Maureen McTaggart is knocked out by learners' work at the Learning without Frontiers 'Y Factor' event
St Mary's augmented realitySt Mary's augmented realityEver come across a 'pop-up' school? Or seen game-playing that eases the transition from primary to secondary school for pupils? How about Apps for Good, augmented reality on Sony PSP handhelds, mobile phone quizzes for school visits, a robot that can crack a Rubik's Cube?

All was revealed when the Learners' Y Factor session helped kick off the Learning Without Frontiers event – and BETT Week – in London on Sunday (January 9). Learners from St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent, picked up the first prize for their augmented reality Aethelflaed and the Anglo Saxon Trail project.

The Year 6 pupils said they created semacodes (like barcodes on supermarket goods) to trigger the cameras on their Sony PSPs to provide extra information about museum exhibits. "School visits to the Staffordshire Hoard museum are now much more exciting,” they said.

Presenting the innovative work from six excellent UK schools, The Gadget Show's Jason Bradbury was so impressed that he told learners, "It's like being at a Microsoft conference where you have a lot of overpaid geniuses – except you are not being paid.” Despite minor technical hitches that slowed down some of the presentations the youngsters enthusiasm was clearly evident.

Four pupils from each school had to present their project to the audience after which they were quizzed by the judges. From London there was Central Foundation Girls, Thomas Tallis and Beatrix Potter, which won the third prize. The others on the short-list were Community school (2nd prize winner), Cornwall, and Denbigh School, Milton Keynes.

Aged from nine to 16 the learners took ownership of the stage and threw around phrases like “we believe in the value of networks of learners” and “using our creativity to give something back”. This was from the Central Foundation Girls's school where students have developed an app to help their non-English speaking parents cope with parents' evenings. They said not being able to communicate fully with their teachers has led to low self esteem among some parents and their Apps for Good answers the question: "How can we use mobile technology to improve communication between school and parents?"

Collaborating via Skype with one of the American students they worked with to set up their pop-up school, the boys from Thomas Tallis explained how, using a vareity of social networks and blogs, they set about revealing "the power of personal, handheld devices to transform the experience of learning, turning consumers into producers, makers and sharers."

To ease the transition from primary to secondary four students from Cornwall's Community school came up with XBox marks the spot. They used an interactive game to give 'newbies' a guided tour around their new school where they can meet teachers, students and even take part in a science class. It's a move that's certain to remove some of the anxiety about the September move to the 'big school'. The game, for XBox and PCs, will be available from Easter and the student-developers, Robin, Jamie, Mark and Humphrey, hope other schools will adopt the idea.

Meanwhile with top-notch timing, pupils from Denbigh School in Milton Keynes (see YouTube video below) brought the house down when they revealed the instructions they got from some MIT (that hothouse of scientific and technological entrepreneurship) students for building a Rubik Cube solving robot was flawed.

“They were wrong so we had to work it out for ourselves,” explained Jacob. Their robot club meet at each other’s house and inspired by instructions they discovered on the internet and YouTube, have built a variety of robots using Lego Mindstorms.

“Where do you see this going and will you promote it?” asked one of the judges. Apart from hybrid robots (maybe a penguin mixed with a giraffe) they are already working on a robotic band and plans to set up a school robot club are well-advanced and will be “communicated to other pupils through our Twitter and Facebook accounts”. Of course!

Despite the somewhat disappointing Sunday turnout, the Y Factor was a vibrant, entertaining event that proved the worth of highlighting students' work and student voice, something that should be developed right across what has now become BETT Week.

More information

Thomas Tallis School - London
Pop Up School
In November representatives from three London schools visited the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma to collaborate with their American peers on creating a Pop Up School to demonstrate the ability of young learners to disrupt traditional notions of what a school could be. Using social networks, blogs and Skype they collaborated to conceive and plan the Pop Up School and made a presentation to 1500 delegates about how learning is changing.

"We believe in the erosion of the classroom walls and know that learners need real audiences and that these people could easily live in another country. We believe in the value of networks of learners and the power of personal, handheld devices to transform the experience of learning, turning consumers into producers, makers and sharers. We think our Pop Up School experiment contains some of the elements of what great learning can be like now and in the future. We would like an opportunity to share our experiences with other learners so that they too can begin to take ownership of their learning adventures with others from around the world. Community School - Cornwall
Xbox marks the spot
"We are a group of students who love games based learning and want to help younger students solve problems and deal with their anxiety about the transition from primary to secondary school. Using the free Microsoft game making tool XNAWe we are currently designing a video game that will be played on the Xbox and on PC’s so that younger students in our community can play to learn more about our school so they are less anxious about moving from their smaller primary school.  We will launch the game by Easter 2011 and give each of our primary schools an Xbox which will be paid for through our fundraising.

