April 14, 2007

My head's feeling a bit Lite


  My brain age is 23! 
  Originally uploaded by Edublogger.

Over the holidays I've been continuing in my quest to reduce my brain age through the Nintendo DS to Dr Kawashima's goal of 20 years old. It's been an interesting experiment for me in terms of what working habits might actually be better for me and for my/our students. The timing's good, too, with my employer's publication of Building the Curriculum 2: Active Learning. Let me explain why.

TIME OF DAY
I know I'm not a morning person. My wife knows it. My family know it. Any one of the kids who've been on a French trip with me know that before 10am it really isn't worth asking me anything about the Bayeux Tapestry. Yet I tend to get through more stuff in my current job first thing in the morning than I do, say, just after lunch.

Dr Kawashima's ever-fluctuating graphs, though, are telling me that I am really not at my best in the morning. The best time for me is around lunchtime or, better still, early evening. Maybe this explains why I often miss lunch before rushing out to a meeting or that my wife has to call me through to make dinner at least a half dozen times - these are the times when, although I seem to get less done (quantity) what I'm doing is of a better quality.

After all, most of my European Law (which I ended up getting a 2:1 in) was studied between midnight and 3am ;-) Maybe I've not changed that much from those days.

NOISE
The other thing I've always had, since I was at school, in fact, is background noise while I work. I used to need music to get to sleep when I was a school and university student. Often at home, when I'm working in the office, I'll say to myself: "Get some music on, McIntosh", and then realise two hours later that I was so engrossed in my work that I never did switch on the radio.

However, Dr Kawashima is telling me that my old habits of listening to music while I work are not a good idea. Perhaps it's my passion as a drummer and a music teacher father who points out the interesting things there are hidden in any music that's on when he's around that make me listen too much to music while I work. But one thing I have found is that listening to the radio while I do brain age tests almost halves my brain age.

People talking or asking what it is I am doing is disastrous for the results. Makes me think back to all those times as a teacher I would interrupt kids and ask how they were getting on - what was I doing to their results? Talk about pulling up the roots of the plant to check it's still growing.

AND WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MY CLASSROOM?
When I do a new project with a class I often/always take over bits of corridor, parts of classrooms that aren't even 'mine', sections of library, corners of the playground. I love it. Far from providing a place for lazybones to hide and do nothing, it allows the kids to get on with the task at hand - cutting a film, recording a podcast, drawing out their story plan - in a place that is chosen by and beneficial for them.

It also allows me to concentrate on smaller groups of kids at a time without constant distractions from others - when you've got a choice between finding the teacher (which means physical activity and leaving your mates) or just working something out for yourself you go for the easiest option, finding it out for yourself.

The one thing about me doing this, though, is that it can be annoying for other teachers, working with their classes in rows (gross exaggeration), in silence in the library or playing games outside on the grass - we can be a distraction for them and vice versa.

All this self-betterment through a handheld game has got me thinking (again) about how our existing schools could be exploited in different ways. For many Local Authorities, East Lothian included, perhaps, there's little or no point in imagining "Schools of the Future" which, given the brand new renovations and builds just completed, won't be built for another 20 years. What I'd like to start considering is how our existing schools, built for processing 1400 children in rows, pairs or groups of four, could reorganise and provide corners of hubbub, oases of calm, patches of comfort and outdoor spaces where children are safe and never more than a click away from finding what they need online.

Thankfully this very debate is happening this year in Scotland with the forthcoming "Building Excellence" programme, designed to look at how buildings need to change to help foster Scotland's four capacities of education (to create successful learners, effective contributors, responsible citizens and confident individuals).

There's a final showdown school estates conference on December 5th which should set out how we move forward and keep moving forward as technology and learning evolves (if we make a plan now, as Stephen Heppell says in this month's Connected Magazine video, we'd be stupid not to revisit it every year).

Thinking about how we assess the conditions in which individual learners learn best, at least, will give this generation something more suited to the way they feel (or Dr Kawashima knows) they learn best. Then we can get onto building those schools for the future... Next, see where I think Scotland's new curriculum comes into all this.

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If you really 'do' need noise when you work, you could try this odd little Mac download

http://www.blackholemedia.com/noise/

Congratulations on the 23! I agree with you about noise/performance and usually retire to another room to perform the training and tests in silence.

I've also noticed that in the "voice calculation" category, the speech recognition often fails to recognise the word "eight." If I repeat it with a mild English inflection (including a diphthong we would normally avoid) the answer is accepted. Often, the adopted inflection also includes a bit of bad temper, cancelling out the effect of the begrudged diphthong, and reducing my score with further delay - a lesson to be learned?

Hi Ewan
This sounds fascinating I have resisted the urge to buy a DS since I know both my son and I would spend far too much time on it. However it would make a fascinating research project to test it out on a class of children. I guess Nintendo have already done this?

Hi Ewan
This sounds fascinating I have resisted the urge to buy a DS since I know both my son and I would spend far too much time on it. However it would make a fascinating research project to test it out on a class of children. I guess Nintendo have already done this?

Well, Nintendo haven't but we have. The Consolarium at LTS in the form of Derek Robertson has managed to place a classroom of DSes in action. Research is to be published really soon but initial results are very positive in the domains of literacy and numeracy.

I look forward to reading the results.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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