116 posts categorized "Assessment"

December 08, 2011

The Inspiring Maker Curriculum in Darlington

Maker Curriculum 3

"A school where learning is all about making? It sounds lovely in principle - or in a newspaper editorial or keynote - but it'll never work in practice."

Sometimes you give a talk or write an article, and you really wonder if it was any good in achieving anything at all. In 2010 I had addressed a group of Creative Practitioners and teachers, all part of the wonderful Creative Partnerships programme that put 'creatives' (artists, musicians, filmmakers and so on) into schools to imbue their way of working throughout learning and teaching. It was here that I started to really push the notion of creativity as being inescapably about making. How can you be creative without making something: a written poem, a car, a rocket?

Well, I discovered nearly 18 months on that Sam Hirst and Emma Farrow, teachers at West Park Academy, Darlington, had taken this to heart, and embarked on a maker's curriculum of their own. As with my own Creative Partnerships project, it was seven year olds that showed us how it's done.

Sam and Emma have given me some of their story to share with you:

A combination of the age of students and their varied socio-economic backgrounds had united them in the wrong way: the level of support they required and the constant questions they asked and assurances they needed were halting their capacity to learn.

It felt like they had stopped thinking for themselves, they had become passive learners unwilling to take any risks. looking only for the teacher to tell them what to do or else not to participating, opting out by remaining stuck.

The challenge was to get them to figure things out for themselves take away the certainty that there was a right answer to build up an approach to learning that was an active process. We also wanted a legacy, that would change the way we as teachers did things and resulted in independent learners who were able to persevere, make connections, take risks and ask and answer their own questions.

We needed John, our creative practitioner, power tools and time to explore, construct, create, fail, try again and a belief that we could build anything.

We realised that if children where going to construct they needed to explore how things were made and put together.

Maker Curriculum 1On the first day When the children arrived at school they were confronted with lots of stuff, old TVs, computers, toasters and hairdryers and lots of real tools. A day was spent taking things apart to see how they worked Children worked collaboratively, they talked they explained they showed us what they knew they were excited, curious and determined to discover. They spent over two hours, all on task, enthralled with what they were doing. They attempted to explain to each other what the purpose of each component was. The teacher was the observer, listening in, getting a window into their thinking. The purpose was for children to have an understanding of how ever day objects worked and that you can work things out just through exploration.

Maker Curriculum 2We then looked at what they could they turn all these bits into? No direction, totally from their imagination. Free rein just to explore, to construct, the fun of making something without a defined end product. Success was in the doing, the playing around with materials to generate ideas, the persevering the creating,  exploring what might be possible. We immediately saw in some children a flexibility of thought, an enthusiasm and tenacity that we had not seen before. 

Through discussions with John, the children identified the skills in order for them to realise their ideas, to prevent them becoming frustrated, they needed further exposure to different tools, techniques and skills in order to satisfy the demands of their creations. This was when we  brought in the power tools. There was a risk assessment to complete but beyond there was no further complications children could see that we trusted them to use these tools appropriately and they did not let us down. They were the right tools for the job.

Maker Curriculum ProductAs a result we got....runways, villages, planes, dragons, the list was endless and we also got enthusiasm and a love of the learning and acquisition of new skills

As we progressed we found gaps in their understanding in other subjects that could be addressed through to exposure to learning and experiences within the context of construction. What is the best way to bend an iron bar, how to measure accurately and why it is important. Which materials will allow an electric current to pass through and why we need to know? Through the doing, testing experimenting, questioning they learnt knowledge and skills in a context that could see a purpose for.

November 29, 2011

Guy Claxton: What's the point of school?

Bored

For the past year I've been pushing educators we've been working with on The Design Thinking School to get a copy of Prof Guy Claxton's book, What's The Point of School. If ever you've wondered what about the rationale behind the way we currently do things, and what might be a suitable response to the objections of what's being proposed by people like us, then this is a good place to start.

I've summed up the key points for me, along with some of my own commentary, in this post.

