Sunday, 18 September 2011

Emily Cummins Igniting creativity #TEDxLondon

If Malcolm Gladwell knew about Emily Cummins, she probably would have featured in his book Outliers. The story of success revolves around a couple of founding principles, namely 10,000 hours of purposeful practise and also opportunities. Let's talk about the latter to start with- at the age of four, Emily's grandfather entrusted her with a hammer in his workshop. Not a plastic hammer from the Early Learning Centre, we're talking a real hammer from the real world! From that day forth, she began her 10,000 hours of purposeful practise, crafting, sanding, drilling, sawing, CREATING.

She got to school and when she started her DT classes, she quickly became disenchanted and bored. The teachers had decided to start everyone off at the same level, learning about safety and how to use the tools. In their defense, this is a basic Health and Safety requirement. But apparently, this formulaic "everyone will learn at the same pace," age-based instead of stage-based learning continued for three years. She was tasked with making basic products such as a clock and these would/could only vary in the shape or colour of the plastic. It was not until her  GCSE project, that she could continue to pursue her real interests, not only as a DT student, but as an inventor. Taking on Ewan McIntosh's challenge at the tender age of 15, she found a real world problem and solved it.

The problem was that her other Grandfather had Arthritis and had difficulty squeezing toothpaste from the tube, so she invented, designed and produced a custom toothpaste dispenser:

The audience were stunned, but she hadn't finished yet, her grand finale was still to come. In the meantime, having captured the hearts and minds of the audience, Emily called on all teachers to share our fire, our passions (be it dance, computing, photography...) with our young people. To tap into the buckets of imagination and trust our students, in the same way her grandfather trusted her with a hammer at the age of four.

For all those students whose ambitions and interests have been ignored or switched off, we need to reignite that fire of creativity and help fan that flame as they pursue their interests.

But what's the most that they will possibly achieve, will they win a certificate in assembly that will be long forgotten about in a matter of weeks? No, they can go on to do great things. To illustrate this we'll go to Emily's A-level DT project, Emily decided that for her A-level coursework she would re-design the refrigerator. Yes, she was still only 18 years old at the time, but she was already thinking about sustainable energy. Her finished product which is documented on her website would produce the cool air desired but was also free from moisture. Oh and did we mention it did not require any electricity! Similar to the other great presenters before her, she was very humble and had the humility to recognise that due to the size of the cooler, it would not be suitable for use in developed countries, but could instead be made using basic materials in developing nations. So to answer the question at the start of this paragraph; an 18-year old girl managed to provide a refrigeration solution for developing countries.

If we give our students the same nurturing that Emily's grandfather gave her, the same opportunities and the same level of trust; I'm certain that the results will be equally astounding and unique.

Incidentally, not only is Emily a great inventor, but I would argue that she's an equally great orator. Her presentation inspired a room of 1000 teachers and leaders and I'm sure she will go on to inspire many more.

Pseudo problems are for Pseudo Worlds. We need Real Problems. Ewan McIntosh #TEDxLondon

There is something wrong with our education system. Namely, it is based on problem solving and problem based learning. The aspect that's wrong with this system is that it is generally based on Pseudo Problems. See below for examples:

As our young speakers questioned earlier, where is the relevance, meaning and purpose in these problems? What Ewan called for is problem finders. Not pseudo problem solvers. He challenged us all (including our students) to go out into the real world and find problems to solve as Pseudo problems are simply not relevant for the real world.

Ewan also mirrored Sir Ken's suggestion of more divergent thinking. Generating lots of ideas to start with (as also covered in Ian Gilbert's Essential Motivation in the Classroom) and then using convergent thinking to narrow down the solutions.

Ewan would also challenge the current status quo seen in many classrooms by saying that "Chilcren should be doing most of the learning and the hard work". Some have called this "Lazy Teaching", there are even books about this teaching strategy, where you make the students do the hard work and in turn, they learn more. This certainly worked for Dan Roberts' kids.

The world needs a generation of problem finders and in order to help Ewan make his pledge, I'll be joining him to "Engage 10,000 students in a problem finding curriculum".

