The summer break is upon us, a time to relax and unwind... but also a good time to catch up with technological progress. George Cole looks at what is on offer to expand pupils' and teachers' minds, with some suggestions on how to turn holiday fun into learning experiences.
Sunshine and computers may seem an incongruous mix, but there are plenty of activities and venues around this summer that combine the two. Among the most popular offerings are activity centres which offer children (and often adults) the chance to use IT and participate in a variety of activities ranging from abseiling to watersports.
Anyone contemplating such centres needs to do some research before committing their school to a particular venue. The good news is that some of the best known names (such as those listed a the end of this piece) have a good track record. What's more, many offer free preliminary visits and weekends which not only allow teachers to check out the facilities, but also gives them the chance to talk to an activity centre about their school's particular educational needs.
Cost is obviously important, but so are factors such as the type, range and depth of activities on offer, the number of staff on call and their experience. Schools also need to enquire about the suitability of the curriculum and activities for the pupils they intend taking along to the centre, the type of ICT hardware and software available and the pupil-to-equipment ratio. Also watch out for additional costs such as Internet access, and make sure that any of your children with special educational or physical needs are catered for.
Companies offering ICT and outdoor activities include Futurekids, PGL's Exploring IT, ActiveIT from Superchoice, Kingswood Centres and Study Experiences - the latter offers ICT programmes to Disneyland Paris and London Theatre. Many of these centres offer outdoor ICT activities such as data-logging, which can even involve collecting pulse rates during one of the strenuous activities.
The Department for Education and Employment's (DFEE) Playing For Success (PFS) programe has established 29 football education centres around Britain, the latest entrant being Manchester United's PFS centre (see page 20), opened in April. Each centre uses ICT and aims to improve literacy and numeracy primarily among disaffected (and potentially disaffected) pupils aged eight to 14. The DFEE has also launched a package of football-themed reading and numeracy exercises called Learning FC. Another 10 clubs are planning to open PFS centres this year, and the DFEE is looking to extend the scheme to include other sports such as rugby, ice hockey and netball.
The DFEE has also established summer literacy and numeracy schools (see page 11), and other out-of-school-hours learning is being supported by funding from the New Opportunities Fund (NOF). In April, NOF announced that pound;10 million had been awarded to 652 summer schools across the UK. NOF says that pound;25 million has been allocated to creating new summer school places for 250,000 pupils, with priority given to the most disadvantaged pupils. Not all summer schools are offering activities which use ICT, but many are. Also, some LEAs are running local ICT activities this summer, and your LEA can provide you with details of any activities.
If you want to do some ICT studying away from pupils, but with family or friends, then many theme parks offer ICT-related activities. One of the best, Granada Studios is unfortunately being redeveloped and won't be open again until 2001. Legoland Windsor offers workshops related to IT and design and technology in the national curriculum, as well as opportunities to use control systems and robotic technology.
If all this sounds a bit hectic, then summer can be a good time to give your home PC a good service. Removing unwanted files, defragmenting the hard disk (this cleans up data that is scattered around the hard disk in a disorganised fashion) and upgrading programs or browsers to the latest version can make a big difference to how your computer performs. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy the sunshine.
George Cole is a freelance journalist and a former teacher