Sunday, October 20, 2013

Australian School of Mathematics and Science (ASMS) (Part 1)

Learning Common
 One of the first things you notice about the ASMS is space. There are almost no internal walls and no hallway areas, instead there are learning commons. It caters for students from Year 11-13 (Year 10-12 Australian) and students apply to enrol in this school.  The location of the school is interesting as it is on the Flinders University Campus and students from ASMS can use the facilities at the university.

The second thing that I notice was how welcoming the staff were and how willing they were to share what they do and answer any questions.  I was incredibly grateful to the staff for all they did for me. A program had been put together for me to experience and learn about all aspects of the school. It quickly became apparent that ASMS had a clear vision that infiltrate all aspects of running a school, from the classroom teaching, planning, to professional development.
Science lab with large glass windows - this enable the
teacher to keep an eye on the class outside
or the students inside.

The science lab in the picture is interesting as it can cater for 2 classes. However, when I visited 1 student was in the lab with a tutor and the rest of the class were learning outside the lab but everyone could see everything due to the large glass walls.

You can see from the next 2 photos that the open plan environment is light and spacious. The furniture is about to be replaced and each 'common' will have its own colour.  

Teachers plan together not as subject areas but cross curricular. They share the planning and teaching. It was interesting to observe a math class where the two teachers had combined their classes and were working together. 

The media room was probably the only room with 4 walls and even one of these was movable. The teacher is quietly innovative. He uses Facebook not just as a communication tool with students but to get the students opinion and guidance from what should be covered, how and what equipment should be used/purchased. He also uses Facebook/twitter to share with students his professional development. This was quite accidental at first. However, students were interested in the fact that their teacher was 'learning' and they were also interested in what he was learning; following the links and participating in the online discussion.

It will take me two posts to cover all they I learnt from visiting this school. But I will leave you with one final photo of me in one of the school flight simulators -amazing that a school has one of these:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

University of South Australia, Adelaide.

The University of South Australia in Adelaide was a valuable place to visit. They are currently in the process of building a new $80 million learning centre to primarily house the Business and Accounting subjects. Whilst it is only possible to see the exterior, they do have a model room set up. Stuart Dinmore gave up some valuable time to show me this learning space and answer all my questions.
Each learning hub has its own tv & 3 touch screen computers

This is currently lecturers desk where they can control all tvs

The learning space has 6 learning hubs each with 3 touch screen computers and a flat screen tv. The tv's are for group presentations, group work or the lecturer can control them from a central point. The wall have a clear perspex cover that can be used with whiteboard pens.

Students will be expected to learn in a flipped classroom manner. The lecturer issues a podcast to be listened to before class and then during class-time the students can work on various activities.

Stuart presented some interesting challenges around this new design some which school struggle with:
How to get staff on board, and up to speed?
How to get students on board and up to speed?

Students have a preconceived idea of what university is, and that is sitting in a lecture theatre, going to tutorials and working on assignments. This type of active learning is not something that as yet is linked to the 'university experience'. 
Staff are used to giving a lecture and then running tutorials. This new learning environment to some might seem like an increased work load; as students now listen to lectures in their own time and the lecturer time is filled with teaching/learning. The activities now needing to be designed by the lecturer.  What I hadn't realized in South Australia is that salaries, funding and ranking can be based around student feedback on the course/lecturer. If students don't like the new way of learning will this have an unfair impact?  

These are challenges that secondary schools are also facing. As we go 1:1 with devices and reshaped our curriculum to create authentic and collaborative learning programs to prepare our students for their futures; our learning environments need to change. However, like our students we all have a variety of skills and creating a new set of skills to teach in these new learning environments takes time. We wont all get there at the same time but are should be working towards a common goal. It is about support you get on the way and  Stuart at the UniSA is working hard at providing this support to the staff.

I think that as schools are changing their learning environments, they will demand a tertiary education inline with what the UniSA are creating. They are an innovative university taking the first step to creating an education for students that will help support the knowledge economy and prepare young adults for their chosen career.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Clearview Primary School

Clearview Primary school is located in Rolleston just outside of Christchurch. It is a 0-8 school which has recently opened a new building.

The Ministry of Education is no longer building single celled classrooms instead is moving towards classrooms that enable a flexible learning environment for students.
When I toured this building several things struck me, it was light, comfitable and all students were in a variety of places and spaces. Clearview is used to having people tour the building and the students were not phased at all.

Large open space learning area

Large open space learning area

This room has sliding glass doors
The building a square and in each corner are two classroom spaces.  One of these smaller spaces has 2 sliding glass doors which enable it to be used separately. Wide corridors then connect these 4 corners with other open spaces, including a communal kitchen area for students and staff. In the middle of the building is an open air courtyard designed by one of the students at the school.

Outside court yard

Wide multi-purpose hallway with window seats

A wide hallway/teaching space next to the communal kitchen
What you can see from the pictures is the range of seating and working areas . A variety of heights for tables and chairs as well as a variety of colour.

