Saturday, 21 May 2016

Working with Smarter Spaces


We've been really pleased to be working with Dulux and a number of schools as part of their Smarter Spaces campaign, to help improve learning spaces.

It is always encouraging when large commercial companies dedicate time and considerable resources to helping improve learning environments for young people...  We at the-learning-crowd are delighted to have been asked to be involved as much as we have been.  Critical to the success of the scheme has been the number of schools that they have worked with to get their opinions and advice.  That's a really good approach too take, and quite refreshing.  We wish that some other organisations thought about asking the pupils first.

Hopefully there will be more coming out from this campaign soon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Quirky Spaces

It's always interesting to see any quirky or unique spaces in schools.  Touring a school opened in 2013 this week, I was really pleased to see a range of interesting spaces including this rather quirky reading space accessed from the open circulation and dining space.

It's spaces like this that attract interest and are extensively used by students.  Admittedly this school was built during the BSF (Building Schools of the Future) programme where budgets were more generous, but it is sad that budgets and designs now are so restricted that many schools are now, frankly boring providing nothing more than basic functional teaching spaces. It's location in an open space accessed extensively by staff ad students means that safeguarding is simply not an issue.

This reading alcove is fab and attracted the interest of lots of people visiting the school.  Shouldn't all schools have some space that is unique and attracts interest and excitement.

This was a high quality space - pity these are seen less and less these days!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

DEC - A Students Journey with Alison Watson

It's one years ago that I met Alison Watson in San Diego, along with her group of 11/12 year old students presenting to 700 schools architects about their work in designing school building, including their work in BIM.  This was before many architects and even learnt to use it themselves.  Needless to say they won a well deserved standing ovation.

Since then Alison has single handedly battled to gain recognition for her own curriculum which has now become the highly regarded 'Design Engineer Construct' and recognised internationally.

It therefore is really heartening to read a fabulous personal account following the journey of one student who took this aspirational curriculum and their successful journey from school to work.

If anyone deserves success it is Alison - who is now regarded as the UK's leading spokeswoman on this subject.  We are very proud that she is is a Senior Associate of the-learning-crowd.

To read the whole article, click here.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dark Corridors


I was taken with this school image recently: the Hallway of Light, from the Church of the Good Shepard / Episcopal Day school in Augusta, USA.

It certainly is very dramatic, atmospheric and sculptural - it has presence, it establishes a mood...  but I just had to wonder, how realistic is it in a high school with multiple hundreds of students moving around.  The opportunities for passive supervision seem to be hindered and frankly it is potentially dangerous.  I am certain that it could not pass inspection in the UK with it's strict daylighting / safeguarding  requirements.  Who knows what could be happening down at the far end?

A colleague suggested that maybe it was a staff only area.  Whilst I don't know, I am sure that this is not the case but if so, how can some much design be put into a school in an area that students don't access - who is the building for?.

Dramatic - but frankly not a suitable design response for a school I suggest!

Under stair spaces - use them!

A good use of under stair areas

It is always amazing how often I visit brand new schools where the area underneath stair cases is not considered.  They are rarely used well and most frequently become a wasted space where junk gets thrown. There seem to be three normal strategies.

a) Pretend that they are not there and just leave them as a totally unusual space where mischief can often happen.  These areas are usually out of sight and a magnet for potential misbehaviour.  In the worst case there are low barriers of what look like scaffolding poles to keep people out.  All this does is create a very silly, ugly and wasted area.  In the photograph below from a school with a very sculptural wooden stair case in the middle of a large commons area, there is real wasted space underneath, guarded by a low rail.

A real waste of space

b) The next strategy seems to revolve filling them in for storage or cleaners cupboards - at least that is a better solution... but not ideal

c) Thirdly, and most usefully, put the stairs where they can be seen and passively supervised - and then use the space for learning - creating a small area for quiet social space, learning intervention  or small group work.  With carefully designed stairs, and considering all the H&S issues, these spaces have the potential to enhance the school environment.

