Sunday, November 9, 2014

Personalising learning at Skapskolan.

I was delighted to be hosted by Marcus Lighting 
at Skapskolan.

This is a small country school that has students from6years old to 12 years old.   Lene Jensby Lange had suggested the visit and set it up for me - and it was an inspirational visit. The ride on the 
train and buses were also very enjoyable as we left the 
country to  green fields and farmland.

Marcus and his co-teacher have mixed age group teaching in differentiated spaces for individualised and group learning. They have utilised every space available in the room - including elevated seating (mountain top) and a cave room  underneath. The room is full of options for working including quiet and collaborative spaces and making spaces. There are lots of nooks and crannies for learners to choose from.
The space challenge has not compromised the schools vision of personalised learning. The students are engaged and have an enthusiastic attitude to their the current learning enviroment. Plans are under way for a building extension creating and upper level. For the extension they will continue to work with architect Peter Lippman, from Australia. Lippman's design  focuses on environmental quality of lighting, air quality and temperature as well as a focus on 
student choice and flexibility in how they learn.

You could observe the older students
caring and encouraging the younger students 
both indoors and outdoors. This is due to 
the relationship building that happens with the vertical 
grouping in the classroom.

The take out for me at Skapskolan is how the creative and efficient use of  space for personalising learning is aligned school design with their beliefs around personalising learning.

In the literature review completed as part of my travel fellowship research there was consensus that personalising learning is a desire to give students more choice and control over what they were learning and where and how the learning was to take place. In terms of school design this means providing an environment where:
  •  Learning is flexible - in a range of places that could support small groups, large groups or independent activities.
  • Learning is holistic – the whole child and their learning needs supported
  • Learning styles are acknowledged and supported.
  • A range of learning opportunities provided where students are empowered 
  • Students are grouped according to learning stage not age.
  • Reflection, self-management and collaboration incorporated as part of the learning.
Personalisation refers to educational systems that prioritise the individual needs of the learner. Such systems focus on an holistic approach to meet each learners needs.  Milibrand (2004,p.8) personalised learning definition is generally accepted,  “High expectations of every child, given practical form by high quality teaching based on sound knowledge and understanding of each child needs”.     
The school visit to  Skapskolan and discussions with Marcus and later Lene gave opportunities to consider the literature review findings and observe and discuss how teaching and learning  and  school design reflected and supported the school vision around personalisation. 

I felt really inspired by my visit to this small country school. I look forward to news of the 

next iteration - I wonder how the learning from the current build will be reflected in the new build?


Friday, November 7, 2014

Reflections on visiting -Vittra Telfonplan Sweden

Following the principle of Swedish free school organization Vittra and designed by Rosan Bosch.This has been hailed  as a wall-free school with differentiated spaces that allow the children to learn side by side on their own terms using laptops.

The learning spaces are creative, colourful and innovative. Specialist  rooms such as a dance space and a multimedia lab  permits students  to perform noisy activities without disturbing their peers in the open space. 

It is really worth listening to Rosan Bosch and her very clear  philosophy on learning and design - she is quite inspirational - as is the learning spaces at Vittra. 

It was interesting that some of the "open" spaces had been put into traditional classrooms recently. Apparently this move was due to pressure from parents - who wanted curriculum to be physically organised into subject spaces and department and faculties. Parents are very focused on national examination results. There is a difficult discord, when parents only experience of education is their own and this conflicts with the vision of student empowerment and personalising learning. Seeing these recent developments at Vittra caused me to reflect on pressure on educators to compromise their vision in high stakes environments. 

Vittra was also in the process of appointing a new principal which would strengthen the vision around personalising learning. Rosan Bosh is working with Vittra to establish a new campus in this commercial / industrial area. It will be interesting to see how the design of the new campus develops and the direction that the current campus takes under new leadership.

Change of leadership and staff turnover also impacts on sustainability and  schools with a similar vision to Vittra, need to consider how they can continue to develop  journeys of personalisation through change. I observed other schools in UK and Europe that had space for flexibility, collaboration and more student choice over learning but there was a predominance of whole class lessons, didactic style, and the open space was utilised when the "real' work was finished. How can we address the reality gap between our vision of personalised learning and how teaching and learning actually happens?  How can we sustain our vision through change and political and social pressure?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Creativity and passion in Copenhagen

Strandgårdsskolen is located in a low socio economic  suburb in Copenhagen.