The message is simple, go out in the real world, find a problem and solve it. The execution will be challenging and so will the solutions, but this will almost certainly result in powerful, meaningful and relevant learning experiences for everyone involved.

Ken Spours on the role of Politicians in Education and much more #TEDxLondon

Professor Ken Spours started his talk with a damning truth, that many of us have probably realised ourselves, but never found the words to express this truth so eloquently.

"Education is too important to be treated as a political football"

Ken's image of Tony Blair and Kevin Keegan said it all. He went on to highlight the cliche phrase that several PM's and politicians have used in the past decades, "I am passionate about education reform." It is their passion for using education as a political footaball, to enforce changes just so that they are seen as doing "something" that has lead to a lack of accumulated wisdom in our profession. This zigzagging of policy and turbulence it has created tires teachers and disempowers them. The audience's response to Ken's first five minutes was a mixture of nods, mutters of "yes" to unanimous applause at times.

Ken argued for an Education Revolution, but one based on moderation, deliberation and agreement. We need to slow down the party politics and actually look at the evidence which points to things that clearly work and things that clearly do not. In seeking agreement, we cannot agree about structures as this is the most contentious area. Instead, we should agree about our values.

Our values should revolve around two notions that:
  1. Everybody counts
  2. Everybody can be educated
Ken proposed a Law of Care, so that everybody who needs the most should get the most. Tackling educational disadvantage should be at the forefront of education. I would argue that the Teach First model has already shown how successful this can be in urban areas of England. But this needs to be at the heart of British education.

Ken's third enlightening proposal was a move away from "versus" and move towards "and". Not "Knowledge vs Skills" but "Knowledge and skills". We cannot have one without the other. He suggested balance rather than opposition and polarity. Calling on politicians, teachers, policy makers to, "Join us on the road away from versus and towards and".

Interestingly, he then included an analogy of Bruce from finding Nemo and explained that we needed to be more ecological in our thinking, more understanding of others. Ken went on to suggest a Hippocratic Oath, similar to those taken by Doctors. We are, after all professionals too. The hippocratic oath would embody our basic values at three levels:

  1. On a Micro ecological level (the learners)
  2. On a Meta level (Headteachers and governors) to ensue they dedicate their work to the whole area, not just their own school. He argued that this would solve much of the tension between free schools, faith schools, academies etc.
  3. On a Macro level, Politicians needed to show their power and authority, by giving power away to the schools and teachers, those on the front line. They know what is best, they're experiencing it first hand.
A passionate delivery from a professor who had not only critique, but also answers. This was one of the most refreshing talks of the day.

Geoff Stead on mobile tech #TEDxLondon

Ubuntu is apparently not just an open source operating system, but it is actually a South African word. More precisely, it is a way of thinking. It's philosophy can be summarised by the sentence

"I am me because of us"

We are who we are today and our education and growth happens not alone, but with all of us together.

Geoff stated the painful truth that "mobile technology has landed but it has struggled to make an impact in education". Meanwhile back in his home country of South Africa, many schools do not even have computer suites. Whilst still working at his innovative company Tribal , Geoff collaborated with a fellow South African and founded a company called M-Ubuntu. It's aim was to take technology to South Africa and use it as a lever and tool for change. Not only could these students now read e-books on their mobile devices, but they also developed an app to test their knowledge on Biology! It sounds utopian and a little unrealistic right, well the proof is in the pudding and the image below is one of hundreds posted on the M-Ubuntu website showing mobile devices being used to their potential in a classroom.

The question that begs to be answered is, if Geoff can make this happen in South Africa, what are we waiting for back in the UK? We need to take mobile technology seriously too and embrace it as a lever and tool for change!

Geoff's talk closed by summarising his principles for Education Revolution:

  1. Tech is a tool (Use it to create)
  2. Be agile (Things will go wrong, but we will keep improving and learn from our mistakes)
  3. Let the learners help you (They know what's best for them)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

GEEK alert. Dan Roberts #TEDxLondon

Dan Roberts opens his speech by stripping. Seriously, we talk about taking risks on the big stage; this guy strips and gives a big confession. His confession, he's a Geek. I love him already. He proclaims that "learning was his release, learning saved him". I could completely relate, growing up in a coal mining village of Bentley in Doncaster there was not a lot going on in the late 80's and early 90's. We used to ride the streets on our BMX's and hang out in parks getting "up to no good, started causing trouble in the neighbourhood"-if it sounds like the Intro to the Fresh Prince of Belair, it was kind of like that. Education definitely saved me.

