63 posts categorized "Constructivism"

August 31, 2012

What computers can't do: hexagonal thinking

I'm working on an advisory project at the moment where the team in charge is largely remote: we're all spread around the world and the people organising things spend too much time in front of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. The result? Lots of text gets sent back and forth and that text is festooned with bullet points, numbers and linear thinking.

I first came across the antithesis to this from the creator of "the learning organisation" concept Arie de Geus' The Living Company: hexagonal thinking. Hexagonal thinking involves writing down key components of knowledge, observation and understanding on hexagons, not in lists, and then placing them in patterns that show the connections between ideas, and the connections between clusters of those ideas and other clusters. It is complexity made simple.

De Geus had found that when he and executives were trying to help insurance people better understand their complex products, the expensive computer simulations they had developed were not doing the job: staff were too busy trying to "win" the simulation that the more significant, and complex, information about the products was lost. With the introduction of hexagonal thinking those complex connections were made swiftly and deeply.

In the classroom does this work? Of course! And it was my good friend Chris Harte who showed me how it could be done with something as banal, and complex, as French grammar:

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Chris has since gone slightly crazy about hexagons, and presented on it in his new home of Melbourne, Australia, at his local TeachMeet:

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I only wish bureaucrats also thought in hexagons...

August 30, 2012

Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz

Jazz


I'm paraphrasing somewhat, but this is a fascinating interview from jazz musician and management professor Frank Barrett, on a key design thinking skill, where problem solving alone is not sufficient.

A certain creative mindset with a distinct process that a team can use to hit its groove and make new discoveries is at the core of jazz, and it's at the core to the way of thinking that we've been working hard on with design thinking in schools. Likewise, the jazz musicians' practice of dislodging their routines in order not to fall into clichés is core to the design thinking process: the process of 'playing' remains the same, but the mindset we learn helps us see the same things we've seen before in a new light, time and time again:

 "Improvisational mindset means that you have to leap in and take action, to say "yes". "Yes" is a mindset of affirmative confidence. You can't stop and problem solve. Problem solving is just not sufficient. If you're just in a problem-solving mindset your imagination is going to be shrunk. Comedy improvisors have an obligation to build on someone else's gag with "yes, and…". The same is true in jazz. You don't stop and analyse, criticise what you've heard. You jump on it and build."

As a jazz drummer through most of my youth (and still, on headphones and my Roland, in my office ;-) this podcast reminds me of all the leadership and team thinking lessons that I learned back then: comping to make the soloist sound great, that sense of "ubuntu", where I can't sound good unless my buddy sounds good, that constant listening to others in order to build on what they started...

Other leadership lessons have been summed up beautifully by musicians in these clips. My favourite, and one that I often pillage at the closing of a workshop or talk, is Itay Talgam's set of metaphors of conductors and leadership:

Stefon Harris talks about how, in jazz, there are never mistakes unless you as a band don't build on each other's playing:

And Benjamin Zander talks about how to lead people to love music (or learning, or anything...)

Thanks to my Detroit buddy Jordy for sending me the link to this podcast.

(Original photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/edublogger/2705855811/)

August 22, 2012

What's the difference between PBL and Design Thinking?

Bianca Hewes and some others were last night asking some good questions to seek out the difference between design thinking and project-based learning (PBL) as techniques for use in the classroom. These kinds of questions we explore through out workshops with educators around the world, and there's an explanation developing in a book I hope to release soon. In the meantime, here's a quick and dirty take on the question from me:

For much of the past three years my colleagues and I been working through a specific innovation process with educators on the one hand, and non-education organisations on the other: media groups, technology startups, fashion companies, the UN, political parties... The process is design thinking.

When we work with creative, government or political organisations, the approach is a logical extension of what they're doing, a welcome structure through which to explore a wider scope of a given challenge.

When we work with schools, we're taking the Design Thinking process and marrying it with what we know from research about what makes great learning. However, there's a piece of vocabulary that often gets in the teachers' way of seeing what design thinking might bring to the learning process: PBL, or project-based learning. "It's just PBL"; "This is the same as CBL": the understanding of a model which is close, but not quite the same to design thinking, makes it harder to spot the differences and additional elements that could help enrichen practice.

So what are the key differences between a PBL project and one where design thinking is mashed with what we know makes learning great? (N.B. Following some criticism on Twitter, I feel it is worth pointing out that these reflections are just that, reflections on practice I've either observed first hand or have researched online. Don't get mad: comment and take part in the discussion).

0. Important point: there's probably less of a #PBL vs Design Thinking distinction to make, but rather, how can design thinking add to existing well-kent pedagogies of PBL?

1. A PBL project tends to explore a relatively narrow subject area, with a narrow essential question
In many, if not most PBL, projects I've seen, the project is defined by the essential question(s), which often sound like curricular checkpoints, or which funnel learning down a particular pre-defined path. In many, the groupings of students and their activities are defined (the film crew, the researchers, the presentation-makers, the event organisers).

In Design Thinking, the goal is to explore the widest possible area(s) for longer, to offer a good half-dozen or more potential lines of enquiry that students might end up exploring. The essential question(s) come much later in the process (as much as half-way through, in the synthesis stage) and...

