Today I head out to Recife, Brazil and it feels like the beginning of a great adventure. But whilst I wait for my connecting flight to Sao Paulo from Amsterdam, I look back at the 18 months which lead up to this moment.
Unlocking Talent Through Tablet Technology
Unlocking Talent is a research project supported by VSO and Norweigian Government. Lead by the University of Nottingham, the project evaluates the use of onebillion apps in closing the gap in maths. Beginning in Milawi, this research found that from 8 weeks of using the apps, children made 18 months learning gains in maths skills.
As this research continued, the University and onebillion questioned whether or not this way of working could be replicated beyond Milawi. This is where I joined the team and together we ran a pilot a study across the schools in the federation that I work for. We found similar learning gains here, as well as in other small scale pilot studies from UK schools. So in June, we launched the UK’s first ever large scale evaluation of tablet technology and maths attainment.
The apps are used with Early Years children that have been identified as working below age-related expectations. They work on activities set by the teacher in the app for up to 30 minutes a day. The learning is 1:1, personalised and self-paced. These children access this app as well as normal teaching practices and traditional interventions. When combined like this, the learning gains have been huge.
The findings from the initial UK pilot studies can be found here.
A Cross-Cultural Study
Today I travel to Brazil with Dr. Nicola Pitchford and PhD student Laura Outhwaite. These two have been instrumental in the success of the research in both the UK and Milawi. Our initial trip to Brazil is scoping visit and came about following a visit from researchers from CESAR, Recife back in January. Marie Neves and Flavia Nascimento came to Nottingham back in January 2016 to observe the practices in my classroom in using both onebillion software and how iPad enhances learning across the curriculum in my classroom.
Inspired by what they saw, and with a good knowledge of the schools they work with in Recife, Marie Neves invited us to partner with CESAR and the possibility of bringing onebillion to their schools.
Our initial trip this November sees us meet with teacher training institutions, local and state government representatives and Portugese schools in the area. As well as this, Marie and I have organized a conference for 30 teachers where they can learn some ways to best use iPad in the classrooms and how to maximize learning gains when embedding this practice in your learning environment.
A Chance to Reflect
There is much to learn on this visit. Plenty of time in this trip has been dedicated to meeting professionals and observing current practice in Recife schools. This visit is about hearing teacher’s stories and learning about their ways of closing the gap in maths. Our purpose in these conversations is to exchange knowledge and share what we are finding in the UK and Milawi.
The most exciting part of this trip for me, is looking at different learning contexts from the same perspective; closing the gap in maths. It is too easy to look past your own classroom, let alone country, and see what is different. But to make comparisons based on learning gains for maths provides a common ground for any teacher, no matter what the context is. What are we doing to support the children who are working below age related expectations? Whether this be 10 children in a class of 30 in the UK, or 80 in a class of 100 in Milawi, teachers are united by the way in which will tackle this issue. Being able to share the same resources to close our gaps is such an exciting way to collaborate and bring these school contexts together.
In the weeks leading up to this visit to Recife, Dr Antonie Chigeda and PhD student Foster Gwonde visited the UK from Milawi. Dr. Antonie Chigeda works closely on the research across the schools in Milawi with Dr. Nicola Pitchford. Laura Outhwaite has also been privileged to visit Milawi to observe the practice there as well. Antonie and Foster’s visit was a chance to consider what a good cross-cultural study could look like and the discussions we had around learning gains in our two contexts will help shape our scoping visit to Brazil this week.
I look forward to sharing more of my visit with you as it unfolds over the next two weeks.