Thursday, 29 May 2008

Using ICT to help create sculptures in schools

The use of sculpture around school sites continues to grow and they really add a whole new dimension to outside learning environments. I have added several to schools I have been in and students and the community really have enjoyed them, even if some were a little sceptical initially. The key to success is student engagement and involvement in designing, creating and installing the sculpture. Peer pressure really prevented anyone thinking of interfering with them too much.

The Iguanas above, whilst not in a school, are some of a dozen located in different places as part of a trail, each moulded so identical in shape but all decorated by different artists. They are real features. I have seen the same idea done in schools. with bricks, fibreglass, metal and wood along with other materials, where students have created their own pieces. (Embarassingly I don't have photographs however).
ICT played a major part in at least one of these exercises. Interestingly they designed their sculptures using a variety of software programmes and located their 'creations' on photographs of proposed locations using Photoshop to help establish best colour schemes and potential features to enhance the existing colours of vegetation and buildings around. They also used Google Earth to position them equally but apparently 'randomly' around the school compound. They spent many hours outside normal lesson times. Isn't that what education is about?

All this allowed a real high quality totally multimedia exhibition of 'process' to support the opening of a sculpture trail around the school, complete with brochure. The praise for the multimedia approach was outstanding and the students just gained so much from the whole exercise, they were involved, engaged, worked collaboratively on research, problem solving and implementation. This was later followed by an increased use of sculpture inside the school with, crucially, other curriculum areas learning and adopting similar approaches in their subject areas.

We need to ensure that we capture this level of student excitement and engagement across the curriculum and just keep thinking outside the box. In this case, many had thought that ICT could not be engaged in an 'art' project. Luckily the staff involved were creative and used a whole range of technologies engaging all students, including those who initially had thought they were not 'arty'. So many skills were needed for the entire project every student had a key role to play.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Outdoor Teaching Environments

High quality landscaping really helps create exciting learning spaces

As I visit schools all over the place, but especially in the UK, USA and Cayman, I am always really pleased when I see really nicely landscaped grounds for students, that are also actively used for outdoor learning.


So often these outdoor areas are neglected by teachers - they have so much to offer to expand the range of learning opportunities for students - it really is a wasted opportunity.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Using technology for learning - Nintendo Games

A few months ago I was talking to Professor Stephen Heppell about the new Brain Games available from Nintendo and the small handheld consoles. As we 'played' with one we talked seriously about if schools got students to do, for example, the maths games for a few minutes every morning, it was bound to develop their mental agility and ability to undertake maths activities.
I smiled therefore this weekend to read in the UK media that Oakdale School, in South Woodford, Essex (a junior school) was, reportedly, the first in the country to use Nintendo games to teach students. In reality the story SHOULD have read the first in the Borough! (A slightly more realistic claim). Students are now given these handheld consoles which they use for 20 minutes a day. The games used test mental agility with maths puzzles and logic games. The teacher has already noted that students "progress is amazing — and they work in silence.” However, I am, sure that I have read similar stories about schools comparing student performance between classes with one using these devices and classes that didn't. I have forgotten the details however so can't quote them.
It was inevitable that schools would trial this technology and I quite certain that many more will follow in the very near future. This is exactly the form of technology that attracts students, where they can work at their pace, not waiting for others in the class and is purely educational.
I am not quite sure why all schools are not already exploring this excellent device really. Equally with schools around the country working in this way- why aren't they communicating with each other to promote the benefits of this way of working?

Friday, 23 May 2008

The genuine understanding of our Communications team really helps...

