With 17 classes and just over 320 pupils, our school is the largest primary school in Burgenland (a rural area in the southeast of Austria). Due to our proximity to Hungary and a long common history (Burgenland was a part of Hungary until 1921), there are many people who grow up bilingual. Also, Croatian is spoken in many smaller communities. In addition to the country and school’s language diversity, we also have a lot of nature; however, there are fewer opportunities for cultural education. As there are no art, history, or technology museums, or even a theatre or an opera, we wanted to impart such essential components of education and culture into our schoolchildren, and we do this with all the means at our disposal. Our school currently has 4 main areas of focus: the first is languages: there are bilingual Hungarian classes at every school level, as well as bilingual Croatian classes; in addition, there is a German class for children who are not German-speaking with many additional lessons in German to help children learn the language as quickly as possible. Over the past two years, English has been given major focus, and as international projects are designed within the framework of eTwinning and Erasmus+, English is taught in almost all classes at school, which gives all classes equal opportunities to participate in projects. Class teachers take advantage of opportunities to participate in online meetings with other European schools so their students can work on various tasks and challenges together. The second area of focus is IT, coding, and robotics: from Grade 3 onwards, all children have the opportunity to participate in lessons as part of non-binding exercises, with the school being very well equipped thanks to a well-functioning parents' association. There are digital boards in 12 of the 17 classes, with at least 3 PCs in every classroom, a dedicated PC class with 20 devices, 20 iPads, and 26 Samsung tablets. The PC room is also a classroom, where IT, coding, and robotics are taught, so there is continuous access to digital media for communication with schools from other countries. Also, as our school is a centre of excellence for coding and robotics, we ensure that close cooperation exists with Burgenland’s e-education network. Our third focus area is environmental and climate protection: in our view, this is one of the most important issues facing our children, and we cannot start early enough to sensitise children and their parents to this topic. Therefore, our eTwinning projects are fully dedicated to this topic, and we have been working intensively for more than a year to participate in special events like World Earth Hour and World Earth Day, with many quizzes, puzzles, Kahoot, quizzes, and Quizlets that we have created and shared with each other. In 2016 we added our fourth focus, distance learning at primary schools; the pandemic and the constant lockdowns at our schools were quite a challenge, and we had to find a solution to make all learning content available to students so they could continue to be taught independently through attractive teaching tools, while maintaining close communication with both children and parents. In Burgenland we had the possibility to work with the "Skooly" platform, which was provided by the Directorate of Education. However, although all teachers and pupils were given free access to materials easily and effectively, it was not possible to work with Skooly across national borders. The children in primary school are quite young and usually depend on their parents to help them; as such, the use of a website was a perfect way to facilitate this interaction: https://www.genial.ly/. The platform is a tool where children can create presentations with each other, keep a joint calendar, and plan joint events; also, they can send each other messages, create menu plans, plan activities, and do much more. As a result of this platform, children's English language skills made substantial progress, as they could not only send messages, but also read and understand messages they received. As we worked together with Microsoft Teams, it became easier for us to involve children who were not allowed to attend school into the classroom environment.
The school’s students are between the ages of 5-11, with many of our students speaking Hungarian as their native language. In addition, many refugees have crossed into Austria from the Hungarian border and settled in our town; however, as some of them were still not integrated due to various reasons, a fair amount of hostility was aimed at them due to their foreign origins and their difficulty in understanding the German language. We implemented as many online meetings and challenges as we could, encompassing singing, handicrafts, and puzzles; this proved to be an excellent way for children to get to know other cultures, especially when they worked together. The Roma ethnic group is also very strongly represented at our school, and separate non-binding exercises for children were held so they could consolidate their knowledge of their mother tongue. Also, some classes were attended by integration children, who followed lessons as well as they can, and who were provided with their own caregivers. In order to prepare non-German speaking pupils for lessons, German classes were organised at school, where children are taught for three hours a day in subjects such as movement and sports, music, and art. We do our best to provide these children with a safe and trustworthy environment, at least at school, with many of them increasingly getting involved in Erasmus+ projects so they may have the opportunity to escape their everyday lives and acquaint themselves with other countries and peoples. Following the lockdown, a lot of work was carried out with the school’s IT team, which included coding and robotics lessons, as well as English lessons, so children can learn to use this medium. One example of such work was teaching younger children to generate passwords, with children from higher grades helping their younger peers. However, as class-mixing was not possible during the lockdowns, we relied on the help and support of parents; furthermore, several 1st and 2nd grade children learnt how to use Microsoft Teams at home and then showed it to their classmates at school. A recurring problem however is that some weaker children do not have the opportunity of using digital devices at home, and although they could borrow tablets to work from home, their Internet connection may be sometimes lacking. Although we will never manage to really offer ALL children the same conditions, we wish to ensure that those who have the opportunity to use digital devices also acquire the necessary knowledge to use them effectively.
