Thursday, 25 December 2008

On top of the world

There is something about being up a mountain at Christmas with all the family. I'm not sure if it is the quiet (snow absorbs sound a lot), or the sense of being "up in the clouds" (the cloud base is often below), but it is a wonderful break and i count myself very lucky to be able to enjoy it each winter.

Happy Christmas to you all

Monday, 22 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Escaping to the French Alps with al the family for skiing over
Christmas and the New Year... it's peaceful and beautiful. Hope your break is likewise. Oh, and the snow is wonderful.

And is it just me, or can you see a face in that icicle too?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Deck the halls...

...and here at the wonderfully manicured Pinehurst resort in North Carolina (it's a golf Mecca apparently) they have done just that.

Suddenly it feels very, very Christmassy! Interesting to reflect on what parts of education have been naughty or nice this year...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Digital divide

Proud dad takes photo of one of the many delightful details on his eldest daughter's classroom wall.

People wonder sometimes about a digital divide - personally I applaud the accessibility that technology has brought, together with the spectacularly lower costs in many cases, BUT I do worry about the widening gap between what you might describe as the educational fundamentalists who ban and bar everything (no YouTube, no phones, no social networking, precious little joy...) and those rapidly increasing numbers of 21st century schools who have embraced the new opportunities that ICT have brought us all in learning.

The worry is that the gap between enlightenment - as exemplified here - and educational fundamentalism is in danger of getting to be too big to bridge soon. And that is a very real digital divide. What will we do with those "ban 'em and bar 'em" schools, with their cells and bells, then?...


Filming at the excellent Lampton school (where eldest daughter teaches) with the ITN camera crew doing a bit of a documentary for BETT 09.

It just never fails to amaze me how students can still focus AND do useful work when they have mountains of camera equipment and a film crew quite literally "in their faces".

Amazing generation really... On the other hand filming in a London taxi last month for a Pearson Foundation feature, a car alongside us crashed straight into the back of a bus in front (airbags deployed etc - big crash!), the driver presumably completely distracted by the filming inside the taxi!. So the generation before this one are clearly not nearly so relaxed with all the paraphernalia of a media rich world, are they?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Hurricane proof

Transforming learning, from the ground up, and doing it around model of entitlement to be your best is complex as anything, and is way more than just bricks and mortar, of course.

But standing today in the middle of a huge new school complex, with its scattering of intimate "academies" for small groups of children to call home, and its big statement shared buildings, like this one behind me, is just so exciting. Clifton Hunter School is rising up from the rocks and as you can see has a very strong, hurricane proof heart, but just seeing the excitement in the eyes of the warm hearted people here on Grand Cayman as they pass by is enough, for now.

It's been a very good day indeed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Sailing through the curriculum

On Grand Cayman - where our new schools are coming on rapidly I was
lucky to find a moment to visit the International School at Camana
Bay. It's a new build full of lovely features like this sun screening
canopy of overlapping sailcloth.

The only problem is taking it down as the hurricanes pass by, which
they do quite often here. Mesh can work even better than sailcloth
because it allows wind, and a little diffused light, through so you
avoid that venturi effect of accelerating air underneath. This one
looks really lovely though, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

One size can't EVER fit all

Can it? ...and that is nowhere more obvious than in Thailand where so many ride these little Honda motor bikes but where seemingly everyone, like the taxis and tuk-tuks, are individually "interpreted". This is a custom shop and the bike in the foreground is the current epitomy of cool: colour-anodised suspension parts, trick panels (with lightweight cut-outs) and these very slim rims and "racing" tyres (think Chris Hoy more than Moto GP). Vast flocks of little motorbikes, all completely individual... wonderful to see.

How anyone could see all this and still think that a one-size-fits-all school or education system would ever engage anyone beggars belief - this is not a criticism of Thai schools, by the way, but of that whole factory model of learning that characterised education in most countries in the last century and has surely no place at all in this one.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Thailand again

Now, in keeping with this blog I could show you some rather
disappointing schools - not a patch on Bangkok's inspired TK Park..

