Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cameras and mobile phones

Was this the thickest washing line in town last week?
I was asked recently why I always carry a camera around with me... I rarely leave the house without one. There are several reasons, but mainly I never know what sights I am going to see on my travels. There are too many times in the past when I used to wish that I had a camera on me for some particular spontaneous reason.

Another reason is that not only do I want to be able to capture any scene I want immediately, but also, of course, I always want to be able to post at least one photograph per blog post. Sometimes, the photograph inspires the post, sometimes I want a photo to illustrate a point. The photograph above is of a washing line - not exciting, not educational, but I have never seen so much ice and snow gather on a rope after just a few hours.

I guess a better question would be why take a camera out when my phone has a camera built into it? I think once I am convinced about the quality and adaptablilty of the shots I can take with my particular phone (or until I get a new one), I may not need to. Certainly a huge number of people are always seen taking photos with their phones..

Several schools now routinely expect students to take photographs of projects, experiments, work etc on their phone. and then send to to their worksites to drop into reports, written work and write-ups. It does make sense doesn't it. So why are so many schools fughting a potentially losing battle in trying to ban phones? That is the one piece of kit that students will never forget!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Schools - landmarks of the community - or not?

Iconic school buildings in Monmouth
More and more, new schools are being designed to be central to the community that they serve. The expectation is that many new schools will be accessible from early morning until late at night, including weekends for extended learning, community use and so much more.
Many new schools are also have to cope with the growing trend for co-located services to be contained within the building or campus. This really demands careful architecture and design.
Interestingly, some people are being clear that they do not want "iconic" buildings, being much more concerned that funding is used to deliver the best possible learning design features inside the building. This will support students to be able to learn as effectively as possible in a variety of environments. This makes perfect sense. Equally other, are very clear that they do want "iconic" buildings that are a feature of the community - this also makes sense - if there are reasons for the design.
If we really do want new schools to be centres of the community - maybe they SHOULD look like interesting, different and great buildings that stand out and also welcome people inside. The last thing we want is for them to look like so many of today's existing schools where most adults fear to venture.
It's a balance, it's a conversation, but it is may be more important to the communities involved than we think about sometimes.

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Daughter dancing spontaneously - for ages - the photo taken on a mobile phone adds a certain atmosphere
There have been a variety of views aired this past year about the importance for play in young children and how much play should be allowed in nursery / infant school as a learning medium. Several people have criticised its value - I so disagree with them....
I have spent several days at home recently over the holiday period - more than for some time. It has been just fab watching my young daughters playing together, learning so much from play, experimenting, using role play, dance, and telling the most imaginative stories..
I must admit to hoping that when my 4 year old starts school in January she is allowed and encouraged to use play as a learning medium ... she really enjoys it... and is looking forward to to the whole school 'thing'. I just hope that she and her friends, all of whom learn in different ways and at different paces, keep the enjoyment and enthusiasm magic .... and that play is valued as an important learning medium... why wouldn't it be?

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas


Monday, 21 December 2009

Learning around the world....

The snow is still here and I am lucky to be working from home today... but the learning never stops. Taking a part in a webex to Australia with the very talented Annalise of the Fielding Nair Team, I ended up learning even more about their EFEI (Educational Facilities Evaluation Instrument) software package.

It really did make me think - I was in my office at home, Annalise was half way round the world also at home, I was looking at her desktop on my screen, and we worked really hard. This common technology has been here for ages but the increasing reliability and access for all home and work users really does change how people function. We also used SKYPE to connect up and chat..... How would we have done this joint working ten years or more ago?
It's easy, it's fun, it's very effective - and SKYPE of course is free. I've used it for years around the world. Whilst I have been into a number of schools that talk about using it with their foreign links - I have found very few that use it in practice.
I am sure that it is the way forward as more and more global issues get addressed in schools. As schools IT systems get increasingly robust and reliable, hopefully we will see more and more use of this type of working in creating online global learning communities. Why wouldn't we?

Snow and Schools don't mix..