It's a pity that more schools do not think about the potential benefits of these areas from the very beginning.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Schools getting higher...



It may appear obvious, but as cities get more crowded an increasing number of schools are looking to either expand existing schools upwards or build new schools that have more floors, especially for secondary schools.

In reality the youngest students do need to be able to immediately access the outdoors, and whilst the ground floor is the usual solution, there is no difference if they have access to large learning balconies or terraces. There is no reason why not.

However, there is no reason why secondary schools cannot 'go high'.  There are now schools in the UK adopting high buildings.  I, with other members of  the-learning-crowd have been involved with a number of them.  These include the King Solomon International Business School in Birmingham which has taken over an eight storey high building.  It makes sense and provides the ability to create a number of zones and dedicated floors in an extremely crowded urban context.  The chances of building a spread out school on two or three floors in this area are non existent. The resulting facility, once completed, should be amazing.

It is interesting to see the new concept for the new high rise school in Parramatta, Australia which is deliberately designing such a new building.  It makes sense and looks like a really exciting concept.

For the sake of equity this interview includes someone objecting to it as not suiting all students.  I would suggest that no building, no matter how low or high, suits every student.  The priority survey is to provide the best possible specialist innovative solutions in crowded cities so all students, staff and the wider school community can thrive and get excited about their education.

To see the TV news story about this new school click here

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Zenna Hopson on 'The Vote'


Many people will have been interested to see Zenna Hopson, Senior Associate with 'the-learning-crowd' in a long interview on her role as former Chair of Governors for the Portland Aldridge Community Academy and also on her role as former Chair of Ofsted.

She makes a number of interesting points and demonstrates why she is so in demand for her sharp, analytical mind and strategic thinking. This interview has already received many positive comments from a range of leading education specialists - and well deserved to.

Zenna undertakes a range of work for us at the-learning-crowd, especially on international school projects where she is specifically asked for to provide challenge, robustness and clarification on the best way to address issues they may have discovered.

All those who have worked with her know how good she is at that!

To see the interview click here..

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

♯Great Schools

I'm really pleased to see the digital version of Great Schools - making the case for good design published by the Architects Journal and sponsored by Hawkins\Brown Architects.

It is now commonly accepted by many that the minimum standard schools that follow the baseline school designs promoted by Mr Gove a few years ago do not provide outstanding learning environments and are simply 'functional spaces'.  Students deserve better than this if we are to encourage and motivate them to a future of life long learning.

We have learnt a great deal since the days of BSF and aspirational school design - this knowledge needs to be further enhanced and developed - not restricted as so many new school designs do currently.  The more conversations regarding new high quality school design that can be restarted - the better.

To access the link to the digital version click here.

North South Divide


Depressingly Ofsted are still reporting a north south divide in the chances of students attending a 'good' school. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector, notes sixteen local authorities where over 40% of students do not attend a school rated as good or better.  This, possibly inevitably will result in them failing to achieve as good grades as they may be capable of.

Having said that, I know of several schools where staff and students do extremely well, they are outstanding schools in many ways - but student progress does not keep up, often because of lack of aspiration and role models in their social life as opposed to the work that teachers are doing.  In these cases it is simply not fair to simply blame the school. It is so much more complex than that.

To read the Sky News story, click here.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Pre school collects the rain in new school design


Great story on the social media networks recently about the design of a pre school in Japan that is designed so that the central courtyard area between learning spaces can collect rainwater.  This is so students can play in it and learn about the environment at the same time.

It's different, it's innovative and it's fun!  I've not seen this idea before but it is a really neat idea.  It wouldn't work everywhere but I do wish more schools really considered and explored creative ways to enhance the design of learning spaces.

It would also be fascinating to revisit the school after a few years of operation to see how the space is used in reality.  Does the architects dream / vision work in the real time operation of the school?  There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't!

To read the full story, click here.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Bangkok Exams - are you serious?


I've seen some ridiculous sights in my time, but surely this is one of the most bizarre!  We're not sure if it's true or not - but even thinking about is it strange!

