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.

1 comment:

  1. Hey was just reading through your blog and thought id let you know about Talenthouse. Its a brilliant way to become recognised as an artist.

    At the moment Becks as a part of Talent house are looking to sponsor 1000 projects in art, design, photography, music or fashion.

    Anyway check it out: