This is a guest blog post from Cassie Janisch who is founding director of Misty Meadow School, which has been a Zoe Trust partner school since Tanya and Emily visited in December 2016.
In April, Tanya contacted me to discuss funding for a project using donations from a generous wedding present that the Zoe Trust was about to receive. The timing of call was perfect as we had just begun exploring how to set up a computer facility at Misty Meadows. This would be beneficial for our Zoe Trust kids and the other children from disadvantaged backgrounds because they have no access to Internet anywhere else in their lives. The wonderful thing about online curricula such as Khan Academy is that it offers world class teaching resources and is free to users who are able to access it – such a bonus for a small rural school like us.
Within no time at all The Zoe Trust had not only offered us the money for a school computer, but had also found a sponsor for the installation and first year of Internet connection for our school. Below are some photos of the finishing touches being put to the room and desk, followed by the grand reveal of the laptop.
I cannot tell you how amazing it has been to watch the children “playing” with their computer. It is so interesting that all the children who have no other access to technology have jumped at this opportunity and in fact wait for me to arrive at school in the morning so that they can take ownership of setting up the computer for the day. This has been a whole new window opening in their worlds and they are completely aware of its value to their lives without me having to explain anything to them. Initially the children had no idea how to actually use the computer and I had to explain to them what the mouse was for – they kept touching the screen and I got cross with them until I realised that they didn’t know that this was not the way to operate the computer. In three months I have watched them learn how to use the mouse, how to check whether the wireless signal is working and repair it if not, how to find Google and type in what they want to find (including figuring out the correct spelling), how to watch movies on YouTube, how to write stories in a Word document, and how to write an email.
Emily asked us to send her class in the UK an email and so we set up an email address and the children each painstakingly wrote out a few sentences about themselves to share with the children in the UK. I quickly realised the benefit of the red line under an incorrectly spelled word – what a quick and easy way to improve spelling when you are immediately alerted to your mistake and you have a teacher on hand to ask the correct spelling!
The speed at which these children have conquered this new technology has been a joy to watch. Some of the older children have quickly realised that they can access amazing learning through the computer. Dineo, who has just turned 13, came to morning circle grinning from ear-to-ear a few weeks ago and when we asked her why she said: “I found Khan Academy on the computer and I did a maths test on my own and got 7 out of 10. I didn’t even need anyone to help me”. This was after only a couple of weeks of mentoring from my mum. Here is a picture of one of their maths lessons using Khan Academy’s online maths resources.
I think we are going to be blown away by what these children achieve over the coming months and years thanks to this access to the Internet. Our biggest constraint has been having only one computer to be shared between all the children at our school. The children are good at taking turns, but there is always a queue for the computer and patience does wear a bit thin. The Zoe Trust has kindly agreed to support us to acquire a few more computers in the coming months.
We also have a new staff member joining our school next year and he has agreed to take on the technology project at our school – not just in terms of building and managing the infrastructure and supporting the children to access content from the Internet, but also in terms of supporting the children to ultimately be able to create using technology (including apps, movies, personalised documentation of their learning, etcetera). I am very excited about the potential of this project, and delighted to have a tech expert (certainly relative to my capabilities) engaging on this project for next year.
I really believe that this blended learning environment of having access to the Internet as well as human mentors to support the learning process holds remarkable potential for small rural schools like our own. Accessing world class content means that adults can support learning without being intimidated by not knowing it all themselves. I am particularly interested in figuring out how to set up a more sophisticated mentoring programme, either online or physical, to support our students to conduct projects and inquiries across all of their subject areas. The world is their oyster now thanks to The Zoe Trust’s support of our computer project.