Saturday, 25 December 2010

Social Learning Spaces

I was fortunate to briefly visit Education City in Qatar earlier this month... inside one of the four universities on site I was really impressed by one of the versatile students social spaces - large, cool, very high quality. The seating, being largely cushions are easily movable if the space is needed for a presentation or other event... The space, along with a water feature, was one that you wanted to stay in, to meet and work in....

I'm always saying it, but these types of spaces are really important not just in universities but also in schools as well. Many students now learn considerable amounts in social ways / spaces in addition to more formal teaching approaches. Some would say that they learn more.
Social learning spaces are always amongst the first things to be 'value engineered' out when looking for cost saving measures. If not totally removed they become too small to be really effective. All it demonstrates is that some decision makers really have no idea how young people learn these days.
Learning spaces do have to look different and be able to work in different ways.... 'cells and bells' are NOT the be all and end all of learning - we know that, as do many countries around the world - so why do so many people try and replicate the past and not look forward?
One University in Education City, Qatar
Even the outside reminds people why they are there

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, Chairperson - Qatar Foundation
I was very pleased to be invited to attend the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar last week. Organised by the Qatar Foundation, this second annual three day conference was attended by over 1,200 people from over one hundred countries.
The overarching mission of the Qatar Foundation is to accelerate human development through education, scientific research, and cultural and community projects. WISE is one of the most ambitious of these encouraging a network of global education leaders to think differently in confronting the challenges of building the future of education.
His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Chairman of WISE, Qatar Foundation
The overarching theme is 'Building the Future of Education' and WISE is searching for an international response that is collaborative, international and highly flexible, engaging with new technologies, sharing best practices and rethinking funding models. WISE is trying to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning, and embrace life long learning.
This was a fabulous conference, with speakers from all over the world. The goal - trying to identify ways of ensuring every child can access education. Many speakers spoke about projects that were innovative, learner focussed and most importantly, replicable and scalable for other parts of the world. Inevitably, trying to resolve funding issues to support these aims became a key focus near the end of the conference.
People who attended last year as well all agreed that whilst the first conference was very good, this one was really even better and really focussed on the issues. WISE really does intend to be THE global education conference each year - it's well on the way. I was extremely pleased to be a tiny part of it.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Chairs - size matters...

Working with VS in Germany recently, I was pleased to spend some time in their incredible 'in-house' education museum. This really large centre charts the history of classroom furniture throughout the twentieth century, with exhibits from all over Europe and other countries including the USA.

It was quite an eye opener for me as to how much emphasis was made as early as the 1900's in getting chair and desk height right for individual students. Included was the device created to ensure appropriately designed furniture for students.
As early as 1930 school desk design was based on a programme of systematic measurements to obtain characteristic data for school children of all ages and heights. Measurements included the length of the leg from the sole of the foot to the knee. This was needed to calculate the height of the seat, and the height of the elbow above the sole of the foot in the correct sitting position to calculate the height of the desk.To obtain these anthropometric data, Dr Stephani, a school doctor from Mannheim, developed a device for measuring body dimensions. The data could then be used to establish the parameters for ergonomic design of school desks, particularly with a view to preventing spinal disorders.
Equally important was a range of alterable furniture to allow students to raise the foot board and seat height(see photo above) to be most appropriate for the student to use the desk comfortably.
It all really makes me wonder as schools buy furniture today. The FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) budgets are always amongst the first to be cut in budget savings. Many companies do base furniture design on extensive research, but far too many schools are now just buying the cheapest designs possible: standard tables, standard chairs - one size fits all.
Ergonomics really are absolutely vital to students to be able to concentrate fully without the issue of discomfort distracting them from learning. Regular readers will know that this is a real priority for me. If it was so important nearly a century ago combined with the fact that we know far more about how important ergonomics are, I don't understand why we now think one size fits all is good enough - it isn't!!
Dr Mannheim's device in use....

Friday, 26 November 2010

Scotland 10 - England 0

I have recently been asked to contribute to the Technologies for Learning Strategy for the Scottish Government. The aims for this are to "embed the transformational potential of technologies for learning in a proactive, integrated and sustainable manner for the benefit of Scotland's learners and Scotland's economic growth".

