Using IT and communications tools to make reading "cool" and in the process improve educational standards is the aim of Kerikeri High School's K.E.R.I. programme.
The school is one of three in the running for a Computerworld Excellence Award, which recognises the outstanding application of IT in education.
Students at the Northland school developed the Kiwis Enjoying Reading Interaction programme and even managed to convince celebrities such as TV's Judy Bailey and Jason Gunn, plus opera star Dame Kiri te Kanawa, to take part.
The programme involves year 13 students tutoring year 7 pupils in need of reading help, using computerised graphics and web links to boost the appeal of reading.
School principal Elizabeth Forgie says the programme differs from other reading programmes by changing the attitudes of students to reading, rather than focusing on changing reading skills.
Three students, Esther Macredy, Michael Curtis and David Middlemiss, with the help of teachers, used the school's intranet to research the issue of literacy. They created surveys and analysed the results using spreadsheets and graphs. The students scanned in stories, which they then edited in a word processor. Fancy fonts, cuneiform word recognition -- picture-like symbols -- and clip art were used to make stories more attractive and easier to read.
Adobe PhotoDeluxe was used to create a kiwi mascot, which aimed to spread the message that reading was cool. Celebrities were then contacted to read short stories from created booklets. Their recorded efforts were then digitally mastered using RIP Vinyl software and CDs were produced. These were then recorded on to tape for each of the readers. The school intranet site was also redesigned, with hyperlinks to the school library system recommending suitable books for readers.
Since the programme started just over a year ago, about three-quarters of students are borrowing more library books and older students are increasingly keen to become reading tutors, Kerikeri High School claims.
"One student said 'how bad does my reading have to get before I can join the programme?'," says principal Forgie.
K.E.R.I. has received local business funding, interest from neighbouring schools and even government recognition as a level 5 exemplar for the national technology curriculum. Several of the students will present the system at an educational conference in Connecticut in the US this month.
Forgie says what is innovative about the initiative is that it has been driven by students who have targeted it specifically at students, within financial constraints, using the school's IT technology and their own skills. It does aim to replace books with IT, but enhance them through its use, she says.
Both Selwyn Ridge primary school in Tauranga and Nayland College in Stoke, near Nelson, claim comprehensive use of IT as the basis of their entries.
A group of 16 year 5 and 6 Selwyn Ridge pupils developed a TV/video documentary show called "Inside SRP" to celebrate the school in the community and showcase its teaching methods and events. The pupils used iMovie, Adobe Photoshop, animation software, data shows, digital video recorders and cameras.
Selwyn Ridge ICT lead teacher Craig Price says the documentary has boosted community interest in the school and become "a visual/ multimedia ICT teaching tool for all", with youngers teaching each other about the technology.
Conferences at the school in 2002 and 2003 saw children from a range of schools come together to look at how IT can be used for projects such as learning more about the environment. It also boosts their skills, ability to share experience and knowledge and create new friendships, he says.
Teachers at the school are meanwhile learning more hands-on computing skills, with the school also hosting hundreds of visitors every term keen to learn about how the school uses IT to improve the professional development of staff, as well as educate children.
Many children use laptops and there is a wireless network of eight or nine computers on wheels, known as a COW. "We don't really have blackboards any more," says Price.
While it is too soon to claim exam success from ICT, Selwyn Ridge speaks highly of its use.
"Schoolwide, from ages five to 10/11, our ongoing focus and commitment to training in ICT is as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning. That's what visitors comment about. What we are thinking of is every use of ICT, to improve communication and problem solving."
Nayland College has created NayNet, which it considers a "third-generation" intranet, integrating four major databases and hundreds of related tables across an extensive fibre-optic network. Embedded in this intranet are locally developed modules that give users personalised access to the information and resources they require when, where and how they need them.
The school claims it is seen as a "lighthouse" for others for its range of digital records and databases for students and teachers. These include individual websites and email accounts for students, plus online reporting or records, computerised tabling and financial accounting.
Nayland College claims its technology moves have eased administration, improved IT literacy, questioning and thinking skills, and created more student-centred teaching methods.
The "excellence in the use of IT in education -- primary and secondary schools" award is sponsored by the Apple Computer division of Renaissance.