Sunday, 27 May 2012

laptops or tablets?

I'm sure that Apple would want iPads for every school student, and I certainly applaud the Bring a Browser philosophy which suggests that ICT is becoming something a student is responsible for, like their bicycles or their uniforms (with the obvious and important caveats for equity etc) BUT it is also clear that an iPad is the most wonderfully collaborative screen. There is something about a laptop screen that crates a barrier - and about a trackpad + keyboard that says "single user", when a multi-touch screen with no fixed orientation says 'share me".

In this photo of children at the wonderful Holy Rosary School in Claremont, Tasmania you can see, in the foreground, four children sharing two laptops; one is 'driving", the other is watching in each pair. But the group behind shows four children around one iPad, sitting NSE&W and all engaged, taking turns, sharing, collaborating.

This picture is what i see often and it is one of many reasons why iPads (and presumably other tablet devices one day when those tablets catch up a bit) work so well, even a few at a time, in the classroom


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Through others' eyes

Lovely and simple Spanish primary school project prints other folks' eyes onto acetate and then let's children see the world through the eyes of others.

"I'm looking through a neighbour's eyes"
"how would she see things differently?"

All the research says clearly how important a sense of other is for children. This project helps develop it.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Measureman

what was it Einstein said? Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted? something like that. And then we have Pisa, with all its problems, trying to rank nations and being hopelessly misinterpreted by selective quotation anyway...

So it was very cheering, and rather encouraging, to find this huge mural of the "measure man" in a Silkeborg school in Denmark, created by artist Malene O'Shea.

I particularly liked the way this monster, with its measuring scale arms and legs, is shown capturing the joyful butterflies of children's handprints. How true...  but we do have such much better ways of helping map progress these days - it is just sad that they are rarely widespread just yet.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

journeys to school

Journeys to school vary - in Denmark's Silkeborg I was delighted to find all these toboggans outside the school i was visiting. I have shown this image to a few schools around the world and children's faces light up - yet more evidence of how useful it is to create that important "sense of other" through Skyping and Facetiming and so on school to school. See each others' cultures helps us to understand each others' cultures...

Monday, 21 March 2011

make and mend,

As I have observed before in this phone blog (see "ingredients") most of the world doesn't mind taking the lid off things and fixing them, as was once the case in Europe.  This shop, one of a whole street in Mong Kok (in the Yau Tsim Mong District on Kowloon) is filled with mended electrical goods - drills, compressors, etc.

Interestingly, the whole maker culture in the UK has been reborn through a fresh look at ICT resulting (at last! hurrah!!) from a firm nudge by our creative industries (the "Next Gen" Livingstone + Hope report from NESTA) and some strong words from Eric Schmidt of Google - which might result in some "lids off computing" and children who are once again allowed to make and mend with technology.

Friday, 18 March 2011

other cultures' crafts...

Not much to say about this amazing display of tastiness in Hong Kong, on sale at a railway station, except perhaps that they are all made of ice-cream.

Other people's skills and crafts never fail to delight and amaze, do they?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

communications technology

 Students today find it hard to imagine a world of phones fixed to walls, let alone a world of cables and telegrams! but this pneumatic cash and communications matrix in an early department store - still on view in Melbourne - is a wonderfully complex piece of communication technology (another picture is here )

Thursday, 3 March 2011


The Pegasus in London's wonderful and iconic Science Museum ran its first program in December 1959 and is still regularly demonstrated. It is the size of a room and the oldest working digital electronic computer in the world.

Visiting to help with a project there I couldn't resist the "face" on the control panel. Back in 1959 I think we wanted our computers to be sentient!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Playful engineering

Loved hhis clock, designed and built at Asprey in London's New Bond Street. The mechanism is designed for show, of course, but had all kinds of little tricks and surprises that made just watching it tick a delight. Skilled engineers on top of their game...

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Walking around other countries' markets I am always struck by how they are dull of ingredients - like these spices in Doha - bit also bits of mechanical and electronic things too. In Hong Kong they will make you a hard disc for example and of course everywhere rolls of cloths. Our markets in UK are full of finished things - meals, toys, clothes etc.

Similarly in schools our children have largely stopped programming - they consume with computers or phones but cannot create applications. They don't have ingredients either, any more.

Somewhere in all this we seem to have lost some things including the autonomy that comes from your own efforts, and it just feels wrong...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Dot to dot

This was a bit of a surprise. Climbing ;everyone does it) up the roof of the Oslo Opera House on Norway the cladding is this interesting pattern...

