Three of a kind

7th March 1997 at 00:00
TESBESA Equipment Awards

Primary JOINT WINNER Molly By Learning Development Aids

JOINT WINNER History in Evidence: Writing through artefacts Technology Teaching Systems Secondary

Electrophoresis kit From Philip Harris Education

Educational equipment is fascinating. To judge the inaugural TESBESA Educational Equipment awards was almost like being a child on Christmas morning, surrounded by goodies. The difference was that these presents were being opened with other peoples needs in mind. As this was the first time that these awards have been given, the three winners become in a sense flagship products. They were chosen according to the criteria (see box), from evidence of manufacturers research, to evidence of the item in use, but the judges also developed a nose for oomph and pazzazz.

Schools are offered many solutions for supporting teaching and learning. The awards were made to those entrants we felt did this in a truly innovative way.

Rigorous searching questions flew around the judging room ranging from: Is it sustainable? Will it change pupils lives? Does it shout quality? to Would I use it and for what? We established the principle that the item had to demonstrate a potential for extending learning. One of the first entries to excite all the judges was Berols gold, silver and copper paints.These were of high quality and would have made an excellent addition to hobbies and crafts departments, especially for making Christmas cards or masks. A highly commended goes to Polydrons wonderful Colour Shapers. These work along similar lines to a paintbrush but with a firm, rubber tip.The judges had enormous fun putting them through their paces with the Berol paints and produced some lovely results. Although similar effects could have been achieved with a palette-knife, for example, these were so user-friendly no sharp edges that they would be an excellent buy for any primary art department.

One of the most exquisite entries was the hand-made Puppet Theatre from the Wooden Pilchard Puppet Theatre Company. Bright, colourful and immediately appealing, it has been used successfully in a variety of settings with special needs children and with travellers. It obviously has a great potential for classroom use. It comes with a ready-made company of assorted heroes and villains, as well as character blanks that can be painted, decorated and personalised to suit individual needs. If wed had an award for best container, it would have gone to Polydron. So often, play and learning equipment suffers from a lack of decent storage. Busy teachers often have to cart things around, and so a decent container is a must. Polydrons looked like a futuristic picnic hamper, robust, colourful and easy to open and close. It could have easily transported most of the award entries safely, along with a few packed lunches.

As it turned out, rather than one winner for the primary category, there are two. The judges felt that they both demonstrated a potential for learning extension in such abundance that we could not decide between them and they are both deserving winners. There were disappointingly few entries in the secondary category, which we hoped did not accurately reflect a paucity of really good equipment. Worthy of mention is the anti-arson letterbox from Computermark Security Systems. Although this cannot be said to contribute to a childs learning experience in the conventional sense, it was felt that it at least tried to address the security problems some schools face.

All of the items submitted for the award were interesting and all offered solutions to tricky teaching or educational problems, but these three items were outstanding.

Molly, the first of the joint-winners in the primary section, is a large hand-puppet from Learning Development Aids (LDA). She was designed for a wide variety of purposes, from encouraging language development, to being a non-threatening story-telling puppet. A resource that every primary school would benefit from, shes large, squashy, her features are mobile, her body invites cuddles and all the judges turned into enthusiastic puppeteers soon after picking her up. What makes one doll have so much potential? LDA, the manufacturer, has really addressed tactile, visual and emotional needs with this large friendly puppet person. There are many scenarios where having Molly as a resource would be invaluable throughout a teaching day: Molly taking her own scarf off and hanging it up; Molly being interested in a cut finger; Molly pushing her lips to show the ooooo sound.

We were interested in whether she was washable, wipeable, repairable and fade proof. It would be sad to have a faded Molly. Is she dribble-proof? asked one judge. We did not test this particular resistance but she survived a thorough dousing remarkably well. We would like to see other Mollies which would show different cultural types. In the opinion of the judges, Molly is an innovative, accessible item that teachers will want to add to their register list. History in Evidence: Writing Through Artefacts from Technology Teaching Systems is a box of delights and a must for the teaching of history in schools. The agony of describing writing through the ages and trying to illustrate the stylus, wax tablet, papyrus or quill pen is now over.In a simple cardboard box, TTS has assembled a time capsule for teaching history with quality. All the items are beautifully made and would serve as an interesting exhibition, or as a basis for a handling collection for any school. The days of a pupil bringing in a quill feather and dipping it in paint with the teacher hoping the end hadnt gone into anyones mouth need never happen now. The TTS quill pen really works.

This collection of writing implements is accompanied by helpful teachers notes, the time line approach was particularly commended. There is evidence in this kit of real attention to detail and concern for classroom practice. The judges felt that TTS had produced a properly thought through resource for teachers. Although this is essentially a resource for teaching history the potential for cross-curricular work in drama, language, science, design and technology and art was obvious. It is an excellent, ground-breaking resource that provides a practical hands-on experience of writing throughout history.

For the secondary award, Philip Harris Education has tackled a difficult area for science education, that of demonstrating DNA, with its Electrophoresis Kit. It does this with a neat, robust, simple-to-use kit which uses dyes to show different DNA patterns. An electric field is created, with batteries and inks providing the strands. It is quite a sophisticated procedure but the accompanying paperwork is clear. The judges could see potential for this in a number of areas; class demonstrations of the principle of DNA stranding, as an individual DNA experience for pupils who are finding it hard to grasp the idea, as a tool for work for more advanced pupils. Used with an OHP the results could be the basis for group discussions. The kit consists of a rectangular box made of heavy-duty plastic. Although this would not be an item in everyday use the judges felt that for focused work in the field of learning about DNA it would be invaluable. The judges decisions were difficult to arrive at. It was a joy to see the wealth, diversity and quality of educational equipment now available. It is important to spend money wisely on any item in a school; the three prize winners were outstanding in their field and in their potential to support quality learning experiences.

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