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The Architects of Tomorrow are in the Sandpits of Today…

‘The architects of tomorrow are in the sandpits of today’

A colleague Headteacher once shared this quote with me as he walked me around the early years setting at his school. He was passionate about children learning through exploratory, first-hand experiences – as are many of us. Too often, he argued, this approach to learning is one which is limited to the Early Years setting and children soon lose the opportunity to learn independently and through enquiry once they make the transition into more ‘formal’ instruction in Years 1 and 2.  More time in the sandpits perhaps?

In November, I travelled to London for the launch of the Microsoft Showcase Schools programme. I’ve written previously about how this experience contributed to our revised digital strategy at Simon de Senlis; it was also the catalyst for a project to develop a new learning environment at the school which we were pleased to open last week.

Microsoft have worked closely with ISIS Concepts to create a stunning ‘Showcase Classroom’ at their London offices. It’s a really interesting space – hi-tech and hi-spec whilst remaining thoughtful and playful.  As you would expect, the room is packed full of technology and flexible furniture and this surely played its part in helping to inspire and open minds throughout our day there, where we got to grips with new devices and technology. It includes lots of different break-out spaces and we were able to work in different ways together at different times during the day, in different size groups, with and without technology – some of which is captured on this YouTube video.

Showcase Classroom
Microsoft Showcase Classroom – Cardinal Place, London.

Whether or not this type of design would ever be replicated in schools in scale is a great discussion, but not really the point. The point (as I see it) is for spaces such as these to challenge and provoke us to think differently about ‘what might be’ back in our own organisations. For me, it was a similar experience to visiting the RM ‘REAL centre’ 5-6 years ago or the Silverstone Study Centre, Northamptonshire which expanded my thinking and led (in part) to the classroom refurbishments that we have made at Simon de Senlis in Years 1-4 so far.  For further provocation around learning environments, read the excellent ‘Clicks & Bricks: When digital, learning and physical space meet’, by Ewan McIntosh (or listen to Ewan present it here).

The big question for me when reflecting on all this on the train home was simple: Why not have one of these resources in a school?

Yes – a school! This would mean that children and teachers would be able to use it every day and evaluate its worth, shape its future. Instead of a ‘showcase’ or ‘classroom of the future’, rather a perpetual prototype which we can tinker with, carry out research in and learn lessons from with real children. We could share it; invite other teachers and their children in; other people who have nothing to do with school and see how they learn?

The Sandpit
The Sandpit. Mark 1.

And so, with thanks to ISIS Concepts, BENQ and Microsoft Education UK, the concept of ‘The Sandpit’ was born – and without a grain of sand in sight.   As well as the flexible nature of the room – designed to allow different types of physical spaces dependent on the learning, it’s also equipped with a  one to one Windows 8 (soon to be 10) deployment and two moveable screens

We were delighted to launch the space in its first iteration last week, and look forward to the tinkering, the prototyping and the learning that will come in the future.

There will be opportunities for other schools and teachers to come and visit and more information including dates will be published shortly; follow the school’s twitter account to keep up to date.

TR

 

PS – For those interested, this next section is taken from our teaching handbook which sets out some of the vision and also the ‘nitty gritty’ around learning environments and display at Simon de Senlis.

Learning Environments

“Environment as the third teacher…”

Reggio Emilia

 We believe passionately that the learning environment plays a crucial role in enabling high quality learning.  To be happy, we need to have bright, welcoming spaces that promote community; to be creative, children need clean and collaborative spaces to get messy, explore and generate ideas; to achieve mastery, children need individual quiet spaces to consolidate, apply and reflect.

At Simon de Senlis, our learning environments are:

  1. Decluttered
  2. Flexible and Functional
  3. Designed to Make Learning Visible

Decluttered Spaces

  • Cluttered rooms clutter thinking.  Surfaces should be clear. Bookshelves should be neat and organised. Everything should have its place.
  • Walls should be clear and free from ‘wallpaper displays’.  Space around displays is as important as the content of them as it draws attention and avoids not seeing the wood for the trees.
  • Glass is glass – it was designed to let light through and shouldn’t have notices, posters or prompts covering it.  This applies to doors and both internal/external windows.

