Wednesday, 30 April 2008

21st century learning environments start to be built

A very significant day in the Cayman Islands today as the announcement of a builder for the first two of the 21st century secondary campuses took place. With the announcement of the builder for the third campus due imminently this means that all the secondary facilities on Grand Cayma will be replaced with 21st century learning environments ready fopr academic year 2010.

These campuses based on the concept design by Prakash Nair of Fielding Nair International combined with the talenst of architects oWp/p, will truely be state of the art education campuses that will allow truely agile teaching and learning to take place.

It has taken the small team of us in Cayman a great deal of time and effort to get to this stage - but the result campuses will be some of the best education facilities in the world! People are already queuing up to visit!

Intriguingly, although many people get mesmerised by the new buildings, these are just a part of the total transformation of the education service that I have been involved with for the past three years. Buildings don't transform education by themselves, but they certainly can contribute to the enhancement of education provision for students which does lead to better results!

This is such an exciting time for education in Cayman, and as the 'World Ministerial Seminar on Technology in Education' in London in January demonstrated, the world really is watching!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Communicating - the words are important ....

Working with the Hon. Minister, Chief Officer and the Corporate Communications team on a variety of presentations, remarks and speeches always takes some time. The factor controlling this is to ensure that the words we use reflect accurately what it is that we are doing and what is happening as we continue to transform the education service. It also ensures that those same words are not able to be misinterpreted. Equally, the pace of change is so fast here, that as many communication methods that can be used are. This includes the use of websites, blogs, email and so on.
By talking through how we write things really does 'bed' down the details accurately in the minds of the Communications team who are not engaged in the day to day decisions. It is always quite stimulating to explore every idea and wording - its not surprising that lots of other ideas arise from these conversations.
By taking the time to really analyse the words we use at this stage often prevents a whole host of inaccurate impressions by others. Additionally the importance of communicating as often as we can about our plans and our ongoing achievements really does ensure that our educators are really kept in the picture and know what is happening. It is about engaging the people working in the system with the transformation process.
Too often things are done TO teachers without their input.... when people do that they then wonder why educators then complain or become cynical. It is pretty obvious recently, and in this age of 21st century communication methods, there really is no excuse!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

21st century education buildings...... and no sign of technology?

I was quite bemused to read recently the KPMG report "Investment in school facilities and PFI - do they play a role in educational outcomes?'.

The findings, in brief, apparently show that investment does lead to improved attainment and in schools procurred using private finance, students appear to achieve better educational outcomes more quickly. It does briefly indicate in a diagram that investment in human capital development should happen simultaneously with the investment in education - not as an afterthought as I have seen a number of times now! Buildings don't improve student attainment - it is what happens inside that building that is the key. We all know that............................ don't we?

What really bemused me though is that to support this extremely glossy publication were a series of large very 'arty' photographs, of... pencils, more pencils, a traditional library and a classroom (a box!), complete with ....blackboard! Not a sign of any form of technology in the whole thing - not even a computer. A colleague of mine really thought about writing in about 21st learning environments, the role of ICT and much much more.

Perhaps the report was totally data driven and all done deep in some office block.. but as the report is about the impact of new buildings, perhaps the report photographer or designer should visit a 21st century learning environment and see one in action sometime, rather than just rely on the usual very traditional images !

Trophies.... from tasteful to revolting!

Not much to do with education for once and certainly nothing serious. Just a comparison about two trophies that crossed my path this week. From the quite tasteful (and expensive) to, in my personal view, something quite quite appalling!
From the very gold and quite stylish Rugby World Cup trophy (above) which is in the Cayman Islands for the knock out rounds of the World Cup being held this week - to another trophy presented to the Ministry for helping to sponsor an event (see bottom of post). It is quite the most hideous thing most of us have ever seen.
A great thing about the rugby trophy is that the authorities were keen to get the gold trophy into schools so students could get the very rare chance of seeing (and touching...eek!) it. (It has only ever been in eight countries). What is good about it that this was a major and stressful event for Cayman to organise - to even think about involving schools shows an increasing community partnership developing - something we have been working on a lot. For more visit the Ministry blog link here.
Quiz question: Can anyone suggest which sport presented the trophy below? (It does it no favours thats for certain!)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

21st century learning - is it really just all about more and more technology?

