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Getting inspired by school visits in Portugal


16/10/2018

The biannual meeting of the network Future Classroom Lead Ambassadors took place on the first days of October 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal. The programme included a one-day study visit to two innovative schools outside the capital.

Portugal has embraced the idea of flexible learning spaces: in the upcoming months around 100 Portuguese schools will have integrated one or more learning spaces inspired by the Future Classroom in Brussels. The school visits took place together with them members of the Interactive Classroom Working Group of European Schoolnet.

The first part of the trip brought us to Rio Maior where we visited two schools of the same school cluster. To our happy surprise Dr. João Costa, the Secretary of State for Education, was also present, together with a delegation from the Ministry of Education and local politicians.

We started at Centro Escolar Rui Belo, a primary school. Upon arrival we were welcomed by pupils. Later on we also saw kids of around 10 years old, addressing other kids during a mindfulness session. Giving ownership to pupils is one of the key characteristics of this school, as well as the team spirit of the staff. The teachers of the school collaboratively create pedagogical scenarios. Afterwards the different age groups use different paths to develop the same competencies.

We had the opportunity to attend different activities. In the school library we saw a group of kids sitting on the floor in a circle on an activity they called dialogical reading, combining the reading of a story with discussion. The teacher told us, she also organizes flipped learning for kids who cannot read yet. At home the parents tell or read the story and the day after the kids in the classroom make drawings about it, as a start of a class conversation. It is a marvellous idea to involve parents in what is going on at school.

In other areas of the school, we saw the different learning zones from the Future Classroom and active learning taking place. Pupils worked collaboratively in different Learning Zones. The walls and the floor of this school have warm colours and this creates a homelike atmosphere.

Later on we visited the primary school of Fernando Casimiro Pareira da Silva. Dr. João Costa, the Secretary of State for Education, delivered an inspiring speech. To him, education should be inclusive. Innovation is in fact a tool to obtain higher quality, and to reach the goal of equity and schools without retention.

The schools in Rio Maior belong to the group of pilot schools, who have been given the freedom to decide on their own way of organising learning with flexibility on methodology and partly on the curriculum. The re-design of the learning spaces and integration of technology, go hand in hand with a strong school vision and teamwork.

In the afternoon we went to Vila Nova da Barquinha to visit again two clustered schools. Again we saw that well-being of students is considered to be very important here. We saw pupils during a meditation activity. It was also interesting to see how the concept of the classroom has developed. Classrooms are no longer the only environments to learn. We saw spaces where, for instance, three classrooms neighboured a common, bigger space, where the three groups could mingle and have common activities. Each of the classrooms also had its own, more or less private, outdoor extension as well.

The most innovative part of our visit was no doubt the department with the CIEC, the Integrated Science Education Centre. The spaces the primary school kids use for science education, have been embedded in an interactive science experience centre, which is open to the main public during the weekends. School kids, as well as local visitors, can try out similar hands-on science experiences. Starting point for both the learners and the visitors is the local outdoor environment. Like the other schools we visited, this school tries to connect the local community with young learners, who are the future of society.

I agree with Dr. João Costa when he said that to find innovation in education, you should not only look at what is happening in Finland.

Thanks again, Teresa and Fernando, for organising this inspiring visit!

Further information

By Bart Verswijvel