When we set up Class Of Your Own a few years ago, it was in the belief that young people should have access to the same tools they would use when they leave school, and that, through project-based study, the subjects of design, engineering and construction could not only offer an insight to exciting career opportunities but also help them to recognise ways to address sustainability issues by looking at the way they live their lives and the buildings they inhabit.

It’s not been easy. Even naming our new KS3 curriculum gave us problems, and indeed the platform by which to deliver these subjects had its own challenges.

“Don’t make this a BTEC – our kids are academic…” Oops!

We happen to like the BTEC and its vocational style. Much more useful to an employer? Well, possibly…. and after all, is it so wrong to have a little fun and flexibility before joining academia?

So my visit to the Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas was a breath of fresh air.

Here, students from 16 years old are introduced to the same modern-day drawing tools which we are encouraging UK teachers to adopt in Design and Technology classes. To quote from the school profile document:

“The faculty members of the academy are trained in and are representative of the field(s) in which they teach. Additional training and enhancement are provided for academy faculty in all facets of computer hardware, software, and networking technology. The integrated academic and career computer-enhanced curriculum prepares students for entrance into post-secondary education and/or provides skills for a successful school-to-career transition. With a student/teacher ratio of 22·1, our curriculum ensures that a student is not only knowledgeable in theory but also experienced through hands-on, highly individualised learning techniques… Creative thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, skill expansion, and project-based learning are encouraged in all subject areas.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The drawings above are those of a 17-year-old. Yes. SEVENTEEN. Starting with sketches and transferring these to Autodesk Revit software, these kids are producing work worthy of a third-year University student.

Go into a typical classroom and these girls and boys are normal, happy students from a wide range of backgrounds, listening to Coldplay, Adele and Usher pumping into the classroom courtesy of inspiring teacher Richard Knoeppel.

They are chilled out, courteous and friendly and obviously enjoying themselves. They are, it seems for the most part, left to their own devices, helping each other to work through their problems. Learning rather than being ‘taught’.

Richard is keen to link his students with ours as older mentors. We can’t wait.

Gradually we’re seeing a sea of change in education with the introduction of University Technical Colleges and specialisms in construction and engineering. We’ve seen teachers absolutely fanatical about rendering their buildings (Mr Robinson), and students as young as 13 demonstrating their knowledge to architects who have yet to encounter and embrace this new technology (but knowing they need to play catch up quickly if they are to meet government guidelines).

Thankfully some forward thinkers in the industry are massively keen to support these youngsters.

Globally recognised, multi-award-winning engineering and project management company Mott MacDonald, world-dominating design software corporation Autodesk, and highly respected Building Information Modelling pioneers Space Architects are about to support our KS4 curriculum, sharing our belief that hooking the imagination of (some very) young people can produce the great designers, engineers and construction professionals this country needs in the future.

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most influential American architects of the last century, once said

“The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen.”

Clearly, we are not alone….it’s happening in a school near you.

Class Of Your Own feature in this week’s Times Education Supplement magazine ‘TESPro’

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