Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Moving beyond the whiteboard


Testing out the latest school gadgets

Now that blackboards have largely been banished from the classroom in favour of interactive whiteboards, it would be easy to assume that technology is fully integrated in schools.

But while some schools are still getting to grips with the whiteboard in the corner of the room others have already moved on.

Science lessons for the girls at the Abbey School in Reading have never been so exciting since Kathryn Macaulay, director of ICT, introduced 3D projectors and glasses into the school.

Now learning about how the heart works can be done in a far more hands-on way as body parts almost literally jump out of the screen.

"It is one of the most successful pilots of IT we have had for a long time," said Ms Macaulay.

The projector looks very like the standard ones found in most schools other than the fact that it contains a 3D chip from DLP, a division of Texas Instruments.

Grade improvements

3D-ready projectors are available at around the same price as standard ones although schools will also need to invest in sets of 3D glasses.

In schools in Illinois the effects of 3D learning have been tested to see whether they have a real impact on how children learn.

"The first comment from the teachers was that there wasn't one discipline issue - which amazed them. And the second thing they noted was that every student passed the exam, which was unprecedented," said Tracey Masamoto, director for 3D content firm JTM Concepts which conducted the tests.

Pupils involved in the 3D programme saw a 35% jump in their grades, according to the study.

For those schools who cannot afford to invest in new 3D projectors, mobile can do a similar job said Kieron Kirkland, a researcher at Futurelab, a not-for-profit organisation which creates tools for 21st century learning.

At BETT, Futurelab showed off how augmented reality (AR) can be integrated into the classroom using a smartphone.

Star gazing

Pupil using a mobile phone
Mobiles can be used in the classroom

Graphics which look like everyday barcodes can be "read" using a camera phone to reveal 3D objects, which can be used in a range of learning environments.

And for teachers with an iPhone handy, apps such as PocketUniverse can show children exactly what is happening in the night sky even during the day.

"Instead of teachers saying 'if you look out of your windows on a particular night you will see this', it is there for them to have direct access to," said Mr Kirkland.

Futurelab is also exploring how games can be integrated into the classroom, for instance Spore Creature Creator which has been used in schools to help children learn about evolution.

For Professor Stephen Heppell, who has been consulting governments around the world about how to use technology in schools, games are under-exploited in schools.

"This Christmas half the country was playing video games and play is enormously important to children," he said.

Prof Heppell believes those who devise curriculums are consistently underestimating what children can achieve, given the right tools.

"In the past schools have reeled in the excitement children have about technology to fit the existing educational system," he said.

At his playful learning zone at BETT children from Lampton Secondary School in Hounslow, demonstrated how games consoles such as the Wii and GPS devices can be integrated into the classroom.

Taking risks

A playground
Traditional childhood pursuits should not be abandoned

Meanwhile at Cleveland Junior School in Redbridge, Year 6 pupils talked enthusiastically about how they designed their own computer games for younger pupils to play.

They were using software devised by 2Simple, a company which now has software in around 80% of primary schools.

For director Max Wainewright, there is a huge gap in the market for software that is easy for both pupils and teachers to use.

"I am an ex-primary school teacher and I saw a real need for simpler software," he said.

He thinks that UK schools are now integrated technology into the curriculum pretty effectively but sees a huge gap between "leading edge" teachers and those struggling to get to grips with it.

Tim Rylands is a good example of a leading edge teacher. He now advises schools about their use of technology and warned against getting too excited about what technology can achieve.

"Teachers have laptops that are straining to do their job while others have whiteboards that they can only use in the months of December and January when the sun has gone down," he said.

For those teachers, like Mr Rylands, who have developed great technology resources there has not been any good way to share them with others..

Here, lessons can be learned from Apple and the phenomenal success of its apps store, thinks Mr Wainewright.

"I think we will see educational app stores for teachers to share resources and make a bit of money for their efforts," he said.

Whatever shape the school of the future will take it would be a disaster if it became all about the technology, said Mr Wainewright

"I would hate to see a school where technology was all people did. There has to be a balance between using technology and picking up a paintbrush.

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