...or I could share this wonderful scenery of old volcanic plugs and
crater lakes that you can just about wriggle into via tiny flooded
caves - it really is all as beautiful as this. Diving off the boat
with a gang of young backpackers to watch the monkeys... Mmmm!

Interesting by the way that all my childhood physical geography cut in
at first sight of this lot and I immediately became very boring about
erosion, etc

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Long Tail

Long tail boats (nothing to do with Internet trends) are all over S E Asia (I'm in Thailand - Cape Panwa) and rather ingeniously use a simple pivot / swivel to balance a full size car of truck engine against a l-o-n-g prop shaft that is quite literally just that. Plentiful water via a heat exchanger, open exhaust (so, loud then) and off you go.

The prop (on this one the whole unit is reversed so that the propellor is in the boat for "parking") operates just at surface level, but I'm not sure why this is faster than fully immersed. The result is a whopping "cockerel's tail" of water - fast showy and cheap. Oh and fun too - feels ten times the speed!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Room with a view

There shouldn't be any problem with this. But...

...these loos in the excellent Sofitel Hotel are 35 floors up (I was staying even higher on the 48th floor), so privacy is good, surely and the views out over the MCG in Melbourne are spectacular... but it is faintly un-nerving to, ahem, use them with this big open window alongside....

...not sure why.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cook's delight 2

The sphere (below) familiarised Captain Cook with the constellations - and is well worn from years of his use - but it was also accompanied by this detailed star atlas with inclinations and considerable precision - all overlaided by imaginative artists representations of the constellations.

Sending this from my iPhone, as its precise GPS location guides me back to the hotel from the library, with Google Earth with its detailed star charts, accompanying Google maps, it is humbling to remember just how little information these intrepid early navigators had. Brave...

Cook's Delight

while in Melbourne for the Curriculum Conference keynote I gave a public lecture in the State Library of Victoria on Swanston Street - an astonishing and well preserved building from the 1800s. The library was just preparing a touring exhibition of Captain Cook's personal artefacts. And I had a chance for a close look which was a real honour.

This was his star-sphere - it has constellations and stars carefully mapped onto its surface. Hard to imaging him sitting with this bauble in his hand looking up at the sky to recognise familiar Northern hemisphere constellations (like Orion's Belt) that he could still see as he sailed South.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Learning about learning

I was visiting Teddington School (see also below) in the company of a film crew and Peter Cowley who for a good time was based in the pioneering Ingenium at Greycourt School (see also two girls talking about learning in that futuristic space from our annual Be Very Afraid event at BAFTA). Teddington had created this excellent Technology Pilot space - their own test Classroom of Tomorrow in advance of their planned exciting new school buildings. This really does work in many schools - a place to try teaching in a robustly 21st century way.

Teddington's space in particular has interesting furniture - with stand-and-type height surfaces which the children like a lot (as in many workplaces too these days). My only small suggestion to them was to mirror the wall so that the faces of children sitting towards it can be seen, along with their various screens. Cheap mirrors transform pedagogy in tech rich environments. Peter was on very good form, as was assistant head teacher Kevin Watling (pictured). I await the film with interest!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Book ends

Visiting the excellent Teddington School with a TV crew to film their "classroom of tomorrow" which was in turn inspired by our excellent Ingenium classrooms at Meadlands and Greycourt s chools in nearby Richmond...

...amongst a host of interesting explorations of furniture were these wonderful fibreglass stools looking like giant stacks of books. Fun, playfully Harry Potteresque, very light and affordable. I just had to order some right away - for a school in West London where I have an interest - and for home!!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Be Very Very Afraid

Wonderful day at BAFTA for Be Very Afraid 5. An ecelectic mix of students from 7 years through to university age and a guest list of THE key influencers in ICT and learning added up to a remarkable day - BVA is a unique networking event too - all the key influencers at the same time in the same place!.

