November 26, 2014

Inside Out Thinking Down Under - provocation for learning

Provocations lead to deep, broad learning, and students tend to learn more, faster as a result. I've been showing educators how this is so, and how to do it, for the past five years with my motley crew. New Zealand educator Rob Ferguson woke me up this morning with a tweet, about how a provocation (the video, above) led to his students not just "doing art" for their 10th Grade assessments, but "doing art" to make a difference, as part of a global movement of artists:

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This might seem simple, but at play is some good, deep thinking. The provocation, through the video clip, comes at the beginning of learning, along with many other resources and content sources in an immersion that will contradict, delight, frustrate and generate a discord. This is not PBL where the teacher creates just one problem or open-ended 'essential' question, but a more realworld scenario where conflicting and provocative takes on several subject matters create confusion and discord. This discord is what sets students off to "problem-find" for themselves, seeking the genuine core of the many problems and many potentially 'essential' questions being presented. Having synthesised down to their own problem, or "how might we" statement, students will set out to ideate and prototype their solutions to the problem, or their way of showing off what they have learned. Often the ingredients used in the provocation will reappear in the prototypes, of which the photo above is one example.

Simple on the surface, deep, complex, frustrating, confusing learning on the underbelly: that is what we mean by design thinking for learning. And not a 3D printer or robot in sight!

You can read more about the use of provocation to create innovation in your school in my latest book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

September 19, 2014

Google Teacher Academy with NoTosh: a heck of an opportunity

 

Teachers take the seemingly impossible and make it happen. Every day. Teachers are the moonshot profession. We want to work with as many of you as possible in London and Amsterdam this year, at our GTA design thinking workshops.

When NoTosh took the Google Teacher Academy (GTA), we wanted to move it beyond simply exploring 'tech tools' and see if we couldn't harness the talents of educators, a sprinkling of technology, and a foundation of inspiration and moonshot thinking to really change the world of education.

Well, Google let us do it.

This weekend is the time to get your application in for London or Amsterdam's GTAs this autumn. Applying is the first step in opening up an amazing year ahead:

  • two weeks to put forward the education challenges you face on your doorstep or in your classroom;
  • two days intensive design thinking / technology professional development and action with the NoTosh crew, Googlers and selected Google Mentors
  • six months support from the Mentor team to put your prototype ideas into practice and continue to transform learning in your school.

If you're a school leader, please apply yourself, or encourage your teams to do so. If you're an innovator teacher, jump in and share your dreams for learning. If you're an educator in FE, HE or early years, consider representing your sector with an application, and add something different to the mix.

The Google Teacher Academy has been redesigned to help teachers gain understanding of the latest technologies while working in collaborative teams to solve chunky challenges that they've identified. Participants will be coached in harnessing the design thinking process to select and frame the chunkiest challenges in education, locally and globally, before working over two intensive days to prototype solutions alongside Googlers and selected expert coaches. 

Design thinking is an innovation process used by some of the world's most successful organisations to find and solve the greatest challenges on the planet. It is a simple process that can be harnessed back in your classroom, putting your students in the driving seat of their learning.

Selected expert mentors and Googlers will introduce new technologies with the potential to transform learning, as well as revisiting more familiar tools with a lens of student-centred learning in mind. 

Participants will learn by doing, working in teams of fellow educators to trial their ideas there and then, before being supported for six months by a mentoring team as they try out new methodologies and technologies in their classroom.

NoTosh, your facilitators for this journey, are global experts in innovation, creativity and learning, with offices in Edinburgh, Melbourne and San Francisco. The entire team plus a group of selected educators from the UK and Netherlands, will be on hand to support you as you put your ideas into practice.

You can apply for GTA London and GTA Amsterdam until September 22nd. 

September 18, 2014

I voted

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Scottish Independence is not just what I voted for today. It might not even be what we get. Whatever happens, my country is a better place for it already.

I voted for a nation that has taken the notion of 'democratic debate' to the extreme that few in the Western world have ever, genuinely, seen.

I voted for a dialogue that values hope and ambition over fear and incredulity.

I voted for a nation that has been having a deep dialogue about its future for no fewer than three years, while others 400 miles away assumed the status quo was in the bag.

I voted for the shivers-down-your-neck cheers of hope and optimism in George Square on Wednesday night. I voted for the "chance of hope" of which a certain no voter wasn't so sure, in the same Square that evening.

