Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Empty trains... do people really like working alone?

Travelling upto London to work for three days this week, I have been struck by just how empty the trains have been (and the Underground for that matter). My train carriage contained only two people including me. A great work time with no disturbances and a good time in an office environment to catch up! Here, 'hotdesking' is the norm for me, which is a really efficient use of space. But most people (including me) really do work better with people around them to interact with - when they want to.

It was almost lonely working in a sparsely populated office and train! Aaaah! Having said that, the few occasions when I do work from home I tend to work far longer hours and get far more done. It's about having a variety of working styles and environments I guess.

But seriously, there are still so many classrooms where students are expected to work in silence all the time, even when it's not appropriate to and this potentially actively hinders collaborative learning - it's just not how people behave in real life.

That's why it is so important that, as we build new learning environments, we really do provide a variety of learning spaces with the agility to change to be the most appropriate for that particular learning activity. Even more importantly, staff must be confident in using them - another major challenge!

Never mind - relax - chill - I now have two days with the family and the weekend before I start my work travels again. Next week: Manchester, Derby, London and who knows where else! I personally think that 2009 is going to be a really exciting year for me with, I hope, lots of opportunities - keep reading the blog and website if you want to know more. But for now:

Happy New Year Everyone and have a fab 2009!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Pink Screwdriver!

The pink screwdriver from two angles - one showing the headlight!
Yesterday I posted a comment on the real need for colour and attractiveness in new learning environments to really help engage and motivate students and staff. This does, of course, also refer to the equipment that everyone uses. However, we don't have to be silly about it.... or do we?

My independent thinking 19 year old daughter is a dab hand at all sorts of things, including building 'kit furniture'. She has, however, decided that the really cool tool in her limited collection is her new small electric screwdriver - because it is pink! Even better it has a 'headlight' so you can see where the screw is. Bizarre really - I have not seen this feature before -but she loves it! (Makes you wonder how anyone has survived for so many years without a headlight really!!)

I really am not suggesting that we colour code all such resources in schools from now on, but all her female friends do think it is very cool! And... if you 'google' pink screwdriver it turns out that there are pages of pink tools aimed at the female market - so why haven't we cottoned on to this?

Lots of people have spent ages thinking about ways of attracting more and more girls into technology and previously messy workshop environments - maybe we should have been considering the resources in use all along. As many of the technology subjects in our 21st century technology curriculum become cleaner maybe we can introduce more colour, maybe including pink drills etc.. Or am I just being very deliberately provocative? :-) (But we do already have very bright orange, green and blue tools - why not pink?)

Very bizarrely, writing about pink objects seems to attract a huge internet following in its own right. A previous blog post of mine 'The Pink Train' about my youngest daughter's new toy has attracted literally hundreds of hits in it's own right. Perhaps this Pink Screwdriver blog post will as well.

Have a great New Year!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Lets make 2009 a year of colour and excitement in our education environments!

Lets bring some colour to our lives!

I was talking the other day to a number of educationalists about furniture for schools. One said, quite determinedly that all chairs etc for secondary schools should be black, brown or dark gray - that's all. For heavens sake -why?

Maybe bright pink is not the answer for everywhere, but lets bring some colour and excitement into our learning lives!

The importance of colour and environments plays a huge role in how people work and perform in that space. If we give boring and dull, then it sets the mood. Carefully co-ordinated environments designed for a variety of purposes, with a variety of furniture and colours, can really help shape exciting vibrant learning spaces, that will, in turn, help creative and innovative learning.

Lets really all try and make sure that 2009 is a year for helping create exciting and innovative learning spaces - for every one's sake!

Oh and HAPPY NEW YEAR to every one!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Well being - we all need it!

Spotted in a UK school recently was a 'well being' room for students (and staff - after school). It reminded me of when working in the Education Ministry of the Cayman Islands. We had our own small 'relaxation' or 'de-stress' room, complete with reclining chair, soft lighting, fabric round the walls for atmosphere, soft music and joss sticks to light (if you could bear the smell!). If you were having a bad day you could spend a period of time in there in peace and calm.

We do need to value and look after our staff, they are always our greatest resource. Another school organised massages and well being events for its staff during developmental days - great! But these things can be just a little superficial (although popular).
The whole approach to working with a staff team is about every aspect of the relationship. In these days of extremely rapid change, the team is essential - the relationships crucial. It is not just education that is changing, students are and inevitably, staff are as well - they have to.
How we treat them has to be as outstanding and equal to (or better) than anywhere in the professional workforce. The need for true professionalism cannot be in doubt.
How was the 'de-stress' room used in the Ministry - the excellent thought was there, but the problem was everyone was too busy to use it!
Perhaps we all really do need to evaluate our work practices!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The blog now reaches over 90 countries

I am staggered to discover that readership of this blog has now reached 91 countries with many thousand readers. Additionally the readership figures have also increased by almost fifty percent in the last two months - amazing!

My real thanks to all those people who have taken the time to visit the blog, no matter how briefly, and those hundreds of people who keep coming back.

I will try and continue to make constant updates and keep it interesting, and not too serious, as I work and move all over the place.

Again thanks to everyone.