Led by the inspirational Ollie Bray and Sanjin Kaharevic, this ambitious project really intends to consider how best to support learning now and in the future - what a fab and totally important piece of work.
Compare this to Michael Gove's new White Paper ('The Importance of Teaching") launched earlier this week. It is a total embarrassment that the words Technology, ICT even computers to support learning are not mentioned once.... We are all in the Third Millenium, I just wonder what century they think we are living in....?
I'll be kind, perhaps they forgot........ but actually I wonder if they have even heard of it!

Lets ask and then support with creativity - the right way!

If it's blue carpet it must be an 'open flexible learning space'.... but....

Visiting an Academy this week -in a brand new building just handed over, several rather bland areas have been identified as being informal learning spaces to support nearby classes and provide significant space for student to study individually or in small groups in and out of lesson time. These are identified by having carpet on the floor. Providing the space does not mean students or staff will use it. (It's a pity they weren't asked before this stage really)
This Academy has absolutely the right strategy to approaching an effective design process to ensure maximum ownership and use. The approach is simple: Lets ask the students, staff and parents. Lets explore how they learn best, their ideal teaching group size and strategy, what technologies they prefer to use at home, (students AND staff), what the leading professional software is, what images /colours work best, what furniture encourages learning, then analyse the responses. Surround the process with leading creative professionals from the very first planning session to ensure the process delivers what the school community wants. Then, all working together, and starting with small pilot areas, lets deliver these spaces, reviewing and analysing all the time and being agile in responding to the findings.
Yes they could do it alone, but the danger is they may just produce more of what they have already got and use it (or not!) as they always have done. This creative support (covering digital technologies, artists, animation, learning space designers, CPD) will further challenge, join up ideas, zoning strategies, the use of colour, FF&E solutions, new technologies and provide a collaborative set of thinking to create what is wanted and what works.... As everyone will be working with students and staff at every stage, all sorts of other education will be taking place as well.
This Academy fully intends to be at the cutting edge of using professional standard interactive technologies to support effective learning wherever it can, including in these learning areas. Unlike so many schools, where the interactive feature tends to be one plasma screen planted in the dining room, the vision for how these spaces may be able to be used is just fascinating, exciting and challenging. Just how it should be really.
This project is one to really watch - it will work - the confidence, enthusiasm and determination of everyone will see to that. People WANT to be involved. I think it is the best joined up approach to ambitious collaborative planning I have seen. I am delighted to have been asked to be involved, - it IS going to be just fab!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The New Education White Paper

Three people have now asked me how to get to see the new White Paper on education 'The Importance of Teaching' launched by Secretary of State for Education; Michael Gove yesterday. Click either on the title or here to get it.

This is going to significantly change education, more will be posted soon about it soon no doubt - but I do need to read the detail first.
Lots of people are going to comment on this White Paper in a massive number of forums.. it is going to change things (again).... is it for the better? We all want a better education system, we all want all students to succeed, no doubt about that, but of the headlines I have heard, some at least are giving me what I could call.. some concern!
More later...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Skateboards in Schools

I have been talking quite a lot about schools' green travel plans recently as part of the planning processes for new schools. Lots of people creating similar ideas to comply with authority requirements. These ideas include some really crazy discrepancies. Schools who do not allow students to cycle for safety reasons due to the fact that they are surrounded by very major roads, being forced to install tens or hundreds of bicycle racks that will never be used. This is clearly mad. The concept is very worthy but generic rules cannot cover individual school situations. But what about other solutions?
I am not sure how many schools are considering other healthy forms of transport.
I was intrigued to be sent a link recently to the firm 'Skateboard Lockers' who supply secure skateboard containers to schools and other venues. Whilst this company is from America, home of the skateboard, several schools I know in the UK ban them. I am not really quite sure why this is, they are a healthy form of transport. For two schools at least, the issue is what to do with them during the day - a simple storage issue. Even in schools in the States I have seen them littering up school reception areas. THis does not seem a very convincing argument for not allowing them though.
Are there many schools in the UK that allow or encourage skateboards? - I don't know and I don't suppose many, if any, schools in the UK will be interested in providing these but..
at least someone is trying to resolve the storage issue!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Working in the Tower

I was delighted to be invited to be part of an education reference panel this week, lead by Professor Stephen Heppell and sponsored by ICT company Northgate Information Systems. A small of people from a wide range of backgrounds, many the top of their field, discussing for a whole day where we thought the future of education was going. I was humbled to be included with them.