...but some of you will know exactly what the pattern is cos you punched and programmed those paper tapes in the very early days of computing. Me too'

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Still without limits

Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti in Christchurh - on NZ's Mainland (as I've learned to say) remains the most wonderful evocation of how a school without limits can work so very, very well. The space remains open aspect, and multifaceted, with little teacher 'bases" tucked into alcoves and nooks. The currciculum also remains oopen and learner selected. I was delighted to go back there, some 10 years since my last visit and as John showed my round the impression was - apart from the original 50 students growing to some 400 - that very little of the original vision had been wrong. As we walked past students engaged in vigorous one-to-one tutorials with staff (first name terms) and in intensive group work with each other it was hard not to recall ex UK education minister Estelle Morris' wise comments to me a year or to back in an email:

"one of the things I learned from Government was that there is rarely a mechanism for rolling out successful pilots or research that has been commissioned.

The result is that we never really use what has been found to work. The only exception to this I can think of  really is the Literacy and Numeracy strategies"

Quite. It will be interesting to see how many of the new Free Schools in the UK emerge looking like this.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

No, honestly...

Arriving in Christchurch just after the earthquake, but in time for a verty substatial aftershock, I was - er - interested to find that the floor between my hotel bedroom and the lift was a trench. Amusingly the next day this note appeared - I'm sure it is true, but it just reads like a panic-staions PR puff, doesn't it? Mind you, the hotel did get knocked about a bit - i was in bed in the aftershock and it really shook!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Most patient generation ever?

some of you will be old enough to remember the mods and rockers and the tensions between them, and between them and society. Others will have read Stanley Cohen's research and his term "moral panic" and been aware of the rather exaggerated claims of the media at the time (riots? hmm) - but there certainly was antipathy. The other day enjoying the Goodwood Revival meeting I was a bit surprised to see the mods and rockers shown here, all riding original equipment (the Revival is like that), but all together with no anomosity at all. One of the fishermen on the boat moored next to mine was / is a mod, he is a very nice chap. I asked him about this and he said "we go to all the events together these days, we're all great friends now - we are far too old to be kicking off these days".

Which led me to think about the chain of teddy boys, mods n rockers, hippies, punk, etc etc. and to wonder where are the protest youth cultures of today? Are today's children now so mature that they have already reached the point the mods and rockers took decades to get to ("too old to be kicking off") - I don't think so, or is it that they no longer clash with the older generations because unlike the previous generations they don't occupy the same space as old folk (previously the beachess, cinema, etc). Perhaps they are away in online social spaces, or texting, where they don't rub shoulders with old folk, maybe? Or are they just amazingly patient...

But as we force them through factory schools reminiscent of the mods and rockers own era back so many years ago, and load them with fees for doing what the nation needs, how long honestly do we think that will patience last. And what next?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Higher education innovation

Universities struggle so much with this new millennium. Their usual spreadsheet of a room allocation chart with its cells ends up all-too-often as a blueprint for building as the cells become physically just that. Of course walking round universities we find that most of the cells are empty for most of the time. Like most cells elsewhere, if you leave them unlocked, people escape.

So it was with a particular joy that I found this room in a university near the centre of England which had been set aside for "innovation". Inside it was just another cell with seminar style rectangular desks and dull office chairs. There was another innovation room - seen here - with exactly that room allocation timetable on the door - and even more dull furniture inside!

You could practically hear the conversation: "Innovation? yes we're on top of that - here it is in the spreadsheet, Room 250"

Oh dear, I'm not sure that many universities will make it, are you?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Plug in, turn on

Oslo has racks of use n share bikes but it also has rows of sockets for these popular tiny electric cars.

Is is interesting to see the good impact of encouraging small footprint transport (as Tokyo does in other ways) here in Oslo. In the winter I cycle round London but a tiny battery car alternative would be good too.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The kindness of friends

Getting ready to sail our newly acquired 1907 Oyster smack "My Alice" back to her home in Brightlingsea and have been overwhelmed by all the good wishes and good advice. Pal John Saker who helped us assemble her from over a kilometer of rope and a mountain of bits dropped off this wonderful present of wooden spikes all machined on his state of the art CNC lathe, which usually does the most convoluted jobs making complex spirals for production machines and the like.