Actually it really is not a posed shot at all, totally spontaneous, but Louis Payne, Head of Corporate Communications, taking two calls from the media simultaneously in my office yesterday.
A very interesting 'by product' of the ongoing transformation of the education service in Cayman is the change in other peoples perspectives, even though they are apparently not directly involved in the education process itself.
Our massively overworked Corporate Communications team, (well the two of them), do everything from speeches, media releases through to promotion, events, branding and graphics and have a vast range of skills and knowledge on numerous subjects. They need it with a Ministry responsible for six portfolios, just one of which, (although the largest) is education. They are used to learning enough to be able to write in detail and answer a range of queries.
The really interesting thing is that they have really wanted to get into the whole philosophy of the transformation process, they know about the vision, the processes, the strategies, the implementation and are genuinely excited by it. They know far more then they need to be able to work with the media and very effectively do their job. They understand totally the thinking behind the radical new learning environments we are building and, in turn, are challenging us so they really understand why we think the way we do about approaches to teaching and learning in the 21st century. They are genuinely excited that so many countries are watching our progress.
This has really helped develop a total team approach. I and my colleagues do not have to waste time checking their understanding. Their challenge, as well as ours, is to pass on the excitement to the whole community. One might say that that is what such Communication teams should be doing. I agree with this, but so often such teams just want to know enough to publish innocuous releases or refer to others for an opinion but otherwise don't get involved. (I dealt with such a team only the other day). Ours can talk with real knowledge and understanding.
I've worked with a number of Communications / Marketing teams in the UK, Cayman and other countries - finding a good one is difficult, but when you have one, they are worth their weight in gold!
(Just as an fyi: One of the best education marketing companies in the UK is Grebot Donnelly Associates.)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Lets print the answers on the exam paper and then hope young people don't notice!

Todays revelation from the UK, that students sitting the OCR music GCSE examination last Friday, could find the answers for one of the exam sections printed on the back page, albeit in error, is frankly almost unbelieveable. The fact that this most basic of errors could get through the apparently rigorous proof reading and quality control checks throws the considerable doubt on the entire process.

However, I found even more totally bizarre the spokesperson for the examination board being quoted as saying:

"It is unlikely that any of the 12,000 students sitting the examination would have recognised the value of the information in the copyright statement and subsequently used it."

Did I read that right?? I'm really not sure which planet that person occupies really. Today's young people are told to carefully read exam papers all the way through and are not stupid - of course the majority would have seen it, and recognised it immediately as containing the answers. It even identifies which question it answers, it's not really rocket science is it?

Mind you, it really does beg the question as to the value of this type of exam question in the first place. What does it really prove today and how does it benefit young people? There are so many better ways of assessing students in the creative arts than sitting answering a paper based exam.

Mind you, as one of my colleagues pondered, having said the above, I really do hope that no candidate did see it and still got the answers wrong!
For a link to the full story click here.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Improving the use of student data through SIMS

I came across this online article today from the Cayman News Service website - I'm not at all sure about the old file photograph of me they have used, but the article refers to the country's new approach to managing student data. The press release, originally written some time ago, has now been released by Capita and shared world wide - it's yet another example of the interest in the Cayman Islands and the holistic approach to systemic change.

As part of the ongoing education transformation process in the Cayman Islands, a critical aspect has been the purchase of a country wide schools integrated management system. From the previous position of schools using a variety of incompatible software, some home developed, a consistent program will really help give unprecedented access to the information and data to help students improve their performance, from tackling truancy or behaviour issues to creating personalised learning programmes. It will mean teachers do less administrative work allowing them to focus on teaching and learning.

We all know that the more data we have about our students, and the more we can track and monitor progress, the better informed our teaching will be. As ever, the challenge will be the ongoing training our our teachers to ensure that they understand how to effectively use the data in lesson planning and see it as a really valuable tool for them.

Software alone does not do anything of course - the key element is the interconnectivity of all aspects of the transformation process - so add to the mix the new national curriculum coming into place for September 2008, the new ways of assessing our students, the progress being made in adopting the PYP programme, the ongoing professional development programme whilst developing new learning environments all are core parts of the overall approach.

Against a tough tendering process, SIMS, by Capita was the successful software and installation and training is well underway. The benefits will show in time, but education officials are excited by the potential that this new programme will afford the education system.

As teachers always ask: "Is this more work?" the answer is absolutely no - "it IS smarter work however!"

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The world is watching the Cayman journey with increasing interest!

