Douglas Blane went scouting for teachers' favourite resources at the SETT show
It is Scotland's biggest educational technology event of the year. It packs more hardware, software and creative classroom solutions into two days than a normal teacher could use in a year. Its seminars and workshops prepare teachers for the challenges of tomorrow.
However, what many of them were looking for when they came to the Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology show last week was practical techniques they can use in classrooms today.
"All the questions I got were about down-to-earth stuff," says Lee Carson, a P7 teacher at Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh and an ICT enthusiast, who had been telling a packed room about whole-class, interactive numeracy teaching. His methods will shortly appear as a case study on Learning and Teaching Scotland's website.
"People want to know what you can do in a given time with a certain resource," he says. "They see so many good things here, but their schools can't afford a lot of them, and there aren't enough hours in the day to use them all anyway.
If asked to recommend one ICT resource, Mr Carson says it would be the interactive whiteboard toolkits from Bullet Point. "They make a huge difference to learning and teaching, really motivate the kids and hold the attention of everyone."
For the first time, Mr Carson says, he came to SETT this year looking for specific items. Animation software was high on his list. "I really like iStopMotion, demonstrated on the Apple stand with a plasticine model. It costs pound;30, but is the high-quality, intuitive software you always get for the Mac. I know every child in my class will want - and be able - to use it right away."
That mass appeal of technology is what excites Arran High English teacher Heather Gough. "For the disaffected, the unmotivated, the kids with behaviour problems, it is high challenge but low threat."
Having just had an interactive whiteboard installed in her classroom, the world of software is just opening up, she says. "So I'm looking at everything today. Then I'll go back and prioritise.
"Kar2ouche from Immersive Education will be high on my list. It lets pupils set up scenes - from Shakespeare, say, or Tam o' Shanter - make the characters move and put their own words in their mouths. It's a fantastic way to get kids involved with literature."
Another product that grabbed her attention is Accelerated Reader from Renaissance Learning. "The kids read a book, then go on to the computer and quiz themselves on it. There are 7,000 books at all different levels, and the great thing is it keeps records of individual pupils, so you can track their progress."
Arran High now has pupils with Down's syndrome and severe learning difficulties. "Clicker4 (a supportive writing tool from Crick Software) really opened my eyes to what you can do for these kids," says Ms Gough.
ICT offers something for every child, she adds. "Behaviour problems are often learning problems. Kids who keep failing with traditional teaching often get their first taste of success with ICT.
"I've come to SETT because I want to learn all about ICT, to know everything that's out there and to choose the best resources."
Headteacher Sheilah Jackson, who is working hard to turn Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh into a centre of excellence for ICT in education (it is shortlisted for a Becta award), does not claim to know everything that is available but does know how to choose good resources.
"I've just been looking at Espresso, which is a fantastic product," she says. The online library of video-rich, cross-curricular resources is updated weekly and stored on a cache server to allow resources to be accessed immediately. "But at pound;6 a child, it would cost us pound;1,800 every year. That's just not on.
"I hear Espresso Education is putting a bid into the Scottish Executive," says Mrs Jackson. "It would be wonderful if it were successful and all our schools could get the resource."
For ICT in Education award-winner Elaine Wyllie, new technology sparks ideas for projects to inspire her pupils at St Ninian's Primary in Stirling - but not always in ways the manufacturers expect.
"I was talking to someone from an English beacon school. She had an ICT budget of pound;10,000 a year plus pound;4,000 in e-learning credits.
It's a different world," she says.
"My head is very supportive but our ICT budget is basically zero. So coming to SETT is like getting all these goodies dangled in front of you that you can't have."
Ms Wyllie's latest idea is a school radio station using an iPod. "I've had a word with Apple and it's feasible. All you need is the smallest iPod and a microphone. The kids can record news, music, whatever they want, then fire it into the computer, edit the files and broadcast them."
The big advantage over traditional recording is not just the editing facility, says Ms Wyllie, but also the street credibility. "iPods are cool.
When you are working with kids you need stuff that is cool."
Pupils are not the only focus of the technology at the SETTshow. Formative Assessment in Science from the Edinburgh-based company Learning Curve Software, is exactly what headteacher Karen Noble, of Juniper Green Primary in Edinbugh, was looking for to help her staff address the recommendations of the national Assessment is for Learning programme, she says. "It is specifically aimed at science, but is more widely applicable."
A great new resource from the company is Pathways CPD, she says. The toolkit supports teachers in planning and managing their professional development. "It also lets headteachers keep track of probationers and generates all the CPD documents the General Teaching Council for Scotland needs. It's beautiful."
Renaissance Learning UK, www.renlearn.co.uk
Crick Software, www.cricksoft.comukwww.espresso.co.ukwww.learningcurve.infowww.apple.comuk