226 posts categorized "Collaborative Learning"

February 20, 2015

Learning about the unknown unknowns #28daysofwriting

Designing the unknown | Long Version (25min) from CGS Mines ParisTech on Vimeo.

Sometimes the 28 days of writing is really the 25 minutes of watching.

My question: when a teacher uses Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's backwards design or understanding by design type methodology for learning, and nothing else, will your students ever experience the more real-world feeling of trying to fathom the fuzzy, ambiguous unknowns that lie ahead?

February 05, 2015

"I like doing it that way" is not good enough #28daysofwriting

This morning in Edmonton I'll be giving a keynote made up almost entirely of musical metaphors for educators. I've only given the talk once, but it proved particularly powerful with my group of Swedish educators at the time, because you don't need to speak great English to understand the lessons we can learn for our own classrooms.

In the excerpt above, young pianist David Kadouch gets pushed by  pianist Daniel Baremboim. In fact, he gets a pretty hard time when he changes the dynamic - when he plays an E flat note louder than the pianissimo (super quiet) the composer asked for. When asked why he was doing it the young Kadouch replies: "Because I like it". Baremboim is not impressed:

"I'm very sorry, with all due respect, it's not good enough.

"If you had thought of a good reason... I would have said 'chapeau'. But "I like it" is not good enough.

I'm not trying to compare what you're trying to do with the way I think it should go. I'm trying to help you achieve more of what you want to achieve yourself, so that's why it's important that I know why."

Baremboim points out that, because the student has not thought of the reason he is playing something in a certain way, he cannot justify playing it that way.

When I think of teachers' practice, I hit the same kind of conversation daily. I'm no Baremboim of teaching, but I can ask "Why" to find out why a teacher thinks that planning or teaching in a certain way is the best way of achieving what they want to achieve. Knowing the why, we can then both work together to ascertain if, from the world of teaching and learning savvy that we can access, the chosen path is really the best one at all.

This is the essence of design thinking. We design (take time to consider each element of) our thinking (we actually think through for ourselves; don't just assume that the first answer is the right one). 

Alas, most days the initial response is more or less what Kadouch says: "Because I like doing it that way; Because I've always done it that way; Because I saw someone else do it that way." None of these answers is good enough.

There's no care, no design, no thinking.

Here are some simple "Whys" where "because I like it" isn't good enough. And the resultant conversation might help open up some better learning in any classroom:

  • Why do you start a lesson with a teacher's voice?
  • When people are talking why do you keep going?
  • When students are clearly producing pretty but shallow work, why do you let them give the presentation?
  • When that kid wants to make a movie again, why do you let them?
  • Why do you, and not your students, choose the resources and activities that they will undertake each and every hour they're with you?
  • Why do you assume that student-led learning of content will lead to students 'getting through' less content than if you stand and deliver it?
  • Why do you think maths students cannot undertake student-led projects as effectively as in social studies?

The full masterclass can be viewed on YouTube.

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 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

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 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!

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 ;-):

https://twitter.com/trees2066/status/476483673618137088
https://twitter.com/trees2066/status/476481632829202432
https://twitter.com/trees2066/status/476482287320977408

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May 04, 2014

Look Up: knowing when to drop your tech to really learn...

Look Up. Effective technology use is knowing as much when to drop it, as to use it.

"Where we leave out all the bad bits, show no emotion…" A poem about real world empathy, being in the present, shutting down that screen... after you've watched it on YouTube, of course.

The point made here, though, is an interesting one when we reflect on the design thinking process and why it seems so powerful for learning, and is clearly distanced from "innovative technology use" when we see it used in schools. If anything, the key parts in the process - defining and reframing problems, ideating solutions to them, and soliciting and acting upon feedback, have nothing to do with a screen. There's great design research showing, too, that technology has failed to step up yet to the complexities of the real world thinking that our brains go through when trying to make sense of complex information in order to define a problem, or ideate a solution (e.g., Dorta, T., Pérez, E. and Lesage, A. (2008) - The Ideation Gap).

So, yes: look up, don't let the world pass by. Observe it, note the normal, embrace the differences and happenstance, create something new with someone else.

Cross-posted to NoTosh's regular updates on the Facebook page.

November 19, 2013

It's in if... Strategies for focus

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Originally posted on NoTosh's fabby Facebook page
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When you're writing a strategy for education, it's vital to delimit what *really* matters, and there's a simple project management tool that can help.

Jamie Arnold is the most rigourous project manager I've ever had the pleasure to work with, during my time at Channel 4. He's the PM on the award-winning new gov.uk website of the Westminster Government in London, and over the months of development has shared much of the agile management setup he and others have been managing, in order to get the site up and out on time, and to budget.

One of my favourite takeaways is the "It's In If..." list for the project, pictured, which sums up in a few pithy phrases what the core activity of his organisation is. It helps when team members are faced with a personal challenge of whether or not to do something, or include a factor in a build. If it's not in, then it's not to be done. If it's not a core value that *only* your group, team or school can offer, leave it out or point people in the right direction, where that offering is better.

Schools and school districts could do with their own "It's in if..." lists to help focus the innovation of everyone in the school community. But if you were a teacher, writing your own "It's in if..." list for, say, resources used in a unit or making a decision to have a teacher-led section of a lesson or not, what would you put?

 

August 26, 2013

20% Time and Schools: not the best of bedfellows

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With the start of term in the Northern hemisphere, several of the schools we're working with have brought up the notion of offering their students "20% time", a version of what Google famously offer their employees to undertake their own, personal projects. But in schools, it often seems to fall short of our expectations of creative genius.

Post-it manufacturer 3M pre-date Google and a multitude of others in applying 20%/10%/5% time, the idea being that moments of genius, in personal creative time allotted to the workforce, can become the company's next core product. In school, it's often seen as a highly manageable way of introducing student choice and student-led learning in the classroom, sometimes without having to worry too much about the remaining 80%. It's a first step, a way to immediately programme in 'student-led' without having to take on the whole game of one's semester or school year.

The problem is, that students given this open stretch of time often don't know what to do, or beyond their initial couple of passions they run out of steam. Their end-products are largely under par of their capacity. Sure, there are moments of genius, just as in Google, 3M or any other corporation that introduces 20% time. But, just like them, they are by a small proportion of students, with the vast majority of ideas failing to hit the mark.

Is this use of time - and so much of it - worth trying in school? I don't think so.

It's interesting to note that even in cash-rich Google, the inefficiencies of offering so much undirected time to employees are now being curbed. Key to this is not killing off individual creativity - far from it. In corporate speak business leaders talk about aligning 20% time to the vision of the company, making sure it has something to do with the core business.

In schooling, this is equivalent to making sure that student-directed time is nonetheless tied to the vision of the project in hand, the core business of the class in that semester or term. Freewheeling results in what I saw as an investor in tech and media products: 1% success rates. The rest is chaff, mediocrity, not because the people behind those developments are fatally flawed, but because the process is: you can't expect 100% of creatives to be 100% creative all the time when there is no common vision. You up the stakes when you're vision is clear, something that never was, frankly, in my investment unit five years ago.

So 20% time and its variants are indeed a great way to introduce a manageable, constrained version of student-led learning, without having to change all your practice at once. But treat it with caution. The same principles of clear, shared objectives stand to make the most of it. Any piece of creative genius generally stems from some healthy design constraints set out at the start.

If it were me, I might start with this for a term, but I'd be concentrating on the next semester, and seeing how, using robust self- and peer-assessment techniques I can introduce more student autonomy throughout everything I do.

Photo: George Armstrong

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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