But if you think  about it - it does make you think about the whole purpose and even usefulness of testing people.  What does having all the people writing responses to identical questions really tell us about what they can actually do in the real world?  Maybe that is even more bizarre!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Research and Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Eton

I have recently come across this short film for Eton - possibly one of the most famous schools in the world. It is interesting to watch their approach to teaching, learning, innovation and research at Eton.  Their new Tony Little Centre includes rooms for students to work collaboratively using a wide range of approaches.

Of most interest to me is the way that they have included total flexibility in the way that their rooms have been arranged and focus on research.  Furniture that allows total agility, write on table surfaces, write on walls supported by robust technology.  The rooms are not huge learning barns, they're modest in size.  That does not prevent exploring a range of learning and teaching styles however.

None of this is new and many schools have considered this approach.  The Blue Sky Classroom initiative with every wall being a write on surface was used in schools in Essex year ago. Write on walls are in many schools, primary and secondary. All these innovative approaches can be done in a standard classroom in any school if staff were allowed to be given the time to explore how a new approach would work for them.  It's not wildly expensive.

However, as the political climate has changed and budgets slashed, innovation and flexibility in learning seems to be a dirty word for many, especially those key education decision makers.

Innovative approaches still exist in many schools but this is down to strong leadership rather than a genuine national passion for innovative teaching styles.  This is a pity!

As more and more schools re built  based on Building Bulletin 103 guidance, on minimal budgets, especially for furniture, fittings and equipment, it really is important to remember that there is a different and better way that encourages students to learn in a way that best suits them and the subject being explored.

Equally important is Eton's passionate approach about researching what works best in teaching and learning, building on best practice and publishing their findings.   Too few schools really explore what learning styles work best for the students.  Surely this what we should all be focusing on.

To watch the film, click here.





Monday, 13 April 2015

Google and IPACA


It's great to see the innovative vision for ICT fully integrated into learning still being put into practice at IPACA (Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy). The new very short YouTube video (105 seconds) should continue to reassure people that all goes well.

Based on 1:1 Chrome book platform, this 3-19 all through school is now also introducing tablet technology to support the learning processes.

With a patron like Professor Stephen Heppell, this school was always going to be at the cutting edge - and there are many people from all round the world following how it is developing.  Under the lead of the outstanding Gary Spracklen, Director of Digital Learning and Innovation the school, and more importantly student outcomes are going from strength to strength.  I have taken a number of visitors round this school - they always leave amazed having watched and talked to staff and students.  More importantly, they leave realising that  they should be reassessing their own practice, and not just tinker round the edges.  That just has to be good!

For the short You Tube video on how it is going please click here.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Better design classrooms help attainment

I am delighted that at last the full report from the University of Salford was published at the end of February.

The report 'Clever Classrooms' reinforces that research they published in 2012 about the very positive influences that a well designed classroom can make on pupil engagement with learning and attainment.  I think we all know that, even if some try to ignore it.

This is a comprehensive piece of work that all involved with the design or learning spaces should be reading..  Maybe it may even help persuade some people about the importance of changing the habit of 'what we do is!'  I am still disappointed in schools where I go into classrooms that resemble a mixture of a jumble sale and an explosion in a paper factory.  How can anyone feel comfortable in working and learning in spaces like that?

This is a great piece of work  - I just hope that enough teachers read it and not just interested people like us.

To read the full report click here:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Who needs chairs??


Interesting story from Seminole County in the USA about a classroom which has totally abandoned chairs for pupil working, rather adopting yoga balls instead.

The teacher is certain that the effort needed to keep upright, stimulates just enough of the brain to keep them more alert.  She reports improved engagement and attainment levels since adopting yoga balls.

This is not new however. Many people have heard me talk for years about having good quality chairs that allow the body the move, flex and stretch out.  That's why I like the 'Hokki' stool and 'Pantoswing' chair from VS - they are specifically designed to allow the body to move naturally.