Wonderful mix of old and new technologies.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Common ground

Having an interesting chat yesterday about a community's need to have place where everyone can assemble together from time to time. I suggested that a well designed outdoor space could work well - we are in tough times in the UK for public service funding right now and economic solutions are needed.

Last weekend the place where I mostly live, Brightlingsea, held a Music Festival - not quite Glastonbury but great fun. Brightlingsea is blessed with a large village green set on a slope which is a bit useless for cricket but offers such a great natural amphitheatre. You can see here, despite some patchy weather, families and groups of friends gathered for a weekend of everything from Bach to Blues.

Communities need a heartspace: it needs some 3D shape, but in many countries (not too hot or too cold) it doesn't need to be a building.

We can learn so much from small communities with, in some places, a few thousand years of prototyping!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Up on the roof...

I been talking about converting retail space to learning space for ages years and there are lots of good examples around - from New Zealand and Bangkok to Anchorage but it looks like becoming a large scale reality in the UK too - and I'm involved in a one of the biggest initiatives in what is now looking like being called edu-tail.

It is amazing how much play space can be included within, and like this sports surface on a school roof in Blackpool, on top of, these urban spaces and the sense of a New Urban Campus reinvigorating our decaying retail centres is exciting - and staggeringly affordable.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Tomorrow today

I won't say where this was (to spare blushes!) but it was fun to find
a room dedicated to the 21st century in a school in 2010!. I popped in, but
there was nobody inside...

Although nice folk who ask me to conferences often pop the 21st century title into the programme (NOT my choice though!), I personally do get a bit fed up with references to 21stC learning. If you are a nine year old it's the only place you've ever lived!

Now we are a decade into this century perhaps we can all talk about 3rd Millennium Learning? Please...

Saturday, 22 May 2010


There is something quite shocking to European eyes about a sign like
this on a school entrance.

I tell my US pals that the Right to Bare Arms was about wearing T
shirts and it had all been a terrible mistake caused by poor spelling...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Su Valley High School, Alaska

Su Valley High School is an award winning, very green school, with a large open reception, library, social space at its heart. With materials needing to be shipped a long way to build up here, costs can be high, and transport energy significant. Local materials are featured thus for cultural and economic reasons. Keeping library shelving and other features below (children's) shoulder height leaves an eye line that is very typical of the new multifaceted spaces appearing everywhere. They bring a real sense of "us-ness", of community and of place. Here is a wider view of it too.

This glass wall, slightly obscured, is lit by LED lights in colours that reflect the northern lights which occur all year round up in these Northern latitudes and I love that local signature.

Sunday, 16 May 2010


I am just loving touring the architecture of Chicago - which is like walking through the pages of an student architectural textbook - art deco through to post-modern. And everything you need to know about structure thrown in.

Like many cities, the rediscovery of the river as a focus, a social conduit and a narrative has transformed the shape and flow of the place over time and now new buildings (like this one) are appearing that are sympathetic to - and indeed that add to - those functions: curving, mirroring, colouring.

I'm a great fan of water features in learning designs too - and there is much good research about their impact on calm as well as on air quality.

Anyway... how many styles can you identity in this image?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

I had a very enjoyable visit to RM's demonstration room in Oxford - filled with ideas and solutions around ICT in learning and so well put together.

I first saw these mobile "stacked" seating blocks at the thoughtful - and thought provoking - New Line Academy in Kent (see them again here) and again just the other day in the indefatigable Kate Holland's newly opened Imagine Centre in Essex (see elsewhere in this phone blog). But seeing these two blocks here, set at a jaunty angle to each other, I'm reminded of how tiny details really matter...

..ask any comedian and they will tell you they hate to perform in 1970s theatres - with all the seats in a straight row, and "lean-back-comfy" too. The problem with those theatres is that without turning in your seat you don't see the faces of other, are unsure of when to laugh, are socially quite isolated. Performances fall flat. Classrooms today are suddenly (finally!) embracing mutuality, collegiality, collaboration and teachers understand that eye contact is really important. New Line knew that when the built their curved seating (they called them their Bananas!) - students could see each other because of the curve. But many copies of New Line's work seem to completely miss the importance of that curve and the impact of height. The copies of New Line's idea seem good, but the devil as they say is in the detail.

