Many teachers are creative in devising resources for the classroom. For the lucky ones, there could be a commercial pay-off too, writes Carolyn O'Grady
The best ideas for visual aids and other resources often come from teachers. After all, it is teachers who work with children, watch them as they struggle with lessons, then have to work out how to provide inspirational materials to help them. They are in the best position to experiment, to see what works and what does not and to gradually refine schemes into something that makes a difference.
Kathleen Walker, a teacher at Westfield Nursery School, Stoke-on-Trent, found herself with a large number of pupils with particularly hazy notions of colour, shape and number. So she set about inventing ways to illustrate them. Working mainly at home, she came up with a project which she describes as "hands-on maths - a scheme for nursery and key stage 1 children which relates learning to everyday life".
She developed 10 story books about 10 puppies, each with a different number, colour and shape, who live with Mrs Dogby. Then, fired with enthusiasm, she expanded the scheme to include worksheets, other stories, a number line, lesson plans, assessment and recording materials and even costumes. She tried out the project in her classroom and the children responded well.
"Eventually the headteacher suggested I show it to someone," Kathleen says. She did, and this September it will be in Hope Education's new catalogue of re-sources.
The company's Ideas for Education initiative encourages teachers to send in ideas, which may be developed and ultimately produced commercially. The teacher receives royalty payments based on the level of sales, or a lump sum if he or she prefers. The company is now extending the idea and hopes to work with more teachers and give a higher profile to their inventions.
A teacher who already has several ideas in Hope's catalogue is Dorothy Hammond, of Broadfield Primary School in Oldham. Her visual aid Mother Hubbard's Cupboard aims to convey concepts including number and shape, sameness and difference. On its "shelves" teachers can place cards showing plates, one of which is different, beakers, two of which are the same, jugs graded in size, differently shaped canisters and five bones for the dog, each of which bears a number.
Dorothy, a keen inventor of classroom resources, is particularly interested in using children's ability to learn pictorially and to provide resources which encourage verbal skills. She is dismayed that "children are coming to school who can't speak properly at all". Her most recent contribution to the catalogue is Story House, three houses named Who? What? and Where? which enables children to talk about the various characters who visit the houses in terms of these questions.
It was a school inspector who suggested to Jennifer Snashall, a teacher at Kingsleigh Junior School in Bournemouth, that she should patent her idea for The Human Calculator. She devised it, she says, "to enliven numeracy lessons and in response to the children saying 'Why do we have to do this - we've got calculators?' all the time".
The apparatus is a model of a calculator, with markings on both sides. Two children sit on either side and one pair places pegs in holes in the calculator's numbers and signs which can be seen on the other side to pose a mathematical question. The other pair then work out the answer. The more difficult questions can be worked out on paper .
Jennifer is thrilled at pupils' response to the apparatus. "They queue up to use it," she says.
So far, none of these inventors has received royalties for their ideas. When they do it will be roughly 5 per cent of the annual sales, depending on how far the teacher developed their idea and whether the company had to put any resources into its development. All say, however, that they didn't do it for the money, but to solve a problem in the classroom.
If you think that you have an original concept that has educational value and offers commercial potential, you could follow their example.
u Ideas for Education, Hope Education, Orb Mill, Huddersfield Road, Oldham OL4 2ST. For an Ideas Information pack, tel: 0161 628 2788 or 0171 628 5957.