I must admit that seeing the snow on Friday morning as I travelled to the station did remind me of days as a secondary headteacher. Staff will always allege that lots of things affect students, rain, strong wind, a full moon and, inevitably, snow being the worst. Even now I always think of staff when these things occur.

We are so unused to snow (in the south of the UK anyway) and it causes such chaos to people even getting to school, my focus was then keeping students in the building and hopefully working... I was lucky - my fab staff always worked as a team - even if they did not always agree with my hard line 'no one outside' approach!!!
I miss many aspects of working in schools - leading a UK school in the snow is not one of them! I was really thinking of staff on Friday - especially as, for many, it was the last day of term! Perhaps most students stayed away?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Ice Sculpture

I often mention my love of sculpture in public places, but as I walked through St Pancras station yesterday, it was an ice sculpture that caught not only my eye, but that of many other people. Ice sculptures are not new by any means, but this was particularly large and eye catching being made out of 60 pieces of ice. The ever changing coloured lights also helped make it even more dramatic.

It certainly did draw attention to a young peoples charity, so many people read the notices and took photographs - as did I of course. It was great, unusual and just a really interesting feature that enhanced the environment - just fab really.
(I did vaguely wonder if you could do ice sculpture in schools as part of an exam course - but there is probably a myriad of health and safety rules preventing it.)
The advantage of doing it in December was that it was so cold (one of the coldest days of the year) that it will remain there much longer than normal! ( and yes it really was freezing!!

Sharing knowledge

I often post photographs of the radical new Centres for Learning in Knowlsey and praise their really innovative designs, new approaches to FF&E and so on.

Developing strategies for working in very new and innovative spaces does take time. Preparation and understanding of designed spaces is key, as is working with colleagues to identify strategies and protocols for effective working.
Working with Professor Stephen Heppell this week in Knowsley, in a meeting of teachers, a wide ranging discussion outlined ideas, experiences, strategies, concerns and crucially the successes as people adapt to new type spaces, especiall the new technology / science areas.
What is evident, and what is happening more and more, is the absolute need to share ideas, strategies and approaches that work. This sharing between professionals needs to be instant - not through a meetings months apart - no one has time for that. Equally no person, department or school need to feel alone any more. This is where technology comes in with blogs, Facebook pages or other approaches. With the stresses of teaching in some very challenging schools, moving into new spaces, plus Ofsted, exam pressures and everything else - it is not easy - the ability to share, suggest and support really can help.
As in every school I have been to, there some very positive staff who are really are determined to utilise the full potential of new spaces and are equally happy to share with their colleagues what they are doing, what is working and what they would do differently next time. This is how it has always been. What is certain is the learning journey continues and will never end....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Good designs work...

I know several posts recently have been about offices and design features, but last week in Leeds I visited an office that just seemed to demonstrate many features that lots of schools are talking about...
  • a welcoming reception
  • a variety of open very agile working areas
  • partial walls but lots of glazing
  • informal work spaces
  • some 'closed' meeting rooms
  • plenty of light
  • real transparency into every area
  • vertical links between floors
  • use of colour
  • a variety of furniture
  • plants.... and more
The working atmosphere in this building was just fab... and the ideas do work for schools. Most people who are concerned about this model are rightly concerned about acoustics - but we have the technology to get solve this important issue. Get that right and the spaces really do work amazingly.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Mobile technology - why not?

Funny really I think the story above is supposed to shock. It appeared recently in the national media - but what really made me question it is that so many schools do have already or want mobile devices for students - is it really news? Lots of schools want to, or already do use phones. I know of schools that expect students to have their phones on, (with bluetooth activated), to receive daily or urgent notices, messages etc from the school as a matter of course.

I suspect that even the opening line of the article will be history soon - schools will want students to have access to the very powerful devices they always carry. Students may forget books, pens etc but few will ever forget their phones. Why shouldn't we utilise them - makes perfect sense really as we move to the middle of the 21st century. If the Gumley House School is trialling using iPhones - then good luck. They are certainly not the first - it surely is the way forward!

Agile spaces

Transparency, light, colour, a range of agile working spaces with varying furniture solutions, grazing spaces, trees... All these found in one really attractive London office block I visited recently with a BCSE meeting.... it really is what we are talking about for schools. It works at all levels for students, adults, visitors... this space could easily work as a school! If only more people could see it!

