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.
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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!
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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?
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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.
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Schools are looking for alternative arrangements - they would be daft to do so!
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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.
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Doesn't that make more sense?
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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.
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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.
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