Thanks to everyone

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Transparency and collaborative learning - not here!

As learning in the 21st century moves towards more collaborative, cross discipline teaching, with far greater transparency and openness, we are often reminded of the journey that staff and students have to undertake to feel comfortable and confident in new ways of working. Solid walls are being replaced to create far more agile spaces, with movable partitions, and, if there are walls, they are glazed with clear glass. It looks, feels and is different!

No longer is what happens in classrooms a secret activity shared by just the occupants in the room at that particular time. Nor should it be.

With increasing numbers of adults with different roles and skills working in schools, with older students mentoring younger ones, with stage not age learning, there has never been a better time for students and staff to be both excited and honest about the learning experiences taking place.

I haven't posted a depressing picture for ages. In fact I haven't seen such a closed unwelcoming door for years. The photograph above was in a school I visited some time ago, but it really does demonstrate one end of the spectrum regarding the preparedness of staff to embrace the emerging ethos of sharing and transparency. IIn fairness, this was the only door of the school like it!)

Giving staff the confidence to work in new ways is a long and important journey. The planning and professional development opportunities to develop skills take lots of time. Not getting that bit right with the most nervous or determinedly 'anti' staff can undermine the whole process in schools!

Get it right, and the learning opportunities and experiences can be just amazing!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Good ideas - fitness trails in dead spaces

What do you do with a spare piece of land between the neighbours walls and an external hardcourt? So easily could it become a piece of nothing space, or the dreaded smokers corner! Most schools have such dead spaces, good ideas are always welcomed..

The answer for Islington Arts and Media School was to make it a fitness trail - what else? This photograph really does not do it justice as it cover three sides of the hard play space with two lanes,with lots of activities, one for each direction, thereby effectively creating a loop. With the mature trees in place it almost looks like a woodland trail.

Students love it, it is very different, and they get more engaged in physical activities as a result. It is challenging whilst fun.
It's just a really nice idea. I almost was tempted to try it.... almost but not quite....... Maybe after Christmas.... maybe!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Community Art and engagement really does make a difference

Retracing my steps to a former workplace in Islington after nearly eight years, I again came across the large and very long Millenium Mural down the entire wall of a building. I had forgotten all about it, it is huge! Nearly ten years on, it really has stood the test of time and become a real feature of that part of town.

People will always talk about content and style, but it is still there after almost a decade - it really brightens the street up, and even better,there is little evidence of any damage.

I frequently talk about including art into both learning and community environments, it just adds so much. When the stakeholders are engaged in the design and hopefully creation, the ownership and sense of belonging really kicks in!

The same applies to schools. Celebrating art work by students throughout the schools (not just the foyer and art rooms) is a must. The attention it gets is remarkable and a real motivating factor for students, staff, paren and the local community. As we design new schools, the need for purpose built sculpture spaces is just a really vital aspect to be considered.

In Islington this community would be a much duller place without the mural! Much like learning environments that do not celebrate the arts really!

The detail about the Millenium Mural:

Professor Stephen Heppell talking about ICT and the future

I recently came across a new blog Creative Tallis. This is posted by students and staff at the Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich, London, who are interested in creative learning. They apparently meet regularly to discuss what this means for the learning actuvuties that takes place in their school.

Part of the post includes a video by my friend and 'guru' Professor Stephen Heppell who talks about the future of learning and technology, but including some history as well. As always it is a well reasoned 'chat' that makes so much sense. And, of course, he has been proved to be right so often!

An interesting view (Blog post dated 14 December 08) click here!

As for Creative Tallis - wouldn't it be just great if every school were so proactive about the learning that they want in their schools. Talking regularly about approaches to learning must have a positive impact in the school and is a great form of ongoing development. This must be especially true as they involve students, who are often so much wiser about their own preferred learning styles than the teachers!

I will watch this blog with interest.

Friday, 12 December 2008

School Environments - light, colour and space

I had the privilege of visiting The Avenue School in Reading today, a special school for 2 - 19 year students with autism and those with very complex special needs.
The whole of this brand new building is just fabulous, being spacious, light and airy, from the welcoming reception through to the classrooms. Just one of the many great features is a three storey soft play area. Whilst that is truly amazing, even the other side of the wall has been made a real feature with windows, coloured panels, plants and soft furnishings.

This school has a really great environment and enormous attention has been paid to the detail that makes it so appropriate for these students with a wide range of needs. I will post some more photos later.

As always I suspect that some of this has been due to the total dedication, enthusiasm and energy of the Headteacher and her team who have been involved with every stage of the design process.

There are, of course, a few lessons to learn - there always are with any new school, but there are many lessons that those designing new special schools should take from this just fab school.

The outside wall of the three storey soft play area and some of the school environment

Thursday, 11 December 2008

School corridors - circulation spaces - done well

I really don't like corridors in schools but if we have to have them lets make them multipurpose and attractive. Too many corridors in schools are dark gloomy and totally dedicated to simply people moving them.

Some do get it right - Williamstown High School in Australia, (see photo above), has really managed to achieve light airy corridor areas that combines with learning, social and display spaces. It looks great!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Circulation spaces - learning from others

Schools are so often tied into corridors as single purpose spaces when they are thinking about new designs. This is really an issue that really needs thinking about carefully though.

