Monday 10 October 2011

Innovation comes from within

What an amazing speaker. Innovation from within. What is your breath/spirit/spark?

Is there a creative life in your students?

How can you find it?

Dr Peter Benson, may he Rest In Peace. Thank you for your contribution to our profession, I hope we can act on his passion, his breath, his spirit.


Saturday 8 October 2011

This advert with the original "Steve Jobs" voiceover was never aired.

His legacy will be remembered and may the likes of Jonathan Ive, David Kelley, Tim Brown and Steve Wozniak continue changing the technological landscape.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Do something today

This brought tears of happiness and sorrow:

What will you do today?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

How Gove and Exam boards can help us embed Technology in education.

Michael Gove's office is due to respond to recommendations put forward by Naace on the topic of "Technology in Education". The key quotation from this response is that,

"the Government believes that the effective use of technology can support good teaching and help raise educational standards.  It is critical to effective learning in the 21st century."

I remember a colleague of mine informing me that the new specification of GCSE Business Communication Systems (also known as BCS) requires students to be able to compose a Tweet. I do not teach BCS, but this is indeed exciting. However, our school, like many does not currently allow the use of mainstream social media/virtual spaces such as Facebook or Twitter. There was once a block in our school on all blogs and Youtube, but as OCR Media Studies requires students to keep a blog, the ban on blogs was lifted. The ban on Youtube was also lifted as we discovered many educational videos on there, as did the students. Even SMT couldn't deny the educational value of Youtube.

In many schools, they still only use Microsoft Internet Explorer and refuse to install the more efficient and effective Google Chrome or Firefox. It is only when the Applied ICT A-level specification stipulated "testing websites in multiple browsers" that some schools have installed Google Chrome.

There is an obvious theme here, technology will be blocked unless the curriculum specifically states that it should be taught and used. I would ask the government and exam boards to put their money where their mouth is. If they really do want our students to be well-prepared for working in the 21st century, then I plea for them to explicitly state the use of virtual networks, mobile learning devices, Youtube/Vimeo and Twitter in their official policy documents and specifications.

It doesn't take much, a simple sentence such as "Students should upload their video production coursework to an online streaming video service". Most centres would know how to interpret that and will be able to pressure their service providers/headteachers/governors. At present, all our student coursework is uploaded on Youtube for the exam board to access. But it is the teachers that do the uploading as students do not have privileges to login and upload video. By restricting technology access and requiring teachers to bridge the gap and access blocked sites, tweets, videos, we are depriving students of that very basic pedagogical technique-learning by doing.

So the three steps that are required:

  1. The government and the exam boards take responsibility and lead our young learners into the 21st century by explicitly stating the use of mobile tech, social networking, social media and virtual networks. (All of these are in use in the real working world and our schools should reflect this)
  2. Schools develop watertight policies for the use of the aforementioned technologies which are specific to the school's learning environment and circumstance. Although sharing these policies would help others tweak and tweet them for mass benefit.
  3. Schools finally start preparing learners for the real world by reflecting the real world using real mobile technology, social networking, social media and virtual networks.
I praise those exam boards and subjects such as Media Studies and BCS, which despite often getting a lot of bad press for being soft subjects, have already got the ball rolling. They have innovated and adopted new technology early. Now we need more subjects and exam boards to follow! 

I dare you to be creative

Go on.
Click on this. And try and resist.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Why the UK needs Inventors, Innovators and Entrepreneurs

ost economies and GDP are founded on exports. Exports of certain tangible, physical products. Many developed countries do not have such exports, they rely on their financial sector. The past 8 years has shown us that we cannot rely solely on our financial sector, only 2 days ago did the markets slide; it was the biggest fall in share prices since 2008. This is a global issue, not just a national issue.

In the UK, we used to be renowned for producing high quality "physical" exports-coal, suits, shirts, stainless steel, cars. However due to lower labour costs in developing countries and also (ironically) due to a more-educated and service-orientated workforce, we no longer produce that many tangible exports. However, there is still one thing that we are good at and that is creative exports in the form of inventions, innovations, design and entrepreneurial ideas.

In terms of designers and inventors we have Paul Smith, Lee (Alexander) McQueen, Vivenne Westwood, Punch Drunk, Tim Brown (Ideo), Jonathan Ive (Apple), James Dyson, John Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Norman Foster, Tim Berners Lee and many more.

