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Whole School Change using Technology is Perhaps Scientific

My final Link Observation Visit planned at this stage of the project was to Simono Dacho School in Klaipeda. This is a “Basic School” providing education for approx. 1000 students...

Small Schools can do IT with Open Learning and Personalisation

VS Gutenberg an der Raabklamm has just 66 students, but with two floors and a bright and spacious building, it doesn’t feel small. With just 14-18 students per class, and only 5 teachers...

Decision, Precision and Transparency across the School for Systemic Change Using ICT

Tourismusschulen, Bad Hofgastein , Salzburg has approximately 320 students aged 14-19 years. Whilst this school is different to many “mainstream” schools, it is a private school,...

Active Learning in Ieper Across the Curriculum is Building Opportunities for Whole School Innovation and Change.

MS Ieper school is ten minutes walk from the main town square of Ieper where the Menin Gate is situated. This is a middle school with approximately 189 students aged 12-14...

Mathematical Movies, Stop-motion and a Countdown to the Finale in Space.

My journey begins with a train from Brussels Central Station to Leuven.  De Klare Bron and De Grasmus is a federation of two schools led by one headteacher, Begga Willems. I begin the...

Creating digital content; interactive textbooks; analysing spaced learning and flipped classrooms.

  My second visit is over an hour by aeroplane from Bologna to the ‘heel’ of Italy in Brindisi. (the climate is completely different and the sun is shining!)   ITIS...

Libraries, learning spaces and a mobile curriculum.

Istituto Comprensivo di Cadeo is a federation of two schools that are within two towns near Piacenza with a 10-15 minute drive between. In each of the two towns of Pontenure and ...

Collaborating through E-Twinning; Animated Fairy-Tales and the Lego Challenge.

My second visit in Norway is to Skjelnan School , a primary school for approximately 250 students aged 6-13 years. The school day is 8.30am – 12:30pm for the students in lower...

Addressing the innovation culture and learning with tablets.

  Leaving the small village of Ingrandes, we head almost 3 hours across France by car to the second destination, just outside Poitiers . Surrounded by a technical landscape of modern...

Letting technology replace tradition?

My first visit in France is to a small, village school Eppu Ingrandes sur Loire with only 200 students. The leading teacher for this Advanced School is also the exceedingly busy headteacher....

Innovation - Where will you invest next?

Puropelto School has undergone significant transformation over the last five years to improve the learning environment for staff and students. The change in the environment is not visible from...

Take One Finland - Lights, Camera, Action

My first visit in Finland was to Wäinö Aaltonen School on the island of Hirvensalo, near Turku. This is a primary school and provides education for approximately 450 students from 7-13...

Getting Mobile and Making Cartoons for Language Learning.

As we walk up the stairs to the classroom, the first observation is Petra climbing the stairs to her lesson carrying what looks like a large blue reusable supermarket shopping bag. (And it probably...

How Are You Interconnecting Learning Spaces and Technology? A School with a Zoo and Three Kangaroos

A tour of Gymnazium Teplice in the Czech Republic leaves me slightly stunned; there seems to be something different around every corner. I am greeted by two students who are keen to show me...

"Buchty" or Learning Snacks?

  Dr E Beneṧe School is my first visit in the Czech Republic. Set in the suburbs of Prague in an area called Zscakovice, the school has 751 pupils from 6-15 years and is classified as a...

What is new on your professional learning journey?

It always seems that we have to wait a long time for the summer holidays, counting off the days on the calendar, planning for all those things we are going to do, "when we have more time";...

Inspiring design ideas in different learning spaces

  At Broadclyst Academy , one of the other dominant features was the different types of classroom space available and it soon became apparent that over the years, the head teacher and the team...

All smiles for the reception at Broadclyst Community Primary School.

  Broadclyst Community Primary School is a UK primary academy situated 191 miles south from the University of Wolverhampton, and so I made this journey by train. It is set on the main...

