I've spent the week back at Building Learning Communities in Boston, working alongside my colleague Tom Barrett and hanging out with great friends old and new. AlasMedia, my LA pals with whom I spend far too much time into the wee small hours talking about film, education, music and life, produced this clip to sum up the urgency with which we need to take what we learn from intensive weeks like this and put it into action in our classrooms.
What are you going to do on the First Five Days of school to make that dent in the status quo? Tell us using the Twitter hashtag #1st5days
When we're working with schools on our Design Thinking School programme, one of the easiest ways to explain what we're looking for in the way a project is set, is whether the statement or questions being asked can be Googled easily: is this a Googleable or Not Googleable topic?
Every topic, every bit of learning has content that can be Googled, and we don't want teachers wasting precious enquiry time lecturing that content. We want students, instead, to be using class time to collaborate and debate around the questions that are Not Googleable, the rich higher order thinking to which neither the textbook nor the teacher know the answers.
One of our schools in Brisbane, Star of the Sea Cleveland, took my "Googleable" / "Not Googleable" to a very literal end, when they pinned up two headings and got students to post-it each and every question in the class, categorising those which could be searched quickly (the lower order questions) and those which they should dwell on in class time.
This is the kind of meaty discussion that we want in class, and making it explicit in this way means that we cut to the higher order thinking so much quicker.
Read more from our Brisbane school, and how the rest of this particular lesson worked out, on our shared blog.
In early February I presented, in French, a 90 minute story about how design thinking and the educational worlds of formative assessment, school building, curriculum and assessment strategy are all bound together.
I wanted to show to the audience at Clair 2012 in New Brunswick, Canada, what can happen when these apparently unrelated worlds of technology startups, product design and formal education are bound together by leaders with foresight and an understanding of the detail and complexity of learning, amazing learning opportunities can happen.
It was a joy to speak about the complexity of learning and teaching, with the time and audience who got it - it was, after all, New Brunswick teachers that taught me how to really teach through their French immersion, project-led pedagogy.
It's the first time I've ever had a standing ovation for a talk, especially one that was 90 minutes and between opportunities for the audience to drink wine and eat cheese. I was taken aback by that. And even more humbled by the words from Stephen Downes, who also braved his fears of keynoting en français at the event:
I've had my criticisms of Ewan McIntosh in the past and I will no doubt have my criticisms of him in the future. But they will be a bit tempered from now on, I think. Ewan McIntosh weaved what can only be called magic at the conference I attended at Clair 2012, in northern New Brunswick. It wasn't simply because his French is easier to follow than his English ;) - he wove a tapestry of ideas together talking about what it is that will draw out students, interest them, engage them, and get them to be more than just followers of orders. It was one of the best presentations I've even seen - visually beautiful, low-keyed, personal and engaging. He has clearly learned a lot from his work with TED, but also, with 90 minutes to work with, the talk was never rush, never forced, and, in the end, exactly the right length. He received a standing ovation at the end, very much (to my observation) a rarity at education conferences. Well deserved.
I think part of it was to do with speaking French, but not because I was making an effort to speak it or anything, more that as a result of speaking my second language in an unfamiliar context I took extra care, and extra time from the normal 45 minute keynote sprint, to weave the complexities of our learning world in a simple way.
It was great fun, and I'm grateful to Roberto Gauvin, the Principal teacher at Clair's learning centre, for the opportunity to come through the metre-thick snow and -30˚C freeze to work alongside such a dedicated group of franco-canadian educators.
You can download a copy of the talk from the Clair 2012 website (right click/control click and select "Save As..."). Better still, you can see the actions stemming from it and other talks when you dip into the manifesto for change, the DeCLAIRation, a pragmatic document for change based on what we all heard from the four speakers and our many corridor conversations.
This growing document is designed by 100 educators who gave up a Saturday morning in a gym in Clair, to provide links to research that disprove the key naysayer arguments for curricular, assessment and pedagogical change in the classroom. Well, it's a dream document for a keynoter, even one with 90 minutes, because the Saturday morning exercise allowed us to revisit and question all those things we had heard from the keynoters through two days of conference, and back up our views with research and leading practice, rather than anecdotes.
It's open until March 11th for changes, and then we're going to use it to create change in the Francophone and, with some translation, the Anglophone worlds of education, by create a copy that can be sent to every politician and Principal we know.
Do you have a plan that you stick with, no matter what? Do you have a plan at all? Do you have a plan that you're prepared to give up totally when a student proposes something, anything, interesting? Are you patient, listening to what's going on, allowing yourself to be pulled, and slick enough (skilled enough?) to react and create something magical out of your box to make a lesson sing?
When we're working with our Design Thinking Schools the main challenge that comes up, at the beginning at least, is the desire of educators to forward plan to the extent that improvisations - or mistakes - can't be seized upon to create something much better than the plan the teacher had written, and probably stayed up until 11pm on Sunday night writing.