It has been rebuilt over several years and has a clear pedagogical strategy.

This school has succeeded with a big turn-around with significant improvements to student achievement results.

The learning spaces are varied and attractive. They include subject based classrooms, breakout spaces and specialist teaching areas.

   There was strong link between the indoor and outdoor spaces demonstrating a commitment to utilising outdoor    spaces for learning.

This is an alternative provision for under 24 year olds who have dropped out of the ordinary school and youth education system.

It is built in an old rolling stock factory and has a creativity focus, including design, drama,  art and circus performance.

This creative approach to engaging at risk students in education is very successful. Once again I was impressed with the Danish way of hooking into passion and creativity in a very personalised way. Students have opportunities to explore different activities such as circus, performance, theatre, writing, visual arts, design and at the same time exploring options for their future. 

This school was built in 2010.  The school is located in an entirely new area  of 

Copenhagen called Ørestad.   

Currently the student intake is  5-9 year olds and  is planning to take older students in 

the near future.  They are one of the Copenhagen’s specialist schools – the school 

vision is to deliver a curriculum that is  virtual and aesthetic.

There is a local library next door as part of the premises. Orestad Gymnasium is also 

next door. I was impressed  with  the variety of specialist spaces such as art, music, 

science, robotics and making models.

   I was interested to find out that  Denmark schools  basically work  in two shifts - the more 

   academic subjects are taken in the morning and in the afternoon they are taught by 

   professionals  I called the "happy life teachers". 

   This is where the programme becomes truly personalised with students choosing from a 

   range of learning  activities including art, dance, robotics, outdoor building and cooking - 

   basically following their interest and passions.

   However this 'free play way" is about to change following resolution of a major dispute 

   between the local authorities and the teachers union. Teachers were locked out for 4

   weeks!     I hope that the strong focus on personalising learning, innovation and creativity 

   will continue as I found the students engaged, motivated and very passionate about

   their learning.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hellerup School - a great place to learn

Hellerup School was built in 2001. It has learning home zones instead of classrooms. Each learning zone is a  home base for 3-4 classes. The learning zones are shared with the pedagogs who take the after school programme. The building is multi storey with connecting areas utilised for learning. Internal timber cladding is a feature and gives a warm feeling with lots of natural light. The library zone is central on the ground floor. The library or information centre is central on the ground floor, creating a welcome through zone for the learning community and with high visibility from every floor. 

There are around 100 students per learning hub with about 4 teachers plus support staff. The design incorporates lots of breakout spaces including:

·        rooms within rooms
·        Mountain tops
·        Breakout spaces
·        Specific areas for art / science
·        Physical activity encouraged eg climbing walls / table tennis inside buidling

The staffroom is a particularly impressive. It is an open comfortable space which encourages staff to relax in a 

informal atmosphere. I think it is important for staff to have their own space to take a break from the business of 

the learning zones - and good to give something back to staff to appreciate the work they do.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Visits in Scandinavia Schools via Lene Jensby Lange

The visits in Scandinavia were arranged by Lene Jensby Lange. Lene is founder of Autens which is an educational consultancy that works with schools, local authorities, charities, architects and others to innovate learning spaces dedicated to personalising learning.   

Lene and her family hosted us in Copenhagen - we had a great time sharing philoophies about curriculum and school design.
Lene took us on a tour of schools that she has been involved with in design. The next few posts are a synopsis of the schools visited in Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Utterslev Skole is a  new school with a focus on nature and science. Their curriculum encourages  project based learning to encourage creativity, curiousity and innovation.

The school has regular classroom spaces – whole class teaching with some break out spaces.

The curriculum is subject centric – teachers are subject teachers and have their own classroom spaces with breakout spaces that can be used for independent learning.  Creative and personalised teaching based on student choice happens when the students are  with the pedagogs.

Their primary department has an integrated after school club – run by pedagogs. Pedagogs are trained to teach creatively with a holistic whole child approach.

The science facilites at Utterslev Skole were very impressive. It is an honour for students to be selected to look after the range of animals in the science laboritries.

Creative response to growing rolls at Lauriston School, London

Laureston School, Hackney in London   had a growing roll and needed to replace and increase their current school size  and then demolish the old buildings. Performance, creativity and the arts are important drivers for Lauriston School and it was important that these key beliefs were reflected in the new build. The site is very tight and the school needed to be  in operation during the works.