Lesson Observation Number One - Collaborative Learning with the Mr Men

In the afternoon at Shireland Collegiate Academy , I joined the leading teacher for the Living Schools Lab Project, Mr Moore and his year nine students for the Literacy for Life lesson. As...

First Stop - Shireland Collegiate Academy, Sandwell, UK

Although I’ve been to Shireland several times before, I think the immediate observation for most visitors must be the celebration of cultures and faiths that exist as one. Shireland...

Observation visits Observation visits

Link observation visits schedule 2013

  • UK: 12 June and 27 June
  • Czech Republic: 16 September
  • Finland: 23 September
  • France: 30 September
  • Norway: 14 October
  • Italy: 21 October
  • Cyprus: 11 November
  • Belgium: 18 November
  • Portugal: 13 January 2014
  • Ireland: 20 January 2014
  • Austria: 27 January 2014
  • Lithuania: 10 February 2014
Journal: Observation visits Journal: Observation visits
Getting Mobile and Making Cartoons for Language Learning.

As we walk up the stairs to the classroom, the first observation is Petra climbing the stairs to her lesson carrying what looks like a large blue reusable supermarket shopping bag. (And it probably was at some point, but it is actually very heavy and contains the equipment for today’s lesson - 1 ipad per student.) The school has had 32 ipads for almost a year and these can be booked by all teachers. This demonstrates that for schools trying to implement 1:1 mobile learning, there is a key decision to be made about who takes responsibility for the devices.

The thirteen students are waiting in the classroom after break and soon prepare themselves to listen to the teacher. Language classes are divided into two groups to allow the students to receive more personalised learning.   
As the lead teacher for the LSL project, Petra has focussed on implementing a range of apps. Even though it is early in the school term, the students have established a routine for working with the technology and readily prepare for the tasks. 
In the previous English lesson, the 13 year olds have been learning the past tense. (E.g. I was reading my comic.) At the beginning of today’s lesson the teacher gives each student an ipad and the students are asked to find the application Socrative. The students log in to the ‘room’ and complete a self-paced set of 10 questions to check their understanding. The teacher can see how everyone is completing the test and identifies some students who may need further help. The app allows the teacher to collate the results and send a report via email. 
In the previous lesson, the students took five photographs to show how they were “breaking the rules” in class. E.g. drinking fizzy pop; standing on a chair; sleeping and gazing out of the window.
In the main part of the lesson, the teacher shares with the children two more apps; Mobile Monet for editing photos and Pixntell for the students to create a cartoon. The students can add a voice over to each frame with the sentence spoken in English. The students work enthusiastically to adapt their photos. They also look at each other’s work and try out what they will say. Petra has time to provide individual support with pronunciation. She also encourages the students to search for spellings or pronunciation on the internet. Whilst most students do this via the ipad, one child uses her own mobile phone. The student can search the correct word, but knows that she cannot ‘phone a friend’. Mobile phones can be used for learning in all classes. Throughout the lesson the students are completely focussed and engaged in the task. The teacher is able to address their language learning and the use of technology is normalised.
The whole lesson is 45 minutes and with 5-8 minutes for the self-paced questions at the beginning, the students work continuously to adapt their photos. Some students are allowed to move into the corridor to add their voice to the cartoon. The students work supportively with each other, collaborating when they need to, but each individual completes the task. 
Petra explains to the students that in the next lesson the students will review each other’s cartoons and this will give them the opportunity to provide peer-to-peer review of the spoken words. She will also put the students work on Youtube.  The end results are professional and creative; the students are delighted with the outcomes. 
The cartoons engage the students throughout and they are keen to hear that they will have the chance to watch them next lesson. Not only that, their enthusiasm would seem to suggest that they will be practising and working with these apps far beyond the lesson. (I think they would make great Learning Snacks for the Community of Practice too!)
How Are You Interconnecting Learning Spaces and Technology? A School with a Zoo and Three Kangaroos

