How to spend the ICT Grant
One of the best grants out there is the ICT grant that the Department of Education give for new classrooms. It’s worth €5,000 for new permanent rooms so new prefabs don’t count. A few people have asked me how they should spend the €5,000 and there’s not really one answer as schools vary in so many ways. However, below are a few ideas based on where the school might be in terms of their progress.
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. 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.
Network Hubs / Cables
In order to connect to the Internet, you may need cables. If you have a decent wifi set-up (which is unlikely in Irish schools), 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.
The NCTE won’t let you use the grant for annual subscriptions. There 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.
Nice Things To Have
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, as things have evolved, we are finding that most teachers use the interactive part of the IWB very rarely and 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.
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.
This will eventually be in the section above but right now tablets like iPads, iPods, Androids and Fizzbooks are a nice addition to schools. 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 example, how long will you get out of a tablet? 1 year or 10 years? What do we need to do on a tablet? What about apps and other content? Right now, I don’t believe there are many decent apps out there to suit the Irish primary curriculum. The iPad probably has the most – Cartoon Maker and Book Creator are two of my favourites but most of them are simply colourful ways of consolidating information but without providing any data. The best thing about any tablet is that they have a decent battery life, they have Internet access and they are instantly on when you need them. If you’ve spare cash, buy 3-4 of them and trial them out.
A few years ago, a server would have been top of the list in any school. However, things have changed and most content can now be stored online so the server isn’t really needed. However, 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.
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.
This grant is one of the few important grants left for schools. As ICT is going to be the backbone of a lot of what we do in schools, it’s important to have a good infrastructure behind it.