Friday, 30 April 2010

Skype - I love it!

I know I have written about using Skype in schools really recently, but I've used it for years here and abroad and it is fab. I've used it quite a lot this week and just cannot imagine why is is not used more as a quick instant communication. The ease of use just has the potential to enhance numerous lessons.

Yesterday I was simultaneously talking to Prof. Stephen Heppell in a conference of Primary HT's in Dorset and to Prakash Nair in the States. No cost, no inconvenience and lots of work done. Why don't we use it more - really? It's bonkers not to - it's the 21st century after all.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Stuck in a Turkey

The volcanic ash fiasco has hit our household as well, along with so many other people across the UK. Rather alarmingly my four year old daughter came home from school this week stating that her teacher was "stuck in a Turkey"! All sorts of images flashed through my mind!

Whilst we all knew what she meant, it was quite funny. I mean no teacher would be stuck in a Turkey...... would they??

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

BCSE Industry Awards Shortlist announced

Following well over a hundred entries, the shortlist for the BCSE Industry Awards was released yesterday.

This is my first year as Chair of Judges, but creating the shortlist took, as you would expect, a number of days and much discussion between two panels, one creating the long list and the other deciding the final short list. The standard of entries, is apparently higher than ever, and certainly there is some fab work happening all round the country in creating outstanding 21st century learning environments. I am really happy to be involved.
Not everyone likes competition, but this is a great way of nationally sharing ideas, resolutions to common design issues and celebrating some exceptional practice. We still don't do enough of this. Many still seem to prefer to continue to work in their own silos and keep good ideas and designs to themselves. Why would we want to do that?
The final Awards will be presented at a dinner in June. To book tickets for this, click here!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Virtual Revision

Reading the news recently I saw the news item about teacher Chris Orr, stranded in Alicante due to the volcanic ash scare, worrying about his 'A' level students. Showing initiative he found an internet cafe and continued to lead his normal 'A' level revision lessons by Skype. Obviously the school played ball and trialled it to see how well it worked. The answer? - it worked well.

The real test is, of course, the reaction of the students. The video clip confirms that, as we all would have predicted, they just took it in their stride. This is their normal technology, they are 21st Century learners. Students just accepted it and quickly realised that it was no different to like having their teacher there. What they did do was appreciate the effort he made to support them. It is very commendable.
Whilst it is great to see this commitment, it is may be surprising to some that this story has made the news. Many schools all round the world are using Skype quite routinely to support lessons already and more are beginning to use it each week. Far more are seeing how someone, anywhere in the world, can drop into lessons for some input, or to share their working. Some schools are doing joint lessons... the whole approach to using technology to enhance learning is changing. The quicker we embrace this appropriately, the better.
Also, it's great to see a really positive story about education at the moment!

Focus on Teamwork

Working with a new team recently, I have been really impressed with just how much time and effort has gone into building up a variety of individuals and companies into a fully cohesive integrated team to work on a new *BSF project. Considerable time has gone into ensuring everyone is getting to know each other, and their role well within the group. The entire team has been valued, received the same briefing and been part of the discussions on approaches to the project to meet the client brief (and, of course to be successful). There is, already, a really good spirit and commitment. This is, of course, exactly how it should be.

Depressingly however, it is amazing just how many education projects I get involved with where whilst Headteachers and frequently some students get involved, all too often the staff who will actually work in new buildings, and in new ways, are the last to be involved in any project.

Staff engagement in the entire process is just so important – they are the people that will make new facilities work. They are the people who need to understand, know and practice new approaches to learning before new learning environments are built. They are the ones who really need to understand the process and the opportunities that will be created.

If everyone manages to get the team approach spirit and understanding right, then the process would always be positive, challenging and achieve the best results for the learners. Isn't that how it should be?

(* BSF - Building Schools of the Future, the UK’s massive school building programme)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Eggy reputation

I'm not sure how many people knew about Cornwall College before this week, but an egg throwing student has changed all that. One student, one stupid event and all the national (and a lot of international) media are talking about it - for all the wrong reasons.
The Principal, staff and most students work really hard to ensure their school or college has a good reputation - it 's hard to get and hard to maintain. (Believe me I know). I must admit I feel a bit sorry for them because this incident will stick around for a while by association. Unfortunately gossip or incidents like this hang around disproportionately. How long will people say 'Cornwall College - oh that's where behaviour ..... you can finish the sentence". It's not fair on all the other students who got it right!
As for the student, his name was also in most press. Cornwall is a small place, with a long memory. I just wonder if he has also affected his employment chances, at least with some companies. Would you employ him?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Edge Foundation - online debate

For those that missed it, Edge Foundation organised a live 'online' education debate recently with Sir Mike Tomlinson. Whilst I missed this due to work commitments, it is on You Tube (of course) and well worth watching. Interestingly, the reaction of various political parties (including the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) can be found as further video clips on the same page.