Welcoming entrances - not with toilets!

So what's the first thing you notice when you visit new offices, buildings, schools etc. Decor, the welcoming entrance, the reception area... It makes an impression...

Visiting some offices recently in London with no reception area I could not help but notice that literally the first thing you see as you go through the front door are really rather unpleasant, elderly, shared toilets - and as one climbs up every floor, there are more opening straight onto the stairs .... it's not good!
What is bizarre is that the office spaces are lovely, glazed, light, airy and really very trendy places. It is certainly more than can be said about the bathrooms!
I always just wonder why, when converting cramped spaces into great creative work spaces, people don't think about bathrooms as well. Why is that?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Great Schools - Global Context

The BCSE (British Council for Schools Environments) Annual Lecture took place this week - I was fortunate to be able to attend.

The main speaker, Michael Stevenson, Vice President - Global Education, Cisco really went through what was happening all over the world, but especially in the context of, schools (and countries) in challenging circumstances, be it India, Mexico, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina etc... Clearly the impact of ICT plays a really important role and gives lots of opportunities, but not if we are just going to use it to keep doing the same thing.
The key message from Michael was that we have to be radical and really 'do education' differently. We just love tinkering around at the edges - and often, though we have ideas, we don't then resource them adequately. BSF should be fab but not if we just do the same old thing inside new spaces with the same old restrictions.
The bottom line though, is that there very few people who have any idea how to be really brave that are in the right positions to be able to implement anything. Bravery for radical new approaches to education, on a national scale is unlikely to be honest. Therefore those staff who are doing really good things quietly in their own schools are a really important messenger and maybe they are the only real brave ones who are actually doing something....
The panel and audience discussion that followed was really interesting with views ranging from:
  • developing new pedagogies,
  • not enough CPD for teachers, many of whom would adopt new ideas if they were supported and given time to understand, train and implement them (have I heard that before somewhere?)
  • current change potentially not considering the 'soul' and spirituality of communities and cultures
  • the impact of the economy and forthcoming General Election
  • feeling terrified at not understanding what we mean by 21st century or transformational education
Good conversations, challenging thoughts, enjoyable evening and good networking opportunites - excellent!
(Whilst the venue was lovely, not sure about sitting on those benches for too long though.... I could start a conversation about FF&E... but I won't!.)
The Panel from l-r: Ty Goddard, (Director BCSE), Tom Weaver (DEGW/Davis Langdon), Tim Nash (Edison Learning), Sarah Richardson (Building Magazine), Michal Cohen (Walter and Cohen)

Who are you?

I have a role in a lot of bids for new schools and academies - it always amazes me how often people have to get introduced (or re-introduced) and really how little we 'apparently' know about each other, even after spending weeks or months talking to each other.
I'm not suggesting becoming best friends with everyone, but surely if you really believe in what you are doing, and are really part of a team, you should be willing to stand up for it and support it whenever possible. (Whilst also admitting if you get it wrong).
Completing some work recently I was really surprised to see my picture in some documentation supporting one particular project (alone with other people). I almost felt sorry for them seeing my face, but as a client representative noted - at least we really do know who you are and what you believe in!
Better get a new photo I guess!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Student Voice - and they will hold their own!!

Student voice - almost hidden from sight but not from being heard!
Two different events in the last few days where student voice continued to impress those that considered themselves 'experts'.
One, a mid term design review for a new school last week. It was great to see student representatives amongst the architects, builders, elected members and local authority staff. Not only did the students present have a view - they defended it rigorously to all, irrespective of position. It was really quite funny to see experienced architects commenting that they would not like to take these four foot nothing students on in debate, and then wondering if they wanted a job. It was just fab to watch.
Even better, being involved in the whole design process over months to get to this day had really effected their thought on their own future. One was really quite clear that he wanted to be a scientist. This was a direct result of all the work they had on sustainability and its contribution to school design during the process so far.
The second event was this week, in a very different town in another part of the UK. They are just considering the start of their BSF bid. Whilst authority representatives were discussing the steps they had undertaken so far, they admitted that they had undertaken a lot of student engagement and and been blown away by the responses they had got, with many ideas that they simply had not thought of! They really did seem surprised about just how engaged the students had been and what strong views they had.
Not sure why really - lots of people have been saying for a very long time that, given the chance, students do want to get involved with their learning, certainly can contribute and happy to work with adults in helping develop ideas. that is ........ if we ask them!
The two events were very different - but at least both, in their different ways acknowledged the potential power of student voice. Long may it continue.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Big people - silly chairs

