A Bright idea! (pun intended)

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays… no, I’m not actually writing my blog on Christmas Day, but I thought I’d take advantage of WordPress’ Publish Later feature.  Years ago, I ran a website containing mods for a few PC games.  The day with the biggest hit count was always Christmas Day.  I guess a lot of people would get their hands on new computers and/or games and hit the websites.

Those stats were brought home to me recently after reading this Cracked article all about the worst times to be online.  Christmas being on of them because no one updates their websites on Christmas Day.  So this year I’ve resolved to be different and present something new for you.

This tip doesn’t really fit into the 20 tips, but it is an idea for you.  It’s actually quite simple, but extraordinarily effective.

Take a projector, attach it to the ceiling and point it down.

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Told you it was simple, but the results are spectacular.  I suggested this idea at school just before the summer break and we fitted it in time for September.

The projector is a “special” projector which doesn’t have any circuit boards behind (now above) the bulb.  This means they don’t melt when the bulb gets hot.  The ‘special’ projector doesn’t cost much more than a regular one, but because of the low ceiling height we fitted a fish-eye lens to increase the size of the screen.  This was cheaper than buying a short-throw projector.

A VGA cable runs through trunking to a nearby PC with dual-head graphics card.  The socket is visible, so teachers can swap in their laptop instead.  The computer has a wireless gyromouse allowing a user to control the computer from the floor.

Running a program like Google Earth takes on a whole new dimension.  There’s something very immersive about standing on a screen and looking down.

We’ve also fitted a webcam into the ceiling tiles and using the free Po-Motion software you can appear to walk over water as it ripples a picture.   I’m hoping we can start building our own Flash interactives.

Something brilliant about the floor is that we didn’t come up with any teaching tools for it, we left to our teachers to come up with uses.  It’s in a breakout area accessible to four classrooms and a huge number of teachers have made use of it already.  The diversity of uses they have come up with is really cool, here’s just some of them:

  • Maths have used it to measure scale and to explain perimeter.*
  • English have been stepping through pages of books and getting students to stand on grammatical errors.
  • PE came over from the Sports Centre to demonstrate to their netball students the relative positions of the players.  The students just hadn’t been grasping it when it was on a whiteboard.
  • Geography have been able to ‘visit’ different landscapes.

We’ve already taken the concept to a portable platform, mounting an old projector on a camera tripod and wheeling it over to a table to create an interactive table.  Cost ~£250.  I really like the portable version because it can be used anywhere there’s a plug socket and it reuses old kit.

The biggest benefit of both systems however is that the expensive stuff is out of reach.  Especially with the floor.  We all know kids can get over excited and stamp, stomp and jump.  That can be a problem with most interactive surfaces, but with a projected floor, all they are doing is stamping on a regular floor.

I like technology like this because it gets out of the way of the teacher and just works.   When you think about it, there’s nothing particularly new here, so all the tech used is standard.  Another word for that is reliable.

If you’re lucky enough to visit BETT this year or another technology tradeshow, no doubt you’ll see lots of these surfaces.  Before you whip out the school chequebook, just take a moment to appreciate what actually being sold.   We were once quoted £6000 for an interactive floor.  We spent a tenth of that.

If you visited this blog around the holiday season, then Merry Christmas.   If you’re reading it at some other time, then remember to keep Christmas in your heart throughout the year.   Goodnight to all and to all a good night.  I have watched too many Christmas movies.

* You can read more about how Maths are using the floor (and plenty of other tips and ideas) at Keep it Moving Maths’ blog

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