Having said goodbye to Rickmansworth and @digitalmaverick, I got myself back on the tube into central London. One of my favourite cities for many, many reasons, London absolutely incarcerates my imagination whilst simultaneously surprising me by the sheer amount of human activity and expression present in every square, every space and every seemingly orchestrated movement of the masses of people ambling their way to work, rest or play.
Naturally I’d love to claim that the absolutely glorious weather was brought by yours truly from sunny Australia. But, as anyone living on the southern half of terra australis’ eastern coast knows, it’s been more drenched than careless dog-groomer. Regardless of the origin, the weather was great. A perfect setting to go indoors and talk about education.
Before I visited Darren M (@darrenmurphy) an Aussie expat for many years, a few things fell into place and I took the chance to visit one of my relatives currently living in London. I should have planned my trip more comprehensively to see more relos and for longer but I’ll take what I can get most days of the week. My cousin and I caught up in the main courtyard of her workplace for a coffee. Happily for this bearded history nerd, she works at the Victoria and Albert museum. Brilliant! After a too-brief catch up, I completed a depressingly quick self tour of the museum – not being lost at all, just looking at all the rooms I could before finding the exit…eventually.
Using my Tube Day travel ticket to the point I thought it might combust if I put it through another station ticket scanner, I walked to Westminister, around Piccadilly and reminded myself of why I love the city so much. Whilst I haven’t been there in winter or for an extended period of time as a non-tourist, it still had an effect on my feet and my slumbering travel bug. Following my sojourn through a city founded by Romans (the walls of which still exist under some buildings) I looked at the time – considering the position of the sun in relation to the horizon and then deciding it was best to do what I always do and use my watch – and head to my appointment with Darren Murphy.
Darren kindly invited me to visit The Hall School in Hampstead, North London. Following a nice sandwich in a park down the road – where it just to happened that a group of Hall School boys were out and about on an excursion with gigantic magnifying glasses collecting specimens – I rang the doorbell and met the other colleague I’d only met through Twitter.
A tour of his school revealed a network of cleverly used spaces converted into classrooms for students aged 4-12/13. Space is at an absolute premium in most of London and so it was no surprise to see basically every available part of these fantastic old buildings used productively. A highlight was visiting the library for older students which had in the centre of the recently refurbished room a raised circular platform. On the platform and accessible by a cool circular staircase were some bookshelves that both used empty space effectively and made the room much more dynamic as an interactive space. Apparently the circular bookshelves are a bit of a hassle, but if the effect is to make a room that is interesting and attractive, case closed.
Darren spoke with me at length about all manner of educational ideas and experiences he has had. These included the use of Google apps and Moodle as viable and valuable educational tools for learning. With many schools using commercial and closed technology – including my own – it was great to see the Cloud being used effectively in order to achieve those slippery eels of outcomes: 21st century skills. Collaboration, creativity, it was all there for me to see and made me realise the power of simple, free, effective tools such as google docs for multiple users to edit the same document at once and use the edit history to see exactly how each student contributed.
We also spoke candidly and passionately about Continuing Professional Development (CPD – the UK term for professional development &/or learning) and the role of TeachMeets as a more learner-centred and critical part of the current spectrum of CPD opportunities available to teachers wherever they have started up. Darren argued that many of the ideas put forward by “experts” (some based in schools, not just those only involved in educational research or consultation roles) are often not practical in terms of outcomes for students and teachers. Ideas that may work in one school are not necessarily replicable exactly in other contexts. I agree wholeheartedly. Schools need to be able to be flexible and adaptive enough to embrace change when it is needed but also strong enough to mould new ideas to suit their context. A challenge to be sure, especially when the expert leaves after a workshop or a keynote and you’re back in the classroom with rolls to mark and reports to write. A challenge, but not insurmountable by any means. It certainly helps to have a growing global network of TeachMeets to spruik your ideas and have them digested, challenged and debated by other teachers.
From the wonderful discussions at his school we moved to Soho for dinner in a new restaurant, the possibilities endless. As we sat down to eat, the host explained how to use our tables to order. Each person had control of a small touchpad about the size of a Vegemite lid and to order anything you tapped your way through the menu and selected what you wanted which was then sent to the kitchen. Not only did you order your food and drinks this way, there was opportunity to watch the kitchen via a webcam shown to the left of your plate (on the table). The background ambiance/theme could be changed, games could be played and all done via a projector set above our table where a light usually would shine down.
Now this was pretty cool to me. But, being the edu nerd I am, and Darren being quite the tech officionado, We started to think – this could be a students’ desk surely. They could come in, log in or have some proximity sensor to activate the table or surface, begin work moving things around and having access to all their information at their fingertips – no laptop required. I also mentioned my idea that I’d love kids to have uniforms that could be affected by Augmented Reality (already out there folks) so I could turn them into medieval monks, frightening pharaohs or anything else designed for us .. As soon as they walk into the room. The room would itself have walls that change to suit the environment, interactivity being the key.
Ok time for me to calm down and close this post.
Thanks to Darren’s generosity of time and expertise, I’ve certainly learnt a few things today.
– teachers should have a voice in the technology they use, with varying levels of encouragement and pushing from tech leaders
– teachers need to leverage the growing web of connected practitioners around the world to improve and reflect on their own practice
– technology is fast outpacing traditional educational systems’ and models’ ability to cope and we need to be more flexible, adaptive and purposeful about tech integration
– I do love London