Space to learn

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Simulating a moonwalk, and not the Michael Jackson variety, is easier than you think, says Jerome Monahan. You just have to get your hands on the right technology

Wouldn't you love to take your class on a school visit to the moon? If that is not within your budget, the next best thing might be to have the moon brought to your school.

Year 9 pupils at Immanuel Church of England Community College in Bradford have been moonwalking with the aid of new technology that turned their school playing field into the moon's Alphonsus Crater for the purpose of a maths lesson.

They were using Createascape, free downloadable software developed by Futurelab, the education technology research laboratory, which is based in Bristol.

The software was downloaded on to the pupils' handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the longitude and latitude co-ordinates of the playing field were entered.

The area became a "mediascape". The pupils walked around the field, but were guided by the moonscape images on their PDAs.

"It took three lessons in all", says Steve Walker, the school's head of ICT. "The first two to get the pupils accustomed to all the equipment and what they would have to do, and the last one to carry out the moonwalk itself. But they seemed entirely comfortable using the PDAs because they look like mobile phones. The purpose was really to add a sense of adventure and discovery to the maths lessons."

The children encountered hot-spots, triggering new images and instructions to appear on their PDAs, which pick up signals in the same way satellite navigation gives vehicle drivers their location. Here, they had to carry out problem-solving activities, such as working out the volume of moon rocks by measuring how much moon dust - well, sand - had been displaced.

And if, as Houston once discovered, pupils encountered a problem? They could communicate with each other or get further instructions from their teacher, via walkie-talkies.

"The plan now is to get pupils developing their own mediascapes, complete with hotspots, which other groups can then experience," says Alan Beecham, Bradford local authority's secondary ICT teaching and learning consultant, who initiated the project.

"There is great potential here for, say, a local history project or creating an interactive guide to the school, or even to get students to explore a painting physically by mapping it over a large local area."

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