The solution was to build a new 3 storey building that created a school more than twice that of the original, at the same time increasing the play space.
The foundation stage younger classes are located on ground level with free flow access to outside play.

Raised classrooms create a covered playground which is a great space for all weather play. There are  roof decks at various levels   which increase the amount of external playspace and outdoor learning experiences.

The school is constructed with large prefabricated timber panels and these provide an exposed timber internal environment that is  warm and visually appealing. They also work well for mounting displays.
Large wooden vents, easily operated, provide a sustainable ventilation system.

The  way the teaching and learning seemed to work was for the core teaching and learning to be delivered in classrooms and creative experiences in the adjoining creative spaces. Small group teaching also utilised these shared spaces.

The school has some great outdoor spaces including school vege gardens and a wonderful tree house.

   Strategies to strengthen learning  links with the community was impressive,  including  a separate art studio for 

   artists in residence  and  also utilised for school and community workshops and exhibitions 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Engaging Challenging Communities in Learning Design

Host: Headteacher:  Karen McBride
Governer: Rev Iain Brookes

The Croxteth Community Primary School and Child Development centre is in Mossway Liverpool - it is a new school build and opened in June 2012. This school is set in an area that has experienced generations of unemployment and the social issues that go hand in hand with low socio economic areas. The new school design has engaged the community and dramatically increased the school and home partnership around learning.

Karen explained that a lot of the design elements
came from student led design, This is a single storey building with classrooms arranged around three covered courtyards.

The building includes a impressive central learning zone / information centre, garden rooms, art and music rooms, a large community room and a creche.

There is an impressive ”4D Create” media room where the students can be immersed in  different worlds virtually to support their learning. There are outside areas for integrating play with the curriculum, as well as vegetable gardens and large tarmac areas.

There is very little wasted circulation space and areas such as the internal courtyards are utilised for moving through as well as learning and gathering places.

A key feature of the building is its sustainable ’green roof’ which has been planted with vegetation to absorb rainwater and provide insulation. Along with solar roof panels and water collection the school is very sustainable.

The students are taught in regular classrooms and the shared spaces are utilised for break outs for independent and collaborative work. These spaces inspire creativity.

I was really impressed  with the positive effect the inclusive process of school design had on this community. The improved results in student achievement is a testament to how school design can engage the community and strengthen school and home partnerships around learning.  

Stirling Campus Office Block Conversion

Late 2012, Abington Vale Primary school became part of the Northampton Primary Academy Trust. The school saw this as an opportunity for more autonomy to drive the school vision around collaboration. The academy joined together four schools which each became a campus of the Academy.

Abington Vale is a primary school across two sites.

Park Campus is the original site built in 1968. While in UK on my travel fellowship, we visited Stirling Campus which opened in 2013. The local council purchased Stirling House, a three story commercial office block in 2012. The office block conversion design principles are open, flexible and collaborative. This was the first initiative in the country but apparently it is common to refit commercial buildings as schools in Scandinavia and USA. The academy is committed to developing a dedicated outdoor space for the 4/5/6 year olds and this was under construction while we visited. The driver for building this new primary school was roll growth, as they are expecting more reception students over the next two years.
The council had commissioned a report to consider options for a new primary school and the cost of the commercial building fit out was significantly cheaper than a new build.

The 180 reception students currently occupy the ground floor and the principal is working on getting the next levels ready for occupation as these reception students moves through the school.

Principal Laura Cichuta is passionate about the spaces and ensuring that as the students move up through the school that the curriculum design of collaboration, flexibility and personalising learning will be consistent.

The challenge for the school is that the allocation of space per pupil is less and there was not funding for furniture and computers. However they use lots of different funding routes for solutions to these issues.

The take out for me was around the rich discussion had with Laura around the development of teaching and learning. She said that the starting point is working in teams and building those teams. You have to collaboratively work through;

·        How do we organise?
·        How do we make it work?

 I was impressed with the fact that whole groups could progress through the building as the school grows- they just move up a level and the next intake moves in to the ground level. The big advantage with this is that the pedagogy, which is aspirational around personalising learning can gradually be imbedded as the school grows. The other huge advantage is the opportunity to experiment and play with the open spaces to consider the possibilities of future learning space and learning design opportunities. The idea of a school in an office block conversion is a bit of a foreign concept in New Zealand, however I can see if carefully designed and with a commitment to indoor as well as outdoor learning spaces - it can be an excellent, economic fit for purpose.