Wednesday, 22 April 2009

21st century - Centres for Learning - Knowsley

I was fortunate to visit the new Centre for Learning in Haleswood, Knowsley last week to discuss a potential future project. The largest of the seven new Centres of Learning being built, it is just in the process of being completed. It is a truely remarkable building being really spectacular and on the very cutting edge of new 21st century design for learning environments. These buildings are being delivered as part of the U.K's very ambitious and commendable 'Building Schools of the Future' programme (BSF)

The very radical design will not be to the taste of every teacher, headteacher or local authority, but it was designed to meet the specific vision identified by Knowsley of very agile learning spaces which will really encourage a very wide variety of learning styles to take place. With very few traditional classroom spaces the result meets the demands of the vision. It is truely exciting, but will also be challenging as well until learners and staff are really comfortable with the many opportunities that the new buildings offer.

Amongst the design features in this building which, is built loosely along the 'schools within a school' model, food serveries are scattered near home bases, student bathrooms are unisex and open with no 'external fuourth wall' providing plenty of passive supervision and around the building there is lots of transparency into learning spaces.

Whilst I was there, students who will transfer to these spaces were being shown round by their teachers. Frankly they looked 'blown away' by the new look spaces. They are certainly differnt to the standard classrooms in many schools.

There is already a great deal of international interest in these designs and there will be many visitors from all over the world in the forthcoming months and years.

With two of the seven new centres open already with the rest on target for completion within a year, the secondary learning environments of Knowsley are certainly exciting. I hope that the learning that takes place within them is just as exciting.

Indoor gardens

Visiting Leigh Technology Academy recently I really loved the two indoor 'garden' areas, each between two sets of Colleges.

The academy is designed and operates strictly along the 'schools within schools' model. There are four colleges, each with their own Principal who operate and share one enclosed campus. Students and staff stay almost exclusively within their dedicated college areas apart from sharing specialist areas such as sports, technology etc.

Those that know me are aware that I am a great fan of this model, having helped lead the change at Ministry level of one school into four small schools in the Cayman Islands. The benefits of this change were immediate and overwhelmingly positive in many ways.

At Leigh Technology College, two colleges share one central space complete with indoor garden and social areas. This is replicated for the other two colleges. Very significantly, at the centre of each 'garden' is a conference table and chairs where all senior management meetings take place. No locked away in little offices - but done at the very heart of the Academy with total transparency to all, students and staff alike. In fact each college has learning balconies (or plazas) overlooking them. These plazas have a variety of rooms off them for other types of learning. The spaces were designed for learning and it shows. A great ethos with a real feeling of engagement and openness. (Architects again were BDP)

The planting certainly softened the environment and many people were convinced that the air quality was much better - probably an obvious statement but something we can learn from.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Using the roof as a learning space - why not?

There is a move in a few new schools (primary and secondary) to use the roof as teaching, learning and socialising space, here and abroad. Whilst not a major trend, this is sometimes true in schools being developed in tight urban spaces - and why not? The roof is a large area that usually serves only one function but so much more can be done with some creative and innovative thinking.

The photographs in this post are again of the Bridge Academy in Hackney, (see post below) showing the roof garden on top of the performance centre. The space is also enhanced with some rather funky outside furniture which encourages multiple use. It is being used as a teaching space, but opportunities for art, drama, dance, geography, history, local community awareness all spring to mind.

In addition, as a unique venue in that area, with opportunities for school, community and borough functions and events - the potential is enormous. The view, albeit urban is fascinating and many boroughs and landmarks are visible. It is a great resource.

There will be the usual concerns about health and safety, but as can be seen, smart design has allowed higher than normal rails, extensive planting and so on has created a wide (and high) barrier whilst maximising the uses of the space.

And yes - there obviously does have to be effective supervision, as every school space requires (this sentence has only been added only written as someone has already asked!).

Does it does add cost to a build programme, yes, but does it bring additional value to the learning opportunities - surely yes again?

If we really are to build creative 21st century learning spaces that maximise use of the building maybe we should all be looking up and at least thinking about the roof as another opportunity.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Professional learning environments

I was very fortunate to visit the very impressive new Bridge Academy in Hackney last week. This amazing piece of architecture will really challenge some people as it does not look like a conventional school, or, according to some people, what a school should look like. It is designed and intends to operate as a very professional adult environment with the latest state of the art facilities. Built on a very very compact site it's many many levels should allow masses of circulation opportunities without feeling crowded. With two years groups currently using it the signs are good. The building will allow a whole range of learning opportunities in a variety of spaces, including extensive break out areas. The potential is massive.

