Waking up in a bed was quite possibly never as wonderful as that after a 22 hour flight (plus waiting time in airport lounges) last Sunday. Thanks to the generosity of Drew B aka @digitalmaverick, I awoke on Monday 18th to a medley of birds and modern life outside the windows of his garden cottage home in Rickmansworth with sunlight valiantly lancing its way through persistent English clouds.

The night before, about 9pm London time, Drew and I had met shaking hands at the arrival gate at Heathrow airport, his “Matt Esterman” sign coming in very handy considering neither of us had met in real life or even actually seen a recent photo of the other. Happily, my simpsonised Twitter avatar and a quick Google search had a relatively accurate image in his mind. It was with great relief that I was able to walk out of the terminal with my new Caledonian colleague, chatting non-stop even before we jumped into his car and made the trip to beautiful Rickmansworth, Drew’s home base.

Drew had let me sleep in – a rare pleasure for any of us on a Monday morning – and we went up to the main campus of the Royal Masonic School for Girls, founded in the 18th century but moved to Rickmansworth five years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

A stunning and symmetrical design, the RMSG is a place that oozes style and space. In his ICT specialist room in the renovated Sanitorium building now used as Primary classrooms, I was given the honour of observing and chatting to Drew’s short but sharp Year 5 and 6 lessons.

As Drew pointed out various features of the buildings, grounds and workings of his school, he had me absolutely wrapped when he revealed that the original reception building was used in Indiana Jones as the university building for when my idol (and who I originally tried to emulate enrolling in an Ancient History specialist degree at Macquarie University for undergrad studies) has to escape his students and climb out the window. Isn’t that cool??

To return to both a more formal narrative voice and the point, RMSG is a school that clearly takes pride in helping students learn, develop and succeed. I heard music played down many corridors, students actively engaged in activities and teachers who understood they had a beautiful workplace. They also have a staff snail race and Drew runs an unusual games cocurricular group where they try out games from all over the world. I believe the current game is Swedish. Apparently though the best game designers are German.

I spoke with teachers and one of the Executive and was pleasantly surprised to hear that in terms of ICT integration it doesn’t really matter what country you’re from, schools of similar ilk share the same problems and progress. It reminded me of John Hattie’s assertion that there are usually more differences between the classrooms at the same school than there are across different schools in the same country.

By no stretch of my omnipresent exaggeration skills, my conversations with Drew we’re the most valuable part of the experience. We spoke about learning and teaching, we spoke about technology, we spoke about music and politics and our burning desire to see the improvement of education for all, including that of lifelong learning for teachers. We also spoke about the positives and negatives of neurolinguistic patterns and Terry Pratchett’s beard.

A key idea I will need to mull over ore thoroughly is what Drew heard coined as the “froth” of an experience. Drew’s accent made the term sound like an 11th century castle-headed village outside of Glasgow and though not exactly what my mind’s eye initially jumped to, the term refers to the discussion, excitement and bubbling of our minds that occurs after experiencing something new or different. A fun British metaphor: one that makes the idea fairly easy to grasp and also links it to beer. Also, it recognises that without a “refill”, the Froth ebbs away – perhaps very slowly but inevitably – with time. Something to think about and plan for – how do I capture the Froth and make good ideas last?

As we travelled by tube from Rickmansworth along the Metropolitan line, Drew also raised the subject of Zombies. Now this normally wouldn’t spark much in my mind except for a few scenes from Shaun Of The Dead, but this was different. In terms of real experience, and the Froth, some clever and perhaps slightly insane Brits (see @newsmary) have converted a disused shopping centre into a game location. In this location, people like you and I can pay for a survival weekend whereby you are given a gun filled with a set amount of ammo (paintballs etc) and instructions. Paid actors and volunteers dress up and make up as the zombie horde who know all the nooks and crannies of the location and who’s sole, mindless purpose is to kill you (in a dramatised, fake way…I think….).

What a learning experience! World of Warcraft eat your heart out (pun very much intended.)

Needless to say, my visit with @digitalmaverick was very enlightening, challenging and affirming for me as someone who wants to help create positive change in education. It was a pleasure and an honour to spend time with him in his element and I firmly believe we need people like him to push the blinkers off our eyes to see what is possible using technology for learning in a real, practical way.

Oh and we also went to Southbank Centre in London for a night of games designed by artists and volunteers – only for grown ups! I have never seen so many adults having laugh-out-loud fun with total strangers whilst actually interacting with each other in so many weird and wonderful ways. Hide&Seek are the company providing the entertainment and it certainly was worth the trip in despite my creaking mind and heavy eyes.

So what did I learn on day one?

– Teachers are creative and intelligent beings, which we already know
– learners are learners no matter their age
– learning can have real world application, and it should
– technology plays an integral role in learning when integrated with planning, testing and relevance
– learning should, as much as possible, be enjoyable and challenging at the same time

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