Sustain Magazine Article

4D’s latest press coverage comes from Sustain Magazine. In this article, our creative director, Cathy discusses the increased demand for primary school places and the push for standardised school design brought in by the coalition government. There is also a spotlight on three of our spaces at Parklands CLC, Croxteth Primary and St Christopher’s Primary with lots of brilliant photos.

The full article can be read below (click on the image to make it full size!) For more information on Sustain Magazine, visit

If you’d like to visit a 4D Immersive Space then just get in touch via our contact page and we will do the rest!

Headteacher Update Article

Cathy was recently asked to write an article for Headteacher Update. In the piece she discusses how we can be more creative in the classroom and encourages teachers to use technology for inspirational lessons. You can either read the article over at Headteacher Update’s website or we’ve posted the full text below.

We’d love to know your thoughts so feel free to leave us a comment in the box below.



I am on a ship with a class of nine and 10-year-olds. As a champagne bottle smashes against the bow we hear the roar of a crowd. They are cheering wildly. Ticker-tape fills the air and thousands of jubilant faces wave us on. The adventure is beginning.

On deck, year 5 is excited. They are relaxing on loungers in the bright sunlight imagining what they will do on arrival into New York. But as the light fades there are footsteps. The noises get louder until we hear calls to abandon ship. Everyone rushes to the lifeboats. RMS Titanic has hit an iceberg.

As I sit in this classroom at St Christopher’s Primary School in Speke, Liverpool, I study the children’s faces. They are hooked. Surrounded by images of waves and ice projected on to the walls, they try to find their way to safety, a task hampered by the low lighting.

Suddenly one child points excitedly. He has seen a light flashing in the distance. Each pupil is asked to describe what it would feel like to have been rescued and then see the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. One boy tells me: “I feel guilty because I’m here and the others aren’t.”

This is the power of immersive learning. By immersive I mean a lesson that touches all the senses. Using large-scale imagery, stereo sound, lighting and found objects, the story is magnified, physically and emotionally, so it has a greater impact on the pupils.

But it is not just about projecting a picture of a ship on the wall. It is how you get children to interact and emotionally connect with that ship. And it is how a teacher can be inspired to come up with activities that bring the whole experience together.

Earlier I had watched this class teacher open the lesson with machine sounds. There was the clink of metal on metal, engine noises and the shouts of busy workers. Then images of Titanic’s construction filled the walls. Children passed round cold hunks of steel and wooden planks, touching the type of materials that went into building the colossal ship. They saw the horse and carts that pulled those parts and the sky-high scaffolding.

Suddenly the walls go blank and the sound of Titanic survivors recounting their experiences is piped in. I see the children’s mouths gape open as they hear the voices and see images flashing up of survivors huddling together on the deck of a rescue ship. They are then asked to write Marconigrams – wireless messages sent via radio waves, a little bit like texts or tweets. Children tell their families that they are okay and they are allowed to include one abiding memory of their trip in the message.

The next day I sit with the same year 5 class and their teacher but in a different room. They are desperate to board the ship again. “Are we going back into the room again sir?” “When are we learning about the Titanic next?”

Later, their class teacher tells me the children retain knowledge so much better once they have been immersed in the subject. This mix of high-tech and low-tech enhances their understanding about the impact of Second World War, deforestation in South America or life in Ancient Egypt. She believes that combining these different resources with the space to think and act out scenarios in a unique environment speeds up the children’s connection with a subject or theme.

It also provides pupils with a new environment, a den or safe space, where they can be who they want to be. The class teacher reports an increase in confidence and less fear of failure: “Pupils don’t have to feel worried about giving the wrong answer. It’s an interactive, enjoyable atmosphere and it’s really good fun.”

This “f” word is one that I’m particularly interested in. As a professional den-maker I help teachers transform classrooms in to new worlds. Somewhere children can explore, play and, above all, have fun. And because they are having so much fun they often do not realise they are also learning.

But I am not sure that fun fits in with the government’s plans for the new curriculum. Rigorous literacy and numeracy, yes. Learning the Kings and Queens of England in chronological order, yes. But what about the broader learning experience? What about having fun and taking risks?