I attended an amateur concert in a local secondary school this week. It was good, the orchestra has grown in numbers and whilst the range of players are truly comprehensive in ability, they are all being challenged, learning lots and having fun!!. They perform each term and steadily improve.

Unfortunately, the chairs the audience all sit on do not - they are truly dreadful. They are still found in the vast majority of schools, they are cheap mouded plastic - but not appropriate and certainly not cheerful. We expect students to sit in them for hours each day and then complain when they start fidgeting. They ARE uncomfortable - everyone was twitching. We all know there is growing research and evidence demonstrating that FF&E has a major impact on student performance and ultimately attainment.

We all know there is a big drive for putting schools in the heart of the community, especially in the UK BSF programme and getting adults in to schools during the day and in the evenings. If they have to sit in such appalling chairs as this, why would they want to come?

Many new schools are now taking furniture selection incredibly seriously and creating quality learning environments - but many still don't take it seriously enough! Come on - this is important !!!

(but the concert was good never the less!)

Monday, 30 November 2009

Learning through film making.....

Seems to be a video theme recently, but I recently took part in a team video project to get a number of key messages across in a 30 second silent movie.

Seven people, 30 seconds, only 20 minutes filming time (plus editing and words), and a series of messages, takes some planning, organising and prioritising. We did speculate whether, as adults, we were being too precious about it and trying to be too clever to be effective. As can probably be predicted we took a sensible, planned and fairly literal interpretation to the task - although we did use lots of humour (well we laughed).

This was a big challenge - we did take it seriously and were quite pleased with the result (considering!). We did tackle the main points we wanted. Importantly though, it was a different form of working and not only did we try - we also had massive fun doing it. Everyone contributed, got involved and was really engaged.

Learning is about engagement, and wanting to be part of it...... we were lucky to have a film crew, but equally the same could have been done with mobile technology.....

But what would students have done? Undoubtedly they would have been more creative, spontaneous and probably used a variety of media, music, graphics to illustrate the messages. Actually, from experience, they would almost certainly have been better.

More and more video is a key part of coursework - but still too many teachers don't use it or accept it - why not?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

"We Are The People We've Been Waiting For'

I often get people approaching me to link to things from my blog to something else, usually cheap on-line degrees and other such forms of advertising. I usually ignore them.
However, from time to time, things that look really interesting come along and I am more than happy to support them. A trailer for the new film "We are the People We've Been Waiting For" certainly looks good and raises some interesting questions - not necessarily new- but ones that still need to be answered.
The film, titled ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’, was inspired and guided by Lord Puttnam and Sir Michael Barber and explores the education system in the UK. It asks whether the current system provides young people with the opportunity to develop their talents. High-profile figures sharing their personal experiences and views include Sir Richard Branson, Germaine Greer, Henry Winkler, Bill Bryson, Sir Ken Robinson and a wide range of education experts from around the world.

This thought-provoking film offers unique insight across generations and nations, and reveals a very inconvenient truth about education. The world is changing rapidly – but our education system is not keeping pace.

‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ follows the lives of five Swindon-based teenagers and the challenges they face during their education. It reveals the dislocation between our education system and the rapidly changing, globalised world which is increasingly dominated by digital technology, and focuses on the need for fundamental change in teaching and learning.

Lord Puttnam is quoted: “I’ve no doubt that ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for overdue educational reform. We need to provide all of our young people with an education that motivates them to learn, and enables them to discover what they are good at. ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ is intended to act as nothing less than a wake-up call.”