The lockdowns were a great challenge for all of us last year, and an important factor was the use of the "Skooly" platform, which we used for all organisational work such as class books, competence-oriented annual planning, workload books, and informational tools. We also used Skooly as a learning platform, where we created games for our children, wrote down their homework, informed parents about excursions or other special features, and have absences signed by sick pupils. Skooly has become an important part of daily life for us and we are very interested to see that the pupils of Grade 1 are already familiar with it. The Skooly app is also used at our school where it functions like "WhatsApp" but is more secure due to it being hosted by the Burgenland Education Server that is compliant with all security standards; this way, both parents and guardians can be informed quickly and comprehensively. Despite the lockdown, one of our coding students was able to win the 2020 Minecraft Challenge, with three students having scored all points in the Beavers of Computer Science competition; furthermore, we came in second in the Citizen Science Award and third in the Neptune Water Prize. An Italian partner school then presented us with a puzzle that they had created using the website ‘genial.ly. ‘Genial.ly’ provides over 1000 templates for educational institutions that are very easy to use, with which you can create infographics, presentations, interactive images, quizzes, puzzles, games, and much more. As there are so many different ways through which to use the tool, children never felt like they were doing the same thing repetitively. Also, colleagues from other states were engaged through Genial.ly, where we shared our English preparations, games, and quizzes on our eTwinning topics. This way, not only did our students work together on a project, but also our teachers, which offered completely new possibilities during lockdowns. Appointments were entered and coordinated with the help of a weekly calendar to which all children have access. We were also able to create games and quizzes together and, when necessary, duplicate and translate them into the children’s various mother tongues. One link is enough for this function, with the page having made available to children via Skooly, or more recently, via "Teams". The municipality pays for Microsoft 365 access, so we were able to set up an account for all pupils and teachers, which provided everyone with access to both Office programmes and to Teams. It should be noted that the children love Kahoot and Quizlet, as such platforms are very easy to open and play through teams. The daily PE lesson was also done through Teams, with children only needing to launch the calendar and join the meeting. Teachers from the same school levels were able to meet through Microsoft Teams to coordinate their preparations, with problems in the digital sector handled through small-scale training sessions with colleagues. The topic of climate change was particularly important, as we still have many farmers whose crop yield are suffering greatly as a result of it. The school’s parents' association had bought 20 licences for Minecraft Education, which was great for the building and implementation of joint projects during lockdowns. Children helped and coached each other along the way, and in one of the last lessons, we discussed Redstone circuits, for which female students had created an incredible modular staircase with treads that close the circuit, and steps that pop in and out. The use of Minecraft Education provided incredible opportunities, and the third-grade students were very eager to work with it. At the moment, we are thinking of buying more licences, as the platform is excellent for communication and collaboration, especially during lockdowns. Finally, it should be mentioned that students at our school are used to holding online meetings with other countries, as such, the online meetings during the lockdowns were not new for them, but just a different way of communicating with each other.
Each of us wants to provide as many opportunities as we can for the students of our school, which is why we participate in eTwinning projects and other challenges. All activities were held online during the lockdowns, so we were fully motivated to register for the Youth Hackaton. Normally, trainee teachers would come to the school to support the children with their ideas and know-how, and now that students are being supported online, they are also assigned trainee teachers who work on topics with them. Thanks to our cooperation with the e-Education Network, this year we were also able to have the opportunity of trying out the school’s Logo Box and of participating in its scientific research. After we won third place at the Neptun Water Prize for our project "Water Footprints," a number of teaching colleagues from the third grade also expressed their interest in implementing the project. The fact that we wanted to involve the parents in the project was particularly praised at the award ceremony; initially, an evening was planned where parents could come to the school, and the children would organise a schoolhouse rally together with them to work on the topic. As this was not possible during the lockdown, an online scavenger hunt was created using the app "Actionbound," which allowed children to "play" together with their parents from home and learn a lot about their water footprint, which substantially increased the project’s sustainability. Together with eTwinning partners, further environmental and climate protection themes were created on genial.ly, including "20 Steps to Save Our World," "17 Sustainable Goals," and "Treasure Hunt to Save the World from Hunger." The 20 steps were designed in the form of a presentation, which we printed in A3 size and laminated, with the pictures hung in the corridor of the school building; children were then provided with a small booklet with questions for which they had to find answers around the school building. Unfortunately, the lockdowns kept slowing us down, so we began creating our own online games for the individual Sustainable Development Goals so that the children could continue working on them from home. We also provided the children with videos from Sofatutor coupled with learning videos that used the Camtasia programme. The cooperation with HTL Pinkafeld was also very important for our school. In the past, 4th Grade students came to our school to work together with our "little ones," and last year we built a robot together that now stands by the entrance door and greets us in four languages. The Scratch tool also allows us to programme the robot differently each time, so as to record the children's voices and play them back, which is always a lot of fun. EU Code Week also always offers new opportunities and ideas, with a number of new topics on AI being placed online. One of the topics that the school will be looking at is ‘How can a Computer Learn?’ Lastly, 4 other schools from the eTwinning project have already registered for our "Rob and Me" project.
