More power to them

12th April 2013 at 01:00
When a team of students signed up to the I Am Creative competition, they set out to show the world how much effort it takes to charge a mobile phone. Darren Evans reveals how their hamster wheel scheme impressed the judges, including energy provider E.ON

Imagine if every time you needed to charge your mobile phone, instead of simply plugging it into the nearest socket you had to generate the electricity yourself by, say, running in a giant wheel.

As well as giving you sore legs and making you feel a bit like a hamster, it would probably make you realise how much energy goes into the simplest task, and it might even make you think twice about leaving your phone charging overnight.

That was the thinking behind a project by a team of students from George Spencer Academy in Nottingham, who set out to show how much energy it takes to charge even a small percentage of battery on a mobile phone.

Their innovative idea was the winning entry in a competition called I Am Creative. Run by the Ideas Foundation charity, it gives students the chance to create their own advertising campaigns for real brands.

Consisting of Year 11 students Madeline Pendergast, Chelsea Jenks, Olivia Matthews and Sarah Voce, the Spin till it Hertz team proposed touring the country with a human-sized hamster wheel that could be used to partially charge a mobile phone as it turned.

The team was working to a brief from energy provider E.ON, which, in partnership with the Ideas Foundation's initiative, had approached a number of schools in the East Midlands, asking them to create a campaign to motivate people in their community to save energy.

Inspired by the idea, Zoe Taylor, the graphics and resistant materials teacher at George Spencer Academy, decided to run the project with groups of students from Years 9 and 11.

Taylor thought it would be a good chance for her Year 9 students to investigate a real-life problem and to give them an insight into the world of work a year before they started their GCSEs. But she also decided that her Year 11 AS-level product design students could tackle the brief as a minor project that would go towards their portfolio.

Although she could set aside only an hour of classroom time a week for eight weeks for the project, Taylor soon found that her students were working on it independently outside school.

"I think they liked the fact it was for a specific brief because it made it a bit more real and relevant for them," she says. "It was a bit of a challenge and gave them a flavour of what it is like working on a professional brief.

"Generally our students are quite independent anyway but it was good to let them go off and explore their own ideas. I think that worked quite well. They really seemed to enjoy it."

In their pitch, the Spin till it Hertz team explained that they wanted to create something "fresh, sharp and innovative" that would revolve around active learning. "We wanted an idea that would jump out at people in the local community and would be a twist on mainstream promotion and decided that our idea must be relatable to everyone," they wrote.

At first they came up with the idea of using an exercise bike to make smoothies, before realising that not everyone likes smoothies. Then they had a better idea. With more than 90 per cent of the population owning a mobile phone, they thought it would be fascinating to come up with something that showed people how much energy and electricity it takes to charge even a small percentage of their battery.

"But we can't just stick a poster up or make shirts that nobody will take a second glance at; we need something magical, charming and alluring," they wrote.

The idea changed from an exercise bike to a treadmill, but then the team decided they wanted something more fun and visual, so The Wheel was conceived.

Magic roundabout

The Wheel is a device like a giant hamster wheel that can produce enough energy to charge a small percentage of a mobile phone when it is spun round.

In their pitch, the students wrote: "The Wheel is an entertaining yet educational national campaign that could make people aware of the amount of energy they waste by charging their phone overnight. If done successfully, there would be a drastic energy decrease in the local community."

Student Madeline believes the whole group found the project interesting. "It was different from most normal lessons because it was very creative, fun and exciting," she says.

Madeline made a promotional video as part of the project and says it helped her to decide that she wants to study video editing and media in college.

After finalising their proposals, the groups from each of the schools contacted by E.ON had to pitch their ideas to representatives from the energy provider, I Am Creative and the advertising agency DLKWLowe, a prospect they found "nerve-racking but exciting", according to Taylor.

Jane Branscombe, who works for E.ON, says that all the entries were of a high quality and it was obvious that students had worked hard. "The students took it seriously and put a lot of thought into it," she says. "They asked intelligent questions and responded very well. It was heartening. The difficulty with this is always to make it relevant and challenging for the students. If you get the balance right then, by and large, they will respond."

The work of a group of sixth-formers at Nottingham Academy was also highly commended. The Big Switch team developed an interactive poster to encourage families to turn off a giant power switch.

But Branscombe says that E.ON was particularly impressed by the thinking that had gone into the winning entry. "They didn't overcomplicate things, they had a very visual idea and they were able to think beyond their own peer group," she says. "We could really see their idea becoming a practicality."

Other judges say their idea is "truly inspired". One adds: "Out of all the presentations, this is the one that stands out as being innovative and deliverable." They also praise the fact that it is free and encourages fun and fitness.

Taylor says that she is proud of all her students, and particularly the winning team. "I could see the amount of work they had put into it," she says. "They are a fantastic representation of the school and the subject."

The winning campaign will be displayed at E.ON's Open House, its newly opened UK high street store in Nottingham. The team behind it also won a place on a one-day creative industry careers course and #163;200 worth of shopping vouchers.

Clare Ruffle, project coordinator at I Am Creative, says that the winning entry is "brilliant". "Energy saving can be quite a dry, boring subject for students, especially teenagers, to get to grips with," she says. "But their work was of an absolutely exceptional standard. It's always amazing when you see the students' finished pitches. They take such pride in their work."


I Am Creative is an educational programme for secondary schools devised by the Ideas Foundation. Its mission is to nurture creativity in young people whose talents may otherwise be overlooked.

The organisation is sponsoring the Creative Award at the TES Schools Awards this summer. Using the I Am Creative model, the Ideas Foundation has created a brief that has now been published for teachers to set their students.

The children will be asked to come up with a campaign to promote digital design and technology in schools. They can create a television advertisement, a poster, a game, an event or anything else. They can use as many media as they like and the brief suggests that different subject areas collaborate to come up with an original campaign.

Project coordinator Clare Ruffle encourages students to think "outside the box".

"In terms of imagination, it's limitless. We want them to go completely crazy as long as they can justify why," she says.

"I think teachers like the fact that it brings the real world into the classroom. It's different from just another school project. Students feel privileged that they are working on a real problem for a real brand."

For more information, see

For details of the other TES Schools Awards 2013, visit

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