By exploring some of the more innovative approaches to education around the world, the film offers a glimpse of the future. It shows how much more flexible, exciting and engaging learning could be for young people - and how our education system could support them in identifying and making the most of their individual talents.

Following the premiere of ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ on Tuesday 17th November the film will be released online on request at from next week and will also be syndicated free with the Guardian on Saturday 28th November.

This is worth looking out for - to see the YouTube trailer click either on the picture or here. We just cannot keep on doing the same old thing and expecting something different - lots of people do see that but are they the right people to make a difference?

A good team

I'm currently doing some small pieces of work with Southwark Local Authority on a new Academy project. They are a really motivated group and it's always great to see people you know being recognised for doing stuff well!

Therefore I was really pleased to see them get a hat-trick of awards at the recent Partnership for Schools: 'Excellence in BSF Awards 2009'. The broad combination of "Best Design Advisor (Catherine Brownell), 'Best Change Programme' and 'Local Authority of the Year' reflects well cross the whole team.
Just congratulations to all of them!! (and keep going!!)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Third Teacher Blog..

I have written a number of posts about the new book 'The Third Teacher'. What is so good here is that oWp/p are not just architects who do a job and run.... they are genuinely working to research and inform all interested what they have found out, what current thought leaders are thinking and sharing what is happening around the world.
I was flattered to see a post come online concerning a recent presentation I did in Chicago posted on The Third Teacher blog recently. The project described is fascinating and I really do hope that the staff at Stephenson really do consider all the options prior to the new developments in their Science Department....
Read the full post below or by clicking here:
The Third Teacher
October 30, 2009 – Stevenson High School Science Summit

Yesterday, OWP/P Cannon Design had the pleasure of leading a Science Summit at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL. The summit gathered together science teachers, board members, school administrators and designers to rethink the way science is taught and science classrooms are designed at Stevenson.

OWP/P Cannon Design invited Gareth Long, an Education Consultant based in the U.K. and Lizanne DeStafano, the Director of the Illinois Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Initiative (I-STEM) at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign to present on science education with OWP/P Cannon Design principal, Trung Le.

Before the Science Summit began the OWP/P Cannon Design team and Gareth Long had the chance to tour the school. It was exciting to see Stevenson’s bright students eager to display their work and ideas as the tour group visited different classrooms. One student-teacher exchange later informed our Summit. A student asked the tour group to watch his video assignment, though his teacher replied, “Thanks for volunteering, but I don’t have your assignment.” The student's response: “Yes you do. Youtube it.” Seconds later, a Youtube search for the student’s name yielded the (highly entertaining) video for us to watch.

During his presentation, Gareth Long used this exchange to emphasize that science education must be relevant to students and technologically connected. Instead of teachers policing students who forget their worksheets at home, why not accept homework via e-mail, Bluetooth, Youtube or twitter, like the teacher at Stevenson? Gareth is currently working with Balfour Beatty Capital, a multi-national construction company that is actively involved in England’s Building Schools of the Future (BSF) program, an initiative to rebuild or completely renovate all of England’s schools by 2015.

Gareth shared projects from the BSF initiative that break down walls, literally, and promote connections between disciplines. For science spaces, he advocated spaces that are agile (can be changed in a minute with moveable furniture), flexible (can be changed in an afternoon with options for electricity, data, gas and water hook ups) and adaptable (can be changed over time to accommodate changes in teaching).

Lizanne DeStefano spoke about her work at the University of Illinois to expand the role of science at research institutions to include a Pre-K-16 education component. I-STEM has multiple programs including partnerships with K-16 schools to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach and support for teacher training and development in STEM. During the summit she described specific projects including collaboration with the Science Olympiad program, work with the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities to develop STEM schools and programs promoting professional development for teachers and science research experiences for students.

After the presentations the Summit broke into smaller groups to discuss the future of Stevenson’s Science program. Stevenson’s science teachers gravitated to ideas like flexible technology and presentation, putting science on display, engaging with students concerning the future of science education and promoting interdisciplinary learning between science and all other disciplines,

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Awards - and so many people working to do the right thing!!