There was a great deal of very positive thinking with clear suggestions as to how things will change, but as always the interchange and professional discussions were just fab, well considered, exciting and challenging.
The whole day was fab, but stealing the show was the iconic venue - in a room high up in the North Tower of Tower Bridge, London. Even better, we also had the opportunity to go to the very top and onto a narrow balcony not usually accessible to the public - stunning views all round London.
I am sure that this conversation will continue - it deserves to - there is so much to say, share and learn. Hopefully more will be posted by me soon.
Prof Stephen Heppell at the very top of Tower Bridge
Thoughtful and provocative discussions captured digitally and below: the group

WiFi - why?

I don't get it - I stayed in yet another hotel this week - this time in London. Whilst it had WiFi the price was bonkers!

Most hotels these days have free Wi-Fi. The hotel I stayed in in Dorset earlier this week had a massively robust free signal - it was brilliant. The hotel in London was simply using Wi-Fi as an additional revenue stream. I have written about this before but nearly all travellers now expect to access Wi-Fi for a myriad of reasons; work, keeping in contact with families, entertainment and so on.
I just believe that now WiFi should be an essential inclusive component of a hotel stay, along with bed, food and bathroom! £15 per twenty four hours - mad!

So where are the youngsters?

I was fortunate to be asked to go to Twickenham last week to watch England versus the 'All Blacks'. I really enjoyed it, as did the over eighty thousand big crowd, despite England losing. It is a fabulous stadium, everyone can see.

I could not help but notice that amongst the large crowd, largely male, there was a noticeable dearth of youngsters. I accept that tickets were expensive, but thousands of youngsters do play rugby every week - seeing the absolute best players in the world is a really exciting and motivating event.
Obviously I don't know the circumstances of everyone there, but I just thought it was a real shame that there weren't thousands of aspirational youngsters there, be they male or female. They would have got so much out of the atmosphere there.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Young Entrepreneurs

Location: Twickenham, Match: England versus All Blacks, Crowd: over 80,000 people....

Walking from the match to the station - passing lots of houses trying to 'cash in' by selling BBQ's, do-nuts, etc - we all passed some of the youngest entrepreneurs I have see recently. Selling sweets, these youngsters certainly put loads of energy into their pitch. They had a captive market - literally tens of thousands of folk walking right past them towards the station.
Whilst it was kind of cute, they certainly deserved to do well, just because of the energy and commitment they displayed. It's not rocket science really - identify the market, find a gap in it - and try to capitalise on it.
So much of education should really be about helping youngsters help them selves - entrepreneurship is just really important! I am convinced that as we progress through the Third Millenium, the younger people start helping themselves regarding developing learning skills, talents and interests, the better.
Judging by this group - they certainly seem to be starting young these days!! (and for those worried about safe-guarding - the 'Dad' were just out of camera shot!)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Ticket Art

Walking through Waterloo Station last week, most people's attention was drawn by some very large sculptures made entirely of rail tickets.. (most people - because, as we all know, some people don't see anything!).

Particularly interested were a group of young people, who were taking photos (as were many people. The gist of their conversation was that would love to do 'stuff' like this, but they didn't stand a chance in school.
I can, unfortunately, understand why - I am currently involved in a major exercise cost cutting exercise on a number of new schools as a response to the latest budget saving exercise by PfS. (Partnership for Schools). Part of this cost cutting is that, inevitably, rooms are getting shaved for space. Big practical rooms are becoming smaller rooms, some new build is becoming refurbishment of existing inadequate spaces.
Art studios, terraces, are just some of the types of spaces that are suffering... the direct impact is, of course, that the types of activity that can take place is also suffering. Inevitably large scale sculptures and pieces will vanish on some places....
Mind you, if schools CAN be agile, if students CAN work elsewhere, home, professional studios, colleges, then some of this very imaginative large scale work can continue. But students and schools really may have to think out side of the box...again!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

All Change!!

