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.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


In designing learning spaces I talk a lot about Agility - and now many others do too. Agile learning spaces, usually multifaceted, allow the organisation of learning to respond rapidly to learners' needs and to their teacher's plans. I often describe such spaces as being like a stage - architecturally bland (and thus SO affordable) but able to rapidly offer a different vista of learning - Act 1 scene iv, Act 2 Scene i, Act 2 scene ii etc. People seem to understand this analogy.

But wandering through Brightlingsea at the start of Autumn I walked past pal Gary Constable's boatyard and reflected on the way that boatyards re-configure themselves seasonally. At this time space is at a premium as boats start to appear for winter refits and work, prior to formally laying up - by Spring it is all pre-season preparation and of course summer is space and time. Not only do each of these functions require a different space layout - for which the yard needs genuine agility, but each offers a different social environment too - folk this week were positively relishing the social chit chat of Autumn in the shed. No doubt many other physical spaces have traditionally been comfortably agile - it makes you wonder even more why we seem to have locked so many schools down into the constancy of cells and bells...

..and then seem surprised by the boredom and disengagement that results.