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14th January 2015

XMA and St Matthew Academy rewrite history

Students at St Matthew Academy in Blackheath rewrote history in December when they worked with children's author Tamsyn Murray and Apple Professional Development Specialist Trainer David Ryan at British Education IT specialist XMA, to write their own interactive World War I digital books.

Students from Year 7 and 8 spent the whole of Thursday 11th and Friday 12th December, being inspired by a variety of original source materials (including postcards, helmets, uniforms and a Death Penny issued for William Hassan), loaned especially for the event by The Somme Heritage Centre in Belfast, to write their own stories. Before starting to write they learned about structure, setting and characterisation with Tamsyn, worked in St Matthew Academy’s 4D creative immersive space loaded with the sights and sounds of the war to get an idea of what it might have been like to actually be in the trenches, before finally splitting into groups and using iPad to get some words down under David's expert tuition. Students also had access to a specially prepared online resource library of songs, pictures and poems from the era, which they incorporated into their stories to give their work a multi-media appeal. By the end of Day Two each group had produced a complete interactive digital book written entirely by them, complete with a cover they had designed themselves, with stories including a dual-narrative love story written from the point of view of a nurse and a soldier, and a heart-breaking tale of two children orphaned by the war. St Matthew Academy plans to test the students' storytelling ability by sharing their work with parents at a special event in the spring term.

The aim of this unique collaboration was to fuse the kind of technology students might use every day with timeless storytelling techniques to inspire their imaginations, unleash their creativity and give them some fascinating insights into WWI in its centenary year. Supported by XMA, who have an exemplary track record of cross-curricular ICT innovation across countless schools and academies, the project made 21st Century writers of St Matthew Academy's students. By hosting the event, it's safe to say Michael Barry achieved the school's aim 'to provide an education for our children that is better than they would receive at any other school.'

Michael Barry, Principal at St Matthew Academy, says:

It was amazing to see our students being emotionally moved by exposure to resources from WW1 and then how they were expertly guided and supported by Tamsyn Murray and David Ryan in writing their own stories using IPad.

A unique and valuable experience that inspired our students!”

And the students say:

“Truly an amazing experience. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about how soldiers gave up their lives for us. I cannot describe how awesome this experience was! Thank you, Tamsyn Murray, for giving me so much inspiration.”

Genevieve Tetteh, Year 7

“What I liked about the event was that it took us back in time using an iPad. I really enjoyed writing a book on the iPad because we got to use a range of apps to create our books. The most fun I’ve had writing a book in a long while.”

Michael Daumbe Year 8

Guy Bates, Business Development Director at XMA, says:

“The two days of inspiration were wonderful to experience but the beauty of what was achieved is the replicability of this pilot. Any school can use creative learning and teaching methods aligned to ICT to give students the power to become authors, actors and historians. David and I will be delighted to explore new approaches with any interested school leadership team.”

David Ryan, Apple Professional Developer at XMA, says:

“There is a lot of talk in the media about how digital technology can reduce the interest of children in reading, or indeed that often it is difficult to engage boys with books and reading. We found that through developing interactive lessons with real hands on experience, using original First World War artefacts, digital resources and inspirational teaching, the students of St Matthew Academy were able to produce amazing work. In fact, they exceeded the expectations of those leading the project in terms of what they could achieve.”

Tamsyn Murray, author of the Afterlife series, the Stunt Bunny series and the Completely Cassidy series, and Visiting Lecturer in Writing for Children at London City University, says:

“Wow - what an incredible two days! I had some pretty high expectations of what the students would achieve before I went into St Matthew Academy and it’s safe to say they blew those out of the water. Every single student worked hard and committed to creating their groups' exciting and imaginative digital book– I was immensely proud to hear them read out at the end of the two days and I can't wait to go back and share their incredible work with their teachers and parents later in 2015."

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