Teachers draw on technology to put Dingwall Academy pupils in frame during coronavirus crisis
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SCHOOLS in Ross-shire have been forced to find creative solutions to the unprecedented problems thrown up by the coronavirus public health crisis.
And when it comes to being creative, art and music students and staff at the county's largest secondary have certainly learned on their feet as the lockdown weeks have become months with no prospect of a return to classrooms until August 11 at the earliest.
Dingwall Academy art and music faculty head Kirstie Trimble admitted the prospect was daunting as the full scale of the challenges emerged.
"The first thought was how on earth are we going to get round this for art and music?" she said.
With Highland Council's digital hub rapidly pushed into action, technology has been the key to maintaining contact and finding new ways to learn during the most uncertain times faced by schools in a lifetime.
She said: "The whole school has been great at pulling together and the technical support from other IT staff has been brilliant."
While desperately missing her pupils and the reassuring comforts of her classroom art resources, she has been won over by an application called Screencastify which allows her to draw and make annotations on work handed in by a student while they are both looking at it on screen. A complete innovation for the art department, mastering its use has been borne out of necessity. She said: "It is so immediate and has been a super way to give feedback. Like everyone else, I have had to learn on my feet with terrific support from other staff. I'm fairly practical as an art teacher and enjoy learning."
Using other apps within the Google Classroom suite which will now be very familiar to most parents also allows her to arrange virtual drop-ins to chat to pupils. She said: "It's lovely to be able to talk and hear their voices because we do miss than a lot."
If we went into another lockdown, we're probably now as prepared as we could be. They are certainly interesting times.
Meanwhile head teacher Karen Cormack – who said there had been "some very creative responses to delivering practical-based subjects at home" – did the rounds delivering instruments to pupils needing them to progress with their music studies. That involved transporting glockenspiels and keyboards from the school for loan, all the time observing social distancing etiquette.
Young music students relished the opportunity to make their own instruments with whatever came to hand as part of a practical assignment.
Mrs Trimble said: "The whole school has risen to meet the challenge. We are still communicating and engaging with pupils. In some ways it has been liberating finding new ways of doing things and using resources which have been put together nationally. If we went into another lockdown, we're probably now as prepared as we could be. They are certainly interesting times."
Her cat Rufus is making a bid for internet stardom with occasional appearances while she is addressing pupils via web cam.
Acknowledging the anxiety felt by students facing exams in such uncertain times, she said: "At the moment we are trying to steady the ship and provide something creative and meaningful to do. We also know there are pupils for whom it is difficult and where the wi-fi drops in and out with several people using it at the same time. Staff are aware of these difficulties and will give students longer to do work when necessary."
She is sure that has been learned during the crisis will prove beneficial when things get back to normal. She said: "Technology is an amazing thing but I don't think it will ever replace people. I expect we will look back and think what a strange old time it was."