Top-line sport combined with high-tech skills makes for a powerful learning mix, as Hugh John discovered at Stamford Bridge  

The Chelsea Foundation Digital Camp couldn't have wished for a better recommendation. "This has been the best time of my high school life," said student Jasmine, aged 13.

Organised by teacher Renaldo Lawrence and Chelsea Foundation head of education Matt Mead, it was a pilot project to support and inspire students in their career choices with a two-day taste of Premier League football coaching combined with lessons to develop their digital creativity skills.

It was made possible by Chelsea Foundation with support from Wipro, a global information technology company, online learning specialists and computer graphics giant Adobe. And it certainly hit the spot with Jasmine, who added, "Just to meet different people at the camp who I don’t know, play football and see the changing rooms of the teams has really overwhelmed me."

'Amazing and fun' 

Her response was echoed by Anais: "Using all the new software and meeting new friends has been great during the two days for me. Seeing where a footballer plays and getting to walk around the stadium is amazing and fun. I have had such a good time and wish it didn’t have to end." And by Davina: "I can’t believe I am really here. Just the opportunity to see Chelsea and work with all the other students here has been really, really good. We saw the arena where Chelsea play, had a tour and even had lunch. We didn’t have to pay for anything. The experience was amazing."

The mission statement had been to raise the students’ life aspirations, feed their curiosity, enhance their career goals and expose students to the skills and knowledge needed for the 21st century while preparing them for a global workforce operating in a digital and connected world.

Chelsea Foundation RenaldoRenaldo Lawrence: his original career was in professional sportHeld during the February half-term, it was conceived and delivered by two inspiring educators, Renaldo Lawrence and Matt Mead at Chelsea Football Club. Fifteen Year 8 West London students - ten boys and five girls - were guests at The Chelsea Foundation for two days. On the agenda were football, software training, problem solving and – essential ingredients in Renaldo Lawrence’s education recipe – fun and inspiration.

An AST (advanced skills teacher) based at Chiswick School, west London, Renaldo's original career was in professional sport. Back in the day he played in the NBA for the L A Clippers basketball team. Moving to the UK and becoming a sports teacher (see The Innovators 24 - Renaldo Lawrence) he was one of ‘early adopters’ who recognised the huge potential of ICT in the classroom. Now a author, Adobe Education, Apple distinguished educator and Microsoft Innovative Educator and Educator Trainer Leader Renaldo is well known and highly respected in the education community.

'Bettering students by any means possible'

His inquisitiveness and desire to keep abreast of current technology trends have given him a wide knowledge of current education software. More importantly, his unwavering commitment to education allow him to identify what will work in the classroom and what will be of benefit to his students. It’s not a coincidence that the camp was no high-pressure digital laboratory and that the learning was bite-sized and easily digestible. Renaldo’s focus is on bettering his students by any means possible.

As we found out, this could be a brainstorming idea session with pen, paper and 'sticky' notes, a football kick-around/training session led by one of the Foundation’s coaches on one of Chelsea’s pitches or an introduction to some very smart software because, for Renaldo, the means are not as important as the end. “If I can accomplish something more effectively without technology, then I will”

Matt MeadOnce a teacher... the Chelsea Foundation's Matt MeadCo-organiser Matt Mead has been involved in football and sports from an early age. Graduating from Oxford Brookes University with an Education and Sports Science degree he was a football coach in the UK and USA before securing his first job in professional football with Brighton and Hove Albion FC. After six successful years in the club’s education department he left to become head of education for Chelsea FC Foundation. Dream job? Did I mention that Matt is also a Chelsea supporter?

“A powerful and engaging tool like football”, he suggested, “has the ability to break down barriers to learning and create opportunities for people to think differently about how they learn and achieve goals, which they never thought were possible.”

Before the course began, Renaldo spoke about his and Matt’s expectations. “I think that it is important that we all have a vision and goals for our lives, but if you don’t know what is possible then you may not realise just how much you can accomplish or if you can accomplish anything at all.... What we want to do is to show the children not only how valuable they are as people, but how smart they are and how much they can accomplish with belief in themselves.”

Both days were tightly scheduled, starting at 9am and finishing at 3pm, with a morning break, half-hour lunch break and plenary session at the end of the day. Matt introduced himself and the Chelsea Foundation, the largest football-based charity in the world, and gave a short overview of day one. This was primarily a gathering information and content exercise for day two’s programme.