The canal running alongside the Academy is a great reminder of social history as well as a starting point for a variety of discussions on a range of themes, as well as just a great feature. Maximum use was made of this during construction with a lot of the rubble and debris from the construction being removed by barge, rather than trucks through the congested streets. Even whilst I was there it was being used for both work and pleasure purposes.
A great building and visit proves that there is some really interesting and creative thinking going on with new schools designs. (Architects: BDP)

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Changes on the Teachers Television website

I was pleased to be asked by the amazing folks at Teachers TV to help promote their new website. This goes live over the next month or so. They will be promoting the preview site on their homepage from next week but readers of this blog can 'get in early' by clicking the following link:

It may still be that not all links are functional, and so for regular queries do continue using the current site. I encourage everyone to look around and leave any feedback via the online feedback form.

The depth and quality of resources that TTV provides is just amazing and I know that increasiIng numbers of people are using them. To those who have not explored the website so far - I do urge you to do so - so many free resources that may help lessons and also support professional development. The other great thing of course is that the resources available just keeps growing all the time.

I have met a several of the senior TTV team a number of times - they are just so committed to producing the highest quality resources to help support education. This much improved website is just great.

Monday, 13 April 2009

iTouch - applications by the thousands

Scrolling through the Apple 'online store' this weekend I was just amazed to see that there are now over 15,000 applications, some free, now available for the fab iphone and itouch devices, and the number continues to grow.

All over the world people are devising operations, games and such like for these, which they can they offer for consideration as available software - amazing really. It does take a long time looking through the ever growing catalogue though.

Technology is progressing so fast and we now routinely walk around with so much computer power in our pockets - it really makes you wonder where we will be in a few years time, not just with computing power but the applications/ uses we will have access to.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Professional Development for 21st Century Learning and Teaching

A much longer post than normal and written 'all in one go'... as a result it will probably be constantly changing for a while as I review my thoughts (and edit my English!!).........

I have been asked several times in recent weeks about my thoughts on professional development for teachers, especially regarding preparing to work in what are being called 21st century learning environments. People have even written to me through this blog saying that really want their teaching to move forward but ‘don’t know how”.

Before I start I must emphasis that some schools and authorities are doing this absolutley brilliantly and really working with thier staff as a change team - it's just fantastic when this happens. It is not consistent across the country though I fear.

New learning environments typically feature fewer enclosed or ‘traditional’ classrooms, rather a variety of agile spaces where a variety of learning and teaching can take place. Areas include; breakout areas, large spaces for lead lessons, seminar areas, group work, research and individual work spaces, presentation and performance spaces and so on, all supported by pervasive computer technology firmly embedded within them.

What absolutely CANNOT happen regarding professional development for these spaces is to wait until they are built. The professional development of teachers AND students should be ongoing and certainly have started as the plans for the new schools begin to be designed. Teachers and students must know the ways they wish they could work now (and think about the future), contribute to the design debate and still allow buildings to cater for future learning styles that are currently unknown.

Many students are clear and insightful about how they learn best and can be a powerful ally in creating really effective learning spaces and approaches to learning but we frequently don’t ask them enough even now. I’ve had student panels say things to staff like “why don’t you blue tooth notes to us rather than us copy them down?” and so on and so on and so on… (unfortunately some of the teachers didn’t know what they were talking about!)

Professional development for new learning spaces and styles is not best undertaken by a series of ‘one off’ professional days listening to some perceived expert - although these do have their uses if the focus is right. Nor are mandatory after school CPD sessions particularly effective after what can be a gruelling day.

Most effective is working with teachers, in their room, with their students. 'Learning Leaders' (call them what you will) supporting teachers using and develop new learning and teaching styles can be really effective, working on ‘real’ work during a normal day. Usually most effective is to arrange this support working with every member of a faculty or department simultaneously. This allows real time modelling of good (and new) practice, team teaching, real time support, group work, mixed groupings, lead lessons, small group work with the whole team working, learning and gaining confidence together. This is not a one hour session – this takes some days to really embed in along with return visits. Real time evaluation and changes in approach can also be developed along with codes for students of expected behaviours and work habits. ‘Doing it to just one individual’ just is not anywhere near as effective and can be pointless.

Within a school then this group of teachers become leaders and the learning support goes to another faculty and develop their skills and so on. Staff from the second group can then compare notes and strategies with the first group and so the movement spreads. Approaches will vary depending on the subject and but can also really enhance cross curricular project work and make things much for interesting and enjoyable for teachers as well as students as they work in teams rather than the solitary ‘secret activity’ that so often happens. (All of this is done obviously maintaining a real focus on improving standards.) Developing this across schools then also allows other collaborations. And thats before we think about 14-19 opportunities, business links, community engagement, global connectivity and...and...

