Blog Archives

Getting better all the time

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We always ask companies who use our meeting rooms if they would give us some feedback because we always aim to give the best service possible. This quote came out of the blue a few weeks ago but we are particularly proud of it because we know that our customer first approach, combined with state of the art facilities, are second to none. We aren’t a hotel that does conferences; we aren’t an old school building that can be hired out; we are a bespoke centre built for meetings and training. Funded by schools in the area for their own training and event needs, the facility is used extensively by companies large and small when they need a professional environment in which to train staff, meet clients or host events. We have rooms of different sizes for different purposes all the way up to the auditorium which can comfortably hold 120 delegates cabaret style or even 180 theatre style. Such numbers can pose a problem for many venues but we have a FREE onsite car park covered by CCTV that can hold far more cars than we have chairs!Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 14.22.45

Catering can be provided in-house (feedback has been exceptional for this) or through local hospitality companies who we work closely with.

Each room has projection facilities, flip charts, and a computer and we pride ourselves on having our own network manager to ensure that technical difficulties do not get in the way of why you have booked at the centre. 100Mb wifi is free to users of the centre, in fact we don’t charge any extras for use of the sort of facilities that we would expect to see in a meeting/conference room. Some of our staff are experienced trainers themselves, delivering courses and keynotes across the UK and beyond. They know what it is like to turn up to a venue, what the needs of the trainers are and the needs of the delegates. That experience forms the backbone of our service.

Alongside flexible meeting rooms we also have two newly refurbished IT suites with 25 PCs in each. The rooms can even be opened up to provide a giant IT suite for 50 when required. The usual business software packages are installed but we also have a range of specialist software that caters for most needs. The suites are bolstered by a trolley of brand new laptops meaning that any room can be a suite when required. Our centre also has a mini suite of 20 iMacs that can be used flexibly in a range of rooms.

The auditorium is a fabulous space that is used for everything from large scale conferences (often using our meeting rooms for ‘breakout’), as an exhibition space, to the R&C Council Chamber for 18 months! It has a range of seating plans, staging (including light rig systems) and even studio recording options that can be streamed to a live web channel. The new vinyl flooring has created opportunity for a much wider range of activities than previously with fitness groups and a local Church already taking advantage of it. We have just developed new daily and half-day rates for all of our room charges to give better value to the way that our customers like to use the centre.

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The centre is run for NO PROFIT, any money made simply keeps the place running and up to date. Any money made over and above this is returned to schools for the benefit of the students. By booking at Inspire2Learn you are helping local children’s education which we hope makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact many of the businesses that book here also get involved with our schools to help with events aimed at preparing our youngsters for the world of work that they will be growing into. If you would like to support this important aspect of our work (and who wouldn’t?), please get in touch.

Raising Ambition

Having paid some attention in the last few weeks to the 2012 CBI report outlining their view of the way that Education is THE crucial factor in improving the economic well being of this country in the long term, I am now more convinced than ever that the focus Inspire2Learn is applying to many of our activities is essential. The report outlines lots of different issues that the business world feel need to be addressed by the education system and by and large they fit with our experiences working in our schools. Take the primary years as an example. The report suggests that primary schools essentially widen the gap between the most disadvantaged and the rest. For this area I can address that concern directly. Our primary schools are VERY focussed on ensuring that this gap does not widen, in fact they ensure it narrows. OfSTED judgements and results in formal tests back this up, we are one of the most improved areas in the country in this respect. So that aside, what else does the report suggest? It explicitly states that qualifications are often not the main problem that employers are concerned about. A lack of the skills that are not ‘tested’ and not specifically ‘taught’ is what holds many of their potential employees back. These skills are defined in the table taken from the report: Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 11.47.01 Educationalists will immediately recognise echoes of various PSHE schemes and ideas like Claxton’s 4R’s in their choice of vocabulary and focus. They also add that in their view it is ESSENTIAL to ensure regular contact between schools and business to raise awareness of opportunities and also provide excellent role models. Interestingly the report suggests that this should begin: “in the primary phase – at a time when aspirations and attitudes are being shaped …… There is a strong case for doing a great deal more at this stage to broaden pupils’ horizons” (p.42)