Many people will not like the idea of yoga balls - but the concept that is highlights is very important! Young children are not designed to sit still for hours at an end and diet we still provide some shocking furniture in our schools that hinder good learning more than help.  How can that me right?

One of my key issues that it really does limit flexibility - they can't stack and will just take up so much space if the teacher wants to reconfigure the room.

To read the full story click here

Friday, 19 September 2014

More storage in primary school halls

 I get increasingly depressed as I visit primary schools,  that all seem to have totally inadequate storage in their main halls.   These halls usually have to be multi functional spaces serving as dining halls, assembly halls, PE space as well as concert / performance halls with full adult audiences.

As a minimum there should be sufficient storage for all the following to be totally put away out of sight:  
  • dining tables and associated paraphernalia such as recycling trollies
  • demountable stage and sound / AV system
  • PE equipment
  • Adult chairs for a full concert performance from parents
  • Community store
Any of the above left out all the time becomes a health and safety hazard for PE, dance and drama lessons, restricts space, looks really messy and reduces the flexibility that should be available.

There is NEVER enough space allowed in school design guidelines - in designing new hall spaces all schools should demand more than  recommended guidelines and also demand that architects model how the storage will actually cope with the amount of 'stuff' that schools have to have to be able to function.  Current practice is not good enough!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

New FREE edition of Learning Spaces Magazine


We are delighted that the new edition of the online "Learning Spaces" magazine is now out - our third edition in a year.  This edition has a definite international theme and has several aticles from around the world as well as the UK.

the-learning-crowd has now edited three of these and received some great feedback.  Please do click on the link below for your free trial edition.

 http://www.teachingtimes.com/publications/learning-spaces.htm

For more införmation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Daylight.. or not

I am still amazed and incredibly depressed to see schools blocking up large windows to provide additional display space.  The other side of this window is a classroom that is so dark that it resembles a cave - with a total explosion of display - some quite old and fading.  The benefit that this borrowed light into the classroom would bring  has been totally lost.

We all know that light and daylight especially is really important for young people and their learning - and that the latest research shows that young pupils like creative attractive display but not too much of it - rather zoned, organised and neat.

To increase acres of more display at the loss of additional natural light is a surely a tragedy.

Tottenham UTC nearing completion..



View from the main reception

It's been great watching the new Tottenham UTC nearing completion - a recent tour saw flooring being put down and infrastructure installations nearing completion.  I am pleased to have been involved throughout this project as Chair of the Design User Group and to see it nearing completion is a good feeling.

This UTC is being built inside an office block - whilst creating  range of significant limitations it has also ensured that learning spaces are large, (very large in some cases), light and airy allowing a wide range of innovative teaching and learning styles. The fab architects are 'Surface to Air' and contractors: Kier.

Sponsored by the Middlesex University Engineering Dept and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, its specialism is 'Technology and Science for Sport, Health and Engineering.    Other sponsors include; Festo, National Instruments, Fusion Lifestyle, Mindsets UK and the Tottenham Hotspure Foundation.

The Tottenham UTC will give students a grounding in the generic science skills required in industry, especially reflecting the rise of digital technology. Some of the science education will be delivered through the prisms of sport and health, ensuring students have the grounding required to work in associated fields such as Sports Science and Health Technologies.

For more information click here:

View of the Principal's Office                                          
 The Nexus
Student Enterprise Base

Friday, 9 May 2014

Clueless Hangers


I recently visited a brand new set of classrooms - the buildings are fab and the Head has really been robust about what he wants and, if not certain, not installed things, rather than putting in the wrong stuff.

As we chatted he noted that there were a couple of things that he overlooked - the devil is in the detail as they say!  Coat hooks were to be put in the classrooms - no problem … or so he thought.

Thirty coat hooks duly arrived from an established educational supplier -  I will not shame them here. Who ever did it has clearly never visited a school or done any research!  The hooks are SO close together that they are almost useless.  Imagine thirty students trying to put coats, hats, scarves, PE bags, other bags, etc all on these.