I rarely attend awards dinners, but last week I was invited to attend the 'Excellence in BSF' Awards, organised by Partnership for Schools. I was hosted as a guest of one of the many companies present. (Thank you very much to those other companies who also invited me). It really was a totally fab evening at the Grosvenor House Hotel and I am glad I went, but I was blown away by how many people attended - over one thousand attendees in fact.

I sat contemplating for some time just how many people were working trying to really do the right thing for our young people and make things so much better. Not just those present but all those behind the scenes who never get to events like this.
The sheer scale really did make me think...... everyone is really trying to do the right thing as we move to 21st century education!
(Special mention goes to the speaker and Awards MC; Dara O'Briain. Not only was he hilarious - he also got through the awards in record time - very slick, very efficient, very funny!)

Designing - anywhere anytime

During BCSE's recent World Learning Environments Conference, one display in the 'market place' featured bags of Lego encouraging anyone to design (and build) a response about any aspect of the conference and write a slogan about it. There were many aspects of the conference that could produce a response - the amazing Halewood Centre for Learning in Knowsley was an obvious one!

It was just fun to see a group of designers immediately rise to the challenge - as many others did! I do wonder what students would have made of it though. I'm sure that their ideas would have been really exciting!
one response did not even take the bits out of the bag!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

BCSE World Learning Environments Conference

The first Annual World Learning Environments Conference put on by BCSE took place in Knowsley. Cleverly, it took place in the amazing and innovative Halewood Centre for Learning and was attended by delegates from all over both the UK and abroad. (BCSE really DO put some smart conferences!)
Whilst the conference was very good, with some really interesting speakers, the idea of holding it in a school, and not the usual hotel approach, won great praise for BCSE.
This new building, built by main conference sponsors Balfour Beatty, attracted massive interest with its really innovative design. The small learning communities, use of space, lack of corridors, localised unisex bathrooms, and central atrium, complete with a wide variety of new types of furniture ensured literally hundreds of photographs were taken, with many people talking of returning with staff and other colleagues.
Even better was the fact that not only did the conference start with students singing and dancing (literally), Year 10 and 11 students (14-16 year olds) were also present for a portion of the day doing their normal work. This was not a totally empty showcase devoid of any sign of students. Obviously some students were on 'off site' activities to facilitate the large number of delegates to meet together, attend numerous seminars and tour the facilities.
The students I spoke to loved this new school, the Headteacher loves the school, and apparently most of the staff love the school. Sounds like a good recipe for potential success really!
For Professor Stephen Heppells blog on this conference - click here
For Mike Baker's blog on the conference - click here

a few of the talented students from Halewood Centre for Learning launching the start of the Conference

'The Third Teacher' launched in the UK

(pictured l - r: Axel Haberen of VS Furniture (Germany), BCSE Chief Executive; Ty Goddard, and the brains behind the book Trung Le and Rick Dewar of American architects oWp/p)
At a champagne reception at the start of the BCSE World Learning Environments Conference last week, the excellent book 'The Third Teacher' was launched. I've written on more than one occasion about this book, but the third teacher refers to the learning environment. It features contributions from all over the world.
I was fortunate to be very slightly involved in the process leading up to this book. (If you look really carefully you can see my photo - but you do have to look very hard indeed!) it really is incredibly easy to read and a valuable resource with 79 ideas for everyone involved in education and engaging learning environments.
There was massive interest in this book and certainly the word is that the sales of this are increasing all the time. I have seen friends Rick and Le talk about it all over the place. What's good about it is that it is not designed as a coffee table book but one to be used, referred to, written in and be a 'live' resource.
It is just great that architects oWp/p have spent considerable resources and time developing 'The Third Teacher'. it is a great contribution to the further debate about learning.
For more detail on 'The Third Teacher' click here.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Food, training, transparency.. GREAT!

In Rotherham attending a meeting, I passed Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food shop. I believe that the project was so successful that it has been continued by the local authority.