In the book, he summarises a literature review that looked at, what he terms, The magnificent eight qualities of powerful learners:

  1. Powerful learners are curious
  2. Confident learners have courage
  3. Powerful learners are good at exploration and investigation
  4. Powerful learning requires experimentation
  5. Powerful learners have imagination
  6. The creativity of imagination needs to be yoked to reason and discipline, the ability to think carefully, rigourously, and methodically. to analyse and evaluate as well as take the creative leap.
  7. Powerful learners have the virtue of sociability and sharing.
  8. Powerful learners are reflective: what assumptions have we made? how are we going about this? They don't consider themselves with a fixed mindset, as 'good' or 'average'.

From this, he has also summed up what the research tells us about the reasons we want to learn:

  • Responsibility for learning
  • Respect for their views on their education, being taken seriously
  • Real things to explore, not pseudo contexts
  • Choice in what, when, where and how they are learning
  • Challenge of getting their teeth into something difficult, but not demoralising, and experience the satisfaction of making genuine progress.
  • Collaboration so that thinking and struggling happens with others in the same boat.

If the only thing we asked teachers to do was to balance their planning, teaching and student learning success against these "three Rs and three Cs", then we'd be doing well each and every day, no questions asked. 

Of course, there are always detractors of anything that challenges the status quo of "the curriculum says this", "the exams require that". To this, Claxton retorts: how many of the status quo assumptions have actually been tested against research, and how many of the detractors have themselves read the research if it even exists?

To this point: Research shows that old-fashioned teaching of grammar has been ineffective even in terms of developing pupils' practice literacy. A large-scale review from the University of York in 2005 found no evidence that teaching the parts of speech, noun phrases, relative clauses and so on helped 5-16 year olds improve the quality of their writing:

"Predictably, the traditionalists retaliated to this attack on one of their most cherished beliefs by ignoring research and reiterating their articles of faith.

'Children have to learn the basics and grammar and syntax before the can develop their writing', thundered Nick Seaton, chairman of the campaign for Real Education'. 'A knowledge of grammar must always come before creativity."

And blind faith and bombast must always come before a weighing of the evidence, apparently."

(cf Richard Andrwe, Carole Torgerson, Sue Beverton, Allison Freeman, Terry Locke, Graham Low, Alison Robinson and Die Zhu, 'The effect of grammar teaching on writing development', British Educationa; Research Journal, 2006, 32 (1), pp.39-55)


Good results versus engagement

The research shows that the former is surpassed by the latter. Schools should always be about engagement first and foremost. (Chris Watkins, International School Improvement Network, 2001: learning about learning enhances performance.)

Students need to be encouraged to get into the habit of questioning those founts of "correct" knowledge: textbooks' purpose is to be used as the subject of the following questions:

  • How do we know this is true?
  • Whose claim is it?
  • For what purpose was this knowledge generated?
  • What is the unacknowledged vantage point of the textbook authors?
  • Why are they keeping themselves so well hidden?

What do you do to show you're learning?

For 10 years I've been encouraging teachers to keep a learning log, online preferably to share their practice. It's often met with complaints of time to do this, or "who wuld be interested", but for me sharing one's learning is amongst the most important work of the teacher.

Peter Mountstephen in Bath, plays a new musical instrument - badly - at the beginning of every school year and then learns how to play it better throughout the year. Students don't just see him learn - they hear him, warts and all. Who's modelling learning about learning to our children? And what's the effect on learning when adults do, publicly, show their learning?

Public learning logs or learning leaderboards celebrate people who are at the edge of their own learning. Not comparative to others in the class, but how much they have improved on their own learning, into new, uncomfortable places.

A "Riskometer" - or Traffic light systems to let learners show how much risk they feel they are taking - allows teachers to make informed judgements about how hard a kid feels they're pushing themselves.
This sort of self-benchmarked formative assessment is much more motivating than moving up and down a class list or league table. (W. Harlen and R. Deakin-Crick 'A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students' motivation for learning', Research Evidence in Education Library, EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, London, 2002.)

The Could Be Curriculum

Learning about learning is a bit more fake when the teacher knew the answers all along. What about a ‘Could be’ curriculum instead of an ‘Is’ curriculum. What about thinking like scientists instead of being taught what scientists discovered?

