Join the 4D community


Our Training and Research coordinator  Inés shares some more details on the 4D community and why we are working hard to create a network of immersive practitioners. If you’re working in an immersive space, we’d love for you to be involved. Full details are below or you can get in touch with the 4D team here.

Sharing immersive experiences

Immersive environments, by definition, are spaces that take people outside of their everyday experiences to immerse them in the creation of new worlds and perspectives. While this is what makes them so powerful, it also means that sometimes sharing or retelling an immersive experience outside of the space can be hard to do under the glare of the staffroom’s strip lighting.

As a team that all have direct experience of the education and healthcare sectors, we are aware of the many daily priorities, responsibilities and challenges that staff have to juggle. Time pressures, low resources, and limited time to get together as a team mean that sharing best practice can be difficult.

However, since we launched in 2009 we’ve seen and heard so many incredible examples of use – from using the tunnel theme to develop vowel sounds in KS3 French to integrating props with a Hansel & Gretel timeline to take young people on a journey of texture – that we knew we wanted to do something to encourage sharing of practice right across the network. This meant engaging people from our 4D champions to less confident users still exploring how to get the most out of their space.

Creative communities of practice

So, where to begin? During a masters degree, I wrote a postgrad university essay on ‘Interpreting arts participant groups as Communities of Practice’.

I had heard the phrase ‘Communities of Practice’ banded about, but to me it seemed bizarre to create a separate group and strategy for learning when learning was exactly what these arts participation sessions were about. If we are using creative means to enhance learning and collaboration for the participants, doesn’t this suggest that we could be using creativity for our own learning too?

Etienne Wenger, educational theorist and one of the most respected voices at the Communities of Practice (CoP) school, said that “learning can be the reason the community comes together or an incidental outcome of members’ interactions”. That is to say, a group may be performing as a CoP without necessarily being aware of it, whether they are catching up about a pupil’s response to a trip to the moon over lunch, or uploading a short video of their latest immersive session in the spooky forest to YouTube.

So, we were faced with a task – how can we help this informal learning across schools extend to a larger network, so more people can give and take inspiration from it, without it becoming a burden for our busy practitioners?

For us, the answer had to lie somewhere in the field of creativity. 

We already know the teachers we work with are highly creative, and if creativity can be used as a teaching tool that gives more ownership to pupils, then it can also be used as a way to strengthen and develop a sense of community and sharing across practitioners or, as our friend Wenger puts it, “[create] an environment in which the value communities bring is acknowledged”

We knew this sharing needed to be fun, lightweight and inspiring. Crucially, we also knew it had to be led not by us but by the expertise of the practitioners on the ground.

4D exchange

From this need we developed a series of regional inter-school creative network sessions called 4D exchange. 4D exchange is a regular event where teachers working in 4D immersive spaces can exchange ideas, best practice and resources with each other, in an immersive environment.

Presenters each have 5 minutes to share an overview of an idea, lesson or resource they have found particularly effective in their space. How they present this is up to them – some may take us on a mini immersive journey through their created timeline, others may bring along the props they used, whilst others will share samples of the resulting works that pupils created. We ask for very little in advance – just a brief sentence around your topic and any content you’d like us to upload, so that impact on capacity is minimum. The sessions last 90 minutes, with a break included, but you could easily replicate something on a smaller scale during your weekly staff meetings.

After the presentation there is plenty of room for discussion and hands-on experimenting in the space, followed by a chance to see new content in development, and hear some short tips and tricks from the 4D creative team. The sessions also allow us to gather feedback from our spaces to see how we can support them in the future. And, of course, biscuits are provided! We’ve found these sessions to be fun and informative and, crucially, the practitioners who attended have left inspired and full of ideas!

“Just wanted to say a big thank you for the meet up, really great to meet and hear from others who are using the spaces in unique ways, hugely beneficial.” – 4D exchange Salford participant

So what’s next?