But what really caught my eye was the total transparency of the space to the main shopping street outside. I am always writing about transparency in learning spaces and celebrating what is happening inside. It's not very often you see it in adult learning places. It's just great! It's only a small preparation and cooking space but really great things happen inside - and can be enjoyed by those passing and help motivate other people. It's a great start for finding ways to promote and celebrate learning of all sorts. How will they follow this model I wonder. It clearly works!

Funky seating....

Nothing profound - just really funky seating I spotted in a shopping arcade in Birmingham last week as I walked through. Regular readers will know I have, from time to time post photos of furniture that catches my eye.

I am always looking out for 'cool' designs and ideas - the chairs above are just great fun - and very comfortable. Seating does not have to be boring - we need fun and individuality in our schools - not just institutionalised furniture. Why can't we have cool and unusual ideas in social spaces, eating areas and scattered around? I know that young people really do like them.
It's just fun!

Water - just adds so much to environments....

Visiting Sheffield last week I was really impressed by the long 'wall of water' right outside Sheffield station, with other supporting fountains. It is really impressive. Water always adds so much to environments (internal and external) - I don't really know why we don't use it more in schools. (I don't mean anything as big as the photo above).

Talking to colleagues about it - they all feel the same. Talking to students - they nearly all ask for water in new school environments - often these ideas are removed by staff or features are 'value engineered' out. It really is a pity when this happens.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

21st Century learning and working kit

Sorting out my work case the other day, I was just amazed how much 'kit' I regularly walk around with! Laptop, camera, (usually a smaller one than the one shown), remote control for when I am presenting, mouse, digital pen, memory sticks, headsets, two blackberry's (don't ask why two), iTouch and a whole mass of cables, power cords and so on.....

It may seem a lot, but then I remember when I used to go to work in school, or attend meetings with piles of paper, files and other 'stuff' all of which was 'essential', despite my best efforts at minimalism supported by a very efficient PA.
The power contained in the kit above really does mean that I can work anywhere, write the blog, take photos and so on. The phone has a camera, so I don't really need to take a separate one, but the panoramic feature on my small camera is very useful at times.
Would I swap it for a good old pen and paper? No way, life really has moved on.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Home work? Just YouTube it

The best quote I've heard recently was whilst I visited an education technology lesson in Adlai Stevenson High School. The teacher was asking students to share their project work, which was based on making a film in a specific style.
One student volunteered. The teacher queried whether she had received it. The student noted that she had and followed up by saying - "anyway- just YouTube it!", which she promptly did and then played it for the class. It's a nice little video demonstrating a range of understanding and skills.
This student had not only sent his homework in, and volunteered to show it to the class - he had already shared it with the world. Students are often proud of their work - they are sharing, celebrating and promoting their own skills and talents. Broadcast technology is now something everyone can do - at any time from anywhere. No one really needs specialist equipment and people do have the skills.
This explains why 20 hours of film is uploaded to YouTube every minute. There is no doubt that increasing numbers of students will want to share their work in this way - and why not? But how many teachers right now would accept work submitted this way? Not enough I suspect!
To see the project in question 'Get an American Girlfriend' - click here

Reflecting on teaching - then considering learning environments. The right way round!

It's always fantastic speaking to, and working with, teachers who want to know how they can continue to improve their practice, and be really motivated to contribute to the design of their learning environment to allow their students to learn effectively now and in the future.

I was speaking yesterday at a 'Design Summit' with the Science Department at the excellent Adlai E Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, near Chicago. AESHS, with 4,500 students, is one of the most successful schools in Illinois and lots of their facilities are fabulous.
The very good Science Department is the next department to have it's physical facilities put under the microscope for improvement. The very engaged and committed faculty members have really spent time beginning to consider what they want. What they do NOT want is simply new 'old' facilities.
Encouragingly, they have done absolutely the right thing by looking at what they want students to be able to do, how they want students and staff to learn together and explore a wide range of pedagogical approaches. They are also going to really engage with students to ensure they have a powerful voice in learning and then consider how all this affects design.
This makes life so much easier for staff, architects and facilities staff to start a good dialogue when the project starts. The Faculty have already started the conversations internally: they know they do too much whole group teaching, they want more practical work, they want to be more agile in teaching strategies and increase personalisation, and have much better integration of appropriate technology.
The very dedicated staff do want to know what is happening in other places, nationally and internationally. They are really thinking before rushing into any decisions. This approach is just so right!
Architects Rick Dewar and Trung Le from owP/p planned this summit and science staff worked all afternoon and well into the evening fully engaged and identifying aspects they wanted to explore further. It was a vibrant and engaging event.
I was really happy to be part of the session - it just has the feeling that the students are going to continue to have massive opportunities in science to learn in ways they really motivate them!
I just wish that every school approached things in this open minded way. I am very excited to have been a very small part of this project and look forward to seeing the end result!