Learning through an authentic (to the student) challenge avoids the conundrum we hear in many a classroom" “What are you learning? Page 38, sir”. WALT (What Are we Learning Today) needs to be negotiated. not decided in the lesson plan of the teacher and 'shared' at the beginning of a lesson.

Students in one classroom were noted as not putting their hands up when they were stuck or asked "does anyone have any questions?" as they felt you "had to know the answer to the question you were going to ask".

To get around this, matching the creative process of Design Thinking where learners need to start further back in a broad topic, Claxton suggests that teachers instead design "Wild Topics of 'Plores'", areas for exPLORing. This is what we do in our Design Thinking School.

The goal is to explore genuine knowledge making, not regurgitation of consumed transmission. Well designed challenges (quite tight with flexibility) increase attainment, motivation and skills of learning about learning, as well as covering the content. (Jo Bealer, Experiencing School Mathematics, OU Press, Buckingham, 1997)

Battling with duplication

When a subject justifies itself first and foremost on which learning muscles it flexes, then, if another does it better, why duplicate? (e.g. maths/science, French/English).

This excerpt reminds me what St George's School for Girls has been doing with its Curriculum Wall:

 


Developing empathy

Experiment with building mental models of how someone else would have approached a problem (How would Mahatma Ghandi have approached global warming?)

Buy the book - it'll be by your side for a long time.

Pic: Bored by Matt

Finding the right problems to solve: Gladwell on the Norden bombsight

In his latest TED Talk, Malcolm Gladwell tells The Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight, where the US Government spent billions on a technology that didn't solve the real problems of the people using it (bombers had huge accuracy with the machine but this was rendered useless by clouds), and was used for solving problems that didn't exist, too (perfect sighting on a nuclear bomb is not an essential).

Basically, we see governments and institutions continually inventing sights that can finding the pear barrel 20,000 feet below, even though we don't need it. We continually seek solutions to the wrong problems, at great expense, and build things we, and the users of the things, don't need. And finally, we have developed a strong capacity for building success around the wrong metrics to justify our bold, but wrong, decisions. 

Sound familiar?

What would happen if, instead of creating this generation of problem solvers, people who can solve imaginery theoretical pseudo problems really well, we helped carve out a generation of curious continual learners who want to find the next great genuine problem that needs solving?

November 27, 2011

Some Perspectives on Hip Hop for Formative Assessment & Learning

Walking back from dinner in Brisbane last week, Tom and I spotted something brilliant: mistakes. Lots of them.

A group of a half dozen streetdancers were practicing the hard stuff, and it's the part of streetdance that we never see. To get really good at something, you have to practice the hard stuff, not just rejoice in the cool, do-able, 'easy' parts. You have to prepared for a fall, and for your friends laughing at your expense!

Tom had the (Dutch?) courage to go and start asking some questions while I set up the tripod, and Paul, leader of the crew, came over for a chat that he allowed us to record. In it he reveals just how much hip hop practice is a genuinely superb example of formative assessment in action. I don't think he had read Dylan Wiliam's Inside the Black Box, but he might as well have done. Here, you can see talented dancers somewhat hiding away in the dark of a vestibule, practicing the bits they don't want anyone to see. It's a great example of where not having an audience is incredibly important, or at least, only having an audience that one can trust.

You can listen to the interview for yourself, but listen out for these key points:

  • We have the same foundations, it's like the same language to describe what we're doing, and we build on it.
  • If I like what I see then I wouldn't do the same thing - they'd say that I had "no soul". Instead, I'll do something different that's still built on the same foundations.
  • If I see someone not spending enough time on the tricky stuff, then I'll tell them. They might try it slower, faster, higher...
  • Sometimes people "take the Mickey", and tell each other that something's bad, but generally we always try to help each other, keep it all positive.

Meanwhile, Céline Azoulay-Lewin Facebooked me the video clip of a teacher, Sam Seidel, who, with a group of demanding students in a juvenile prison, found that Hip Hop was the key passion they shared, the key mechanism not only of engagement, but in turning these young people who had been told they were at society's bottom rung into responsible leaders with something worth sharing. He asks: what can educators learn from hip hop?