Walking down Strand in London last week to a meeting with education publisher Pearson, I was just amazed to see 19 buses in a row, nose to tail, driving down the road..... it reminded me of that saying when you want a bus none arrives and then they all come together. A phrase often associated with buses as they reach the end of their journey is "All Change" - so you start the next leg of your journey on a new bus...

It's a bit like education policy in the UK really .. start to do some really good things, some good ideas, focused and relevant initiatives, lots of students and staff being moved out of substandard accommodation into new learning environments and then .... a new Government comes along, the cry "All Change" goes up, lots of good work is undone and a raft of new policies comes along - and they keep coming, every week (or is it every day?) something new....... just like the buses really.
I am sure some initiatives will be very good, but lots of really positive things have also been lost in the change of direction....
It just makes be wonder that as this constant stream continues - how long before we again hear the cry "All Change"

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Circles or even circuits....

I'm absolutely sure I was not learning about electrical circuits at 5, but my daughter certainly is..... I spent part of the half term taking her to a shop so she could ask for "bulbs, bulb holders, crocodile clip wires, battery holders and a switch" so she could make "a circle" (read circuit) - she knew more than I ever expected.

The half term holiday project was a project about light - she decided that she wanted to do a lighthouse for her own reasons... and one that lit up. She knew precisely what she wanted to do and only a little help to start to cut the holes in various plastic pots etcI was frankly staggered about what they were doing and how much detail they had covered.
As has happened before I was also surprised how much time she spent doing this project over several days - she was really motivated by it.
Early thoughts of posters vanished fast (actually I hate posters as homework or coursework - it can be such a cop out for some can encourage low expectations) there is no doubt that it would not have been enough.
What's more when questioned about components all sorts of understanding emerged... it's true when people say - we just don't know how good our young people can be - not just my daughter - but everyone. We just have to find ways to engage them in their own learning and interests!

Lights v sustainability

As the mornings get darker, it is really interesting to see how people are using light in a variety of interesting ways in public spaces.

Students in design sessions are frequently interested in using light and colour to ensure that their spaces and building have some character, rather than be just the standard 'white' box. What makes the debate more fun is that whilst many want to use colour to create a unique identity, others are much more focused on sustainability and express considerable concern about keeping lights on when they are not totally necessary.
This aways leads to a really interesting, and informed, debate between each other. Young people in schools really do know a lot about renewable energy sources, sustainability, energy usage and so on - I suspect much more so than a very few years ago. Many speak with passion and determination to 'do their bit' at reducing carbon footprints etc etc
Having said that, many also still consider the use of colour as important to give identity to their school buildings, but want to ensure the ideas implemented are with a real energy strategy in mind. This interest can only be good really - especially if they are consistent with this strategy at home!

Monday, 1 November 2010


Location : London Bridge station... / Time: Morning rush hour... Sight: two men in bright purple one piece full body suits.

BUT - did anyone notice? Not many people when I was there. Staggering really. I always wonder as I travel around - just how many people ignore everyone and remain self absorbed... they don't see or notice anyone - no matter what they are doing or what is happening... It's odd really. It happens in work and school situations as well.
A common complaint from students in very big schools is that no one knows them and they get 'lost' - or no one sees them... There is no doubt that smaller student groupings are very powerful - where every knows everyone.... and there is real interest and knowledge about their achievements - they feel like someone.
I was involved in splitting a school into four smaller new schools on one campus a few years ago - relationships were better, communication was good, attendance went up, behaviour improved, expectations improved and crucially - student performance rose sharply. Everyone was recognised - no one was anonymous. This is definitely the way forward. We must stop creating large anonymous factory schools..
We are all too busy today - and we don't see half of what is happening - even if you are dressed in purple!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Steve Sinnott Foundation

It is really easy to get so carried away by what is happening in education in the UK today, the opportunities versus the challenges, the promoters versus the blockers, the aspiration versus those in a time warp....and then adding the current financial situation....!! Given that, it is just really fab when I hear about ambition, innovation and vision really being implemented.

