Last week I had the pleasure of spending a day with James Riggall in Launceston, Tasmania (pronounced lawn-sest-un for those like me who struggle...). As soon as we met last month we hit it off with our mutual interest in co-working, the maker movement, and education so he invited me over to Launceston for a visit. See us left in my radio debut! He was in his element discussing his current co-working/startup endeavors and I nervously rattled off a few blips about my own interests and Fulbright plans. James himself initiated co-working spaces in both Launceston and Hobart which now have lives of their own under the Enterprize name. This is in addition to running his own technology company, BitLink and spending multiple hours a week working with students at The Battery Shed and Launceston College's STEAM Engine. In sum, he's pretty cool and doing great things with even more on the horizon.

Right now, Enterprize operates out of a shell space in the CBD of Launceston. CBD here is a generous term as the town is quite small (a bit under 87,000 residents in the entire metro area) and amazingly walkable. It reminds me so much of Ithaca, NY in that it is small, but mighty. Launceston has a strong arts culture, an amazing network of partnerships and unity in the community, and gorges to boot! Similarities between the two cities will strengthen even more as plans for the Northern Transformation take root and the University begins its relocation to the CBD.

My day in Launceston started with a tour of Macquarie House, the future home of Enterprize. This old storage warehouse was built in the 1830's and will soon begin renovations. It's initial use was storage of supplies used in the growth of Melbourne's first settlement, James joked that this makes Melbourne Enterprize's first successful startup - hah! The design plans to remove cheap additions/modifications made in the last 50 years, uncover its original timber structure, and bring it back to its former glory. The result will be a collision of the old and the new through its historic aesthetic and contemporary, tech-heavy utilization. Check out the website of the plans here.

Unlike the popular WeWork and other more "corporate" co-working set-ups, Enterprize is for now a free resource. Membership, however, does have two requirements: 1) you must be passionately working on something big, and 2) you must be a part of the community, attend events, and give back throughout your presence and your time. For this to work, controls must be cultural and not just something enforced by management. Isn't this true for all things?

The biggest takeaway of my day in Launceston was the power of its unique and strong culture of sharing. I asked James so many logistical questions about how all of this was possible. What types of contracts were signed? How does funding work? Who is liable for this and that? What if this happens? etc. etc. He response was always along the lines of "we don't often need formality and when we do, it's a simple as possible". It's created a town in which the Launceston College STEAM Engine shares tools with start-ups, the university helps design and build furniture, you can count on the community to rally and paint, furnish, and open up a new startup space over a weekend (true story!), and a place like Enterprize can remain affordable.

I think its this culture of sharing that will make Launceston a place to watch over the next five years.

#Launceston #coworking #startups

In addition to my research goals, I came to Australia to visit as many schools as possible and I picked a great one for my first deep-dive visit. This week, I spent the day with Anne Knock, Director of Development at the Sydney Centre for Innovative Learning (SCIL) based at Northern Beaches Christian School about an hour north of Sydney. Anne toured me through the school, shared her passions for making schools better for kids, and took me through some of the tools used in workshops with SCIL. Anne also happens to be a PhD student on the ILETC. I have admired her blog from afar for years and am so amazed that we have not only now met but will be working together throughout the year on all this great research!

Anne first gave me a broad overview of the school and its history. Its current principal Stephen Harris, who can be credited with its evolution, began in 1999 and thus, has had a long tenure in which to make consistent, positive change possible. The design of the space is simply beautiful. The design architect, WMK, had never once designed a school before, exactly what NBCS wanted in their team. In fact, the competing firms were asked to not even show schools in their briefs (not all listened). Through intense collaboration with Mr. Harris a facility that blends the indoors with the outdoors, supports continual agility in teaching and learning, and has the bustling vibe of a tech company was created, built, and is being successfully utilized.

The campus hosts 1300 students in kindergarten through year 12 and they roughly progress in and are grouped in pairs: year 1 and 2, year 3 and 4, etc. This allows educators the flexibility to group by skill/interest and more opportunities for co-teaching. There are no teacher offices or owned spaces. This is in-line with one of the school’s key values: relationships. Teachers and students all co-exist and support one another.

When you first enter the “heart” of the school, you are greeted by three different screens. The first, at the start of the day, has a running list of which buses have arrived and a GPS map of buses still on the road. During the day, this shows any location changes for classes and a map of the campus with any location changes for that particular session. This latter element is key as NBCS uses every inch of their facility as a learning space meaning educators shuffle at times depending on what they are working on and the lesson's associated needs, regardless of subject. This in turn creates a well-utilized school with a constant hum of activity. However, to ensure the shifts are not chaotic, communication of where students are meant to be is key.

Screen two is an ever-evolving display of student work - music videos, documentaries, visualizations, the full gamut!

Screen three is their “window to the world” and has a running playlist of videos from locations around the globe. The space around the large screen is designed to accommodate large events and presentations and participants can gather on the staircase, in the plaza, or in the courtyards adjacent and treehouse above – multi-functional and beautiful.

After the tour, I grabbed my laptop and spent time working in the various spaces (a testament to the culture here is that my sitting to the side while students worked bothered absolutely no one).

Office #1: “Rhythm and Blues” My first “office” for the day was in the Rhythm and Blues learning space. Formally two classrooms, the studio is transformed into something that is designed to mimic the life of a musician, not that of a student. Working in groups of approximately 7, students open their laptops to see where they start their rotation for the day. They run off a true blended model with a map of learning for the term so students can pace themselves as needed. However, this is not a space in which all work independently from a laptop; educators are present and students are in constant communication.

