Sunday, 28 February 2010

Communicating around the world....

I really am a great fan of Skype... I admit it.... The ability to talk to people all round the world, and see them, for no cost has been here for years. When I work abroad it lets me stay in visual touch with my family as well as catching up on all the news.

Recently I spent ages talking to Bob Pearlman from the States about new schools and education projects currently underway in the UK. There is massive interest in what we are doing and, by his own admission, the quality of discussion here is so much more advanced than much of that in America. However, we all know that many areas of the States are really beginning to look around and review how they are working in education much more carefully. Whilst we are still learning.. so are they.
The trans-Atlantic discussions have the potential to be increasingly interesting. Bob is quite well known in the UK, having presented here several times.He has been a key leader of educational reform efforts nationally in a unique 40-year career and is currently a strategy consultant for 21st Century school development. He served from 2002-2009 as the Director of Strategic Planning for the New Technology Foundation in Napa, CA, a school development organization which supports the replication of the New Technology 21st Century High School model in more than 50 communities across the United States. He still consults and speaks widely in the US and the UK on 21st Century Learning.
Overall - the whole session led to a really interesting and focused discussion on a range of topics. I really enjoyed it... (I hope Bob did as well!)
The beauty of Skype is that communication is just so easy. I still don't really understand why more schools don't make more use of it! It offers, potentially, an instant global perspective to any lesson, any subject or any discussion. Relatively not many people use it for learning - why wouldn't they? It makes perfect sense to me - from all sorts of angles.

Friday, 26 February 2010

"You've always got your fingers...!"

At the start of the week I was in a meeting talking about learning space technology with a variety of people, including educationalists and representatives from an ICT company. During this, the debate turned to whether interactive technology (such as white boards) in secondary schools should be stylus controlled or touch.

One view dismissed touch technology as being 'rather primary'. I promptly noted that iPhones, the iPad etc, were all touch and considered very 'cool' technology... This is not to say that stylus's don't have their uses. (NB: I know saying 'cool' is out - I am frequently told by my eldest daughter that saying 'cool' is actually not cool but a phrase used by people of a certain rather out of touch generation!)
I actually think that the iPad, or the competitor built equivalent which is bound to follow, is likely to have a massive impact in schools all over the place. The fact that iPads do not currently have cameras would suit many schools - but they will come in certainly).
As we did not have a definite answer to the question I decided to investigate. At BSEC were a number of secondary students using interactive white boards, so I asked what their view was about about stylus and touch technology.
They did note that both were good, they just loved and expected to use the technology, but they did think that there were issues with a stylus. Sometimes the pens didn't work, or they had been lost, or the teacher had it and walked off and more....
The boys I talked to much preferred touch, and as usual answered the question much more pragmatically than the whole meeting I was in. One noted rather brilliantly that "You've always got your fingers with you haven't you?" Difficult to argue with that really!

Building the best schools - are we?

It was very interesting attending a seminar at the BSEC conference this week and watching a panel of good and important people fielding questions from Conference Chair: Prof. Stephen Heppell and members of the audience about BSF and it's future.

The questions were varied but included: 'Are we now building the best schools in the world?' (answer: they are better than what was there and very definitely rapidly getting better as we continue to learn), whether the whole assessment model is going to change? (it jolly well should!! - although some were very cagey on this), through to aren't primaries the poor relation in the whole capital programme?' - well yes they are and probably in at least some places justified in feeling aggrieved!
I was also not surprised to hear a representative talk about the real shortage of support for authorities for 'transformation'.. haven't lots of us been saying that for ages?
Normally I don't think panels really work at Conferences, but this one was at least moderately interesting.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Refresh, Refurb, Reuse and.....

An excellent members only seminar took place last night for BCSE members. (British Council for School Environments). Labelled as 'Refresh, Refurb, Reuse, and Change of Use' about forty people attended - the presentations were thought provoking and the discussion engaging. (it even delayed the refreshments at the end!)

