Inside an Irish school that teaches using iPads and YouTube videos

The school uses the 'flipped learning' method of teaching

When you think of a classroom, chances are you picture books, rows of desks and either a white or blackboard at the front. 

As technology continues to develop, so too does the structure of the classroom. I decided to take a look at how technology is transforming teaching in Ireland.

I went out to Le Cheile secondary school in Tyrrelstown. This is a relatively new school that has fully embraced technology. There are iPads in the place of books and YouTube is streamed in the place of a blackboard. I met with teacher Niall O'Connor, a maths and science teacher who has embraced 'flipped learning'. 

This is a method of teaching that essentially flips how things are normally done. Niall uploads videos to YouTube for his class to watch that explain a particular part of the syllabus. The children watch these videos as their homework, making notes and jotting down any questions they may have. They then spend the class time answering problems and doing the work that would have been traditionally thought of as homework. 

Mr. O'Connor explained the benefits of this method of teaching. 

"One of the best things about the flipped classroom is that you build relationships. I can spend that one-to-one time with students. We've had students who wanted to do ordinary level, used the flipped classroom for a number of months and then moved back up to higher level. We're happy for them to do that."

"When you see it done, it's common sense," continued O'Connor. "My job is to help students as best I can, and I can use technology to do that, better than I can without technology and still not have a massive cost to parents."

There is no question but that this is a very different approach to traditional learning. The issue of cost to parents is one that both the school and the teachers are very aware of. Not every family could afford to buy an iPad, but Mr. O'Connor says parents have options. 

"There is a lease model, so parents can pay €10 a month over three years. Or we get students to buy it before they come to the school. By buying it, it's actually cheaper than three years worth of textbooks. We don't ask parents to buy any e-books."

Mr. O'Connor creates his own iBooks, which are available for free, as are his YouTube videos. 

I feel it's important to point out that students still have traditional copy books and they write their answers with a pen and pencil. Technology hasn't replaced any skill sets, just the bulky books. 

Progress

When I walked into the classroom, students were learning about the different types of triangle. They had watched one of Mr. O'Connor's videos at home and were then presented with three questions on their iPads. The teacher can then see what child has completed which tasks on his own iPad via a spreadsheet.

"We use spreadsheets to track the students. So we can track all of the activities that they have done on this spreadsheet. The students change colour, based on what activities they have done. I then know which students to go to first and I can spend that one-on-one time with them. Students can't see the spreadsheet."

While creating YouTube videos and digitised class plans may sound time-consuming, Mr. O'Connor says he has no more on his plate than any other teacher. He uses his lesson prep time differently, that's all. Some teachers may write out their lessons, Mr. O'Connor spends 40 minutes recording a video and uploading it to YouTube.

He says this method of teaching allows him to personalise the time in the classroom to suit the needs of the students but also means that students can watch the videos back at their own pace if they need extra time to understand something.