Since we started the very aggressively paced holistic transformation of the education service in the Cayman Islands, many people, from all round the world, have expressed considerable interest in the ‘everything at once’ approach to transformation rather than the constant drip feeding of endless initiatives that so many people all round the world have had to put up with for far too long.

The level of interest and number of people now talking about aspects of the transformation process continues to grow apace.

In the last few weeks alone, the tiny country of the Cayman Islands' story of holistic education transformation, along the building of new learning environments, continues to be spread around the world. Recent references include:
  • an article in the prestigious 'Education Facility Planner' magazine, in an article entitled "Innovative Schools in Britain, Australia and the Cayman Islands",

  • a world wide press release from Capita concerning our use of the new SIMS software to "allow the use of technology to give unprecedented access to information and data we need to help students improve their performance

  • promotion of a seminar entitled "From Chicago to the Caymans" to be held as part of the "Building Better Schools" Summit in London in June. The seminar is being led by oWp/p, architects of the high schools

  • a detailed description of the work being done in the Cayman Islands during a lecture given by Professor Stephen Heppell in Scotland

  • Minister being interviewed by journalist Luis Nachbin of the Futura Channel of Brazilian TV

The pace is frenetic, but this job has to be one of the best there is in moving education systems forward. Whilst it is great fun, (and challenging at times), I count myself to be really very fortunate in having been so deeply involved from the very beginning with this amazing journey – and the fun continues…..

Minister; Hon. Alden McLaughlin, being interviewed by Journalist Luis Nachbin, of the Futura Television Channel, Brazil

Thursday, 15 May 2008

BCSE Conference - National School Environments Week

A really interesting conference is planned later in June in London this year; 'Building Better Schools' on the 27th June. Featured will be UK and American presenters sharing good practice, sharing designs that break away from the 'bells and cells' type of school, and redefining the role of the school in the life of the community.
It is really pleasing to note that our architects for the new Cayman Islands secondary campuses oWp/p are presenting one of the sessions, featuring the Cayman designs and their role in supporting a collaborative approach to schooling. Presenters: Rick Dewar, Trung Le and Kerry Leonard have been totally involved in leading our project from the very start, and will talk with accuracy about the whole process from concept to the current stage of development.

If you can get there, do attend - every conference planned by the British Council for School Environments is always good.

For more details, click here: National School Environments Week

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

21st century learning environments - why are we STILL talking about bathrooms?

If we give students woeful standard facilities we get what we ask for - even these UK signs reflect poor standards!
21st century learning environments, collaborative learning, agile learning spaces, wireless environments, collaborative work areas, project based learning, distance learning facilities, research areas, lecture areas..... and so many conversations about new school design revert back to ... you guessed it.....student bathrooms!

I am amazed that people are still publishing stories that 'discover' that school bathrooms are a problem. Everyone who works in schools, especially secondary schools, knows that the old style 'cattle shed' communal bathrooms are a major source of issues within school, including those of bullying, smoking, drugs, hiding goods and so on and so on. (Yes I have been one of those staff recovering cellphones and the like from behind fittings or bathroom ceilings) It has been the same for many years - what's new?... but if we all know it why are we STILL complaining about them and not just sorting it out!


Even this week the Welsh National Assembly is calling for urgent action, noting that over 50% of inspection reports were criticising school bathrooms, and the failure of many schools to provide basic bathroom supplies. I cannot understand why some schools haven't tackled their bathrooms as a major way of reducing a whole host of undesirable behaviours. It would be money well invested! If we give students woeful standard facilities we get what we ask for!


Professor Stephen Heppell in presentations various, often refers to the research that 75% of students try and avoid going to the bathroom during their school day. He even refers to them as the 'special bullying ante-chamber'. This is true even of my own daughter when she was at school, who avoided the bathrooms as much as possible to avoid the inevitable 'hassle'. It may seem trivial to some, but to avoid going to the bathroom - students don't drink, thereby becoming dehydrated, thereby reducing effectiveness in concentration and learning capacity.


