Re-imagining Learning Spaces

This post contains a copy of the slideshow my wonderful colleague at Cooks Hill Campus, Lizzy Carter, and I presented at the recent ProjectNEST UnConference held at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle.

The idea of the presentation was to not only present the learning spaces we’ve crafted at CHC, but to do so within the broader frame of using the Design Thinking process developed by IDEO. The idea was to be very unconference-y and actually have participants start to ideate and prototype learning spaces – however, time was not our friend and so the full effect of the presentation wasn’t felt, though I sincerely hope that those who attended our sessions were inspired and took away the following:

  1. Re-imagining learning spaces is best done when you follow a structured approach that incorporates the needs of all stakeholders: students, staff, administrators.
  2. Re-imagining learning spaces needs to go hand-in-hand with a re-imagined pedagogy.
  3. Bravery and persistence are needed when challenging what is accepted as the status quo.
  4. Re-imagining learning spaces is easy, implementing the change is hard – but definitely worth it when students and teachers are more engaged in meaningful learning in responsive, flexible learning spaces (whatever and wherever that space happens to be either in or outside of the classroom).

It’s not going to be easy, but someone once said something along the lines of “nothing that is worth getting comes without effort”. I salute all the brave educators who will take what they learned at ProjectNEST and make positive changes in their schools for the benefits of our future citizens.

Innovation in the Hunter Region – Part 1

Last year, in fact over the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to observe classrooms where innovation is taking place and students are being effectively engaged in the learning process.

It started back in 2011 when a fellow English teacher I admire, Bianca Hewes, posted on a her blog about a videoconference she did with someone in my region, a certain Neil Fara, head teacher HSIE at Irrawang HS who was doing some interesting things centred around student engagement. (You can check out his blog here to follow the Project REAL journey). Neil kindly offered me the chance to come and visit his classroom.

It was a wonderful experience to say the least. Here was someone doing what I wanted to be doing, and it was working! Now, being the person I am, I couldn’t just sit back and observe so I walked around the room (actually two classrooms with the dividing wall removed – a great metaphor for change in education if I ever saw one) engaging students in conversations about what they were learning. There was a relaxed, yet busy vibe to the room that was inspiring.

Neil’s approach has been to “flip” (not just in the now trendy flipped classroom sense) the way the environment and learning is structured. His students have all the work for the semester loaded onto their laptops and make their way through the content at their own, personalised, pace. What was particularly interesting for me was where this change in pedagogy had come from- the students themselves. Neil and his staff had surveyed the students to find out what they disliked about the subject and about teaching, and their voices were heard. Student voice in action!

What I was also able to witness was their differentiated model of assessment where students were allowed to demonstrate their learning and mastery of the subject in diverse ways. A year 10 girl learning about the Vietnam war and the effects of post traumatic stress disorder had composed a song about a Vietnam veteran’s experience. The video is on the Project REAL website, well worth the look. Also included are several other examples of authentic, engaging assessment tasks.

I remember driving home from the experience so enthused about the possibilities of student engagement and student voice, and that one visit continues as an inspiration to me to help remind me of what is possible when change seems far off.

As Molly would say, “do yourself a favour” and head on over to the Project REAL website to find out more.