Flexible and Functional

  • Furniture should be minimal to allow as much space as possible for movement, creativity.
  • Furniture should be flexible in its layout to allow for different configurations at different times for different size groups/ways of walking.
  • All core learning resources should be clearly labelled and accessible to children inlcuding pencils, pens, rulers, paintbrushes, paint, maths equipment (including rulers, tracing papers, protractors etc.)

Making learning visible…

We have three types of learning based displays:  

  1. Celebration Displays
  2. Working Displays
  3. Virtual Displays

Celebration display are where high quality work is presented.  This is displayed using the following guidelines to ensure that it its the quality of work, not the frills of the display that draw the eye:

  • Muted colour backgrounds and clean crisp backing and borders ensure that the eye is drawn to the work.
  • Only work of the highest standard (in relation to the child’s current ability) should be displayed.  This is to model what good work looks like in our school.
  • Each final showcase display should be labelled with an engaging title and a brief insight into the process behind the finished piece.

Working displays are used to make learning visible.  The following displays should be evident in each room:

  • Maths working wall
  • English working wall
  • Project wall
  • Art display

Virtual Displays allow learning to be shared, presented and interacted around through online spaces which add another dimension to traditional display.  Use of blogs, social media and online tools can increase engagement, make learning more visible, give an authentic audience to final work and give parents opportunities to engage in learning where they otherwise may not.

Each class will keep a blog as a way of offering an insight into their working week as well as being a place where communications take place with parents. Each class blog should be updated at least once a week with post sharing some of the learning that has taken place in the class that week.

 

Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

I’ve been going to the BETT show as a Headteacher for 7 years now. Each year there’s been a different focus and reason to go, as well as different themes that seem to run across the show as the technology and research develops.  I wrote before this year’s show about the lure of the ‘shiny things’ on offer there and my aim to look for the learning beyond the technology.

To start with (about 2008 for me) it was very much about learning platforms and websites; then mobile devices took hold and we all went looking at iPads or alternatives and apps and storage solutions etc.  There’s always the presence of online resources which are  updated depending on curriculum changes and a walk around the ‘fringe’ stands is always worthwhile to look at the new ideas from startups and smaller companies.  It’s worth planning what you are looking for, but plans can often go out of the window; two years ago, I went there looking for different laptops and notebooks for school and came back inspired by the different furniture on offer which led to us refitting classrooms in the school with ISIS concepts.

One question I often consider is whether I actually need to go down to London to update my thinking and knowledge of the market.  Couldn’t I just stay at home for a couple of days and research the world of ‘Ed-tech’ without the travel, expense and unfiltered noise that a trade show creates?  Looking back, this was may have been possible some years but the networking opportunities wouldn’t have been there and neither would there have been the chances to listen to some of the real stories from classrooms and schools across the UK which are always enlightening and sometimes inspiring.

2015 was really worthwhile and I found lots of inspiration both in and around the show from colleagues, speakers and technology.  The biggest shift in my thinking was around the role that ‘gamification‘ can play within schools; this was brought to my attention in Anthony Salcito’s keynote on Day 1 and I’m still pulling together my thoughts on this for a future post and thinking about the way we might explore the possibilities around gamification further in school.

Lots of people I met shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘there’s nothing new this year’.  I feel that this was a reflection on how the technology is now maturing, meaning that there are more conversations about teaching, learning and impact, and less excitement and prophetic talk of how holographic projectors or robots might transform the classroom.  As someone who is trying to see past the shiny things in order to get teachers to take small and sustainable steps forward with their use of technology in the classroom, this is helpful.

Is ‘Ed-Tech’ moving out of its troublesome teenage years that were so full of bold and brash decisions, false promises and expensive lessons learned, and into a more sensible (possibly less fun) adult existence where effectiveness, value for money and future-proofing are the way of life? Possibly.

