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Virtually, anything

A trampoline in the hall, a fish tank wall in the library and a rocket to get you to class. That's what happened when pupils designed a school,Stephen Manning discovers

What if your pupils took control and set about redesigning the entire school? Who knows, they may come up with ideas never even considered before. Like a bowling alley in the school hall. You know, to learn about motor control. Or a space rocket to transport them from one classroom to the next. Perhaps that will help lessons to start on time.

These are some of the ideas hatched by Year 4 pupils at Hopton Primary, a Church of England school in Hopton-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, who have been working with 3D software to create a virtual school of their own design. Anything was permissible, as long as there was reasonable educational justification.

The pupils took photos and digital film footage of schoolrooms, walls and outside areas. These images were put on to 3D Studio Max, computer graphics software, so pupils could manipulate them on laptops (see photo, left), adding photos or drawings of their unusual new features or, in the case of the rocket, animating the journey from class to class and then, for good measure, back off into space.

Some ideas do not stray too far from the realms of the credible. A trampoline in the hall would be good, they reckon, to learn all about gravity and force, and there should be a paddling pool in the playground, to explore weight and the displacement of water.

On the more adventurous side is the time machine in the ICT room, in which they could teleport themselves back to any time in history. Currently they are studying the Tudors, so a meeting with Elizabeth I might well be in order. Even the more spurious reasoning at least showed a kind of lateral thinking a basketball net, they felt, was essential as it would "strengthen fingers", and a pinball machine was voted in on mathematical grounds

The project came about after the school put in a bid and an idea to Creative Partnerships, the government creativity scheme for schools, managed by the Arts Council England and funded by the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Zoe Anthistle, the ICT teacher, was joined by Paul Strickland, a 3D graphics specialist, who instructed them in the use of the software, while filming work was guided by Gary Stanley of BBC Voices, which provides assistance to regional film projects. The next step, when the project continues next term, will be to put the results on to a website or a CD-Rom.

It certainly fits in the trend of getting pupils to learn via what they enjoy. "I think this approach is good for lateral thinking and working ways around problems," says Zoe. "The communication development is important, in the sense that the children will try harder to find the language to describe it, if it's something they want or care about."

But could she teach in her pupils' perfect school? "Some of their ideas are quite sensible and would be great. The fish tank wall in the library would be very pleasant."

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