What about developing a child’s creative skills so they can come up with new solutions, reflect and form opinions about big issues. These softer skills allow a child to interpret information, be adaptable and resilient to change and importantly, to enjoy learning.

My fear is that people at the top are no longer acknowledging creativity. This is then filtered down through Ofsted deliverables that put little value on the development of softer creative skills. And with these new developments, I can see the pleasure and fun being slowly squeezed out of learning.

The same goes for teaching. The government’s drive for core subjects will put a strain on teachers both in terms of stress but also motivation. If you are being pressured to focus unrelentingly on maths, English and science and to teach these subjects in a certain way then many teachers may lose inspiration. Hence why teaching these core topics using new ideas and resources that touch every sense is so important. Immersing children in a theme or subject isn’t only nourishing for them, it allows teachers to remain engaged and passionate about their work.

Mixing electronic gadgets and found objects is also a powerful way to work with children who have SEN. David struggles with concentration and engagement and has additional learning needs. But he had become really interested in space and was curious to know what it would be like to eat his sandwiches on the moon.

With the help of support staff, David built a cardboard rocket in class one day and decorated it. The teachers told him to bring a packed lunch the following day for a “trip”. David entered the classroom to discover the rocket in the centre and a moving starscape on the projection screens. As the teachers counted for lift-off, sound effects of the rocket thrust boomed from the deep bass of the surround sound system and the adventure began. The staff were amazed at David’s focus and excitement.

The other thing that sticks in my mind from this story is how empowered the teachers felt – using technology to give David such an unforgettable learning experience.

Those education practitioners were like many I meet – they described themselves as “not very technical”. Yet within a day they had developed a space idea for David and translated this into sound effects and projected imagery.

In contrast to our digitally fluent pupils, I often see a hesitancy and lack of confidence in teachers when it comes to bringing their subject alive with technology. One problem is accessibility. Making David’s cardboard rocket could be done right away. Scissors, glue, tissue paper, paint and a few boxes were all that were needed.

But without the roar of a rocket engine and a moving starscape floating around him, David would have just been sitting in a cardboard rocket. The audio, lighting and projection took the experience up a level and reached all his senses. It was the ultimate immersive backdrop to his space journey.

The fact is that some teachers are afraid of technology. So how can we boost confidence? The key is to keep it simple and intuitive. It’s not about expensive gadgets but straightforward electronic tools that are immediately understandable and quick to use. If a teacher takes a video they should be able to instantly use this for immersive learning. Or maybe they need to search for images on the internet in the middle of the lesson and then project them on to the walls of the classroom to explain a difficult concept.

Making technology immediate and simple like this also opens it up to all staff members rather than just the computer-savvy teacher who always gets lumbered with IT tasks.

Integrating high-tech and low-tech is hugely powerfully in terms of stimulating imaginative thinking and increasing pupil enjoyment. I am part of a ground swell of education practitioners in this country who are trying to champion the development of teaching and learning with creativity in mind. Technology is central to this campaign. Our aim is to make classrooms places of fun and play – not just spaces where children learn great swathes of knowledge by rote.

Liverpool Echo Article

It was great to see our installation at Four Oaks Primary getting some coverage in the Liverpool Echo this week. Teachers and pupils alike are loving their new creative classroom!

Here’s the full article to read:


Tigers, pharaohs and Vikings have been let loose at the new £8.8m Four Oaks Primary school in Liverpool thanks to a special 4D classroom.

Four Oaks Primary, just a stone’s throw from Liverpool’s Anfield ground, has added the eye-catching visitors to its register via the special room which uses computer technology to bring lessons alive.

The school has moved into a new purpose-built premises on the former Adam Street playground in the heart of the Anfield/Breckfield regeneration area

And adding to the school’s “wow factor” the £80,000 room transports pupils through a host of breathtakingly realistic scenes ranging from an enchanted forest to a tiger-dwelling jungle.

Children have also been chased by Vikings and seen dolphins swim around them.

Even the room’s floor can be tweaked so pupils appear to be standing on sand during a look at the Egyptians, with hidden artefacts appearing between their feet as they moved around.