Spending most of the week on and around the Microsoft stand, it certainly felt like the technology is growing up. Tools such as OneNote and Yammer now allow teachers and classes to easily achieve what many of us have laboured painfully towards in terms of student collaboration and online engagement in the past. The reality of Office 365’s long-anticipated potential has certainly arrived which finally allows schools to get into the cloud in an inexpensive, straightforward, safe and effective way.  For me, O365 has now graduated from ‘possibility’ to ‘no brainer’, offering schools free storage, email and online Microsoft tools which are accessible across all devices.  Wymondham High’s story is a great example and case study to follow. Continue reading Bett 2015 Review: School Technology is Growing Up?

What I Think About: Shiny Things, The BETT Show and Buying Devices for Schools…

One of the most common questions I often get asked by colleagues in other schools is which devices should a school buy.  Laptops or Notebooks? iPads, Chromebooks or Windows 8?

My answer:  I’ll tell you what we’ve chosen at Simon de Senlis and why but I’ll also tell you why in almost all cases, I think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

The only example I can think where the choice of kit defines success is in Formula One, where the manufacturers seem to influence the eventual winners of the championship more so than the drivers.  In every other example I can think of, it’s the vision, commitment, mind set, execution and resilience of the individuals/team that makes the difference.  Cristiano Ronaldo would still be one of the word’s best ever footballers whether clad in Nike or Adidas, Ian Botham would still have taken the Australians apart in 1981 whether he was wielding a Duncan Fearnley, Gray Nicholls or Slazenger Bat and I’m willing to bet that outside of the sporting world, today’s most successful individuals and companies would have achieved equally highly, regardless of which car manufacturer, brand of clothing, deodorant, laptop or mailbox provider they chose to use. You get my point.

Moving this back into the educational world, my view is the same around a choice of phonics scheme, curriculum resource or data tracking package.  It’s never about what you choose; it’s always about how well you use it, how this supports the overall vision for learning and the leadership that follows.  With technology and in particular devices, this is critical as the stakes are high, both from a cost and time perspective with any new implementation.

I’ve written recently about the process that we have undertaken to create our vision for learners and digital strategy at Simon de Senlis and this has been crucial in supporting our implementation of Windows 8 devices and combination of Yammer/Office 365/LP+ SharePoint learning environment.

We have chosen Windows 8 ahead of other technologies because it offers us a combination of hardware and infrastructure, at a price that we can afford to implement with low ratios of student to device.  I believe that Microsoft offers the most manageable, cost effective solution to a school with  a (growing) range of quality educational tools that support our vision for learning.  Creating the environment for classes to be able to work 1:1 with mobile tablets and also the full functionality of office and an online/app environment gives us the platform and flexibility (we think) to support our vision of creating curious, industrious agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe.

Moving on to the BETT Show, this week thousands of teachers will descend on the Excel centre in London for the biggest educational technology show in the world.  Going to BETT always reminds me of this scene from Red Dwarf.  For those who didn’t watch it, the Cat is a humanoid who has mutated from the ship’s cat over several million years.  In this clip, he gets completely besotted by ‘shiny things’, like kittens do with balls of string.  Similar uncontrollable excitement will be available at BETT – but will we be able to articulate what it is that the shiny things will do to make better learning and teaching?  Or will our kitten-like enthusiasm forget to watch out for the vision, strategy and pedagogy that will inevitably sit behind any genuine school success story?

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My goal this year is to look for the learning not the technology; look for questions not answers and enjoy the shiny things!

TR

PS – One of the markers of aging in a school is when the NQTs start and declare their Dates of Birth.  Mr Prosser’s admission that he was born in 1991 was a cat amongst the pigeons last year and brought both hilarity and sheer panic to the staffroom.  The other arbitrary measure is how many people remember the comedy programmes that are referred to within conversation.  It used to be me who smugly shook my head and made jokes about UK Gold when well-respected staffroom elders talked about Monty Python; now it’s me that gets a bewildered smile and nod when quoting Blackadder, Ferris Bueller or The Fast Show.

Last week when we were planning our visit to the BETT show this year and I showed this video of ‘Cat’ from Red Dwarf, several teachers revealed that they were far too young to have ever seen it.

