Chris Johnston sees pupils work with their counterparts in France and Germany to make pinball machines
Getting students from three schools to collaborate on a design and technology project is a great idea for all the obvious reasons - developing communication skills, learning how to work as part of a group, enhancing problem-solving abilities.
Some might think that for such a project to succeed, the schools must be reasonably close to each other so that the students can get together.
However, this no longer need be the case, thanks to modern communications technology, as St Clement Danes school in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, has proved.
Year 10 technology students from the school have just completed a second project working with their counterparts at Coll ge Paul Landowski in Paris and Robert Jungk Gesamt-schule in Krefeld near Duesseldorf, Germany.
The venture is part of the European Dimension initiative run by the Technology Enhancement Programme, which aims to improve technology teaching.
The crucial element in both projects has been the students' use of e-mail and video-conferencing during the design phase. Martin Clarke, St Clement Danes's head of technology, says the first project was making an Oxo cube dispenser. The students swapped ideas via e-mail and then made another school's design. This time, however, the teachers decided to take the idea one step further and base the project - designing and constructing a desktop pinball machine - on the model used to build the European Airbus passenger jets: "Each country had a specific role and a specific part to manufacture and then we came together to put it together," Mr Clarke says.
The French students designed the electronics and the counting device, the English were responsible for the return ball mechanism, base and graphics, while the Germans handled the flipper and firing mechanism.
The pinball project began in September and the students used e-mail to exchange ideas. British students also visited Coll ge Paul Landowski in November for a planning meeting.
Because of the cost, video-conferencing was used only once a week, and only the English and German schools had the appropriate equipment.
Last month, the three groups gathered for two days in Chorleywood to build the pinball machines. Mr Clarke says: "They've learned a lot about the importance of real communication and how to overcome a problem when they're in the middle of manufacturing, which is what happens in industry." The project also developed students' languages.
The difficulty of finding families to house students during visits restricted numbers to 12 per country. The students usually make two visits each year, while the teachers meet each May to agree the next project. St Clement Danes is also considering a similar scheme for A-level students.
Information about the European Dimension initiative is on the Technology Enhancement Programme's website at www.tep.org.uk or call Emma Haworth on 0171 583 0900.St Clement Danes School: www.stclementdanes.org.uk.