Many innovative schools are now abolishing corridors as a waste of space and incorporating circulation space with break out areas, feeding areas, social areas and learning zones. It is such a better use of space. It is hard to encourage some teachers, locked into tradition, so see the benefits of this change of space.

One only has to look at the change in public circulation spaces that is taking place all round us to get the message across. Railway stations used to be cold draughty spaces with one function - to get people on / off the train. Now, apart from very effectively moving people through the space, they have several social aspects, shopping, eating, relaxing, with meeting and social areas. Manchester Station is really quite a good example. Even better, the new station at St Pancras is quite an experience with trains almost tucked away out of space. A colleague recently admitted they went there for the experience and the shops without wanting a train. How things have changed!
This change mentality is what we need to do in schools regarding circulation spaces - these new environments are what our young people are used to - why shouldn't they be in schools?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Stacking furniture.. encouraging agility in learning spaces.

Whilst I am not convinced of the need for desks as such, I really liked the adaptable desks I saw today. With wheels on the back legs and a handle to move them by cut into the surface they were certainly easy to move around and did stack very neatly. (See photo below) They would certainly clear lots of space in learning environments and were light enough to encourage a range of configurations.

People are coming up with a wide range of solutions to allow agility in learning environments - with so many ideas coming on the market, there must be things for most people.

The biggest battle is to ensure people select and buy what will be most appropriate, attractive and comfortable for students - they're the ones who have to use it!

In some cases students have selected from a limited range provided by a specialist supplier, and then their ideas were rejected. So why ask them?

(More on furniture over the next few weeks)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Celebrating events - a job done well.

This really is a blog about education NOT football, it's just that I have visited two football grounds in two days. Tuesday was to the Derby County football ground for the Open Day of the Derby City BSF (Building Schools of the Future) programme.

Derby City has high expectations of the BSF programme and are, this year, the most improved local education authority in the UK. They are ambitious and eager for every student to be able to achieve excellence in outstanding learning environments.

Students from St. Benedicts School also performed extracts from a musical they had written themselves to the packed room of mainly dark suited men. They celebrating a wide range of talents and skills. Why shouldn't this type of performance be accredited as a form of project work? They had certainly worked extremely hard. with professional actors and developed a range of skills - you can't take a written test of this!

However, whilst waiting in the foyer, I couldn't help but notice a slightly tatty disposable coffee cup in the display cabinet against the crystal and silver ware. Surely no one left it there by accident? Then I noticed it was signed. I wrote a post two days ago (see below) about the poor celebration of sporting heroes just below, with their statues being placed outside car parks - this is the opposite!

Bemused I asked about the coffee cup -it turns out that in 2005, Derby player Paul Peschisolido kicked a ball towards goal during the match against local rivals Nottingham Forest. The ball was missing the goal until it hit this coffee cup which had been thrown onto the pitch and was deflected into the goal! It was allowed as no player had touched it. Although it looks rather out of place, no one can argue that they have not celebrated this strange story in style and continue to do so!

You cannot always predict what success looks like or what causes it.

How do we celebrate the many successes of our students if what they have done does not conform to the expectations we have or, as one Headteacher said to me, "within the celebration framework of the school" -what ever that is!

A lesson here in all sorts of ways! celebration, display, expectations, and so much more!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Managed Learning Environments... Green is good!

I visited the impressive 'managed IT services' at Suffolk Council in Ipswich today, operated by BT, to see the extent of the integration of services and the technical backup for the county wide service. This relieves the multiple end users having to worry about this aspect of their systems or spending money deploying their limited resources. It also, of course, allows integration across all the various services.

Having the centralised technical staff phoning you informing you have a fault in your system before you have noticed it your self must be encouraging for Headteachers, and the many other users of the system! I just wonder why they did not notice themselves? L0ts of green icons on the screens is good - red is bad. If only everything in education could be monitored so easily.

The photograph shows the desk of one of the system monitoring personnel... I get confused with two screens - if I had four to monitor ... eek!!

Celebrating people :Statues - a job half done!

Visiting Ipswich to day for a meeting in an office block near Ipswich Town Football Club (ITFC), I was pleased, but then very disappointed, to see two statues of key people near the stadium.

Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, both sporting icons, former England football team managers, and former managers of ITFC, have had statues placed in their honour just outside the stadium in different roads. However, in placing them, little thought seems to have been given as the environment they were placed in and the final look to give them the respect they deserve, both as pieces of art and as to who they portray. They both back onto car parks and these ultimately therefore dominate any view.

Even in the short time I was there, people were taking photographs - but the entire backgrounds of both are various cars, which is really a bit naff! It could be a planning issue, but that makes no sense, maybe it just needs a bit more thought and design!

It would have been much better if there was a backdrop behind each of the statues to really make them the features they deserve to be, without the rather nasty distractions behind.

We are spending a lot of time talking about celebrating students work in learning environments. We really must model this in the community as well. It's a pity but these could be displayed so much better.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Students using technology... when THEY need it, not when they are being told they need it!