With a change in classroom design the teaching and learning taking place has also changed with more collaborative planning and teaching by the teachers. Students, for example can choose workshops which are taught by different teachers this the  lends itself to the strengths/interests of individual teachers.  A challenge has been working out the reporting but this has been overcome by using Google docs.

It was interesting as a high school teacher to take a look around a primary school and see how their learning environment has changed, how it has impacted on planning/teaching and that the students enjoyed what they were doing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SCIL - truly innovative

Last Tuesday I had the fortune to visit Northern Beaches Christian School I was interested in the Sydney Centre for Innovative Learning. I discovered this school through Google when searching for 'innovative schools' and a quick exchange of emails and booking of flights had me on my way to Sydney.

There are several things that stood out to me when participating in a Snapshot tour. The first being that not only were educators in the tour but also an architecture/design company who have worked with several school but had heard about SCIL. About 18 people participated in the tour with an almost even split of primary and secondary school educators.

The first thing that Micheal will tell you, before you see anything. Is that they don't have a neat package that you can take away with you to implement but what they are willing to do, is share with you everything they have done. This journey for NBCS has been 7 years and started with an idea/vision and is constantly developing and evolving. Whilst initially they had ideas they now  use the design model:

The school vision is: Exceed all expectations, with the Misson: Excellence in Education and Christianity in Action. Staff are encourage to think innovatively, the senior manager are open to ideas and are willing to trial what the teachers want to do. Having said that they do not mandate anything, each department and staff member can move in this direction as quickly or slowly as they are able. New staff are hired through an interesting process where students, and staff are actively involved. Staff and all applicants sit down for a discussion together, candidates teach a lesson and students are asked for feedback.  Staff at the school are often team teaching, taking responsibility for different aspects of the program and teaching together in large spaces. Classroom numbers have disappered with rooms being named e.g. the arts area had rooms known by different gallereys. Often the middle wall between 2 classes had been removed providing a larger space. The library had been moved and the old building now houses  all Year 6 and 7 - it is a massive space on several different levels.

The school has BYOD program (any devices is accepted) and it was great to walk around the school and see technology as a tool for learning. Moodle is the LMS,  images with hyperlinks are used on the department pages instead of the scroll of death. It was interesting to talk with one student and ask if all her subjects were structured the same. Her reply was 'No' she enjoyed the structure within English but also enjoyed the strong inquiry focus with Music; what was key was variety.  One of the problems the school has overcome through this change is a huge decrease in apathy from the senior students. Students have more control, choice and are working in a positive environment where learning has moved from the industrial era  to something innovative, practical and current but still evolving.

Furniture, what did I see? I saw furniture that could be moved around easily and used in different ways. Surfaces, such as windows, walls, desks even doors for students to create ideas on. Seating that could easily be moved to create small or large groups that were comfy. Of course desks, of different shapes and sizes again some mobile and some not. It was also interesting to see the large open spaces and spaces where students of a variety of year levels were working in the same area.

A photo of one space - a picture gallery will go up on the right side of the blog

I think what struck me, was my thinking was on track.  That classroom design should go hand in hand with pedagogy. What ultimately are we wanting students to walk away with and how do we get there? We need to back to the design model and remember to ask all involved. It is not enough to go BYOD - instead how is learning and teaching going to change. Learning is a journey and at no point did anyone on the tour mention an end point, when the school would be 'finished'.

The website is well worth a look at and the research papers are short and manageable. This school is well worth the visit and the staff are helpful approachable and willing to share their experiences.

On the left of the blog is a video tour of the SCIL building with information from Stephen Harris

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One small step...

I have a goal and that goal is to transform the learning environment of my classroom. To look at it right now it is a normal classroom, with the standard chairs, tables, whiteboard, data projector, a hooked up sound system and super important is the brand new wireless access point. Pin-boards decorate the walls of the classroom. All in all it is a large space. As students increasingly use all sorts of devices and tools, my classroom teaching has changed and how the students are learning is changing.  I need a different more modern learning environment that will provide students with the best possible space and equipment for their learning.

I have been lucky enough to be granted an TSB grant through the ISEA. The grant is to research Modern Learning Environments, visit some schools and provide all the information I discover on this blog. This is a work in progress and I would really appreciate any advice, comments or help. I am trying to create lessons where students interact with a variety of communities, become active problem creators and solvers, and for their learning to be authentic. 

Along the way I will be sharing my experience of changing the classroom learning environment and lessons I learn. 

This is what the English classroom looked like this morning

As you can see it is a U shape with rows. Whilst this classroom is mine it is also shared with 5 or so other teachers from different subject areas. During lunch today after watching this video on the 'Classroom Re-design Challenge' I have taken the first steps in re-working the learning environment - see the pics below:

I am trying a range of group sizes with a key discussion area in the middle. Towards the back, which can't be seen in the photo, is a large empty space which can be used by the students. This is a first, small step which I was able to  implement today.