Entrepreneurs we have: Richard Branson, Phillip Green, Duncan Bannatyne, Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, Duncan Cameron, Simon Nixon and many more.

Food for thought: How many of the aforementioned would have gained their English Baccalaureate at school (5 GCSE's at grades A-C including History/Geography and a language).

Our national creative heritage is long running and can be clearly seen in our popular culture and the TV show "Dragon's Den" which has been running for nine seasons and "exported" to 20 countries. Contestants have pitched some seriously ridiculous and useless products, however every episode there is usually an invention which makes you go "Wow" and at the same time think "I wish I had thought of that". It's almost in the British spirit to tinker and create. One of my favourite ideas is shown below:

However, whilst there is a spirit of creativity in the UK, our national education system is not doing our creative culture justice:

So what is the answer? Sir Ken Robinson would argue that we should find the best in our students and not force them to study a narrow range of subjects. Yes, Maths, English, Science are important. Music, Latin, History, Languages and Geography are also important, but they should not be forced upon students instead of other subjects which students actually enjoy. Without students studying Design and Technology, Art, Dance, Drama, Textiles, Computing at KS3, KS4 GCSE and KS5, students will not have the skillset, knowledge or quite simply the access to become designers, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

I don't believe we need a national prescribed curriculum. Students should not be forced into studying any subject at GCSE (provided their literacy and numeracy is good enough for the workplace). They should simply study what they enjoy studying. Ultimately, most students know what subjects they like even at the age of 11 or 14, as long as they have had the opportunity to experience the subject in the first place. So the next time a student asks me if they should study my subject next year, I will answer them honestly. Do they enjoy the subject? Are they studying it because they think it will be easy, or because their parents or friends think it is a good idea? There are far too many students leaving school with C's and D's in subjects which they never wanted to study in the first place. Many did not choose applied/practical subjects for fear of being chastised by others for choosing an "easy subject". If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that getting an A-grade in Dance, Drama or ICT is no easier than getting an A-grade in Maths. They require different types of intelligence as Howard Gardner would put it and every student will have differing strengths which we need to nurture.

The UK Immigration department has a list of shortage occupations . If you your skillset is on the list and you wish to work in the UK, you can easily get a Tier 2 work permit as the UK does not have enough people with these skills. The list includes hydro geologists, dance choreographers and horse carers. However, we do not need more hydro geologists, dance choreographers or horse carers; we simply need more students doing what they enjoy doing.

We cannot single handedly change the system or national policies on a macro level, but we can have an impact on a micro level in our classrooms and conversations with students. We need to have an impact on a micro level. Our country and economy needs us to!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Ken Robinson's Outro from #TEDxLondon

Sir Ken opened by reminding us that we're living in revolutionary times. Behind these revolutions are two drivers.
  1. Population growth (We are nearing 7bn worldwide and set to reach 9bn in the future)
  2. Technology (It transforms everything we do)
And the key to our future according to the revolutionary Malcolm X, is education:
Education is our passport to the future,
for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today

HG Wells was also referenced by Sir Ken, "Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe," he quoted and we need to ensure education catches up in this race and think about the basic purpose of education.

We also need to remember that this conversation is not happening in a vacuum, in fact there are many people working on the same problems, Twitter is a goldmine for #edchat discussions and sharing of best practice. The HeArt project in LA is another example which is leading the way in the future of alternative education. They have five principles designed to specifically address school dropout:
  1. Learning should be based on a personalised curriculum
  2. Teacher to student ratio is vital
  3. Group activity and collaboration should be encouraged
  4. We should seek to find the interests of the individual learners
  5. The need to shape the learning environment to suit the learners
Ken would go on to state that these principles are surely principles of all good education, not just alternative education. It is a shame that these ideas now belong at the fringe of educational thinking and they should be brought more into the centre.

Moving onto Technology, which was a common theme in all the talks. Technology needs to be integrated into learning. Technology on its own does not do much, but what you do with it can make all the difference. We need to prepare students for the future and mirroring what Guy Claxton said at a Keynote address earlier in the year , it is difficult for us to predict the future, so we will have to be resilient. Education after all is an art form, not just a delivery system. We will learn and master it through trial and error.

Ken's pledge was to "help shape the future in which we all want to live in".

There was not much more to say in this succinct outro, other than

"Let's start this revolution!" 

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.