Headteacher Sara Howard said the children and staff “absolutely love” the room which was “worth every penny” and used across the curriculum.

And she said it was proving amazingly lifelike.

She told the ECHO: “During a mother and toddlers group the topic was the weather.

“The computer generated walls that looked like it was raining and one girl was so convinced it was real she put her umbrella up.”

The school’s new home is a far cry from its previous ageing base in Walton Breck Road which dated back to Victorian times.

Its playground includes 11 large wooden sculptures based on a story created by pupils, a games area, football pitch, summer house, allotments, music and drama areas, nature walks and African thatched shelters.

The school, which is open to the community, is also home to three of the city’s existing classes for specialist speech and language.

Huffington Post 4D blog

[superquote]”When the teacher is talking about the industrial revolution he touches a button. The lights dim and the sound of a hundred noisy weaving machines fills the air…”[/superquote]

Cathy has been blogging again, this time for the fantastic Huffington Post! It’s been really enjoyable recently to start to discuss issues we feel passionate about in the education sector and to show how 4D Immersive Spaces really are changing the way pupils are learning.

You can read and comment on Cathy’s blog over at the Huffington Post website or read on below…

Classrooms shouldn’t be standardised: Why these four walls must inspire

I love making dens. Give me some string, a sheet and a few bamboo sticks and I can knock up another world in minutes. Somewhere to play, have fun and make up your own rules. But den making isn’t something I do just for my own children. Every week I go into schools and help pupils and teachers transform classrooms into war-torn towns, cavernous Egyptian pyramids and enchanted forests.

We’ll need many more enchanted classrooms if the government gets its way with ‘identikit’ schools. Following a major review of education capital by Dixons retail boss Sebastian James last year, Michael Gove announced a standardised design policy. All new schools will be built to a uniform set of drawings, prompting criticism of a dull, ‘flat pack’ approach that may leave schools devoid of any character.

A few weeks ago Building magazine reported that schools delivery body the Education Funding Agency had toned down this policy, replacing standardised school plans with more ‘base-line’ design guidance. Whatever is decided on school design, a significantly reduced funding pot means that future classrooms will be far less bespoke and much more like the thousands of other education buildings across the country.

This is all very well in financial terms. But as schools finally get the refurbishment projects they have been crying out for since the days of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), will they have to sacrifice ‘sparkling’ classrooms for tidy ones?

By sparkling I mean a learning space that excites and inspires children. Somewhere they can’t wait to go into. Maybe it’s a room with surround sound. When the teacher is talking about the industrial revolution he touches a button. The lights dim and the sound of a hundred noisy weaving machines fills the air.

There is the whir and hum of repetitive work and then someone is shouting – a worker is injured. The lights come up and the sound stops. A heavy spindle of cotton thread is passed around the group. Each child holds the spindle and describes how it must have felt to work such long hours at their age in a busy and often dangerous mill.

This classroom and its interesting mix of low and high tech resources had helped Year 4 see, hear and touch the industrial revolution from a completely different angle. They couldn’t believe the conditions children were working in. Their understanding was enhanced and they wanted to know more – a response the teacher might not have got had he not morphed their classroom into a 19th century cotton mill.

Months ago I worked with 10 and 11-year-olds to build a rainforest den in their school hall. The teacher was able to project a landscape of trees and vines on to the walls. Each child painted an animal or bird to live in the forest and then recorded the noise their creature makes. The teacher piped these sounds into the hall. Green lighting showed we were in the depths of the jungle.

The next day the students went back to their room and everything had disappeared. Images of trees graced the walls but the creatures they had spent so long creating had gone and so had the animal noises. They got angry. They asked questions. Why have their animals vanished? What is going on? Where have they gone?

The discussion turned to deforestation and suddenly the walls were filled with images of destroyed forests, logs being towed away and manmade fires. The sound of chain saws got louder and red lighting created an intense atmosphere.

The children were furious. The den they had painstakingly created had produced an emotional connection between them and the subject. It has sparked their imagination and they wanted to find out more.

This is the power of turning classrooms into dens. Both examples show how education spaces can transport children to different locations and times. In seconds they can become unique environments, making learning fun and dynamic.