A tour of Gymnazium Teplice in the Czech Republic leaves me slightly stunned; there seems to be something different around every corner. I am greeted by two students who are keen to show me their favourite parts of the school. Initially they are shy, but soon confidently showcase their learning spaces. There is a no clear line in this school where old meets new, the traditional and the modern blend together seamlessly. This “Living School” is an old building steeped in rich history. Beyond the entrance doors and over a walkway bridge which connect two buildings, we go deep into the basement where the student turns on the light to reveal a church which is being lovingly restored bit by bit as the funding can be raised. It dates back to the time of the Benedictine nuns. There are wooden structural supports around the edge, and a definite feeling that this is ‘work in progress.’ However, to retain the continued use of the building, there is a photographic exhibition to encourage visitors to support the developments.

 (The beginning of this tour is a reminder that students need to take ownership for the learning community too. If you can involve them in showcasing the school, this means you can encourage students from across the school to reflect various projects. Engaging students in the process can be the first step to your whole school development.)
Across this school, there are 850 students and approximately 70 teachers. Seven classrooms are equipped with SMART interactive whiteboards and there are also 41 projectors.
Adjacent to the next building, we enter The Greenhouse” of the school; known locally as “the zoo.” As we approach, I can see an ostrich, three kangaroos, and lemurs to name just a few of the animals. Beyond the entrance are spiders, turtle snapping crocodiles, an aviary of birds and the most recent addition to the family: an armadillo. There are figs growing and a passion flower in full bloom. All of this is cared for by a Biology teacher and several willing student volunteers. This is the first time I have seen a zoo in a school. (I usually avoid anything that scuttles in a classroom cage, I love it when I see the chicks about to hatch in Reception as the children learn about Spring - so you can imagine, I felt privileged to see a whole zoo – but I still didn’t want to hold the snake!)
Back in the main part of the school we climb to the top of the building in search of the “Didactic Park.”   This is a learning space that was created several years ago when the school was involved in a project with Norway. The area is devoted to interactive displays and learning materials for the teaching of Physics and other aspects of Science. Every activity is meticulously numbered and labelled with short explanations of how it works and the relevance to everyday life. The students can touch most of the displays on a daily basis. A few have been placed behind glass to be used when a teacher is present, but this is understandable given the replacement costs. 
Alongside these physical spaces, the school is dependent on Bakalari, the virtual learning environment. Within this space, the teacher can make the lesson resources available, communicate with students and parents. All of the learning environments for the school connect within this hub. It enables the teachers looking at whole school development to interconnect changes to ensure it is both current and relevant to the students. 
In the LSL Advanced Schools we can begin to see the layers of development that have been enabled and ICT has been only one part of this. Sometimes the learning spaces and the technology operate in parallel, but the challenge for the school is to build the connections between the two.
Whilst the Living Schools Lab Project is focussed on the practice that can be mainstreamed, this school attaches clear importance to the unique subject specific learning spaces and there is certainly a need to look at this more closely. The Virtual Learning Environment is pivotal to the school development.
  • In your school, is there a specialist teacher for a particular subject who could develop a learning space with specialist resources for display and learning materials?
  • How could technology influence these learning spaces?
One of the key STEPS for the Advanced Practitioners within the project is to look at how to share their practice across the school. It is the development of shared learning spaces that will help to enable this. 
  •  If you were to review the learning spaces in your school, what would you find?
  • What is the best way to review your learning spaces? #lsl_eu @DianaBannister
Next Stop: Finland. 
 
"Buchty" or Learning Snacks?

