Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Dining Furniture

Non flexible dining furniture - certainly not my favourite!!
The dining experience in schools is an important aspect for students. It's the time to socialise, relax, gossip, meet with groups of differing sizes and generally catch up with friends. In some schools it's also the opportunity for staff to work with students in what is their only semi formal dining experience and where they sit at a table to eat. In one school I'm working with it is the only hot meal that some students have. Therefore dining is very important and the experience offers a range of informal opportunities for the school to work with them.
I've been doing a lot of 1:50 design work on a number of schools very recently and all have been keen to offer a range of dining furniture - small group tables, larger group arrangements, sandwich bar style, more cafe style and so on. All agree that a key part is supplying a range of furniture options, as long it can accommodate the numbers of students, is affordable and so on.
Another common point of agreement is that seating has to accommodate the varying sizes of students. A small 11 year old student needs a chair much closer than a very large 16 year old and hence everyone identifies the need for chairs / stools - not fixed furniture as in the photograph above.
These fixed units are not popular in schools I have been working in - they actually suit only a minority of students, they cannot be moved so the space in limited to just one use, something we are all against these days - all spaces in schools have to work hard to support a range of activities. Admittedly hey are strong, they are robust, they cannot be moved or thrown - but they also give the one place designed for students to relax and socialise a very institutional and not very friendly feel!

Monday, 28 March 2011


Spotted very recently at a location designed for young people - helpful signage it most certainly is not! How can it still happen these days? Going the wrong way did add a lot of distance to those trying to find the right way (I know!!) ... there were no other clues!

It is amazing still that designed signage in schools is not considered important by many, as "students will find their way quickly enough". However schools should be for the wider community - excellent clear signage says so much about a school, the attention to detail, the standards it sets and the welcome feel to those that visit - it is important!!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Going and seeing....

Visiting a local farm recently with my family to see lambing 'in action' I was not surprised how fascinated all the children visiting there were. Lots of questions, lots of interest and, of course, lots of cute lambs and a range of other animals to see.

This particular farm opens its gates during lambing for two weekends each year and literally hundreds and hundreds of families / groups visit. For many it is the only opportunity for youngsters to get up close to a variety of animals and machinery that they see in so many books when they start reading or from a car window as they hurtle along a motorway. A few signs giving just enough information, without boring everyone, also prompted a range of discussions and questions...., including the calves destined to become M&S beef. It wasn't just all fluffy stuff!
With the ongoing curriculum reviews in mind, it really is very important that going and seeing places, events and 'things' remains a key part of learning for young people. It can't all be done through class based activities or through technology, no matter what people say. Despite red tape, risk assessments, health and safety et al, school trips and off-site workshops really must remain a key part of the formal learning process.
You just have to look at the faces of the youngsters on the farm last weekend to know that! (and don't ask how many times I heard Bah Bah Black Sheep being sung!)
Feeding the calves - as they grow ..... ultimately to become M&S beef

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Class of Your Own

I am delighted to have been asked to become Non Executive Director of 'Class of your Own'. To read their blog about this click here. I have already done some work with Director; Alison Watson, she is a real innovator in an area that really needs innovation.

COYO (as it is known) is an enormously energetic and ambitious company that specialises in the area of really engaging with, and fully involving, young people in the areas of sustainability in built environments and the full range of career opportunities in the construction industry. Students learn all the back ground work that needs to be undertaken, including the specialist roles of the team, and work with industry standard software to design their own buildings. Added to that they develop skills to model virtually the performance of their new designs and.... so much more.
I have written about COYO before, and the blog I wrote about the students from Accrington Academy speaking at cefpi in San Jose last year was reprinted in a variety of places including the 'Blue Skies' magazine.
I am convinced that there will be many exciting stories about the ambitions and achievements of COYO during the year - watch this space, it's going to be fun, exciting and unique!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Suitcase of 'stuff'

Visiting an education show recently, I was quite taken aback to find a stand selling luxury suitcases of stationary, including glue, sticky tape, sticky paper pads and more - no technology in sight! I'm not sure who the target market is really?

A few years ago on one project, we were trying to work out, if we gave teachers a personal kit of stuff to support them teach in any space that they were given at the drop of a hat, what it would include. We were talking about iTouches, mini projectors, flip cameras, voice recorders - it didn't even occur to us to include stationary.

I'm not saying either are right, and maybe it is a balance of things. However, I'm sure teachers would need more than glue and sticky pads these days.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The home of inventors...