As our community develops, we’re learning more and more about what you need to help you develop as a 4D practitioner. From cloud-based content sharing to teacher exchanges, we’re always keen to develop new resources and approaches to help the creative exchange of ideas. 

Get in touch!

How do you share best practice about immersive learning across your school? Do you have any feedback or good news stories you’d like to share with us? Or would you be interested in setting up your own 4D exchange hub?   

If so, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch at or 0844 414 2595. Welcome to the 4D community!

Our next 4D exchange is taking place on the 25th March at Kensington Community Primary School in Liverpool. 

If you’d like to attend then register here 


Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print

—. “Communities of Practice. Learning as a Social System.” The Systems Thinker. June/July 1998. Web.

Soria-Donlan, Inés. Interpreting participant groups as Communities of Practice: Changing the way we look at arts participation. 2012. Web.

11 tips for making the most of BETT 2015


With BETT only a week away, Oli from our team presents eleven handy tips for making the most of your BETT experience. These tips will help you find new, exciting products, hear engaging inspirational seminars all without getting the exhausted, exhibition blues.

Of course you’ll want to add the 4D creative stand in the BETT Futures zone to your plans! We have lots to show you including new levels of interactivity, updated software and portable immersive solutions. Stand BFG8 is where you’ll need to be!

Over to Oli for his tips…

Preparing for BETT

I’ve been going to BETT for the last 5 years – it’s always an enlightening and exhausting experience. If it’s your first time at BETT this year, prepare to be blown away! It’s absolutely huge and there is a massive array of stuff to see and do.

1. Pre-Register Online

If you pre-register on the website you can skip the long registration queues and the hassle of filling out all your details on the day. Simply fill out your details online, print the barcode, and take it with you. Find out more here.

2. Collaborate with Colleagues

Arrange to meet with your colleagues to determine the resources they need for the following year, even if you’re all going to BETT. They might spot something you miss and you might be able to bring back valuable information for others members of your team. Many hands make light work!

3. Draw up a Hit List

BETT is so staggeringly massive that you could easily miss out on something if you don’t plan ahead. The full list of exhibitors is available online so have a search create a list of the exhibitors you want to visit. Don’t forget to write down the stand number!

Of course the most important stand number you’ll need is 4D creative at BFG8. The full list can be found here.

4. Get the BETT App

On arrival, you’ll receive the show guide with lots of exhibitions however I prefer the BETT phone app for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s easier to carry as it’s on your phone at all times. Secondly the interactive map is fully searchable making it a lot easier to use during your time at BETT.

It’s available for Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, and Android from this link.

5. Figure Out How to Get There

It might sound obvious but planning out how you are going to get to the venue can save you a lot of hassle on the day. Transport for London have some excellent online tools and there are brilliant public transport apps for all mobile devices. It is especially important to check your route if you are going at the weekend as there is often planned maintenance work on the tube.

6. Take Advantage of Lectures and Seminars

BETT runs a fantastic programme of lectures and seminars each year where you can learn best practice and new skills from leaders in their field for free. The full schedule is available online so plan which sessions you want to go to in advance and put the start times into your phone so you don’t miss them.

Seats are allocated on a first-come first-served basis so make sure to get there early to avoid disappointment!

7. Be prepared to spend more than one day

Even with careful planning it can be difficult to get the most out of BETT in a single day. There is so much to see and do that it’s generally best to spread it over a couple of days if you can.

If you’re travelling to London especially for BETT have a look online for a cheap hotel room. You can get a very basic room in central London for around £40 and being well-rested will seriously enhance your BETT experience.

8. Food and Drink

There are plenty of food and drink options inside the ExCel but be aware that they can get quite busy at peak times and that they are not the cheapest places to eat!

If you have any special dietary requirements or if you simply hate queues it may be better to bring a packed lunch. There is also a Nisa Supermarket a few minutes away from the venue and a range of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the venue that may be a bit less hectic.

Of course a lot of the stands will also have a huge supply of complimentary sweets to tempt you in but some real food might also help!