The students playing the game will learn many things about the school from the geographical layout, to the school's systems and even get to know the subjects, teachers and other students. This will make them much more comfortable when they move from their primary school to their secondary school. We believe that we can then communicate this process to other secondary students all over the world and encourage them to make games like this to help the transition from primary to secondary school".

Central Foundation Girls' School - London
Apps For Good
Since September 2010, 19 girls between 13-18 years have been working hard to come up with problems they want to see solved through mobile apps in their communities. In teams of 2-5 they have been working through critical thinking, market research, design, technical feasibility, UI design and business models to make it happen.

"Apps for Good is a program by education charity CDI Europe that is delivered in partnership with Central Foundation Girls' School in Tower Hamlets. In November we presented our initial ideas for Transit in front of 150 people at TalkTalk in Soho. Transit is a speech-to-text-to-text (and maybe back to speech) translation app for teachers interacting with Bengali parents in Tower Hamlets".

St Mary's Catholic Primary School - Stoke on Trent
Aethelflaed and the Anglo Saxon Trail
"We are class 6 from St Mary’s RC Primary School in Stoke on Trent and we are looking at the Anglo-Saxons because we have the famous Staffordshire Hoard that we can go and visit in our Museum. We are using Augmented Reality with a program called Second Sight and Sony PSPs and have been creating media to put on the PSPs so that when the cameras see a semacode (which is a bit like a crossword) the things we have chosen will be triggered on the PSP and then people will get extra information. This lets us provide extra facts about the pieces of treasure in the Hoard, making the Hoard more exciting! The people at the museum are so pleased with us that they want to use our work on their new website to be launched mid January and our teachers have agreed to create a teachers pack for it.

The Wildknowledge software on the mobile phones on loan from the CLC lets us create interactive quizzes, virtual tours and maps and if we were not answering our quizzes we were collecting and recording what we saw from the very beginning of our trip to the end. We are also creating the PSP media for Year 5 to be able to use when they visit Lichfield Cathedral".

Denbigh School, Milton Keynes
Robot Club
Robot Club began as an after-school club organised for children in Years 3-6 at Loughton School, a junior school in Milton Keynes. It was set up by one of the school governors, an expert in robotics, and was so successful that, in 2008, a Year 6 team went to China to participate in the world RoboCup Finals. Wanting to continue bulding and developing robots, four of the club's members set up their own Robot Club when they moved to secondary school, which meet in each other's houses. Inspired by constructions they have found on the internet and viewed on YouTube they have built a variety of robots including a guitar and a robot that solves Rubik cubes.

"Robot Club allows us to take as long as we need to work on our projects. We get inspiration from people we know, and from videos we find on YouTube. When we run into problems, we have to find our own solutions by doing research online, and asking other robot builders. We have made several robots, from a very simple robot that moved around, to a Rubik-cube-solving robot. Some good subjects that Robot Club has helped us to focus on include engineering for the building, computing, and mathematics for the programming. We also have to focus very deeply on how we program and build our robots.

Being in Robot Club at school made us want to think outside the box and do things at home. It was so great that now most of us have got kits of Lego Mindstorms and are still building. We entered this competition to show how we have done it at home".

Beatrix Potter School - London
The Digital Orchestra

Pupils, teachers from local schools along with dance and performance specialists and artists and technology consultants from Wandsworth City Learning Centre have collaborated to create a series of multimedia performances based on a range of curriculum themes. The performances feature a mixture of dancers, musicians, technicians and audience participation using 'touch controllers’ such as iPad, iPhone, iTouch and Android phones.

"All of the pupils involved in this project gave up a week of their summer holiday to work with CLC consultants to trial and develop the technology involved. They have continued this term to develop the piece by refining their performances and developing new skills and ways of utilising the handheld devices to enhance the performance. Practically all of the creative input and resources have come from the children themselves with the teachers and consultants helping to develop their ICT capability. The students are also helping CLC staff to write a new control technology scheme of work based on their experiences, the first result of which is already being trialled in another local primary school".

Learning Without Frontiers

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