools not just continue, but develop even further using digital tools and platforms that enable us to learn together and stay socially connected when we are physically apart," he said.

The CCGL cluster has also become a support network for the teachers. They use it to share useful websites and free resources and to compare notes on what has worked well for them teaching through the lockdown. St Mary's has set up a weekly virtual assembly where the school principal shares songs, prayers and updates on excellent work children are doing.

Ciara Crawley, the school's international coordinator said: "Thanks to funding and support received from the British Council through the Erasmus+ and Connecting Classrooms programmes, staff in St Mary's have been able to attend training in the use of innovative IT practices. This has been so important for staff at this time in their transition to remote learning."

While teaching remotely can be a challenge, Ms Crawley said she thought some of the ideas introduced might continue to be useful when everyone returns to the classroom – from pupils being able to use their Google accounts to submit work, to moving towards paperless learning and children bringing their own devices to school.

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Teacher Ciara Crawley's top tips for staff new to tech:

:: Take time to explore the apps and platforms you want to use and what will work for your pupils

:: Drop a level in work at first so that pupils and staff can concentrate on getting to grips with technology

:: Grab pupils' attention early on by setting work which appeals to them and which they are familiar with

:: Provide teaching points and working out to accompany answers for parents

:: Start video conferencing with small groups to establish rules and etiquette i.e. video off, mic off, conference is supervised with an adult in communal area

:: Try it and see what works for you. Rome wasn't built in a day

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