 

He points out:

  • Aspiring visual artists realising that they didn't need a gallery to promote their work
  • The high school drop out putting his entrepreneurial hustle into action to stop selling drugs, to sell CDs out the back of his car to selling products in Macy's;
  • You don't need a huge number of resources to make a big hit - the hip hop community has a habit of turning something out of nothing, sampling others' music to make new sounds, for example;
  • We can sample and mix multiple teaching techniques, rather than thinking there's a right way to do something;
  • We can try and make a "hot beat for today" - yesterday's way of teaching is yesterday's way of teaching - what can we do to recycle, remix and try something fresh in the hope that it's better than what went before?
  • What refuse could we be dancing on? What is the cutback or the 'trash' of yesterday that can feed innovation today?

 

July 23, 2011

#BLC11: Help write the keynote

This week I'm back at Building Learning Communities (#BLC11), Boston, MA, after a three year hiatus (as I dipped my toes into something totally different). I can't wait to see old friends and make some new ones, and to hang out with some of the brightest thinking you can get in the education space.

The keynote is the one thing both Alan November, the host, and I wanted to do differently. Based on NoTosh's work with Cisco this past 18 months, I'm delighted to be in a conversation with their Director Global Education, Bill Fowler, a conversation we want you to help shape, whether you're at the event, or spectating from afar.

There are seven key questions we're probably going totally fail to tackle over the hour, but I vouch on my part to follow them through for the next few months in the work I do with schools around the world with Tom. Most of the readers of this blog have influence - on their school, their district, their government. We want you to join the already burgeoning debate and contribute your own take on things.

Can you add your own thoughts, arguments, research pieces to these questions and help us create a long-lasting set of strong arguments with which to influence the Governments, districts and schools with whom we all work?

  1. What are the main opportunities from around the world in building more effective learning communities?
  2. What binds learners from around the world, regardless of geography? (my personal issue here is the hidden digital divide of time zones - technology alone can't be enough).
  3. What leads to more engaging learning for under-motivated/disengaged young people?
  4. How do we adapt pedagogical approaches?
  5. What is the balance of control between the teacher and the learner?
    Are you currently satisfied with relationships within your education community (leadership, parents, community, etc)?
  6. What strategies can we employ to empower the learner to take more responsibility for managing/leading their own learning?
  7. What are the process skills needed to leverage technology?

The questions are co-written, and those of you who know me well will know what my own angle would be on some of them - but I want challenged, pushed, cajoled into thinking about others' views on the same subjects.

There is also a less chunked up discussion on the same issues over on the GETideas site, for those of you who are members there or want to sign up today.

The keynote later this week will be tweeted live, hopefully webcast, too, and I'll be doing my best to keep up with the live online action as well as responding to points from Bill and the audience. I look forward to seeing you there, in person or online!

June 20, 2011

Who grades whom, or why Dalí was thrown out of art school

01-Salvador-Dali,-Neocubist-Academy Sailor
On my recent holidays in Florence I was lucky enough to once more bump into my former Channel 4 Education Board co-member, James Bradburne, who is the enigmatic Direttore of the Palazzo Strozzi in the home of the Italian rennaissance. He was kind enough to invite my young family into the Picasso and Dalí exhibition, and Catriona had great fun inventing her own cubist creations our of fuzzy felt.

One painting drew my attention in particular - the one at the top of this post. It's The Sailor, painted while Dalí was in Madrid's Neocubist Academy, and at about the same time he was thrown out of art school. The reason? He said that one of the professors was not good enough to grade him.

It's a lovely, wry story, because it gets at the very heart of what we know about assessment - that children do better when they compare themselves to their own past performances, rather than to a sliding scale of comparative grading - and Dalí called into question what we're still grappling with today: who decides what is 'good' and, in the end, does it really matter for a true lifelong learner what they say at one given point of time anyway?

