UNIVERSITY boffins have been testing a Star Trek-style classroom of the future on North-East youngsters.

Durham University researchers have created interactive, ‘smart’ desks, modelled on popular smartphones.

They say the “SynergyNet” devices allow pupils to work together in new ways, see what their classmates are doing and tackle problems with innovative solutions.

And, following a three-year study involving more than 400 youngsters – mostly aged eight to ten – across 12 North-East schools, they have concluded that the devices can boost children’s understanding of mathematics.

Research published today (November 23) in the journal Learning and Instruction suggests youngsters using SynergyNet improve in both mathematical flexibility and fluency, while children working on traditional paper-based activities only improve in flexibility.

Lead researcher Professor Liz Burd, from Durham University’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.”

Researcher Emma Mercier said: “The children really enjoy doing maths in this way and are always disappointed when you turn the desks off.”

Researchers admit setting up such classrooms may be some way off due to the costs involved; but they say technology has improved, and its costs fallen, significantly during the three years they have been working on the project.