In Edinburgh a few days ago I was surprised to pass the house that Alexander Graham Bell was born in. The reason for my surprise was the fact that I had forgotten he had been born in Scotland. It got me thinking ... when he first invented and demonstrated the scratchy signal through his telephonic apparatus, if he could ever imagine the advance of technology and where we are now.... Surely not!

How often do we forget the people / brains behind some of the biggest inventions in our lives ?- we often use objects without considering how they got there and actually not really caring. Do our youngsters even know who invented the telephone - do they even need to know? If they do, they can always search on their 'smart' phones and get the answer.... Can we predict accurately how they will involve further in the future....?
I only realised Bell was born there due to the plaque outside the house - I have written posts before about notices, blue plaques etc on houses - but they really do add to a sense of history and an element of surprise when you pass them unexpectedly - the one outside this house certainly got me thinking.

Re-thinking Learning Forum

I was pleased to be invited to attend a 'Re-thinking Learning' Forum last week, chaired by friend Frank Locker and sponsored by WSP Edunova. Frank was an interesting and clever choice of chair, coming from the States with a totally independent view.

It was a small group of people, passionate about education, getting together and having a really professional discussion about the priorities for education and how they fit into the current political agenda. The interest level from others who could not attend was high.
A number of people and groups are talking about the future, the important question is whether they have any real impact have on the current debate.
This was the first meeting with this particular group. It will not be the last - the plan is to ensure the group has a wide representation, follow it with other events and aim to contribute very constructively to the current debate.
There will be more to report from this group in this future and more detail will be posted on the blog.
ABOVE: Frank Locker on his knees listening to feedback
BELOW: Frank with Chris Gerry, Principal of the New Line Academy Federation

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Furniture to enhance learning spaces

I was really impressed with some school seating I saw recently. In the school concerned it is used as a venue a variety of learning opportunities including: student discussion groups, small group working and private 1:1 sessions with staff.

The key aspect of it is the highly acoustic material used in its manufacture. When sat down the noise outside the seating is really dampened down and the conversations taking place are quite private. The gap in the circle ensures good transparency for supervising staff.
Having sat inside it myself to have a conversation, the scale of the circle is also good - it is not too big and the very high backs instil a sense of privacy and place. This is what some would call a 'cave space'.
Speaking to some of the students, they really liked this seating - they felt it added an adult atmosphere to the environment and they had done some very good work inside it. I can think of several schools that may well like this keynote piece of furniture to really add a new dimension to learning spaces.
I know of a number of firms that try to create these small working spaces - this example from VS Furniture is the best and most comfortable that I have seen yet!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Teachers nervous on mobile technology - say pupils

The photograph and blog is the latest of my posts published on the Engage for Education blog as part of the Scotland's Government Learning Technologies review.

“We’re living in the real world but we just don’t know how school will get there” said Claire, a fourteen-year-old student talking about using mobile technology, including phones in school.

Talking to student groups recently, they all thought that most teachers were nervous about mobile technology and would not adopt its use willingly – unfortunately, they could not foresee any immediate change in this.

They suggested reasons, including the internet security issue. However, an overriding view was that they, as students, knew how to use and apply the technology more effectively than staff.

They gave ‘evidence’ for this. All students in the groups from three schools had mobile phones, over 90% had ‘smart’ phones. All used them for many functions. All, without exception, had to teach their parents and other family members how to use their own, often simpler, phones.

Less than 5% of students had been shown some application by an adult. Nearly all students had been taught applications by their peers though. None had read the manual that came with the phone – “Who does?” they asked.

Their logic followed on that if parents didn’t know how to use phones properly, there was a good chance that the range of teachers they encountered didn’t either. Therefore, if used in the learning context, “teachers may feel they would not be in control”. Few students thought that most teachers would be receptive to being shown by them how to use mobile applications in the context of learning students.

Is this view about attitudes true? I suspect that it may be harsh on many teachers who really do want to engage with their students and learning. For others though, I do have a nagging feeling that they maybe something in what they say!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Architecture does matter!

I am including this as a link to a very good article by Rowan Moore in today's Observer newspaper about the power of architecture in good school design. It also dispels some the often quoted myths currently being shouted about by some folk in power.

I have always agreed that whilst the vision for BSF was fab, with every secondary student working in great learning environments, the BSF procurement method was bonkers and expensive - very expensive. But actually, why shouldn't our students learn in excellent specialist places designed for learning in the Third Millennium? Why would we want standardised schools that do not reflect the creativity and individuality of local areas and communities? To read the article in full click here.