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Issue 10 October 2007   Friday, October 19, 2007

ISSN 1748-3603

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Education: a revolutionary process @ Djanogly City Academy
by Sanjesh Sharma

Djanogly City Academy: Transforming Pedagogy through ICT
Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham was one of the UK’s first City Academies, opening its doors in September 2003. Prior to this, Djanogly was a City Technology College having first opened in 1989. The Academy has around 1700 students aged between 11 and 19, housed over two main sites, in one of the most socio-economically deprived areas of Nottingham. The 11-14 Centre is a multi-million pound Foster-designed development which opened in June 2005. The 14-19 Centre has recently undergone a huge refurbishment with a complete refresh of the ICT provision as well as a focus on learning spaces to meet the learning habits of our older students. This includes a cyber café area in the Post-16 Centre.

As an ICT specialist Academy, not one PC suite, nor one desktop PC or Electronic Whiteboard was installed into the new building. Each room has a 'virtual' wireless projector and standard white-board, either dry-wipe or canvas projection screen, whilst every teacher has a Tablet PC. Additionally, Key Stage 3 (11-14) students have 1:1 Tablet PC access in each generic classroom, for subjects such as Maths, English and Humanities, and approximately 1:1.5 access in specialist teaching areas of Science, Art and Design, Creative Arts & Technology [1].

This level of ICT provision both necessitates and facilitates a change in pedagogical emphasis on a number of different levels.

Wireless access releases the teacher from the front of the room and fundamentally changes the dynamics of both the teaching and learning space, and the teacher-learner relationship. In addition, the 1:1 provision and the additional interactive functionality of the Tablet PC and other hardware and software presents teachers with an array of innovative possibilities for furthering the design of teaching and learning resources.

The Curriculum: Knowing when it’s time to make changes
The Academy is a place where change is part of normal practice. Following a considerable review of Key Stage (KS) 3 with all of the Academy’s key stakeholders - particularly parents/carers and the student community - it became evident that there was a need for radical curriculum reforms. A traditional timetable still means that students are forced to do Maths lesson 1 on a Monday, or German lesson 6 on a Friday. Learning is built around the rigid structure of a school timetable rather than the learning habits and retention patterns of the majority of students. In addition to this, to aid transition between primary and secondary, a curriculum model was needed that would make the process a more pleasant experience for the vast majority of students. After much research, the Academy came across the New Basics curriculum and what are now known as PODs (as in peas in a pod).

New Basics: Out with the old, in with the new!
The New Basics are futures-oriented categories for organising curriculum. The New Basics are described in detail in Queensland State Education 2010 (Education Queensland, 2000). Essentially, they are a way of managing the enormous increase in information available as a result of globalisation and the rapid rate of change in the economic, social and cultural dimensions of our existence.

The New Basics are clusters of essential practices that students need if they are to flourish in ‘new times’. Apart from globalisation, contributors to these new times include: a shift towards local service-based economies; new and constantly changing technologies; complex transformations in cultural and social relationships; fluid demographics; and a sense of uncertainty about the future. In addition, increasingly complex demands on teaching and assessment have accompanied the diversification of classrooms.

There are four New Basics categories, each with an explicit orientation towards researching, understanding and coming to grips with the newly emerging economic, cultural and social conditions. These four clusters of practice are deemed to be essential for lifelong learning, social cohesion and economic wellbeing. The New Basics will help schools, teachers and curriculum developers move beyond a defence of status quo knowledge to a critical engagement with the ongoing change that characterises the new times. The New Basics presume the existence of aware schools, where intellectual engagement and connectedness to the real world are persistent foci.

The New Basics draw upon practices and skills across disciplines. This 'transdisciplinary' approach actively attempts to retain the integrity of each disciplinary methodology, epistemology and canon. It is, therefore, different from the traditional interdisciplinary approach that seeks links between disciplines, often via thematic learning with the possible consequence of diluted discipline-specific expertise. While operating in the New Basics Framework, teachers should perceive themselves as scholars and teachers in general education and specialists in at least one particular area.

A curriculum organised around the New Basics provides a mainstream core for all students, especially in languages and mathematics. It exposes all students to the visual and performing arts (even if expertise is not achieved) and treats performance (aesthetic and functional, public and civic) as central to demonstration.

What are PODs and what do they look like?
Currently, the Academy has an intake of around 270 students to year 7. These students are allocated to one of six communities (taking their names from famous houses in Nottingham) and one of the PODs. This means that as well as promoting a healthy competition between PODs, they can also compete within a POD under their community hat.  A POD typically contains around 70 students served by 4 core staff and at least one teaching assistant. Students are educated in a dynamic learning space which includes virtual whiteboards and demountable walls, enabling all the students in a POD to work in a single large space, constantly stimulated by large projection screens and other embedded technologies. Every student has access to a Tablet PC which, unlike a laptop, can be used with a digital pen allowing students to use them like they would paper. Every student creates a POD Passport, an interactive mind-map which acts as an e-portfolio over the entire year in the POD. The passport allows students to visualise and express their learning outcomes better, as well as enabling them to tag in video, audio and learning expressed using other software, such as PowerPoint or Visio. Each student encounters all the Rich Tasks (Life pathways and social futures, Multiliteracies and communications media, Active citizenship, and Environments and technologies), documenting their progress and understanding through the POD passport, a wide range of practical activities and journal writing.

Summary
When talking about the new basics, it is necessary to hold on to the notion of the 'old basics' — those essential areas of learning that underpin the way we engage with the world. But what else is basic for twenty-first century education, given that the future is likely to look radically different from the present? The major curriculum challenge is to ensure that schools keep up with the world as it changes and don’t have to constantly play 'catch up'. In order to do this, schools and local communities will, in many instances, need to take the lead.

The old basics, including literacy and numeracy, remain at the heart of the New Basics; using new skills such as information technology effectively and functioning as an active citizen have been added to these old basics. A 'properly' educated person, in the traditional sense of the term, is a person who understands the social contexts of history, culture, government, economics and so on; a person who has heard of Shakespeare and (Judith) Wright, Tennyson and (Banjo) Paterson, as well as Brad & Angelina, Linkin Park, Dan Brown, and the Arctic Monkeys. The so-called ‘traditional’ understandings, or 'old basics', and they are necessary but not sufficient as the substance of modern education.

Sanjesh Sharma
S.Sharma@djanogly.notts.sch.uk

References
Education Queensland (2000) Queensland State Education 2010 [Online]. Available from http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/qse2010/[Accessed 16/10/07]


[1] More details are at www.djanogly.notts.sch.uk
 


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