 

Dr E Beneṧe School is my first visit in the Czech Republic. Set in the suburbs of Prague in an area called Zscakovice, the school has 751 pupils from 6-15 years and is classified as a “Basic School”. 
Petra is the lead teacher and engaged with several European Projects.    Our tour of the school begins in the staff “Kabinet”. This is not a cupboard but a work space for several colleagues who teach the same subject. Each member of staff has access to their own laptop. (There is no staffroom for all the staff to meet regularly.)   My morning begins with an introduction to the school and Petra has made some cake called “Buchty” for me to try. It is soft, almost like a ‘doughnut’ and a layer of poppy seeds in the middle. (It is not a requirement of the Living Schools to be able to cook for visitors, but as it is beautifully homemade it is important to mention – a “Learning Snack”1.)
Petra has a personal interest in developing the use of augmented reality and she is keen to convey her passion for technology. She has been exploring this through “Magic Cards+” and demonstrated this to me with an AR postcard of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. AR is still largely exploratory in schools, but there is definitely potential for enabling students to step inside and to bring a place to life. Petra also demonstrated a “Heart Cam” and this allowed me to wear a t-shirt which could be scanned to reveal a heart in Augmented Reality. This is an example of a technology that will continue to be drip-fed into the education system and piloted by schools. Another website where you can explore this is www.aumentaty.com
The Primary School children are based in the upper part of the building and as we walk upstairs, I immediately notice the large windows that have been placed into the classroom walls in the corridor. This allows us to view inside the classrooms and see the students at work, and it is much better than being unable to see beyond full length wooden doors. Petra explains that the headteacher has only recently had this work undertaken after visiting schools in another country and recognising the benefits of other staff being able to see inside the classroom during the lessons.   There is an incredible sense of calm in each classroom and students are clearly engaged in their learning. Each classroom is equipped with a PC and projector. There are also Promethean interactive whiteboards throughout most of the classrooms. 
The school has three computer labs and a further one being built.   There is WIFI throughout the school. These are not just used for ICT and although the rooms are timetabled, there are spaces where teachers book for their lessons.
Throughout the school there are lots of large paintings on the walls that have been by created students to reflect the different subjects. There are also many current displays and I notice a project showing the students at the local park. The students have taken photographs to support their environmental studies. Petra is looking to develop an area in the park by making a trail of QR codes with information about the trees. This is a great example of how the student learning has transferred to the real world and is linked to their home community. This project certainly has potential and could be replicated across different subjects. It emphasises the importance of students being able to use the technology and embed it into the real world, but it also provides the much needed interconnection between school and home.
Outside, there is an eco-classroom where students can go with the teacher to participate in their lessons. The area is covered by a roof, and there is enough space for a class of students to sit. Petra explains that since the school has bought 32 ipads, this has enabled the students to take technology outside too. 
As we come to the end of our tour of the school, it is almost time for the break.  However, there is no bell, but music to mark the transition to the next phase of the day. 
1In the Living Schools Lab Project, Bart Verswijvel is developing the notion of Learning Snacks in the Community of Practice. Our Advanced Schools and Advanced Practitioners have the opportunity to either create or attend Professional Development “Learning Snacks” that have been created by teachers and other educationalists. Whilst the LSL Advanced Schools and Practitioners get the first chance to reserve the place at these events, they are offered to a wider audience via Twitter #lsl_eu or the LSL website.
What is new on your professional learning journey?

It always seems that we have to wait a long time for the summer holidays, counting off the days on the calendar, planning for all those things we are going to do, "when we have more time"; but no sooner does it arrive, than we realise it won't be long before we're meeting new students for the start of the year and perhaps some of the things we planned for, remain on the "to do" list.

 
Some schools have been back a few weeks already, but for others, you are just settling in for the start of the new term. New students means new routines, new names to learn (this can be a challenge for some!) and new curriculum topics. For some teachers it means new classrooms and it may even mean new schools. Something new inevitably leads to change, but it is fascinating just how much people like to keep certain things the same. 
 
·         Have you changed your classroom for the start of the school year? (Or has your chair been in the same corner of the room and no one dares to move it?)
 
·         Have you introduced anything new to the timetable? (Or is next Thursday's lesson a presentation from last year with the date changed?)
 
·         Have you introduced any new technologies in your own lessons or to other staff in your school? (Or do you just need to find to the key to the cupboard where you locked it over the summer?)
 
