Digital for all now

Yves Le Saout: using tablets to develop new teaching approaches at secondary schools

Econocom 17 Nov 2015

Yves Le Saout is the Headmaster of Notre-Dame « Les Oiseaux », a group of schools in the Yvelines on the outskirts of Paris, with almost 3,000 students, from nursery school through to higher education. In 2014, the school decided to supply some of its senior school classes – science and management – and one junior school class with iPads as a way of experimenting with new teaching practices.


Did the deployment run smoothly? How did teachers and students get on to the tablets? What advice could one give to a school that’s planning a similar project? We found out from Yves Le Saout.



USING digital TO DEVELOP innovaTIVe, crEative, collaborative TEACHING METHODS


Why did you switch to digital tools?


When we started experimenting with digital, the aim was to develop new approaches to teaching.


“Whilst traditional lecture-style, chalk-and-talk teaching shouldn’t be scrapped altogether, it doesn’t necessarily work with all classes. Other teaching methods allow students to learn more effectively whilst preparing them for their future careers, particularly where collaborative work is concerned.”


We went to a number of events on digital in education where we heard presentations from teachers who’d already embarked on a digital project, and that inspired us to start our own project. We decided to roll out the technology for two very specific classes: technology classes, because we can finance the experiment with the French education tax – and a class of Year 7 students who have Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), i.e. dyscalculia, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, for whom tablets can considerably facilitate the learning process.


>>> Also on our blog: Nicolas Prono: using digital to help children with learning difficulties  <<<


In total, around thirty Year 7 students and almost 80 science and technology students were supplied with iPads.


What sort of teaching methods have you implemented using the tablets?


For the science classes, students have an hour’s technology classes (biotechnology or physics and chemistry) in a foreign language once a week, and have to complete a technology project and then present it in French and English.

Presenting an experimental protocol in a foreign language can be difficult for students. With the tablets, they can film themselves describing the protocol in English; that way, they feel less self-conscious and more confident. They can then send the video to the science teacher, who will watch it with the English teacher, who’ll assess the student’s use of English.


“With digital tools, we can evaluate students’ progress in speaking English and using sophisticated scientific vocabulary.”


Of course, that’s not the only example. We’ve set up a Google Drive for the teaching staff to exchange information with each other and with students. I see a lot of examples of use of digital technology in this shared space. Students carry their tablets around in their satchel and can use them for all their lessons: science, languages, history & geography – even maths, because there are loads of apps that help explain mathematical concepts using simulations and thus making it seem less abstract – like Geogebra.





How did the teachers get on with using the tablets?


They got used to them very quickly. Staff were given training so they could learn about the many possibilities the technology offers. That’s one of the advantages of going through a company like Econocom, because the package they offer includes the equipment and training. What’s more, the teachers interacted a lot and talked about the different ways of using the equipment. We held regular meetings with the school IT Manager to help familiarise staff with the various apps available for the tablet and look at how to use them for educational purposes.


Were the students impressed?


Our main concern was that they would use the tablets more for recreational purposes than schoolwork. But year 12 and 13 students have really adopted them as a learning tool, so haven’t had any awkward situations to deal with and it hasn’t disrupted our usual classroom routine.


Year 7 students, however, immediately started playing with the tablets: taking photos, filming each other, etc., so we had to spend a lot of time showing them how to use it and making sure they understood the limits and their duties, particularly where image rights are concerned. So we taught them how to use the tablets responsibly and appropriately.


And what about the parents?


Parents of year 12 and 13 students have noted how enthusiastic their children are and, more importantly, the progress most of them have made. It was a bit more complicated with the year 7 class, though: why iPads and not an Android device? Why this particular class instead of another? What are the dangers? What happens if a child breaks one?

This year will be the second year we’ve experimented with Year 7, so we’ll have plenty of time to address all these questions with parents.





So what’s the verdict on this experiment?


On the whole, it’s been pretty positive, although you mustn’t forget that a tablet is just a tool: it doesn’t work miracles. For example, it can help maintain students’ motivation, but it won’t increase it. That’s what we’ve observed with teachers of year 12 and 13 technology students: those who at some point lose interest because of difficulties they’ve had with the more traditional teaching methods tend to stay motivated when using tablets. But tablets can’t spark interest in students if they’re not motivated in the first place. There may be a brief period of enthusiasm because of the novelty factor, but that’s not enough… And in some ways, that’s a good thing!


“Tablets boost students’ learning, consolidate their skills and empower them. They can stop students losing interest but the teacher still has to make the same amount of effort to motivate them in the first place!”


Are you planning to roll out tablets for other classes?


The school does plan to supply all classes with tablets in the medium term. But first, we really want to consolidate what we’ve already implemented and learn from this initial experiment. And there are still a number of issues we need to address. For example, at the moment the school doesn’t charge people for the tablets. But if we go ahead with mass deployment, we’ll have to think about asking the parents for a financial contribution.


What advice would you give to schools that are planning on taking the plunge?


Your main priority should be helping staff get used to the new technology.


“Teachers need to spend time familiarising themselves with the tool via training and by talking to their colleagues about what works and what doesn’t, what difference it makes to their teaching practices.”


It’s also important to carry out a financial analysis. Before rolling out the tablets, the first thing we did was consolidate our Internet connections. The school didn’t have fibre optic broadband and, considering how big it is, there was no way we could extend Internet access without a reliable network. So we took out a lease contract for a secure, dedicated fibre optic connection for the school.

And one last thing I’d like to say: it’s a time-consuming experience, but very exciting!



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