I read a really interesting post today on LeaderTalk entitled "Shift Happens-Now What?" concerning the introduction of ICT in schools and the real need for the change of adult perspectives and behaviours to create student centred classrooms. I do recommend it.

It also advocates the need for teachers and other education support staff to see themselves as learners as we all move towards more personalised learning and project based approaches to education. Many people, myself included, have been arguing this for some considerable time. It really is not about just flooding schools with more and more technology - unfortunately not every sees this even now.

Many educators are reluctant to admit that they know less or are less skilled than the students in their room - it breaks their comfort zone and many people feel less confident and potentially not in the total control that some demand.

Flooding schools with technology has been done by institutions in many countries. So frequently the infrastructure to support it has been inadequate and failed to operate networks etc. in a consistently robust way. This leads to many teachers who were 'brave' enough to experiment and use computers being let down by slow connection speeds, unreliability and system 'crashes'. Nothing disrupts lessons and discourages teachers more! The problem is if staff have had a series of bad experiences then they are reluctant to try again.

In introducing any new technologies, the infrastructure to support it needs to be massively more than is initially needed - the pace of development, software, hardware and devices is just moving too fast. Trying to enlarge systems after the event is just not the best way!

Some teachers and authorities (see two posts below) simply ignore the existence of ICT, and whilst some teachers may feel more comfortable, it is actually disenfranchising the students. I've even heard one teacher say "I didn't have it so they (students) don't need it". It's a bit like going back to slates and quills really.
Teachers have to be helped to develop confidence in not only how to use technology, but also see the benefits to the teaching and learning opportunities that could take place. Additionally they do need a much greater awareness of how young people use technology now. For example many teachers that I have spoken to have no idea even how to use the full technology contained in their own cell phones, let alone hardware placed in classrooms.
There are also the very interesting benefits of students as teachers and mentors in helping educators, especially in developing ICT skills, is really a very powerful experience - one that I have used many times for my own use.
The LeaderTalk is an interesting and useful contribution to the ICT debate! We need to make sure that everyone gets engaged in it!

Monday, 21 April 2008

21st Century School Leaders.... the way forward

It is really encouraging to see countries recognise the need to help develop school leaders and train them to become leaders of tomorrow (or even now!). Already in the UK the NPQH is a compulsory qualification for headteachers, other countries have mandatory qualifications, but some are directed to help administration skills focusing less on teaching and learning.
The issue is to ensure that all school leaders have support and development in the introduction of 21st century teaching and learning skills, to a) reduce ridiculous and uninformed decisions (as in the post blog below "Lets ignore 21st century"), and b) help ensure that our students are engaged and motivated in their learning using the tools that they expect to use in their normal life!.
In the Cayman Islands the NELP (National Education Leadership Programme) training programme is designed specifically for education professionals in, or seeking to adopt, leadership roles. It was developed specifically for the Cayman Islands and has to date been administered by the Education Standards and Assessment Unit, the government body responsible for conducting independent evaluations of Cayman’s public and private schools. It is a challenging, practical programme based on best practices in real schools!
The NELP two-year programme was developed in partnership with the London Centre for Leadership in Learning in the UK and takes into account the particular needs of schools in the Cayman Islands. It provides its successful candidates with the equivalent of the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Headship. Topics covered as part of the course include developing and implementing a vision, strategic and development planning, target setting, performance evaluation, team-leading, managing resources and meeting students’ needs.

A number of Cayman’s educators were recently recognised for outstanding achievement when the Education Ministry presented them with their awards for successfully completing the NELP programme. One commented that “NELP integrates well with the current student-centred thinking in education in the Cayman Islands, because it benefits students directly by equipping school leaders with the practical skills they need to run institutions which focus on students’ needs.” Absolutely as it should be!
If we get the leadership regarding teaching and learning right (at every level), then our students do at least stand a fighting chance of developing their skills to be able to compete, as they say, against the best in the global workforce of tomorrow.
The problem is that the tomorrow we keep hearing talked about is actually already here today!

