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?

Saturday 29 January 2011

Ludus in residence at Tallis

A massive thank you to the inspirational Ludus Dance Company for their fantastic residency at Thomas Tallis School this week. It culminated in a performance of their most recent piece entitled “Consequences” and performances by Year 9 and 10 dancers who had devised their own work in collaboration with Ludus.

An audience of parents and friends left the Sports Hall on Friday evening with beaming smiles and you can’t beat that!

Thursday 27 January 2011

You are not a gadget

I came across this book today which claims to be a manifesto about the need for a more humanistic approach to internet technology. Like all good manifestos, Lanier's ideas run against the grain. For example, he considers Web 2.0 tools to be a problem because they provide standardised solutions that limit the potential of the individual. He dislikes Wikipedia because he considers it to be an example of "mob rule".

Here's a thoughtful article about the book and a link on Amazon if you fancy getting a copy.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Some Other Manifestos

Here are links to a few other manifestos that have caused a bit of a stir in their time:

The Stuckist Manifesto,
1999 - These folks have made a name for themselves by protesting about the Turner Prize. They are opposed to conceptual art and love painting. "The Stuckist paints pictures because painting pictures is what matters."

The Dadaist Manifesto, 1921 -
This is what the Stuckists dislike. Conceptual art started with the Dadaists, a bunch of radical poets and visual artists in Zurich, Switzerland who themselves were disgusted by the terrible waste of WW1. Their response was to create Anti-Art, that embraced chance and the absurd. "If you find all your ideas useless and ridiculous, know that IT IS DADA BEGINNING TO SPEAK TO YOU"

The Futurist Manifesto, 1909 - This is a brilliant bit of provocation. The Italian Futurists loved speed and energy. They had some dodgy political views. They thought that it was a good idea to destroy the past which included things like tearing down libraries. They wanted Futurism to change all aspects of life and even created a Cookbook. "
Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed."

BLAST: The Vorticist Manifesto, 1914 - The Vorticists were a British version of The Futurists. They produced a couple of issues of BLAST magazine at the start of the First World War. They liked to BLAST and BLESS things to indicate whether they liked them or not. I'm not sure who the Curate of Eltham was but he gets properly blasted. "BLAST First (from politeness) ENGLAND. BLESS English humour."

The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924 - This is a long document but worth skimming through. The Surrealists were fascinated by the power of dreams and the unconscious mind. They were hoping to generate a revolution (of the Communist variety) through rewiring the way people saw the world. Look out for the dictionary definition near the end.

"SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought."

Today's ARG meeting

We had a really great meeting this morning and welcomed our two new members from Year 8, Will and Joe. We began with Danuta and Phoebe's re-working of the Manifesto for a Creative Tallis:

We ENCOURAGE all learners to:
become curious, imaginative and innovative
take risks, accept challenges and learn from mistakes
reflect on their learning experiences

We SUPPORT our students to become:
resourceful, active and independent learners
effective collaborators and communicators
co-creators of the curriculum

in the exchange of skills and knowledge between students and staff
that skills should be transferable
that new technologies are a crucial part of learning

our students' talents, skills and interests and provide opportunities to develop them further
feedback and ideas from students about their learning experiences
effective communication about creative learning with parents, carers and members of the local community

We had a look at The Rebel's Manifesto by Keri Smith for comparison. We felt that the more direct and provocative language of that document might improve our own manifesto.

In small groups we discussed ways to further refine the Tallis Manifesto, feeding back to the whole team. Here are some of the suggestions:

Joe, Will & Danuta:

More accessible language needed. “Be curious, Take risks” Short, snappy phrases. More like instructions. Maybe lose the “We”. “Don’t be afraid to be afraid”, “Ask questions”

Tom, Seb & Rachel:

Different manifestos for range of audiences e.g. students, teachers. Should there be a division?

Recipe or creative learning – video, dance, song

Humour? What skills do the group have that could help to promote the manifesto?

Phoebe & Matt:

Who is the manifesto for? Use the word “learners” and “creative community” – more inclusive.

When should it be implemented – assembly, tutor time, focus on Creative Tallis – direct response of learners. How to make it more interactive?