·         Have you tried a different style of lesson delivery, maybe shared teaching with a colleague or flipped learning? (Not a ‘flipping’ chance?)
The start of the year is always a good time to refocus and set yourself some goals. You've probably asked your students to do it and you should try to do the same.
 
It's a good time to look in your classroom and across the school and consider your professional development plans and consider whether there are changes that you can implement for the year ahead.
 
In terms of the LSL Project, this probably means you also include some time to work on your STEPS plans, to visit the community of practice, to work on your development theme and to plan to visit another school in your region. You should also determine your own professional development needs. We’re hoping to expand the network this year for new schools and you can already register your interest if you would like to know more.
 
September is an exciting month, because having had time to reflect and switch off temporarily over the summer, you hopefully feel energised for your new goals. It's time to set yourself a challenge.
 
E.g. This year, I'm going to use technology for assessment feedback with my year 8 class.
 
Or this year I'm going to find out how to make videos for my science homework support.
 
It's also a good time to look around and to see who can help you on your professional learning journey. You will probably have to ask for help! If you are a senior leader in school, you could display staff goals for CPD and technology to demonstrate what everyone is trying to achieve. What do you and other staff need help with? But more importantly, who is going to provide that help? It’s also a chance to plan when you visit someone else’s classroom to observe and share practice.
 
Speaking of a professional learning journey brings me nicely to the next stage of the link observation visits. This weekend I'm packing for my next destination: Czech Republic. 
 
On Monday I'm flying from Birmingham UK, ahead of the visit to the advanced schools and the focus group in the Czech Republic. As part of their involvement in the project, these schools are collaborating on the use of interactive technologies, and I’m really looking forward to meeting the lead teachers and their teams in school next week.
 
 
Inspiring design ideas in different learning spaces

 

At Broadclyst Academy, one of the other dominant features was the different types of classroom space available and it soon became apparent that over the years, the head teacher and the team have given much consideration to the classrooms to reflect some of the changing use of technologies.
Broadclyst have a huge focus on 1:1 learning, this is not about a device per child, but how the teacher can use the technology to ensure that the individual student can access their learning.
In the earlier year groups, there are approximately 10-12 PCs down one side of the room and during the lesson, there is a group of students who are assigned to work on the PCs. There are also 8 ipads per year group for shared access. There is also the option to be able to open-up the spaces to make larger rooms so that teachers can share the resources and younger students can access more activities.   In year four, the students all have 1:1 access to laptops and again sit in groups for collaborative working. In year five, the students also have access to their own PC at their desk, but these rooms are laid out so that the tables naturally allow for collaborative discussion between the students.
The most noticeable room is for year 6, here all of the 65 students for the year group are together in one area known as “The Lecture Room”. The students all have access to a PC on their desk at one level and also space directly in front to work on paper-based activities or in books. There are two classroom teachers and up to five teaching assistants at any one point. The teachers are all equipped with microphones and audio equipment to enable full use of sound in the room. During the lesson, one of the teachers takes the lead for the delivery. It is also noteworthy that there is no use of interactive whiteboards; the materials are displayed on three large screens at the front of the room. One of the teachers faces forwards and is able to control the technology and annotate on the screen which then appears on the large screen displays. However, the role of the teacher is central to the structure of the lesson. The other teacher moves around the room and is able to ask questions, trigger further discussion and team-teach with her colleague. The students clearly know that the start of the lesson will involve the whole class, but beyond this, the teachers are also able to send the students into groups in several smaller areas to allow more focussed and differentiated learning. 
Today’s lesson is all about Gravity, and it begins with a short video which looks at what would happen if we were in space; “if we had a hammer and a feather, which one will hit the ground first?” The students watch the short video on the large screens and then discuss some of their predictions. The students are then sent into different groups to work on a design task. 
The group of seven that I am with go to a smaller science/technology area in school and are given three ipads to share and asked to look at some designs. The students are then challenged to design a structure that will carry an egg and will support it so that it does not smash. They also consider the following questions:
·         What would be the best shape to carry the egg?
·         How can you prevent the egg from falling?
·         What 3d shape can you make to house your egg?
The use of the tablet within this lesson allows the students to access the design ideas as and when they need to. It also enables each student to recognise significant design points in smaller peer groups. The students intuitively embed this use of technology within their learning and readily take the design ideas that have been given to them to recognise that there are certain design features that are critical to the success of the overall design.
The students then have about 30 minutes to use K’nex to experiment with possible designs. The students are engaged in the task and it becomes apparent that the students benefit enormously from being able to test out their thoughts with concrete materials. The use of technology becomes a stimulus for the lesson and also a reference point; it is seamlessly integrated as part of the learning.
The teacher is able to take photographs of the students’ designs and these can then be instantly shared with the other students back in the main classroom. The teacher is able to capture photos of the students as they are building different designs and this will be helpful to discuss the “process” of how they decided upon the shapes and structures.
This experimentation will then be put to full use as the students are going to be working in groups over the next few weeks to create a prototype with different materials.
The students return to the main lecture room for the plenary of the lesson and are able to share what the different groups have been doing with their peers using the large screens.
Whilst the large group can appear quite overwhelming at first, it is clear to see that the access to additional teaching assistants, further classroom space, the alternative uses of technology and the use of concrete resources all help to ensure that the students get the opportunity for their whole class learning to be individually challenged just a little bit more. 
Going forward, it will be worth taking a look at how Broadclyst uses their understanding of technology to inform the design of spaces within the new building. 
All smiles for the reception at Broadclyst Community Primary School.