The other thing, although not visible in this photograph, is that they are so high up on the wall, my shoulder height, that half the pupils can't reach them!  It is barking mad!

It is rare to see a Headteacher lost for words (I should know) but he and the staff just were speechless .. or ...just too polite to say anything to me!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Tottenham UTC - an innovative and exciting project


Tottenham UTC has been all over the media recently with the call by the UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, encouraging football clubs to be more involved with education.  Tottenham are one of the clubs that seized the initiative and sponsored one early on.

Several members of the-learning-crowd are directly involved with the development of this innovative and exciting project. When full it will be the largest UTC in the country with 924 students.  Opening in September 2014, progress in fitting out the building is well underway.  All the spaces in the UTC are innovative, exciting, large - and dedicated to learning - no matter where the students are.  There will be great interest to see it working next year.

The main sponsors are Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and Middlesex University, supported by several significant business partners: Festo, National Instruments, Fusion Leisure and Mindsets.

Despite the obvious sporting link, the focus of the UTC is the Technology and Science for Sport, Health and Engineering.

If opens in September 2014,

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Zenna Atkins interviewed on BBC

Dr. Zenna Atkins, Senior Associate of the-learning-crowd appeared all over the media recently commenting on press stories regarding the change of the Chair of Ofsted.  As Zenna previously held this post for several years, it was natural that she would be asked for comment.

To watch the BBC clip click here.

As ever, Zenna is forthright and highly regarded.  She undertakes a range of work for the-learning-crowd and always receives fab reviews.

For more information please contact us via; info@the-learning-crowd.com

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ollie Bray: Using 1:1 to Unlock Learning


Inline image 1

Ollie Bray Senior Associate of the-learning-crowd has realised his latest eBook (in association with Microsoft UK). This time he tackles How 1:1 Computing might be used to Unlock Learning. 

As with his other books in the series (which include Playful Learning: computer games in educationExciting Learning: using technology to improve education and BYOD: a practical guide to get you thinking) Ollie continues to focus on good learning and teaching rather than the technology itself.

The book is a free download (available here) and has been launched at the start of BETT Week 2014. Ollie along with Gareth Long (Director of t-lc) and Hannah Jones (Senior Associate of the t-l-c) will also be speaking at BETT 2014 on Professor Stephen Heppell's stand on Big Data and its place in education at a system, local and personal level.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Today in Estonia....











Gareth Long and Di Smith from the-learning-crowd were delighted to be asked to join a small delegation speaking to Ministry and Senior education officials in Estonia this week.  The purpose was to outline the nature of the work that we do and explore further consultancy opportunities with them.  Nine companies attended in all with six, including us, doing presentations.
Estonia was a new country for the-learning-crowd to visit, and the two days we were there were excellent.  The event, the first education workshop hosted by the British Embassy and the Ambassador, was very well attended with standing room only.  So far the feedback has been excellent - we wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

t-l-c Project wins British Construction Industry Awards 2013


This week saw the-learning-crowd attend the British Construction Industry Awards 2013 at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
A project we wrote the Education Design Brief for, and worked through every stage of the design process was nominated as a finalist in the 'Project of the Year (£5m - £50m) category.  The project was for a new build school facility for the Newlands Academy in the London Borough of Southwark.    Newlands is a specialist SEBD school for boys aged 11-16.  (SEBD: Social, Emotional, Behavioural Disorder)
Up against considerable competition, this scheme was named as the winning project.  We are, of course, like the rest of the team, absolutely delighted.  It is a great design and won incredible praise from the competition judges.
This project was designed by the great team at Wright and Wright Architects and the project built by Balfour Beatty. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

UK Learning - Excellence in Environments in which we learn


the-learning-crowd is pleased to support UK Learning and share information about it's next conference in both London and Manchester.  This is especially true as one of the speakers will again be Alison Watson, Senior Associate of the-learning-crowd. as well as Director of "Class of your Own.

UKLearning is the UK branch of international group CEFPI, something we have long been connected to.  For more information about UK Learning click here.