I voted for the quiet chats and discussions, in the backs of taxis, in pubs and cafés, outside schools between mums and dads, while we wait for our kids to leap out. 

I voted for a highly visible and social dialogue, where the influence of the Establishment, a ridiculous but very real entity growing out of central London, is diminished to the point of laughability by the people, men, women, children and teenagers alike, who tell it as it is.

I voted for a future dialogue that values the views of all, even if they're not in agreement with us, and a mutual respect for importance of getting our thoughts out there to debate in the first place.

I voted for a new breed of media industry that mocks the bias, the interested parties and the in-crowds, and presents information as it is on every day, not just polling day.

I voted for a growth mindset that believes the country of over 5 million is capable of as much economic growth, invention, ingenuity and promise as a land of 60 million.

I voted for a country that will never have nuclear weapons on its soil.

I voted for a country that will value green renewable energy over anything else, and provide 25% of Europe's green energy.

I voted for the reality that my vote in a General Election will actually elect a government that is close to what I chose.

I voted so that, never again, will I see politicians from another country tell me that I am not capable of running my own affairs (or at least, I won't care what they say).

I voted to get out of the arrangement whereby I should be grateful for every penny that I am given, while contributing more out of my pocket than I receive.

I voted so that we could punch above our weight, and not be told to be quiet.

I voted to put up with the hard times as well as the good, because at least they'll be our hard times to work through together.

I voted for a risk, a risk I know is like all other risks - they pay off with time.

I voted for the risk to pay off some time, but maybe not in my time.

I voted so that we could get on with this venture together, especially with those who didn't think we should do this at all. Without the 'nos', we are nowhere. It was Salmond who said in 2011, "we have won a majority of votes, but we haven't the majority of wisdom". That will still be true, more than ever. 

I voted so that my company in Scotland can thrive as an equal to my company in the United States, that my country can thrive as an equal to every other nation on the planet, not as the cousin who speaks up at the Christmas dinner and gets told to pipe down and let the big boys get on with it.

I voted so that, even when the mega businesses, who believe they rule our planet and maybe even do, tell us that we're wrong, we can smile, say "thank you", and get on with our idea of a quality life instead.

I voted so that one of the richest countries in the world can eradicate the poverty that is on its doorstep (and I'm happy to put my money where my mouth is to do it, when I know every penny is doing what it was intended to).

I voted so that my children can identify themselves with two cultures who value equality above all else: they are Scottish and French. Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.

I voted yes.

I voted.

September 03, 2014

Keep your audience captivated: article in GTC Scotland magazine

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At the beginning of a school year we are bombarded with messages telling us how to teach, what to teach, when to teach it. At the end of the day, there's so much anyone's head can cope with. In this term's Teaching Scotland magazine, from the General Teaching Council of Scotland, I've written a feature story on the power of concentrating on a simple question: How might we generate "happy learning"? It is an excerpt from my new book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas (And Actually Make Them Happen) (iTunes; Paperback):

"Take a moment to recollect your happiest memories as you learned something new. Where were you? What kind of activity did you undertake?

"I've asked around 8,000 young people, mums, dads, parents and business people this question over the past four years, and their answers are remarkably similar. The top reply is often: "Making stuff". Close behind is school trips, learning that took place far away from school, or out in the school garden. Others describe moments they felt they could choose what they did next, or followed a truly personal passion. Nearly everyone remembers a passionate teacher.

"This simple exercise is a great way to find out whether the people around you 'get' what great learning is about, and not a research paper in sight."

I go on to describe how this exercise has been harnessed in High Tech High, amongst other schools, and the impact is has had on learning outcomes, by shifting the focus from "learning by recipe" and teacher-defined projects, to more student-led discovery.

The full PDF edition is online along with the specific article, Keep your audience captivated.

Thanks to Meghann McDermott, my old high school orchestra buddy and now a teacher, too, for sending me a photo of her copy!

August 29, 2014

Out Now! How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make The Happen

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Finally! How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen is out, in iBooks, at least. You can buy a copy now in your local store, and get your own ideas to fruition quicker and better, with your community in mind:

USA:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

UK:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

AUSTRALIA:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

The book is available in every iTunes store globally. The beautiful, full-colour paperback is currently in printing in England, and will be heading out to pre-orders from September 9th, and available for general sale shortly thereafter (http://notosh.myshopify.com/products/how-to-come-up-with-great-ideas).

