One quiet highlight of MacExpo 2004 was the Burning 2 Learn exhibit.

Led by motivational counsellor, Alan Dean, Burning 2 Learn is a project that aims to motivate children to enjoy learning, whatever their experience or ability.

At MacExpo, Dean introduced separate groups of children to Apple technologies, iMovie and PowerBooks. The task? To learn enough about the technologies to make news reports about the show.

Making learning fun

A former construction worker, Dean realised that literacy and maths existed in many parts of life. He decided that learning needs to be relevant and fun.

Dean explained: "If you're not interested in learning, what are you interested in?" He believes learning can be relevant, exciting and fun. "We describe what we do as the three 'R's: respect, responsibility and reward."

XPO Events CEO Bob Denton told Macworld: "Alan's running a really good project up there. He's taking kids from a variety of backgrounds, giving them access and responsibility, and encouraging them to learn."

He told a story about some of the children involved on day one of the project, "it was so nice," he said, "this group of kids that came today, they made these great reports and really enjoyed themselves, and they all trooped into the organiser's office to say goodbye and thank you at the end".

Get your learning on track

Dean has worked in education for many years. He's employed by schools as a motivational specialist. One recent project took a collection of children to Silverstone for the Superbike World Championships there.

The children were given the chance to watch the races, learn about and sit on the bikes, VIP treatment and a challenge: pupils had to interview the riders and create news reports. The idea was to improve their literacy and numeracy by offering challenges that, while fun, encouraged learning.

"How can we motivate young people to feel valued?" Dean asked. "Half the aggression you see among kids is based on fear, we need to give them more time."

He added, "My son hates school, but with Burning 2 Learn he doesn't realise he's doing school work."

One student from that project said: "I am getting so much more out of life now. I was rude because I thought I was being clever. No one could make me do anything I didn't want to do. With you lot I found that if you respect other people they treat you better."

Mac matters

Dean is highly impressed with Apple's technologies and the way they can be applied to help build motivation in learning. "A lot of children are frightened to learn, and my job is to get the passion for learning in. With this project, one kid said he didn't know how to use iMovie. I sent his team off around the show to find out. They learned.

"There's so much learning that doesn't empower children to ask questions. We have to harness their energy so they don't feel like failures."

Dean's already considering his next project, and appealed: "I'd like to get hold of some second-hand G3 Macs to give to kids on a long-term project, and the reward could be that if they meet the deadline I set, they could keep the Macs."