Friday, 18 April 2008

'Lets ignore any 21st century learning' - unbelievable!

I was incredulous to read an interesting blog post by 'The Mobile Learner' concerning the decision by the London Catholic School Board in Ontario banning hand held electronic devices in schools.

In deciding to ban students from using everything from digital cameras (WHY???), cell phones, and MP3 players in lessons, school administrators are totally ignoring the real trends to engaging students in their learning as we move through the 21st century.
All round the world students in primary and secondary schools are increasingly engaged in recording their work via camera and video, creating blogs, podcasts, web chats, online research and more. To ban secondary students from doing this is, frankly, a bizarre decision. The one thing students will not forget as they go from place to place is their cell phones.... lets get them to use the real capacity contained in these devices to enhance their learning in schools. They expect to use this technology, it is a key part of their life!
Whilst they have not stopped students using their devices out of lessons they are missing a fantastic opportunity for them to use the computing power they have to keep hidden in their pockets.
Even more bizarrely even school board employees are only allowed to use these devices "in areas from which students are excluded". Taken to its logical extent then this includes staff also being unable to use digital cameras to record student work or projects, create and listen to podcasts and so on. This is an even more bizarre decision.
Issues regarding online harrassment are used as reasons for this decision - but there are ways of dealing with this. It is the schools responsibility to educate reponsible use of devices and social networking sites. People who abuse this must face consequences I totally agree, including using the law if necessary - no one will argue with that. However I would be surprised that if this is happening it is actually happening in schools during school hours - much more likely it is happening in the majority of hours when they are not in the building!

Equally, the vast majority of students are great, responsible and would not dream of being engaged in antisocial behaviour, and this ban will actually be inhibiting their ability to use education technology to enhance their work.

I am also sceptical about the Boards view that students achivement will be enhanced without this equipment. I frequently see students really getting much more engaged in projects and achieving far better results because they are using technology that they are familiar and comfortable with.
To ban the use of all these electronic devices in schools, in my humble opinion, is not just shortsighted it is plain bonkers!

To read the media story in the London Free Press about this decision click here.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Message in a ..... balloon??

Nothing profound - just a great idea: we are looking for corporate sponsorship for a Childrens Arts Festival. Rather than just writing a letter requesting support which will inevitably get buried in an avalanche of other paper, our events team is sending the letters inside a balloon and not just any balloon but a very large, vivid, unforgettable one. To get to the letter potential sponsors have to burst the balloon. There is no way that this wll get 'hidden' on a desk.
Not a totally new idea I know and certainly not a 21st century communication system, but it just struck me this week as great fun and something that people will again remember. Hopefully they will sponsor us as well!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

21st century education - international interest grows!..

Mr Jeremy Joseph of Illuminat with yours truly.
The interest in the holistic education transformation work we have been undertaking in the Cayman Islands is increasingly attracting international interest as more and more people want to find out what we have been doing and what the impact has really been so far.

I was happy to spend much of the day recently with Jeremy Joseph (Illiminat) from Trinidad going through the transformation process and the very positive impact that it had already made to the education service in the Cayman Islands!

One of the interesting aspects of our conversation was the obvious benefits of an holistic approach and the frustrations in many countries of lots of people everywhere doing "projects" but with little joined up thinking.

Additionally of course, there are lots of people basically all trying to improve education provision without communicating with each other and sharing really good ideas and practice.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a central resource that held all the developments going on in education around the world that was accessible to everyone? Perhaps thats a job for me in the future!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

New Teaching and Learning spaces versus Budget

Another full day locked in 'back to back' meetings with several architects (CS&P and BDCL), quantity surveyors and senior Ministry staff, as we discuss our developed plans for a brand new 21st century primary school trying to ensure that a) our vision for teaching and learning provision is not lost to budget constraints and b) we get value for money for the project.

Whilst discussions about six or eight inch building blocks or types of roofing are not riveting, there are really interesting conversations when we discuss why we need to retain specific features within the new innovative learning spaces. With the cold reality of budget, priorities are vital and dependent on clear educational pedagogy so decisions are informed and will allow students, staff and community to get the most out of these new buildings which contain a variety of flexible and creative learning spaces.

