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LSI Architects - Classroom of the future is unveiled

Norwich and London-based LSI Architects has announced the completion of the innovative ‘Classroom of the Future’ at Notre Dame High School in Norwich, Norfolk. A ‘private view’ of the new facilities will take place on Tuesday 4th December from 5 pm – 7:30 pm, in which students and teachers will demonstrate the sophisticated multi-purpose laboratory and new biosphere. Media and private guests are invited to attend.

The project is one of a series of pilot schemes being undertaken across the country to create innovative learning environments that are imaginative and stimulating, with the aim of inspiring children to achieve more.

Work on the ‘Classroom of the Future’ began in March 2007 following a successful funding application to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) for the design, development and implementation of the project. This was announced in October 2005 by the former Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly.

LSI Architects was involved in close consultation with the school community to develop a vision for the future teaching environment for science. This involved the architects going back to school for a morning to attend classes and experience ‘science in action’ as pupils. The new facilities are intended to assist teaching and learning by being used as a resource - as part of a stimulating environment to encourage pupils to be inquisitive about their surroundings.

The futuristic classroom is able to operate as a single space or, by using a folding partition, as two zones, each capable of holding up to 30 students in a range of flexible learning configurations (hubs, clusters, rows or combinations). There are adjacent, smaller rooms which will provide staff workrooms, technician and storage space. These are remotely connected to the Training School via high resolution cameras and microphones, with feedback through blue-tooth ear pieces to facilitate observation of classes by trainee teachers and mentors.

Within the classroom, a powerful ICT system enhances the students’ learning environment in a multitude of ways: the use of cameras and screens to record and replay experiments, video clips, films and live images from a variety of sources, such as the school site; partner organisations and other schools; links with web-cams across the world and stars and planets across the Universe via the National Schools Observatory at John Moore’s University, Liverpool. This builds on links made with NASA via the Space School Education Trust. Text, images and sounds of weather as well as different climates, planets and places around the world will then be projected onto overhead screens and relayed around the room using hidden speakers.

For different purposes, a main screen can show, for example, close-ups of a dissection while another provides a more general view of the teacher performing the experiment. Live pictures from the grounds or from partner institutions, including Easton College, will enhance the learning experience. A-Level biology students will be able to watch, for example, animals being born, agricultural practices (such as the fertilisation of crops and ploughing) as part of the relevant lessons. This is intended to show and educate students about possibly unfamiliar concepts, such as rural/agricultural life, in an easily understandable and engaging way.

All facilities, from lights and blinds to video recordings and live links, are managed by the teacher from a sophisticated ‘central console’. Using lapel microphones, teachers are able to overlay comments on the recorded image, with a high level microphone capturing other ambient sound, such as students’ questions.

A sophisticated video recording facility, holding output from the cameras and microphones, contains storage equivalent to three years’ input. Students, teachers and trainees will be able to produce individual learning DVDs and teaching aids using previous lesson material and a wide range of other digital resources, including a large amount held on file by scientific partners. In this way, students will assume a greater role in their own scientific education and feel empowered in becoming members of the scientific community, while teachers themselves learn from the research activity and enthusiasm of the students. The data files will be a major aid to those students who miss lessons through absence whilst providing an expansive e-learning resource.

The aim of this interactive, multi-sensory educational environment is to achieve a marked move away from reading-based learning to an exciting visual, kinaesthetic learning style which is especially attractive to disengaged and SEN (Special Educational Needs) students.

The ‘Classroom of the Future’ offers a range of equipment to make science come alive, exploiting sound, vision and space. The equipment has been carefully chosen to meet the needs of all students from Key Stages 2 to 5, including those from partner schools and will be purchased over the coming years as funding allows.

The multi-purpose laboratory zone includes a ‘service wing’ suspended from the ceiling to supply power, gas, water, and even drainage (via a vacuum system) to mobile benches which will be flexible in their configuration to adapt to different teaching styles. This system has been previously developed in Germany and is the first installation in the UK.

The e-zone provides flexible teaching and learning space, equipped with wireless laptops, interactive whiteboards and projection facilities.

In the adjacent garden, a biosphere has been built. The biosphere will be extensively used as a model of renewable energy and as a resource for studying plant science. Examples include changes in DNA in crops grown under different conditions, and comparing experiments in growing plants in conditions which match those found at partner schools in Malawi. ICT links will service the dome for environmental monitoring and control.

David Andrews of LSI Architects commented: “This project is very exciting in that it is as much about the school developing new models of teaching and learning as it is about the physical teaching environment. The concept breaks down boundaries between existing scientific disciplines and looks at science education in a new way, in the context of events we might see on the news such as the whale swimming up the River Thames. The project also looks to ideas being developed elsewhere in Europe, with a suspended service wing to enable the conversion of an existing listed building with minimal impact on the building fabric.”

John Pinnington, Head Teacher of Notre Dame High School said: “We have a real need to develop more scientists especially if they can be trained to evaluate the impact of science on the quality of our lives and our environment. We are keen to train really good young scientists who have good judgement on how science can be used to benefit all humanity. Hopefully we can increase the number of applicants to University for science courses. We have excellent opportunities, just on our doorstep through UEA which has such a good reputation in all sciences especially environmental science.

“Our Science department is innovative in its teaching methods and is currently working closely with selected groups of students to find out how to provide the best opportunities for learning. They are listening and acting upon the advice these students are giving them.

“The opportunities presented by these science Classrooms of the Future are really going to make a difference to our own practice. At the same time, our responsibility as a Training School means that we will be able to influence new recruits into the teaching profession who are likely to teach across Norfolk and Suffolk, thereby helping to avert the current shortages in chemistry and physics teachers.

Mr Pinnington continued: “I am so grateful to the DfES for this wonderful enhancement of our Science Faculty and I will do everything in my power to ensure we provide an excellent service in return. I am also grateful to Norfolk Children’s Services for their support to us in this project and to LSI Architects for their expertise.”

Other recent educational projects designed by LSI Architects include the new INTO International School, student residences and medical centre at the University of East Anglia (UEA); a new Business & Enterprise Centre at Flegg High School, Norfolk and the further expansion/redevelopment of facilities; the expansion of boarding facilities at Wymondham College, Norfolk and the refurbishment of Hamond’s High School in Swaffham.

The Project Team:
Client: Notre Dame High School, Norwich
Architects: LSI Architects
Structural Engineer: Clancy Consulting
Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon
Planning Supervisor: PFB Construction Management Services
Contractor: John Youngs

Email: martin@carismacommunications.co.uk


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