#gettingold

 

 

Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…

Recently, I’ve spent some time revisiting our school’s vision statement, looking in particular at the digital vision and strategy for Simon de Senlis.  Around 18 months ago, in my first year as Headteacher, we engaged in a process with all stakeholders called ‘Simon de Senlis Reimagined’ where we redefined the vision for the school, setting our sights on developing ‘curious, industrious, agile learners who make a positive dent in the universe’.  This helped give our school a real sense of character and belonging and has been the cornerstone of the improvements that the staff, children and parents have worked so hard to achieve in this time.  Now, with many good things embedded and the useful stamp of approval from OFSTED under our belt, it’s time to set our sights on how we make the jump from ‘really good’, to ‘really special’.

The image which our vision is built around is 'Dent' by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.
The image which our vision is built around is ‘Dent’ by Gaping Void and has helped to cement the vision for everyone at the school.

A key driver in our school vision is technology  and we have enjoyed some great projects such as the ‘Our World; My Future’ presentations at Northampton and work using Windows 8 and cloud technology which have resulted in our participation in the Microsoft Global Showcase Schools Project in 2015.  I reference these achivements not as bragging rights or to create an impression of us being the finished article with regards to the use of technology; more because I want to illustrate that however well developed a digital vision may be in a school, it is always the time to keep renewing our sense of purpose around WHY and HOW we use technology.  In a ferociously busy school world of conflicting priorities, implementing any new initiative, process or technology must be thought through carefully with a clear rationale and continually pitched well to staff in order for it to become part of common practice.

In November, I was privileged to sit round a table with Headteachers from the five other UK Microsoft Showcase Schools and get a taste for what goes in their organisations.  Their commitment to technology and high achievement was outstanding and  obvious but more powerful, was their sense of moral purpose: a commitment to sharing their journeys and ideas with other schools for the benefit of schools and teachers in the UK and further afield.   I came back from this meeting inspired to be a better Headteacher and to give children at Simon de Senlis even better opportunities to become digitally fluent – an essential competency for their future success.

In order to help this process, I called upon my friend and mentor, Peter Ford, who had worked with us (alongside his Notosh colleagues) through the reimagined process and has an incredible craft for transforming  these painful ‘can’t quite see the wood for the trees’ moments into (no less painful)  creative processes which help us to generate meaning into the inevitable actions that follow.  Peter has been instrumental in the Design Thinking influences which now run through our school, both in the curriculum model and as specific practices and tools which have made our creative processes more disciplined and effective.  Returning back to the vision statement was in order to unpick what it was about technology that would enable us to develop curious, industrious and agile learners and empower them to make a dent in the universe.

Below is a SlideShare of the Digital Vision which will develop further in the next few months as we talk, test and prototype our thinking .  I share this in the spirit of co-operation or collaboration so that others can have an insight into the process and ask that, should you choose to do something similar, you borrow the process but make the words specific to your school’s unique challenges, vision and community.

  Continue reading Our School’s Digital Vision: Colleagues, Mentors and Books for inspiration…

Press Release: Microsoft Global Showcase School Announcement

Simon de Senlis Primary School has been selected by Microsoft as a 2015 Microsoft Global Showcase School for its excellence in transforming its learning environment to deliver more personalised education to students, using mobile and cloud technology to better prepare students for success in the workplace.

Simon de Senlis joins an exclusive community of over 150 leading schools from around the world and just six in the UK who are recognised to celebrate their pioneering efforts and innovation in rethinking teaching, learning and assessment in order to equip the children with 21st century competencies.

Microsoft Showcase Award Small
The Team from Simon de Senlis receiving their plaque as a Global Showcase School at Microsoft’s ‘Classroom of the Future’ in London.

Examples of the school’s work include innovative use of Surface devices to capture learning across the curriculum and the use of cloud computing to allow children to give and receive feedback to each other on their learning. The work in the school is driven by Headteacher, Tom Rees and teachers, Charlotte Coade and Tom Prosser, both who were given Innovative Expert Educator status before Christmas at a prestigious ceremony at Microsoft Headquarters in London.

