Schools are taking advantage of technology like never before. Patrick Kelly reports on a virtual reality stock market game that lets students go boom or bust - and deal with the consequences
It's been more than 20 years since the magnificent marble hall at the Norwich Union Insurance building in Norwich has rung to the shouts of red-jacketed stock market traders. One day last term, the traders were back - but this time they were from 25 local secondary schools.
As the latest share price information flashed up on TVmonitors and news reports came in from newspapers and television stations with the latest company news, more than 100 14 and 15-year-olds from all over East Anglia were buying and selling frantically, barking instructions and running to and fro with wads of banknotes and paper portfolios.
It was all part of Stock Market Challenge - a simulation game which recreates trading in the stock market "pit" and is rapidly attracting devotees among teachers from across the UK. Derek Redfern, business studies teacher at Whitby Community College, is one such fan.
"What I like and the students like is that it recreates a real business environment," says Derek. With his Year 10 group of GCSE students, he had been discussing public limited companies and the impact of sharedealing.
"But this was an opportunity for the children to get involved in a practical way," he says, "and to understand what happens when shares are bought and sold."
Derek's team of five took part in a Stock Market Challenge event at York Racecourse in November - the second year they have been involved.
Each team has pound;35,000 to invest on the "stock market", where trading is in nine companies and the currency is the US dollar. The winning team of fund managers is the one with the highest-valued portfolio at the close of trading on the final day.
Each member of the team has a different role - one monitoring news reports to check on the latest company ups and downs, one to keep an eye on the latest share price movements, one to carry out financial calculations and act as portfolio manager, and two "runners" on the market floor.
"There's masses of teamwork involved," says Derek. "After a while the kids work out how to use their skills and will then change jobs."
This aspect has convinced him that there's a role for Stock Market Challenge in other parts of the curriculum. "We're just discussing ways of taking it outside the business studies area," he says.
At Diss High School, a rural comprehensive in Norfolk, Mike Ollerton has gone even further - holding a competition among his students in the weeks leading up to the event to find the best team to pitch against the rest of the region.
Mike, head of vocational studies at Diss, plays a version of the game using stock market information in the daily newspapers. Teams pick a portfolio of shares from the paper and buy and sell over several weeks. A mentor from a local company also pays a regular visit to the classroom to discuss how the teams are doing. At the end of the exercise, the team with the biggest value holding is then selected for the Norfolk Stock Market Challenge.
"It seemed to create a real buzz," says Mike. "The children enjoyed doing it in class and the event was very exciting. The group I took last year were still talking about it a year later."
The activity is an exciting and enjoyable introduction to the stock market, which broadens pupils' understanding of financial matters. As well as giving an insight into what it is like to deal on a live trading floor, the event forms part of students' wider business and careers education.
Mick Waters, former chief education officer for Manchester, and now director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, observed that the pupils were fully absorbed, fully aware of what they were learning and intent on success. They learned many things about the stock market - but also much about aspects of citizenship and entrepreneurship.
More than 50 events have been held, often in historic buildings like the Marble Hall in Norwich or Manchester town hall - which adds to the air of excitement and drama.
Kelly Easton, business education teacher at Arbroath High School, whose third-year business students won the challenge in Dundee, said: "We put our application in straight away because it's so heavily oversubscribed.
Children love the teamwork and thrive on the competition element. It has really boosted their confidence levels."
CauseDirect, the company behind Stock Market Challenge, has produced a PC and Mac-compatible classroom version. To run the activity for a class of 32 (eg 28 fund managers in seven teams of four and four trading floor managers) you will need three computers (PCs or laptops) and a whiteboard or screen with a projector.
Computer 1 outputs the prices from the news display screen to the whiteboard. From this screen, the fund managers receive the information they need to make their decisions. Computers 2 and 3 are used for the trading system, which logs all the trades. The game is structured around one week in the stock market, with each day lasting 20 minutes in real time.
There's a learning section containing background information, including market data.
There are ideas for classroom discussion and e-learning tasks, and teachers will also find elements within each section that relate to the business studies, maths, citizenship and work-related learning curriculum.
A working section allows students to explore the relevance of the activity to their future careers or education and a glossary offers information on key phrases and financial terminology.
* Cause Direct Events Tel: 01225 484 721