Bertjan ten Donkelaar
Headteacher of Daltonschool Elserike
Original solutions and surprising developments
“Children can do extraordinary things if you give them the chance. Every year we do the GEC it’s inspiring to see what they can do.”
Daltonschools (www.daltoninternational.org) were originated by Maria Parkhurst, a teacher in Dalton USA who was teaching children aged 6 to 12 in the same classroom. She developed a programme that allowed her to give every child the education that he or she needed. The basics of her programme were collaboration, responsibility and independence and every Daltonschool nowadays works with those principles.
The children at Daltonschool Elserike School (DES) are taught not only the basic skills like maths and the Dutch language, but also how to plan their work, collaborate effectively, set goals for themselves and identify their skills, as well as those they need to develop. They work together with twelve other schools in the region to develop 21st century skills that include IT and technology, together with the social skills society requires.
DES has been at the forefront of technology for 15 years, says its headteacher, Bertjan ten Donkelaar. “The first interactive whiteboard in this region was placed at our school. We were also the first school in the Netherlands trying out an electronic learning platform from Microsoft called ClassServer. Although we’d stopped using this learning platform by 2009, we learned a lot from the experience we had with it. As a team/teachers you take a chance by looking at teaching from another viewpoint. You are experimenting with new technology, thinking outside the box.”
When Bertjan became headteacher at DES in 2005, the teachers acknowledged that they needed to change not only the way they taught, but also what they taught, in order to ensure the children learned the skills needed by the adults of the future: “Of course maths, reading and writing are still important basic skills, but we needed to rethink our curriculum and maybe even also our didactics. In 2007 we organised a special evening for all the parents where we boldly told them that we, at that point, also didn’t know where the fast technological developments would lead us. That night we had a memorable and constructive discussion between teachers and parents on the future of our education. From that moment on we felt encouraged to look for new ways and new technologies. That meant that we had to take ‘controlled risks’ in testing out new ideas. We as teachers, as a school, could take control and create and test ideas and develop our own vision."
“In January 2013 we moved towards adaptive and personalised learning using tablets and specially-developed apps. We let the children do their maths, spelling and Dutch exercises on them, with the software registering all the data. Each child then can do the exercises that he or she needs to get to ‘the next level’. It’s a very interesting and promising technology and the next step in our search for new horizons.”
The motto of all the Daltonschools in the Netherlands is What the world needs are people without fear. Bertjan explains that this means that they teach children not to be scared of any challenge they will face now or in the future: “We hope to raise children who are confident about what they can do and eager to learn things they can’t do. To accomplish that, Parkhurst says, you also need teachers without fear. We constantly need them to develop and look for ways to do things better and try new things as an answer for the challenges you face at school. Technology plays an important, but not a major role in this. Technology can be an answer to some of the problems/challenges in our education nowadays, but not the only one.”
DES and the Global Enterprise Challenge (GEC)
DES has participated in Broadclyst School’s (BCPS) Enterprise Project, now the GEC, since 2007. At the beginning, the exchange of ideas between children took place via Lync, e-mail and their own SharePoint site. “We are in the fortunate position that we can physically meet up with the teachers and children of BCPS,” says Bertjan. “Every year we organise a student exchange where we visit each other’s country. Every other year children from BCPS travel to the Netherlands to meet up with their teammates from Holland and the next year we travel to Heatree in Devon. That’s a very special event that has a lot of value!”
The platform both schools use today has much more possibilities - Office365 leads students, as well as their teachers, to their own working environment and to a great number of applications. This range of possibilities is superb, although, according to Bertjan, it does lead to logistical issues as well as sometimes being a little daunting for the children: “The sheer scale of the project, with so many countries and even more children, makes it in a way more difficult to get the children in one-to-one contact. All the different time zones can cause issues - not everyone is online all the time. It’s up to the teacher to look at all participating countries and investigate the different cultures."
“For the children, getting in contact with children from all over the world is exciting and a bit frightening as well. Direct contact via Skype is the scariest part for some of them. With a message board like Yammer, when they are not sure about a word or sentence they can always ask their teammates or teachers before sending it. Yammer is easy to use for exchanging ideas and gives a nice overview of the work from all the different teams. But seeing and speaking to each other in real-time is more difficult.”
DES has a satellite internet connection that makes certain apps inaccessible, so the children have not yet been able to use OneNote. However, there are plans for a fast broadband connection by the time next year’s Challenge comes around.
Learning through the Challenge
The power of the Global Enterprise Challenge is demonstrated by the fact that the DEC is now working almost completely with projects like it, because of its tremendous learning power.
Bertjan describes the impact of this way of teaching: “From the first moment on, we saw that the children were capable of much more than we had previously thought, and the teachers need to take on a different role than before. You become more like a coach, a facilitator. You need to set boundaries within which they can freely move, think and act, and then guide them.
“The children, too, need to develop different skills than they would have used in the past. The key skills are freedom, collaboration, responsibility and creativity: working freely in a team within the boundaries set by their teacher, where they can accelerate in the things they are good at and learn intensively the skills they need to improve, respecting their teammates, and discovering what talents everyone has in order to allocate tasks effectively."
“Children can do extraordinary things if you give them the chance. Every year we do the challenge it’s inspiring to see what they can do, surprising to witness the developments in the roles that they are playing, and impressive how creative they are in trying to solve the challenges they need to face.”