For any school in the BSF programme, being forced to undertake a 'decant' period is not easy at any stage. Whilst old schools are demolished and new schools built, staff and students end up in modular 'villages, or 'part in part out' of existing buildings with swapping around as parts are developed. Occasionally they are slightly more fortunate are going into empty buildings, such as old primary schools. I am fortunate to visit a variety of sites and really admire the resilience, ingenuity and determination of students and staff in these situations.

Visiting such a school recently was a really pleasant surprise, with a few odd quirks. Temporarily in a primary school building, despite the older students having the stair handrails nearer their knees than waists, the way the staff had livened up their learning environments was refreshing. Of course, for these students this is the only chance they have - and the school had really done a great job in ensuring it is the most positive experience possible.

Particularly impressive was the use of ICT (often a real challenge in a temporary situation) in one of the design technology rooms I visited... exactly how it should be. Students working on a variety of tasks, individually and collaboratively, were totally engaged in their learning. They had a pile of laptops and other devices available to use, if and when they needed it for the work they were doing. Ah - at last!

This was not a lesson controlled to the stage of ' Right now this is the time for a bit of ICT' - this was the students being given initiative to be responsible and decide on how they wanted to approach their own learning and what resources to use when. Of course, they were fantastic and everone was so motivated by the projects they were doing that no one even noticed us enter the room.

Whilst it could not be said for every lesson, this really was a great example of how using technology as a part if the learning process could / should be done. And this was in a decant situation with a less than ideal environment. Really exciting to see! If only everyone.........

Teachers TV - a wonderful resource

Visiting Teachers Television again for another meeting yesterday, I am always taken by the energy and commitment I see there (or passion), to make really high quality programmes for teachers, frequently made by teachers. Click here for the Teachers Television website.

The resources available online and through the Teacher TV channel are really high quality. Research seems to show that younger teachers especially use them but more established teachers less so. This is a real pity as they are a wonderful resource and act as great professional development. With over 3,500 programmes, there really is something there for everyone!

Interestingly, more and more students are watching these programmes as well, especially during school holidays. This gives them more knowledge about their learning - how long before they challenge their teachers on approaches to learning? Wouldn't that be great!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Schools of the Future and 21st century learning - common views join together

Tim Byles, Chief Executive, Partnership for Schools answering questions
There are so many conferences and workshops right now about BSF, learning and a whole range of other education issues that deciding which ones, if any, are worth attending can be difficult. The deciding factor must always be the quality of the event and the usefulness of the information that is given. That can be hard to decide in advance, but having high quality speakers always helps.
Enthusiasm abounded today at the first Education Guardian BSF Conference 2008 in London. The pacy presentations followed all aspects of BSF, from policy to practice, ensuring high quality design followed a variety of seminars covering stakeholder engagement, sustainabilty, responding to personalised learning, the need for real input from students and the vital role that FF&E should play in creating agile learning spaces.
A first rate team of twenty one speakers including Tim Byles, Russell Andrews (both PfS), Sir George Sorrell (Sorrell Foundation), Richard Simmons (CABE) and so many more ensured quality presentations and debate with lots of opportunities for questions.
As ever the networking between professionals at these events is always useful.
Seeing so many people dedicated to improving learning opportunities for our young people always makes me wonder just why so many other people find it so hard to accept that learning has to change. It may seem obvious to all of us, but the understanding is certainly not universal. There really is a lot to do to keep engaging people in the journey that has to take place.
(from l-r:Jane Briginshaw, Hd of Design DCSF, Mairi Johnson, Director of Design PfS, Mike Foster, Project Director Transformation, Sunderland BSF, Keith Pappa BDP, Richard Sommons, Chief Executive, CABE, Ruth Kennedy, Chair.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Sharing conversations - transforming education

I led two of the workshops on 'Research and Development priorities for Local Education Authorities' and chaired the afternoon session at the 'Transform Schools Partners Conference' last Friday held at the Manchester Museum of Science.

An interesting decision was to have a key note speaker representing the private sector. Speaker: Dr Julie Madigan, Chief Executive of the Management Institute was really effective in giving examples of how management efficiencies have been achieved. This inevitably got delegates to consider how these could be transferred into their own organisations, whilst Russell Andrews, Director of Education and Planning from Partnerships from Schools addressed many contemporary issues and thoughts about the future of assessment. Add to this the inevitable and valuable professional networking, discussions and opportunities to share ideas which always take place, resulted in what seems to have been a very day for all .

The workshops and speakers really challenged many aspects of current practice. So many people talk about the need for a cultural shift in our education system, but few seem to have have many ideas as to how to really successfully achieve it. That's the real issue we all have to really address.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cayman Brac recovers after Hurricane Paloma

Photo: courtesy of Cayman News Service
Where there is real determination and dedication amazing things can happen! Not long after Hurricane Paloma wrecked the schools on Cayman Brac, the High School is already opening its doors this week, at least for the oldest students, to minimise disruption to exam courses. This is really meaningful to me as I was, at one stage, the Principal of this school.

This has only been possible due to the determination and enthusiasm of staff, all of whom have also had serious issues as a result of the hurricane. Some are homeless, some have lost possessions etc.

