A pound;100,000 emotionally intelligent, interactive fountain has been installed in a primary school. The piece of playground furniture is fully programmable and responds to sound, touch and proximity of objects.
The futuristic facility can be programmed to log the moods of staff and pupils at Luckwell Primary in Bedminster, Bristol, via touch pads. These inputs are collated by the computer which then illustrates the school's overall mood using four water jets.
Pupils can program the fountain to answer questions, using a water-jet alphabet code. It can also be used for simple interactive games, with the jets responding to movements or music.
But Futurelab, the education innovation think tank which ran the 18-month project with Stakeholder Design, community design specialists, insists the gadget is more than a toy.
The fountain is a key part of research into learning beyond the classroom and looking at how children can direct their own learning: all the children in the school, from 4 to 11, were involved in its design.
Tash Lee Jones, a learning researcher at Futurelab, said: "All the children were asked to come up with ideas of what the fountain would do and what it would look like.
"Of course, a chocolate fountain was the first choice, but there were hygiene issues and pupils soon learnt that the chemicals in the water would kill goldfish.
"Even if they were not always practical, their ideas were great. Older children were amazed by the creativity of some of the younger ones."
Pupils worked with professional product designers to turn their dreams into reality.
"The idea was to have a technology project that does not involve computer screens. It was the ultimate in theme teaching and the design process was incorporated into science, literature, PE and design technology," said Ms Lee Jones. One important thing was that the children made real-life decisions.
Headteacher Sue Roberts (above) added: "The children learnt a lot about the design process, about the long delays, and how, sometimes, ideas cannot be put into practice because of practicalities. Teachers learnt from it too, and are much more confident about `letting go'.
"We are still experimenting with what we can do as the programming is quite technical, but the children are learning fast. "Now that it is designed and built, we are entering a new phase of integrating it into the school curriculum as much as possible."