BETT Show: Innovation in the classroom

Books on mobile phones? Musical computers? You can find them all at the BETT show, says Tim Walker
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The annual BETT show, presenting all that is fresh and innovative in educational technology, returns to Olympia in London next month (11 to 14 January), hosting almost 600 exhibitors and a programme of seminars.

Among the most eccentric products on show is iCue (, a technology that allows people to store up to 400 books on their mobile phones, to read at their leisure. The product represents an attempt to harness the youth culture surrounding mobile phones and use it for something more constructive than Crazy Frog ringtones.

Mobile-phone users can download a novel of their choice from a WAP site, then read it by one of three methods: a simple page of text; words scrolling across the screen like a ticker tape; or words or phrases flicking up on screen at a speed controlled by the reader.

Its designers claim that iCue users soon become accustomed to the unconventional reading technique, though the reviewers who tested it for BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme sound rather less convinced. Educationalists will be able to decide for themselves at BETT's Stand 17.

Many BETT exhibitors are touting products designed to improve ICT provision and integration in schools. One of 2005's BETT award-winners for design excellence was Gigajam (, back this year with its interactive music education system. Musicians and teachers collaborated to develop the programme, which teaches children to play guitar, bass, keyboard or drums as an introduction to GCSE music. Students' progress is recorded by the computer-based course, which provides instrumental tuition for children who might otherwise have no access to music teaching.

2Simple ( is a software company dedicated to producing programmes for use by schoolchildren at Foundation Stage and Key Stages 1 and 2. The simple, engaging programmes, which include video tutorials, assist children to learn independently. Among the company's most popular software packages is a music toolkit (a more basic introduction than Gigajam), and 2Create a Story, which encourages children to flex their storytelling muscles using text, sound and images.

Those teachers who work in creative curriculum areas like art, music and literature may find the Create at BETT zone a useful place to learn about "podcasting", supposedly a tool with substantial educational potential, and about ICT in animation and film production.

The companies on show at BETT use ICT to teach children old subjects using modern methods, but many exhibitors also address the need for children to be computer-literate first.

Grape County ( was set up in 2002 with the intention of helping young children to learn to touch-type. When the company's founder, Martin McAvoy, discovered from teachers that conventional keyboards were too large for the hands of schoolchildren, he sought out a Taiwanese manufacturer with an affordable line of diminutive keyboards. Grape County's pilot scheme, which placed the keyboards in five schools late last year, was well received at BETT 2005, and the company is returningwith its MyKids keyboard and mouse.

Desktec Designs ( has developed solutions for another practical classroom issue - how to physically integrate ICT teaching in the conventional teaching setting. Its Verso range of multipurpose desk designs have built-in computers that can be stowed to avoid the space issues often thrown up. Desktec has chosen the BETT 2006 show to launch a music workstation, integrated in a school desk like the rest of its Verso series.

Teachers who feel a bit intimidated by the sheer quantity of hardware on display at the BETT show can find the seminar programme invaluable in guiding them towards the best possible use of the available technology in their schools.

Among the highlights of this year's programme is a keynote presentation - How teachers change their practice to change the world - which is to be given on Thursday 12 January by Professor Tim Brighouse, the London schools tsar, and the e-learning expert John Davitt.

The seminar concludes with three demonstrations by BETT ICT award-winners on the use of technology in the classroom.