A clear emergency plan and really effective leadership has really helped ease the situation and will ensure that the students, the majority of whom have also had their lives thrown into total turmoil, regain some normalacy and consistency as soon as possible.

I really congratulate my former colleagues in the Ministry, Department and education staff for the real focus and energy in helping their young people - this works even better in small communities where everyone knows everyone and can help meet individual needs! (A bit like small schools really!)

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

21st century learning spaces - sharing conversations and ideas

Having opportunities to sit, share ideas and discuss approaches to designing 21st learning environments is always a great and thought provoking experience. Talking to architects, designers and educators from other countries is even better, especially if they are 'on the same page' as we consider what are called 21st century learning environments. Today it was with the impressive SHW Group from Dallas who really specialise in education settings. Not only did they share many great images, but the majority of the lengthy discussion was about processes they undertook to achieve them. Predictably with designers dedicated to learners, there really was great commonality in views.

The change of learning styles and the future ongoing change means the conversations should never stop. Therefore only by designing new agile spaces can the learning environment possibly support this constant development. The same obviously applies to what ICT in education looks like but the change is even faster!

A large part of the UK Building Schools of the Future (BSF) initiative is, whilst producing new schools, a competitive bidding process between construction companies in a very very short time scale. As a result the cross fertilisation of ideas between firms is really restricted and basically does not happen. We are really missing opportunities here to learn from new schools already built across the UK and ensure the lessons learnt are incorporated, where appropriate, in new schemes. Isn't this a priority for our students?

Technology in Education - short throw projectors or long, long and even longer throw!

As I work in schools or on bids, the full pervasive use of ICT is always an integral part of possible solutions. Technology changes so fast and when considering interactive white boards the projectors are getting closer and closer to the board - the phrase 'short throw' projector is almost obsolete now really.

Imagine my surprise in visiting a school recently and spotting an interactive white board with the projector 'miles' away.... I have never seen such a long arm, supported by guy wires and supports worthy of those of a gymnast's high bars. Reducing the projectors' distance from the board reduces issues with shadows - this must be a nightmare and they must be almost impossible to avoid.

I love properly used interactive white boards - my question is does this really quite old projector kit enhance the learning experience or become a distraction for the teacher as he/she struggles to ensure the picture is visible to all pupils, without shadows, no matter where they sit. If it does, it really is all credit to the teacher - but I do hope it is a priority for replacement soon for everyone's sake!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Great Learning Environments for Special People

I spent yesterday at BCSE's (British Council for School Environments) excellent conference 'Designing for Special Needs' - creating learning environments for children and young people with special education needs.

The importance of this much needed conference was demonstrated by the waiting list of people trying to attend. It is, for some reason, unusual for conferences to consider SEN learning environments across all phases and the format and quality of speakers was just fab - it needs to be repeated.

Attended by educators, architects, local authorities and just one computer company (RM) the conference considered just so many aspects. These included policy matters, the new DCSF Building Bulletin 102, led by architect John Jenkins (this comes into effect on the 1st December 2008) and went on to consider many innovative and exciting new schools being developed or recently opened. The impact of appropriate well designed learning environments was movingly presented by students and staff in a video about the new Sir Michael Tippett School and from Sue Bourne, Headteacher of the new wonderfully designed The Avenue School in Reading.
The amazing presentation by Toby Hewson of charity; 'Just Different' stressed the importance of designers just asking and listening to the voice of SEN students for whom the new facilities are being designed - how often do we keep saying this?? Even in this blog listening to students is such a common theme! Having profound special needs does not mean you don't have a very clear view of what environments would really work for you!

A powerful presentation,with several video clips by Carol Allen (North Tyneside LA) about the power and potential of innovative but well integrated ICT resources for students with severe learning difficulties really completed the picture.

There was a lot in this conference and everyone I spoke to thought it probably one of the better and most useful conferences put on recently. (One success criteria was that although the venue was in the middle of Oxford Street, no one seemed to sneak out shopping - that must say something!)

Thanks BCSE - a good one!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Signs of Learning?

Visiting Cambridge for meetings today and the first impressive sight outside the railway station is just always thousands of bicycles as students leave them there whilst they go away. Few, if any other cities in the UK are so synonymous with the sight of lots of bicycles and students cycling everywhere. Students imply learning (amongst other things!). Cambridge implies very bright students and academia.

Wouldn't it be great if our school students could develop a reputation or ethos of ongoing study and learning in their communities, no matter where they live, and then the community reflect somehow that learning agenda.e I'm not sure how we convincingly do that right now though, but lots of communities each with a demonstrable culture of learning would just be so great!
. at

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Promoting Learning

From railway stations to coaches!
Travelling around the country, today up to (Manchester), it is now quite commonplace to see learning being promoted in a variety of ways and places. It is quite usual to see towns or cities promoting themselves as learning communities at railway stations, on the side of coaches or on banners across the street. It is also extending to countries – the Cayman Islands for example, are working to be able to promote themselves as an entire learning country!

As we move more and more towards delivering the concept of life long ‘any time anyplace’ learning that is accessible to all, the challenges of equality of access, the appropriateness or relevance of the provision on offer and importantly the environments that may support this, are beginning to be faced.

