ITIS Majorana School And Educational Technology
ITIS Majorana School is located in Brindisi, in the “heel” of Italy. It is comprised of 110 teachers and 1,300 students. The school’s innovation process was initiated by the principal Salvatore Giuliano, who has transformed his institute into an iSchool, with digital books, Skype lessons, and video lessons published on the web. Salvatore Giuliano is a member of the National Math and Problem Solving Olympics Board, the Galileo Board on Laboratory Teaching Methodology, and the ENI Scientific Board for Energy. He is also the coordinator of digital content for the network of 2.0 Schools.
Teaching And Learning Collaboratively: The Flipped Classroom Approach
ITIS Majorana School’s classroom model is based on collaborative teaching and learning. The school actively seeks to enhance interaction and collaboration through the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology).
All classes are provided with one tablet per student, an interactive whiteboard, and wi-fi connection. In the available digital learning environment students can access recorded lessons when they are absent. Students’ attendance, activities, and performance are tracked and recorded by the use of a personal digital student card. The messages from the electronic register are connected directly to mobile phones. Parents can see in “real time” whether or not their child has attended the lesson.
Students have their own devices, so they can access the wi-fi connection throughout the school grounds, i.e. the library and elsewhere, thus enhancing informal learning or peer education sessions throughout the school day.
Providing a personal device to each of the students helps personalize the learning. Students can work on their own and learn at their own pace.
According to the teachers, the philosophy of the Majorana School enables them to be facilitators of learning. Teachers provide guidance and feedback for students’ learning, rather than just lecturing at them. They continuously review their teaching methods to make learning more effective and stimulating.
There is a strong focus on group work, which fosters the interests and abilities of each student, while also reinforcing their collaborative skills.
A 2.0 school, Majorana combines innovative teaching practices, like the flipped classroom with new technologies. Students are provided with educational materials specifically selected or prepared by the teachers. The educational material can be video, multimedia resources, books, or eBooks. Students “study” by watching videos and consulting the material repeatedly (each according to their needs), before and after school – not during, as in the classical model.
In the classroom, teachers propose and follow enforcement activities, which include tutorials, workshops, assignments, problem solving, case studies, and in-depth activities.
Virtual Reality In Education
One of the topics we discussed in our meeting with the principal is that of virtual reality. He believes it is a useful platform for both recreational and educational applications. Being a firm believer in the idea that study is not boredom and fatigue, the principal bought some virtual reality stations consisting of viewers, but also gloves and computers. Students will study subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry, and astronomy in a completely new way, immersing themselves in a virtual world.
Mr Giuliano explained that “virtual reality amplifies study and, in some cases, allows you to do things that in school would simply be impossible! For example, students can interact with a chemistry lab by manipulating –with gloves– even those reagents and reactants that are prohibited in schools. Or they can study astronomy with the virtual helmet”.
I tried the Oculus Rift Viewer to take a virtual trip into space; a truly remarkable experience.
Beatrice Vinjau, Chemistry teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator, explained to me that “the ITIS Majorana School is already a pioneer of digital school experiences, including advanced multimedia, such as 3D content”. She took me to the auditorium, where students do lesson science wearing the stereoscopic glasses to learn about the human body in an interactive and more engaging way. The teachers have access to a 3D projector and a dedicated computer with a latest generation graphics card and with as many as 6000 examples of educational content. She told me that “the use of 3D technology has proved to be a real active support to the teaching that leads to better results in learning”.
I tested the 3D glasses and I must say that the experience of moving in a virtual laboratory is truly amazing.
The Future Classroom
I was shown what is called “The Future Classroom”, a new interactive learning space that has been established in the school to explore pedagogical approaches with the support of Apple products, such as iBooks Authors, iTunes U, Apple TV, and iPads. In this classroom there is a more inviting learning atmosphere, and teachers walk among students, rather than just sitting or standing in front of the room; it is a space where students can choose where to sit, work, and collaborate with their peers; there are round tables, work areas, and even creative elements like beanbags.
The Future Classroom has four zones, which emphasize different aspects of teaching and learning. The first zone, called “agora”, is used for plenaries and presentations; the second zone concentrates on digital material production using for example Educreations, iMovies, Keynotes, and Pages apps; the third zone is dedicated to informal learning; and the last one is for collaborative learning. The teachers use the room to organize additional student-led lessons, to develop a more in-depth analysis of some topics and to provide flipped classroom to their students.
The “Book In Progress” Initiative: Creating eTextbooks For Innovative Teaching
ITIS Majorana School is well-known in Italy because of their flagship project The “Book in progress”, which aims to produce digital resources that replace the old textbooks, i.e. “books” (both paper and digital), and are made by the teachers. It has now become a network of 200 schools using texts produced by approximately 800 participating teachers.
The principal explained: “The advantage is that a family spends for the textbooks only 50 euros instead of 400. They may invest the remainder in a tablet, used for lessons.”
The digital books are multitouch; they contain videos and quizzes, made by teachers or other students, are shared over the internet through free software, and can be used by anyone on Apple iTunes U.
The project started in 2007, a time when the school was alone in this innovation process. It has progressively involved more than 100 schools in the entire country and currently involves more than 800 teachers.
The initial inspiration for the project was textbooks being deemed to be no longer suitable for today’s students; so a decision was made to produce them according to end-users needs and preferences.
Thanks to the platform provided by the project, the textbooks in various disciplines are developed by individual teachers and then printed within the schools. “Books in progress” makes it possible to change the contents of manuals according to actual teaching and training needs, thus significantly improving the learning of students.
Summer School: Ongoing Professional Development
A two-day Italian Summer School of the Living Schools Lab project organized by Indire (the national research institute in Italy in charge of the teacher training at a national level) takes place in the summer at ITIS Majorana School. Teachers take part in the event to discuss and learn innovative teaching methodologies.
The Summer School includes introductions, lessons, and workshop activities organized and made by Majorana’s teachers. The topics are: Innovative teaching methodologies for using new learning environments, collaborative learning in iCloud, 3D interactive learning objects, and new methodologies. Workshop activities include 1:1 tablets, collaborative learning using tablets, how to create iBooks, and interactive texts.
- Sarah Waters. “Flipping the Classroom”. 2012. iBooks.
- Bergman, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. ISTE.
- Alberto Fornasari. (2015) “ICT and innovative teaching”
- Houston, M. & Lin, L. (2012). Humanizing the classroom by flipping the homework versus lecture equation. In Resta P., Proceedings of Society for Information Tecnhology & Teacher Education International Conference 2