Dan was an uber geek though, he was switched off by exercises from pages of his Maths book and from copying from the bored. I realise I have misspelt the word "board", but in this case, I think the typo is quite appropriate so I'll leave it in. Back to Dan, being a Geek he would pass time by making up his own little questions and passing them to friends. If you were educated in the 20th century, you will probably remember the classic Q: What is 8 x 6922251. The answer on the calculator when turned upside down was:

Classic. Learning that's fun!

Back to the present day, Dan reminds us that ICT is not just a tool for learning, but a whole new way of learning. His students at community school for example wanted to learn about free range chickens and farming. Dan, like most teachers come across this problem and told them that it was on the syllabus for next year (that was the truth). But the kids couldn't wait, they really wanted to learn about it now. Rather than resist it he did something quite revolutionary/innovative himself. He told the students to research the topic themselves and develop their own scheme of work and resources to teach the rest of the class. The kids went "all out" and possibly got a little carried away, saving some chickens from the local battery farm and releasing them into the school grounds. They then went and set up a webcam called "eggCam". They used their mobile phones to document and blog the process. In the end, they were asked to speak at conferences. One was in Indonesia, they didn't actually get to go to Indonesia unfortunately, but they did get to do a video conference from their local university. Unbeknown to them, this was broadcast live and watched by 30 million people! Now that's Education Revolution!

On to the next generation, Dan's own two-year old son is proficient with playing games and watching PoPat (Postman Pat) on his iPad. And when he goes to school, he will want to interact and use his iPad to learn, but may possibly be banned from doing so. Not letting a student use an iPad is the equivalent to not letting a 20th Century learner use a pen! Indeed, the biggest fear for education is that we have all this wonderful technology and we won't let our students use it. So we should educate students to use mobile learning devices responsibly and trust them to use them responsibly. Easier said than done? Well Dan also set up a website to help students, parents and teachers get their tech unblocked. It is aptly named: .

Dan's three closing thoughts:

School will be irrelevant unless we bridge the gap between how students live and learn outside of school and how they live and learn inside school.

These are exciting times for us all.

Remember, Geeks will rule the world!

The youth speak out at #TEDxLondon

Three teenage speakers would set the high standard for the Education Revolution. Following Sir Ken Robinson is never an easy task. But being a revolutionary thinker himself, 18-year old Adam Roberts was certainly up to the task. His talk was about asking questions and being critical. I've always been a fan of critical thinking so whilst I wasn't in need of converting, I was in need of someone to confirm what many of us believe in.

Students will frequently ask us "why do we need to know what we're learning about." And we better pre-empt these questions and have answers ready as students such as 14-year Old Georgia Allis Mills will certainly ask them. "Surely learning about things which we will never use in life is a waste of our time" she states. She goes on to say that "Schools will never catch up (because the world and technology is evolving so quickly), so why don't schools involve students in the development process?" Many good schools do, and they would be right to, as young people are at the forefront of education.

Sophie Bosworth, an 18 year old student working with the Ideas Foundation came on later and defined education as "The giving and receiving of systematic instruction". She would argue that this systematic instruction is what leads to systematic failure. It is the systematic nature of education that is the problem. When vocational education is seen as 2nd class to traditional subjects such as Maths, English and Science, we do not celebrate the equal talents of all students. Her work seeks to open up creative opportunities to people from poorer rural areas, many of whom would be forced through systematic instruction and many of whom would typically fail as a result.

Emily Cummins, an Inventor and another young speaker stated the blunt and obvious fact that the youth are the future, they teach their parents how to text, how to use e-mail, how to use a computer. They can teach schools and teachers a thing or two as well. Two things became increasingly obvious as the TEDxLondon conference went on. Firstly, young people (those we work with) know as much about Education Revolution as we do, what we need, who we need and how we can execute. Secondly, we need to involve the youth in our Education Revolution. We cannot go on our mission alone.