Highlights this year from my perspective included:
• a host of media interviews with the students - the interest in the event grows annually, not the least because it has a track record of showing very clearly what two-years-on tech will look like in learning.

• and the quiet, assured, articulateness of the learners as they explained their complex technology + learning mash-ups. For the students - even with a guest list capped at 150 - it was an enjoyable, if exhausting, day. The rest of the world gets the website videos, the podcasts and the DVD.

See previous years'work from

Big thanks to this year's sponsors who help to make it a very special event for students and guests alike:
Apple, BECTA, BAFTA, Edexcel,, Promethean, RM and Roxio. Thanks all.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Jazz it up

Fabulous way for the Blackburn and Darwen Education Improvement Partnership (EIP) to kick off tonight - I did a keynote input but then we had a really engaging debate and questions about the nature of 21st century learning, all preceded by some really good food (curry, pappadums! yum) and a host of children of all secondary ages making up an exceptional schools' Big Band. They were really together, so i asked how come? They'd been away touring in Paris in the last year and "that helped" as one of them said, smiling...

With every region and nation embracing some form of "new" learning, the thing that separates them is ambition. The old world of incrementalism is dead or dying (and about time too) so the question is only "how good might our children be?". Up here tonight, there is no shortage of ambition about that future.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Autumn flutter

I'm not sure just what this is (comments please?) - but it has left it a bit late to be out in the Autumn sun on pal Colin's boat-launching tractor (hence the rust). After a sailing season of gales and much rain, it has been a remission to get a few late weeks of sunshine as this butterfly (moth?) is demonstrating.

Stop Press:
Thanks to comment-poster BillG for this identification. It is a Comma

Thursday, 16 October 2008

In limbo

I'm a big fan of the Wellcome Trust and this week I visited their building in Euston Road, London to chat about some very interesting games research we will be sharing with them at CEMP in Bournemouth Uni. But while there we had a chance to visit the newly refurbished exhibition of science and art which is (as you see) a combination of installation and inspiration.

It was reaffirming to see it filled with both art and science enthusiasts - I spared you some of the more memorable exhibits - a torture chair, or the raunchy ones (you must go and look for yourself...), but the whole way the display space was able to 'stage' its exhibits reminded me of why agility in design matters so much - for schools too.

Wellcome do so much doe the public understanding of science.. Euston Road now has a new treasure to help that along.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Transport of delight

When I was small in Buckinghamshire, if I didn't cycle to school I went by train and because we were out in the country our trains were still powered by steam. So my childhood memories are of occasional rides up front "on the footplate" with bacon cooked on shovels in the flames of the firebox - my brother more so than me, he loved steam trains.

So, waking this morning in Dymchurch to see their famous scale steam railway was a treat - and seeing the schoolchildren all being whisked along to school by it looked like fun too and presumably substantially cut the SUV count on the roads around the local Kent schools. Since these short-run SUV journeys are killing the planet AND the children it was yet another reminder of how we need to rethink schools and their scale, location, timing...

...but a nice reminder too of a blissful childhood. I just had to pop over to the station to see this scale size engine getting ready for it's tourist run out to Dungenness for crab sandwiches on the beach. But I was too busy to be able to take the ride. Next time...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

High Tech High

Final image from a fascinating visit to High Tech High in San Diego, California. This is the pre-High SChool alongside the origibnal High Tech High with it's wonderful curriculum - see other two posts. A big issue for all new schools is furniture design - it is SO hard to find good stuff. But as you see here engagement remains the key; these children were so engaged that their cleverly designed shoe and bag lockers (note the extension of the bottom tier) made a wonderful perch for learning. As i said at the beginning of these three posts the visit raised a few concerns, but was also wonderfully re-affirming: children love to learn and here they do it with relatively little money too.

