St Mary’s College leads the way in a Brave New World
All-girls school, St Mary’s College, based on the city’s Northland Road, is proudly progressive in its approach to technology - a commitment recognised in its selection as one of the few global Microsoft Mentor Schools.
Besides the obvious prestige of being among Microsoft’s leading schools, St Mary’s College has also forged strong partnerships with the University of Ulster, North West Regional College, the Nerve Centre, the Verbal Arts Centre and Sentinus.
The advance of technology is evident in all departments too. In the school’s Geography Department, Head of Department Clare Mulligan ensures her pupils boost their learning experience.
“For many pupils, ‘seeing is believing’, but since we can not take pupils to areas in the world where there is a volcano, earthquake, a waterfall, digital technology brings these experiences into the classroom.”
Head of Music Fionnuala Deane has also adopted technology to further the learning experience of pupils, including a programme called Sibelius. “
Sibelius is a vital tool in the world of composing and arranging music,” she says. “Our students notate, record and print their compositions using Sibelius and submit this as coursework for their A Level music with CCEA.”
Mrs McVey is the Head of St Mary’s Modern Languages Department where pupils use digital voice recorders to aid with learning. “Pupils learn how to use software packages, such as Photo Story, to present their work. Interactive software packages like Expo Electroc and Boardworks, as well as teacher-created interactive smartboard activities are used to motivate and engage pupils during lessons,” she tells the ‘Journal’.
Even the PE Department in St Mary’s College makes use of technology, as teacher Mrs J. Martin explains: “For practical activities we use digital heart rate monitors for circuits and aerobics so the pupils can always stay in the correct training threshold. In theory class we make use of Moodle and VLE systems to ensure pupils do not fall behind.”
Studying History has also become much more interactive too, with Word, Powerpoint and Excel all used for everyday learning. Not only that, teachers are trained in the use of multi-media interactive software to enhance the teaching of controversial aspects of history and pupils use digital technologies andJulieann Campbell video conferencing to link up with schools in Palestine and the USA.
As is to be expected, the Technology Department at St Mary’s College makes great use of digital technologies, including interactive whiteboards, manufacturing videos for in-house production, digital cameras and scanners for photography, software packages such as Solidworks, 2d Tech Soft for CAD, Aver media camera and video, and CNC routers and laser cutters.
Elsewhere, pupils are encouraged to get creative with technology. Miss Casey, Head of Health & Social Care at the school, explained: “In Health and Social Care the Year 11 girls use ComicLife to create a comic-based story on topics like smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use and their effects. Additionally, the Year 14 girls create podcasts as a revision tool, then download each other’s podcasts for revision.”
Art teacher Miss Treacy reveals that even the Art Department has got to grips with modern technology, with all pupils recieving a 5-6 week course on Photoshop in Year 8, taking the skills learned into their subsequent years at the school.
Drama teacher Ms Taylorsays her pupils are also involved: “In Drama the pupils use their phones to record lines to learn them. They use their Eloas to record performances as a rehearsal technique and learn use of the lighting desk and sound equipment too.”
Paul Wade has been IT Manager at St Mary’s College since 2005, a position encompassing many areas.
“I oversee the whole infrastructure of the school, which basically means everything IT related that isn’t on the curriculum,” says Mr Wade. “That means one-to-two computing for most of the school and one-to-one computing for Year 8 since we introduced Notebooks for all 1st year pupils.
“We became a Microsoft IT Academy in 2006 so we deliver certified Microsoft courses in the school for pupils, staff, parents and for the community at night and we are the first post-primary school in the North-West to do that.”
Mr Wade admits that keeping current in an ever-changing world is not without its difficulties.
“It’s becoming increasingly important to know about ICT when you’re surrounded by it in every workplace,” he says. “A lot of money has been invested in ICT here over the years, but the problem now is trying to keep all the technology up to date while budgets have been slashed. We had one IT advisor who told us we should be replacing IT suites once a year!”
However, the school still boasts an impressive inventory. “We’ve introduced MACs just this year for Moving Image Arts and rolled them out into the library as the principal is quite keen to up-skill the girls for when they move on to university or the workplace, Mr Wade added.
“In terms of PCs we have over 400, which is at least one in every classroom and then seven full suites and four smaller cluster suites, a dedicated Video Conferencing Suite and our Library, which is now called the Learning Plaza, has a MAC Hub and 24 MACs and 12 MACs in the Moving Image Arts suite. There are also 11 wireless points around the building, which we’re expanding to 32, our online helpdesk, our school website and we’re on social media sites as well.”
Though it may sounds daunting to some, students at St Mary’s College are surprisingly proficient in their IT skills. Year 8 pupil Charlie Edgar is eleven years-old but already she has mastered creating her own computer game in just six weeks! “For part of my Christmas assessment, I created my own game with Scratch called Dragon Attack where you have to try and escape a dragon that’s coming after you,” she explains. She hopes it will lead to a career. “I’d like to design my own games and put them on the internet.”
Nicole McDowell is also in Year 14 and is equally as skilled. “At the start I found it really difficult but once you get the hang of it. It’s good because it has plenty of career options.”
The need for confident and skilled IT graduates remains a priority for Clare Melaugh, Head of IT, and her team.
“We’ve had meetings with the university and industries and they say there’s a skills shortage in computer programming,” Mrs Melaugh says. “That’s one of the reasons we’ll now be introducing it from 1st year on.”
ICT teacher Yvonne Connolly elaborates: “University of Ulster actually developed this course because students in first year of uni often struggled and found programming an unbelievable shock to the system. So this is their way of taking pupils through a beginner’s course.
“If they complete this course successfully, they’ll also get five university credits when they apply to go,” Miss Connolly adds.
As an IT teacher and Head of Careers, Caroline Rogan frequently advises pupils on the benefits of being computer-literate and technologically minded.
“We’re trying to promote careers in IT as much as we can because the jobs are out there and the jobs are in Derry,” she reveals. “It can be quite hard though, as many girls don’t see IT as a traditional career for them and there’s still that perception of a very male-orientated career path. But if we are to equip Derry, make it digital Derry and the centre of excellence for innovation that we want it to be – then we need to get our young people into courses and skilled to do it.”
The last word goes to St Mary’s College vice principal Lena McMorrow, who is particularly committed to equipping pupils for the years ahead and often represents the school in the IT arena.
“As a school, we are passionately committed to preparing our pupils for the challenges of an ever-changing digital world,” Mrs McMorrow continued.
“But these challenges also have an impact on ourselves, the teachers. To quote something I said at Microsoft, ‘we who have the privilege to teach children have the responsibility to up-skill ourselves, so that we can see the world through the eyes of those children.’”
There can be little doubt about the importance of IT in today’s society. And no doubt that those studying at the heart of Derry’s Digital Corridor will be part of this bold new generation.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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