Sunday 30 January 2011

Space to Learn

Whilst out shopping with my family today I also following this fascinating conversation on Twitter initiated by Ian Yorkston (who says men can't multi-task?) It began with a photograph of a plane that is being used by a Nottingham school as a classroom. Bizarrely it cost less to buy and refurbish than a conventional classroom would have taken to build. Imagine climbing into an old aeroplane for your afternoon lesson? Brilliant. Soon, there was news of other innovative classroom spaces with a transport theme - long boats, WW2 gliders and a London bus. I contributed our Pop Up gallery/Classroom 'The Crate' as another example of how schools are experimenting with unusual spaces in which to learn. I was also reminded of a project a while ago where a primary school were asked to imagine that their school had sunk to the bottom of the ocean and that their task was to find ways of returning it safely to dry land. How much more engaging would this amazing project have been if the students had a mini submarine parked in their playground? Another example of this kind of immersive learning activity is the Matching Green 'Nerva' project that was featured in Stephen Heppell's Be Very Afraid showcase. What if those students, as well as communicating online with operatives in Mission Control at the local CLC, could have solved their various problems from the confines of a spacelab in the school carpark?

The Free School idea may prove to be a turning point in our thinking about suitable environments for learning or it may be merely an interesting footnote in the story of educational innovation in the UK. We may yet see schools popping up in old Post Offices, banks and shopping centres. Our new school building will be ready in about 10 months time. We certainly hope that we will have sufficient, highly specified rooms in which to learn and teach. Some of them will look and feel very different to the bog standard spaces we currently use. We will have a TV broadcast room, for example, and an Olympic standard Dojo. These spaces will hopefully be unusual and inspiring places, partly because they will look and feel like professional working environments. We will also have some outside classrooms, embedded in the landscape, that will provide opportunities for classes to work outdoors.

One of the exciting things about the Nottingham aeroplane classroom is the element of surprise that often accompanies great learning. Stepping into the cockpit of the plane or taking a seat in the fuselage would definitely transport me to a different world and possibly help me to remember the lessons I learned there. What additional outdoor, mobile, flexible learning spaces might we still need in our future school?

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