Now let’s get back on track…. IMG_4916STEM day 3 was busier than ever. Mixing students from Freebrough Academy (Yr10) and Normanby Primary Academy (Yr5) we had a fabulous day of hands on activities ranging from building bridges to creating physical databases. Unlike previous events we began the day as one large group in the auditorium where the manic John Kilcoyne did his best to set off the fire alarm with every chemical explosion he could muster. It set the tone for the day as the children were then full of enthusiasm for everything else we threw at them. Have you ever wondered what is in toothpaste? How do they test if it is effective? Ask any of the students who worked with Ann Bunting from Middlebrough College and they will tell you about the chemicals involved and much you should bother paying for your next tube! Mike Roberts worked his expertise with groups to programme a mobile phone remotely using an Arduino. It was fascinating to see Mike working through the code as some of the students chipped in ‘you’ve missed a bracket off’ when it was time for fault finding. Liam Weatherill from the Engineering Development Trust had a really innovative approach to the use of databases that didn’t use a computer once. From sorting verbal information to rearranging a gazillion buttons, the children really engaged with his hands on approach to how a database actually works.

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A STEM day wouldn’t be complete without Connor Lishman from Cleveland Bridge. He wanted to improve his workshop from the previous event by extending the spa of the bridges that had to be built, supplying a wider range of materials but using a charging system (poker chips) for what the children could use. It worked really well and it was brilliant to watch the collaborative planning and execution of the work actually achieve the purpose it was set for. Gareth Attwood was a star! Drafted in at the last minute to hold the fort in a structure building session (think marshmallows and spaghetti) he really engaged the students with what a good structure might look like and how to bring it together. He sad to me at the end of the day, ‘I isn’t just the activity, it is about the questioning, the engagement and communication skills that make them successful’. I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks have to go once more to STEMnet who use their fabulous ambassadors to make the day possible. We aim to run an expanded program of events next year and also offer some free training for anybody who wishes to come and run these type of workshops. We do appreciate that not everybody is comfortable to be in that ‘teacher’ role and we want to support anybody who wishes to give something back to their local community in this way. All in all, really inspiring. Children talking about it for days afterwards and a comment from one staff member at Normanby “that was an amazing day, it is the sort of thing that our kids needs to give them a reason to do well at school”.

Let me remind any reader who has made it this far to the comments referred to earlier in this post from the CBI. Engaging our youngest learners sets the tome for how they progress. Give an eight year old an hour making bridges with an actual engineer and that sort of experience is potentially life changing. They aren’t too cool for school at that age! Although the days are very successful, and will continue, we also want to build a more regular contact programme in association with partners like EDT and STEMnet to better give students a context for their learning, for doing well at school, for developing those life skills (made explicit). If you would like to be involved please let us know. As a starter for ten we will be announcing a project that any school can get involved with FOR FREE beginning after Easter. It will involve students of all ages working as an after school club, an informal lunchtime group or even a whole class, it doesn’t matter, the work will be focussed on developing those employability skills and showing that development.

Building from the bottom up

IMG_0076We like to think that we are pretty quick off the mark at Inspire2Learn and within hours of the DfE announcing the list of providers for the 2016 Reception class baseline assessments, Pauline had managed to arrange for all but one of them to come and speak to an invited audience of schools about what they could offer. Even the provider who was unable to attend sent along lots of information, a presentation and copious apologies. A packed auditorium representing every school in Middlesbrough, nearly all of the schools in Redcar and Cleveland and a handful from Stockton and Darlington were given the opportunity to engage with each of the providers to ensure an informed decision as o what they would use.

