Thursday, 29 January 2009

"What was wrong with that?.... what is RIGHT with it!"

Photograph : Wales News Service
In several of today's papers is an article about a new primary school being built in Abergwynfi and the fact that the buildings are circular. Nothing too radical in that really in today's ideas of creating exciting 21st century learning spaces that allows multiple learning teaching styles. This is despite one newspaper calling the design revolutionary. Importantly the learners who will be using the new spaces think they are really cool".

Clearly there is a very clear rationale of how learning spaces are designed that fit with the schools (and authority's) vision for the future of learning. This IS the way forward and it is great that students, staff and authorities are thinking together on how spaces are designed.

However, several papers quote at least one parent who seems to want a forward thinking authority and teachers to revert to Victorian school design though: 'I have lovely memories of going to the old school. The desks were all lined up with the best children in the front and the worst at the back – what was wrong with that? Everyone knew where they were then.'

Whats' wrong with that? What's right with it!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Signage nightmare - must do better

This door possibly leads to the male bathroom - but are we sure?
A key part of excellence in any working environment is appearance and function. It has to be look good , be well cared for and allow people to operate effectively. An important aspect of any environment is the signage displayed. It should be informative, consistent useful and branded to equate with the school or organisation it is in.

At an upscale and upmarket conference in a large hotel near Heathrow last week, (which clearly receives huge numbers of international visitors), the signage was truly appalling. Without even considering the rest of the environment, the signage employed on the bathroom doors was, frankly, bizarre. It also helped totally 'lower the tone' of the environment. It's not even as though it is in different languages. It is plain tatty and so definitely NOT a 21st century learning environment.

If the service professionals can't get it right for what should / could be a great venue - how do we expect young people to! Really a case of 'they MUST do better!'

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

21st Century Knowsley 'Centre for Learning' opens.....

The first of the new fabulous BSF (Building Schools of the Future) Centres for Learning has opened in Knowlsey. With a fabulous if slightly controversial design, students are really enjoying the new approaches to learning in their specially designed spaces.

With few walls and a variety of agile learning zones, combined with the large multi purpose learning / performance / social space in the wonderful massive space, complete with atrium shown above, students cannot believe that this is THEIR learning environment.

Students should have state of the art 21st century learning environments -it will help raise their aspirations and allow them to work in a wide variety of ways. All round them students see new office buildings, shopping malls, cinemas reflecting the total desire for excellence and best practice.

There is massive world wide interest in the new learning centres, which are being built by Balfour Beatty, with whom I do absolutely masses of work. With one Centre for learning now open, there are six more to open over the twelve months replacing all Knowsley secondary schools. Many people are looking forward to visiting them to experience first hand just how great the students think they are.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Professor Stephen Heppell deservedly recognised at BETT

I was delighted to hear that my friend and mentor Professor Stephen Heppell was recognised at the BETT Awards dinner last week with the final award for Outstanding Achievement in ICT Education.

There is no one more deserving for this award and I suspect that no one can actually calculate how many people in the UK (let alone around the world) he has influenced or his projects various have helped!

Well done Stephen - richly deserved.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

BETT (3) - international links with the Cayman Islands DO take place

Students from St. Pauls Convent School, Hong Kong, 'beam' into BETT to talk to students from Capel le Ferne Primary School (and being filmed as well)
Students from George Hicks and John Gray Schools of the Cayman Islands with Prof. Heppell (top left)
It was just fab being at BETT today, with all connections solved, and a) seeing UK students discussing their schools with students from international schools including Cayman and Hong Kong via 'i Chat' or similar and b) meeting former colleagues from Cayman.

The ability for students to easily and realistically talk and work with their peers anywhere in the world really does bring new dimensions to their learning and totally widens their experience. The students questioned each other about every possible thing about their schools and approaches to learning and totally ignored the adults standing by watching.

There are few limits with reliable and robust connectivity... the only limits are really within the imagination of students and staff....
(Photos taken with BlackBerry - so not as good as usual -apologies)
Former colleagues; Clive Baker, Head of Curriculum Services, Mark Ray, Head of ICT Integration of the Cayman Islands Department of Education Services with Prof. Stephen Heppell

BETT 2009 (2): internet down - oh dear!!

