Progressive Surrey School Goes Interactive With GestureTek
As a parting legacy, retiring head teacher at Farnham Heath End comprehensive school in Surrey, David Hoggins, has presented new incumbent Nick Phillips with a progress technology wing which is light years ahead of anything generally found in the state school sector.
Costing just over £500,000 to develop (with the aid of judicious management of their capital budget and a £100,000 local authority grant), the aptly named 21C technology block took a year to build, and fulfills the Head's dream of providing "complete immersion in an environment where the children can interact wirelessly on any level."
He explains, "I knew IT was important as a tool for engaging kids — and that if we could engage them with both audio and visual stimuli, it would be brilliant for kinaesthetic learning."
The idea first took root back in 1997, and was promoted by David Hoggins during a presentation evening attended by Chris Woodhead, then the HM Inspector for Schools.
But Farnham Heath End wanted to go beyond the conventional set-up — in fact earlier plans for a computer suite, divisible into two classrooms, were abandoned in favour of incorporating gesture controlled technology as a means to accessing the future.
This month they were able to unveil the new facility that fulfills that dream — with GestureTek GroundFX interactive floor projection system and GestureTek Screen Xtreme, installed by Digital Vision AV Ltd, taking pride of place in the new block. GroundFX is the only product of its kind to integrate interactive 2D and 3D visuals with sound, thus enhancing the interactive feature and further immersing children into the environment. Both GestureTek displays are administered by a wireless mouse and keyboard.
Limited by the height of the ceiling, Paradigm AV, the GestureTek UK distributors, advised using a Sanyo PCL-XM100L (5000 lumens) LCD projector with a short zoom lens, firing onto a single mirror rig above, which folds the beam vertically downwards to create a 2.5 metres x 1.9 metres floor image.
Screen Xtreme is addressed by an Optoma EX525ST (2500 Lumen) ultra short throw projector to provide an 80" image over a distance of under 1 metre. This enables the projector to be kept close to the wall (where the motion detector is recessed) without casting a shadow by the user.
The community school can build on GestureTek's applications — using it to adapt applications or create new effects — and thus offer a gateway into a future in which the pupils will themselves play a key role.
But the path to Paul Mayhew's integration company had been a long one. Farnham Heath End School's Head of Business Studies, ICT & Technology, Steven Clarke, had surveyed the educational technology market at this year's BETT Show in January — which established the concept but brought them no nearer to sourcing their requirements. It was only when the school's financial controller Katie Clarke, who was also entrusted with running the project, tracked down Digital Vision, that the momentum grew.
Said Paul Mayhew, "It was a case of listening to what the school wanted to achieve and then designing a system which made their vision a reality. We knew they wanted interactive projection and the best in the market is GestureTek."
The complete product range was then demonstrated by Paradigm AV at their Bedford HQ, and the GroundFX and Screen Xtreme were considered most relevant to fulfill the school's requirements.
The new block will not be the exclusive province of those studying Flash and Web design for ICT GCSE, but be accessible to the full 880 roll of 11-16 year olds. Consideration was also given to special needs teaching but there are many other applications for this sparsely fitted, reconfigurable studio, such as drama and music.
"When you enter the classroom the infrastructure itself looks quite basic," admits Mayhew, "but the back office is extremely involved. You can switch any sound source and video source to one or many points in the room.
"The server room has a Kramer switching matrix and items of software that will remotely control the projectors, as well as utilities that enable control of the matrix wirelessly."
The children themselves had input into the way the room was designed — with colour-change LED lighting and matching colour pouffes, while the school's governors gave the thumbs up at an informal opening recently.
Summing up, David Hoggins says, "We see GestureTek as an open-ended tool which has phenomenal potential in education. It will see teachers and pupils alike working together." Paul Mayhew notes that the solution is an expandable one and as the technology progresses so more utilities will become available.
This is one of several initiatives introduced by the school, including a Virtual Learning Environment, which now enables students to access their homework and other learning resources from any location with an internet connection, and an ‘Opening Minds’ session for Year 7 on Fridays.
Steven Clarke, who will be responsible for staff training in the technology block, explains, "We take them off timetable and bring them into 21C for teamwork and thinking skills.
"This is gaining a lot of exposure and will further drive forward the use of the room."
The technology block will also be made available to local primary schools and be hired out within the community.