In learning every little detail really matters - and that goes for our furniture too.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Oakmead College of Technology Transition School

Oakmead College of Technology is lovely - and led by an exceptional exec Head Dr Annetta Minard. Like many others they are worried about the huge number of children who potentially go backwards as they change phase in school - for example between primary and secondary. As Oakmead reaches out to form a proper alliance with their two primary feed schools, they are also introducing a schools-within-schools model and the first of these is a very interesting Transition School to properly blur that phase break - the new school is seen here (i was lucky to visit for the opening).

The school is staffed by primary specialists (and Dr Minard speaks of how much the secondary folk have learned from working with them). This big multifaceted agile space is roughly equivalent to six classrooms. As you see it is no vast barn; it has nook and corners - open aspect, but easily used for a host of learning approaches. See also this image.

There will be very little furniture for a term -as the children determine just what is needed and where - indeed the constant in the rather playful and enjoyable opening was the students' own voices. Much was made of the much older children's pleasure at helping younger children - reading, mentoring, being great role models, and more.

Note in passing the floods of natural light, plenty of sockets and connexions, and the way the pillars help break up, but without closing in, the space.... fab.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Imagine this...

The Imagine Centre has just opened in Colchester United's football stadium. It is a space that Essex LA have built to try out a range of new learning technologies all in one space, so that schools can visit and see what works best for themselves. Imagine's Director Kate Holland simply encouraged us all to use the space and suddenly a lot of serious, besuited grown-ups became playful children...

The Imagine Centre has some interesting features: Can you see the spherical monitor?!! Then there is an interactive floor - similar to the one that the new Chesil school will have, it has a huge screen, but that can also show smaller images from other screens - as you can see, hopefully. At the back is a huge interactive table "surface".

To the left is tiered seating - a bit like the seating in Kent's New Line academy (see other photos below) and any laptop or personal device, including phones, will work within this space.

Rather cleverly, all the devices connect to each other - you might see that the globe on the wall is the same globe that is on the spherical monitor - both coming from the same child's computer.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Bahá'í Centre of Learning

Hobart's Bahá'í Centre of Learning is, of course, a very spiritual place, but also a very clever learning space.

It is a hugely green building, but (perhaps unusually) this does not get in the way of the learning inside - the large central space with filtered sunlight, stunning voice acoustics and a host of playful little break-out spaces lends itself to learning for all, from the youngest (who love little details like the jigsaw block floor) to the 200 or so teachers whose company I enjoyed there for two days.

This little detail is indicative: a semi enclosed circualr space, with wrapping projector and screen and great acoistics (sound is beamed firmly down not not outwards) makes a wonderful space to provoke, debate, reflect and learn.

So much more detailing - see for more details.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

love libraries

I have often enough said that I love libraries and think librarians are an absolutely key role in our newest (and oldest!) schools. See for example the helpful  "Libraries and learning" video posted on my:  media blog site.

A while back I had the honour of giving a big public lecture in the Victoria State Library and I was just back there filming a video interview - I couldn't help but photograph and post (bit blurry, sorry, iPhone not so good in poor light) of the centre of the place - with all it's carefully refurbished skylighted dome and shelving and seating... glorious!  And way more than just a place of / for books....
not sure what happened to the picture - I'll sort it out shortly...

Monday, 22 March 2010

agile, open, effective

Up in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, like many parts of the world, a lot of schools are appearing with large agile spaces (I approve) for a lot more than 30 children, and for more than one teacher too. 100 students and three teachers is not uncommon - in this picture there are 120 youngsters in one space, quietly getting on with their learning very effectively.

Teachers who haven't tried these super-classes wonder how it will all work - it clearly can work remarkably well, but only if the teachers have clearly defined team roles; for example in a three class space there might be a lead teacher, whilst another might focus on differentiation giving width and breadth to those who need it, and the third might be on remedial-repair duty - catching up those who missed a bit, or misunderstood a bit. A classroom assistant might also be sorting out logistics, checking that everything works and so on. The evidence emerging from these schools is compelling when it is done well. There are no hard and fast rules for these roles, but without them it is all too tempting to have three teachers doing a Dick Turpin lesson ("stand and deliver") in three different corners, or just as fatally have one teacher "in charge" while the others nip out for a bit of photocopying.

Children as making remarkable progress though when the "team' re ally sort out what they will each be doing - and with such a resource of other students on hand rules like "ask three then me" take a lot of the pressure off the teachers' shoulders giving them more time to carry out their role professionally.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Australian Football Final (soccer)

There is something seductively tribal about the way individuals pledge and display their allegiance to their team, with shirts, chants, flags, humour and a strong sense of mutuality. But it is interesting that everyone interprets their membership in different ways - no one size fits all here, despite the clearly binary memberships on display.