 

Broadclyst Community Primary School is a UK primary academy situated 191 miles south from the University of Wolverhampton, and so I made this journey by train. It is set on the main road through Broadclyst just five miles away from the city centre of Exeter. I took a taxi to get to the school and not wanting to be late, asked to be picked up early.  However, no inner city traffic to negotiate, I arrived ahead of schedule and I was taken to the school reception. 
From the outside, Broadclyst looks like the English “small village school”, but it soon became apparent that beyond the external façade, is a multi-faceted larger set of buildings that have grown over the years to accommodate the growing community and are just about to expand even further with a proposed new building being added in the next year. More significantly, what is embedded within is layer upon layer of technology that has become an essential part of the approach to teaching, learning and the administrative processes in this two-form entry school.
From the moment I entered the reception, I was immediately fascinated because I was asked to do something that I haven’t been asked to do before in a primary school, and this was to register my arrival by having my photograph taken. 
In the reception, was a screen (“InVentry”) to register arrival and I could click for STAFF, VISITOR or STUDENT and then it proceeded to take me through a short simple registration, including taking my photograph. As a visitor to the school, there was a drop down menu, which recognised that I was due to be on site that day. This actually then meant that I could be tracked around the school all day.     This made me feel very welcome to the community of the school, and I can also see how useful this is for the rest of the school to see who will be in school that day. It also makes you realise how just this one use of technology can help schools gather evidence to inform thinking about the school day. 
As a teacher the system has the potential to allow me access to specific buildings. As a student, I could demonstrate my presence in school, access particular areas of the school, but also confirm my attendance at individual lessons. This is a great system and not just about “security”, for me it also demonstrated the significance of “presence” and “digital identity” in the real world that exists beyond the school. 
Another feature in the entrance hall which gave me an insight into the school was a digital screen showing photographs of the students learning. Along with the prospectus of the school, these kinds of presentations all help the visitor build up an understanding of the “living school” and I can begin to see just how exciting it is to be a student at Broadclyst.
This fantastic reception area got me wondering a lot about other kinds of access and registration that schools offer using technology. How is technology used in your school to welcome visitors? 
Having done hundreds of observations visits to schools all over the world, I often say that getting into a school reception can be one of the biggest challenges. Consider what it is like for someone visiting your school for the first time; is your office reception clearly signposted? Are the doors and entry bells or buzzers labelled? What is the initial impression that your school gives?     How do people get from one building to another, are the buildings themselves labelled? Do you make the student learning visible using technology in your reception area?
Lesson Observation Number One - Collaborative Learning with the Mr Men

In the afternoon at Shireland Collegiate Academy, I joined the leading teacher for the Living Schools Lab Project, Mr Moore and his year nine students for the Literacy for Life lesson. As part of their themed work on the 1960’s and 1970’s, the students were learning about the author Roger Hargreaves who wrote the Mr Men series of books.