Transparency on show

In Chicago as speaker at a school design summit, it was fun to see the CBS weather report being live broadcast from the studio on a street corner last night as I walked past. With a massive outside TV screen directly above the window looking into the studio, the 'magic' of green screen technology was clearly visible. Television studios in the States have had this link with their viewers and passing public for years - but it's not so everywhere. I'm not really sure why.

The transparency agenda is getting everywhere and so it should. How they make the local news and weather stories is not a secret.. The secrets of daily programme making are debunked as people can see and feel the connection within their immediate community.
This also translates into schools - parents and the community really should know more about how schools work and fully understand their role in the development of opportunities for their young people. It is getting better though - this increasing transparency will really help develop that understanding - and about time.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Digital Pen....

I've enjoyed working with a new piece of technology recently. (Well - new to me that is!) Working with a digital pen has proved to be really useful and saved a great deal of time in recent meetings.

Many people do not like people typing notes in meetings - and unless one is very good, things do get missed. It can also be noisy and distracting.
With the pen remembering what I write visually via camera and, in some meetings recording the audio, has allowed me to ensure notes are accurate. Pressing the pen to any section of writing, in any order, provides instant playback of that section of meeting. By downloading some additional software it also quickly turns even my writing into text which I drop straight into a word document. (It even works with my writing).
It's clever stuff. Admittedly you have to use special paper which, fascinatingly has control commands printed on the bottom of each page, but replacement paper and refills are remarkably cheap. No more typing up notes from scratch at the end of a meeting. It is no wonder that students are quickly learning about them and buying them. Writing lecture notes and sharing them (as well as the actual lecture audio) has never been easier. The potential is very interesting.
I know that graphic tablets avoid the use of paper altogether - I used one for a long time - but it was all a bit more cumbersome and not really reliable. (It also did not record audio).
Pencasts join the world of pod and vod casts - you can literally hear somebody talk and the writing or diagrams appear on the screen as they go through it - really useful for complex explanations.
My pen is a Pulse smart pen by Livescribe complete with a 2Gb memory. I have no idea of its full potential yet, but the first impressions are really good. The number of people who have asked to see it in just a few days has really surprised me.
I'm really interested to see whether these 'take off' - right now I can't see why they wouldn't!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Health and Safety - are we going mad?

I keep wondering when we will go too far when worrying about health and safety. When are we going to stop doing things because of the dreaded H&S worry?

Already lots of staff are nervous or even avoid doing things such as trips, practicals etc because of this. (Having said that, I would, of course, never want anyone to get hurt in schools). But how far can H&S go?
We have all read health and safety stories in the media where the world seems to have gone mad - there are some really barmy examples, but surely there must be a balance somewhere.
At times I work in a large number of environments full of very intelligent adults - do they really need a huge yellow safety notice on the freezer saying that it is the scene of a low temperature? It's a freezer, it has ice in it - they know it's cold! These intelligent adults learnt that inside freezers are cold some time ago, probably before infant school, before they got their GCSE's (or 'O' levels), before their first, second and for all I know third degrees!
I can't help but compare it to a vocational school I visited in the Netherlands earlier this year. The technology room, although locked when empty, stored the craft knives on pegboard on the wall, without being locked away. Whilst they 'counted the knives in and out' at the start and ends of lessons, they had not lost one for years.
It's just a comment but the truly 'comprehensive' range of teenage students at this school realised that they were sharp and potentially dangerous without a notice telling them so.
It's a funny old world!