June 19, 2011

Rupert Murdoch on education: a colossal failure of imagination

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch isn't someone I'd normally have flocked to for advice on how to transform education, but I was delighted when a contact at the EU forwarded me a speech he had delivered to senior government officials from around the world this May.

Murdoch makes some powerful points that speak the language of Government and business, two groups that must be convinced the current conservative and Conservative means of bullying learning into doing better just will not do. Here are some of the most compelling parts:

Every CEO will tell you that we compete in a world that is changing faster than ever. That it is more competitive than ever and that it rewards success and punishes failure to a greater degree than ever before.

In other words, our world is increasingly, and rightly, a world of merit. In such a world, the greatest challenge for any enterprise is human capital: how to find it, develop it and keep it.

No one in this room needs a lecture about how talented people in tandem with technology are making our lives richer and fuller.

Everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive - creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance.

This is true in every area except one: Education.

Think about that. In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognize the world around him.

My friends, what we have here is a colossal failure of imagination. Worse, it is an abdication of our responsibility to our children and grandchildren - and a limitation on our future. As Stendhal wrote: "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse".

We know the old answer - simply throwing money at the problem - doesn't work. In my own country, we've doubled our spending on primary and secondary education over the last three decades - while our test scores have remained largely flat. The reason this hasn't worked is that more money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate - it's become a jobs program for teachers and administrators. And yet we Americans wonder why we have cities like Detroit where nearly half the population can't read and the disadvantaged are on a fast-track to failure.

The mandarins of mediocrity will tell you that the problem is that the kids they are teaching are too poor, or come from bad families, or are immigrants who do not understand the culture. This is absolute rubbish. It is arrogant, elitist and utterly unacceptable.

If we knew we had a gold mine on our property, we would do whatever it took to get that gold out of the ground. In education, by contrast, we keep the potential of millions of children buried in the ground.

Fortunately, we have the means at our disposal to transform lives.

...

Technology will never replace the teacher. What we can do is relieve some of the drudgery of teaching. And we can take advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on the things that make us all more human and more creative.

Let me be clear. What I am speaking about is not the outline of some exotic, distant, fictional future. Everything I have mentioned is something I have seen in the here and now.

Download Murdoch on Education - The Last Frontier, May 2011 - it's worth 10 minutes of your time.

Photo from the World Economic Forum.

May 18, 2011

Fewer instructions, better structures

_MG_3354

In schools and in 'educational' media created for young people, the adults always give too many instructions rather than investing in better structures for thinking.

Gever and I ran a session together today at INPlay where we wanted to take educators, games designers and media producers through the experience of being a learner again, learning how, not what, and hopefully gaining more empathy for the five year olds for whom they design media products.

We kicked off with some structured constrained activity, but with no knowledge of what the final result looks like, using John Davitt's LEG to find loosely structured activity for our delegates. The picture above shows one group doing "A 12 Bar Blues as a Mind Map", but harnessing filled glasses of water, laid out to create a blues tune when struck in sequence with a spoon.

We then asked the producers to conceive of a new experience, rather than an educational product, concentrating for 8 out of 10 minutes on experience, and only at the last moment working with the idea on what it might teach a youngster. It was hard for teams not to slip into the habit of tying things to curriculum-filling exercises, but there were some genius kernels of ideas generated after teams concentrated on empathising with what it feels like to be a four/five year old wanting a great engaging experience, first and foremost.

Our goals?

  • Encourage people to design experiences, not lessons.
  • Encourage people to speak less. Poorly reviewed games on the app store invariably have too much speaking in them, too many instructions and hints. Poor classrooms feature too much teacher-talk.
  • Producers and educators could experiment with concentrating first and foremost on quality of engagement and experience, only second of all on what content is being sought to be learned.
  • Producers and educators should invest more their time empathising, observing and asking young people what makes them tick, what experiences engage them and then co-design learning solutions to that, rather than pulling young people in to 'test' games or experiences after they have been designed by the adults (or co-designing lesson plans rather than being subjected to the planned lesson after the fact).
  • There is a difference between instruction and structure. Kids do not need instructions - games like Sesame Street's A-to-Zoo have so much instruction it turns kids off sharp: try it for yourself, below:

What works better for young people and creative designers alike, is not instruction from on high (with a degree of tacit pre-task knowledge of the outcome already in the teacher's mind - and quite possibly the learners') but structures within which the learning journey, or game, can play itself out.