Thank you to all those who pre-ordered and waited patiently for it. I'm delighted that my first book is finally out there in people's hands, and cannot wait to hear back from readers on how they develop their innovative ideas.

Here's the blurb for those of you who've not yet dived in:

How can students, teachers and school leaders in the education world innovate, share and build on new ideas, taking them out of individual classrooms to have a wider impact? What could schools ever learn from luxury fashion houses, political campaigners, global tech, media and telecommunications companies, and the world's biggest businesses of tomorrow, the startups? 

You can achieve ambitious visions for learning through swift innovation by borrowing from the people who invent, create much from little, and refine their ideas with a swiftness few of those large corporations, Government or schools have seen.

Learn more through practical steps, workshop activities for your own teams in your learning environment, and plenty of real success stories, to help kick-start the innovation for you.

How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen can be purchased on the iTunes store as an iBook, and in paperback on http://www.notosh.com/books

July 27, 2014

Why not?, and the power of getting on with it

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We are all artists. But not all of us should exhibit.

So says John Hegarty in "There Are No Rules", which I continue to dip into during my break in Tuscany. I laughed when I read this line, because, in my own drawing/sketches case, it's too true. We can all be creative, but not all creative produce is equally stop-you-in-your-tracks creative. The thing is, you don't know until you start to create, whether or not it's going to be worth exhibiting. You've just got to start. And this is why starting is so hard - we can be fearful that what we produce will not be worth exhibiting, so we don't even bother to start it off.

But when I'm on holiday, I don't care so much about what other people think. Most tourists display this characteristic, with their clothing choices perhaps, or their behaviour in the bars on the Southern Spanish coast. I display this characteristic in "having a go" at things I'm normally afraid of wasting time on: writing, drawing and sketching.

I tend to create more on holiday than I do during the working year, the audiences being smaller (Facebookers are also on holiday, the readership lower, the conferences closed for another season) and the canvas being less daunting. One of my favourite holidayish things to do is to draw on paper placemats before my meal arrives, using my daughters' coloured pencils to create whatever comes to mind. I've spent this week on honing my horses skills, learning how to draw them again (when I was 3, I could draw a good horse, jumping over a hedgerow).

During the working year, all of this would draw a simple question: "Why, Ewan?". But during holidays, no-one questions WHY I want to draw horses. On placemats.

It's the distinct lack of "why?", in fact, and the implied criticism that seems to come with those three letters, that relaxes me, helps me concentrate, helps me focus my efforts on one thing, and doing it best I can, and often a little bit better than that, in fact. No devil's advocate. No "have you thought about doing cats instead?". No "why?".

Just a "why not...?"

Cross-posted to the fabulous NoTosh Facebook wall.

You can pre-order my new book, to be released in August: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually make Them Happen.

July 25, 2014

The most important thing you need to know about creativity

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I am on holiday. It’s a rare beast and, at some point in every couple of weeks of Tuscan bliss, comes a sliver of two minutes where I might get a chance to write. To write anything. Something. My new book, finally due for release this August after five weeks of delays, redesign and reprinting to our satisfaction, started its life on my breakfast terrace while on holiday here in Donnini, about 45 minutes east of Florence. As with all writing, I was starting with a blank page.

This summer’s reading includes my advertising hero John Hegarty On Creativity: There Are No Rules, in which he gives 50 rules for being creative. The first one is called “The Blank Page”. His point: if you want to be creative then you’d better get creative. While all of us start with a literal blank page, none of us have a metaphorical blank page. The trick is finding out the thing you roughly want to write about (or paint, or draw, or sketch as stickmen, or film) and then, for goodness’ sake, get it started.

Having ideas is not about finding a creative muse on a Tuscan vineyard, although I can vouch for the fact that the view and copious Chianti Classico helps. Heck, add some Prosecco and wild things might leap off the page. Creativity, whether you’re writing a strategy or painting views, is about STARTING.

What will you start today?

My first book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen, is due for release this August (five weeks late ;-). You can pre-order your iBook or Paperback version on our site now. Kindle version to follow.