Students used their images with a range of software programs

Chelsea Foundation StudioStudio time: the tour of the stadium was a content gathering exercise Students would use tablets to capture head-on and side-on images of people which would then be used for animation purposes in Reallusion’s Crazy Talk which Renaldo presented on Tuesday. The tour of the stadium doubled as a content gathering exercise with students being encouraged to use mobile phones and laptops to photograph places of interest -– the stands, the pitch, the dressing rooms, the trophies, Chelsea FC museum and the manager’s seat pitchside. These images were used on day two for the Microsoft Sway session.

The tour of the club was followed by workshops introducing software from, Adobe and Microsoft. I attended on the second day. By the time I walked into the Hub activities room at The Bridge, just 10 minutes into the first session, the joint was jumping. The hour-long activity, presented by global information technology company WiPro Digital, introduced students to 'design thinking', a process, that head of research at WiPro Digital Patrizia Bertini said, “begins with people, ideas and a holistic approach to cultivating thoughts.”

So, pencils, paper, sticky notes, 15 students, Patrizia, her colleague Odete Fernandes and a whiteboard. No laptops, no tablets, just a bunch of ideas and some skilful group direction from the adults. What, the students were asked, did they like or dislike about football clubs? What could be done to improve them?

When the four groups had written down their answers – fine the players, pay them more, “bribe them to stay”, were a few of the responses – the sticky notes were stuck on the wall and the whole group was invited to comment.

'Letting them experience what design thinking is about'

The WiPro team, more used to conducting problem-solving sessions with adults from the corporate world, were completely at home with the students. And the four groups, with additional support from Renaldo and Matt, enjoyed a lively and creative session that fulfilled Patrizia’s objectives of “letting them experience what design thinking is about, so that when they grow up they have already learnt, in the early stages of their lives, how to be creative, how to think out of the box and try to use this way of thinking”.

Anyone who has ever used Reallusion’s Crazy Talk software will know how much fun it can be creating simple animations – talking animals and babies seem to be the favourite. Session two was a presentation by Renaldo of the Crazy Talk Animator program. “It allows you to animate," he said. "So, you took a bunch of pictures yesterday, or you can find an image off the web and bring it into Animator.”

At this stage Renaldo introduced a basic step-by-step procedure. A quick look at all four desks seemed to indicate that he’d pitched the level of difficulty just right. None of the young people Ihad been left behind. He played back the voice track he'd added to the animation and asked the students, “is that cool or what”? Cue lively group activity and the entry of Stamford, the big cuddly lion who is the club’s mascot, followed by Chelsea FC’s own in-house film crew.

Chelsea trainingTraining with a Chelsea Foundation coach: ‘Great fun, and superbly structured’After lunch, trailed by the film crew, we headed off across the Fulham Road to one of the club’s training pitches for the penultimate activity of the day, a football session led by one of the Chelsea Foundation’s coaches. Great fun, and like everything that had been done in the past two days, superbly structured.

The students were divided into two groups and introduced to some of the training tactics used at professional football clubs, the art of passive defending, for example. Whatever energy the students had left after two days of intense and varied activity was exhausted after 90 energetic minutes.

Show them 'how much they can accomplish with belief in themselves'

Then it was back to the Bridge for the final session of the day which was a recap of the software that had been used. The two days had flown by. A success? Yes. Emphatically. Renaldo was, well, euphoric. “What we wanted to do was to show the children not only how valuable they are as people, but how smart they are and how much they can accomplish with belief in themselves.

"I really think what the children demonstrated to us during the two days was a growing belief and confidence in themselves and, even more important to me, the ability to believe that they can accomplish anything they want to if they have goals and a vision for where they want to go in their lives. And to me, the earlier they start the better. The camp was successful beyond our expectations and Matt and I are extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Was there anything he could have done differently, I wondered? “Being the first camp we had no idea what would happen or if things would go as well as we hoped. The sponsors were outstanding in their support of the project and the prizes they provided just put the finishing touch on an already outstanding two-day event. If we were to do the camp again the only thing I would maybe improve on would be to have it running for three days instead of two. There were times that I thought we had to rush a few things. But the most important part to me is that the students enjoyed themselves, learnt a lot and went away feeling good about themselves.”

As for the students, pizza and hot dogs for lunch, a tour of the Premier League champions’ ground, football on a typically British dry, cold winter’s day and an introduction to some terrific software. Oh, and all of the participants received a free trial, a year’s subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud software plus a goody bag and a licence for Reallusion’s Crazy Talk software enabling them to continue learning and developing digital skills at their own time and pace. What’s not to like.

More information 

Chelsea Foundation  
Renaldo Lawrence: @Renaldo Lawrence   
Matt Mead is head of education at Chelsea Foundation Twitter: @Matt Mead

Chelsea Foundation Camp students

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