But just like teachers, students cannot just walk into a new environment and be expected to do things differently without any preparation. Lots of amazing and innovative learning takes place despite occurring in the most traditional of spaces. New environments do make a difference and allow even more flexibility and opportunity which many really benefit from.

Students need to be prepared over the years it takes to design and build / remodel new schools in a range of ways of working, supported by the appropriate technologies. They need to be able to work individually and in small groups, to research, to be trusted with technology embedded within lessons, to know how lead lessons work and be able to contribute to lessons. (Students have lived with this approach most of their primary school lives after all – dare I suggest that in some secondary schools we are deskilling youngsters in the variety of ways they can learn?)

Some schools and authorities are developing test beds within schools or in areas for teachers and students to be able to develop new learning skills. This is really good practice. Obviously these are best employed in schools so it does not become a ‘special day out’ for everyone , immediately losing some relevance. The rules for using these spaces is that who ever is in there ‘must do it differently’! If these exist there has to be a real programme of all staff using them, so they do not just become a ‘white elephant’.

I know someone will write in about challenging behaviour preventing all these things happening, but by combining groups (and hence more staff) and having students working in a variety of ways, those that can work will, without wasting time waiting for the others, the ‘audience factor’ reduces and greater focus can be put on those needing it.

Of course every school has its challenges and some are particularly tough – I totally accept that. All I am suggesting is that the approach to professional development needs to be really thought out much more carefully in some of the places I have visited here and abroad.

It comes down to inadequate professional development budgets and insufficient priority. CPD budgets are also often the first things cut in any saving programme. This is bonkers – the whole value of new buildings programmes can be severely compromised if people aren’t really confident of developing the learning opportunities that the spaces allow. How can NOT planning the really effective development of staff and students before they enter new environments be sensible?

Thursday, 2 April 2009

An evening with Dr Kenn Fisher

Spending an evening with Australian international education guru Dr. Kenn Fisher was exceptionally stimulating company. Fourteen of us attended the BCSE dinner not only to hear Kenn Fisher's views but also to have a wide ranging discussion with him about making new schools and education better!

Representatives from architects, FF&E and educationalists had plenty of opportunity to express their views, identify the frustrations and opportunities within current systems and generally network.

Large numbers of people have huge respect for Kenn Fisher, he frequently visits the UK and gains more followers each time.

The opportunity to take part in a really focused discussion amongst a wide ranging group of professionals is such a privilege, I hope I contributed usefully from the education perspective...

Pizza - so why not education?

In Notting Hill recently I passed a just great eye catching and innovative window display for an Italian food shop. The pizza it was selling was promoted balanced in a car window (or half a car anyway). I just thought it was a great idea.

It was so different and frankly, exciting - everyone was looking at it. It got me thinking, as lots of people passing looked and commented... if we can sell pizza in a window why can't we promote the very special skills of our young people in their community, their ability, the work that they do and the specific unique skills that they have.

Schools do celebrate students inside schools but it is still quite a secret affair - this celebration rarely ventures outside. (In fairness websites have really helped). But.... we really should be promoting them in the community as well.

The name of this rather clever forward thinking shop is below. (the pizza was fab as well!)

Storage - why don't people listen??

Any teacher will tell you storage is always an issue - we rarely build enough of it in our schools they say.

Schools all over the world are turning to storage containers to help ease the load. I did it myself both as a Head and at an authority level. From the Cayman Islands through to schools all over the place I see containers being deployed. One school I visited recently had 18 containers! This is hardly a 21st century ennvironment. It's bonkers when you think about it.

Teachers need just loads of space.... or do we????

Teachers tend to be the greatest hoarders of all time saving 'stuff that may come in useful one day' or 'it may come back on the syllabus'... One teacher said to a colleague recently "What am I going to do with my 29 filing cabinets? No one can use 29 filing cabinets I'm sorry! A large number of teachers I know always say they need more then they actually do.

With more and more resources on line or on VLE's etc, with more students having wireless devices and laptops, we maybe should actually need less stuff and this should reduce further as the use of these develop.

What we WILL always need storage for is the 'big stuff, the furniture, design tech resources etc..
Special schools will always have expensive specialist kit that is not needed for one year but then is.. Where do they keep it?

If we know all this -then why can't we get it right and why are we keeping the container rental companies in business!

Student art - don't you just love it!

Visiting a special school this week for lots of reasons... but what was just fab, as usual, was seeing the celebration of students work on display.

Heads are a favourite art activity but the attention to detail and focus shown in a whole row of heads was really impressive and fun and just plain cute.. The one above is full of character with it's lopsided mouth, i just really liked it - but I could have taken photos of just loads of them!

I still hear some people say art is a 'frill' subject... it just so clearly isn't!