July 13, 2014

Launching a new Masters: Designing Spaces for Learning #inf536

When most people find out that they are in line to create a new physical or virtual environment for their school, few have really driven deep into what the research says, and how it might pan out in practice. And, with deadlines in place, and architects producing their "masterplans" based on what they have been able to squeeze out of school communities, the clock is ticking too fast in most cases to begin that learning journey in a timely fashion.

School principals, deputies, librarians and innovator educators can base multi-million dollar decisions on hearsay, gurus' say-so, and what the Joneses have done with their school. For the initial cohort of students on our inaugural Masters subject on Designing Spaces for Learning at CSU (Charles Sturt University), the story will be very different.

Today marks the opening of this special Masters course that I've been writing for the past eight months for CSU, along with my boss/mentor Judy O'Connell. I'm not an academic by nature, so it's been a learning experience for me to get into the lecturer mode, and work out how to turn a significant body of research into tangible activities that our Masters students can undertake to explore and discover for themselves how research might translate into new practices.

I have high hopes that these students will make some headway into moving the education community away from a few, high profile conferences, speakers and coffee table books on "cool" or "audacious" learning spaces, to new understandings borne of a wide body of research into space design, the processes we can use to co-design, and why we say we want the kind of learning we do.

Above is my introduction video welcoming students. It's a welcome to you, too, to dip into as much of the material that leaks out of this Masters as possible. Students will have private forums and blogs where they can work out prototypes of thinking they might not yet be prepared to share with the wider world, but there are public spaces where students are being encouraged over the next 16 weeks to share what their insights might be.

There is a Flickr group, and a Google+ group where most of their more polished thinking will eventually end up, linking to their individual blogs where we can. In addition, the Twitter hashtag #inf536 is beginning to get moving, too.

Join the fray where you can - and feel free to disagree with this initial provocation, armed with your research and practice, of course! Share examples of schools which have been built on research and practice that you know, and feel free to point out examples which did not work out as expected too.

June 23, 2014

#EduTECH 2014: Agile Leadership

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Five year plans are the last thing I'd be creating if I wanted to see innovation happen in a school. Most creative organisations we work with have something more akin to an innovation strategy based on audacious goals, with a skillset in one's team that helps each individual find their place in making those goals happen, one small step at a time. While the vision is agreed by the top of the organisation the means to get there are democratic, and based on creative process as much as individual creative prowess.

At Australia's EduTECH conference I was delighted to once more keynote the leadership of learning strand, with thousands of people coming along to get an update on some of NoTosh's thinking as it's developed this year. The theme was closely tied to my forthcoming book, a labour of love on agile leadership called How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen. It provides many of those practical stories of success from which we can learn, from the creative industries and from schools (some of which you'd classify as creative industries, too!).

I kicked off with the picture that had been most snapped last year: the F.A.I.L. "First Attempt In Learning" poster I captured in Meshendia Dampier's Rosendale Primary School classroom. Five year plans, you see, don't allow for a lot of failure, or departure from 'the script', regardless of how the world around you might change. What kinds of change?

  • It could be as simple as being better informed a couple of years down the line than you were when you wrote the strategy - we learn, and then look slightly embarrassed at our five year plans that now seem woefully naive or out of date. 
  • It could be seismic - when the Japanese earthquake hit, one of our favourite schools, American School in Japan, saw so many families question their stay in the country, that they realised that they would need to signficantly reinvent the offering to entice more families to stay in the country, for a great school as much as anything else (you can see some of their learning journey with design thinking in their Google+ posts).
  • It could be that others simply innovate faster than you, and your plan is holding you back. When we started TeachMeet in 2006, it was seen as innovative by the very organisations that it was designed to get around. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't colonise it, make it their own - they were left standing while people just did it for themselves.

Agile Leadership is based on overcoming two obstacles to get to a new way of working. 

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Contradictions arise when something you've held as true is challenged by new evidence or experience. The feeling of contradiction is hard to overcome, because it necessitates some further investigation to work out whether the status quo is correct, partially correct, or just plain wrong, now that we have this new evidence to hand. In school strategy this is problematic - very often, when working with a school, there is reticence and some fear at best, anger at worst, when we suggest that we should start writing a strategy by really getting deep into the way things actually are, warts and all. In the book, I provide a ton of skills and techniques that teams can use to gauge better where things are, such as interviews, sketches, ideas wallets and bug lists.

