Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Young People in Weavers' Triangle

I was delighted to attend the formal launch of the new 'Design - Engineer - Construct!' curriculum as a key part of the new 'Weavers' Triangle'Project in Burnley today.

This project, in association with Burnley Council, will be a fantastic example of young people contributing to the regeneration of Weavers' Triangle by using state of the art full professional standard software, including Autodesk and Revitt to study a historic building within this conservation area. Project in Burnley today.
The students have been really fortunate to have been given their own 'real' project in the form of the old Habergham Eaves Parochial School, which despite looking in quite good condition in the photograph above is, in fact, in a very more state indeed, both structurally and internally.

What is really exciting is the recognition by Burnley Council of the real role that young people can play in major community projects like this, the learning possibilities it brings and the perspective they can contribute. This is an important project to Burnley in regenerating a large canal side derelict area of old mills etc, with the intention of attracting jobs and investment to the town. Involving youngsters will help create a sense of belonging and caring about their own area.
Students undertaking this 'real' project will also be able to gain the nationally recognised Project qualification by leading international examination board Edexcel.
Regular readers of the blog will already know that the new 'Design - Engineer - Construct!' curriculum has been created by the innovative 'Class of Your Own' company. It is quickly attracting considerable in schools in the UK as well from several countries abroad.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Learning from Demolition - what happens next?

I am currently working with a school that is, literally, watching some of it's buildings being demolished through the windows. Already there is total amazement from students (and staff!) about how gently and controlled the machinery is undertaking this task. Their visions of a massive arm (or ball and chain) smashing through walls are far from the truth.

They are all riveted watching the jaws of the machine grabbing different elements of the building, down to single small strips of lead, and placing them in a variety of piles for sorting and recycling. It has started all sorts of conversations about what happens to it, where does it go, why and how is it different from what used to happen? Additionally of course, this type of work is quite skilled, so training and experience are obvious questions to be answered.
Last time I visited the surveyors had also arrived. The staff were wondering what they actually did. - it was a bit like a whole mysterious world taking place the other side of the hoardings
In many schools, because staff don't know much about this construction world, sensible questioning by students gets stopped and not explored with cries of "Get on with your work!" and "stop looking out of the window!".. When this happens it is such a mistake - there is so much to learn and so many direct links with the school curriculum in many subjects that give context, relevance and interest. (I accept that obviously there are times when it is appropriate!)
Equally many schools with construction projects directly adjacent to the school have great intentions, rarely do they actually do enough about it or plan it early enough so opportunities are missed. In the case of demolition, when the building is down -it's gone, can't be replicated and a whole tranche of skills have been lost as well. Conversations become less relevant.
The intention here is excellent, the opportunities great and enthusiasm high between the school and construction leads. Watch this place for more information later...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

International sharing and debate

The panel: Steven Bingler (Canada), Irene Nigaglioni (USA), Simon Harris (Australia), Alison Watson (UK), Mikael Gustufsson (Sweden)
The final day of the cepfi conference in Nashville was dominated by an international panel debating and answering questions. With representatives from America, Australia, Sweden and our own Alison Watson from 'Class of Your Own' in the UK fielding the questions, dialogue was focused and invigorating.

Topics included the role of students in designing their own learning, the influence of the change of structure between schools and the work place, changing cultures in schools and the role of learning environments and so so much more. One interesting question was why do education conferences usually take place outside from schools - why not sit in the rooms, on the furniture with young people and have a real "collision of minds?" Why not indeed?
Inevitably, the professional discussions were at their peak on the last day - it always happens that way... but the more we meet to continue them, the more challenging they become!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sharing great practice - cefpi Annual Conference 2011

I've spent the last few days at the cefpi Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where I was not only a delegate but also a speaker as well. This is the fourth of their conferences I have attended and the highlight is always hearing about the best practice from around the world, the networking, school design exhibitions and the school tours. (cefpi - Council of Education Facilities Planners International). A bonus this year were three interpretations of what classrooms of the future may look like! Interesting ideas - more on this later.

Not only have I made firm friends with a number of leading professionals in the education / school design field, but also learned a great deal and continue to do so. It's very easy to stay away from international conferences, especially in today's economic climate - the numbers attending did seem to be fewer this year, despite still being in the many hundreds of delegates. The exchange of information and really professional conversations, from a range of perspectives and experiences formal and informal still inspire me. Even better there were half a dozen of us from the UK this year and I am sure that the numbers will increase as cefpi expands. I'm already being asked to go the next years conference - it may be hard to stay away!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

iPads rather than text books??

A really interesting article appeared recently in the Associated Press, written by Stephanie Reitz, outlining the numbers of schools in the United States abandoning traditional text books for iPads with their texts loaded on them.

This is not really surprising and has an total inevitability about it. I wrote ages ago about this and identified some schools in the UK already aiming to be text book free. They get the message about young people and their expectation that technology will available for use. Some students have even stated that with the lack of technology in schools real learning really slows down or even stops when they go to lessons.

There are several schools I am working with who still have not contemplated the move towards the use of personal technologies and mobile devices. Surely no one an really believe that in ten years time, or twenty, we will be expecting our students to carry around clunky great text books that cost a fortune? Even worse, because they are so expensive, many texts never leave the classroom - so great aspects of learning caused by lack of resources really do stop as students go through the door. It's bizarre!

Having said that I do totally agree learning can and will occur without technology, but it is a fantastic tool to really enhance the quality of it. We all know that really. To read the full article click here.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Learning from new school build

Several school build projects I am involved with have got to the stage where construction is just starting. An exciting moment for each school, all of whom who are delighted that the long design process has finally been completed and there is actually something to see happening on site.

BUT, there is so much more that can be done rather than just watch what is happening (if you can see over the hoardings!!). There are just so many learning opportunities from every aspect of the build process that can be easily slotted into the curriculum and give context and reality to the concepts being studied in classrooms.
I am delighted to now be working with three schools who have taken the challenge extremely seriously. This is not about lip service to learning from the build process but actually about the schools being extremely proactive and structured about the approach to the numerous learning opportunities. Even more importantly is their focus that students will be instrumental in leading and communicating the learning. Early strategies include:
  • Having a student group to do liaise with the Project Manager each week and work to share the information including write a weekly blog,
  • An identified staff member allocated to guide the process,
  • A staff curriculum group identifying learning opportunities and context
  • A time lapse camera recording every aspect of the build
  • Plans for informing, communicating, sharing, learning for students, staff, parents, community and more
  • Identifying the widest rage of careers education opportunities
All these ideas would not be possible without extremely enthusiastic and supportive Project Managers and the the very accommodating construction company; Balfour Beatty.
I have heard so many schools and companies claim how much they intend to do to learn from building projects. The reality is most usually very different and if any liaison / work does actually happen it usually can be described as no more than 'lip service' or tokenism.
I am excited about the proactive plans for the schools I am working with in London on this idea. I sense a real determination for the learning opportunities for students to be an additional core priority for the schools... I hope so and am excited about the early ideas.
The scale of development that BSF brought to many schools was a unique opportunity for schools - surely every one of theme should have seized the massive learning opportunities possible. Unfortunately all too few have! I will report more as the ideas start to develop.. so watch this space!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Unfortunate Signage

I often seem to end up commenting about the quality of signage, graphics and colour in schools. It is important.

Visiting one school recently though, I did think that labelling a door as the entrance to a department as well as a WC (as above) was bizarre - it certainly caused comment and amusement. I would not be so happy if i was the Head of Art!
It makes me wonder whether people consider what visitors, students, staff and other people actually see when they put notices up!