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National Schools Programme: launching Architects Connect, our new digital schools programme

In autumn 2020 we launched Architects Connect: a digital schools programme offering free, bespoke and hands-on learning experiences to school students.

06 April 2021

Katy Wade, RIBA's Regional Schools Programme Co-ordinator, introduces Architects Connect.

Last year the pandemic disrupted life as we knew it and RIBA Learning had to temporarily suspend its free Architecture Ambassadors programme for schools across the country. Despite this, many of our ambassadors wanted to continue working with and supporting school students. After surveying our teachers to see what we could do to help them, we learnt that there was still appetite for creative learning opportunities, although online safeguarding and technical issues meant that live workshops weren’t the preferred option for many.

We put our heads together and debated many things – how do you create fun and meaningful experiences when the architects can’t physically interact with students? – and, in autumn 2020, our new digital programme Architects Connect was born.

Students from Heath Park Secondary School, Wolverhampton, explored what it meant to be an architect in a workshop delivered by Colin and Luigi from the University of Wolverhampton.

When designing Architects Connect we wanted to embrace the spirit of Architecture Ambassadors by continuing to offer free, bespoke and hands-on learning experiences which embed authentic architecture theory and architectural practice into what students are learning at school. We didn’t want to dictate what format or content should look like, as architects have their own specialisms and interests which make their projects unique and special (plus some are more camera shy than others). We encouraged architects to discuss with the teacher what topics or curriculum the teacher would like to link to before helping them create projects which met the teacher’s needs and their own personal strengths and skillset.

In March 2021, Jacob and Imran from BDP Birmingham created a project for year 5 students at Palfrey Junior School, Walsall. Across three workshops students learn what architects do by designing, creating and testing defensive shelters they made which linked to their WW2 Anderson Shelters project.

To date we’ve seen such creativity and breadth from our programmes that partner architects with teachers and schools, including students creating Viking site surveys and house designs and students exploring mega cities and master planning neighbourhoods in Mumbai. What these projects all have in common, however, is a creative challenge which acts as a hook for developing students’ knowledge and skills.

With Architects Connect, whether the architect creates video introductions or ‘How To’ demonstrations, custom worksheets and lesson plans, or pre-recorded presentations, all the knowledge and learning material needed for students to complete the challenge is provided. The teacher just needs to see the plans come to life in the lesson. Where possible we also encourage architects to give feedback on students’ work, either in written or a pre-recorded format, as well as share their insight into what life as an architect looks like.

Students from South Charnwood High School, Leicestershire design a new sports centre during their Architecture Ambassadors Workshop. Credit: Mark Haughan.

Despite two further lockdowns and several unexpected challenges, our 10 trial Architects Connect partnerships between architects and schools from Cumbria to Brighton have finally started to roll out their workshops. Although we expect there to be teething problems and lessons learnt, so far students seemed to have embraced the format and, for the near future at least, this seems to be an option which supports our learning objectives for those we engage with.

If you are interested in delivering or taking part in Architects Connect in future, please email learning@riba.org.

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