As we strive for a better and more 21st century sense of "us-ness" in our learning organisations maybe we can learn a little from the mix of personalisation and belonging on display here at Melbourne as the Victory go head to head with Sydney in their end of season final.

In this century I'm never quite clear what use we would have for uniform children, but children who can belong and work together as a team, bring individual strengths to that team, are scarce and valuable. The signification of colour, badge and more on offer here seems to offer a uniform that is not uniform... and that is very helpful.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Qantas it ain't*

But fun it was - an early morning flight up to the Hume Region Principals' Conference in Wangaratta took a bit longer than intended - we had to go round a storm (!) but was very enjoyable - they are doing cool things up in Wangaratta and it was nice to be able to suggest more...

Flight back was a bit delayed when a tractor parked in front of the plane for a while... By the way, this is a Life Saver Rescue plane - they use it to rush along the wonderful beaches and spot dangers - swimmers in difficulty, sharks, etc. But the service is being phased out to be replaced by a helicopter service - much more expensive to run. With the plane the pilot simply talked to the Lifesavers, who quickly took action. Sometimes systems find it really hard to cope with effective collaboration between folk and build autonomous solutions controlled by a hierarchy - exactly the polar opposite of where this people's century with it's collaborative mutuality is headed. I liked the little plane and its radio...

* thanks to Muartin Luevins for pointing out how to spell Qantas correctly - I'd initially added a U. His comment explains, below.

Sydney Opera House

I love the Sydney Opera House; its architect, Jørn Utzon, was a not very well known 38 year old Dane until January 29th 1957 when his entry, "scheme number 218", was announced as the winner of an international competition for a national opera house in Sydney.

It is only when you get up close that you realise the wonderful way that it seems to reflect daylight is a function of the many ceramic tiles that coat it from top to bottom. Iconic building don't get much better than this...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Passive shading...

...doesn't need to be dull as you can see from this Catholic school in the Parramatta district of New South Wales.

Beautiful and functional...

Friday, 26 February 2010

Where's a brolly when you need one?

This was a bit ironic really. Leaving the Channel 4 HQ in London - it's a
Rogers building so interesting as a design - and we'd had a good meeting - I like
Ch4 - but on leaving it tipped down with proper British London rain (cold and wet) and I needed to shelter, Where better, i thought, than under a huge installation of umbrellas forming the Ch4 logo. Perfect?

Well, no. Sadly despite HUNDREDS of brollies I still got drenched. Nice
installation though.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Powell's Books

Powell's Bookstore here in Portland OR, USA is a legend. Founded not so long ago in 1971 it is HUGE and has a wonderful mix of used and new books - with lots of good prices too.

The vast section pictured is only the sailing shelves (you'll know why this made me happy...) and the place is quirkily chaotic with whole floors devoted to things like SF and fantasy - a whole wall in there just dedicated to armageddon and post apocalyptic stuff! Lots of support for local authors, vast swathes of poetry... and all enriched by a mass of little annotations along the shelves as staff (and others!) leave thoughts and recommendations.

It's way more than a bookstore it is a community of folk who care about the printed word (oh, swathes of graphic novels too - whole section) and obviously does coffee too.

I won't repeat why I care about community here - short version is, it matters. Great store - in both senses.

Friday, 5 February 2010


In Seville (Spain) for the EU's big E-twinning conference with teachers from twinned schools all around the EU, and with many, many languages spoken. I did a keynote - well, I am pretty keen on schools working together across the old national boundaries - and with over 500 folk there it was rather curious to talk to an audience with relayed translation in process. With a relayed translation system the translator generating the langauge you have selected for your headset may not be listening to the primary speech, but to a translation of it - so as a listener you may be getting "your" version quite a while after the speaker has said their bit, to be translated, and translated again first. Thus if I say something perhaps slightly witty, the ripple of smiles and chuckles takes a really long time to go round the audience - and some bits of the audience don't smile at all (lost in traanslation...).

I also rather enjoyed the national and regional "old" media cameras arriving to film what was a quite wired and connected conference - and then pointing camaeras the many delegates who themselves were filming for twitcam, blogs, YouTube, whatever. Old media filming new media... Hmmm. I smiled, but not all the press did - I wonder what message their brains had translated that image into...