UK Learning’s mission is to be the primary advocate, resource and service organisation for encouraging, enabling and equipping those who work in, learn in, design, build, equip and operate educational facilities in the UK... To find out more about the work of UK Learning please click here.


Later this month we will be holding Autumn Conferences in London and Manchester. They will focus on...Empowering professionals in the advocacy for excellence
in the environments in which we learn


Both conferences offer the opportunity for you to learn from leading attending professionals, but afternoon workshops also provide the chance for you to influence future good practice.

Our aim is to promote real change in areas where it is required. To that end, we hope you might join us on one of the dates shown. Further information is provided below (please click on the links provided), but also please feel free to contact us directly for further information.

Neil Logue:Executive Director M: +44 (0)7718 858388 E: neil.logue@uklearning.org
Terry White: Executive Director M: +44 (0)7958 403396 E: terry.white@uklearning.org

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Seating for Engagement

Whilst visiting Wapping Free School recently, I was shown round the site a day or two before it opened.

I was really impressed, not only by some of the exciting and innovative teaching spaces, but also by some of the furniture that had been selected.  

One area of particular interest was the attractive tiered seating selected for a central area in the school for lessons, debates / presentations / meetings / socialising etc.  Added to that was an interactive digital screen.  Being all on wheels, the whole space is very agile and can be reconfigured in almost any way that they want.

When I was present it was being used for a staff meeting, allowing everyone to see everything and see each other.  It encouraged inclusivity and engagement.  The use of colour was attractive and eye catching and really drew people in.

This was only a small area - but one that certainly looked impressive.  

Thursday, 15 August 2013

What's a cable tie between friends?


I see an awful lot of things as I move around the country, visiting all sorts of education places...  some just fabulous, others..... well interesting in one word I could say.
Recently I spotted this projector held onto a power bar in a teaching space.... the only thing holding it up was cable ties.....
Inventive - yes, ingenious - maybe, modelling good practice - no, complies with the dreaded health and safety policy - don't think so,  some thing to be replicated by students elsewhere - no!  
I just wish I was in the room when the inspectors came to call - there is just so nothing right about this, even if it works!  

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Curvy Tables

Whilst visiting a primary school recently, we were pleased to spot some really interesting furniture in the Early Years / Foundation Stage rooms.

Rather than the boring rectangular tables we so often see, we spotted a number of fun, really curvy and interesting tables that were great for group work and also teacher supported work.  They can still be joined together to form fabulous bigger tables.  (See above)   

And, rather than the usual rather nasty uncomfortable chairs we so often see, were really comfortable ergonomically designed chairs and the totally great Hokki stools (or 'wobbly stools' as they are often known).  

Even at this age, comfortable chairs, aimed to support developing backs are essential and definitely worth the costs.  The Hokki is designed to enable backs to flex and move naturally as students work.

The furniture is by VS.  Regular readers know that we have long been fans of their furniture - it's great to visit a school that is totally furnished by them,  I'd say they were pretty enlightened really about the importance of getting furniture for young people right!

For more on VS furniture click here.
 

Workshops

the-learning-crowd was delighted to be asked to run one day workshop with twenty plus Governors and Senior Leaders for a new school scheme recently. For many this was the start of their journey to try and understand what their vision was, what they wanted to be able to do and how that may change in the future.

It is always great when you give senior leaders (teaching and non teaching) dedicated time to reflect on  practice and consider the future.  Really focused thinking, discussion and optimism emerges in every conversation.  People at coffee, lunch and at the end of a very full day were energised and buzzing about the future.  If only every one could still do this in an every growing time of change.  

It was a very busy and active day, but with quite a lot of laughter as well.  The feedback was brilliant and set the right tone for expanding people's ideas and thinking.

It will be no surprise that no one liked the suggested 'cookie-cutter' or model schemes being suggested by some bodies!

This is going to be a very exciting and challenging scheme..... we're looking forward to working with them on the next stages.