But this isn’t just about the students. Teachers need to feel inspired and motivated too. They should have the tools to experiment with fresh ideas and this will raise teaching standards and help schools to stand out, be that to parents, inspectors or prospective students.

As a teacher said to me recently, “you think about teaching from new angles if you’re planning next week’s lessons sat on a bean bag with waves lapping at your feet.”

4D Creative in The Guardian

[superquote]”..we need to bring creativity and technology back together across the curriculum”[/superquote]

Cathy’s first blog for the Guardian went live yesterday and so far the reaction has been fantastic. In the piece, Cathy explains some of her den making background that is still central to everything we do at 4D.

You can read the piece at the Guardian’s site via this link or the full transcript is below.

We’d love to hear what you think so you can either comment on the article, email us via our contact page or drop us a quick message on our Twitter feed (@4dcreative)

Why we need to bring creativity and technology back together across the curriculum

A professional den-maker on how she helps teachers transform their classrooms into thrilling learning environments

Last year Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google challenged the British education system. He said he was flabbergasted to learn that computer science isn’t taught as standard in UK schools. “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computer heritage.”

Schmidt’s point goes deeper than a critique of today’s ICT teaching. He was highlighting the divisions between those who teach and learn humanities in Britain and everyone else in the science and engineering “camp”. Schmidt encouraged UK educationalists to reunite art and science, something that Apple’s founder Steve Jobs had advocated the benefits of many years earlier. In an interview with the New York Times in 1997, readers were reminded that Jobs had once said the Macintosh turned out so well because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians who also happened to be excellent computer scientists.

This enforced separation between technical and creative teaching and learning is something I see a lot in schools. I make my living as a den-maker – helping teachers morph dull classrooms into thrilling learning environments. Technology is essential to what I do, as important as the fabric, boxes, plastic hoops and giant envelopes I use.

I might project images of children working in a 19th century mill on the walls for a lesson on the industrial revolution. Sounds of the hum and crash of machines and the drip of water trickling down the walls is piped into the room. Lights are darkened and students are asked what it feels like to be twelve and working fourteen hours a day in a damp factory.

Children touch cold metal parts from an old weaving machine and feel the clumps of cotton threads which they might have had to clear from under machines if they had lived in Manchester 200 years ago. They see a bloodied bandage on the floor and talk about the dangers of working in a mill.

Suddenly the atmosphere changes and pupils stop what they are doing. We are in a state of the art computer factory, down the road in Manchester. Pictures of hi-tech machines fill the walls and the zoom and whiz of technology is heard all around us. Flashes of light convey a busy working environment. The children build a modern day work station complete with computer, desk, phone and iPad. Using large cardboard speech bubbles they talk about the differences between this twentieth century factory and the old mill. How have working conditions changed? How have the industries in their city developed in the last 200 years?

It’s this combination of low and high-tech resources that enables immersive learning to take place. Children see, hear, touch and imagine new ways of finding out about the industrial revolution. They ask questions, want to know more, they are keen to try things for themselves and own their learning. This is something you might not get from using text books or a video.

The key is integrating technology and creativity. I will never give up the bobbly white blanket, the large cardboard tubes, the crackly blue plastic sheet and bucket of polished stones that I use in many schools. But when these found materials are combined with sound, projected image and light to create an imagined environment, children are totally engrossed in the experience. They begin to empathise with twelve year old children in the Victorian era who had to work long hours and risk their fingers on sharp machines in the damp textiles mill. Their understanding is enhanced and they begin making links.

Yet in so many schools today science and the arts are kept separate. Children sit on their own in front of computer screens completing maths games rather than using video cameras in the school grounds to make films about number patterns in nature. Lights are saved for the school play, audio equipment for modern foreign language lessons.

Instead we need to use ICT to create socially rich experiences, right across the curriculum. It’s great that Michael Gove is encouraging teachers to use gadgets in computer science to develop the vision, imagination and creativity of children but what about drama or geography, history or creative writing lessons? We need to get better at using electronic resources creatively to make learning and teaching more effective.

• Cathy Cross is creative director of 4D creative. Find her on Twitter@cathy_cross.