Monday, 18 January 2010

I dream of learning

Back in 2009 Feltham City Learning Centre (CLC) in London's Hounslow ran a competition around the theme "I dream of learning" and there were some very high quality entries from students - of course!.

I was SO delighted that at the annual BETT Show in London's Olympia this january (2010) amongst the Lampton School students who were on my Playful Learning stand (and who were wowing the BETT guests and various Ministers of Education with their thoughts about the importance of Play in learning) were these four who were the winners of the competition!

Here they are making their acceptance presentation to an audience of some very senior and important folk upstairs in a presentation lounge at BETT. The four of them - Dharmbir (left), Ejiro, Yayra (speaking to the hand held microphone) and Steffan (at the rostrum) - are shown here as they make their school very proud of them indeed - not the least because the £££ prize is: enough funding to actually build their dream learning space, complete with chill out zone, astro turf floor, cognitive colouring, great tech and bean bags!

I thought their presentation was well paced and highly articulate, but also the way they fielded and answered some really tricky questions from the senior folk there was even more impressive, as a host of folk have made a point of mentioning to me since.

Well done students - and well done Tony Peaty at Feltham CLC for putting the competition on in the first place. "I dream of learning"... fab.

here is their Powerpoint from the competition presentation earlier in the year.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


Our Playful Learning stand at the world biggest learning technology show (eMAP's BETT show)was rammed with people throughout the first two days - a mixture of children from Lampton School (who had a really clear understanding of the role of play in learning and would bend any passing adults ear to show and tell why) and presentations about playfulness in learning by our stand sponsors: Google, YouTube, 2Simple software, MangaHigh and Satmap all added up to a lot of activity and visitors from all round the world.

I think everyone remembers, or already knew, how important play is in learning, but it took the children to show and remind them how easily technology can re-inject play back into important classroom tasks without being a distraction. In the end, engagement is a key variable in performance isn't it?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Our wonderful Be Very Afraid event was on yesterday - ten institutions with students all highly articulate in describing their work with ICT.

But, as guests arrived they were presented by this choice of 2 events, to much laughter. But it starkly shows the choices we face in changing the world: conflict or learning?. The yearly cost of one soldier posted to Iraq would support 20 school, perhaps more, at local prices... In Afghanistan it would BUILD 20! I type this as I listen to a senior Iraqi policymaker describing the challenges in taking learning forward today - and saying just how hard it was before with
www, phones etc banned (with a potential lifetime in prison for using them he reported).

No simple choices are there? But it seems to me that learning has a better chance of mending the world than the alternatives...

We are at that crossroads right now.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Roof space motif

I'm a great fan of high ceilings - natural light, scale, proportions
with a large learning space, etc. And these big spaces lend themselves
to "installation" size objects that also do a remarkable job in
deadening noise. Most recently I was suggesting to teachers from
Knowsley's new learning spaces (where technology ans science together
need some careful sound engineering) that a pterodactyl in the roof
would be a useful sound control device and an enjoyable science /
technology project. Anyway, here up a mountain in France skiing and I
find the same solution - and the same powerful sense of motif. Not
sure what our Health and Safety folk would make of the rusty chains
holding it up though...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Westminster Hall

Sorry about the blurry picture - I was passing through in a bit of a hurry...

This huge hall was built in 1097, which is going back a fair bit! The famous hammerbeam roof was put up in Richard II's reign. It is the largest clearspan medieval roof in England - no pillars, huge floor. It has housed a few important trials to say the least: Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Sir William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes...

And it has housed coronation banquest - last one was for George !V in 1821.

So, you don't really need me to spell this out do you?: large open multifacted, agile building, still valuable almost 1,000 years on...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Big fulcrum

Just returned from the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha. #wise09

The Summit was very helpful - so many useful conversations and Twittchats! It also provided a fascinating contrast between the World Economic Forum typeview - "let's build system on systems, make big admin even bigger..."; and my (+others') view that this is a bottom up people's century / self organising communities / mutuality kind of time.

My favourite question from floor to illustrate the gap was "how do you systematise bottom up change"; lol. Favourite moment was a four-on-stage panel. One speaker, a nice chap from the WEF was chatting on about the need for systems and big gov and other last century stuff; also on stage - looking very bored indeed - was Biz Stone (of Twitter) and Professor Mitra (of Hole in the Wall, and other projects). Aftwer a while Biz and the prof started chatting in a whisper, then business cards were exchanged and rather nicely, as the WEF speaker embraced Systems, these other two were illustrating the 21st century's core process of "helping people to help each other" right there - hopefully with Twitter throwing a bit of support to Prof Mitra's fab projects. Fun to see real change happen in front of our eyes...