Hi tech! 2

And here is another problem. High Tech High was just that back in 2000 but as you see here what was generous resourcing then is old-tech now. Make no mistake the children here are thriving - creative collaborative work all over every floor! But this picture in indicative - a row of old unloved computers facing the wall (facing the wall! that was a punishment once and still is, so you see a lot less of this in schools today) while the kids get on with great work with pens and paper on the floor.

Although there is a lot of tech in their projects - robots, design & technology etc etc the school was less high tech than anything I've seen for ages and you wonder how much better yet it would be if some of the e-gregarious, presentation pro, phone-toting, web savvy, wired global learners that the front running schools seem to have engendered were let loose on that wonderful curriculum that High Tech High has. I asked our guide which 21st century schools worldwide he had seen or been impressed with; he hadn't looked at any at all. As we rush towards global learning we have all got to look really thoughtfully at each others' ideas worldwide. It all really shows that with the pace of change in learning noone can afford to rest on their laurels, can we?

Hi tech?

Really interesting visit to High Tech High School in San Diego (, which was at the same time re-affirming and depressing - I'll post three images.

First the good news - it works. Located in a converted building on the ex-naval base - very low budget and with no hall, dining room, gym it embraced that well tested world model of agile space - with open areas, curtaining, glass and the ability to rapidly re-configure. The curriculum is the thing and again in line with many 21st century schools: project based, often mixed age, reflective, collaborative, often "elsewhere", emphatically comprehensive, problem solving focussed, with three weekly exhibition of projects and much exhibition to the community - it is no surprise to see children working everywhere - on every ledge, floor, stair and bench. Children we engaged and articulate - not always that common in US schools, sadly.

But the wonderfully agile space that many admired originally back in 2000 is now bursting with boxes as little rooms and units pop-up everywhere. The result is a mass of contrictions and restrictions - clearly what one guide described as a kind of "nostalgia-drift" - has seized the place to the extent that the elementary school built there (there are now some 6 High techs on the old naval base space) is the conventional corridors and classrooms model that the rest of the world is rushing (wisely) away from. How interesting! The children still learn enthusiastically all over the place, but to will be interesting to see if (and how) the wonderful curriculum can survive these encroaching walls...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fish N Ships

San Diego is still an active - and substantial - port. I am here for a large and hugely enjoyable CEFPI conference of school facilities planners and architects.

Cue very considerable debate about the scale, shape and nature of 21st century schools against a backdrop of Palin vs Obama.

With a host of overseas countries here there were many examples showing that the most ambitious schools, regardless of circumstances are galloping way ahead of policy and showing remarkable learning gains - engagement is the key of course.

Luckily my good friends and colleagues from our work together in the Cayman Isles are here - and we took a moment out for these fish and chips by the ships - we have lots to chat about, the progress out there is really something..

I did the opening CEFPI keynote and the closing address - given the imagination and engagement of the 1,000 or so folk here, education in the US, post election, will be VERY interesting to watch - a real sense of arriving at a crossroads. By the way, $750bn divided by their 130,000 or so schools = a big number. I wonder if bailing out banks or using those dollars to transform schools would be the better investment?

Monday, 29 September 2008

Ton up

When I was a kid doing 100 mph in anything was impressive. Later, flying in Concorde and watching the huge bulkhead sized display confirm that we we going faster than sound was pretty impressive too.

So I love this little app on my iPhone which simply polls the GPS
satellites to see how fast I (or more precisely the phone) am / is going. So here I am (nice screen grab feature built into the iPhone by the way) on the Heathrow Express doing a quiet and unflustered 100 mph. It really IS an express!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bond, beer* and batter

It is exactly 25 years since Alan Bond's inspired bid to win the America's Cup at Newport Rhode Island in 1983, with John Bertram and the team, and The Keel of course. I remember watching the last race all unfold - as Dennis Conner's boat missed the chance to cover downwind and Australia II slipped in to cross them by inches and take the series from the USA for the first time.

