A Creative Afternoon Tea was held on Thursday 11 September at the Pear Tree Cafe, within the grounds of Mater Dei Catholic College, Wagga Wgaga. (Yes, we do have a cafe onsite and the coffee is very good indeed!). The focus of this creative afternoon tea was that problem space .
Looking through a ‘practical lense’ by engaging the ‘users’ with a discussion about the space, my idea was to meet with students about that problem learning space. I was to also invite one or two teachers as well as ask others from outside the school with expertise in fields other than education. But I dropped the teachers after a mentor wrote, “Sounds great – the key is making sure that students don’t just get the usual teacherly/scholarly approach to things, but have other people around the table that shake up their thinking.” As a result, I invited three parents to the conversation. One had their own web design business, another was an architect and the third had their own interior design business. Unfortunately, the interior designer could not attend. So, I then invited another adult, a lady who is an education officer with much experience with physical and virtual learning environments in schools. All were only too willing to give of their time but when I asked them to consider bringing a friend who works in a creative industry, or who has a creative mindset, there was a long silence followed by, “No-one comes to mind right now.” This may be one of the drawbacks of living in a regional centre of 60 000, or maybe I just didn’t try hard enough for long enough!?!
Anyway, prior to the meeting I asked students to share their thoughts about ‘space’, including both their favorite space and the learning space in Rooms 11-14. I did this to prompt their thinking and ‘warm them up’ before our Creative Afternoon Tea. Did I do this because doubted them, me or the process? Was I admitting I was doing something very different and i didn’t trust the process by sending this ‘warning shot’ a few days before? Possibly. At the start of our conversation, students talked of their favourite spaces being either private personal spaces such as bedrooms and lounge rooms, or the outdoors of back yards, parks or dams. When I asked, “Could features of these places be integrated into a learning space here at school?” I was met with blank responses from students. I pressed one student who stated their favourite way of learning at home was to lie in their bed and work on their laptop. I asked him “Why couldn’t we have beds in classrooms?” His reply was, “Oh, I wouldn’t work at school if I was lying in bed.” Hhhmmm. Anyhow, there was some interesting ideas discussed, and the adults around the table certainly did ‘shake up the thinking of students’. One of the adults took these notes as we talked.
I found the conversation to be free and easy but the students definitely needed the adults to ask discerning questions and even make suggestions about the possibilities as reflected here.
The next day, another one of the adults sent this email to me.
Like always, I get something to think about and things bounce around in my head. So I thought I would get them out and you may as well see them too. Ps: I definitely spent your budget! A space that is totally flexible. Unlimited walls can drop from the ceiling and be configured in any arrangement – horizontally and vertically. The walls and ceiling can disappear completely and all surfaces are interactive. You can have spherical presentation projecting from the walls, ceiling and floor for a totally immersive presentation. You can create a whole room or a single booth. The space can be whatever you need it to be –the beach, your bedroom or even a boring old classroom. You can connect to anyone anywhere and have them projected into the room and control the conversation – ie: filter out non-class related comments (like anyone would use that setting!) The space interacts with all your senses – sight, touch, hearing, smell taste – these are very cool walls! They can be whatever material you want and automatically acoustically adjust to the surrounding noise and your required level of interaction. Chairs that recognise you and automatically adjust to your preferred settings. They can change shape from an office change to recliner and hover at your optimal height, move, tilt and put themselves away. No need for a pop out desks as a virtual space is projected in front of the user and it can be drawn free hand or typed, or spoken and images can be downloaded from your brain. They have built in speakers and microphone to record your ideas and is seamlessly connected to your virtual data space so you don’t lose anything. You can connect with any individual or with any group to share questions and ideas. They react to your mood and give you a massage if it senses you are stressed, and adjusts temperature to ensure your comfort. Mine would have a built in esky for use on the weekends!
So, wow! The dreaming can be translated into possibilities. I have little doubt that the possibilities of above would not have been identified and articulated without the Creative Conversation. Any of your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
11 thoughts on “Creative Afternoon Tea”
Thanks for documenting your process Greg. It is interesting how many schools are actively seeking to capture ‘student voice’ in this conversation about learning spaces. This has an impact on so many levels but especially on the relationships you are building with them – for them to know that you value their judgement, respect their opinions and want their input must be very empowering for these students. I am eager to see how that conversation continues and to see how those spaces manifest into real learning environments. In the meantime, I will share some stimulus material that might be useful as a warm up for the next creative conversation – http://www.pinterest.com/GregDSwanson/learning-spaces/
Thanks again for sharing.
Excellent post! I love how you have included students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders of the community to get their contributions on what they think effective learning spaces are like.
Thanks Greg for sharing your innovative approach. I truly believe we should include all stakeholders and experts (not only those in the education industry) as different perspectives give you better insight. No one is smarter than all. Your effective reflection throughout the process is evident. Blogging is a great median for reflecting but you represent a reflective learner. It’s not something you DO but who you ARE.
Greg, an excellent post! I too agree that it was wonderful that you included the voice of your students. It was pleasing to see that prior to the meeting you shared the topic up for discussion to ensure they could bring ideas to the table.
Hi Greg. No doubt you had an interesting time with your students. I am going to play devils advocate here and question whether a culture was created whereby participants were given permission to think creatively and boldly. The setting has a boardroom conference feel, a neat little rectangle of people including neatly arranged cakes that perhaps communicate order, control and polite discussion. This has me thinking about how to design a meeting with the intent of eliciting creative thinking. The cafe meet is probably a good go, neutral territory in a place where hierarchy is lost. Maybe next time immerse the kids in the learning environment that you are discussing, sitting on beanbags or even the floor.
On another track of thinking, this week I was surprised by a tweet that came my way stating “I think space is irrelevant to good pedagogy.” I think or would hope that most teachers sense that space has a very influential impact on teaching and learning. We all have rooms we hate to teach in or rooms that students voice their disapproval towards. As I have suggested, even your meeting above would have been effected by the setting. What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks for taking the time to comment. The points you raised are relevant and valid. There is no doubt there was a hierarchical feel to the conversation. If I was to have my time over again, I would make the time after school and in casual clothing. By doing this I would be bringing a more level playing field to the conversation.
I had a follow up conversation with interested teachers about the space. That meeting took place in the space and the outcome was more exciting that the conversation with students. It may well have been that was because teachers could look, feel and touch the current space and more easily imagine the possibilities. In listening to them, and after many conversations over the last few years, I strongly believe that space, most especially mobile, flexible and agile furniture does support student centred pedagogy which allows students to make choices about how they learn and who they learn with; on their own, or collaboratively in pairs or small groups.
Exciting! Love it!
Your post has created great opportunities for you to think, dream and consider possibilities. One of the challenges I have experienced in involving students, whose voice I have also really wanted to hear in my investigations, is that they are often a bit stuck in the K space and can’t imagine the C space as their experience and exposure is limited. I wonder how your next conversation might be extended when your students hear Rod’s ideas and vision; it would be my guess they may start to think beyond what they already know. Personally I can’t wait for those chairs Rod envisioned 🙂
Great post. Loved your approach to solve a community challenge … engage all stakeholders – students, parents and staff. Very inspiring.
Greg, this is amazing!…
Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The idea to include student voices in design conversations along with adults that are not limited to status quo thinking and who could ( “shake things up”) is brilliant. I also love your follow up reflections about the setting for future conversations, to create a context that further levels the playing field, in which students feel safe and encouraged to play with and challenge what they know… in favor of imagining what might be! Well done! Thanks so much for sharing.