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In her third blog post, Jody Lee Parker, who is head of secondary school and co-interim director at The International School in Genoa, Italy, reveals how the recent introduction of GCSEPod has captured the imagination of teachers looking to enhance older students learning during the Covid-19 lockdown.

We’re counting down the days until our school year ends on June 19.

It has been a surreal academic year, and if someone had told us in January when we returned for the spring term that within a matter of weeks multiple countries would be forced into lockdown as a new and deadly virus swept across the globe, we would have thought them mad.

If we find ourselves in a position where our older students can’t return to school, then GCSEPod will give us the essential back-up we need to remotely create assignments and homework and ensure their learning stays focused and on track.

But as Italy found itself in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, the government in Rome was forced to intervene at the beginning of March and order the entire country into a dramatic total lockdown – which inevitably included the closure of all schools.

Only now, nearly three months on, is my adopted homeland beginning to return to some form of normality.

With the thermometer on the rise here in Genoa as spring turns to summer, the bars, cafes, restaurants and shops have been allowed to reopen – albeit under strict social-distancing restrictions. We can once again use the parks, take public transport and, most importantly of all, meet with family and close friends, as long as we obey the social-distancing rules.

The wearing of masks in public is compulsory, however, and whilst the worst may now be over, no-one is kidding themselves that the coronavirus has been beaten. The feeling is we will have to live with it long-term.

There has been no mad rush to dine out.

There is something bizarre about the prospect of sitting in a restaurant in a mask and where the tables are abnormally far apart. I certainly don’t want to go out for a meal in those circumstances, and generally there is an atmosphere of great anxiety and uncertainty.

But under intense pressure, the government in Rome has taken its biggest step yet in relaxing the national lockdown for the sake of the economy.

Not everything is getting back to what will be the new ‘normal’ going forward, however. Schools have been told they must remain closed until September, leaving us with the ongoing headache of how best to homeschool our 357 students not just for the remainder of this term, but potentially into the new academic year too.

As yet, we have no idea how we are going to be able to safely re-open The International School. We are awaiting direction from the Italian government, but we are already wrestling with a number of different scenarios. Do we only bring back the younger children as it is more difficult to teach them online? Do we look to just reintroduce certain year groups so we can safely spread them out across the school? Or do we restrict students to attending morning or afternoon sessions with the remainder of the day spent home learning?

The possibility that homeschooling may have to continue for our middle and senior school students is something we can’t ignore. I won’t lie, though. The last few months of homeschooling has been a particularly tiring and stressful experience for teachers, students and, indeed, parents, as we have tried to keep learning on track.

Our older students we now have a new resource our teachers can call on: GCSEPod.

Our teachers have been familiarising themselves with the online learning platform over the last week or so. Just as our students have had to get their heads around distance learning, so our teachers have had to remotely get to grips with finding out all they can about GCSEPod.

They have taken part in detailed training webinars on how to effectively use the platform and make the most of its multiple features. One of the things that has really impressed everyone has been how easy it has been to set up and how helpful the GCSEPod team has been.

The initial response from staff has been extremely positive. They love the Pods – the three to five minute audio visual learning and revision videos. They like the eye-catching graphics, the fact you can use them visually or just with the sound, the onscreen key words, dates and diagrams, and that each Pod comes with subtitles that can be turned on and off.

It’s easy to copy and paste the links into Google Classroom so we know our students are accessing the right lesson resources.

The sheer breadth of coverage – 27 subjects and all the exam boards…

Then there is the sheer breadth of the Pods covering 27 subjects and all the exam boards, as well as the Check and Challenge feature, which allows students to self-assess and teachers to see who may be falling behind and to intervene if necessary.

Having so much online information in the one place is fantastic, and the maths and science departments in particular are keen to exploit GCSEPod’s resources. It can be hard to find visually appealing subject materials in these areas elsewhere.

If you are asking your students to go off and revise quadratic equations it’s not going to be as easy to find the right source material as it would be if you were directing your class to research a particular author in English or the First World War in history. But with GCSEPod, the correct information is at your fingertips.

Whilst we are only just starting to roll out GCSEPod, our staff have already asked if it can be made available to our younger students in Grades 6, 7 and 8, equivalent to Years 7, 8 and 9 in the UK.

We have quickly identified GCSEPod as a tool that could be effectively used for students who are ready to be challenged academically.

Moving forward…

With so little time left until the beginning of the summer holidays, however, and with the obvious educational challenges we are facing, we are being realistic about how we utilise GCSEPod in the short-term. This side of the summer holidays it is less about using it as a teaching and learning tool, and more about helping our older students revise for their end of term assessments.

We will be setting a mix of open book exams, projects, essays and presentations, and GCSEPod will play an important part in ensuring our older students consolidate their knowledge.

Come September when we will hopefully be in a position to reopen The International School, we will begin in earnest integrating GCSEPod as both a learning and revision tool.

Flipped learning where teachers can create video playlists to share and set work ahead of lessons, is something we are very keen to explore.

If we find ourselves in a position where our older students can’t return to school, then GCSEPod will give us the essential back-up we need to remotely create assignments and homework and ensure their learning stays focused and on track.

As the summer holidays roll ever nearer, we will soon be saying goodbye to our current Grade 12 students. Usually it is a time of celebration. But this year their departure will be tinged with sadness – and not just because they face an uncertain future in the current climate.

Our annual graduation ceremony has been thrown into doubt. The social-distancing regulations mean we will need to seek official authorisation to hold it. If we are given the go ahead then rather than the 250 people we would normally expect to welcome to the ceremony, it will by necessity be a more sober affair with restricted numbers and none of the usual formalities.

If our request is turned down, then we are looking at hosting some kind of online graduation. Not being able to celebrate this milestone with friends and family in person will be hugely disappointing for our students, but we hope we can still help them feel part of The International School community before they embark on their new lives.

Then our focus will inevitably turn to September and how we navigate our way through the still challenging times ahead. Now we at least have GCSEPod to call on.

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“I can’t speak highly enough about how helpful the GCSEPod team were throughout the whole process. Most importantly, teachers and students have found the resources relevant, excellent, and easy to use.” 
Ian Lee, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, China

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