To make it really effective the whole community must get involved in creatively supporting and promoting learning opportunities and then recognising and celebrating those that undertake them.

We are all learning all the time - how much of it is recognised or even used? Not that much I suggest. Why not?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Anytime anywhere access for all.......

With apologies for the slightly fuzzy picture- the train was going fast!
Sitting on the train today I am busy exploring working with a new 3G card, enabling me to surf the web to my hearts content… (at least when there is a signal anyway.)

Service providers currently charge a monthly fee for this, but it really is not going to be long before laptops and other devices have all this technology built into it as standard and all access will be free. As this happens, the aspirational concept of ‘anytime anywhere’ learning for all will come much closer to being a reality.

Technological progress is moving at such a pace few can predict what will actually be available in five years time. I suspect that those that do predict may also find that their thoughts are conservative at best and that things arrive long before they expect them.

All this is good news for the young learners who now expect to use this technology as a norm – their learning opportunities and aspirations will just continue to soar. The question is whether adults will keep up (probably not!) and help them develop how to use the skills and knowledge they learn or act as a roadblock to their learning?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hurricane Paloma and Cayman Islands.....

Knowing that many of my friends and contacts still follow my blog - just wishing everyone the best of luck, especially those on Little Cayman and one of my my former homes on Cayman Brac... as Hurricane Paloma, a category 4 storm passes almost directly over head..... I am thinking of you especially as we hear of so much damage!

Video clip of Paloma on Cayman Brac

My good friends and colleagues on Grand Cayman have been very fortunate again this time....... but it never gets easier. Not many things can delay the total focus on the Cayman transformation of education.... hurricanes do focus the mind however!

Agile social, learning, eating spaces

Social area or eating area or work area? As schools get more adaptable and flexible the photo above shows exactly how flexible social spaces could be used in schools, before, during and after the normal school days.

The only way that this would not work is if schools are still obsessed about running for administrative convenience rather than for what is best for the learner. This flexible space would not work for example if the school still believes it is logical to try and feed 1,200 students in either a fifteen minute morning break or during a fifty minute space for lunch. In these cases it can only ever be chaotic and a deeply unpleasant experience or students eating and those staff on duty.
Schools are looking for alternative arrangements - they would be daft to do so!
With staggered feeding (or grazing as Stephen Heppell calls it) as is appropriate during the learning activity, in a pleasant professional environment, the more pleasant experience it is for students and staff. Equally large spaces once reserved for a brief rather nasty eating experience can become an agile learning and social space for all.
Doesn't that make more sense?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Outdoor indoor areas

Visiting the BT Centre near St Pauls Cathedral for a meeting today, I admired their 'outdoor indoor' foyer... heated and with plants (well a few anyway). It looked as though it should be outdoors but give it a glass roof creating an atrium feel and heating, it results in it being a really nice indoor place to be. Althought the photograph does not show it, comfortable seats were placed around, with plasma screens, a coffee machine and a fairly welcoming reception all help tomake it a place people were happy to wait or stand and chat.

A number of schools are now considering this type of 'outdoor indoor space', often by connecting buildings with a similar style roof. This gives a massive space for students that can just as easily be a wireless learning environment or equally be a social space - or both at the same time. It literally blurs the edges of creating spaces for specific uses as too often happens in schools. Put in comfortable furniture and create a variety of spaces would just be a fab for students to want to be!

Schools are again way behind in this thinking, shopping malls have got it, businesses have got it - It really makes you wonder why more school designers aren't thinking about it! Lets think outside the box guys!

(And just for teachers - everyone can also see how it would also help on a purely functional level for those wet days which can be just awful for all staff!)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Keeping the designers looking into the future

A key part of my role when I work for one of the most successful builders of 'Schools of the Future', (which something I am doing loads of right now) is to liaise with Professor Stephen Heppell and also with all the bid teams on all education aspects of BSF bids.
Putting the two together produced a day of really exciting and innovative discussion, all sorts of ideas were explored. If all conversations about BSF, learning environments and 21st century teaching and learning were as exploratory and innovative as this, then there would be no doubt that learning of the future would be absolutely fantastic, and without doubt, world leading.

It is days like this that really make the role I do here so exciting.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Be Very Afraid 5 - the learners are proving their skills...again

Attending 'Be Very Afraid 5' today at Bafta, it was really great to see students from schools, not necessarily known for being ICT leaders, displaying how they used technology in their school work.
Organised by Professor Heppell, it is a real celebration of students using technology in a wide variety of ways as part of their school life. The range of projects was as diverse as you would expect, and their confidence as they talked non stop all day to a wide range of adult visitors was amazing. Equally with numerous film crews interviewing them all day, they showed few nerves and really wanted to explain what they were doing, how they were doing it and why they used the technology they did.
Seeing learners so confident, motivated and excited about their learning is as good evidence that one could need about the value of project based learning and the value of personalised learning supported by the appropriate technology. Learners were articulate and informed , even if the night before BVA5 many were scared and worried about the event and wondered if they would know what to say. They were not 'geeks'. just individual learners who were just fab at talking about their work.
Stories from attending staff were repeated about having to put 'time out' on course work late at night each day to stop students, really excited about their learning, from working. The same applied to weekends and holidays.
What was also great was seeing primary age learners and discussing their projects with students from the University of Bournemouth... ages were unimportant, it was the work that was important.
Be Very Afraid is a fascinating event and one that is about to go international with BVA Korea and Los Angeles next year..... with other countries joining.
Students know how to do this stuff... the teachers attending supported the learners and allowed them to stretch themselves and chase their imagination. It is just so important that we encourage more to operate this way - if we did the results would be just astounding.