“Being selected as a Microsoft Showcase School is a great thing for Simon de Senlis and I am delighted that the passion our teachers and staff have for creating the best learning environments possible has been recognised in this way”, said Tom Rees, Headteacher at the school. “We look forward to sharing our experiences with other schools in our community and the world to continue finding innovative ways to equip our students with the proper tools needed for success inside and outside of the classroom.”

As a Showcase School, Simon de Senlis Primary School will work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education and communicate a vision for education enabled by technology through the hosting and mentoring of other schools in the community on transformational educational practices.  The school will be announcing details of how it will be able to support other local schools in the near future.

“Microsoft Showcase Schools are inspiring examples of how schools are using mobile-first, cloud-first technology to increase students’ productivity and develop the skills needed in the workplace,” said Anthony Salcito, vice president, Worldwide Education, Microsoft Corp. “With an innovative use of technology, these schools are transforming learning environments and delivering more personalised education to students, allowing them to do more and achieve more.”

 

What I Think About What Works in Schools…

We had a great staff meeting in school last week looking at changes to the new SEND Code of Practice and reviewing our approach to interventions within the school. Like on many occasions in school, teachers find themselves with decisions to make about what the right type of learning is they should plan, with a format to fill in and a deadline to have it done by.  It’s one of those crunch points where, in an ideal world, there would be more time available each half term to spend quality time thinking these through, prototyping them with colleagues and resourcing.  Inevitably, the realities of school-life bite and this process becomes another priority in the priority-infested waters of the new term.  I’d like to be writing that I have a transformational solution to this but I don’t.  It’s the way things are.

So one great resource to turn to, as the holiday idealism transforms into term-time pragmatism, is the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit which gives a wonderfully simplistic analysis of the cost, impact and evidence base of a variety different interventions.  As the toolkit is described on its website:  The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The Toolkit currently covers 34 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence supporting them and their cost.

600px-EEF_toolkit_screenshot

Like with anything that appears to be too simplistic to be true, there are health warnings around simply scrolling to the bottom, choosing the top 5 high impact topics and then rewriting the school development plan accordingly.  But then surely there are worse approaches to take when prioritising your time and resources?  What a bit of time spent looking at the toolkit does allow, is a periscope: an opportunity to see from above what you can’t necessarily see from below and, whilst horribly mixing my metaphors, making sure that the ladder is lent against the right wall before spending a frantic half term climbing it, seems sensible to me.

The Toolkit is a simpler (although not dissimilar) resource to the work of John Hattie which has been celebrated widely (and then recently criticised) for its wide influence in education policy across the world.  As Peter Ford  writes in his post, ‘Everything Works’, ‘The most enlightening research of recent years is John Hattie’s finding that 95% of all interventions that take place in schools have a positive effect on achievement. Hattie’s seminal synthesis of over 900 meta-analyses relating to influences on achievement builds a powerful story of the powerful influences on learning exerted by educators. It’s a surprising world where EVERYTHING WORKS!’

So in a world where ‘everything works’, the challenge is for us all to keep evaluating, reading and researching and occasionally putting up the periscope to make sure that what we are doing is high-impact, cost-effective and backed up by a significant body of research.

The EEF Toolkit – a great resource, discussion starter and document to help challenge your practice.  Now you see if you can read it without concluding that feedback and meta-learning are the two baskets you want to load all your eggs into this year.

TR

What I Think About Training Days…

On Monday, we had a training day at Simon de Senlis.  It was an excellent and important day of training and one of my colleagues took the time to share his reflections on the day on the Simon de Senlis PE blog.

In schools, we are allocated 5 training days a year which are the only opportunities we have to spend a full day focusing on staff development together.  Other development takes place after school or in snatched meetings unless it means teachers being covered out of classes to attend training and courses.  Quick Maths will tell you that (using official contracted hours), training days  take up just 27.5 hours out of the available 8760 in the year (around 0.003%) or 2% of the 1265 directed hours of a teachers working life.  This is well below the UK national average for time spent off work sick (74 hours) and (according to a well-know tabloid) three times less than the 91 hours that Men apparently spend on the toilet each year!

With this in mind, it’s absolutely crictical that we make the most of  these limited opportunities and plan them with thought and care, ensuring that they are aligned with our biggest priorities and challenges in school.