So yes, Adam we do need to change the way we assess children. Yes we do need to encourage them to ask more questions and be more critical in their thinking. Schools do need to stop saturating students with knowledge for university, which may ultimately fail them in life in the real world. And yes, Georgia, we do need to consider the global aspect of our education. We will come back to the prodigal inventor, Emily Cummins later. But for now, remember the purpose of education. Education needs to do justice to those being educated and the only way we can do that is by listening to them, listening to their questions and encouraging them to ask more questions. Maybe then, we will find the right answers.

"Creativity is a cycle, Pedal it"
Sophie Bosworth @TEDxLondon

Ken Robinson Intro from #TEDxLondon

Sir Ken Robinson's video's from 2006 and 2010 on are the most watched video's on the site with over 200,000,000 views. The event TEDxLondon was organised in response to his 2010 talk about the state of education and the need for an Education Revolution:

Ken started his 2011 talk by agreeing with politicians who state that we need to go "back to basics". However, the definition of "back to basics" was a reference to fundamental principles of education, not the common definition of "basic subjects" e.g. Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

Ken defined his three fundamental principles of education as:

  1. Economic (To ensure economic growth, development and sustainability)
  2. Cultural (To understand each other, as much of today's conflict is based on cultural misunderstanding)
  3. Personal (To relate to people as individuals, their hopes and challenges)
The root of this revolution is to PERSONALISE education, as opposed to standardising it (the latter strategy is currently being used simply as it is more convenient for testing and measurement). All of our students have unique talents and interests and by standardising education, we are limiting them and restraining them from the pursuit of their true interests.

In referencing Peter Brook's "The empty space", Ken went on to discuss how we should start with the 3 principles and personalised education and only add things if it actually improves the experience and learning. There is no need to throw in a load of other things if it does not improve the educational experience. Education revolution needs to be based on learning and by this we do not mean simply the content of the curriculum but rather the quality of learning.

Ken closed by stating four principles for the Education Revolution:
  1. Personalised learning (everyone has a unique story)
  2. Customised learning (for the specific environment, community, place and time)
  3. Diversity (Because human life is diverse)
  4. Partnerships (Between schools and other institutions such as museums, the local community, businesses)
These four principles will be required in order to meet the needs of the 21st Century. Marcus Davey (the host of TEDxLondon) went on to encourage us to make small steps in order to make a great leap forward.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The power of the Tweak (and Tweet)

I used to plan lessons which I thought were awesome. I've since become a bit more modest and am a on a quest to further my modesty. Back to the first sentence...After creating these lessons, one of my colleagues would e-mail me back with changes and modifications he'd made to the lesson. It was his first year of teaching, so I felt slightly undermined, threatened and annoyed at this. How could he?! But he would continue, every week to send me "his version" of the lesson.

Later in the year, I started looking over his resources and couldn't believe how watertight the resources were and how he'd improved them. They were more-differentiated, simplified, streamlined, in fact they were awesome! For a while, I would send out my resources to the department and wait for him to essentially proof-read and improve the lesson. As the year wore on, I too started tweaking other people's lessons and sending them back improvements. Occasionally it would just be a spelling mistake, sometimes wording which I thought would confuse the students. It's amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see and add, almost completing the other 20% in Pareto's 80/20 principle for you. Even just changing the starter or plenary and then re-uploading the modified lesson onto the network made a huge difference.

What I learnt from this is that these tweaks that we made would make all the difference to making an OK lesson become good and a good lesson become great. I cannot stress how vital this tinkering is. I think that in every department, you need to use people for their strengths (a bit like the upcoming film, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). You need someone who can plan the year and the lesson ideas, someone to tinker and improve, someone to organise the department and the resources and obviously we all need to deliver.

So the next time someone tweaks my lesson, I will swallow my pride and say thank you, knowing that the lesson has probably been greatly improved and may just change the learning experience of our students for the better.

Still not convinced? Watch this: