Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

The best of the tech that teaches


Rory Cellan-Jones reports from BETT 2009

The education technology trade show, BETT, has got underway at the Olympia exhibition centre in London.

Exhibitors showcased a wide range of goods, from table top computers to mini video cameras and notebooks.

At the opening address, Schools Minister Jim Knight reiterated plans to give children from low income families a free computer and broadband access.

More than 30,000 visitors are expected to attend the four day event, which ends on 17 January.

Becta, the government's agency for technology and learning, say that the show gives those who work in education a taste of what the classroom of the future will be like.

Becta launched its schools technology charter at the show, setting out its vision for effective use of technology in education, and asking schools to make a public commitment to adopt what Becta calls "Next Generation Learning."

Schools would eventually be awarded their ICT Excellence Award which recognises schools for their achievements in reaching a standard of maturity in their use of technology.

Despite a huge array of products and services on offer at the show, a few really stood out. Here is a BBC News snap shot of some of the more interesting ones.


Second Life to help real schools

One firm from the north of England is using the virtual world of Second Life to showcase a new school that, for now, does not exist.

Construction work on Acklam Grange School has only just got underway, but developers at Middlesbrough City Learning Centre have created an exact representation of what it will look like in Second Life.

The idea is for teachers, pupils, and governors to see exactly what the new school will look like, familiarising themselves with the layout and spotting any potential problems before the building goes up.


Fizbook's Rob Jones demonstrates the new Classmate

Intel launched its new Classmate laptop in the UK at the show.

Originally designed by Intel for the developing world, the machine can be converted from a traditional laptop to a tablet PC to allow children to write and draw more naturally.

Intel claim to have sold "close to one million units" in the developing world, and last year began to push the machine in more mature markets.


Microsoft's Steve Beswick talks about its new Surface PC.

Microsoft used BETT to give its first ever UK public demo of Surface, it's new interactive tabletop.

The firm hope the touch sensitive screen, on which users can "grab" digital information with their hands, will help teachers educate their students through a mix of physical and virtual worlds.

In one demonstration, Microsoft explained how a biology lesson could be "brought to life" allowing children to explore the internal organs of the human body, while a demonstration of US politics let users examine the country's changing political landscape.

Aurora scanner
Aurora say its scanner conforms to government guidelines

Aurora demonstrated its face recognition software that could be used by schools to increase security as well as keep an accurate attendance record.

The system is designed to work in almost all light conditions, with the firm claiming it is "easy to install and low maintenance".

It is thought the system could also be used in school canteens, to create a cashless environment meaning children would not need to take money into school, reducing the chances of theft or bullying.

The system is currently on trial at St Neots Community College and although facial recognition systems are not new, it is thought this is the first time it has been used in a school in the UK.

RapMan 3D design tool
The RapMan can even make its own spare parts

One of the more interesting looking objects at the show was the RapMan by Unimatic.

Developed by researchers from Bath University, the device enables students to create a 3D model, in plastic, from a 2D design.

Real world object modeling is usually done with mechanical cutters. This new device uses low temperature, quick cooling plastic to squirt a layer of plastic, creating a 3D shape.

Engaging places website
Virtual worlds were also on offer

The show also saw the launch of some educational websites.

Engaging Places is a portal that aims to be a one stop shop for teachers planning field trips and parents to find interesting places to visit as well as trying to "champion teaching and learning through the whole environment".

Built in conjunction with English Heritage, the free site lists more than 300 buildings, venues, and organisations, linking a description of each building with a Google map location and a full run down for the teachers on how they link in with curriculum demands.

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