Structures for learning include formative assessment tools, good questioning, the use of learning logs to chart learning and what learning direction the student thinks they need next, design thinking structures, or Gever's Brightworks learning arc structure.

With these last two structures the name of the game is divergence of thought and investigation. It's only having explored a large amount of content that the learner creates their plan for what they will construct from it. This doesn't work if the teacher feels the need to organise it, to direct, to instruct. It only works if the youngster is free within the confines of a structure.

Is there a difference between instruction and structure? I think so, but am amazed that until now I hadn't discovered much appetite for exploring the difference between these terms, and these approaches, in the world of game design, media production and, vitally, teaching and learning/instruction/schooling/education.

Gever Tulley: Killing Learning With Grades

IMG_1238
This is the most depressing picture out of yet another stellar Gever Tulley keynote, this time at INPlay11, a conference I help curate in Toronto, where play, learning and the video game industry meet. An infant's picture, graded. C+. I wonder what the + was for.

There are two things I despise about how elements of learning have been systemically misinterpreted in pretty much every school setup around the world. One is teacher-designed homework, and the pathological belief, against the odds, that it adds any value to the learning process. The other is the use of grades to justify the teacher's existence, while destroying the confidence, self-esteem and understanding of what learning is for amongst our young people.

As Gever suggested, there is one chap who covers both areas particularly well with great roundups of his research and others'. All school governors, principals and decision-makers in Government would be in a more informed position to make some seismic changes to the happiness of young people and the families, with whom they row every night about homework and the mission for great grades, after a read of Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth and Punished By Rewards.

April 04, 2011

Why the cloud's important for education: saving $199,995 on one test

Server Farm Cloud Computing
Most school management teams glaze over when you talk about cloud computing. But if I told you that one science test, administered across New South Wales, was delivered for $199,995 less thanks to being hosted in the cloud for one day, rather than on dedicated servers in the education department, would you be interested?

That's exactly what happened, and it sets on a grand scale why the relatively small student-by-student savings we see from digital material being held on a server farm in Texas, rather than a server in the school grounds or Local District offices, are so important in these straightened times.

Such services might be Google Apps being introduced to schools, and the use of web-based "software as a service" (SaaS) programmes such as Every1Speaks to capture and share learning. If schools can look after these pennies, then tens of thousands of dollars and pounds are freed up for teaching and learning.

Using the cloud to cuts ties with out-of-date learning environments

And as more schools feel tied to wonky learning environments that don't really serve their purposes, feeling tied more to the email services provided therein rather than the learning resources themselves, there is a super opportunity to cut ties and bring in the best of breed in email, shared platforms, communication tools and video conferencing on an 'as-needed' basis. This cuts not only the actual cost of services to near nil, but also cuts the educational cost of students using quickly outdated online tools that a school paid for upfront.

Here is the blurb from the Microsoft site, as they explain how their Azure service cut the bill:

The New South Wales Department of Education (DET) is the largest department of education in the southern hemisphere. They wanted to improve the way they conducted Year 8 science tests to replicate what students did in the laboratory and believed interactive online science testing could test a wider range of skills than just pure scientific knowledge. However, DET estimated for them to host an online test for 65,000 students simultaneously would require a A$200,000 investment in server infrastructure. With the help of their partner, Janison Solutions, DET launched its Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) online exam. In 2010, they trialled an online science exam hosted by Microsoft Azure that went out to 65,000 students in 650 schools simultaneously. Paying A$40 per hour for 300 Microsoft Azure Servers, DET estimated the cost of hosting the online exam for one day was just A$500.

Not only that, but the maintenance and robustness of those servers is handled by the experts, rather than an education department, and if more scale is needed, it gets added on without anyone ever needing to know.

It works on a State level. It needs to start working more on a school by school level.

Pic from Sugree

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.

Recent Posts

    Archives

    More...