Hang Ups

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
When Mr Blunkett comes to spend the Wednesday lottery windfall, I hope he has the good sense to devote a few quid to bringing about the revival of the neglected art of flannelgraphy. Youngsters (that's anybody who can't remember the Coronation) look at me blankly when I wax lyrical about the flannelgraph productions that I remember from my primary school days.

They should try to imagine an easel with a flannel backing on which we placed shapes and figures cut out of coloured flannel or felt. But these, miraculously, could be peeled off and re-located anywhere on the background - because, for some reason that I can't hope to explain, a bit of flannel or felt, if pressed on another bit, will defy the force of gravity and stay in place.

So, for instance, in one of our biblical epics, Miss or one of her trusties could move Moses' mum from her hiding place behind a pyramid to the Nile. Her basket could then be peeled from her arms and surreptitiously deposited in the bulrushes. Cecil B de Mille couldn't have done it better. A picture - especially one on which you can move items around - is worth a thousand words.

The Israelites' flight from Egypt is so much more realistic when the sea that opens up before them is made of red flannel. Being told that Goliath's height was six cubits and a span isn't nearly as memorable as being able to see that his legs were so long that they dangled off the bottom of the easel. Our flannelgraph extravaganzas had other essential ingredients. Miss usually contributed the narration - in her best "I could have been on the stage" voice. The girl who had piano lessons provided the accompaniment - Jacob wrestled with the angel to the tune of Chopsticks.

And the rest of us could be relied upon to contribute suitable sound effects - the animals coming in two-by-two a speciality. It was, quite simply, a genuine multimedia presentation.

Today's pupils have had to make do with a computer - preferably a Pentium,with at least four megabytes of Ram, sound card, video card, speakers and a high resolution screen. Fortunately, they only need to monopolise that expensive pile of hardware for relatively short lengths of time. In multimedia, much of the work is completed away from the keyboard.

Illustratio ns, for example, always look better if they are created on paper and then scanned into the computer; video clips are best filmed on location, and, of course, ye olde cassette recorder, essential for an impressive sound track, works anywhere.

However, as any teacher who has ever tried it will readily confirm, collecting the material does take an enormous amount of time. And organising it takes even longer. It's not that the technology itself is difficult. There are plenty of user-friendly authoring packages, some specifically designed for use in school. What eats up the hours - and can cause havoc to the timetable - is the intriguing process of deciding how best to blend the various elements. It's made all the more difficult if it genuinely is collaborative, and every member of the class insists on chipping in his or her ha'pennyworth.

Pupils (and teachers) keen to show off their skills have until the end of September to create a

masterpiece and enter it for the EC Multimedia Awards. UK entries are being handled by the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) which will provide schools with entry forms, useful tips and a CD-Rom which contains clips of last year's NCET winners. These samples illustrate convincingly that children are as creative as they ever were and that multimedia authoring could have an important role to play in the classroom.If the flannelgraph doesn't make a comeback, that is.

National Council for Education Technology, Milburn Hill Road Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ Web address: http:www.ncet.org.uk


arnoldevans@easynet. co.uk

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