Technology in the Primary School

When I think back to my own education and my previous teaching experience, I cannot help but marvel at the changes that have taken place in the classroom. There will be those who remember the Gestetner with its mauve print (I don’t). Transistor radios, microfiche readers (I used these in the bank), cassettes, videos and the CD Walkman also come to mind.

I attended university as a mature aged student after working for four years in banking. During my time in banking I was preparing loan submissions with a ledger and calculator. I would calculate compound interest by hand and write it into a ledger. With the introduction of the microfiche, life became so much easier.

In my early twenties I began my studies in education, and in my final year a new subject called ‘Computing’ entered the subject choices as an option. I was one of only three students who elected to take this subject. It was new and it was hard, but I completed the course work.

At the completion of my university years at the age of 25 I was appointed to The Scots College in Sydney, and worked with the Principal in developing their school computer asset. We bought an Australian product called ‘Microbee’ – a fairly average computer in my opinion, but the experience placed me in good stead to prepare me for my next challenge.

In the mid 1980s I was appointed to The King’s School in Sydney as their Computer Co-ordinator, the first appointment of such type at any Primary school in NSW. I was paving the way in Primary education, taking it into the technological age. The school owned a selection of Commodore Vic 20s run with a cassette. I soon got rid of them!

I prepared a submission to The King’s School Council and with a budget of $50,000.00 purchased a class set of Apple IIe computers with a network tower and two Apple dot matrix printers with tractor fed continuous paper. We had the programmes Printshop and Publish It, and I remember the countless reams of paper we went through on a daily basis. I started the Independent Schools of Sydney Computer Users Group and nurtured other schools into this new age of education.

The school had adapted an under-utilised building to house this new learning space and installed special air conditioning to help these little instruments of learning to continue working. I was able to turn the computer on and head off to make a cup of coffee and by the time I was back to the desk it had booted up. The screen was grey, as computers were only black and white at that stage.

Soon after, a set of Apple IIGS were purchased and ‘colour’ had come into Primary education. We then graduated to Apple Macs with the Mac SE being the first colour Mac computer available to schools. They were networked within the school but the internet was still undiscovered.

Around this time Apple invited me to attend their conferences in Sydney to brainstorm the future of technology in Primary education. I was the only Primary teacher at these conferences. I still have a glass ‘Apple’ paperweight on my office desk, a token of thanks from Apple Australia for those days of pioneering technology in education.

When I stepped onto the shores of the new campus at SCAS Port Macquarie early in 2002, I was excited to see the brand new buildings with their fibre optic backbone. A lot of planning had gone into the future of education at this campus, and I looked forward to this new chapter of my life. Laptop computers were purchased for the staff and our first computer lab was quickly set up.

In those early days we would ask the students to go to the Library to retrieve information from the encyclopaedia which was at that stage in books and on a disk, but today they can get an answer to a question at their fingertips within seconds through the internet.

Little did I imagine that we were entering an age where students would be bringing hand held devices to school to carry out learning on a wireless network. Little did I imagine that I would be planning for the construction of a contemporary learning space for our Year 6 students in an open environment geared for eLearning. Little did I imagine that our electronic whiteboards would be superseded by new technology only 18 months after the last one was installed in all Primary classrooms.

Our Year 6 Collaborative Learning Centre is constructed of the latest building materials, designed in the passive solar model, and allows for extended learning outside in a glassed atrium area. The design supports the use of educational technology, and effective collaborative and creative learning techniques. Class sets of laptops and iPads, bench height tables and interactive TVs are used to facilitate models of teaching and learning for the new century.

Teaching is not only about having all the answers, it is also about asking the right questions in order to promote children’s thinking skills. It is about encouraging children to find answers for themselves and to work together to solve tasks.

If our classrooms can reach a position where all questions and answers are acceptable, where children have the confidence to want to ask questions to develop their learning and understanding, then we are well on the way to having children who will be creative and collaborative learners in the future. The staff of the Primary School continue to hone their skills in all facets of modern education.

As I look back over the last twenty plus years and realise how far we have come and how much we have achieved and grown, I cannot wait to see what the next ten years in education may offer. I also often wonder if I had bought those $1.50 Apple shares back then when I had the opportunity, what they would be worth now!

Personally, I have an iPhone, iPod, iPad, Apple TV, iMac and MacBook Pro in my possession, and a bench height technology hub in my home, but I rely heavily on collaborative learning with my peers and the eLearning Leader to keep me up to speed in 2017. At SCAS we will make every endeavour to remain a step ahead, keeping in mind the importance of a rounded education.

I do wonder whether Apple still remembers this inquisitive educator?

Bruce Little,
Head of Primary School

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