We teach children who are quite young and, accordingly, the influence of teachers becomes quite substantial. We are quite pleased with the school’s Erasmus accreditation, with the last Erasmus+ project having been a great success. As teachers, we are well aware of the enormous added value of such projects. As such, all teaching colleagues know and actively support the goals we developed within the SQA, which are currently digitalisation as well as environmental and climate protection. Therefore, it was clear that we had to look for European projects on these topics; an example of this is the eTwinning project "Rob and Me," which has already been running for over a year, with several colleagues having helped to build the robots and involved in online meetings and programming. An Italian colleague, who had made many constructive contributions to the EU Code Week, introduced the "Coding to Save Our Planet" project, with its goals and tasks having corresponded exactly to our objectives. Accreditation gave us the opportunity to visit other schools and exchange and implement ideas with colleagues. While some colleagues looked forward to travelling to other countries, others were not so keen and preferred to welcome colleagues and students from Europe to the school’s site. A conference was organised to decide who would take on the various tasks and coordination responsibilities. The headmistress supports the entire teaching staff, and is responsible for presenting results to parents, school authorities, and the press. In our last project, we observed how quickly children made friends during joint assignments and how important these friendships are to them. As such, team undertakings help children improve their social and language skills – with an emphasis on the English language. To this end, the project itself is not about "schooling," but about life, communication, and community. The children experienced special moments together during the Erasmus+ project, and confirmed feeling special and valued; furthermore, they were very glad that they were allowed to be a part of it. This is exactly what we were working towards – the positive experiences, joint learning among children and other teachers, the immersion in other cultures, and other methods of learning. Currently, our school is being rebuilt; we reported our experience in Finland back to the school’s administration, and the director has made a number of suggestions to plan the new school based on the Finnish example. We are convinced that a significant plus point is the fact that we do not do all activities alone, but always together with other classes. We also often work across school levels, for example, 4th Grade pupils help those from the 1st Grade to acquire their first digital skills. This form of "togetherness" is not only fun, but it also makes us strong.
Impact and spillover effects
As previously mentioned, we participate in many challenges, with children receiving vouchers to the cinema or (at the moment) for popular restaurants from the school, which makes them both happy and proud to participate in such activities; furthermore, these activities strengthen their self-esteem and provide them with motivation to continue. Colleagues with low-ability children and those who do not speak German as their first language are always happy when their students are brought to online conferences, because they then learn to speak English quite well. Furthermore, the attitude of the children when they are taken to conferences speaks volumes, which shows how important it is for children to have a sense of achievement, and we teachers should make sure that we always make this possible. In the long run, issues such as climate and environmental protection can only be implemented globally through broad awareness and cooperation, and our teachers think it is important to start instilling such awareness among children as early as possible. We wish to implement as many ideas as possible and look forward to these challenges, whether through eTwinning, EU Code Week, or other projects such as the Youth Hackaton or Minecraft. Small successes can also be achieved immediately if parents help out, with a change in consumer behaviour among parents and pupils capable of making a big difference. Some of the changes that we hope for is for plastic bags to be replaced by snack boxes, plastic bottles for reusable bottles, better functioning waste separation in class and at home, and for sausage sandwiches to be replaced by butter sandwiches. All of these would be small measurable and visible steps that show us that we are on the right track. We do our best to try to be up to date, especially in the digital section, where we work closely with PH Burgenland and the EIS laboratory to offer further training at our school for other schools as well as teachers who, with their students, can get to know new methods via peer learning. That being said, online offers are often difficult because these tend to be small rural schools where the conditions for online learning are not optimal. As previously mentioned, our school is located in an undeniably beautiful area, but we are too far away from a larger city to be able to get experts to come to the school and try out technical things such as new types of learning robots, new teaching aids, and so on. This makes it all the more important for our school to have the opportunity to get to know other teachers and pupils through eTwinning, to realise other customs, common ideas, and to simply to have a share in a world outside our school. It is also important to us that our children enjoy what they do, such as coming to school, or participating in online meetings. However, because not all teaching methods and tools are equally optimal for all children, we try to use as many different means and methods as possible to reach all students equally. Working with students from other countries is fascinating for all our students, and the fact that we have the opportunity to do this nowadays through the eTwinning platform and Erasmus+ is something we are incredibly grateful for! What we have achieved in our Erasmus+ project, we could only achieve together and through the fact that so many extraordinary people have worked on it. Without our good cooperation, this whole project and therefore this final report would not have been possible. The friendship and loyalty among the school’s teaching staff go far beyond the teaching and learning processes, with all of this having been made possible by Erasmus+ and eTwinning projects. Although we are located in a small village in the Austrian countryside, these projects have given us the opportunity to participate in Europe’s future projects - and we gratefully accept this chance!
- Project locations
- Project category
- Primary education
- Project year
Colegiul Național Gheorghe Lazăr Sibiu
EB1/PE da Lombada – Ponta do Sol
SU Ekzarh Antim I
Spojená škola Tilgnerova 14