Thursday, 25 August 2011

Way Finding Graphics and...

Some people love it, others think it says it all!
Crystal clear and uncluttered??
Those that know me know that I like colour and graphics..... when used carefully and sparingly. Both can and should help create the feel of the environment. This doesn't just apply to schools but to all sorts of public venues.
I admire those that are artistic enough and have 'the eye' to get it just right. However, all too often places, including schools, can get taken along by architects and designers even if it is not exactly the feel that they want.
The graphics in the two photographs in this post do demonstrate a clear style - the venue is not a school but a public building. The style is big bold and in your face. However, the graphics provoked a major discussion between the group of educators and architects I was with. The door to the stairs (and is that a lift?) was a particular example.... put the graphics together with buttons and fire extinguishers and it all looked a bit cluttered and wrong.
Just recently I was discussing a disagreement between a school and its architects. Whilst the latter wanted huge graphics all in capital letters, the school, which has an excellent reputation for working with students with dyslexia, noted that graphics with all capitals was not good practice for their students.... in other words, the end users. Concepts, colour, being bold is fab, but it does also have to be functional.
The architect's reaction was to try and stick to their idea, despite these very valid educational complaints. They noted that it was part of the whole concept for their design. Sorry guys - it's not your building at the end of the day.
It is quite hard for many head teachers, they may not be good at graphics, but equally may not want to go back to the little traditional name plates on doors of old in a new school. Add to that that the interior design aspects of a new school build, including colour, graphics and way finding, are often covered in only one design meeting (or two if you're lucky) then decisions have to be made quickly. Those that haven't prepared or don't think this through carefully are in danger of ending up with 'stuff' that they weren't expecting and may not even like.
In the case of the school mentioned above? The school won - quite right too!
Big, bold and colourful - but is it too much?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Interactive and Playful Corridors

'Corridors are boring" declared one student recently... going on to add that he saw them simply as spaces to simply move along. I guess when they are narrow, dark crowded as they often are, that this is the case.

This is not true for students at the new award winning
Tuke School in Southwark. Tuke caters for students aged 11 - 19 years with severe, profound and complex learning disabilities. In their new building, designed by Haverstock Associates, they have tried to change the experience of moving through the school by making it as interactive as possible using a variety of senses, visual, tactile and audio..
Tactile panels on the wall guide students, with different textures at corners or by doors, the ceiling lights are at interesting angles and so on.
The most eye catching element of certain corridors is the ability to totally change the colour of the space. The photographs show red, blue, green, but there is also yellow. All these can be operated by any student (or staff, parents and visitors!) by pushing large accessible soft panels (also visible in the photographs) as they move through the space. It works, students love it, so do I. After the initial novelty factor, students still like to be able to control the colour and many have their favourites. These spaces are fun to move through and have a certain playfulness to them.
This ability to have some control over their environment has also been extended to include hygiene rooms. As students are being tended to they can control the colour of the rooms and also chose what music they would like to listen to through a simple accessible switch system linked on an iPod deck. Small details that really make a difference.
There are many aspects of Tuke School that are eye catching and new. All go to help provide a rich interactive education experience for their students who face enough multiple challenges. Taking some American architects who design special education facilities around it recently they all identified design features they had not seen before.
I will post more blogs about Tuke School in the future.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Primary School break out spaces..

Schools are frequently calling out for more space, more meeting rooms, small group work areas and places for staff to meet with parents. But small created social breakout spaces are often not seen in primary schools for some reason. I'm not sure why.

I am impressed with a primary school I have been working with recently who, despite a massive lack of space in the context of an old building, have really pursued the idea of small flexible spaces that can be used by a range of people at any time. This has largely been achieved through the smart use of clever furniture selection - especially through the provision of a number of small seating areas that can be used in many ways but that also give elements of privacy.
Further than that, they have utilised a room just through from Reception that has almost become a 'living room' domestic type space where lots of activities can happen. The school even refers to it as that. Parents may be there meeting with staff, staff may be using it to prepare, multi agency staff meet there, students may be working in groups, or doing project work there.. approved visitors may wait there or any combination of all of them. Having been there, whilst it may be a bit cluttered, it works!!
It reflects creative thinking in the use of space, a willingness to be really adaptable and not precious about spaces only having one function. More schools could learn from this model.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Connecting Learning

I have been really pleased to have been asked to join the team at Connecting Learning as a freelance associate.

Connecting Learning is a solutions based organisation for school improvement that focuses on how young people learn and under which conditions and dynamics they learn best.

There are lots of exciting projects under development, I look forward to helping where I can. Keep watching for more updates.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Thinking Time

There has been a gap in posting for a while as I have been on vacation, taking the time to relax, recharge batteries and think..... I am away again soon but please do come back and visit the blog.. there will still be more to come!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

EBacc criticised....

An interesting report published in the past couple of weeks notes that the House of Commons Select Committee for Education has seriously criticised the way the English Baccalaureate was introduced to the UK education system by Secretary of State Michael Gove.

