Birmingham

Standing in the rain in a grim, half-dark street outside Fazeley Studios in Birmingham, I tried to recall how I had ended up here when we had originally booked the well-known and upmarket Custard Factory?

As I banged on the enormous doors, I was calculating the odds of whether I would first catch pneumonia or be relieved of all my techno goodies, when the door creaked open and I found myself in something akin to the Tardis. The interior was simply enormous with several large conference rooms, a reception area the size of a basketball court, a similarly-sized internal courtyard and even an in-house café (great coffee).

Once I had recovered and had set up the equipment it was time to unpack my goodie bag which this time included:

  • Special (lurid) high-tech gloves for use with touch screens, Prestat London Gin chocolates and gourmet jelly beans (from Selfridges)
  • Solar robot kit, Blobimals and PEZ dispensers (from Hamleys)
  • A MakeyMakey kit and high-res webcam (from Maplin)
  • The last two ed-invent tee shirts (more on the way).

The day started a little behind schedule as the inclement weather had delayed both some of the delegates, one of whom had come 140 miles from Grimsby, as well as Alison and John from OCR (who had to battle the 20 miles from Coventry).

While getting educators out of their institutions again proved a challenge, we had a great first session and while there were fewer delegates than in Manchester they more than made up for their lack of numbers with their sheer enthusiasm and ideas.

Before lunch we had transformed the ideas into teams, who then demolished what was a really excellent lunch. Focusing on food may sound trite at an edtech event, but we think that people work better if they are fed well; something we struggled to convey to the operators of The Monastery in Manchester, who couldn’t grasp that a non-dairy meal really meant it shouldn’t contain either milk, cheese and butter (or all three).

In the afternoon the teams worked on their ideas, but had to make do with butchers paper as the Magic Whiteboard wouldn’t stick to the walls which had been painted with special anti-static paint! This gives ed-invent another link to Dragons Den (aside from our fearsome judges and support of entrepreneurship) because Theo Paphitis and Debborah Meaden invested £100k for 40% of Magic Whiteboards. Before they did their pitches everyone took a well-earned break powered by cakes and cream, a photo of which would be enough to give a dietician a heart attack.

The pitches went well with one becoming the first ever to finish before the dreaded three-minute cut off (by about ¼ of a second). This was followed by a spirited debate amongst the judges, who finally decided the winners were be the Student Organiser team of Marcus Elliot (Grimsby Institute) and Dan Whisby (Churchdown School). As there were only two in this team, we also asked Tim Jeffferis from Oswestry School to attend the finals as he made an outstanding contribution all day.

As the train pulled out of Birmingham New Street, I was utterly exhausted (the 4am start hadn’t helped) but the energy of the participants and their ideas were still whizzing around my brain so quickly that in what seemed a matter of minutes I was back in Euston navigating my way home with millions of commuters through a wet and grey London night.