One of the key points to emphasise is the expectation that the students had undertaken the pre-session preparation prior to the lesson at home (an example of “flipped learning”). The students had been given a weblink and asked to read one of the Mr Men books prior to the lesson. The teachers all begin their lesson with a whole class session called the class forum which allows the teacher to ask some questions and acts as a formative guide for the starting point of the face to face contact time.
Throughout the school the “WALT” – What are we learning today and the “WILF” – What I’m looking for are clearly displayed. In this lesson, the students have to identify key facts about the Mr Men author/creator; explain how the author became inspired to write the material and apply their ideas to a short piece of writing.
The one hour lesson was clearly timed down to the very last minute and the students were familiar with knowing the amount of time available for each section of the lesson.
The students were sat in fours at circular tables and there were at least two netbooks available for each table.  (This created a completely different dynamic within the room, and it would be interesting to see how such a layout encouraged collaboration.)  
An interactive whiteboard displayed the content of the lesson and the teacher invited several students to read out various tasks throughout the lesson.
In one corner of the classroom, a large touch screen displayed a timer and this was operated by one of the students at various intervals throughout the lesson. In all of the classrooms throughout school there are touch screens in each corner which generally display some materials to support the lesson or to allow students to interact with them to check their knowledge. (“Stuck Powerpoints”…to help the students when they are “Stuck”) This is a really good idea as it encourages the students to be independent and check information. The teacher can also monitor to see who is using the materials and check if they need further support.
Mr Moore has differentiated the task and gives different groups of students one of three levels of challenge via the questions on the cards.
The students have just twelve minutes to answer the questions on the card and the students quickly realise that they need to divide them up and work as a team in order to complete the task. The students have access to netbooks and suggested websites are highlighted in the class space on the school Learning Gateway. This is the school’s virtual learning environment. Each student is able to log on to their year group, and the class section. The student can also access their own individual portfolio too. This is the infrastructure that underpins much of the learning across this school. The teachers and students depend on the Learning Gateway as not just the repository for information, but the hub of learning.
At the end of this first task, the teacher checks their progress and for the next task the idea is that one student is able to leave the group and visit all the other groups to gather answers to some of the questions using an information gathering sheet. The groups then have several minutes to work together to complete the sheet, and it becomes clear that all of the smaller tasks are gradually enabling the students to build their knowledge independently, but with scaffolding around their learning. The use of technology is interwoven into the materials, and the students know when they need to use it, but equally make use of other resources throughout the lesson. This lesson a constant pace and the students connect with the clear instructions and seamlessly use the technology as they work. This demonstrates that the students are clearly familiar with the regular use of the equipment and the teacher has embedded the use of technology in his classroom.  There is a real buzz as the students know that they can collaborate with others not only on their table, but around the classroom too.
The teacher also asks the students to complete an individual task and this is to answer some questions on class sites. The final part of the lesson causes great excitement as the teacher places a box on each table and asks the students not to open it straight away. Their final task is displayed on the interactive whiteboard is to take the mystery objects from the box and begin to discuss with their peers how they could include them in their very own Mr Men Story. (Just think how times have changed…the students could probably devote a whole new series to the use of technology: Mr Mobile Phone, Mr Tablet, Mr Internet and even Little Miss Technology! I’ve no doubt these students will be able to publish their own versions too, with just a little help from Mr Moore…watch this space!)
First Stop - Shireland Collegiate Academy, Sandwell, UK

Although I’ve been to Shireland several times before, I think the immediate observation for most visitors must be the celebration of cultures and faiths that exist as one. Shireland Collegiate Academy is based in Sandwell in the Black Country, West Midlands, UK.  