This is really no surprise with comments including: that there was little if any consultation with schools prior to it's introduction and the fear that students may be 'shoe horned' into taking inappropriate subjects just to ensure that the school can report results within the EBacc criteria.
The EBacc requires students to undertake examinations in English, Maths, two Sciences, a Modern Foreign Language and a Humanity (History or Geography). Those passing all these at grade C or above will have their grades recorded with others and contribute to part of the nationally published league table of results for their school.
There were many reports last year of schools changing students options after they had selected them and this year massively reducing the range of subjects that students could select from to ensure that they take EBacc subjects. At most risk seem to be vocational and arts subjects.. and this is the cause of concern for very many schools. There are many students who are far better suited to a broader range of subjects.
This is not to say that the very wide range of subjects did really need to be reviewed but there is a Government Review of the Curriculum already underway - it's a pity that the Government did not wait for that to report first.
Few, including me, will disagree with the need for a decent all round curriculum with students achieving high standards, especially in literacy and numeracy. But the range of EBacc subjects is very narrow indeed and I believe not appropriate for the widest range of students.
This is exactly the reason that the Modern Baccalaureate has been established by Andrew Chubb, Principal of Archbishop Sentamu Academy, as an alternative to the EBacc. The ModBacc has been exciting interest in a range of schools and academies.... to read my recent post on this click here.
To read the full report of the Education Select Committee, click here
To read the BBC story click here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Digital Environments Put Students on a Swift Learning Curve

I am often being asked to host guest blogs, please find below one from Lindsey Wright, who writes usually for the education resource OnlineSchool.org. Please do feel free to post a comment from Lindsey's post.

Technology has become a large part of teaching and classrooms in the U.K. are no exception to this trend. In fact, statistics show that teachers are looking for even more ways to give students hands-on experience with a variety of technologies. As the world around students today increasingly requires that they be familiar with and able to expertly use a vast array of electronic innovations, it will become more and more important to expose them to these concepts at a younger age.
Though it may not be a chief consideration on the surface, or at an online school, the arrangement of technology in the classroom can go a long way toward either hindering or enhancing the students’ learning experiences. Electronic equipment should be placed where it will be accessible, yet will not necessarily disturb the flow of traffic. Essentially, teachers should take care to ensure that children will not be tripping over cords or other equipment as they enter, leave, and move around the area. Depending upon the age of the children in class, it may be advisable to ensure that students do not have direct access to electrical outlets or will not make accidental contact with outlets.
Before positioning new technology in the classroom, consider other activities that may take place in the area. Eating and drinking usually do not mix well with technology in the classroom. A single careless spill can damage components irreparably and the school may not have the budget to replace them. Also carefully consider the lighting when placing technology in a particular room. The light from windows can cause glare on the computer screen, making it difficult to see. Flickering overhead lights can also be a detriment to utilizing technology. As such, make sure any flickering bulbs are replaced and that equipment is not placed too near windows or that the windows can be covered at appropriate times.
It is also important to keep ergonomics in mind when arranging technology in the classroom. Any equipment purchased should allow for reasonable accommodation of students of varying sizes. Chairs should be at least minimally adjustable to allow all students to use the technology with comfort. This discourages fidgeting and allows the student to focus on the lesson, rather than trying to find a more comfortable position.
One of the most important components of in-classroom technology is the teacher’s computer. This is the instrument through which instruction will take place. It is generally best if this terminal is placed front and center in the classroom space and that this computer features a means of projecting the work being performed for all of the class to see.
Ideally, each student will also have his own work station. However, budgetary concerns sometimes make this difficult. Should students be required to share a work station it is important that each student be granted equal time to complete assignments. Instructors must carefully observe whether a particular student monopolizes a terminal to the detriment of another student. Always provide a firm reminder about the need for each student to have equal time with the technology. When students share a workstation there should be adequate seating for two or three students. Such an arrangement will encourage collaboration and good social skills while students are also learning to use new technologies.
Computers used by students should be kept neat and tidy with all cords and wires kept well out of the way. This keeps the desk areas organized and less chaotic. Time and again many teachers have discovered the value of having a well-organized classroom, which promotes efficiency and minimizes distraction. However, when dealing with computers it is not only the physical environment of the computer that should be kept clutter free. The computer desktop should also be kept clear of any extraneous aliases or shortcuts that have been created either inadvertently or intentionally. Much like having an organized classroom, having an organized computer desktop makes it easier to navigate computer programs and encourages students to utilize class time wisely. A regular sweep of all computers to check for viruses and other potentially harmful programs should also be conducted to keep technology operating at its maximum capacity.
In addition to class computers, teachers should think carefully about where they position other classroom technology. For instance, the BBC recently reported on the usage of electronic whiteboards in classrooms across the nation. These devices are generally best located in the front of the classroom. This ensures that students will attend to whatever is being displayed. Although some teachers mainly use the whiteboard as a means for displaying PowerPoint presentations, it is the teachers who find more creative and interactive ways of using the technology whose students really benefit from use of the whiteboard. When students can truly engage with the technology in the classroom, real familiarity and expertise develop and the student is even better prepared to meet the challenges of life beyond the classroom.
Regardless of technological glitches that may cause the occasional difficulty with conducting class as planned, electronic devices are largely an asset to teaching. When a classroom is thoughtfully configured to allow each student equal time with the classroom’s technology, students are presented with the opportunity to quickly expand their knowledge base. For optimum learning, the devices should always be kept in a tidy and organized fashion to promote efficiency and eliminate distractions. It is also best if each student can be allotted their own technological device as this will allow for the best usage of class time. However, even if some devices must be shared, the prevalence of technology outside of the classroom makes its presence in the classroom absolutely indispensable.
Photographs from RM's 'Real Centre', UK