We also talked about the various ways in which we could re-present the Manifesto to the community and came up with the following list:

Video, Interactive web resource – definitions of some of the words, Assemblies, Tutor Time, Song

There is a lot of work still to do on the Manifesto so we agreed to meet fortnightly from now on - Week A Thursdays at 4pm. We also agreed that Tom would be bringing the juice and biscuits next time! Thanks to everyone in the team for their energy and ideas.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Tangled Feet R and D

More exciting work from Tangled Feet in the pipeline (pun intended).

Tuesday 18 January 2011


It's always great to see staff and students collaborating on rich, inter-disciplinary projects that have real audiences. But when the quality of the work is as high as it was during the two nights of 'Phobias', you realise that this kind of learning creates fantastic outcomes for all involved. The students of different ages get to behave like real arts practitioners, producing original and exciting work to a very high standard. The staff work as a team and learn skills from one another and the students, extending notions of what is possible. The audience leave with a sense of what can be achieved by young people and their teachers when they are prepared to take a few risks and trust in each other's skills.

Last year's 'Restaurant' project was the first time we had attempted an inter-disciplinary arts event quite so ambitious. I am delighted to say that 'Phobias' has raised the bar again. The audience was stimulated by a massive variety of multi-sensory experiences in a wide variety of art forms that wouldn't have been out of place in a contemporary art gallery or cutting edge theatrical space.

The company of costumed performers was enhanced by an army of backstage technical wizards with banks of laptops, speakers, cameras and other props. Visitors could begin their exploration of various irrational fears in the bar in two complimentary installations by feeling what it might be like to be be buried alive. Then it was time to be whisked into an operating theatre where they witnessed a patient close to death, live brain surgery via a video projection and the overpowering smell of chemicals and animal flesh. They then journeyed down a dark tunnel, where disfigured toys brushed against their faces, strangers screamed and hands reached out to grab their legs. Making their way through a hot, burning room and a door of flames, the audience then entered a large space which was quickly transformed into a mixture of therapy room, living nightmare and punishment chamber. Wall to wall video projections and a synchronised team of performers assaulted them with horrifying tales of death by fire, water and earth, before they were finally and unceremoniously ordered to leave.

The entire event was a real tribute to the energy, creativity and faith displayed by a dedicated team of staff at Tallis and the immense trust they have in the talents of our students. Thanks to everyone involved!

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Visit from the Latvian Minister for Education

Today, Mr Greig and Mr Nicholls had the great pleasure of welcoming the Minister for Education and his delegation from Latvia to Thomas Tallis School to talk about creative learning the impact of our involvement in the Creative Partnerships programme. We had a fascinating discussion which focused on the need to encourage learners to ask questions, to become leaders of their own (and others') learning, to take risks and make mistakes, to support schools in their drive to provide an exciting, contemporary curriculum and the value of building social capital in order to support all learners. Paul Collard, national director for Creativity, Culture and Education was also present at the meeting and described his first visit to Thomas Tallis School as "inspirational".

Learners Y Factor

On Sunday 9 January, members of the Creative Tallis group attended the Learners Y Factor event in central London, part of the Learning Without Frontiers conference. We had been selected to present our experience of creating a Pop Up School at the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma last November. Billy, Raihan, Seb and Tom performed brilliantly, despite some technical hitches, and co-ordinated a live Skype call with Joseph, one of the students from Howe High School in Oklahoma, during the Q&A session. Thanks to them, the story of our Pop Up School adventure has been shared with even more folks interested in creative learning and the future of schools.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Learners Y Factor

Tomorrow, four Tallis representatives will tell the story of our Oklahoma adventure to an audience at the Learners Y Factor event in central London. The event is designed to showcase innovative approaches to learning and ICT by young people. We are presenting the story of our Pop Up School and our disruptive presence at the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma in November 2010.

Our presentation begins with a video (above) outlining the project from its inception several months prior to the trip to Oklahoma. We are then going to describe how we used social networks, scavenging skills and a mixture of handheld and online technologies to propose that the future of learning might look quite different to the schools, classrooms, corridors and textbooks of the present.

Our presentation ends with a question and answer session with the judges which will be attended by Joseph Horton, one of our collaborators from Howe High School in Oklahoma, via the magic of Skype.

We are competing against several schools who have each demonstrated that young people have the potential to radically transform the learning process, in part through their innovative use of new technologies. We are both proud and excited to be involved in the event.