Upwardly mobile

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Two schools are battling it out for the best mobile PC design, as Sebastian Lander reports

The biggest technical triumph I ever managed at school was in the form of a small, gingerbread-shaped man made of circuit boards with red flashing eyes called Bionic Bertie. Except my Bionic Bertie was less bionic, more brain dead and dangerous to boot.

Time has moved on. RM, one of the leading suppliers of ICT to schools in the UK, has launched a challenge for Year 10 students from two Northamptonshire schools to design a new mobile PC for use in schools.

Sixty students from Sponne School in Towcester, and 140 from Magdalen College School in Brackley, submitted entries for the challenge which will contribute to their GCSE course in ICT.

After a tour of RM's Abingdon production facilities where pupils saw how PCs are built, they were split into groups of three or four and each member assigned a role based on a real RM project team including project manager, marketing, engineering and purchasing. RM is available by email throughout the project for questions and feedback.

Three groups from each school will go through to the semi-finals, judged by their respective schools. From these, two teams will be selected and in the last week of June will present their design to a panel of senior managers at RM who will decide the winner. The prize will be to spend half a day at RM building PCs as well as an as yet undisclosed prize.

Richard Shaw, head of ICT at Magdalen, says work from the challenge will form part of the applied course in ICT and extends the knowledge the children already have to a practical level. "The competition gets right into the technical parts of design, for example looking at the components of a PC," he says. "It forces the children to look at the end user. They are good at the theory and concept but specifically applying it to the user is where they fall down. The Year 10 mock exam will also be looking at RM as an organisation and the health and safety issues."

Cathy Featherstone, head of ICT at Sponne School, was involved with the project last year and got great results. "The first year of the competition was very successful," she says. "Last year's group are still talking about it. The scheme is excellent in terms of vocational training, which sometimes can be very boring and dry, based in the classroom. This gives them a taste of what happens in the real world."

Donal Mullins is the business manager at RM and is clear about RM's aims.

"We hope to offer the pupils a real life business scenario," he says. "This will help develop their knowledge of the different departments involved in the design and creation of a product. The project will also enable the pupils to apply their classroom learning to industry - an important part of their applied ICT GCSE."

Donal felt the feedback from the children would be invaluable as well. "It is also an excellent opportunity for us to hear from the pupils themselves as to how they would like ICT to develop in their schools," he says.

* To find out more about the challenge and view the work produced by last year's participating students, go to


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