January 20, 2015

Uncollaborating: Brainstorm and Prototype alone

I'm planning some fast-paced introduction workshops to the design cycle, and how it can be used to tackle seemingly huge issues in a speedy, inspirational, creative way.

The problem is that everyone comes believing that collaboration is where innovation comes from, and that just isn't the case. Not always, anyway.

One of the challenges we sometimes see is that, in a group brainstorming exercise such as 100 Ideas Now, teams generate lots of good ideas, but then, through consensus, hone them down into relatively tame and 'safe' ideas. It's no surprise that we sometimes wonder whether any of those ideas actually get implemented back at home, outside the workshop experience. (As a side note, I'm delighted to say that I do, in fact, often hear about major timetable innovations or changed school dining experiences months after the initial workshop, but it feels inconsistent...)

We already make sure that those brainstorming activities start as individual activities, a discipline that most workshop participants find incredibly hard to stick to - they want to debate, pitch, share their ideas. Sharing is good after all, isn't it?

Even the honing exercises start individually, before becoming a consensus.

Google Ventures' Jake Knapp talks about his challenge in finding 'alone time' to generate ideas and prototype them quickly, without the need to pitch and explain himself too early on. What he does is a design sprint, by any other name, but it is one he undertakes largely alone

This idea of using design sprints in school innovation is something I dive into in greater detail in my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas. It's a technique rarely used in big industry or schools, but those who do see how it might be used immediately get excited by the potential.

What is the project you might be doing at the moment that would benefit, not from a five year strategy, but from a sprint of a few weeks?

January 14, 2015

Engage, Inspire, Empower - language learning and technology

I got back to being a language teacher last night, doing a quick talk and then conversation with some of the teachers participating in our Malta Better Learning with Technologies groupHere is the video of the talk, where I was inspired by the instant nature of understanding we gain from the cartoons we've seen over the past week:

  • The universal language of image
  • The growth of the image thanks to technology - Insta...everything
  • The move of technology's dominance in text (blogs and podcasts of 2005) to image (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat in 2015)
  • How do we play the whole game of learning, every day, in the language classroom?
  • What S.T.A.R. moments do we create for our students to amplify the meaning of what we're doing?
  • Can we inform students later, and start with the why of engagement, inspiration and then empowering through information and the 'how'?
  • "Real world" does not mean we have to take every student on a foreign exchange visit. Real world is no longer the long-term relationships we had to build with partner schools in 2005. Real world can be short-term reaching out to someone, just for a lesson, for a moment, to gather an empathy for how others might think.
  • Real world can also be imaginative - video games as a stimulus for writing, or TED talks for stimulus in reading and listening (and speaking!).

January 10, 2015

The Devil's Advocate... or how to kill creativity

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I do love my weekend dose of Hunting English, and this week's post was an interesting look at the role of Devil's Advocate in decision-making, and in learning:

In an election year, a time of miracle cures and vested interests pushing their cargo cults, we should pay heed to the Devil’s Advocate’s role in “suggest[ing] natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues”. When we are presented with the latest miracle cure for all our educational ills – be it teaching ‘character’; possessing a ‘growth mindset’; the latest technological wizardry; the latest research evidence; a new school structure or savior school leader; or even a newly ordained Secretary of State for Education – we should seek out natural explanations and ask challenging questions.

I left a comment on the post, with a caveat on the way the role of devil's advocate is taken, that I've learned over the past 8 years working in both education and in creative product teams:

I've had a mixed relationship with the devil's advocate role (and even the film ;-). I've found it useful before, when I've been it, but always wondered why I was irked when someone started with the phrase "just to be the devil's advocate...". It was reading Stanford creativity researcher, James Adams' Conceptual Blockbusting and then Tom Kelley's Ten Faces of Innovation that I discovered why that particular blanket role is not as helpful as approaching it with a specific goal in mind. Kelley's suggestion is that it can be approached from one of these ten creative team roles, roles I recognise in the creative industry teams I've worked in. I've talked about the effort in avoiding a black and white, yes and no "devil's advocate" type role in my new book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas.

One of the key reasons for doing this, is that when most (unskilled) devil's advocates adopt that role, the put the onus of proving or disproving a state on the person making the suggestion, meaning that, over time, there is more chance that people resist making potentially risky or alternative suggestions to the status quo.

In short: it can kill creativity and innovation. When people play the devil's advocate well, they are often the ones presenting the evidence that might suggest an alternative viewpoint, and opening an opportunity for learning. When they just state the opposite, based on gut feel or personal opinion, it can be the most demoralising blow to people trying to advance their own knowledge, their team or the field.

Pic CC by Shallom

January 04, 2015

When is failure a failure? Maria Joao Pires has an answer...

The 1st Movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair. That is exactly as virtuoso pianist Maria Joao Pires must have felt as she realised that she had practiced the wrong concerto for a summer concert series.

