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Maths students have heads in clouds

INSTEAD OF having their heads in their books, pupils will be getting top marks from having their heads in the clouds.

The sort of technology that delivers Hotmail, Facebook and YouTube is now leading the latest classroom revolution.

A single teacher will soon be able to deliver applied maths classes simultaneously to pupils in nine second-level schools in Co Meath via video link.

Free online grinds will also be rolled out in the same schools from September.

These are among the examples of a new scheme unveiled by Co Meath Vocational Education Committee (VEC) yesterday. The VEC has been working with software giant Microsoft since 2003 to introduce technological innovation to the classroom.

In the latest phase, it will become the first second-level education institution to use 'cloud computing' across its schools network.

It is similar to a household switching from using its own power generator to linking into the national electricity grid instead.

Now, instead of each of its nine schools having their own technology, Meath VEC provides a centrally-managed network.

It offers a single point for all technology resources and all teachers have access to and can share the same materials.

The primary objective is to exploit new technology to transform the learning experience for students.

Meath VEC acting CEO Seamus Ryan said it created a level playing field by allowing teachers and students in the smallest schools to access the same resources as others.

Among its many innovations is that it allows pupils in different schools to sit the same class simultaneously using a video link.

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That is important for offering choice, particularly for subjects of minority interest where there may not be sufficient students in one school to justify a teacher.

Two schools in the network are already using the video-conferencing technology to teach chemistry to pupils in classrooms 35km apart.

From next September, students in the nine schools will link into the same applied maths class, which is currently not available in some of the schools.

Leaving Certificate students will also be able to log on from home for grinds in "smart economy" subjects of maths, physics and chemistry, to be offered free of charge by Meath VEC.

The VEC is in the process of rolling out mini-laptops to the 5,100 pupils in the nine schools.

As of now, 600 pupils have their own notebook-size computer, which is fast becoming a one-stop educational resource.

As an added bonus, the centralised nature of the system allows computers to be switched off automatically in schools every evening, saving €10,000 in the annual electricity bill.

Another €20,000 is saved on annual phone charges, because the computer technology is used for some voice communications.

Wicklow VEC will begin to roll out the same systems next September.

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