I recall EVERY detail of the moment as though it was just yesterday. Bond had had a few business issues (ahem) since of course, but remains for me an absolute hero. So it was a joy at the (very good) Australian Secondary Principals' Conference to be whisked over to Freemantle - which had become for a while the home of the cup - for an evening out. The AC boats are gone but the boatsheds remain and so after a whopping portion of fish n chips I found myself here in one of the boatsheds (heaven) which is now a brewery (uh oh). Great conference, great company, great boatshed, great beer. Perfick.

* Little Creatures Pale Ale - it's proper yummy!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

relative progress

People on and around the moving walkways at airports (I'm in Dubai, then on to Perth) provide a great parallel for folk around ICT in schools.

Some get on, keep walking and make great progress. Others get on and, mistaking their relative progress, stop walking thus holding up everyone behind. Still others keep well away from the "new fangled devices" and walk alongside, but are constantly flustered and exhausted from trying to keep up. A few arrive early, and wait nearby rather than getting on - but then suddenly realise that the moment has passed and miss their flights. Some get on, relax, don't look where they are going and hurtle off in diametrically the wrong direction.

And of course the airports are designed in an entirely new way because the tech solution allows new layouts and approaches. Oh yes, and finally nations are actively competing to produce the best airports partly to attract the new users, but partly because of prestige.

Sounds familiar?

See also the slides I used at ASPA in Perth to illustrate the point

Friday, 12 September 2008

Almost perfect...

I drive a quirky German car. I'm very fond of it - the engineering is astonishing and they have thought of everything... almost. Driving from Dover to Norwich last night the rear tyre punctured. Opening the bonnet (it's rear engined) I found literally everything I needed, all laid out in the right order to use - gleaming tools, even latex gloves and a mysterious polythene sheet. So, I extracted the tiny emergency wheel with its "pleated" tyre (there's no room for a real spare - not much room for anyting to be honest), plugged in the electric inflator, with instructions printed on it, and blew up the tyre which grew rapidly in diameter - magic! I opened the tool roll, took out the (lightweight!!) aluminium jack and changed the wheel. Perfect.

Apart from... I now have one enormous rear wheel (the tyres are rather wide) and it won't go in any of the storage space. Cue mysterious polythene sheet which I now realise is designed to go on the passenger seat - where you have to put the wheel. Brilliant - they thought of everything... but where do you put the passenger? In a taxi..

Thursday, 4 September 2008

British tradition (2): the Proms

Wonderful evening (as the BBC's guest) in the Albert Hall at the Proms. Simon Rattle, the Berliner Philharmoniker (surely the best orchestra currently in the world?), Shostakovich's 10th symphony (which came after Stalin's death - and after a 10 year pause) was in turn sad, visceral, optimistic and astonishing (4 movements). He really didn't like life under Stalin did he?! The proms were packed, and you can see here the standing only promenaders packing the central floor. Sharp eyed will also see Henry Wood's iconic bust behind the band.

I started the day with an iChat link-up to policymakers / friends in Tasmania, which was delightful, but sometimes (eg tonight) it really is about being there. I love the theatre of a live orchestra - the doting violins and the trombones watching the clock and dreaming of beer - but with five busy percussionists playing we certainly had the heavy artillery out tonight!

Monday, 1 September 2008

British tradition: beach huts

It's a very British tradition going back to Victoria times (when, apparently, seaside air and good health were linked) to have little huts along the sea's edge for families to own and enjoy.

Mostly these are individually decorated but with common features: a pitched roof, planked walls, a porch.

Brightlingsea has a few hundred of these huts - no overnighting allowed - but a sunny weekend sees families throwing open their doors, getting out the deck chairs and putting the kettle on. Neighbouring families go back generations - the huts rarely change hands. This is our hut with beach in front and boating lake behind. Perfect.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Had we but world enough and time...