I am really pleased to see that the Steve Sinnot Foundation has really made massive progress since it's launch last year. The Foundation is named after the late Steve Sinottt, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers in England and Wales until his tragic death, in April 2008. I heard about it before it's launch whilst involved in a totally unrelated project with one of the founding directors.
World leaders at the United Nations have set the Millenium Goals to tackle issues of poverty and deprivation. the goals for education includes a commitment that, by 2015, every child will be able to complete a full course of primary education. It goes under the slogan "Education for All".
The Steve SInnott Foundation is a UK based registered charity with a worldwide aim to promote Education for All, but they do not believe that education is ever a matter for charity - frankly, I agree with them. It IS an entitlement for those who receive it and a crucial investment for those who resource it. With economies in the developed world having their own difficulties investment must be made in the education of the world's children to secure new growth!
Already linked to projects in Ghana, Haiti, India and Nepal amongst others, the Foundation's massive ambition is really humbling but very exciting.
Interestingly, it sees it's role to connect organisers of projects aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals for education to each other, to potential donors of funds and equipment and to teachers and educators around the world with experience and expertise to offer. It is not supported by any established funds.
For those readers who have not come across the Steve Sinnott Foundation before - please do have a look, and if you can help in any way, please do contact them.
It is just an amazing project and one that deserves as much support as possible.

Time for engaging learning....

It is always great to talk to students who are animated and engaged with their work. This is especially true, and rather special, when that student has previously had many negative experiences in schools.

The clock above is the product of a young student in a school for students with severe emotional and behaviour problems. It' s good, really good - with great care and attention to detail. This project has taken him time and he admitted it he was proud of it. The approach was not just a design technology project but one using a variety of skills and cross curricular approaches.
The student involved happened to come into a room during a break in a new school design session and spontaneously started to talk in detail about his clock to a group of architects and engineers. They all showed real interest and engaged him in detailed discussions about the preparation and creation techniques.
He got loads out of this project and his time talking to adults about his own learning "i's personal in't it"... He noted that he had never had the chance in his previous schools..... - that's a pity really - it does make a difference and students always remember it!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Getting better - lets just say it!

I just liked this fab photograph by my friend Trung Le of oWp/p : Cannon Design... Le and oWp/p : Cannon Design are the brains behind the excellent 'The Third Teacher' book, something which I was also involved with in a small way.

If a school is going to do something special - why not tell people about it? Far too many people try and hide lots of ideas away in case others don't like it or if it's too controversial - as teachers why would you do that? Getting better if surely what we are all about as is learning to take new challenges in a secure environment?

Great photo Le - it says it all! Thanks

External Environments - Dining

I spent some time recently talking with students from a couple of schools in the UK, a mainstream secondary and also a secondary EBD school. The conversation on both occasions veered towards dining facilities. (Many will know that all conversations about school environments always revert to dining, toilets, lockers and stairwells at some stage).

What is surprising to some staff is that students always seem to ask if they can have an external dining space, despite the UK weather. They DO know how they work and what they want. Any school placing seating outside knows that it is always used. I'm not really sure why this would be a surprise - many students love being outside.
The secret is to make such areas similar to the professional environments as they see in every other aspect of their lives in shopping centres streets and so on. Why shouldn't they be of high quality?
One teacher in a school surrounded by featureless asphalt recently noted that:"its only for the kids - why bother?". Oh dear.... and they wonder why the school has problems issues at breaktimes!!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Windows..... again

I occasionally post what I term 'nightmares' on this blog.... visiting a school recently I was again dismayed to see some of the environments we expect students and staff to work in.

For an ICT room - the layout, furniture and shade strategy is all wrong... the days of sticking torn sugar paper onto windows with bits of sticky tape should surely be over in the Third Millenium?
How can this encourage students to achieve high standards, positive attitudes and a business like professional approach to learning ?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The T' word!


