How to spend an ICT grant
Any time a school opens a new classroom, the DES give a grant of €5,000 to stock it with ICT equipment. It’s a very generous grant and much appreciated by those who receive it, but how does one best spend it? There are a number of basics that every classroom should have though and no matter what type of situation you are in, the following items are definitely going to be needed:
A projector is probably to most used tool in the Irish classroom. It’s great for whole-class teaching and can be used to show images, videos and other content. It’s a fantastic stimulus for classwork. For example, when teaching a topic, let’s say The Burren, unless you live there, it’s very hard for children to visualise it. Apart from getting on a bus and going there, it’s nearly as good to go on to YouTube and search for videos that give a good picture of the place.
Your projector will need to be connected to a computer of some sort. I would advise a laptop rather than a PC or (worse) a tablet. The laptop can double up as the teacher’s computer. Therefore, if the teacher wants to put content for the projector they can bring the laptop home to do so rather than having to stay in the classroom or mess around with USB keys.
I’d also recommend a minimum of 4 laptops for children’s usage and a maximum of 16 (or a 2:1) ratio. In both cases, I’d also recommend refurbished laptops if you can get them as they are cheap and good enough for children to use. Below is a short video from the NCTE about laptops and their benefits.
Rather than having lots of individual printers, I’d highly recommend buying or renting (I prefer renting) an all0in-one printer, photocopier and scanner. They are far cheaper to run that lots of individual printers and much easier to maintain.
Network Hubs / Cables
In order to connect to the Internet, you may need cables. If you have a decent wifi set-up, this may not be an issue.
This is one of the most important tools a child can use and it can be used in lots and lots of different ways, whether it be a maths trail or making short video clips, it is an invaluable tool. I would recommend that this might take the form of an iPod Touch or some form of tablet as you can instantly upload material to various web sites such as YouTube.
There still isn’t really a lot of good software for PCs out there. The best two in my opinion are Wordshark and Numbershark from Whitespace. They are two pieces of software that can genuinely track how a child is doing. However, since 2012, there are a number of online apps that are very good. ClassDojo is easily the best for classroom management. I also recommend any of the Maths-based competition-style apps, MangaHigh, Mathletics, Mathletes or Sumdog, among the options. For support, Nessy Learning is a good option too.
Nice Things To Have
Interactive Whiteboard / Touchscreen Display
Many of you might be surprised to see this here rather than the section above. Back in 2008, it certainly would have been there. However, even by 2012, most teachers were using the interactive part of the IWB very rarely. Even now, when they do, it’s mainly being used by the teacher or by one pupil at a time. Using the IWB as a station is probably the best use of it so if you’re going to do that, get a board that allows for multiple touch and get some decent software to work with. 2015 has seen the advent of giant touchscreen displays. Currently, one that could be used well in a classroom would eat up your whole ICT grant and the entry displays, which are a little on the small size are about €3,000. They’ll come down in price yet.
This is a handy teacher tool to show objects quickly on a big screen when attached to a projector. There’s no need to spend very much on one but the more you pay the more it can do and the better the image quality.
Tablets / Chromebooks
In 2012, I predicted that tablets would be in the “must-have” section but suggested that “until things settle down, I wouldn’t recommend a high investment in them as there are a number of issues, which still haven’t been answered.” For me, I still think this is the case. All the problems and restrictions of tablets are still there with the exception of the Surface Pro (which is still too expensive for classrooms) and I still keep them in the nice-to-have category. With regards to Chromebooks, which are very popular in the US, they rely on decent wifi and decent Broadband so I probably wouldn’t go there yet but watch this space.
A network storage device is very handy to have for storing music, videos, etc. for everyone to access. If you share a network drive on all teacher laptops, you can share all your CDs, DVDs, etc. with everyone. I find it very handy for the CDs that come with the various commercial schemes. Like I said three years ago, a server isn’t really necessary anymore.
This trolley allows you to store and charge all your laptops in one go. It also is used to share a number of laptops around the school for usage. I find this is its best use. Even better are laptop trolleys with inbuilt wifi extenders. This gives a stronger wifi connection to the classroom that is using the laptops.
This list above should give you a good start whether you’re starting off or in an established school. If you are in a new school and you are filling your first classroom, I would buy a projector, 8-10 laptops, camcorder and software. That should leave you with enough money to choose other items that you might like such as a visualiser or an IWB. In an established school, a laptop trolley might be of benefit.
As you can see, there isn’t a lot of difference between this article and the one I wrote in 2012. This demonstrates that the crazy pace of ICT in schools seems to have slowed down a bit and we can focus less on the newest shiniest hardware and focus on the most important aspect: what we actually do with the technology.