Being able to quickly adapt to ever-changing and challenging circumstances is a foundational skill for the next generation. Our goal is to inspire children to dream and build a beautiful world, no matter what. Read the story of the first open air exhibition of REAL School. No lockdown can stop us!
by Noan Fesnoux
At REAL School, we found ourselves with a need to adapt quickly to changing situations, and some of the key pieces of what makes our school unique suddenly became more complicated. At the end of each term, we share our learning experience through a Learning Expo, an event where our community comes together to celebrate and showcase the learning that has happened in the school.
As our term progressed, so too did the spread of Coronavirus. By mid October it was evident that one of the REAL School ceremonies, our Learning Expo, could not take place as we have done since the inception of the school.
Did that stop us? No way!
As a school founded by entrepreneurs and the mindset deeply embedded in our culture, we started to seek out opportunities to alter the Expo to meet the constraints of a very extraordinary year.
From a Dream...
A couple weeks before our fall break, I approached Dave, our Principal, with a desire to situate our learning on Óbudai Sziget, an island located right next to the school on the Danube river. I was aware that we may not be able to host an in-person Learning Expo at the school, but I also felt really intrigued to showcase a significant part of our school life. Every Wednesday, we bring children to the island to be in nature and do some outdoor learning. While parents were aware of this through the muddy pants and exhausted children each Wednesday, most had never actually visited this part of our school. Well, that was about to change…
An idea is a good start, but will get nowhere without great collaborators. With Dave on board, we proposed situating the next Expo on the island to the rest of the team. Part of having integrated projects in our school means there simply is no room to work in isolation. The learning experience needs to fit together, needs to feel cohesive. It is through strong teamwork that we can pull off high quality, potentially audacious projects. The ideas started to flow:
“We need to create our own map, a collage of student works”, said Panni, our Arts and Projects Educator.
“I would love for children to do poetry, allow them a chance to express themselves”, added our Literacy Specialist, Lizzie.
“How about films?” came another suggestion.
“Let’s make artefacts and have a treasure hunt”, from another voice.
By the end of our brainstorm we had a cohesive concept. We would be using the island as a space for a digital gallery, a place where we could present the artwork and writing we were to do over the coming weeks. We would use our excursion times each week to investigate potential paths for the trail, note places of interest, and allow our environment to be our muse.
Bring in the Chaos
Our first excursion with the students was the REAL launch of the Wonder Trail Project. It was here that our planning met reality. Our intention was to walk the island seeking out inspiration with which we would be able to create meaningful poetry and devices to engage the users of the trail.
The first excitement brewed around a pile of leaves with a laminated paper reading “Hedgehog hibernating, do not disturb”. Suddenly we had a cohort of students who all wanted to create stories and poems about hedgehogs. That would make a very short trail, and maybe not exactly engage a wider audience. It was a start though.
After some walking, I decided I would present a model of an idea to help them think differently. I suggested we compel the user to climb a tree, get a better view, and maybe find a secret message up there. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see your parents climb a tree? At that point, the hedgehog was yesterday’s news… and a whole new excitement formed about the idea of creating intricate pulley systems to get their parents stuck in trees. Despite the cold, I could feel beads of anxiety induced perspiration forming on my brow. Were we doomed? Did we shoot for the moon, only to fizzle on the launchpad?
In English I was not gaining much more confidence that the students would meet our goals. Yes, the first poem Lizzie introduced was great, but the same pattern held true. The students got excited, and suddenly every poem they wrote was a slightly modified version of what was presented to them. Instead of “Heard it in the Playground”, my students wrote “Heard it at the Dog Beach”. Ok, they were at least writing, and using the cues to modify it accordingly… but where was the authenticity of their own voices?
“Patience, Noan” I told myself. We have got time. Things will gain traction.
Slowly, the epiphanies started to aggregate and lead us in a better direction.
We had agreed to start each class with a poem, and I felt it best to write it down on your own. Dave prompted a student to use a joined-up script, and suddenly we had just found a way to consistently practice our cursive. This later would turn into a requirement for their final product… that their own poem was written by their own hand as clearly as possible.
I was mulling over how to best insert QR codes around the park with zero impact, and Barna, the Co-Founder of the School, suggested geolocation. I had created augmented reality gardens with QR codes, but would this new idea be possible as an alternative? With the help of the students, we evaluated a number of different apps, and even had video calls with their representatives as a group. In the end, we found an app called “Turf Hunt” which would allow us to do what we had set out to do, and was affordable.
Panni, our resident Designer/Educator/Architect, started with a wide variety of explorations using lenses and different media, and slowly a map of the island created by the students started to materialise. She also worked alongside Viki , Co-Founder of the School and Film Maker, to help students storyboard their short films. We decided to open up the content and allow the children to express what they wanted, while keeping the island as a prominent actor in all the films.
The lower years students were also moving along. They too had written poems, and created narrated videos of them actively creating shapes with their words.
The patience and persistence was paying off. A week before our planned release date for the Wonder Trail, all the student-created artefacts were on their way to completion.