It reflects one of the main aims of I2L, to ensure that local schools get the best CPD and information available nationally…at a local venue, for very little cost. It is not an exaggeration to say that schools are increasingly turning to I2L not only for the events that we offer but also to organise events on their behalf for a specific need. We are owned and run by the local schools so our objectives are your objectives. If you are planning on an event that involves several schools please let us know and we will help. Not only do we have a fabulous team in the office who will help ensure that all delegates and speakers are kept informed of what they need to know but we also have an enormous car park, free wifi and once the coffee has been drunk we will wash the cups!!!

Defining the future

IMG_2254What an exciting time it is to be part of Inspire2learn. Our refurbishment is now nearly complete for the year, new furniture, new infrastructure and all new computer systems which means that we really do live up to the often heard comment form clients ‘This is the best business centre in the area’. We are proud of that and will continue to ensure that whatever your needs, a large corporate conference or a small interview room, the experience that you have here will be second to none. Just this week we enjoyed hosting the local Enterprise Team’s Business Forum where around 30 local SME companies gained valuable information that will help them make the best of local opportunities to sustain and grow their businesses. What was pleasing for us was the feedback we got from them about our centre. In fact several asked for further information with a view to using the centre themselves in the near future. Our only regret was the comment ‘We didn’t know such an amazing centre existed on our doorstep’. Well they do now!

We have also updated lots of information on this website so please have a look at the new facilities that we have created, there is something to suit everyone. We have also posted some examples of the sort of work that we do with schools under the ‘What is I2L’ tab. Go and have a nosey.

IMG_1747The response from local businesses for our next school ‘STEM’ day has been wonderful as ever. As many of you may know, the reason that the centre exists is to support schools in giving their children the best start in life. From high quality Early Years support to working alongside the Redcar and Cleveland Careers and Routes into Employment Team we address the issue of ‘what is education for’ in a range of ways. Yes we support the teaching of the curriculum through courses and collaborative events but we also recognise what our young people will need when they leave education and enter the world of work. Often called the ‘soft skills’ we recognise that independence, creativity, resilience and simply turning up on time are what employers will need over and above the certificates of literacy et al. Our STEM days are one of the strategies that we use. Designed to give students the opportunity to do hands on workshops with ‘real world’ people: engineers, coders, electricians, scientists…. whatever really, it doesn’t matter. We want children to see what opportunities are on our doorstep, engage with the people who already do those things and begin to think about their own futures. It is not a hard sell for any particular industry but what is clear from the huge amount of work that we do in schools is that most children have no idea of what possibilities they have for their future careers, and especially on their doorstep. Drive north up the A19 in rush hour any morning. It is often slow traffic but it is moving. Glance over at the southbound carriageway – which could best be described as a temporary car park. There are loads of opportunities both now and being developed through the growing technology on Teesside but how many children know what the possibilities are?

Our next STEM day is on 9th March and has students from two of our local schools working with 8 local STEM ambassadors. If anybody reading this is passionate about the work that they do and would like to give up a day of their time to inspire and enthuse children about it, then please get in touch. Although we have focussed on STEM so far we are planning on extending this to other businesses and industries later in the year so if YOU are interested then please let us know.

Back to the Future

Welcome back after your festive break everyone, I hope it has refreshed your enthusiasm ready for the year ahead. And what an exciting year ahead! Just looking at the diary for the next few weeks reveals a huge range of different ways in which our work and centre is supporting you, either as schools or businesses.

IMG_2078The centre itself has been using the quiet Christmas period to refurbish several of the rooms and offer new opportunities. The new flooring in the auditorium for example opens up the possibility for fitness activities, for which we have had several enquiries from providers, to safely take place on an evening. If you run evening classes that might like to take advantage of the space, please let us know and come in for a chat.

