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Learning Outside the Box (LOB) is a highlight of the HCS experience for pupils of all ages. Its mission is to touch the enthusiasm of young people of all abilities and open their eyes to the power of information to tell interesting and powerful stories. "The joy of learning" is a cliché, but it probably comes a lot closer when you are outside the box.
As an overall mission, LOB is a very broad commitment to breaking down the barriers that often tie our learning into a rigid framework, making it difficult to experience the excitement of finding out for ourselves. LOB does not abandon the curriculum, but enriches it. HCS is now being supported by UCST through a programme which forms a part of the group's Raising Standards initiative. The aim is to allow all pupils to look afresh at a world that constantly bombards us with data. The official term for our starting point is data visualisation - but that fails to capture the full scope of LOB’s aspirations. At HCS we want to see more, and understanding more of what we see.
More broadly, we will use LOB to help in raising the profile of that very special way of seeing further and deeper that we call science. In part, of course, it is the hardware of science that allows us to see more and see it more clearly (the satellites that look from a very long way away and the microscopes that look astonishingly close). And above all, we focus on the computational abilities that turn signals into numbers and then turn numbers into graphs and images and inspirations: visualisation is at the heart of our campaign to see more.
So what lies outside the box? For this first year of LOB we are concentrating on two specific adventures - weather data and scanning electron microscopy - very big patterns and very small. But because the boxes can be so restrictive, we are planning to escape in other ways too, we want the LOB mission to draw together the sciences, the humanities and the creative arts, emphasising shared perspectives rather than barriers.
The HCS Weather Station
So what’s new? Schools have had weather stations for decades and at first sight this doesn’t seem to be much of an advance – but we are trying to do something more adventurous with the technology and the teaching. The instruments themselves are state-of-the-art and link back to the school by wi-fi. All the standard weather variables are measured (temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, UV radiation), but because we are trying to look further we have added soil temperature probes at four depths and a separate air temperature recorder in the woodland 150 metres away, all also wi-fi linked.
Now we begin to see the bigger patterns as well as the local details – a real-time console networks the current conditions into our classrooms, and data are archived at 10-minute intervals so that we can graph the trends at any timescale. We are watching the way in which the soil slowly responds over weeks and months to the seasonal patterns at the surface, and we are seeing the differences between the open grassland and woodland. As the project develops we will be linking to similar weather stations at Bournemouth Collegiate and Surbiton Schools and will then be able to understand how urban and coastal weather differs from our rural setting at HCS. And to put it all in perspective, we are linking in real time to global satellite weather images. The data are now making patterns – for students in geography, biology and information technology. CLICK HERE to see more about the HCS Weather Station.
The HCS Scanning Electron Microscope
With a backdrop of weather satellite images, the HCS weather station opens our eyes to the big picture of the physical and biological world - and at the opposite end of the size range our new scanning electron microscope offers a glimpse of the features and an inkling of the processes at the extreme micro-scale. It's something of a revolution for a school to be venturing into the technology and thinking at this scale, but we see it as a natural part of our determination to let HCS students look further and deeper. This is visualisation at the cutting edge. It is an instrument that can achieve magnification in excess of 100000 times, and at that level whole new worlds open up.
Mention microscopy and the first thought is science - and this is certainly where the story begins. Imaging will support scale determination in chemistry and help bring to life ideas about rates of reaction and heat radiation. But there's also the imaging of rocks for the geologists, and of animal cells for the biologist. The microscope will also start to engage HCS students directly with an awareness of materials manipulation at nanoscales (nanomachines) to solve engineering problems. Once you're outside the box the future is that much closer.
The story may start in science but it leads to much wider horizons. SEM images will be used by art students as an inspiration and the datasets will challenge ITC students who may treat them as images or as the inputs to a networking task. The aim is that Prep School pupils will also have access to the amazing viewpoint that microscopy brings to their world. Our good fortune in having a scanning electron microscope teaching suite on site gives a huge advantage to HCS students, but we also want to share the facility and its teaching power, so are are looking to invite other students (from UCST schools and academies or from the local region) to join us or send their samples for analysis. Learning Outside the Box is only just beginning, but it's already adding real depth to life at HCS. CLICK HERE to see more about the HCS Scanning Electron Microscope.