I enjoyed a short session this week UK educator, Stephen Heppell, under the heading, ‘learning:now’. It was a kind of meandering tour of projects he’s been involved in, with a particular emphasis on learning spaces and some key messages that resonated with me.
I liked the way he used his desktop as the presentation tool, (see his website image above for a sense of that) pulling up images and doucments and movies as he thought of them (or that’s how it seemed) and now a powerpoint slide in sight. It did mean that at times the talk lacked the dotpoint focus that comes with those tools, but it was a lot more interesting and engaging for it.
He showed lots of learning spaces he’d been involved in co-constructing with students, or he just thought showed the kind of surprise and delight that thoughtful spaces give us. I liked his image of the UK system of everyone stopping for lunch at school at the same time (‘the only place in London where you can seat 1000 people for lunch is the Dorchester and every high school’) and what that meant for how the day involved. He was all for immersive learning, teach the first week of February for a month, and time at task.
The classroom spaces he showed were ‘shoeless’ places, often where every surface is a writing surface and where the student work was celebrated and maintained. He wanted places where students could sit, perch, slump, lie (did anyone ever choose to sit up straight to read a book he asked?) And what was the point of staff rooms, he asked. If we’re all learners, why have a special space for old learners?
He talked a lot about a classroom space at Lampton, UK, that the students had designed: mood lighting, writable surfaces, skype enabled but, signficantly, the students didn’t want the room filled with technology. We’ll bring our own, they argued, and plug in. That way it will be up to date! He drew a lot on the idea of family, showing us a school that had a bread oven near the entrance so that students could smell that fresh bread cooking as they arrived and talked in this way of ‘a learning family, not a learning factory’ and schools that moved beyond placement of students in age-related groups to peer support and peer learning. He argued for ‘in-betweeny’ time, keeping the day fresh and inviiting and playful ways to do the hard stuff.
He was in favour of social technologies like Skype and Twitter (he tweets here) and flipping the classroom, so that the routine work was done at home and the interesting and challenging stuff done collaboaratively at school. He showed us some slides of stupid things that schools ban, mostly mobile phones which were often the most powerful computers in the room, turned off or banned completely.
And he DID have some key messages that resonated with me:
- Listen to the students
- The most risky thing you can do as a school or a system is to do nothing.
- Teachers needs to lead this discussion – the future competitors to our schools will be Pearson
- If you can astonish kids with the place you create and the expectations you bring, they will astonish you