We also have a very busy training schedule being finalised. Due to the amount of work that we do actually in schools, hands on, we limit consultant led courses at the centre to just a couple a week. That means demand is oftenNew_Pasture_Lane_Y5_Y6_02 high so please book early if you want to attend any. Details of courses will appear in the Events section of this site over the next few days as well as via flyers and emails into schools. As ever, we have some particularly exciting lined up in the near future. We are delighted to invite Tim Rylands back here in February. He will be two leading distinctly different days. On the 4th February he will lead a hands on, creative day using digital tools (all tools will be available at the centre) where teachers are the students. It will examine how you structure creative, collaborative activities in a classroom through active participation. This date has limited places so be warned that it will fill up quickly, this is not the usual Tim Rylands day! The 5th February however IS the more usual maelstrom of innovative ideas, web tools (almost always free), fabulous classroom ideas and perceptive critique of the teaching and learning process. Many people in the region have benefitted from working with Tim and he is continually asked to come back. That says a lot. If you have only briefly seen him speak before you need to be here on that date! This event will also include a small exhibitors area for a handful of companies that work regularly with our schools.

The week after that is the next Challenge Day (see tabs above for previous dates) which has an ever expanding number of schools taking part. Without fail the feedback has been positive, comments tend to focus on the words ‘stimulating, engaging, creative, collaborative’. It is FREE to take part in and you don’t need any specialist equipment, please let us know if you would like to be part of it – age is not an issue!

And finally for this post….I am often asked to speak at events, or in schools, all over the world about the use of mobile devices and how that impacts on effective learning and teaching. It may sound a glamorous jet set lifestyle but the reality is sadly quite different. Although hands on, close support has been shown time and again to be the most effective way to develop, one off events are often the only way that schools can get hold of trainers. I have been concerned about this for some time. The schools local to us can usually get us in their diary within a couple of weeks, certainly a half term, for anything from 1:1 staff support, working with the students or even whole school training. Their CPD very much includes a capital ‘C’. So I have been looking at ways that I am able to combine the best of both worlds. Today was the first attempt at that.

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Fellow ADE Lewis Hall recently took up a post as an ICT manager/trainer within the ADVETI schools in the United Arab Emirates. Although he is very knowledgeable and experienced in using iPads devices in various settings himself, we hatched a plan to include me in a training day for staff who were pretty new to iPads. We felt that Skyping me in would offer staff a different perspective to just his. It was also a golden opportunity to demonstrate how Showbie works so beautifully as a way of connecting teachers and learners through materials and feedback. It meant an early start for me but nothing compared to travelling 5000 miles! After exploring the ‘learner as producer’ model that teachers find so immediately effective to develop their practice around we introduced Showbie. I can quite honestly say that Showbie usually elicits really impressive comments from staff but to run a session half way across the world with immediate handing out of work and feedback had a huge impact. Lewis emailed not long ago to thank me for the session and also included this paragraph:

At lunch time more than 3 of the staff came to see me and said that they just can’t get their head around that someone 6000miles away shared content with them, in this way it was much more powerful, it made them think that students can access outside the classroom (we know that but they don’t always ‘get it’).

I can honestly say that the experience was similar from my end…and I use it all the time!

We are going to continue support sessions on a regular basis as there are different campus’ developing the use of iPads and Lewis felt that being able to include that different aspect, a different viewpoint, helped to open the debate amongst the teachers about what would work best for them. There are several other schools around the globe already talking to me about this type of support (often in collaboration with an actual visit at some point) so if this interests you, please get in contact.

 

 

Green Shoots event

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Well considering, it was a Thursday night, pouring with rain and people maybe weren’t quite sure what it was that you would be coming to we had a great open evening at the Centre. We had a lovely time meeting the people who were able to come and show them the range of flexible spaces that our centre offers for meetings and events of all types. Many of our visitors had been to the centre before but had simply arrived, signed in, grabbed a coffee and then gone straight to a meeting room. Comments on the night focussed on the possibilities that our venue with free parking and very robust free wifi could offer their business that they’d never thought of before.

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A big hit on the night were the fabulous examples of hospitality that Lillie’s Catering can offer delegates. Sorry if you are hungry but we felt we had to include some images of the samples they had on offer on the evening!

We won’t have this quality of food just lying around every day of the week but if you would like to come and explore our centre then don’t hesitate to come and see us anytime.