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Utilizing ICT in a Japanese School

24 January, 2022

Takamori-machi, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu. In this small town of 6,600 people, located in the crater basin of Mt. Aso, which has a prominent caldera, there is a school which is proactively utilizing ICT.

Takamori-machi Municipal Takamori Junior High School has collaborated with the local government since 2012, and worked hard to establish an ICT environment in the school. All classrooms and the gymnasium are equipped with electronic blackboards and episcopes. The school has wireless LAN, and distributes a tablet computer to each student.

In the “school computerization accreditation,” organized by the Japan Association for Educational Technology (JAET), it was recognized as an “excellent school” in 2021, and the computer skills of teachers and students was rated highly. The school received accreditation in 2015 and 2018, and this marked the third time it was a recipient of such recognition. As an advanced education ICT school, it is known not only in the prefecture, but also around the country.

ICT utilizing both digital and analog methods

Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School
Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School

The following are raised as specific ICT utilization methods in actual lessons:

  • Mathematics: Visual confirmation on tablets of the relationship between point movement and area change, function word problem visualization using animation, etc.
  • Science: Shooting of still images or videos on tablet computers of experiment results, and shared as a whole
  • Art: Trial and error using tablet computers to show the image of colors in advance
  • Technology/Home Economics/PE: Viewing of examples through videos, shooting and checking one’s form

In such ways, ICT devices such as electronic blackboards and tablet computers are used as tools to create situations in which students can think and express themselves independently.

On the other hand, importance is also placed on writing on the blackboard in lessons. Lessons are created with the constant aim of understanding the contents (lesson flow, students’ thoughts, etc.) at a glance by looking at the writing on the blackboard. As a way to make knowledge understood and fixed, it is thought that analog methods, such as blackboards and notes, have sufficient significance.
The blackboard, which leaves a record, and the electronic blackboard, which is used as a real time thought and expression tool, are broadly different in their usage. Taking into account the merits and demerits of both digital and analog methods, ICT is utilized depending on the situation.

Online lesson initiative started due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School
Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School

In 2020, when all schools were closed due to the spread of COVID-19, online lessons were developed. Using the local government budget, the environment required for online lessons was put in place, such as the lending of routers to households which did not have Wi-Fi.

The lessons were conducted using a video conferencing system, and all the students’ faces could be seen on the electronic blackboards. The episcopes were used as cameras. Teachers worked in pairs, with one teaching the lesson standing in front of the blackboard, and the other operating the equipment and checking the situation with the students.

At first, as usual, six hours of lessons were conducted, however, some students said that they became tired looking at the screen all the time, or that they had headaches. The lesson hours were reduced by conducting an alternating system, with the first class studying in the first hour, and the second class studying in the second hour. The method shifted to one in which students took a rest or did assignments in the intervals.

Regarding the practical aspects of the lessons, consideration was given to the tone of voice, speaking slowly, and the size of the letters written on the blackboard. Episcopes were used to enlarge or reduce the size. All subjects, including practical subjects, were conducted simultaneously and two-way online, however, chorus practice did not go well due to the time lag of voices. On the other hand, listening to music and playing the audio of digital English textbooks went smoothly. The stance was not to make the decision that online lessons were impossible, but to give them a try anyway, and explore better ways through accumulated trial and error. Perhaps it could be said that this stance is the key to maximizing the potential of ICT utilization in the classroom.

ICT utilization effect

Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School
Image courtesy of Takamori Junior High School

The effect of ICT utilization is that students have come to act independently themselves. Students have been seen to look things up in break time using the electronic blackboards, teach each other during the school day, and act by themselves to solve issues.
For teachers, there are many positive aspects. They have the chance to reconsider their lessons, and to increase interaction with other teachers. During the period of school closure, teachers watched each others’ lessons daily, and exchanged information regarding online lessons. Collaboration with other schools in the town also became more active than before.

Even now, Takamori Junior High School continues to explore new methods for various events and activities. The general student meeting, the high school information sessions for 2nd and 3rd year students, and the training session for the teachers of the whole town were conducted using a video conferencing system. In the general student meeting, discussions in each classroom became possible, and opinions were exchanged more vigorously than usual.
Based on the idea that “ICT is a tool, and is always used on the premise of aiming to foster children’s human nature and educational ability,” the school wants to promote the use of ICT in educational activities, while aiming to optimize educational activities and administrative tasks, and to maximize the effectiveness of education.