Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A Bath ........ and a Brave Carpet

Visiting an elementary school a few weeks ago in America, I was intrigued to see a bathtub in the library full of cushions. It turns out it was not a funky way to store the cushions but a treat for students who did well. The treat was being allowed to sit in the bath reading during informal reading time - apparently it is really popular! I've not seen it before but.... what ever works!

What did catch my eye was the carpet..... I spend a lot of time with schools all over the place considering aspects of design, including floor coverings. Never have I seen a carpet like this is a school.... it's certainly..... well a brave choice at least.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Simple Cable Management

Whilst in a new school recently I spotted these tables designed for simple cable management when pushed together in groups. The small cut out recess in the table top means computer cables can run from the floor box below providing power and maybe data, to laptops etc without getting squashed between the desk tops.

It's a simple, easy and cost effective design that will work for many schools. Some tables with installed cable management systems cost a fortune, putting them out of reach for the majority.
There is a bigger debate about the practicality of floor boxes in schools, and with the costs of school buildings being driven down, the affordability of them. However, in many schools they work well and support flexibility in how learning is organised which can only be a good thing. If floor boxes are installed simply for laptops or notebooks being plugged in, then as battery life continues to increase there could be less need for them... (as long as people keep their devices charged!).
Given the choice, but depending on the type of school, I'd still have them installed. Flexibility and options still work for me every time!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Lab Furniture

Spotted recently whilst working in Kuwait - new Italian furniture for school laboratories. It's interesting, very high specification, and very different from the furniture normally seen in UK schools.

All the base units are on wheels so they can be easily moved to provide leg space or ensure the equipment they contain is safely transported to the place where it is needed. It has the feel much more of a professional, commercial laboratory rather than the standard benches seen in schools.
In the UK many schools would be concerned about sight lines and the ability to monitor students at all times. In the school indicated above students behave well and are trusted and the teachers and support staff move around the room. For a lecture or demonstration there is room to gather stools near the teachers demonstration desk as normal.
The student stools have backs on them - a deliberate decision and again something more and more schools are moving to to help students sit properly. In a UK school I am working with senior staff 'shadowed' students and discovered that one class had spent fifty percent of their day on stools with no backs - it's not good!
So new professional standard furniture in a standard space - it looked very good! I hope to go back so will report on how well it works with all the students using it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Supporting a 'Classroom of the Future' Project

I am really pleased to have been asked to support, in a very small way, a class from St Gilgen International School in Austria, as they start a four week project on designing a 'classroom of the future'. It's is a fabulous project - students considering approaches to learning and what types of environment best support that. It is an important conversation between learners and teachers that can really contribute to the learning process.

Four weeks is long enough for some really good conversations to take place, and of course, once they've happened, the thinking and discussions remain with them.

I am very curious to see how their projects develop and how the students envision the future of learning spaces. Hopefully, we will be able to post some of their ideas on the blog for others to share.

It is also heartening that these conversations seem to be going on in increasing numbers in countries all over the world. In just a few days I will also be working with a school in Kuwait considering the future of their learning environments. It's only in the UK where, in some places, people seem to be trying to block these conversations at the moment. It's a pity and a backward step.

Good luck to the students doing the project!

Old and New - technology everywhere

There are not many Reception age classroom that I have visited where the balance between traditional dim new are quite so obvious and so integrated. In a Merthyr Tydfil school in Wales, I was struck by the arrangement that had a good old sand tray quite close to the interactive white board, next to shelves of reading books, sand toys and also open shelves containing ICT kit for the pupils. Neat it certainly was - used it also was!

With free choice everywhere and a range of easily accessible kit it was quite a special room. There were little recording devices next to the books so the 4 and 5 year old pupils could record what they said and hear it back straight away. There was ICT everywhere that was easy to reach when ever they wanted: easy to use robust video cameras. microphones, walkie talkies, programmable bugs and so on. Nothing 'special' or 'hidden away' about the ICT here.
It does, of course, carry on further up the school where ICT is everywhere to use, when it is appropriate and when needed. Of course it is the way forward... I just wish more schools were as trusting and progressive enough from the days pupils entered the school!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Goldilocks and the three ....Drinking Fountains?

Visiting a different primary school recently we couldn't help but smile when we saw the drinking fountains - they just reminded everyone of a well known childrens story really, especially as they were located side by side so neatly.

The provision of water is really important and more and more schools are ensuring that there is provision all round the school both inside and out. Mind you, new drinking fountains are much neater these days - compare the ones above with a new one shown below which was installed in a new secondary school very recently. Most students couldn't believe it when they first saw it. It is pretty cool!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

New school - new efforts?

I was fortunate enough to be at the 'first day' of school for students as they entered a brand new secondary school building last week. It really was a case of leave their old building at the start of the half term break and return to the new one at the start of the next half term. Elements of the new building were constructed literally feet way from some class rooms so students have been able to monitor the construction process from day one.

There was a very positive and purposeful feeling about the students as they returned to school. They were keen to see around and there was early appreciation of their new lockers and ID badges. Much more importantly though, they were overheard saying that their classrooms were so much better, lighter, smarter and more professional that it would help make them work harder.
It is a fabulous building, although slightly cramped for a while as the buildings they have just vacated get demolished and the next phase of construction takes place. Once finished though the whole integrated campus will make a real difference from the random selection of buildings they left. The plans look great and the construction team from Balfour Beatty, working with the LEP '4 Futures' have operated as real partners with the school. This team approach has made the whole process apparently painless.
We'll see if the building does make a difference long term to students attainment, but the early signs and unprompted words look promising!