Friday, 22 June 2012

the-learning-crowd: Excellent Teaching and Learning in Wales

Associates from our company: 'the-learning-crowd' are delighted to have been invited to attend the Welsh Government / HOVEP (Heads of the Valleys Education Project) conference: 'Excellent Teaching and Learning - How can technology help?' next week and help facilitate workshop groups of Headteachers and other delegates.

Led by Professor Stephen Heppell, the conference will consider many of the opportunities the future holds for education.  In addition to the keynote and numbers of workshops, there will be a Teach Meet afterwards where local good practice can be shared.  And good practice there is!  We identified several outstanding examples of fantastic transformational practice using technology during our background research for the report.  

I really like Teach Meet sessions - it's not about people from outside coming in and saying what should be done but absolutely about local schools sharing what they feel is working and what are the lessons learnt.  One of the better form of development.

the-learning-crowd has been involved with HOVEP since last year when we were commissioned to write a detailed report and action plan for education transformation in the HOVEP region.  (Merthyr Tydfil and Bleanau Gwent. 

The resulting report, even if described as comprehensive and hard hitting, is being used to help define strategy and action for coming months.

History in the Playground

I  really love it when schools are able to retain elements of the past in their school sites, instead of just clearing everything, as so many do!

I visited a primary school recently where part of the playground had originally been 'inside' a factory.  When they cleared the site, they left the old mill stones to become part of the external environment.  With the intelligent decision to put shade over them they have become a quiet seating area, a performance space for drama and music and a play areas for students to use their imagination.

Equally important is that you have old local artefacts as unique permanent teaching resources for local history lessons and so much more.  It's excellent!

External spaces are becoming more and more important.  It's features like this that a make them more interesting as well.  

Monday, 18 June 2012

Mirrors and Daylight

I spotted a clever solution spotted whilst visiting a primary school undergoing a refurbishment and extension scheme last week.  Whilst providing an important new external play area that is covered  between two reception classrooms, skylights have also been introduced to increased the natural light in what would have been a potentially dark area.  It will really contribute to what should be a fabulous space.

What is a clever bit of design (but not that new an idea) is that the vertical faces of the skylight are in fact mirrors not glass.  Not only does that help reflect daylight - it also adds a really interesting (and endless) effect for those underneath.  It should be really effective space.  It's hard to see in the photographs - but it is a great and fun idea!

Another school 'topping out'

In a week of schools nearing completion (see previous entry), I was also delighted to be invited to attend a 'topping out' ceremony of a major school extension in a London Borough a few days ago. Having been involved in all the designs sessions from the start it has been a great if complex project.  The school has almost zero outside space and is surrounded by roads and the Underground.

The photograph above shows skips and building 'stuff' covering all that is left of the playground. The space really is tiny! Developing a new Year 7 block, kitchen and dining area in this space was a challenge and really the only way was up.  We included an outside social area on the roof of the dining room to maximise the efficiency of the site.

One of the highights of the afternoon was, as usual, the faces of students looking around the new spaces for the first time.  They were really excited by the building and quite jealous that they would probably not be having lessons in the new classrooms that are designed for a wide range of teaching styles.

Everything about the new build has been modeled and trialled by the school in advance, from layouts, positioning of boards, types of furniture, the ICT used down to the type of carpet. Nothing has been left to chance - it is the best prepared schol I have worked with. 

One of the exciting things about the school is that they have also really tried to maximise the learning potential and opportunities available from having a major construction site on the school grounds. The students have been involved with several decisions on the project. It's a unique opportunity for schools to relate learning to a real project. I just wish more schools did it.

 The headteacher taking part in the 'topping out' ceremony

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Projects come to life...

It's always good when a project I've worked on come to fruition.  It's been some time when, as Strategic Advisor to the Minister of Education of the Cayman Islands, we started the transformation process of the education system, including the design of new state of the art high schools.  With lots of work done, I moved on to my current exciting life used in the UK.
Despite the world recession, contractor issues, a change of government and the complexities of building a 'hurricane proof' building, the first school is getting near to completion.  When it does open it will be a significant point for high school education in Cayman.
They are just fab 'school within school' buildings with a variety of different and agile spaces.  We worked closely with Professor Stephen Heppell on the concept and architects Trung Le (Cannon Design - formerly oWp/p) and Rick Dewar (formerly Cannon Design, Chicago).  These sensational buildings will be very much a talking point for the regions schools designers as well as visitors from all over the world.  They have been much talked about projects internationally.  
I just hope that they work as well as we hoped during the design process.  Who knows, I may even visit it some time - I really hope so! 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Whole City Approach..

Visiting Bruge recently I was really impressed to see students from every primary school in Bruge crowd into the city centre to celebrate a whole morning of environmental projects.   Led on stage entirely by students there were thousands of pupils there all participating in a variety of events on stage.  Every student seemed to have prepared in some way for this project, whether it was hand made hats throughout to giant banners.  Slick it certainly was and video on giant screens, singing, audience participation ensure that everyone seemed to be engaged. 
This was on the one dry day sandwiched between days full of rain - lucky they were, but we thought that they would have carried on regardless of rain.  The atmosphere was just excellent.
It started a conversation about when do we do things like this in the UK now?  Probably not often enough. 

Hook and Safety..

Spotted in a school corridor...... I am frequently critical about the over zealous nature of some people towards health and safety and often quite rightly so.   I also know storage is frequently a major problem for schools, however, even I was a bit taken aback to see these hooks simply drilled into a main corridor wall.

Talk about an accident waiting to happen...