As a headteacher of several schools, the bathrooms were often places where groups of students would attempt to make a rather bizarre meeting place, which, if allowed to happen, would at times result in 'issues' that would take too much valuable staff time in unravelling! (Why is it that the girls bathrooms are always worse than the boys?). We were never criticised for our bathrooms, partly because we made them as near adult office standards as possible, and maintained them as such. They were always praised by parents on the 'choose a school' circuit and the vast majority of students really respected them, liked them and kept them in good order. (These were challenging students in difficult schools!)


However, as we design new education facilities, all schools should actually be focusing on these as one of the priorities. In Cayman, students have contributed to the design of their new facilities. One crucial feature is that individual office standard bathrooms for students are scattered throughout the learning environments, where students spend their day learning. They do not have to go on a special trip down a corridor to what ever may await them! Students are very (and some may think disproportionately) excited about the new designs - and see the potential for any 'issues' reducing in a huge way. From all the experience in the education systems around the world, it's pretty obvious really isn't it?

Monday, 12 May 2008

Debates reflect progress.... evaluation reflects concern for impact!

Spending the last few days identifying our accomplishments in education transformation in the Cayman Islands ready for the Hon. Minister's speech for the budget debate in the Legislative Assembly, has really reminded me just how far the country has come in the last two and a half years.
Whilst much reform has taken place in systems and process, the impact of any reform is really the crucial point. As we have moved forward in a very aggressive time scale, it is particularly important to remember, in the Cayman Islands, we have also spent time regularly evaluating the impact of the systemic change, ensuring that we maintain our vision, but also that the changes are delivering what was intended and what was identifed by stakeholders in education as being needed. Where the desired result is not happening, the actions have been changed quickly to deliver what is most appropriate for the system and deliver the most support for students.

Too often I have seen, in a variety of places, new 'policy' being implemented 'come what may' with any review or evaluation happening sometimes years later. Therefore, if something is not getting the desired results, they continue not delivering for some time! Our ongoing consultation process with stakeholders has also helped inform the evaluations. This has helped ensure that the very rapid transformation process stays on track, has the desired benefits to students in schools and keeps all the stakeholders engaged in the transformation process.
I have said before that the world is watching our work in Cayman. In January, the Minister spoke to 64 Ministers of Education in London and the Ministry blog which I maintain has been visited by 108 countries. Even last week, yet another international group asked to visit to see what we have been doing ........ it certainly gives the Minister much to promote in his speech.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Dreams coming true!

We have spent literally a couple of years planning for the design of the new 21st century secondary campuses. I visited one of the sites yesterday and was really encouraged to see the major groundworks nearing completion.

As many buildings will also serve as hurricane shelters a minimum height above sea level is mandatory. The preparation of these building slabs really do indicate the layout of the entire campus and how large each building will be. The photograph above shows the preparation of just one building.

The groundwork slabs are high - but certainly not as high as the expectations and aspirations for the future of the education service here. There is great excitment and enthusiasm around as the backroom work is now resulting in tangible results on all three campuses.

There are a few people who are disappointed in the new facilities - these are the students who will have left school prior to their completion. The new campuses will truely be fantastic and amongst the best education facilities in the world. Whilst the country cannot wait for their completion, there are also a number of international bodies just waiting to visit these buildings to see them in action.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Being Brave - setting new standards in teaching and learning with the International Baccalaureate!