9. Clothing

You’ll be walking around a lot so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. It’s also a really good idea to bring a backpack to store all the leaflets and freebies you’ll get as well as a bottle of water so you can stay hydrated. There is a cloakroom you can use in the ExCel centre for a small fee so don’t worry about having to carry a heavy coat around all day.

10. Don’t be Afraid to Ask

When you find something that interests you don’t be afraid to ask the supplier for a demo or for more information. Some suppliers will come out and demo their products for you and the rest of your team which can be an excellent way of securing a buying decision.

If you already have authorisation to buy you can often get a discount simply by negotiating with suppliers at the event, especially if there are several vendors selling a similar product.

Exhibitors are there to explain how a product will work best for you and your school, so use their knowledge and ask the questions you need to.

Many exhibitors can scan the barcode printed on your conference pass to automatically get your contact details. This is much easier than manually writing details down so don’t be put off if they ask to “scan your badge” then wave a little laser-thingy at you!

11. Debrief your Team

When you get back from BETT prepare a presentation covering the key things you learnt for your team. This is especially effective if you can discuss your colleagues requirements before you attend BETT as you can incorporate things they may find useful into your debrief.

What tips would you suggest to people attending BETT for the first time? Comment below!

Writing about memorable experiences creates remarkable improvements in literacy


A programme that enables pupils to create memorable experiences and improve literacy through visiting new places has been praised by the Education Endowment Foundation

As the Independent reports:

Schools which have adopted a programme tried out in the United States in the 1990s that focuses on getting children to write about memorable experiences in their lives have seen a remarkable improvement in literacy standards, it adds.

A survey of more than 800 primary and secondary school pupils showed it improved their writing standards by nine months on average – and 18 months for disadvantaged pupils on free school meals

The children were also told how to mark their own work, with teachers explaining how marks would be awarded.

In subsequent exercises – with the pupils knowing what was expected of them – their performance improved.

Blending a creative curriculum and an immersive approach

At 4D, we’re passionate about using immersive spaces to create engaging and inspirational environments and to give young people new experiences. Your pupils could visit the zoo in the morning, travel to a street in Delhi in the afternoon and the next day be in outer space all from one room. Each setting will have the sights and sounds to fully immerse your pupils to improve their writing.

An immersive, experiential approach has been shown to have clear impact on pupils especially in literacy. To hear from the teachers working in our immersive spaces, watch the video below or explore our case studies page.

What now?

A member of our team would love to explain how we could support immersive approaches to be in your school by September 2014.

Just drop us a line and we will arrange a time to come and see you or to give you a call. Or just leave a comment in the box below and we’ll be in touch.

T: 0844 414 2595 | E: | Tw: @4dcreative

Cathy at the Westminster Education Forum

Last week, Cathy, our creative director was invited to speak at the Westminster Education Forum. The day was based around the future of school buildings – new designs, improving teaching spaces and utilising new technologies. Cathy presented on some of 4D’s solutions for immersive learning and also discussed her work as a den maker and trainer.

A lively discussion was enjoyed by all but the lasting memory for Cathy was the ironically poor use of space for the event. How can we discuss using space well for young people when we are so restrained in our own output?

Cathy explains:

“An interesting day, spent in a lovely building in Whitehall unfortunately also a perfect example of not using a great space well! The shape of the room, based on a shield, has great potential but why do we always do things the same way? 

We all sat in rows looking at a large AV screen with the panel sat behind the table on a mini stage. What would happen if we all sat in two huge circles with the panelists in the centre and the projected Powerpoint presentations on the ceiling?

Why not? We ask our teachers and learners to think differently about improving space yet are often stuck in our own ways.Would we have had a different experience? Would we have been more or less engaged? Could we have used our personal devices to vote or comment on a live, streamed output?…

Hopefully I got the delegates to consider thinking differently about using space, use what you have but differently and most importantly be led by teaching and learning when thinking about space and utilising technology”

You can read Cathy’s full transcript of her talk here.  Full details on the Westminster Education Forum can be found here

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!

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.

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