Learning geography from Google Earth

The fifth grade at Kalyvia’s 2nd Primary School looks different from other classes. Classes take place in the computer lab with an interactive board that is a large touchscreen. Pupils use the screen to help them learn geography with the help of Google Earth and do virtual physics experiments. At their desks, computers run Moodle, a free software e-learning platform which gives them a series of tools, such as math quizzes, collaborative blogs, communication forums, Wikis and Internet sources that they can use as they work together. The program has been in operation since September. It was an initiative of their teachers Avraam Triantafyllidis and Antonis Skelas, who are impressed with the results. «We installed Moodle on an Internet server and gave each child access to software so that we can see when they have logged on and what work they have done. The program offers numerous Internet sources – texts, photographs, videos and computer graphics – which make the lesson more exciting,» Triantafyllidis told Kathimerini. Every afternoon, the two teachers make up notes, content lists and translate texts they find on the Internet for their pupils. They work harder than their colleagues. But so do their pupils. Of the 25 children in the class, 20 have a computer at home and 17 have access to the Internet. So they can work together out of school hours to get a task done. «The result is worth it. I can’t say whether things are better or worse now, but I can say that the children are enthusiastic and pay much more attention in class. And I notice that using many different media helps children who are not strong on verbal communication. Some youngsters learn best by watching and others by experimenting. All of them respond better.» The Kalyvia school isn’t really doing anything revolutionary, but merely following an international trend. More than 99 percent of schools in Britain use computers. In Western Europe in general the percentage is high. Last year in the Netherlands, teachers came up against the other side of the new teaching methods for the first time when they found that pupils who knew more than they did about new communication media were bored in class and pushed them aside. Meanwhile, MIT has made all its lesson videos available online. In Cape Town last week, a group of organizations that support open education passed a resolution calling on teachers, parents, governments and owners of copyrights to free up information by giving laypeople greater access to sources, and to combat the digital divide, mainly by aiding the spirit of cooperation that has developed in the Internet to flow into the educational process. In Greece, apart from the groundbreaking efforts at the Kalyvia school, some private schools have incorporated new technology on an experimental basis. And last Monday, the Economy and Finance and Education ministries announced a pilot project to give computers to 10,000 pupils by 2009. Yiannis Larios from the Economy and Finance Ministry’s Special Secretariat for Digital Planning told Kathimerini that the aim is for children to acquire PCs, «either because their school is encouraging them or because they are interested in using them to learn. In the future, we hope to make classes less hierarchical, stop putting desks in rows so as to promote a cooperative spirit, and for children to form work groups.» It is difficult to make changes in the syllabus given the present structure, Professor Thodoros Karounos from the National Technical University of Athens told Kathimerini. «The problem starts with the teachers. They don’t use new educational techniques at teachers’ colleges. They don’t learn how to learn but how to approach structured material. There is no sense of creativity in the educational process. The whole educational system is a product of the industrial era and it’s high time it was modernized.»