It was quite fascinating that, for one of the first times I have heard a significant number of people in America really talking about transformation, personalisation, independent learning, project work, integrated ICT and many of the phrases we have used in the UK for years. Previously it was my experience that it was just a few

Some of these phrases are now considered not acceptable in the new regime in the UK - but actually the names are irrelevant - it is the actual learning and teaching strategies that are increasingly being incorporated in schools that is important. We cannot return to the past nor would we want to. Educators have learnt a huge amount over the past few years about broadening approaches to learning, students are much more aware and engaged in how they like to learn. One of the fascinating parts of my job is working with some truly outstanding professionals, both in education and design, to create the best learning environments to support the process.
No matter what the rhetoric that can be heard, there is now no doubt that school environments really do matter and do positively students impact .

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Meeting at last - Ewan McIntosh

I was interested to read Ewan McIntosh's blog on schools buildings as 'Influencers of future practice, not responsive to existing practice' - he raise many excellent points in it. I am also obviously very pleased that he has linked to this blog during the course of it.

Ewan is one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services, particularly in education and has been a significant influence on teachers in the UK and abroad. He and I have 'talked' over a couple of years, by phone, by email and through blog comments. Whilst I have 'met him at conferences, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend a couple of days talking to him at the cefpi World Conference in San Jose last week. Inspirational and fascinating.It's bizarre that we have to go all the way to the West Coast to do so though. Thanks for the mention though Ewan.
I'm lucky to work with some really great people, who are contributing to the education process through experience, thought and experience. No wonder things ARE getting better despite what some people are saying!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Virtual learning - real food 2

Ewen McIntosh making a point at the virtual learning dinner
A year ago I wrote a post titled Virtual Learning - Real Food about a small working dinner co-hosted by Frank Locker and myself during the cefpi conference in Washington DC. The conversations were fascinating, but we all knew that there was far more to say....

This year at cefpi in San Jose, both the dinner with fab food and conversation continued, with largely the same twenty or so people. It is fair to say that the conversation was much more advanced and detailed this year, even if fewer people spoke. it is clear that there is a growing commitment to the use of technology to support learning in the US. The focus seems to be growing there, as it becomes a less centrally discussed subject here - which frankly, is bizarre.
It was really pleasing that we were joined by interesting and well known people such as Ewan McIntosh, at cefpi for the first time. Ewen bought another fascinating dimension to the discussions and his own brand of humour, knowledge and intellect. He certainly enhanced the conversation.
I noted this year that the 'genie is out of the bottle' - we cannot put 'the stopper back into it'. Those schools who under BSF have gained generous, robust and reliable systems, along with plenty of kit have a transformed ICT experience from the days of unreliable, slow systems that frustrated staff, students and community alike. This will encourage greater confidence for everyone and ICT will become an increasingly important part of learning.
BUT, what about those schools who have lost out in the BSF programme - they will now potentially not get the enhanced ICT provision in the same way as the earlier phase schools. This just cannot be fair, and potentially brings in greater inequalities in provision between BSF schools and those whose schemes were stopped. I know that there will be a range of strategies, and schools are responding in a variety of ways, but there is little detail yet. What ever political decisions are made, equality for all learners is just vital - we cannot have different levels of provision for people depending on where they live. So how is it going to be sorted out?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Seating renewed..

A real focus on seating and other aspects of FF&E was apparent at the Expo associated with the cefpi conference in San Jose this week...
New student lecture seats were revealed by SteelCase - a very advanced form of the standard lecture chair (see below). Not only are they really very comfortable with a flexible back, but they are on wheels for ease of movement, have an integrated bag shelf, swivel, with swivelling desk top that can fit either side. For those that like this style they are really worthy of a good look - but they are not cheap!
However, the absolute runaway star of the show regarding seating was the new HOKKI stool by VS, the leading schools furniture manufacturer from Germany. The new stool was immensely popular - it's rounded base ensures that those who sit on it can move easily therefore ensuring better posture and focus. Initially I was not convinced when I first sat on it - but a second visit changed my mind.
More importantly, I asked students from the UK and US about them - both sets thought that the HOKKI's were fantastic and really comfortable. Staff and students really could see them in schools....
Judging from the queues of delegates lining up to get one, they were not the only ones! They are on sale from VS but will also be on Amazon in a couple of weeks.
What IS really fab is that the ongoing focus on ergonomics and concern for student furniture can only be good and contribute to an improved learning environment and outcome for all.
the new lecture chair by Steelcase

