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A room of their own

Technology was at the heart of pupils' concepts as they vied for a pound;20,000 prize to create their dream classroom. Jack Kenny reports

Technology was at the heart of pupils' concepts as they vied for a pound;20,000 prize to create their dream classroom. Jack Kenny reports

Did anyone ask your opinion about your classroom when you went to school? Probably not. It is often said that Shakespeare would probably recognise the classrooms of today as very little has changed from the one he attended in Stratford in 1570.

So, to try to challenge that conservatism, education ICT provider RM held a competition for teachers and pupils to come up with their dream learning space, with the winning entry receiving pound;20,000 to turn their vision into reality.

The bids poured in and some entries went well beyond the scope and budget of the competition. One ambitious sixth-form student wanted to learn "in an exciting creative environment: one that inspired you to do your work, one that is fun and sparks ideas of creativity". She then described in impressive detail an "eco pavilion", built with sustainability in mind, so that teachers could use the building itself as a teaching aid.

Perhaps surprisingly, controlling noise was important to many pupils, and sound-proofing the room was suggested in many cases. Others were intrigued by the possibility of a sound pod where they could go to be insulated against noise. One school had actually visited the REAL (Rethinking Education and Learning) centre at RM's headquarters in Abingdon and their ideas were inspired by what they had seen.

Calum Loftus, a pupil from Glasgow, built a model of his dream room "out of an old wet-wipe box, cardboard and lots of imagination". He came up with a combination of the latest technology within a comfortable environment: "iPads will have educational apps on them and it's so much more fun to learn this way. You can sit on green and blue pillows to watch the really helpful programmes because I think that you listen better when you are comfy."

So what made one bid stand out above the others? One of the most important elements was practicality. Some of the entries, RM reported, were more in the realms of fantasy, and would never have been possible within the suggested budget. In others, the voice of the pupils was not strong enough.

Athelstan Community Primary in Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, won first prize. Now a red Isis Bounty sofa dominates the school's small intervention room. If you express surprise, the children will rapidly assure you that it has data and power connections and, anyway, comfort helps them to learn better. The importance of comfort was one of the themes that came out of the competition.

The thought of gaining pound;20,000 of equipment energised the children even more than the staff. Kirsty Whelerton, ICT co-ordinator, had given the children a great deal of freedom to choose what they wanted to furnish the room. It is where teaching assistants run intervention programmes for children with additional support needs and gifted children during the afternoons, and it is used for group work in the morning for all classes.

Previously, ICT facilities had been limited: no interactive whiteboard, and laptops struggling with failing batteries. Many of the children who were consulted had long-term learning difficulties and the room was important to them. The teaching assistant who works with them was foremost in their thoughts.

"She has to have a laptop because she works so hard with us," they insisted when they were drawing up their bid. They now have laptops for children and teaching assistants: the Asus miniBook for the children and the RMmobile One Widescreen for staff.

They have also invested in SMART response voting systems and SMART slates, so pupils can interact and record their answers privately, or even write on an interactive whiteboard from their desk. The pupils chose a mobile interactive whiteboard so two people could use it at the same time.

The far end of the room will house the creative media section, with a green screen, a video camera and I Can Animate software. One of the cheapest and most effective additions are the Easi Speak microphones. These enable children to record the sound of their voices. The microphone can then be plugged directly into a computer to transfer the recordings without having to bother with additional wires.

No one could remember who put the IdeaPaint wall on the list. IdeaPaint can turn any wall into a dry-erase writing surface. The wall can become an exciting visual display of ideas, giving the room a buzz of intellectual energy as children write and erase and write again.

Headteacher Karen O'Donnell knows that the true test of the room and the equipment will be how well it is used, and she plans to budget for plenty of training for her staff to ensure they get the best out of their new facility.

Now if Shakespeare could come back to look around Athelstan's learning space he might remember lines from As You Like It: "Can one desire too much of a good thing?"


First Prize (worth pound;20,000):

Athelstan Community Primary, North Yorkshire

Second prize (worth pound;5,000):

Thorpe Hall Primary, Walthamstow

Equal Third (pound;500 each):

Calderglen High, South Lanarkshire

King's School, Cheshire

Wilburton Primary, Cambridgeshire

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