A SPACE-age classroom developed in the North East could turn future generations into mathematical geniuses.
Researchers from Durham University have designed and created the “classroom of the future” which features fully interactive desks.
The multi-touch, multi-user “smart” desks have been tried and tested during a three-year project involving more than 400 pupils.
The results show that collaborative learning increases both fluency and flexibility in maths tasks, compared with number crunching on traditional paper-based sums.
Lead researcher Professor Liz Burd, from Durham’s School of Education, said: “Our aim was to encourage far higher levels of active student engagement, where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem-solving and creating, rather than by passive listening.
“This classroom enables both active engagement and equal access.
“We found our tables encouraged students to collaborate more effectively. We were delighted to observe groups of students enhancing others’ understanding of mathematical concepts.
“Such collaboration just did not happen when students used paper-based approaches.”
The teacher plays a key role in the classroom and can send tasks to different tables, individuals and groups. The teacher can also send one group’s answers to the next group to work on and add to, or to the board for a class discussion.
Professor Steve Higgins, who was involved in the research, added: “Technology like this has enormous potential for teaching, as it can help the teacher manage and orchestrate the learning of individuals and groups of learners to ensure they are both challenged and supported, so that they can learn effectively.”
The Durham team designed software and desks that recognise multiple touches using vision systems that see infrared light.
The SynergyNet project set out to integrate a fully collaborative system of desks, building it into the fabric and furniture of the classroom.
The desks, networked and linked to a main smartboard, are the central component. The technology allows all students to take part as opposed to one individual dominating.
Researcher Emma Mercier said: “Cooperative learning works very well in the new classroom because the pupils interact and learn in a different way.
“The children really enjoy doing maths in this way and are always disappointed when you turn the desks off.”
Such a classroom may be some way off being a regular feature of schools across the world, due to the costs in setting it up and the level of support needed to make it work.
However, in just three years the project team have noted major improvements in the technology and a reduction in costs.
The researchers also recognise that task management in the class environment is an issue requiring thought and planning, but the overall potential of the new classroom for improved numeracy, learning, and ongoing assessment is very good.
The project has worked with 12 different schools in the North East with pupils aged mostly between eight and 10.