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The Tudors

Owlbut's World of Learning is the brainchild of Richard Rowland, who has spent, so far, over 37 years working in the learning sector, helping thousands improve themselves, ranging from senior managers to young people with emotional and behavioural problems. During this time he has written or contributed to over a dozen books on education and you can read his latest thoughts here and earlier ones in the archive section. The concept of this resource comes from his experiences over those 37 years and his own personal learning adventures. The idea of learning through reality, by seeing, even second-hand, is not new but modern technology allows us, as the learning providers, to do so much more than our predecessors.

The visual learner is just one of the nine learning styles identified some years ago by Professor Howard Gardner. Richard talked with Gardner and his Project Zero team back in the 1990's, mainly talking about teacher personality having a major impact on learning and the possibility of producing a resource with its own personality. To be able to use that method and incorporate reality into the learning process will surely only enhance the learning of all who use it.

I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do – Professor Howard Gardner.

This website has so many different ways that it can be used in nearly all areas of any curriculum and there is a whole section explaining that more and, uploaded in May 2019, a selection of videos to give some ideas. It is truly cross-curricula although built around history and geography. It can easily develop reading and literacy skills and the "Know Your Continent" section lends itself to improving learning and familiarity with Maths. Let Richard set the background in more detail.

owlbutI suppose this idea of "reality learning" (learning from a real live source other than a teacher) came about in 1985 when I made my first journey along the entire coastline of Great Britain. It all began because I and my then wife decided to take our two children out of school for a year and show them more of the country that they called home.

The adventure started on June 29. We bought a motorhome and, together with two helpers, packed in the possessions we would need for a year (the rest was put into storage), and set off on what turned out to be an amazing experience. Most of the time we stayed in rented holiday accommodation, the motorhome being used only in emergencies.

Our children were 7 and 10 at the time and even now, as middle-aged parents themselves, they remember so much of the adventure. As well as writing a daily diary, their formal education was structured into each week but the breadth of their reality learning, the depth of their actual knowledge, far exceeded that of any of their peers, They returned to normal schooling the following year with no harm done and duly completed their education. I, too, returned to my career, still working in education.

owlbutIn 1993, while running a computer course for a group of primary school teachers, the story of my first trip came up. All the teachers agreed that it would have been a wonderful learning adventure for their pupils to have followed.

It was only a suggestion but a year later I was off again, this time with sponsorship from ASDA, BP and Natwest. Whilst the concept of travelling around the coast remained, the journey was to be followed by 50 primary schools around the country by way of a 12 page weekly newsletter with six or seven, loose, photographs. That resource was featured in a Times Educational Supplement article in November 1994, which I have transcribed here. It was also featured in a series of articles in a magazine called Holiday UK, which, it would appear, has since ceased publication.

Again it was a family adventure. I had remarried since that first journey and had a 2-year-old son but we were also joined by my eldest son, Dave, from my first marriage, who had been on that first trip and was now 17 years old. The fifth member was another 17 year old boy, a friend of Dave’s.

In retrospect, I will admit that I almost took on too much in attempting to produce a weekly 12 page newsletter as well as a series of monthly articles and go out and visit all the sites along the coast and take the photos and, horror of horrors, actually have to have them developed and reprinted 50 times. Initially the schools were receiving newsletters one month after I had visited an area but, toward the end of the trip, my mother was taken to hospital and, after a very short stay, sadly died. I managed to get home in time to visit her several times and then stayed to organise the funeral. However, once I returned to my travels, 3 weeks had passed, and the remainder of the trip was even more stressful, having only a week between visits and producing the newsletters.

Over the following two years I provided the resource to parents who had chosen, or been forced, to take their children out of mainstream school. Although it was no longer "live", I still received many letters of thanks from parents who found it incredibly useful.

In 2001, over a period of 28 incredibly hectic days, I made a third trip at the request of a US travel magazine trying to convince its readers that, despite the ongoing foot and mouth epidemic, England still was a green and pleasant land and well worth a visit. My, by then, 9-year-old son who suffered from speech dyspraxia and who I had taught at home since he was 5, accompanied me. I'm sure his love of history, he is now a published short story writer, has a Masters degree in Law and History and has also been called to the Bar, stems from using material from that second journey to help him learn history and geography when reading and writing were impossible and he worked tirelessly on his speech therapy. He also acted as my "calculator" for my end of year accounts, adding up all figures in his head. Maths was easy for him.

owlbutThen in 2010, after nearly 8 years out of the country, I met up with the same Doug Brown quoted by the TES. In a wide ranging discussion Doug, by then principal of Engaines School, mentioned that the earlier project was way ahead of its time, even ahead of the BBC Coast programme by some ten years but as I had been out of the country travelling since 2002, I hadn't even heard about Coast. Doug said the whole concept was ideal for the internet and gave me the idea to someday have one more trip.

And so here I am. This website, OK Owlbut's website, continues the idea of reality learning but brings the readers, the children, into providing some of the learning material. And there will be yet another trip, although not just a coastal one this time, because once you travel as an adventure and experience so much more than those who don't, it's very difficult to stop and it's great to have the chance to allow others to join in those experiences and adventures.

Before that second trip, BBC radio came out to a school I was visiting and interviewed both me and some pupils. When one young girl was asked what she liked about the project she said, "It sounds so good that one day I'd like to do what Richard is doing. It must be really hard work but such fun to see so much". I hope she did. If not, and she reads this, she can join me again. Scarily, to me anyway, she would now be in her mid-thirties.

THE LATE DOUG BROWN - a source of support and inspiration.

I first met Doug when Project Coastline was just beginning in September 1994. As soon as he heard my ideas he was on-board and I talked to him several times leading up to the start of our travelling in the October. Indeed a week before we set off BBC Radio Essex came out to the school for a morning and recorded a piece about the project. Doug was interviewed and was really enthusiastic and a couple of interviews were made with the children. It was all great fun.

Once my journey started Engaines got engaged in a big way as you can see from the article in the Times Educational Supplement of November 1994 which I talked about earlier. Remember we only started in October and already Doug had devised all these activities which I know, from correspondence, his pupils loved.

We lost touch for almost 15 years but, after I returned to England from my travels abroad, I phoned some of the schools who had been involved in Project Coastline. When I phoned Engaines and gave the receptionist my name she put me through to the now principal of the school and his first words were, “I know that name, is it who I think it is? Are you man who did Project Coastline?” I agreed I was, actually I still am, and we arranged to meet the following week.

When we did he wanted to know what I had been doing and then made the life-changing comment, “you know you were so ahead of your time. That project would be superb on the internet”. Our conversation continued, he told me about the BBC Coast programme and speculated whether they had actually “borrowed” my idea in view of the radio broadcast back in ’94, and I left totally inspired to “give it a go” on the internet.

It took a while to formulate ideas but Doug was there to offer advice and encouragement. He told me of his intention to retire soon, asking had I considered this idea, but I told him I so enjoyed this sort of work I couldn’t see a time when I would want to stop.

Of course ideas are one thing, execution another and there have been countless hiccups on the way to beginning this project on the net. Even after his retirement Doug and I still spoke. He was a great lover of history and liked the fact I wanted to include this in an even bigger way in the new project.

And now he has gone, given so little time to enjoy his retirement and even the time he did have was filled with worry and sadness. When, note not if, I actually get started, those who follow me and learn and enjoy our site will owe much to Doug Brown. I certainly will not forget his help, support and down-to-earth attitude. Break