One of the very many professional development seeions under way.
A key part of the holistic transformation of the education service in Cayman was been the creation of a new national curriculum that is locally relevant but internationally recognised. The completed new Caymanian National Curriculum, written with the help of dozens of teachers, will be mandatory for all Government Primary schools from September 2008.
A vital aspect of this work has been a move to adopt the teaching and learning styles that form a key aspect of the International Baccalaureate programme, and indeed to move towards the national adoption of this standard. Our interest in this revolves around ensuring that every teacher uses a full range of teaching and learning styles, including project work, to encourage all students, what ever their ability, to be engaged in their own learning.
This week, I am excited that six of Cayman’s Primary schools completed their application for recognition under the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme (PYP). Beyond these six schools, all primary teachers in the public system have received Level 1 training for PYP. We believe these are the first state primary schools in the Caribbean to register for this programme.
Additionally a pilot project introducing the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Diploma programme will begin in September 2009, with full implementation in September 2010, offering a ‘gateway to excellence’ for Caymanian students within the government school system.
As we are well into the 21st century, any holistic review of an education system or national curriculum cannot get involved, as many still are, with tinkering around the edges. Decisions and aspirations have to be bold, and those people leading education systems have to be clear in identifying these aspirations to all people involved with the system.
I am still quoted in conferences by
Professor Stephen Heppell and Prakash Nair in the need for education systems to "be brave and be brave enough to continue to be brave" I still believe that far more people need to be braver if any real transformation work is to take place.
This move in the Cayman Islands clearly flags a move to achieve excellence in teaching and learning throughout the service. The I.B. framework and support is great, but the an even greater thing is that there are clear standards that everyone, the education service, the schools and the teachers, have to adopt and achieve (that are externally verified), in order to achieve full accreditation. This is challenging - but the Cayman Islands have taken the challenge and intend to achieve it!

This is the first step towards Cayman's aspiration to be the only nation in the world where ALL government primary schools are successfully bench-marked against this internationally recognized standard.
Whilst this would be fantastic, I must repeat that the clear purpose is better teaching and learning for our students, no matter what their ability - that's why we are here after all!

Teaching and Learning - We mustn't forget fun!

'Daren' complete with police escort!

Standing in the for Hon. Minister yesterday to give remarks to several hundred primary students, staff and parents, I was struck by the estactic reception that mascot 'Daren' received as he entered the hotel ballroom. The event was the successful 'graduation' of students from the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programme run by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

We are constantly talking about the use of technology in education, we are talking about increasing engagement in work, project based learning and providing relevance to our teaching and learning. What we must not forget in all this excited discussion about 21st teaching and learning is that primary students like good old plain fun as well! This plays just as important a part in motiviating students.

The essays done as part of the D.A.R.E. programme were word processed (drafted and published) and well formed, the research and understanding was good, the oracy displayed by essay winners was excellent... The speakers were fine, (I hope I was), but despite all this it was Darren that still stole the show! Maybe there is a point for all teachers and educators here!

Education Transformation yes ..... but we do have fun too!

The Minister of Education leads the Ministry group during Batabano
The Ministry of Education is working incredibly hard in the education transformation programmes underway, but we all know it is important to relax and 'play' as well. The Minister of Education, who also happens to be Minister of Culture, yet again led the Ministry 'float' during the annual Batabano carnival parade.

The streets were lined, the music was LOUD, the dancing great and the costumes fabulous.

It's a great event and the Ministry staff, who always work well as a team, really showed their team spirit by working together to play hard and to have a great (if long) day. Too many groups, including schools that I know, forget the fun part of working together and the important part that it plays in staff morale. Even better, we won two trophies - for Best Female costume (see below) and 3rd Place Adult Band (out of 14).

Did I dance as well? I thought Cayman was not ready for my body!!!.... But I did take my young family to watch.... and dance!
Ministry staff in 'full flow!

Friday, 2 May 2008

21st Century Learning Environments - the work starts!

It was a great moment to be at the Cabinet Media Briefing yesterday as the Cayman Islands Leader of Government Business officially informed the media about the start of the building of the 21st century secondary campuses.

We have worked for a long time for this day. As we prepared the statement and answers to potential questions it was really to remember the entire charette process we went through. From the very start of the process, educators, education officers, parents, members of the community, school inspectors, education planners, architects, technical staff all worked together over many days to work towards a design that would provide the flexibilty of all spaces we would need for a 21st century education system.

Of course ideas have been adapted as the design process developed, but the early principles have been retained. This real meaningful consultation has really helped engage stakeholders in the project from the very start. For them, the announcement today is a very significant continuation of the work they started many months ago.