Stuck here in Dover on the way between Cowes Week and Ramsgate Week - pinned down by 50 knot plus gales (and first race is tomorrow) we
spent a couple of days on some enjoyably tough Maths puzzles but have now fallen to PlayDoh modelling (these are Shortie's attempts).

Thank goodness for iPhones to help pass the time...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

On reflection... why?

Going on from Cowes Week to Ramsgate Week, but stuck in Dover Marina - pinned here by a vast and unseasonable gale - we went for a bit of a wander around and came across this extraordinary boat round the back of the Volvo Penta shop (who had run out of oil). The whole boat is... well you can see - it's covered in mirror tiles. Now I vaguely remember reading about this - it was (I vaguely recall) someone's art installation (cue research) but it is an amazing sight to stumble across in a boat park.

And anyway, what else can we do while we wait for the gales to subside?

This post may go a bit wrong - I'm juggling between the old faithful Sony Ericsson and the new iPhone (which is a LOT better than the old one - 3G at last) - so this got snapped on someone else's phone (thankyou David) and bounced around a bit first.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

A lot of boats

Well, it is the biggest Regatta in the world and there are a LOT of boats and sailors. But being able to walk right across the marina from boat to boat is still pretty amazing. Some 1,000 boats take quite a bit of parking. . . The racing is good too.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Life in the old girl yet. . .

Our Brightlingsea One Design "Aina" was built in 1939 and we live in what was once the home of her designer Robbie Stone who designed them in 1925. She is in pretty fab condition for her age - as you can see - and we spent the weekend getting her ready for Pyefleet Week - the annual BOD championship on England's East Coast.

She is ready now, after a lot of work, but first there is the small matter of Cowes Week and Ramsgate Week in our big boat Cracker. Work friends will understand why I need to stop work for August (and a bit more); this is all hard work - and great fun of course.

Meanwhile Aina looks gorgeous, and pretty frisky, for a 69 year old doesn't she?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

But is it Art?

Another busy day. . . started at the BBC's Bush House with an interview about 21st century learning for their World Service (agility, ingenuity et al). Then on to Tate Modern to lead a hugely enjoyable half day on the Art of Learning (cue debate: would Picasso or Matisse (and why doesn't my phone's spelling checker know these two?) have passed their GCSEs in Art) then walk West along the Thames before crossing over to the RSA for a hot debate tonight on Can Children Research and some nice Royal Society sandwiches and nibbles.

On the way I pass a chap doing a very short lived (until high tide) installation art work of huge sofas, in sand, on the newly sandy beach at low water on the South Bank.

Art, Learning, Fun, Debate. Sun.
Sometimes London is simply a wonderful city.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

iTouch research project

Last night I was up in Melton Mowbray for a hugely enjoyable evening with a very sharp group of school students who had been exploring learning life with an iPod Touch each. We had dinner and they presented their wise thoughts about the little gadgets - last time we had eaten together was after a day working on Cracker at the St Katherine Docks (see below). The project was sponsored by BECTA. With organising teacher Max Buczynski moving on it felt like the end of something - but he had noticed that it was George's birthday and a HUGE cake duly arrived. In all quite a final celebration.

A key finding from their comments - they also had detail criticisms of things like not having brodband at home being a big problem - was that they really enjoyed having a "little computer in my pocket". Also, almost all their survey work questioning other students in other schools was done via social networking and chat environments - they largely saw email as simply something for older or business people.

Don't doubt the significance of both those for ICT in learning.

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Stuck in Cowes - trapped there by by gale force winds - we were supposed to be delivering Cracker to the Thames for the annual Medway Regatta - we did at least enjoy watching the Royal Yacht Squadron's cannons starting the final very competitive Commodore's Cup race.