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Learner Voice - Accrington Academy stuns cefpi World Conference

Four young students from Accrington Academy not only made history this week, but also dominated the main stage at the start of the cefpi World Conference in San Jose, California, receiving the only standing ovation of the day from the several hundred delegates. (cefpi = Council of Education Facilities Planners International).
It has been fairly unusual for young people to be included in this annual conference, and when they do, they have normally featured in side seminar sessions. For the AccringtonAcademy youngsters to be a formal part of the official opening presentations and speaking with real authority and clarity on some fairly sophisticated design concepts is a first for as long as I have been attending this conference. And boy, did the delegates just love them!
They spoke with real passion on their engagement in developing ideas for a new eco-friendly, sustainable building for their new school, setting up their own group called 'Roots', challenging the community to get involved and very positively leaving a legacy for future students and people of East Lancashire.
It is, frankly, rare to hear students discuss the 'zero carbon pyramid', aiming for a carbon positive building, identifying the reasons behind their choice of wood and recycled materials to create a building that will reduce water and energy consultation, aiming to collect all energy data for analysis, educate learners and friends, the reasons for the attenuation pond, straw bale insulation, wind turbines, green roof, only using locally sourced products, (including collecting tyres for use (by rolling them - not getting a truck!!), creating a green travel plan, and much more.
This was not just a list of key words or jargon being reeled out - they clearly knew what they were talking about. Some of them had been engaged with the project for three years, and so impressed their local area councillors that they are considering using young people in some other council projects. How wise of them I suggest!
Supported by the just fabulous and inspirational company 'classofyourown' ** (who have been deeply involved with this project), these learners just captivated the hundreds of architects, builders, education representatives. The ongoing exceptionally active 'Twitter' stream was so positive that people following it from outside the hall stopped what they were doing and joined the other delegates.
This level of student engagement is relatively rare in the US, although some of that is beginning to change. But even then, the discussions do not achieve this level of detail and understanding. The fact is that our young people really do have: very clear views, high aspirations and some really good ideas! They have challenged their staff, constructions partners and the community.
This really is how it should be in every project. Everyone in this project has learnt a lot - and this should translate into ongoing continuous improvement on future projects and ambitions.
There were many people in the audience who agreed with the cefpi President's closing comments that started with "Wow" but ended with wondering if there were several hundred people in the room that wanted to offer the team jobs straight away - most decided that maybe she wasn't joking!!!
The presentation was only the start, for the next two days the young people manned a small exhibition describing the plans in detail. This allowed hundreds of professionals to talk, question, probe and explore the project in real detail with the team - they certainly held their own and so so impressed everyone.
These students are used to success - and whilst on this 'trip of a lifetime' they were also moving on to San Francisco to work with a company there as well for a day
Certificate (spelling rectified since)
Special recognition for them and this project includes: cefpi - Special Recognition for Outstanding Accomplishment (USA), Lancashire Business Environment Award (UK) (Highly commended) and they are currently shortlisted for other Community Responsibility and Environmental Champion competitions.
This is what learning should be about: a project with value and relevance that has really engaged the team, collaborative working with other young people and adults, ambition, student led learning and aspiration, global links and so on. There is no doubt that the experiences that these young people have gained on this project will have a major impact on them personally, their confidence and their plans for the future.
I have seen a lot of versions of students engagement - this is the best example of real meaningful engagement that I have seen and will be hard to beat! Just a massive well done to the students and staff of Accrington Academy and 'classofyourown' who supported them.
classofyourown is a company specialising in projects and workshop concerning sustainability, construction and industry issues. Workshops with schools enable learners and their teachers to address sustainability in a very practical way. Judging by this work - they are really succeeding!