Reality Always Involves a Crunch
The final week of school turned into a pretty intense rush to ensure the quality was present, along with a functional tour that was usable for our community. The students had finished their videos, but several wanted to work on small adjustments after we had shared and critiqued each other’s works.
The scope of our Wonder Trail had also grown as we came to the end of the project. We realised that we could present all the work we had done through this format, so rather than just a series of short films (which also included poetry and artwork by the students) we planned on creating a poem garden where the students’ voices could be added to their handwritten poems. We also decided to include reflection podcasts from the group Science experiments the students had done over the course of this term. It was definitely a wonder filled experience, but the original plan figured we would be too caught up in everything else to include them meaningfully. Well, we certainly were in the thick of it, but the connection and opportunity was just too good to resist.
To complicate matters, we had a case of Coronavirus in the school and had to shift from learning in school to distance learning overnight. It was a precaution we had committed to, at least until all our staff were tested negative. Luckily, we were able to do this within 24 hours, and only had a single day of school that was delivered completely virtually.
The day before our students beta tested the trail was upon us. As the last pieces of work were added, we felt that the ‘mission accomplished’ feeling started to creep over us. Each stop of the trail was filled with beautiful child-built artefacts, and our trail had turned into a cohesive 2 hour excursion through one of Budapest’s most beautiful parks. True to life, issues started to surface. Our Trail package had ballooned to over 1Gb of data thanks to the volume of content. Panni and I worked late into the evening to adjust for this, compressing videos and audio to reduce to the size.
On the day of the beta test, a new issue arose. While compressing files, the suffix added to the videos had become unrecognizable on iPhones. Half of our tour would be missing for those users. It required renaming and then uploading all the video files. An hour or so before the Wonder Trail went live, I sat slumped in my chair, hoping no more issues would arise. I went home with that anxiety ridden sleep, unsure of what complications would confound our ambitious foray.
The Chilliest Expo of All
I brought my family and friends to Óbudai Island early the next day, hoping to get a first hand account of what we had done. It was one last test, and a chance to share a piece of collective work I had grown very proud of with friends and family. As we walked along the trail, watching the videos, I recognised that the usual complaints that echoed from my kids while walking were replaced with excitement to see the next video, the next stop on the trail. It was a cold day, hovering right around the freezing mark, and foggy. However, the mission provided us incentive to keep at it, and go the distance. We finished a two hour walk with a play in the playground while watching the last short films created by the REAL School students.
The next day we started to get feedback from other parents. It was a bit surreal having our community sharing the same sequence of learning at different times. Similar sentiments were found as those of my daughters, that a trail filled with interesting artefacts brought a newfound excitement into the act of getting out and going for a walk as a family. The weather had cleared up, but the temperature had also dropped. In this, we found yet another advantage of a digital, self directed tour: Families could take their time, and revisit parts of the expo as needed. This was more than an Expo… it was a virtual open air museum!
Since our trail was a digital product people from all over the world were able to participate and follow the different stops. Families in England shared highlights of the trail our students made, as did educators from across the world. In our final week of the semester, we shared the feedback collected from around the world. Pride was evident on the young creators’ faces as we shared these stories.
Time for a Redo?
Part of the REAL School ethos is that we always do things twice. Many of the products we had created for the Wonder Trail had been revisited, edited, and redone to create the quality of product that we aspired to. The Wonder Trail, on the other hand, was a first foray into a new way to present our work, and to have an impact on the world.
We will certainly work on a second iteration of the Trail. My original ambition for situating the trail in nature was to provide a real context for the knowledge we gain about our living world that we live in and explore regularly. While nature did act as our muse, we still have a chance to really take this concept and run with it.
Another element that my students are interested in is the gamification element of the tour. Rather than a walking tour, why not work with the gamification elements of Turf Hunt and see how we can turn our nature based learning into a fun challenge for our audience?
This whole endeavor, like many things at REAL School, has a nice balance of artistic license, experimentalism, and application of core skills.
How on Earth would we not want to try that again?
Interested in walking through the Wonder Trail, even if just virtually? Follow the steps below!
1. Before you leave home - give at least 10 minutes for this process
Make sure you are on a WIFI connection, as you will be downloading a large file.
Once installed, find Budapest on the map. Here, you will see the site of the REAL School Wonder Trail.
Click on it and then click "Install 387MB".
Get warm clothes and some good walking shoes, and book around 2 hours to get the complete trail experience.
2. When you visit Óbudai Sziget
Park in the car park immediately after the K-Bridge (or come from Filatorigat HEV Station) and walk to the jogging trail right next to the bridge.
Turn on Turf Hunt and click “Start” on the REAL School Wonder Trail.
Walk along the trail and each stop should automatically play as you pass it.
Our recommended trail is to walk from the K-Bridge along the jogging path to the Dog Beach, then go down the centre of the island and finish at the Playground.
3. After you complete the Wonder Trail
We'd really appreciate your feedback. It is part of the process!
The best feedback would be about what you enjoyed, what might have surprised you, and what could be improved.
Video feedback would be ideal of your hiking along the trail. Please send a youtube link or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share the Wonder Trail with friends far and near! It is public, and we are proud to share this piece of our school experience with others. Again, we welcome any feedback they may provide.