Interestingly with a fairly slow CCD on my phone I had to press the shutter a full 2 seconds before the gun to actually catch the smoke! Mind you the line is so long it takes 7 seconds before you hear the Bang at the outer end. Luckily, as you see, there is enough smoke to see when the start actually is - light travelling a LOT faster than sound.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


So, here is the head of our big spinnaker - and it looks quite a bit short of the full 120 square metres that is is supposed to be, doesn't it? The team did pretty well to get all the other 119 square metres out of the water without stopping us completely.As you see from the graphics behind the ship's van we are at Quantum's loft - our sailmakers of choice - and they have kindly said they can make us a new one in two weeks - just in time for Medway Regatta.

So now we just have to get Cracker from Cowes to Medway, and then back to Cowes again for Cowes Week. We do this for fun. It's a hobby. I just needed to remind myself...

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Round the Island

Cowes this Saturday and every possible mooring-spot is filled as 1840 or so yachts - a new record entry - lined up to race round the Isle of Wight. It's like sailing in a blizzard of Kevlar and Carbon! We simply flew round until the big downwind spinnaker blew apart in a lot of wind and water going part St Catherine's lighthouse on the South side of the island. Sigh.

Mind you, we managed to keep going and (using the asymmetrical reacher instead - it was more than a bit unstable though!). But if we had trouble, so did others: there were five boats aground in big seas; there were five injuries including one person helicopted off to hospital with a bashed head; four boats were dismasted (including one dismasted by Hugo Boss with Lewis Hamilton aboard - cue headlines - poor Lewis, he was just a guest) , five were damaged badly enough to need a tow; one boat sank (and quickly); one boat capsized;and there were 11 man overboards.

Sailing really IS like standing in a cold shower tearing up all your banknotes. . .

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Blue below: into the deep

. . . and with the water this clear you just HAVE to go down into the depths tosee the coral and conch and fish - but where where it is STILL a beautiful blue.

This was a morning off after a busy week. Yesterday I visited four fascinating primary schools (with a real sense of moving learning forward) and was particularly excited to find one offering Sailing in its curriculum - in this case through the local sailing club.

The whole bottom-up teaching and learning transformation is really gathering race here and the focussed attention of a lot of policy makers worldwide is a nice if daunting result. Last night's Chamber of Commerce initiated Golden Apple awards for great teaching showed how both young and old are making a difference here. One of the youngest award winners made a quite remarkably impassioned speech,of the cuff, about why teaching matters - especially in his special school.

It's not just the water and sky that are blue here: this country really is the bluest of blueprints for 21st century learning. . .

Blue above

The water around Grand Cayman really is this blue - partly because is so deep around the island (which is allegedly wider at sea-level than it is at the base on the ocean floor!).

On the North shore it drops pretty sheer straight down 6,000 feet. Which is part of what makes it the world's best dive site. Although you probably need to get your buoyancy right before you swim over the Edge. . .

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Noise Conditioning

OK, there is a real issue with air conditioning in big learning spaces. Big spaces require a LOT of cool air to stop them being big ovens in places as warm as the Caribbean. But moving all that air down these huge pipes (see photo) requires fans that would get the building airborne if it wasn't concreted down! And the noise is prohibitive: bad for learning, bad for communicating (for assemblies a mike must be worn), bad for concentration (it IS white noise and it IS loud). The answer is perhaps to reduce scale - smaller schools need smaller halls, with smaller volumes and thus small air con plants.

It is interesting to see how often the decisions made in the past to "go large" to achieve economies of scale and to enjoy (often mythical) productivity gains somehow led us into a whole host of bad consequences: disengagement, impersonal space, dreadful acoustics, bullying and so on.

But noise this loud is a real show stopper. I was discussing with Jim Knight the UK Schools Minister how we might build a triple glazed geodetic dome around a school on the Heathrow flight path to allow the children inside to enjoy "outside-learning" without the huge interruption of a Jumbo jet passing every couple of minutes. I do hope we get to build it - but if we do the air conditioning will have to be a lot quieter than this, or there will be no gain at all...

