A Visit to John Hanson Community School

"We come up here in break times or in lesson times"
"Here being where?"
The radio studio at John HansonSuch is the impeccable logic of 14 year olds! As it happens, the "here" in question was the music room, and the recording studio, of John Hanson Community School in Andover, Hampshire, in the south-eastern part of England. I spent a most pleasant morning there a while ago, meeting staff and students, especially those who were working on a podcast for me.

A couple of years ago I wrote in my newsletter, Computers in Classrooms, that while I enjoyed making podcasts, I didn't really have the time or the inclination to devote the time required to make them as polished as I should like. I wondered aloud whether there was a school that would be willing to work with me. The benefits for me would be obvious, and hopefully the students would benefit from having an opportunity to work with a real client, and, if required, a reference or testimonial from me to go into their eportfolio. And, for the school, some extra publicity.

This item was picked up by Hampshire Consultant and newsletter subscriber Colin McQueen, who works for the Hampshire Inspection & Advisory Service. He passed it on to Mike Adams, Assistant Headteacher at the school and, as it turns out, one of the driving forces behind Hanson Radio. As soon as I heard one of their podcasts, I was entranced by the quality and the professionalism (as you will be: give it a whirl).

Up till the visit, communication had been via email, my website, and the school's VLE. I'd been sending recordings, and Mike sent me some original music, which I commented on. Then I visited the school and met Mike and Colin for the first time, some of Mike's colleagues -- including Alastair Johnston, Head of Performing Arts, who was also heavily involved with this project -- and some of his students.

I was impressed with what I saw and heard:

The pupils were not only confident users of some music-creating software (eJay DJ Mix Station 2.0, which appears to have been discontinued), but were confident in playing for me and the class the results of their efforts. They had every reason to be confident, because their compositions sounded great. (And just for the record, I'm not easily satisfied.) In fact, not only did it sound nice, it also satisfied the brief, which was to produce some upbeat music with a jazz funk feel. They had also responded well to the feedback I gave on the first one they produced.

In English National Curriculum terms, taking into account user feedback is Level 7, and taking users' needs into account is Level 8. Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting for a moment that taking part in this activity has propelled the students to the dizzy heights of Level 8, but it does serve to illustrate the fact that if you want your students to be able to work at those levels, you have to provide opportunities for them to do so.

Two pupils who have been working on one of the sections played me what they'd done and showed me how they'd achieved the miracle of making me sound fluid and coherent! They seemed very comfortable working with Audacity in the music studio.

Terry on airI was then interviewed by four students, Sophie, Ruby, Alan and Steven, who had prepared some thoughtful questions and who agreed to be interviewed by me in turn. It was in that context that we had the discussion about where "here" was. Their interview of me was featured in a Hanson Radio podcast (which appears to be part of an archive now), and in the one they did for me, as was my interview of them. You can listen to these interviews and the whole Hanson Radio treatment in this podcast.

(In looking up the URL for this episode, I realised with horror that Paul Harrington had left a comment about it, which I hadn't realised! Paul said:

Terry, I have just spent a very entertaining 45 minutes listening to the podcast, excellent work - could you pass on my congratulations for their professional job ( you weren't bad either -lol). The tips on BETT made me instantly rush off and print some business cards in order to save me writing - so thank you very much for that. Regards Paul

So I hope this is a case of better late than never!)

Mike has also had a couple of great jingles made for me, and sought and obtained permission to use the original works of a living composer, Kevin MacLeod.

As it turned out, we didn't get to make another podcast together. I suppose we're all busy people, and doing something like this is a pretty big time commitment. But it was a great experience, and I still use the jingle they created for me!

I was delighted that  a year later the school was awarded the ICT Mark. From what I saw, it was very richly deserved.