WISE is going to be a significant annual event - not the least because Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned opened with a real call to action to everyone - get on with it!

...and that is what is needed, isn't it?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Museum of Islamic Art

The new Museum of Islamic Art, Doha is a remarkable building - as you can see. A treasure trove of Islamic art artifacts are inside and of course the repetitive patterns and tessellations of Islamic art are everywhere. Perhaps less obvious at first sight is the way that the top of the building is symbolic of a woman's eyes looking through her burqua - her veil (can you see the eys at the top of the building?).

It's only when you look close up at Islamic texts - I was enjoying the blue Qur'an from the 9th century - that you see how important the rhythm of the caligraphy is - a little like looking at  Labanotation describing dance (is that Kinetography? I think so).

Inside, the Museum does a remarkable job of displaying the collected works. Since I am now excitedly involved in building a new school from stone in the Portland Stone quarry in Dorset i was very interested in the use of stone everywhere inside - and to see the British Museum's relationship with MIA - Brit Mus is built from Portland stone too. Small world.

Barrow transport

Dohar is a magical, delightful place.

In the heart of old Dohar, the Souk Waqif boasts a mass of tiny shops with hand blended perfumes, tailors and much, much more. The passageways between these shops are so narrow that deliveries of goods will always be problematic - or rather would be if it wasn't for the small army of bespokely quilted wheelbarrows that provide that service.

A "barrow rank" so to speak is seen here - and you can see one of the many narrow passage ways beyond. Each barrow is carefully owner-secured by a padlock and chain by the way, although Dohar is one of the safest places I've ever been. You can see from the flat worn on each tyre (solid rather than pneumatic, by the way) that these barrows to a fair old mileage!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Space to think

Some years back I was part of the team assembled by Balfour Beatty to "transform" Knowsley schools, just outside Liverpool.

We took them to see Hellerup School in Denmark, connected them to Sheree Vertigan in Reece High School in Tasmania - pioneers of Home Base learning, showed them ideas and designs from all over. A wonderful local authority were ambitious enough for their children that they sought to replace some 11 comprehensives with 7 Learning Centres, against much controversy and, what was in my view, a backward looking, "alternative" plan by the then existing headteachers.

Fast forward, and it was a joy to be there today and see how well the new designs - this one is the Halewood Centre for Learning - are working: chatting to students they reported the remarkable changes in behaviour and motivation, the open, agile home base spaces were being used exactly as intended, the huge "amphitheatre" in the heart that doubles as a staircase (shown here) is now the premier cultural performance facility in the area, with the Liverpool Philharmonic playing there shortly. This has been the experience in Knowsley, where the council has taken the bold move of closing all of its 11 secondary schools, transferring them to 7 new Centres for Learning, using £150 million of government money.

A big 1,000+ school would be impersonal - too easy to coast or be lost. Like so many schools I'm associated with this one is designed around several ‘homebases’, with unique-colour carpeting, and their own designated toilets, study rooms, and a Commons for meeting friends and tutors.

I asked the articulate and thoughtful students who showed me round what was best about the places: the community sharing the space? the sense of intimacy in the home bases? the teachers' open areas adjacent to the home bases? the cathedral like hugely high ceiling?. "No", he said, "it is just that here, you have space to think".


Friday, 6 November 2009


this was fascinating - a prototype session over two days to learn from in preparation for tourhe Great Learnover event in 2010 ( One of the Harris academies hosted this prototype session and watching children from around the world discuss each others learning, in detail, was compelling. Here by the way you can see a useful trick which is to stick postie notes on the screen you are watching to remeber who the various faces are!

To take one example converstion: Swedish children: "how do you organise your learning days?" UK children were puzzled "we have a timetable, someone else organises it". Swedish children surprised.
UK children "how many exams do you do?" Swedish children - we do four at 16, but mostly we have teacher assessment. UK children "How do you get a job with only 4 exams?!!" and so on.