Tensions are moderately more workable, as they occur once a team has bought into the new information that has presented itself, realising that it contradicts the status quo, and now have the task of altering the course of a strategy to accommodate it. It's not an easy process - it's full of tensions and tension. You can imagine the joy of running a workshop in this part! Take for example, the fairly strong evidence that grading does not improve learning, but comments do. I showed a video example of educators at ASIJ who, after all, have had grading feature as a fairly core part of their work. What happened when they saw the evidence of grading being less advantageous than comments alone? Some of the teachers went to test it for themselves, to work through those tensions, and change their own 'strategy' of learning and teaching. The results might be positive, or less so, but with the experience in hand it's far easier to work through the tensions, and gain a new insight for the way things might be. For those who don't experiment, they're still stuck with their contradictions, unable to move forward and challenge the way it's always been done.

Surprises appear when we least expect them. As Hatchuel and Weil put it in their concept-knowledge theory, these are the "you don't know what you don't know" moments. Surprises like these come to you - you can't search for them as you don't know they exist. Having an open mind is how most of us see these surprises and seize them. But in a strategy, where a 'decision has been made', and the text itself is highly specific, surprises can be blocked out, placed in the shadows never to be seized and used to make learning better in the organisation.

Such surprises often appear when we centre our strategy on people, rather than things that need done. When we reframe a strategy around people we can start work out what each individual group in our community can do, when and where we see that action happening, how they'll do it and, vitally, why they'd care enough to give a damn to do it. This actor mapping process is hugely powerful as a technique to open up the mind to such surprises, but incredibly challenge for teams to use - most teams feel they need 45 minutes to have a go at the technique, take 90, and still want the rest of the morning to see it through. Thinking about strategy from a human perspective, rather than a leadership one (full of the related, irrelevant jargon) is a tough move.

Ultimately, agile leadership is about recognising that everyone in the 'orchestra' of school is a leader, provided the strategy has been scored in a way that enables everyone to know their part in making it happen. The metaphor with music is one I concluded with, based on this old conductors' post I wrote. But it is also how I had started, with this haunting, stressful moment as Maria Joao Pires realises that she has been practicing the wrong concerto for the concert (it is no mistake that Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair...). With it, I asked the audience who the leader actually was at different moments of the piece, what the role of knowledge might have been, and how the understanding and trust between leaders leads to inspiring action: 

You can pre-order or purchase your copy of How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, and see some of the practical means of overcoming these barriers to creative leadership. And, for something free and instant, you can get a useful cheat sheet of agile leadership strategies by signing up to the NoTosh mailing list.

June 11, 2014

Do people really want a struggle, or an easy day of PD?

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Sometimes I wish I just ran flashy blogging workshops for a living. The days would be easy, the money, too. I wouldn't have to think hard, and nor would the attendees. I'd have photos of smiling complacent teachers out for a jolly PD day.

But the satisfaction would be zero on both sides of the fence. As our buddy John Davitt puts it, life is not about finding the right SOFTware, it's about enjoying some STRUGGLEware. NoTosh spends a lot of its time in that struggle space, helping people really operate in that zone of proximal development and, on days like Monday, maybe even just a wee bit beyond that.

This week the English Head Teachers with whom I was working and I both had a well-deserved pint after a real struggle of a day, working through how their loosely joined trust could increase its positive influence, without necessarily losing that mutual feeling of trust that has evolved over a few years. Basically: control without being controlling, was the order of the day.

That's a notoriously hard balance to strike. In January, we had explored the reality of the here and now was deciphered and some potentially strong platforms on which this group of Heads could build in the future. This week's session tackled the most difficult element - how do you set out some pragmatic action that takes the group from the status quo to their ambitious future, and not just that, but do it without diktat from on high?

We got there. Just. Between my first signs of the season's hayfever (atchoum!), the heat of the day, the heat of the discussion and the complexity of the relationships that make this group of Heads special, we got there. Pragmatic next steps that will begin to take them to a more powerful, influential place, ready to make students' learning better, together.

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If you want to struggle with me on some of the most challenging leadership and innovation tasks that a learning organisation might go through, you can work through some of the exercises and activities in my soon-to-be-released book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen. It's available for pre-order now.

Or you can just look at other people having a struggle instead ;-):

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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.

Ewan’s education keynotes & MasterClasses

Module Masterclass

Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

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