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BTE Academy pupils programme and assemble their own robots

All the bells and whistles

If pupils are to shape the future they need the tools to do it. Editor Stephanie Broad finds out about the latest innovations

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 09, 2016 | Technology

A pioneering ‘teaching laboratory’ has been created for pupils at The Queen Elizabeth Academy in Warwickshire.

The ‘STEM lab’ is amongst the first of its kind in the country, and is an enhanced curriculum initiative supported by the Erudition Schools Trust, the Academy’s sponsors. Pupils at the school are no longer required to study the traditional CDT (Craft, Design and Technology) and are instead able to make full use of state-of-the-art technology. Children in years seven and eight are now studying the very latest advances in science, technology, engineering and maths – from making and launching their own rockets, experimenting with laser technology, forensic science and air resistance to programming robots, creating animations and using a 3D printer.

The Academy also benefits from the latest green screen technology, with lighting and a high-specification HD video camera, using Apple Mac software, for pupils to produce high-quality films.

Also part of the Erudition Schools Trust is Innovation School Stoke, who recently won a NAACE Inclusion Impact award. The school, which caters for vulnerable young people with varying needs, who have become disengaged with mainstream education, has been using a computer-aided, holistic approach to learning to help engage its pupils. Research found that a technological approach to education significantly improved the way students engaged and made progress in learning. It was through this that the Innovation School Stoke was developed, with the aim of providing a holistic approach to learning opportunities for every student, regardless of ability, background or individual barriers to learning.

Commenting on the award, Emma Shutt, Head of School, said: “I am so proud Innovation School Stoke has been recognised in this way by NAACE.

We work really hard to make sure that all our students are included and involved in lessons, personalising learning and using technology to support better educational outcomes.” 

The awards formed part of the NAACE Strategic Conference 2015, attended by international technology companies, including Google and Microsoft. Miss Shutt said: “It was a great experience to be in the same room as executives from Google, learning about the technological advances in education. I’ve learnt lots to take back to school to further advance the students’ learning experiences – and enhance our teaching methods too.”

The new ‘innovation room’ at The Dukeries Academy, part of Academy Transformation Trust (ATT), will provide pupils with a technology enhanced ‘future learning environment’.

The aim of the new classroom is to increase opportunities for pupils and teachers to approach learning and teaching in innovative ways.

A group of pupils at the academy took on the role of ‘digital champions’ working with teachers to develop the different features of the innovation room.

The space is by no means a traditional school computer room. There are areas for groups of pupils to conference, plan collaboratively, give presentations, research, immerse themselves in 3D environments, explore film-making technology and produce digital content.

This unconventional classroom will facilitate and promote the development of genuinely engaging learning activities that fit more closely within contexts outside of school. Examples of projects already being planned by teaching staff include writing scripts for presentations that can be filmed and enhanced using green screen technology, creating digital revision resources and developing professional standard 3D design work for 3D printing.

Principal Ian Barton explained the value of such a rare resource at the academy:

“The innovation room will be a truly unique learning experience for pupils at The Dukeries.

“As an ATT academy it is our aim to be at the forefront of technology and to give our pupils every opportunity to prepare for life beyond the academy.

“We want our pupils to be excited about learning and our innovation room will most certainly inspire them and give them experiences that they can take forward into future learning and careers.

“Pupils will have the latest industry standard technology at their fingertips so they can explore cutting-edge developments and learn new techniques which will help them to develop key skills they can take with them as they move through the academy and into the future.”

Lord Storey at the opening of Queen Elizabeth Academy's STEM lab

In Bristol, year 10 pupils at BTE Academy, a UTC specialising in engineering, recently spent the day thinking about robot logic, then assembled and programmed their own robots to follow a series of different paths around their classroom.

The day was hosted by John Bradford of the High Tech Bristol and Bath Community Interest Company and was supported by students at the University of the West of England, home of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

“Robotics will play an increasingly central role in our lives in the years to come and teaching these skills is part of our mission as a centre of excellence for STEM subjects in Bristol,” says Joe Mulligan, assistant principal at BTE Academy.

“Our Robotics Day proved to be an interesting and exciting practical and technical challenge. The students responded positively to the challenges they were given and began to appreciate the complexities of robots and the level of determination and logical thought required to make machines do what you want them to do.

“The opportunity to engage with the undergraduates at UWE and the teamworking aspect of the day also taught them much about working co-operatively to achieve targets.”

Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA)’s Computing curriculum covers social media, video games and coding from year seven, progressing to the intricacies of Google in year eight and app development in year nine.

The school’s ‘Gifted and Talented’ year nine science students recently visited Sussex University for a workshop on wearable technology, which enabled BACA students to understand the relevance of technology and electronics to clothing, apparel and fashion.

While we’re yet to see whether wearable technology will make an appearance in the classroom, it’s a growing consumer product and the workshop helped students understand its relevance now and in the future. Students designed and created their own wearable technology using thread to conduct energy from a hidden battery to LED lights that decorated baseball hats. This exercise helped students explore how wearable technology is used in a real-world context.

The Whitehaven Academy, part of Bright Tribe Trust, has been recognised as a Microsoft Showcase School. The Showcase Schools programme highlights and amplifies technology in schools. Whitehaven was chosen for its vision for technology-supported learning, monitoring and reporting, as well as the strength of the leadership team in taking it forward.

As part of the Showcase Schools programme, three staff members in the academy have been selected to be Microsoft Innovator Educator Experts (MIEEs) and will deliver talks, training sessions and webinars on behalf of Microsoft to other schools to share best practice and what they have learnt from the implementation of technology supported learning at The Whitehaven Academy.

Principal Philip Grant commented: “Working closely with the Showcase School team at Microsoft will enable students, parents and the academy to really influence the change of education and the use of technology in education. Competent and effective use of technology is pivotal to skills for life in the 21st century and this will give our students a real edge in the employment marketplace.”

For more information visit:

The Queen Elizabeth Academy: eruditionschoolstrust.co.uk

Innovation School Stoke: innovationschoolstoke.co.uk 

The Dukeries Academy: www.dukeries.attrust.org.uk

BTE Academy: www.bteacademy.co.uk

Brighton Aldridge Community Academy: www.baca-uk.org.uk

The Whitehaven Academy: www.whitehavenacademy.org.uk

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