Conversations included discussing the true cost of refurbishment, the potential risk transfer issues and funds being used on hidden maintenance legacy issues.... Obviously there were comparisons with some of the amazing new builds (or 'swagger palaces' as one delegate called them) and discussions about how innovative learning spaces could be developed when funds were used up in backlog issues in some cases.....
Education in places other than school buildings were explored as well as the real importance of interior design, lighting, colour appropriate furniture.. (cue conversation on affordability of attractive for schools)... as well as how old school buildings could be used!
Inevitably the whole discussion ended up talking about real transformation and how often we were really achieving it in new or refurbished buildings...
Add to this new software demonstrations (more on this later), networking opportunities and a promotion for The Centre for School Design.... then really a quite excellent stimulating evening.
I've said it before, the very small team at BCSE really do a lot of work and run numerous events - it is down to groups like this that these excellent evenings take place. Thanks guys!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

New Centres of Learning do work....

Reading 'The Independent' newspaper last week it was great to read the very positive article about students progress in the new Halewood Centre for Learning in Knowsley. The exciting very innovative design of the buildings, has caused considerable interest and attracts numerous visitors from all over the UK and abroad.

Whilst I really love it, along with the majority of visitors, not every one likes it. The concept of several learning bases, agile learning spaces with very few walls, the massive atrium and innovative FF&E solutions all provoke a discussion, but it is a step too far for some. Therefore to get the really positive response from the parents is a massive vote of confidence in the concept and, in this case, the work of the Headteacher, staff and students. Crucially students had a big say in the design stages of the school. The fantastic environments clearly HAVE made a difference.
It looks as though it is beginning to achieve its aspirations, students want to be there, parents love it, attainment seems to be improving whilst absence and behaviour improves.
Regular readers know I love the design of Halewood, not only is it really innovative, the build quality achieved by Balfour Beatty is also fab. I also admire the bravery of the initial design and concept.
Depressingly, I still come across people who can't see that the way we deliver education has to change - or the spaces students work in. It's unbelievable really.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Is this the best....?

Amazing views from the playground...
Is this the best ............. view from a school playground?
I travel all over the place, yesterday in Redcar, tomorrow Blackburn, but today I went to Portland in Dorset to discuss the new Academy sponsored by Professor Stephen Heppell.
The meeting I was attending took place with a group of Headteachers at Underhill County Junior School. The meeting was really great but what really blew me away was the view from the primary school - it was sea front with the most fantastic views over Chesil Beach, from the school, from the classrooms and the playground. I am sure it can be windy at times.. but the view was just to die for. As the Head said, it was easy to take it for granted, but so many people would love it...... I bet the pupils don't realise how great it is!!
There are so may staff all round the country who would just love to work and be able to see this view at the same time!!! I could have stayed and looked at it for ages. We are constantly stressing that external views are vital for all - this is a great one........
Views aside, the plans for Portland are ambitious and exciting... they will be world leaders.... meeting with people dedicated to doing amazing and challenging things with their learners is really just so invigorating.... this is going to be just a fab project.
The fab view from the pupils door to the playground, (before the sun started shining)
Another view from the playground.... the two dots in the sea are divers.. and the sea was COLD!!!!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Language of School Design... revised

For some time now I have had and used the revised version of 'The Language of School Design" by Prakash Nair, Randy Fielding and the late Jeff Lackney for Fielding Nair International (FNI). Of the many places I go and work in, it's influence is incredibly obvious, ranging from the vocabulary through to the ideas.

For all those engaged with 21st century school design it is a very important book. The first edition explored 25 design patterns, this second edition describes far more at 28.
Another interesting aspect is its global coverage - FNI are working in over twenty countries all over the world, and the list is growing. - the sharing of ideas and global best practice is going to result in fab learning environments all over the place. It can only be good if lessons learnt are shared and there is some consistency about the language of learning.
It is of course also linked to the fabulous DesignShare website, also sponsored by FNI, which shares great designs, articles, research and lessons learnt from around the world.
I am really pleased to be a senior consultant for FNI and friends with both Prakash and Randy. Irrespective of this this book really is a very influential and accessible resource for everyone. I do recommend it.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

It used to be so simple......

Regular readers will know that I do post about signage and health and safety from time to time, usually to do with schools. This post is nothing to do with education though.

I was sitting today in the cafe at Worcester Foregate railway station waiting for a colleague and just could not help but smile at the sign posted on the wall...
Imagine a sign trying to say anything about these topics today, procedures, policies, health and safety warnings, penalties, phone numbers and on and on and on.... It obviously just used to be so simple....... before the world went mad.
I wasn't the only one who smiled - in the short while I was there two people, (one who I had never met before) asked me to email the photo to them. We obviously all agreed and was certainly one way to get talking to new people!