This clip is a wonderful example of agile leadership. In the moment of panic, the conductor takes control, not with a baton or by stopping the orchestra, but with a beautiful embracing smile, and a jovial reassurance that she would manage.

Pires then takes the leadership role on, summoning her memory, her expertise, talent and prior learning, to tackle the new concerto she hadn't been prepared to play in the first place.

When we talk about failure in learning, it is vital that we talk about failure and what we learn from it. Failure for failure's sake is a tragedy. Pires had 'done her homework' and knew the other concerto (and probably many others) by heart, from experience. She had also done her homework in being able to 'make the show go on', regardless. But no doubt, she'll rehearse with the orchestra before future live performances, she'll make the time to have that preparatory phone call. Thankfully, her learning gives her the opportunity, post-performance, to try again and get it right.

Most learning in school, though, does not give time for failure to be learned from. Instead, even though half or more of the students in the classroom may have scope for improvement, teachers feel compelled to "move on", to "get on" to the next piece of content, or to get onto the test. Really, in an ideal world, the student makes the decision about when they are 'done', ready to move on to the next thing, and often they will know what that next thing is.

Where the teacher holds all the planning in their hands, though, when the teacher perceives curriculum and success criteria as teacher-destined documents, and not as documents to flesh out hand in hand with students, this 'ideal world' does not happen.

Make the first step of 2015 towards letting students really do their homework: give them the curricular and success criteria tools we've normally kept behind the teacher's desk, and work out with them how their projects, their ideas and their ambitions meet them halfway.

January 03, 2015

Dispositions of thinking, from design thinking

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The problem with "design thinking" is that everyone thinks they do it already, but they all do something different. And, far too often, evidence of actual student 'thinking' is hard to spot in the various products, 'maker' outputs and endless movies produced in these 'design thinking' 'projects'.

For my colleagues and me, design thinking is giving careful consideration to what kind of thinking you want to undertake at what specific moment of learning. It's brutally simple, hard to pull off well.

It means that you have to know what kind of learning is even possible in a given project, with what kind of content, and what skills will be required to access that content with the minimum viable teacher assistance beyond teaching those skills, or marshalling challenging discussion. Above all, it's about making sure that students know

  • what they've learned,
  • how they know they learned it, and
  • what their next step might be.

Often, as in the picture above of some of my students on a Sunderland Uni media degree, there is little being 'made' or physically constructed (so often, design thinking is perceived as being about craft, design or tech), but all their thinking and discussion on the issue at hand is made visible, as evidence (for themselves) of the answer to each of those key self-assessment questions.

But NoTosh is not alone in its efforts to help educators understand how to put more of the learning onus on students. Harvard University, no less, seeks dispositions of thinking that are not dissimilar, and in many cases identical, to what makes up the impact of design thinking that we see in our schools:

  1. The disposition to be broad and adventurous
    The tendency to be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options.
  2. The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity
    The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions.
  3. The disposition to clarify and seek understanding
    A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations; an alertness to unclarity and need for focus; an ability to build conceptualizations.
  4. The disposition to be planful and strategic
    The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans.
  5. The disposition to be intellectually careful
    The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely.
  6. The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons
    The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons.
  7. The disposition be metacognitive
    The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one's own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective.

This new year, we will be overhauling our NoTosh website to reveal more of the ways we've helped schools, and they've helped themselves, to become more robust in delivering on these dispositions with their young people.

January 02, 2015

Inspiration is everywhere. Even in Galena, Kansas...

I love this tweet from a couple of years back by animation firm, Pixar:

Pixar inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere: A lonely old tow truck in Galena, Kansas caught our eye. You know the rest...

What were they talking about?

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Now, I don't think I know anyone from Galena, Kansas, but I'm pretty sure that those kids in Spring Grove School don't believe, hand on heart, that inspiration is everywhere, as they set off into their new year, examinations, tests and keeping up with each other's Facebook boasts. That, after all, is what January in 2015 will mean for so many: an attempt to look forward to a positive future, but a reality check, around January 5th, that actually life will carry on as it always has done, always will do. 

Life-changing, world-changing or neighbourhood-changing inspiration is everywhere, though, and no more so than in places where things are not working.

On p.43 of my book I talk about the attitude real innovators have: they don't blog that "things in the system don't work, it's all broken!", and they don't ask facile questions such as "what does 21st century education look like?" and then not bother answering them. Instead, they spot the small details that get in the way and go about removing them, altering them or rebuilding them:

Most successful innovators in and outside education spend their time always seeking out what doesn't quite work, what doesn't satisfy the needs of the people it should do, what could be made incrementally better. They are not negative people; far from it, in fact, as they seek not to moan but make the world a better place, one incremental change at a time. Doing this means that they spend time – small snippets and extended periods, depending on what time they have available – looking at the world around them with a critical eye and an endless run of questions about why things are the way they are. They are not satisfied to leave an under-par situation – they want to make it better as soon as possible. 

