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System failure

Here comes the summer. If you're of a certain age, that phrase will remind you immediately of a record by the Undertones, a popular music combo of the late-Seventies. You might even start some involuntary humming.

I tried to explain to a class of 10-year-olds about how whenever I thought of the last few weeks of summer term, I thought of that record. It made me think of long evenings, radios playing through open windows, hot sun on the paving stones.

And they looked at me incomprehendingly. "I know you won't have heard of the Undertones. You'll have to ask your dads," I said, feeling old and wise for a moment. "No," came the reply. "We just wondered what a record was?"

You see, technology changes all the time. And children are learning new skills as quickly as you can say DVD, without even knowing that they're learning.

For instance, when we were at school we would never have had the chance given to the top juniors this week by Susan Chard, who allowed them to practice their search skills on the Internet. Their task was to find the cheapest flights to the Greek Islands on the day after term finishes.

And when it came to the traditional summer fete, we had simpler forms of entertainment, such as tombola (who ever gave it such a weird name?) or guessing which type of home-made jam would smell the worst.

Such gentle pleasures are now only memories. And the 2002 Summer Fair (the Fete Worse Than Death) is being approached as a battle we cannot afford to lose. The head, Mrs Gatsby, has put in a successful bid to the New Photo-Opportunity Fund, which awards grants for events likely to draw positive publicity.

So it has been decreed that visitors will be treated to music, a parade showing our city through the centuries and some biscuits rumoured to be favourites of the director of education. And there will be a worried looking man hoping that his ICT display doesn't end up in tatters.

How do you show what your work means? For the parents' evening, I can show them the artwork and ideas their children have produced. And you can get a real buzz seeing how surprised they are by what can be achieved with a piece of software engaged with a child's mind.

But taken out of context, it's not really stuff for a showcase. So I thought about putting on a display of how a science project used laptops. Except in one of those cruel tricks that technology plays, even though a laptop tempts you into thinking that you can work outside, you can't see anything on the screen.

And when-ever you mention laptops, Mrs Gatsby always looks daggers - as though you're reminding her about what her "lively" 14-year-old son left on the laptop she took home.

The anti-truancy pilot software (hit the return key to delete the absentee's family benefits) doesn't really hit the right festive tone. And I certainly can't compete with St Cuthbert's of the Middle Classes, which this year is presenting a live video-conferencing session with a partner school in Seattle.

So I thought instead I would show things for what they really are - and the pupils are going to hold up a mirror to the big day itself. We've bought a couple of digital cameras and we'll take pictures of everyone at the summer fair and then add these images to a story about anything funny that happens on the day. Like an earthquake hitting Seattle. We can print out the results and it will be a way of remembering how we all looked.

Of course, the Buff says that we should install a wireless network so we can move the machines outside, but I think I'll leave them in the classroom. If he wants to play with equipment, there is a cupboard full of monitors and printers which no one could fix.

I'm going to get ready for the holidays, and I'm looking forward to the smell of cut grass, cricket on the telly, sun tan lotion and sand. Altogether now, "here comes the summer".

Sean James

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