Edge Foundation are really trying to push the bar on increasing awareness of the appropriateness of types of education. I have written about them before - they were, of course, behind the excellent film; We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’, which as was inspired and guided by Lord Puttnam and Sir Michael Barber.
They're busy folks but ones to watch right now as education enters a very very interesting time. On YouTube alone they have numerous videos posted covering all sorts of education issues related to young people and their learning interests, but especially about practical and vocational education.
On their website today is a new video featuring young people talking about education and the election. It's not just something just to watch, you can comment as well.When I looked 15,627 already had. They have some powerful messages, more people need to hear them!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Outside learning, play, eating, socialising, fun and....

Watching family members recently has really reminded me how much young people love being outdoors... literally at the first opportunity they want to play, to paint, to do crafts, to role play, to eat, to socialise and just BE outdoors. Whilst some schools have really great external spaces, unfortunately it also reminds me how little provision some schools make for their outside environments for effective learning, use and sheer enjoyment.

I am involved now in a number of new school design projects that have really stressed the need for the use of indoor and outdoor learning to be seamless. They are being viewed as really important. When built they're going to be great spaces. I just hope that staff really understand how they can be used, as frequently, outside spaces are not fully utilised currently. That's one real opportunity.

But what about all the schools that are not part of any build opportunity that have really poor outside spaces supported by no view that they are important. That's a lot of young people losing fab learning opportunities and thereby also seeing no reason to want to go outside. (and that's a whole different issue!)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Exploring good design.... the BCSE Industry Awards

The judging panel - with two judges missing from the photograph, and Ty Goddard, BCSE (foreground) observing)
I spent the day yesterday as chairing the judging panel for the BCSE Industry Awards 2010. An august group explored the short list in real detail, examining many tens of schemes from the short list identified by the sifting panel earlier this year. Well over a hundred schemes were originally submitted so the choice was challenging.
What is really great about days like this is the level of discussion and debate. To come together as a group for final decisions means everyone had to be upfront about their views and be able to justify their decisions. Minds were changed, discussion was, at times robust, but there was also a great deal of unanimity. There are some great things happening in the UK and some fabulous 21st century learning environments being developed!
A really interesting, enjoyable day with total agreement on the decisions made.
What were the final results? - you'll have to wait for the Awards Dinner in June to find out - hard luck!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Steam learning

Visiting a traditional visiting steam fair recently was really interesting. Yes my daughters loved the rides, the carousel, the helter skelter, the amazing mirrors, coconut shy and so on, but what caught my eye were the number of adults examining the technology and seeing how it all worked. All over was old technology driving the rides, all of which were of course, crowded. The carousel had steam billowing out of it's chimney, and another swing ride driven by steam engine 'Yorky'.

So often we hide workings and mechanisms of buildings, machinery etc.... but here was technology working - with lots of people looking, pointing things out, explaining and discussing. It would have been the site for a number of great science lessons - it's a pity and a wasted opportunity that no one did any whilst the fair was here.
More and more schools are now celebrating their learning environment at work, from energy meters, building elements, through to staff and the business of learning - it just has to be a good idea doesn't it?

Spelling... aaah!!! (but do enjoy the tatse?)

It really drives me mad when I pass so called 'professional' posters that have spelling mistakes in them. In my local bakery, serving lots of school pupils, the poster in the window can't even spell taste - and it's not just trying to clever or create an effect - it's just plain wrong! Even worse, they have been told it's wrong by neighbours and they are happy to leave it up.

Surely someone should have checked it - the person who designed it, the printer... someone ..... surely? (I don't mean to sound like some grumpy guy - but it really doesn't help anyone!)

Friday, 9 April 2010

School Environments Charter

An impressive move by BCSE is their launch of the 'School Environments Charter: A Blueprint for Britain's Schools' With the general uncertainty of the next few months, this approach to joined up thinking and support for high quality learning environments this can only be a good move.

Rather than me repeating what the aims of this great initiative are - it is easier to read directly by clicking here.
What is clear is that the small team at BCSE never do give up - they have an important role to play and I suspect, that there will be increasing support for this organisation over the next few months.
The key aims of the charter are:

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Paperless or less paper?

So many people talk about paperless offices paperless environments and so on.... few ever achieve it. Sorting out my office recently really made me reflect on this. Like every business, I have to keep records for several years - but they take so much space and are really heavy!

We have the technology, it is a culture change we need. All my records and notes are stored electronically - as are school records, but I still have to have paper. Schools spend massive amounts of money on paper and printed resources. A school I visited recently in the United States recorded the fact that their paper usage was the equivalent of every person on the campus using 10,000 sheets of paper a year EACH. That really is not good!
The fact that a few schools in the UK and US are trying to operate in an almost paperless environment is really interesting and well worth following.
If the technology is robust - why can't we trust it? If it isn't robust enough yet - it must be soon!