The chocolate challenge is on...

It really is fun to see people challenging themselves and others.. Professor Stephen Heppell and Georgia, my wife, are searching for the biggest chocolate bar....Why? it's either all to do with him with total confidence failing to fix our dishwasher in Cayman (just don't ask!) or me staying in the UK longer then predicted due to an activity with Stephen when she said that no chocolate bar was big enoughas compensation. Whichever it was, the cause is now immaterial - the challenge was set..... and continues!! The result inevitably involved emails and on line research with amazing people in a well known chocolate company...

The dimensions of the chocolate bar that arrive throught the post on Saturday caused some stress for the postman... but not my wife.. this is the biggest yet, complete with smaller chocolate bars, hats, tee shirts, pens and even a mouse mat (an interactive chocolate bar?)... but is it the biggest? The hunt seems to continue!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Standing out amongst the greyness

Visiting 'Partnerships for Schools' for a meeting today in Westminster, I was deep in thought about schools as I walked past Big Ben. The sky was very dark and grey, Big Ben stood out as a real beacon against it.

As we look for real innovation and education transformation, some are really seizing the concept of being a beacon of excellence in their areas. It is, however, very depressing to hear of some schools that have little aspiration and who are not that interested in seizing the opportunities afforded under the BSF project (Building Schools of the Future). They just want what they have now, or maybe a coat of paint in their classrooms. How will this work in ten, twenty, thirty years time......?

Buildings alone do not bring about transformation, but seizing the spirit of transformational change in education and all working as a team throughout the entire process, new schools of the future, should really be education beacons of the community and provide all learners, no matter what their age, massive opportunities.

The pace of change is so fast now, but there are far too many people who are not aiming anywhere near high enough! They really do need to know what is happening elsewhere to help raise aspirations - for the sake of the students of the future!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Soaring to new heights... despite school

It’s specific moments in life, good and bad, that can cause students to really consider their aspirations. Talking just recently to a student who, by his own admission, had spent years underachieving in school, one rather serious event really caused him to reconsider his future.

From having no real plan for the future, apart from ‘being a pain in school’ (is that a plan?) he now has aspirations to be a paramedic. Not just any paramedic but a helicopter paramedic. It is not so much the thought of flying everywhere, which he admits would be fun but rather the challenge of helping people in possibly remote and challenging environments that had really interested him.

This was not just talk – he had done extensive work and research on the internet and through initiative. Rather boldly he had walked straight into an ambulance station and talked to staff there and also hung around a hospital chatting to paramedics there. He also met an advisor based in school, who knowing his reputation in school, had worked hard to dissuade him from this interest path. (Why DO they still do that?)

Today he is almost completing the next stage of a paramedic course – he has changed his life. He is certain that staff in his old school would not believe it. The sad part is that he felt he had no support from school, in fact they did not even want to listen to the serious life changing moment that transformed his focus in life. He certainly isn’t going to bother to tell them now that he is achieving his goal despite them.

The introduction of the personalised curriculum, and learner led interests will really help students be able to research and pursue things that interest them – things that are important and that matter. It will also encourage them to set aspirational targets and challenges for themselves and allow them the option of working to fulfil them.

Not all stories are like this, but when you meet young people who have turned their life around whilst in school, it is genuinely quite moving….. but you do wonder how many don’t achieve their goal due to lack of support.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sculptures in school.... and outside. It's a small world!

It's a small world... whilst being a Headteacher in London I decided to employ a resident sculptor in school for two years. Also acting as an Art technician, established sculptor Adam Reynolds ran all sorts of workshops and extra curricular activities. Sculpture appeared around the school, often curriculum related including a sculpture by students on synonyms, through to helping students with their art projects. Helping radically transform the school environment, Adam was also a great hit with the students.

Fast forward four years later and in a totally different part of the country I now do a lot of work on 'Schools of the Future' bids in Sale, Manchester - somewhere I had never been before. Literally just yards down the road as I walked to get a sandwich I spotted a sculpture. Always interested I looked closer and discovered thast it had been created by: you guessed it - Adam. It really is a very small world!

Sculpture can really play a very important part in enhancing school environments. Unlike some schools that just commission it, it is so much more powerful if students design and create it, either as a curricular or extra curricular activity. Predictably of course, work designed and created by students rarely gets damaged.

To see Adam's website click here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Key Stage 3 Tests scrapped.... at last. Hooray!

