IPACA students the judges at a prestigious learning spaces event in Philadelphia

A team of girl 'Gateway Learners’ from Portland Academy (known as IPACA) in Dorset earned a special commendation from judges in the US for their contribution to the International Schools of the Future Competition (Schools Next) in Philadelphia.

David Schrader, vice chair of judges, said, "The design process that the IPACA learners had participated in, through their PBL [project-based learning] approach, showed a depth of understanding of flexible and adaptable learning spaces of the future.

"They produced an outstanding final design, presented a great scheme of work and demonstrated the value of the power of active learning; enhancing learning opportunities."

Leading contenders from more than 3,000 learners worldwide

Gary SpracklenIPACA's Gary SpracklenThe girls had been selected from more than 3,000 learners from schools from around 100 school districts worldwide. Gary Spracklen, head of King Barrow School at IPACA (full title Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy), responded: "This is a real sign of approval for IPACA. To be recognised in such a prestigious International competition is beyond all our expectations."

Year 7 students Amy Pommels, Maia Hendrie and Kira Morrison had flown to Philadelphia on Tuesday (September 27) for the final presentations to a panel of education experts, professors and leading thinkers in the field of school design and implementation. They were supported remotely by classmate Georgia Cade back in the UK.

The competition challenged learners to think creatively to plan and design 21st-century learning environments that can enhance innovative ways of teaching and learning. These should promote health, conserve resources, be environmentally responsive and engage the surrounding community.

'A huge stamp of approval for project-based learning'

Katrina Axford, head of Admiralty School at Portland Academy, who recently joined the school from Australia, commented: "Recognition in this competition is a huge stamp of approval for our project-based approach to learning. It shows how we go into greater depth, allowing learners to master the skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy."

She was referring to the sort of intensive focus that IPACA teachers and learners give to their projects, one that takes them across curricula as they follow the learning rather than just the subject — just as we do in adult life. Teacher Melissa Heppell, who accompanied the students to Philadelphia, explained that one of the Year 6 projects had been to "develop and deepen understanding of the new school building IPACA was about to complete and move into. Learners were invited to work with a range of architectural designers, construction engineers and surveyors to answer the question, 'What's in a building?'

"As a year group they looked at the maths and physics of 'real life' spaces, as well as having the experiences of visiting, and learning about the application of design in a project meaningful to them. The conclusion of this project led to the group of learners presenting and critiquing their work to architects, planners and designers. This experience enables the depth and understanding through the project approach to be developed further than it can through general classroom practice.

"Following this project a small group of learners chose to extend their work, to develop a community building, designed for the small and unique community in Portland. Their design was chosen as the international finalist for the Philadelpia competition. They were the youngest team to compete and they presented a detailed and well designed project drawing on an integrated STEM approach to project-based learning."

There was great interest in this approach to learning among Philadelphia delegates when the seven finalist teams presented their critiques to judges on Thursday. All entries were highly rated for their forward thinking. They were all open, connected and flexible.

The judges said that the strength of IPACA’s own Maritime House campus, with its 21st-century learning environment, had obviously supported the young learners and driven them to develop an impressive STEM centre of their own.

International Schools of the Future Competition (Schools Next)  
Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy (IPACA)


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