But selecting the right content isn’t enough; it’s also important to spend time thinking about the delivery – ensuring that we employ the same principles around engagement that we expect teachers to in the classroom to avoid staff feeling like the staff in one of my favourite toe-curling scenes from The Office.

Some things we might consider when planning staff training:

  • Who does most of the talking? The person leading training or the people who we are planning will develop their thinking and practice?
  • Do we move enough? Do people come in and sit still for long periods of time or do they have opportunities to get up and move and keep energised?
  • Multi-sensory.  Although ‘VAK’ may not be a buzz word of 2015, are we ensuring that we deliver any learning using a range of Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic methods and resources?
  • Do we give enough opportunities for people to learn by ‘doing’ and putting themselves in the position of children?
  • Are we clear enough about the ‘so what’ at the end of any training to ensure that everyone knows what the next steps are?
  • Have we planned when we will come back and revisit this issue/initiative/policy/discussion so that it becomes part of the journey of change rather than a one-off event which created some initial excitement but didn’t become embedded in the ongoing fabric of the school.

I’ll certainly be thinking more about these as we try and develop better training opportunities for our staff within 2015.
TR

Back to the Future

As the new schoothSX95AR18l year begins today, we held our opening ‘immersion’ assembly to kick start our new whole school topic: Back to the Future.

Today, the children were transported back in time to their respective  periods which will provide the backdrop to the learning for the term ahead.  We have travelled as far back as 1000BC to leave Year 4 in Ancient Greece, Year 2 in Victorian times and then popped back to 2015 to leave Reception and Year 6 in the current day so that they could explore the here and now and look to the future in their respective topics of Inventors and Rainforests.

The assembly gave us the opportunity to look at this scene from Back to the Future II where Marty arrives in 2015 and the prophetic Robert Zemeckis shows us the flying cars and hoverboards which have yet to materialise.  We spent a few moments looking forward to 2040 and pondering what might be.  If you get a few moments, I advise you to do the same!
Of course, some people will say that it’s just an excuse for me to dress up as a character from one of my all-time favourite films and play Huey Lewis and the News loudly whilst everyone gets excited about our ‘time machine’ which is put together via some exciting sound effects, AV and Mrs Lutas’ smoke machine.  There’s probably an element of truth to this but there’s also a bit more to it.

We know that for learning to be memorable and be retained in the long term memory, we have to engage children’s emotions. Just think back for a moment to the few memories you have from your earliest school life and I’m willing to bit that the majority are when you were scared – usually a teacher who made us feel uncomfortable and invoked those primitive fight or flight instincts in us or perhaps a performance or sporting occasion where the reptilian brain kicked in.  Studies show that the most vivid autobiographical memories tend to be of emotional events, which are likely to be recalled more often and with more clarity and detail than neutral events.

Trying to create memorable experiences to ‘hang’ the learning around, is a part of our plan with the initial immersion.  What will follow, is a period of investigation and enquiry where children are given ‘time for tangents’ to explore the subjects more deeply before honing in on a particular outcome later on in the term.

There is of course a third reason in creating this type of hype and enjoyment in a school.  Today was the first day back after the Christmas holiday and, if we’re all honest, everyone benefits from a bit of fun and laughter to come back to and settle the nerves!

But enough for now, I have a delorean to tend to.  ‘Roads.  Where we’re going, we don’t need roads’.

TR

Best of Simon de Senlis Autumn 2014

At the end of each topic at Simon de Senlis, I ask for nominations to be made for the ‘Best of’ display.  Usually, a selection of the children’s final outcomes are sent up to my office and I spend some time looking at the achievements of the children and making a final selection which are displayed in the entrance to school and online with the children congratulated in assembly. This is part of the process of ‘showcasing’ the final outcomes from the topics which has really helped to make children value the prototyping process and improve the standards of their work.

This term, I have chosen to use ‘Sway’, a new Microsoft technology which we have been trialling on ‘preview’ at Simon de Senlis to share these. It’s a really easy to use tool which I think frames the work brilliantly.

You can see a preview of the work below or visit the sway here.