 

 

New Scheme opens


The new extension scheme at St Saviour and St Olaves Girls C of E School was officially opened earlier this month. Gareth of the-learning-crowd was pleased to be the Education Lead throughout the design process, working with 4 Futures, Southwark Council and Balfour Beatty.
Working with architects The AoC, this 8 million pound extension scheme provides much needed additional space, including: new science facilities, new music rooms, an activity studio as well as a fab new Sixth Form suite, new main entrance and several other improvements to the school.
The students showing us around were very grateful for the new spaces and thanked anyone involved very profusely.
This is the fourth opening of schemes in Southwark that the-learning-crowd has been education lead on, with more to come! 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Presentation Seating

I saw these little seating units a few days ago and thought how perfect they were for presentation corners in schools.  With a small footprint and easily moveable, these tiered seats could help create a series of zones within larger spaces.  The great advantage with them of course, is that they are not too high, allowing  plenty of passive supervision over them.

It's always interesting how often students rush for tiered seats before standard height furniture - it allows interesting and comfortable socialising and working opportunities.

I'm really pleased that so many more schools are using a range of interesting furniture to help improve the aesthetics of learning spaces but also improve the appeal and usability of spaces for students.

Those schools who are not experimenting with interesting or comfortable furniture for students are now becoming the minority.....  thank goodness!!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Digital Learning Zone

Visiting a new environment recently, I just liked this little small learning zone, based around a digital screen.  Seating about five people, the area was enhanced by good quality chairs and table and acoustic screens round to reduce / deaden the sound for those working.

It is easy to imagine such zones in schools for Skype conversations with other countries, editing movies, preparing presentations ...... and so much more.  How many are actually innovative enough to try them?


Friday, 17 May 2013

External Environments matter too!

Visiting a primary school last week, I was really quite depressed about the state of the external environment.  Yard upon yard upon yard of fencing, some quite unnecessary and which gave a real prison feel, through to some old fencing which was in such a state it was positively dangerous. It also looked shocking!  (see photo)

I simply asked the question about what message it gave the young students? - it says lots about dilapidation, not caring, a lack of engagement with the pupils....  why should they care if their school looks like this.

Fortunately I was there because the very new Headteacher really does want to make a difference, especially to the outside environment...   it would be great if I can post another picture in a few months time which showed something so so different!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

t-l-c sponsored networking event


The first networking / tweetup event sponsored by the-learning-crowd took place on the 30th April and was declared a fantastic success by all those who attended. Approximately 40 people reprepresenting architects, construction conpanies, education furnture designers and suppliers, Local Authorities, Local Education Partnerships, education publishing, Technology all attended.
There were numerous conversations that were interesting and passionate with lots of ideas and knowledge sharing.  So engaged were people that the time flew by and some were still there really quite late!  Many  people commented that this type of forum was exactly what has been missing for the past year or two, which was exactly why we decided to sponsor this first event.  So enthused were participants that we ahave already had at least four companies offering to host the next one.  
There was also a Tweetup competition for the best tweet from the evening under #schooldesign.  The bottle of champagne for the best tweet was won by HLM Architects.
How we best follow this is being discussed now, but there will be a follow up event..  Watch this space for more news!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Ask the Pupils

Asking primary age pupils what they would like to see in a new learning environment is always interesting.  A school I'm working with at the moment was considering how to convert an open sided barn in their playground - so they did a brain storm.  The brief was not about approaches to learning - they have already done that.

The results surprised the school governors as to how practical they were.  This always happens and I still don't really know why people get surprised.  The pupils are the people who use the place and know how to make it better.  Added to that is an enormous sense of practicality  - very few are unachievable, such as trampolining, as the pupils were quick to point out!

Lots of schools still don't ask the pupils - but doing this they miss out on lots of good ideas and suggestions. Why wouldn't they?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

i-Pad Coffee and Colour Coded Smarties

It's the little things that count.  I like gadgets, lots of people know that. But I was really impressed to visit a 'hot-desk office recently.  It was really modern and designed for people to work in a variety of flexible ways.  I was also intrigued (and impressed) to see an i-Pad controlled coffee machine.  Choose between any number of drink options, select strength, sugar, milk press enter and out came the drink from the tap next to it.  It was fun and more importantly, really fab coffee too!