Going up. In every sense

The footings for our new schools here on Grand Cayman are going well and you can start to see where all the small Home Bases and larger specialist areas will be, because after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan all the schools and other hurricane shelters have to be a number of feet above sea level. And with a country SO flat you can therefore see where every building will be.

The excitement is mounting here a we wait to see the first walls of these corridor-less, multifaceted, intimate, collegiate, seductive, agile new 21st century schools appearing, with the 21st century learning that they will be helping to develop too.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Turtles. . .

. . . are a key cultural symbol here in the Cayman Isles. They are even painted onto the tailfins of the national airline's planes.

Like the extraordinary and large blue iguanas they are protected, but there are plenty to be seen. If you look carefully you can see several turtles in this picture which I took on the way to breakfast.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Building Future Learning

I've been into a LOT of schools lately: new, old, refurbed. . . Some are leaping forward on a potent diet of long teaching blocks, project based work, mixed age groupings, small Home Bases for about 125 students, and an ethos of mutuality and 'us-ness' so that learning is properly escaping from its boxes.

And some of those boxes were buildings of course, so that new school designs are also embracing this new freedom with AGILE designs that have a lot less walls, almost no corridors and even, in a few brave instances, no staffrooms. Here in Folkestone Academy there is scarcely a right angled wall in site - and the resultant space, as you see here, is stunning

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Not quite blind

Sailing tonight through an absolutely Stygian darkness we are almost blind apart from the friendly little faces of all our B and G instruments. It takes a long time to be confident that you not about to hit something as we rush through the dark - you do learn to trust the numbers - but keep a look out nevertheless.

Cracker is a data-rich boat with GPS accurate to a few feet and a LOT of microprocessors - here they are calculating the difference between where we are pointing and where we are actualy going (an easy task for her). As you see there's a little bit of tide running as we pass Beachy Head.

At 3.00 a.m. it is quiet right now - no other boats to be seen apart from the usual fleets of huge and rapid ferries to avoid at Dover, Newhaven etc. At night, these glowing instrument faces are my friends...

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Sunrise or sunset?

Sailors mostly prefer sunrise (I do) because it means you've made it through another night. But this is sunSET as we bring Cracker round south from racing at Felixstowe on the UK's East Coast to be on the Solent for her next race in Cowes.

There are no stars tonight - too much cloud - so dodging the constant lobster pots aint easy! But the phosphorescence streaming out behind us in our wake a nd the little bright green "lights" bobbing in the water in our wake is lovely and the whole evening is tranquil - the wind is light. It will be a longish night but then it'll be dawn again. Now, if it would just stop drizzing with rain for a while. . .

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


In BAFTA this morning then back again for Film Committee tonight and today it is absolutely jumping with household names and familiar faces (no, obviously I can't photograph them - BAFTA is that rare thing for celebrities, a private space).

Everyone meeting here today seem to be planning new projects - certainly they are all getting animated / excited / loud! So much energy! So many good ideas. . .

But BAFTA has only been like this since the furniture and food were made less formal - more grazing and relaxed chatting these days has transformed it as a work space for the Creative Industries. As creativity becomes more central to the curriculum we need to learn from successes like this, and include it in the design of learning spaces.. . .

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Learning, yearning

Learning Elsewhere:

Spending a few blissful days with baby Amelie is is hard not to be in awe of the drive babies have to learn (and walk!). Eyes are everywhere, curiousity dominates and play is so, so, so important.

At this stage - she is less that a year old - the learning gains are there almost daily. It really does make you wonder how well we could learn later if we kept the pace up.

In all my years working with new learning environments, the one thing that still amazes me is how far and fast learners can go, at any age, when the conditions are right. I can say for certain is that we really don't know how good our children might be (in every project they always outperform my most optimistic expectations), but for certain it is a lot better than we currently expect, or allow, them to be.

Monday, 19 May 2008

It ain't easy!

And just to remind you how hard it is to learn to walk - even when driven by going to look at a seagull, dog, or ice cream shop... here is baby Amelie learning about balance.