Last week I had the privilege of visiting Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside. I had wanted to visit the school for a while as I had heard so much about it, in particular its use of technology. I had also met the Assistant Head Teacher Simon Thompson a number of times before and completed a Microsoft peer-coaching course with one of the schools ICT teachers George Purdey.
If you have not seen pictures of Monkseaton before then the best way to describe it is that it looks like a spaceship – it really is an amazing building. It was actually one of the only BSF Concept design schools to ever leave the plan and it was surprising cheap to build (cheaper than most traditional secondary schools of a similar specification).
One of the highlights of the day was meeting Dr Paul Kelly, the schools headteacher. I used to think that I had a lot of ideas and was into linking networks of people until I met Paul – but after 30 minutes my brain was starting to hurt with all of the content and concepts that he was throwing at me. He kindly gave me a copy of his book 'Making Minds' to take away and read and I look forward to reading this and exploring the range of links and videos about the school available online.
Key school design components
- The design of the school is a terrific blend of open plan, open access computing and classrooms (some general purpose and some specialized).
- The sound absorbing of the school is really good. I could comfortably listen to an English lesson in an open access area where a maths lesson was going on the other side of me. A basketball game was taking place in the school gym below me. Sound just didn’t carry.
- The temperature of the schools stay constant at around 18.50c – Paul explained to me that research shows that this is the temperature that teenagers learn best.
- The school is filled with a huge amount of Interactive light.
- All toilets are individual cubicles that are built into the wall and off main corridors – they are modeled on airplane toilets.
- There are no interactive whiteboards but each room has a large LCD screen.
As well as the impressive design the school is doing a lot of other interesting things as well. May of these things are linked to the latest research in learning neuroscience.
Start of the school day
The school day at Monkseaton starts at 10am and this is based on the work of the Oxford Professor of Nuroscience Russell Foster who has found that from the age of 10 years old our internal body clocks shift meaning that a too early start can have an impact on teenagers learning.
The school has also piloted what they call ‘spaced learning’ which is based on the theory of how the brain actually creates a memory researched by Douglas Fields of the National Institute for Child Health and Development in the US. The school has taken this theory to create a learning methodology where the children have the key concept / facts explained to them (creating pathway stimulation), then they have a break from the input, then they have the concept / facts explained again (but this time is a different way), then they have a break from the input and finally the concept / facts are explained for a third time (again in a different way). The break from the input is normally in the form of physical activity.
The results are really interesting. In controlled trials, Monkseaton have shown that it is possible to teach concepts normally covered over several hours or weeks in approximately 30 minutes of actual teaching time. The school has also used spaced learning as a revision technique instead of ‘normal’ revision tasks and has seen improved exam results. 2008 report from the BBC here (pre new school build).
Lots more information is available about Monkseaton High School on their website and I’ve embedded a short YouTube clip that was made by Microsoft and the DfE on how Monkseaton partners with parents.