Three adages were used to describe the space and course philosophy to me:

“It’s all about the gig” – it doesn’t matter what you do in class or how you got there, all that matters is the performance. Thus, students are held accountable for their finished product and perform regularly for one another.

“Music for the people, with the people” – Biweekly concerts are a regular part of the school and this program. The philosophy of music is also a personalized one.

“Music at the speed of thought” – all the instruments and technology are at the ready. There is no need to break thought and set something up. Instead, walk over and get creating!

Office #2: “The Zone” It is amazing how comfortable having 180 students in one ope

n building can be when it’s designed and used as intended! As I write this, I am sitting with 180 students navigating their curriculum in groups. Educators are roving the space working some, other students congregate in booths or on mobile soft seating, while others sit on the tiered staircases using google classroom to create presentations on the basic elements of coding. Rows of desks are simply nonexistent yet learning abounds – imagine that!

Office #3: “The Treehouse” This space overlooks the main courtyard space and the large “window to the world”. There’s power access under the benches so I am able to get work done alongside senior year students eating their own lunches and collaborating in groups on school work. They must be teaching self-confidence as a young girl just walked upstairs and confronted a group of senior boys next to me, accusing them of dropping rubbish on her and her peers in the courtyard below. You go girl! Turns out it was likely the bird sitting in the landscaping next to them, ce la vie.

At the end of the afternoon, we sat in the "Skybridge" and Anne shared some of the work she does in her role with SCIL and walked me through the use of their Engage/Design tool. You can check out some sweet tutorials on the web but here’s the low down on how the activity works:

A Story of People on a Journey in a Space

  1. Develop empathy while identifying your team. Why are you here? Where did you come from? Each team member shares a bit about themselves.

  2. Discuss/identify the overarching Vision. Depending on the end goal of the workshop and the participants, this could be the vision of the school as a whole or more individualized

  3. Discuss/identify the values that support the vision

  4. Decide on student "empathy archetypes". We know that not every lesson or activity will garner the same reaction from each student. Thus, it’s important to identify the students you are designing for in this particular session.

  5. Your storyboard consists of the following parts:

  6. Mountaintop – what is your end goal?

  7. Start with an entry event – what will set the tone?

  8. Immersion – this is the meat of it all.

  9. Matrix - how are lessons/options presented? what is the interface in which students interact?

  10. Passion – how can students integrate their own interests into your design?

  11. Check Points – does the plan as it sits meet the Vision? How would each of the student archetypes respond?

  12. Move on to the Habitat, both Physical and Virtual

  13. Utilizing an edited version of David Thornbury’s archetypes, participants discuss space in terms of Caves, Watering Holes, Campfires, Outdoor Space, and often forgotten but important, Empty Space.

I look forward to incorporating the tool into the design work I do back home as I think it will add a more defined element to the conversations around the types of learning activities that will occur in the space.

Overall, the day was incredible. It is a hard to describe feeling when you're in a school that just jives from the design to the pedagogy. Thank you Anne for taking the time to show me around!

#schooldesign

A couple weeks ago we took our first trip out of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road. We rented a campervan from Wicked Campers which is a pretty sweet set up with sleeping areas inside, kitchen and storage in back. We got lucky and the decor on our van was not horribly embarrassing or inappropriate (seriously - some had curse words all over or drug imagery which just does not bode well out on a public road in touristy areas with loads of children). Instead, we got....Chuck Norris! They must have known we were from Texas.

My biggest advice to anyone driving the Great Ocean Road is to take the trip backyards, meaning head to the west side of the ocean road and take it back towards Melbourne. 1) This allowed us (and by us, I mean my husband who actually drove) to learn to drive on the left-hand side of the road on straight highways instead of windy ocean or forest roads. 2) We were going against the flow of traffic which made us feel less guilty as we drove slowly around curves in our big colorful van. 3) We arrived at sites at less-peak times and thus, no crowds! It was also not peak time of year so many things working in our favor.

Things that surprised me:

1. We were able to find ourselves completely alone on beaches on multiple occasions. Surreal and wonderful.

2. The stars at night were outstanding!! Not a surprise when you think about it but we were just weren't expecting how bright the sky would be.

3. The waves are super unpredictable! Over the whole weekend we still could not tell low-tide from high or how to predict what type of wave is coming next. This is why you shouldn't swim in those waters.

4. There are not actually 12 apostles as many have collapsed throughout the years. In fact, the number of apostles and which formations are considered apostles fluctuates. I counted 7 when we were there.

5. Rainforests! The Great Ocean Road also drives through lush rainforest. I had no idea and we took a nice walk through Maits Rest and enjoyed the surprising climate surprise.

Highlights of the weekend:

1. I finally saw a KOALA! They do exist. (still no live kangaroos though...)

2. Watching the sunset at Gibson Steps was gorgeous.

3. Dark chocolate Tim Tams are just as good as I thought they would be

Here are some photos of our weekend courtesy of both myself and the hubs - enjoy!


About Me

My name is Raechel (with an "e"). I help design schools for a living and travel whenever I can (well - used to and pining to start that again!). I started this website as I combined these two favorite things in Melbourne, Australia as a Post-Graduate Fulbright Scholar. I am continuing it now after finishing a PhD in Education and still designing schools. I will chronicle research and schools I love (and hopefully soon - travel), sharing the exciting things happening and providing lessons learned from my research on how to align your practices and your spaces to achieve your teaching and learning goals.

 

Feel free to contact me at: schoolsandtravel@gmail.com

Thanks for visiting!

 

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