With 1115 students aged 11-19 years and 98 staff the school, this is a larger than average secondary school in the UK. However, from the moment I entered the building there is a real sense of a vibrant community. 
The schedule for the Showcase of Innovative Practice was organised down to the very last minute and it was great to see just how all the staff work together as a team to demonstrate the practice across the school. The lead teachers for the Living Schools Lab project are Kirsty Tonks and Lewis Moore, but this school has a real “open-door” approach and I really felt invited to see the practice in every classroom.
The school tour began in a year 11 classroom who were making use of audioboo and working with ipads to describe their ideas for a new product. This looked like an application that was worthy of further exploration as the students were able to record interviews, make short reports which allowed them to save and share sound files.
One of the noticeable differences in this school is the Literacy for Life (L4L) integrated curriculum, which basically means that all students between 11 and 14 years spend time with one teacher for up to 50% of their timetable. This competency based curriculum has been developed and refined over the last five years. It’s certainly something for consideration because the technology is embedded as one of the competencies and integral within the lessons. Students cover the curriculum through certain project themes. The assessment descriptors are also readily deployed the staff and students, everyone is familiar with the terminology of “Emerging, Developing, Proficient and Advanced.” I think in all the classrooms that I visited throughout the day; there was evidence of student self-assessment using descriptions against the competencies associated with each of the levels. It also became apparent that the students seemed to know their current level and were able to suggest what was needed to make progress.
In year 7, the students are doing Mathematics and the topic of probability. I visited several classrooms across the year group and it was fascinating to watch various sections of the same lesson materials led by different teachers. All of the classrooms are equipped with a SMART interactive whiteboard throughout the school. There is a clear expectation that the students will be actively involved in the lesson with at least one opportunity for the students to be up on their feet. In one room there is music playing and the students are creating their own dance movements based on the number thrown on the dice. 
In a year 9 classroom, the students were working with WordWall and the Wordpad individual response systems/clickers. All the students had their own device and were working through a set of self-paced questions. The teacher gives the students opportunity to check their progress and indicates the target they should be moving towards, depending upon their current score.
My morning tour ends with a visit to the Music department where some year two students from the local primary school are having  a lesson from an expert teacher in Shireland with the software Garageband. The young students are in the middle of their presentation and it is incredible to hear how much they have achieved with just one morning’s work. The compositions are impressive and the students have readily embraced the technology. As an Academy, the school has maximised opportunities for the local schools by encouraging their staff to lead expert sessions in various subjects. Sometimes these are held on site at the primary school, whilst at other times the younger students get their first taste of secondary school. This is also welcomed by the primary teachers who are able to share subject knowledge and it enables the students to become competent enough to support the teacher as digital leaders back in the primary school. If this is what these students can do with Music and Technology in year two, I wonder what they will be able to do by the time they get to Shireland! 
The Research Bus - All Aboard!

I've had several discussions with different colleagues over the last few weeks about the Living Schools Lab Project and I've decided that it is going to be an important part of my collaborative research journey to try and capture the Living Schools Lab Link Observation Visits within this blog. The Observation and Documentation of Innovative Practice all sounds rather formal and serious - and of course, it is! However, in my blog I want to try and share the journey to help me reflect on some of the observations and understanding. I also want you to come with me and see if your school or educational practice is just the same or perhaps you do something slightly different.

The challenge for me is trying to understand how the practice within an Advanced School can be replicated elsewhere. What are the STEPS that these schools have had to take to demonstrate that they make effective use of technology? It's also about helping other schools to realise that Living Schools are constantly working towards innovative practice, challenging themselves from day to day.

So, I'm sure that you will want to find out just what happened when I visited the first UK school. No plane to catch, no train to run for... just nine miles from the University of Wolverhampton where I work.  First Stop: Shireland Collegiate Academy, Sandwell UK.

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