The announcement yesterday confirming the scrapping of the Key Stage 3 tests or SATS as they are lovingly known (??) is just simply very good news for students and teachers alike. It will, at last, allow teachers to concentrate on increasing the focus on teaching that is relevant and challenging for students. rather than spending a huge amount of time working towards the test.

There can now be far more personalisation of the curriculum, the new national curriculum allows this with more integrated work and an increase in the variety of assessment styles that can be undertaken. SATS did not prevent these, but certainly did inhibit teacher and school focus and willingness to think outside the box because of the paranoia of league tables, targets and tests. They also became a good excuse, frankly, for those teachers nervous about exploring new learning styles, even it would engage their students more.

There are a variety of reasons being put forward about this news, not least connecting it to the marking shambles that occurred this year. The 'spin' is that it is not related to this event, but a growing realisation that the time is right for students to move towards a more personalised curriculum. Whilst politicians have been saying this for years, it is the same politicians who inhibited the progress due to their obsession with testing.

Whatever the political reasons, this really is good news for students and teachers. Lets now really move into the 21st century and bring on personalised learning in our schools for the sake of our students.

To read the full BBC story click here

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Seating - space conscious but.....

The chairs above are very thin,colourful and when stacked don't take take much space - but are they comfortable?
The whole issue of FF&E in schools is one that is, at last, being increasingly recognised as being as important as building design, ICT resources and so on. For far too long the furniture and fixtures have been not given any where near enough attention.
As we build more and more new schools, finally clear innovative and exciting strategies for FF&E are now being considered. There are people really thinking carefully about what is the most appropriate furniture for a variety of learning styles, including new designs, and then establishing how it can be sourced cost effectively.

For too long schools have expected students to sit all day on economy priced chairs that are the wrong size, wrong height, or just plain inappropriate. I always despair when listening to teachers after a staff meeting or professional day when they have had to sit on these chairs for an hour and then get up moaning, stretching or talking about how uncomfortable they are. And yet they don't seem to think about the students who sit on them all day.
Equally, many times I have heard students ask why teachers get comfortable chairs and they don't - good question really.
Seeing the chairs in the photo above, they are very thin, are colourful, look good and a lot can stack in a small space.... but are they really appropriate for students to sit on for long periods of time? I sat on them - ergonomic that are not, comfortable maybe briefly, but all day?
Decent furniture can be expensive, obviously careful sourcing strategies are needed to ensure some value. But if we expect students (and staff) to work well and effectively, we have to give them the tools to encourage them to be able to do it!

The Pink Train Set...... ?

My two year old daughters' birthday party his week end and amongst the gifts and toys various, (from a fluffy polar bear through to Winnie the Pooh) was the star toy of a pink train set! This came complete with a handbag store, clothes store and an ice cream parlour........ and a pink train and various pastel coloured vehicles such as the lilac van...
Teaching girls that there are no barriers for future careers and opportunities and that they can succeed in any career is a message that can take years. Presumably therefore, this should start early.
I can't help thinking that there is something wrong here, girls and train sets are fine... but pastel colours and shops seem to be preparing her for a future life of shopping - is this wise I ask my self?
But there again- she is only two and she just loves it! Maybe that is all that matters.

This post has achieved hundred of hits already - so see also the post entitled 'The Pink Screwdriver'

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Covered Outdoor Environments.....

Schools are always looking for ideas for protecting students outside when it is raining.. quite an issue in the U.K really. Some schools are now beginning to find ways to cover outside areas quite creatively.
Visiting Abingdon in Oxfordshire today I happened to visit a small mall that had a really iconic tensile roof over it. This changed a potentially dull double row of shops to a dramatic and eye catching environment. The structure is obviously very durable as it has apparently lasted years.
Note the glass screens at each end of the mall which do not detract from the visual appearance, but does reduce the wind from whistling down between the shops.

NB: Note also the comment left by 'Abi':

Abi said...
And a similar concept can be seen in a recently opened BSF school, link below:

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Learning on Gaming Platforms - a developing art

I joined a large group of interested professionals from education, broadcast, ICT media worlds (plus more) this morning at BAFTA for a breakfast conference based on 'Learning on Gaming Platforms'.
Sponsored by FutureLab and Sony PSP, there was a really interesting presentation by James Durran, AST of the Parkway Federation in Cambridge. At Parkway as a part of their Year 8 curriculum, every student follows a programme on Gaming. As part of the presentation Alec demonstrated very very quickly how he introduced students to creating their own games, and gave many examples of how he linked it to other subjects including English, History and Geography. The benefits to critical thinking, digital literacy, problem solving an dingenuity are obvious! This appeared to be a sophisticated course, certainly the best that I have seen in a school. I wish we had had it when I was a Headteacher. For more information visit:
With an estimated 59% of 6 - 65 year olds in the UK being 'gamers' (BBC 2005 figures, so these are almost certainly conservative), there is clearly massive interest and potential in the technology. As was noted, those people that use technology such as Play Stations to only play games, are massively under utilising the potential of the technology. On the Sony sponsored video several education settings extolled the benefits of using PSP machines in their normal curriculum work. Crucially they talked about increased student engagement.
The Bryan Review (2008) stresses the need for further research into the benefits of using gaming in education - based on what I saw today, this is something that should be done soon.