So the largest education ICT show, possibly in the world, suffered a major hiccup yesterday - the internet went down to all exhibitors. How embarrassing,,,,, I happened to be at Professor Stephen Heppell's stand for a live link up with colleagues in the Cayman Islands. Even the Cayman Minster of Education was supposed to be there, but there was nothing anyone could do.

Luckily governmental talks prevented the Minster from attending and the link had to be postponed. Just a slightly embarrassing notice to have to display - the top one replaced the one below.... but it is no better really.

But these things happen and I know the link will happen!

BETT 2009 (1): what a show!

It is always great to attend the BETT Show each year, one of the biggest Education ICT shows in the world. There are always some great new ideas to pick up - though you often have to look quite carefully amongst the market place atmosphere. Everyone is claiming to offer the solution to 21st century education, teaching and learning, VLE's, managed systems, online content, software, hardware and..... just so much more!!

Two days in and there are still new things to see as I walk around. My concern is that amongst the good ideas that schools and authorities see, is that they have a clear strategy for coherent purchases that integrate with current systems and schools / authorities priorities.

This is a great event with delegates from all over the world, including many many Minsters of Education - innovation, imagination and ways to imlement are the name of the game - i you have never been I really recommend it!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

George Town Primary School, (Cayman Islands) back on track??

(Photo courtesy of the Caymanian Compass)
I was really pleased to read recently that the new primary school I worked on extensively in the Cayman Islands over the past two years, may yet avoid the international credit crunch. Not too long ago it was a possible project to delay due to national budget issues. Reading the Caymanian Compass online I see reprieve is possible. GTPS news article

I know only too well that it is a project very close to the heart of my old 'boss' Minister Alden McLaughlin, and he would have been heartbroken to give it up. I can visualise former colleagues in the Ministry really trying to find ways to deliver the project.

Not only do the students, staff and community of George Town Primary school REALLY need a new building, but the designs for it are really exciting and literally world class. A variety of flexible spaces really will allow such a wide range of learning and teaching to take place - it should well end up as an award winning new design standard for the Caribbean region.

A range of international experts collaborated on the design including Professor Stephen Heppell, Prakash Nair, and all the ideas collated and translated into such an exciting design by excellent architects Maureen O'Shaughnessy and Craig Goodman of CS & P from Toronto. The building design reflects all the aspirations for 21st century agile teaching and learning spaces, whilst interpreting many traditional Caymanian architectural designs into a very modern design. We are all excited about the possibility of this project being finished - the whole process to now has been a consistently positive process.

To my several Cayman readers - I know I have not written about Cayman Islands education for a while - more will follow I am sure!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Schools closed.... not if they had e-learning..

Several things happened this week to disrupt 'normality' (whatever that is). The freezing weather has closed schools for days, I have sat on trains for hours stranded by frozen points, all sorts of chaos.

Although my train did not move for a considerable time (twice - two sets of frozen points) I was still able to work non stop due to laptop and 'G card', giving me uninterrupted Internet access.

Many schools now have fully functional VLE's and closures really do not have to stop students (and staff) doing a full days work from a different location, even if it is home. This is the 21st century vision for learning and teaching in many local authorities and schools already. All that has to happen is ensuring reliable and robust technology, universal access and a VLE well populated with resources and tasks. Students would then be able to complete course work as appropriate and contribute to their online e-portfolios.

Add to this the ability to instant message then real dialogue between students and staff, collaboration between students and so on, can add considerably to the quality of the learning taking place.

Some students may regret it, but soon, very soon, (if not now), school closures will not mean no learning. I can't wait - it could be so exciting!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Good ideas - artworks from old letterheads..

What do schools do with old letterheads, compliments slips and so on when they 'rebrand' themselves. No matter how carefully you try and use up old stock - there is always some left, I know I've done it myself.

I really like the idea employed by The Avenue School in Reading, who with the help of Artist in Residence; Veronica Armstrong, did some great sculptures using both the old and new letterheads under the title 'Out with the Old, In with the New'. These are both displayed at the entrance of the school and form a great focal point for visitors and students alike.

The whole importance of artwork, and the displaying of work, by students, staff and professionals in proper gallery or exhibition spaces is really so important in providing a stimulating, creative and hopefully everchanging learning environment.

But basically, I just really liked this idea, I've not seen it before and thought I would share it for a creative start to 2009!

Happy New Year everyone!