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Using Innovative Technologies in the Classroom – Big Trak

This post will be the first of a series of posts on the Festival of Social Sciences- Using Innovative Technologies in the Classroom event that took place in Birmingham on Thursday 8th November. The festival showcased a variety of technology that was being used to enhance learning. The original focus for the technology was aimed at students on the Autistic Spectrum, but the researchers and schools trialling the technology have seen benefits for all students. A big thank you goes out to Anthony Rhys of Trinity Fields School who put us in contact with Dr Wendy Keay-Bright of University of Wales Institute, Cardiff who invited my colleague Keith Manville and myself to the event. Lastly, a thank you needs to go to Dr Karen Guldberg from The Autism Centre for Research and Education, University of Birmingham for organising the event and Ian Lowe head teacher of Topcliffe Primary School for hosting us at his school.

One of the purposes of the event was to showcase the SHAPE project. The SHAPE project is where researchers and practitioners are working closely together to identify ways of using four different technologies in innovative and exploratory ways. Technology enhanced learning (TEL) can offer significant benefits for children on the Autistic Spectrum and the project looks at conducting research in the classroom focusing on social interaction and communication. The technologies involved are

  3. Reactikles

In addition, Aldebaren-Robotics were showcasing their NAO robots and you can read more about these in the BBC report here.

For this first post however, I decided to actually write about something that is not that innovative (first released in the 80s) but has a lot of uses for teaching students some important skills.

Big Trak – Control technology

The Big Trak was a toy from the 1980's that has been re-released for a new generation. Bigtrak has a 23 button keypad that can remember up to 16 commands which are programmed into the control panel on it's back; press go and it will perform them in sequence. The students use simple programming skills to direct the vehicle in different directions. This also taught the students the importance of learning to sequence their instructions to ensure the Big Trak moved where they wanted. From the brief demonstration, we saw I could already see other uses for it for example, teaching students basic understanding of directional language, co-ordinate work and shape recognition. At £20 each I think this is a very cost effective way of introducing some basic programming and sequencing skills and from what I saw students were really engaged using these tools.

This is something that I feel students with SEN could easily learn to use and is a useful piece of technology to enhance their learning.

Next Post: COSPATIAL – Collaborative Virtual Environments.

Links –

Keith Manville @open_sen has also written up about the event and you can read his excellent post here.


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