Stefon Harris explains in his TED Talk how this over reliance on the plan is, in jazz, a form of musical bullying. As someone who, in his early twenties, almost gave it all up to be a big band drummer, I know exactly what he means, and I know how it feels when 17 other musicians move their plan to accommodate for another's idea.
But I can also picture it in the classroom, where a "gift" is offered up by a students' question (or a student's lack of understanding) but isn't built upon by the teacher. Who or what are you going to allow to improvise and shift your plan today?
A little run of posts inspired by my favourite educationalist of the past decade, Dylan Wiliam. He's the chap that explained formative assessment to me in twelve pages flat, and changed my practice forever.
In this two-minute clip he pleads with us to move away from IRE questioning (Initiate a question to the class, Response comes from one child, Evaluation comes from the teacher ["that's right", "interesting answer" etc etc). He describes this form of questioning as table tennis question and answer, where all questioning, thought, wisdom and learning revolve around the teacher, and occupy just one child at a time. Back and forth, back and forth...
He asks us not to do table tennis Q&A - play basketball instead. Pose a question, pause, ask another kid to evaluate the answer child one gave, and ask a third for an explanation of how and why that's right or wrong.
Finally, don't allow hands to go up to give an answer - your students results will be worse than if they do otherwise. Instead, the teacher can encourage certain students to take part in this three-way questioning activity, and work over time to get them playing question basketball for themselves.
One of our proudest long-term Design Thinking School programmes is taking place in Sydney, Australia, with MLC School. Back in November we kicked off a programme of pedagogical change, to inform a new school bulding, with an intensive design thinking workshop. More on that soon over on the NoTosh site.
It has already led to a different type of language being used in the school: refreshingly, instead of "yes, but", we are now hearing "what if..." and "so what, who cares..." as the key questions asked around policy ideas and pedagogy.
But the biggest challenge that came through our Building Blocks challenge, sourcing the main blocks to change, was Time (or the lack of it). You can see time forming as the key concern in the middle of this timelapse of the process:
Tom and I traded a few ideas based on the way we work, harnessing GTD, the Done Wall and a vision founded on fuzzy goals that allows us to achieve a lot without getting bogged down too much in adminstering that creativity.
A throwaway phrase in one exercise, though, was the notion that, at the end of the day, we have to invest time to make time. James, one of our star music teachers, explains on his blog:
"INVEST TIME TO MAKE TIME". This motto, which I have since repeated to myself daily, has been my ticket to FREEDOM. It has given me the courage to change the way I do things as it has taken the guilt and anxiety away from "wasting" time in class (and on my own at my desk) to plan topics and projects WITH my students.
Yes, I may spend two entire lessons with my students planning a learning project, but the earnings on this relatively small investment are so high (and not only time wise). I get through more topics in a shorter amount of time (tick, tick, tick goes my virtual pen on my syllabus document), the students are more engaged and consequently put MORE time and effort themselves into the project.
From the workshop I have also held quite tightly onto... [the] image of the curriculum being like a 3D matrix...: instead of working through our syllabus in a linear manner, we could visualise all the student outcomes in a three-dimensional matrix and tick them off at different points in time as the students meet them through their various projects. This is also a great way to help us see that interdisciplinary teaching through project based learning is DOABLE.
So, INVEST TIME TO MAKE TIME... in any area of your life, really.
I don't do guest posts, but when it's your mother it's hard to say no. A year ago I wrote the Times Education Supplement's New Year editorial, If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing. At the time, my ideas were young, we had only been playing with them for six months or so, and Mrs McIntosh senior (and Mr McIntosh senior) weren't entirely sure how these "great ideas" were actually do-able. So we had many a dinner-table chat, and from these, as is the wont of the McIntosh family, my mother wrote a blog post, dry, unpublished, and asked me to push it out when I felt the time was right. She has since pushed it on her own blog, but I thought I'd ressurect this revolution again here.
A year on, the ideas in that article have been playing out in reality in so many of the schools with whom NoTosh has worked, and so it feels appropriate to now publish the foresight, and challenge, in my mother's post, written a year ago today:
The Revolution: a traditional English teacher’s take. “Poetry, like all the arts, is useless” Thus began an introductory note, written in the 1940s, for Higher English students on the subject of poetry – a wonderful note which went on to demonstrate that a knowledge of poetry would not clothe or put a roof over the heads of those who knew how to approach it, it was nevertheless one of the most fulfilling cultural activities for students of English.
The question for an English teacher who is sensitive to the need both for the cultural aspects of the subject and for the transactional writing that underpins half the subjects in the secondary curriculum is how to achieve a balance within a revolutionised school curriculum. This is one vision – the vision of an English teacher who has bridged the period between “Projects in Practice” and Higher Still, and who sees Curriculum for Excellence as a half-baked attempt to have a bloodless revolution.
Transactional English in immersion learning through a central topic:If a whole school was immersed in a core topic such as Climate Change, dealing with everything from the Physics and Chemistry of the process through the social aspects and physical impact of change to the politics and journalism of dealing with it, then English writing and comprehension would be an integral part of the study. English specialists would have to be timetabled to be present in the area where such work was going on, to be a constant resource on the ground, to enable the best possible communication and expression of what was being done at all levels.