  • What are things really like at the moment?
  • If we were to take a snapshot in time, where is our school, where are our learners?
  • What are people trying to achieve at the moment, and are they managing it?
  • What are the areas where people find they're held back, or encouraged to take their learning further?
  • How do we engage with parents, the school board, the wider community?
  • How do we know they're happy with it?
  • Where are the people who are happy with what we do?
  • Where are the people who we don't know are either satisfied or not?
  • What about the people who are not, at the moment, part of our school community? Why are they not?
  • What are they doing instead?

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions that might be of interest to any innovator, and to answer any or all of these questions would take a long time, but that active immersion into the way things are needs to happen all the time.

Immersion is just as it sounds: long, deep and sometimes painful. The swimming pool analogy isn't bad for explaining it:

If you were immersed in a swimming pool you'd have the water over your head. You would, over time, become short of breath. A real immersive experience would push that feeling just a little beyond what feels comfortable before, finally, at the last possible moment, coming up for breath. And, with every time you get immersed in the water, the longer you can bear it before coming up for breath. With more practice, you can swim while holding your breath, travelling while building resistance to the pressure. In a school, this is the equivalent of the Head Teacher and other leaders being capable of not only managing business-as-usual, but also having the mental bandwidth, the practice of longitudinal immersion, to see potential for ‘new innovation’ as it arises. In short, it's about taking time to reflect, not regularly but constantly, on how things might be made better.

This is, if you like, a manifesto for problem-finding in the way we manage, lead and create innovation in our schools, in the same way as I started pleading for problem-finding over and above problem-solving five years ago to this week. Problem-finding is what really shifts the school's thinking from 'stand and deliver' teacher centricity, and so, too, it can move innovation from the board room (far from the point where the innovation will make a difference) to the classroom and community:

So, instead of lofty resolutions for 2015, that we will all break by January 5th, in our hearts and minds at least, why not start seeking big innovation in the little details, by problem-finding, not idea-creating?

Reference:
How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available from NoTosh Publishing. Kindle and standard paperback due Summer 2015.

December 21, 2014

2014's travel... within a hair's length of the moon

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Since 2007, I've been blogging about my travel, simply because it has always formed a major part of my life, and remains a hobby I love. Also, since 2007, things got more interesting than a family holiday to nearby destinations, marked by my first visit to New Zealand, with a six-week-old Catriona. In 2009 I got a "proper job" working with Channel 4, meaning I was reduced to 41000 miles of super-commuting between Edinburgh and London.

Since then, the irresistable rise of miles has been  related to the continued growth of my little company, NoTosh, which today celebrates its FIFTH birthday! Preparing an office launch in Australia meant 2012 was a killer, with seven return trips to Oz. Prepping growth across Asia, where we now undertake as much online-only work as the rest of the world combined, meant that 2013-4 have been fewer days away from home, but bigger trips as we line up new school after new school - the largest single voyage was 32000 miles alone this year. 

2007: 51,281 miles

2008: 81,887 miles

2009: 41,902 miles

2010: 106,372 miles

2011: 128,555 miles

2012: 242,266 miles

2013: 207,837 miles

2014: 237,195 miles

That's 1,097,295 miles travelled since my first kid was born, or the equivalent of traveling 44 times around the world, or two return trips to the Moon (with a couple of round-the-world trips spare). In short: it's probably far too much.

With our new US office taking shape, adding a new flavour of NoTosh to the mix, and the Australian office booming, I look forward to concentrating on the development of new reduced-travel ways of working with our schools and creative clients. Those who've been sampling our prototypes of online-only thinking and doing have loved it, being free to dive deep in their own time, and be coached in some more profound change than is afforded in a traditional 'professional development' environment. I hope we can continue to design these together - 2015 is already looking like a road less-traveled. Well, we can live in hope...

December 01, 2014

Flexible space? Remove your tables and desks...

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"Put a wheel on it!" This is the phrase that has my eyes rolling back several times over when people think they are creating a 'flexible' learning or working space. Flexibility requires flexibility of thought as much as furniture, and the one piece of furniture that says "you only have one thing to do" is the hallowed desk. Offices organise hierarchies with them; schools get locked into 19th century style timetables with them. If only you could get rid of the desks at the touch of a switch....

During the day, this Amsterdam design studio looks like a typical workspace. But at 6 p.m., someone turns a key, and all of the desks suddenly lift up into the air, with computers and paperwork attached. The floor clears, and the space turns into something new.

The large shared desks are attached to the ceiling with steel cables, and use a mechanism from large theatre productions to lift everything up and down. During work hours, the desks balance on rolling cabinets to keep them at the correct height and steady. When the work day is over, the whole room can be cleared in a couple of minutes.

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. 

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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