Edtech success through outreach boxes

Graeme Lawrie

Graeme Lawrie is both director of Innovation and Excellence and head of Science and Technology at Sevenoaks School in Kent. He is also the host of one of the largest school-based STEM events: Science Week at Sevenoaks School.

Follow @SevenoaksSchool @SchoolOutreach

Website: www.sevenoaksschool.org Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

With the ever-changing growth in technology and Computing, it is clear to see that schools need to move with the times. They must incorporate new skills into the curriculum, in order for students to thrive after school in the workplace. Technology is always evolving, and children require specific skills in order to evolve along with it, to reflect the rapid pace of innovation. However, one major factor often hinders this progress: the edtech needed in order to teach these skills is usually quite expensive, and not always accessible to every child.

At Sevenoaks School in Kent, we have recently started our Outreach Box programme, the first programme of this type and scale in the UK. This initiative allows local schools to share apparatus, ensuring that every child is able to access the kind of equipment needed to learn specific skills such as coding.

The idea stemmed from 2016, when the BBC offered the micro:bit free to every Year 7 student in the country. This small, “We started to lend out our microscopes, laser thermometers, animal bones...”hi-tech device gave children the chance to explore hardware and software, and helped them learn to programme. In fact, the the device fulfilled many areas in the national curriculum. We were incredibly fortunate to have access to many free boxes of micro:bits, which we supplied to all our partnership schools, also offering staff training in their use.

A discussion with the local Primary school staff gave us an insight into how the micro:bits had an impact on the children as well as the Primary schools staff, and the issues they were facing regarding access to this level of technology. We started to lend out our microscopes, laser thermometers, animal bones, data loggers and other resources, packaging them up and visiting the schools with the resources and loaning them for a week or two.

We started with a few small trial boxes with Arduinos, micro:bits and digital USB microscopes. The proof of concept was there, with each pack seeing several hundred children a week. The micro:bit box even visited China during a holiday session!

This led to the production of the outreach boxes. Due to an extremely generous sponsor, we were able to start a new initiative for which we bought educational resources, which were to be used for a few weeks by one school.

From here, the packs started to evolve. New pieces of equipment were added, specifically items that the local schools had requested to see and thought would be beneficial to their students.

The advantage of this system is that we buy, as a group, one set of equipment. This is rather than each school purchasing their own, using them for a short period, and then storing them for the rest of the year, waiting for the next cohort and potentially becoming obsolete in storage. Sevenoaks lends resources out to neighbouring schools at no charge, delivering them personally to cut down all costs and make the initiative as cost-effective as possible.

We also invite students to come to our school to benefit from our staff’s understanding of the technology, as well as accessing some of the equipment that is not as portable. By creating the outreach boxes, all children are given the opportunity to learn innovative skills without having the pay for the expensive equipment required.

We hope to build upon this library of resources over the next few years, honing the offering to ensure we continually provide resources that meet the area’s educational needs. By continuing to listen to staff at our local schools, we hope to offer the best possible collaborative support we can.

At present, we are only able to offer outreach boxes to Primary schools local to Sevenoaks. We are, however, keen to hear from other schools or sponsors who may wish to offer the same programme, expanding provision across the UK. Eventually, we hope to make the scheme available to any school that would like to borrow a pack, sharing the more distinctive and advanced resources between schools in a similar way to a public library.

If you want to start your own programme, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Research what the local schools in your area need. Talk to them about the areas of the curriculum they are struggling with - either due to lack of resource / equipment or lack of expertise.
2. Identify staff in your school who are keen to help, and have time available to support an outreach programme.
3. Understand how much time your school can commit to this programme, and what facilities, support you can realistically offer.
4. Start small - don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Better to gain credibility and surpass expectations.
5. Seek feedback from the participating schools, and adapt / evolve the programme ongoing.
6. Gain sponsorship / funding from external business and donors if possible - this makes the programme more sustainable.
7. Promote the programme - your school and the participating schools will all benefit from the marketing exposure.

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