Expressive and cultural input – especially from S3 upwards – in English:This is where the biggest change might be seen to take place. It would be perfectly possible to deliver the kind of lesson that has always brought, say, a poem to life to a much larger group than has been traditional since the days when partitioned classrooms used to be opened up to allow one teacher to take 60 pupils in time of absence of staff shortage. I’m thinking Big Lesson, followed by group work by pupils with teacher participation, followed by plenary feedback with some kind of projected backdrop showing the results of the discussions. This would free up timetable time to allow for more flexibility.
[It always seemed a waste to me to have a whole year timetabled to be doing the same course at the same time when some of the work was suitable for this kind of treatment. It also seemed a shame for some pupils to be stuck with the one teacher for the two years, say, of S grade, when they could easily have a shot of someone who inspired them. There were often instances of pupils of one teacher coming to another for advice which was lacking in the class they were in]
Technology as the glue as well as the instrument:If pupils were not isolated in the womb-like classroom of individual teachers (I’ll speak for English classes now) for up to 6 hours a week, but could because of flexible working spaces have access to technology and subject specialists when they needed it, provision of an adequate number of computers should be less of a problem – and the maintenance of them might be made simpler if 20 computers were not buried in the room of a cack-handed technophobe who didn’t ensure they were properly functional.
I think the formative assessment of students involved in both the cultural and the transactional stages of English could be transformed by their doing all their working-out online, so that both the process and the input of the teacher could be publicly visible (whether in the wider world or on a closed school site). This would save teacher-hours in repeating the same mantras (eg about the embedding of quotation in a Critical Essay for Higher English) and allow learning to take place through study of past materials (something I always did, but which was limited by having limited copies of exemplars).
Final work could be submitted on paper if required, but I like the openness and accountability of the blog/ning model for ongoing assessment and appraisal. If twitter or other short-form communication were to be built in to the system, the resulting flexibility would expedite learning, mentoring, teaching, assessment and feedback – and none of these would be limited to the physical classroom or the 9-4 day.
The integration of the extra-curricular:It strikes me that if something like The Pupils’ View had been a more collaborative activity, we would have had the Business Studies people onside teaching effective skills in typing and layout instead of fighting over when we could use their computers – and there was much useful learning going on with phone skills, advertising, layout & design, sweet-talking advertisers, selling papers. None of that was ever recognised.
Obviously timetabling and resources, school buildings and staffing are at the heart of this, but it seems to me a way of developing the ideas you were sharing so that the interesting and purely cultural aspects of the subject are not subordinated. And I have taken no account whatsoever of the matter of discipline and the disaffected pupil.
In my experience, there is a great deal of slack time and wasted effort in teaching as it currently stands. C.M.M. 01/11
These are many of the actual, practical ways that teachers in our Design Thinking School are piecing together a new form of curriculum, assessment and ways of teaching and learning. What practices and ideas would you add?
In 2011, with NoTosh, I started a programme of learning with the Catholic Education Office in Brisbane, to transform learning with our Design Thinking School programme. Six months on, we've captured some of the teacher feedback, thanks to our film friends at the Education Office, and it's revealing more transformation, more engagement of teachers in their own learning, and more responsiblity of learning transferred to students than we could have ever hoped for.
Over a short series of posts I'll take you through the key elements of the process, what it looks like in the planning and execution phases and how students, teachers and leaders respond to it.
While Design Thinking is a process that dates nearly 30 years, born out of the firm IDEO in California, and we've only been working on the process in schools since the summer of 2010, the workshops and online community support that we've been nurturing in Brisbane and other locations around the world is based on two fairly unique elements of practice we're lucky to come across every day at NoTosh:
The marrying of what we know works best in learning, based on the most recent research on formative assessment, school design, experential and active learning, play and technology, with what we know about the creative process of design thinking;
Taking our regular work with tech startups, film and TV companies, fashion houses and designers to inform, update and validate the creative processes' likelihood of generating new knowledge, as well as reinforcing existing understanding.
I hope that my reflections on the forthcoming posts are useful. They're far from complete - there's a book later this year to get closer to that - but they might provide a starting point for working this out in your own classroom or, if you're seeking to change a school or district of schools, it might provide the starting point to get in touch to work together.
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
Implementing the Wrong Solution
Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.
The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.
Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
Misdiagnosing the problem
How many schools do we know where leaders want to share good practice between staff but don't know where it is, when the real problem is that people are unwilling to share their good bits of practice?
National resource- and idea-sharing platforms, 'owned' by a Government or commercial organisation, have consistently failed to bring the majority of educators to their doors as the problem they have identified - people don't have anywhere to share - is a misdiagnosis.
The problem, for large numbers of educators, is that they are unwilling to share no matter who, what or where the platform is.
Once you know that this is the problem, one can begin to work out with those people what kinds of environment might encourage them to change their behaviour.
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.