Being challenged on how and why we have arrived at specific design elements for
these exciting unique new learning spaces, (as opposed to a series of boxes or cells), really helps confirm thinking and leads to really stimulating debates about our vision for the future of education.
One of a series of really interesting days that is leading to a really innovative and unique learning environment that will be the envy of many places around the world.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

21st century environments

I flew back from the U.K. yesterday through the new Terminal 5 building at Heathrow Airport in London. The building is truly fantastic, light, airy and spacious and in many ways quite inspirational.

Claimed to be the largest free standing building in the U.K, the transparency of beams and girders as part of the design could easily be used for real problem solving questions in science, design, maths, and the inspirational for art, literacy projects - in fact almost anything.
More facts: some 60,000 people have worked a total of 100 million man hours to build Terminal 5 since construction began in September 2002. Its construction has involved diverting two rivers, building and tunnelling 13km for rail and baggage links. An amazing piece of construction really!
Unfortunately, the 'teething problems' in an airport which had such tremendous build up prior to its opening are always very obvious and therefore very high profile. My T5 experience yesterday was very good! Unfortunately no matter how well it does after the first few days, the long term memory for the foreseeable future will be about the initial problems, including staff not being fully prepared. It's a better media story.
As we build new schools it is clear that very through preparation is needed, not just in the design and build process, but in the professional development of the staff and students to maximise the benefits and effectiveness of their new environments. We all know that there will be the cynics and negative creatures who will be all to quick to say things aren't working and that the buildings have failed! Buildings can't fail in delivering education but teachers can! The more we do in preparing staff and trialling new approaches in advance, the more we can prevent this. (I know it is too optimistic to hope that all the cynics will disappear!)
........ to answer the question most people have asked........ yes my suitcase DID arrive at the same time as I did. Actually it was a very pleasant experience all round and a great 21st century environment!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

It's the 21st century - Why can't everywhere have connectivity?

Visiting someone in hospital this week I watched them try to get an internet connection so they could get online. The only way was to dangle a '3' wireless connection device from a window pole and hope that the cable reached the hospital bed!

I admit that people in hospital are sick and just need to rest and recover. However there are people who are there for longish periods of time but who want, (and are able), to keep in contact with friends at least for a short period of the day. That has to be better than just watching televison all day!

I know that the danger would be that some people would be tempted to work and not relax etc, but there has to be a balance somehow!

People, especially younger folk, want and expect to be able to access email and networking sites etc just as much as the very expensive phone lines.

I believe that as they refurbish and build new medical facilities, robust free internet access should be available if appropriate for the patient and if doctors feel they are able to use them without compromising their recovery - even if they are if time limited.

The current facilities in the hospital I visited were just hopeless, especially for the 21st century!

Monday, 7 April 2008

More posts soon..

More posts soon- currently in the UK with snow and limited connectivity opportunities. New post by the end of this week.

Thanks for checking

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

21st century learning environments - a great 'on line' virtual tour

I frequently visit school websites as part of my work, and like so many websites they can vary enormously in quality. Some are very good, but all too many are incredibly cursory, out of date and poorly maintained. Schools with these poorly maintained websites project a poor image of themselves and undermine the work that they and their students do. They also discourage parents and visitors from revisiting the site to gain information, commmunication updates etc. In these cases schools would be better off without a web site at all. A high quality website takes time and concerntrated, consistent effort. Having said that, can any school not afford to have a fully functioning website as we model good practice in the 21st century to students, parents and the wider community.
Many school websites contain a 'virtual tour', ranging from a line drawing plan of the school, supported by the odd photograph, to fully interactive moving images.
One of the best school virtual tours that I have seen online recently belongs to the new Thomas Deacon Academy in the U.K. This fully interactive tour shows almost the whole building, and the viewer can zoom in, pan round and examine many parts of the building from the floor to the ceiling. The building looks great and extremely creative in the design, the use of light and finishes and crucially the variety of open and transparent teaching spaces - it looks like somewhere people of all ages want to be and where teaching are learning are visible and celebrated.
Without discussing the rest of the website, the virtual tour is just fantastic and a real outstanding example of excellence. To view this virtual tour click: Thomas Deacon Academy.