Turning round from that and there were hundreds of Smarties to choose from... but all colour coded!  Really eye catching and a focal point, but I couldn't help feel someone didn't have enough to do!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Old and New Learning Spaces



I recently spent a day in meetings in two different locations close by each other. The venues with identical functions could not have been more different.

The first venue where we were doing a presentation, was regularly used for meetings with people from all over the world.  But it just appeared so gloomy and old fashioned.... photographs of random people in frames that were too large, a wonky flip chart, clunky furniture and an interactive white board that had so much sun shining on it so the audience could not read it.

The second venue was newer, but actually the age of the space was irrelevant.  With modern, comfortable furniture, white walls and digital technology the room, which was the same size as the first room, had a totally different feel and atmosphere. It was business like and professional  - an ideal learning space.

We all now that when you have 'lived in a space' for a long time - it is easy to not see what it really looks like.  The problem is visitors do see it for how it is as soon as they enter the space.  That is the first impression and often the lasting impression.

The same applies to classrooms - we should always be looking at them with fresh eyes - despite what some people may say, the quality of learning spaces for students is important and does make a difference! All too often we walk into classrooms with piles of 'stuff' piled everywhere - they look terrible but how many people actually see it?

Instructions to use a table....


I spend a lot of time talking to people about furniture in schools.  The key words are frequently agile, ergonomic, collaborative, high quality....

I was depressed recently to see that one room I visited recently had instructions for how to use a table displayed in the room - it was quite complicated and there were several stages to the instructions.  

The fact that it was felt necessary to display these says it all really.  The fact that they look complicated is potentially enough to put off anyone from quickly being able to move furniture around within a classroom with the agility that so many schools expect.  

Schools these days want classrooms to be able to work in many ways within individual lessons.  They do not want to have to check students have read instructions as to how to move a table first.   

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Newlands School Opens


It's great news that a brand new project we have been heavily involved with has received excellent press coverage recently from the latest edition of 'Architects Journal'.

Newlands School is a small secondary school for SEBD boys in Peckham.  These boys, amongst the most underprivileged students in Southwark, moved into their brand new building just last week and is a massive improvement on their previous random collection of buildings.

the-learning-crowd provided the education advice throughout the design process, working with the school, the wonderfully talented architects Sandy Wright and Stephen Smith at Wright and Wright, 4 Futures; the Local Education Partnership between the London Borough of Southwark and Balfour Beatty. 

With comments like: "You have to visit Newlands and see it for real, to fully understand just how good this building is."  and "Wright and Wright's building is... a serious piece of work" and "the sense of it's weight and spatial properties within which skillfully enable passive monitoring - there are indoor windows and vision panels everywhere - are hard to capture in print or on screen" reflect just how much care, research and effort went into this £9.25 million scheme.
Crucially the school is delighted and people are confident that the environment will make a signficant difference to the students.  This is something the-learning-crowd intend to review and evaluate with the school in a few months time.
For more photographs of the scheme please click here.
This is just one of several major schemes we are working on, all at different stages of development.
(The story is also included on the-learning-crowd website - to see that please click here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Student voice - The School We'd Like

Spotted in The Guardian newspaper are the results of their competition where students contributed ideas as to what they would like to see in their own schools..

Primary, Secondary and Special schools entered with apparently lots of exciting ideas.  That shouldn't that surprise anyone? We all know that students are creative, innovative and can be very ambitious in their aspirations.

So pedal powered energy, graffiti wall with associated skills and business opportunities and accessible outdoor learning zones are the winners.  Some of these may not be truly innovative, but having groups of students thinking about improving their learning environments is a winning combination for all really.  

Well done to all those who entered, but especially winners: Horniman Primary School, Salendine Nook High School and Ifield Foundation Special School.

To read the full article in The Guardian, click here.