On the other hand, the overseas children were much taken by the collegiality of the Harris Children's Commission and the sense of "belonging" that they all shared although they came from multiple academies. So much to learn from each other, but we need to really break this sense that this only one way to do learning - it is so unfair on our learners.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Rites of passage...

three for one here - (1) this is Oxford Street - the heart of London consumerland - and a novel traffic experiment where on the lights' cue folk can cross on the diagonal.. and tonight (first night) plenty of people were there just to watch ("they'll all be killed..." etc). And (2) some London red busses for those of you not in UK who think the are cute and don't ride bikes around the city.

But also (3) the Christmas lights (turned on this week) set me thinking about cues and clues and signification again. There are very few markers left in our lives of the passage from childhood to adulthood. They really matter, but we seem to be left with only these two: (a) you get a phone at about 9 or 10 ready for "big" school, and (b) you get a High School prom at the end of compulsory exit exams.

Somehow that doesn't seem like enough - cue frantic reading on anthropological texts. Folk in Oxford Street tonight (as they watched the diagonal crossers collide) were remembering being old enough to come up to see the lights etc., and I have reflected elsewhere on how education should be central in devising these markers in the newly secular world that we now inhabit. In UK schools, where uniform is prevalent, the "moving out of uniform into "work standard' clothes might be one such marker...

Fresh ideas for what learning related rites of passage to adulthood might be effective are welcome...

User generated?

Interesting experience tonight: I did a TV interview on the BBC's 24/7 news channel - with a huge global audience I was told - on the old chestnut of exams. It seems that wise Denmark (see last week) are allowing internet access in exam rooms for 14 school / colleges and will invite all schools to participate by 2011. I'll post the interview here later. I mentioned our eViva project from some years back.

But the Millbank studio was not where the interviewer was - so i sat facing this camera, noone else around, no technicians (huge contrast with the 28 folk in the room when I did Newsnight live!) - and the monitor on the camera was off (broken?). So staring at a disembodied voice of the interviewer, chatting to a lens alone (through a glass darkly?)... and yet it all felt so straightforward after all those podcasts, twitcams and other USG stuff.

For a sense of audience you only need an imagination....

Sunday, 25 October 2009

As time goes by

I have visited so many schools lately with a Great School Clock that people had almost forgotten, but that somehow was rediscovered... and anyway I love clockwork things (my watch is clockwork even) - so when I found an 1820s grandfather clock with it's chains and weights and pendulum, I couldn't resist buying it. It was very affordable... only problem is, it needs a case - you can see it here nailed inelegantly to the workshop door (being measured up for its new finery).

So there's a winter project - I'd better make it a case.

When we started exploring Nano Nagel's convent in Cork (the Presentation Sisters were exploring making it into a community learning resource - a great project), I couldn't resist winding and starting the old grandfather clock on the landing. It ws a mesmeric moment, as though the whole building's heart had been restarted. Clockwork clocks can do that, not everything digital is perfect!

Friday, 23 October 2009


Engaging visit to Silkeborg in Denmark - a town of some 50,000 folk - to explore ICT in learning. Their largest school of some 700 students is, like so many others now, subdivided into about 10 smaller "communities", but I was most interested in this new primary school...

The evening that I arrived I visited Hans-Jørn Riis' lovely house and was captivated by his complex, brick, traditional fire and stove right at the centre of his family home (not the least because of the tasty pizza which came out of the oven bit!). It has a complex flue which powers the oven too, and gives the home a warm heart. Hans-Jørn mentioned that their new primary school Lansgøskolen also had an oven of this traditional brick design, and here it is - it gives the school community a warm heart, but also serves as a focal point - you can imagine on a cold morning the youngsters gravitating to the centre, and to the embracing warmth.

Great idea...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Any degrees but 90

One of so many insights from the remarkable Leigh Technology Academy (schools within schools, vertical age groupings, so much responsibility given to older students, project based work, etc etc) was this:

so many of the 21st century schools that I have seen leaping forwards in ambition and performance have a certain "wow factor" when you walk in - it is part of the self esteem growth that you always see in the students. A big part of that  "wow factor" comes from an absence of what the US calls "cells and bells" - the old boxes and corridoors of the factory school era.

However, not only are the tiny boxes missing (Leigh Technology Academy teaches a lot of classes in groups of 60 in big spaces, but with three or sometimes four adults present) but one design feature that stands out is the complete lack of right angles! It seems like a small thing in design terms but the impression it gives is of a series of interlinking agile spaces that are a very long way from boxes.

And watching the teaching and learning that results, reading the research too, it clearly works.