2. In Design Thinking, the students, not the teacher, write the essential question(s)
In PBL, the teacher does a lot of the learning for the student: taking a large potential area of study and narrowing it down into a manageable project question. The teacher often delivers a "brief" for learners through two or three essential questions, much in the same way as a client delivers a brief to a design firm.

In Design Thinking, the teacher avoids asking a question at all, and comes up with what we call a generative topic (from David Perkins' work), a curiosity-mongering statement that opens up an area of study, doesn't narrow it down. The questions that come from this investigation are the ones that students will go on to look at in more detail, come with ideas around solving or presenting.

Design firms like IDEO and our own web designers at NoTosh often take a brief from a client and then through their research, they change it. However, in learning, the use of a generative topic from the start speeds up the process, and teaches this skill of "helpful disobedience" of the brief. There's little difference, in fact, between a traditional project-based learning experience and a deep design thinking experience if the educator is giving a brief: design thinking merely adds some structure to PBL, a new vocabulary, and, it seems from every workshop I spot online, lots of LEGOs, pipe cleaners and post-its. There is more to Design Thinking for learning than this utilitarian service-improvement model that's currently getting big airtime!

A large part of our work with educators is working on how to develop higher order questioning skills in students. So many Design Thinking projects we observe elsewhere at the moment are based around relatively lower order questions, or on just school/community improvement. Design Thinking can be so much more than this, but it takes the marriage between Design Thinking as a creative industries process and the best educational research we can find. It's hard to find people teaching Shakespeare, religious studies or mathematics through the process, the very things we're seeing educators through our work begin to achieve. Core to raising that ambition is raising the quality of questioning in both teachers and students, something that remains untouched in most schools.

3. The ideas of what students will produce in PBL are often set by the teacher.
In Design Thinking students make the choice about what their prototype will be. Prototype or product ideas for learning are often set in advance in a PBL project ("you will produce a film", or "you will be able to use multimedia and text").

In Design Thinking the decision about which medium to use to show an idea lies entirely with the students, and again comes later in the process, when they know more about the initial exploratory topic.

4. Design Thinking provides a set of vocabulary that increasingly makes sense to employers in the creative, financial and governmental and innovation sectors.
The biggest challenge with PBL is that it was invented for education by educators. Design Thinking was created 30 years ago by a product design outfit (IDEO) as a way of working and thinking, to help provide better solutions to clients. The process helped bring about the graphical interface and computer mouse. It's now coming into the language of many large firms as they seek a more structured way to innovate.

The language PBL uses is, by contrast, inconsistent and not usable outside the classroom. So, using a process that encourage deeper, wider thinking AND helps develop a life skill provides great value to learners.

5. And what about Understanding by Design..?
When we first came across Understanding by Design, or UbD, it felt, in the words of those harnessing it, very similar to their first impressions of design thinking. However, there's a key difference. UbD involves the educator deciding on a final view of success and working back from that, designing learning towards the final goal. Design Thinking does it the other way around.

UbD almost tries to give students the impression they have choice, responsibility for their learning, real things to create in order to learn, but in fact, it fails to respect the choices learners make, as tangents are a) less likely to appear (the immersion phease of research at the beginning is narrower by design) and b) less likely to be given time and resource by the teacher when they do appear (such tangents are off the goal that the teacher has already set in mind).

Although controversial to say, I feel that UbD and many project-based learning approaches do nothing but disempower the learner, or at least not empower them any more than traditional coursework and chalk-and-talk. It's maybe less the approach that is wrong (since depth and higher order thinking is a staple of most guides to project-based learning) but the practice that ends up occurring as people find themselves pushed back into the status quo of assessment accountability and content coverage fear from their superiors. As a result, many design thinking projects we see are too narrowly designed around school or community improvement, something Reggio Emilia and Montessori schools have been doing (better?) for scores of years. Why are we not seeing PBL or Design Thinking taking place across whole school curricula, from Shakespeare to science, school canteens to Cantonese?

It's time people look more seriously towards the amazing work done by educators in Europe and Australia, where design thinking is truly stretching the scope within which learners operate. There. I said it! :-) And I promise that over the next six months we'll share even more of those amazing learning stories.

This is a brief outline of five key differences between the two approaches. As I wrote above, there is a new book coming out soon from me outlining the amazing work done by our Design Thinking Schools and creative clients around the world. This will provide the depth that some folk might want after this briefest of explanations. We also run intensive workshops for educators and creative firms, wherever you are in the world, that help enthuse staff and set them out on the journey towards more student-led learning. If you're interested in one of those, just get in touch.

August 13, 2012

SOLO Taxonomy: giving students a sense of progress in learning

I am here

Without a sense of progress you cannot be creative, so what language can we offer students that enables them to take control of understanding where they are in their learning?

One key notion about creativity is that the ability to calculate progress is an important part of the creative process: knowing when something feels 'done'. Knowing when you're stuck, when you're done, when you're at the end of that chunk of learning is essential. It gives that indication that you need to go back out and get some more insights from someone or something.

Knowing where you are in your learning requires a language, a rubric of some sort, and one which fits the bill really well is John BiggsSOLO Taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes). This is a thinking tool which I came across from Chris Harte in his Cramlington Learning Village days. Often, the language used to frame learning in the SOLO Taxonomy is used by the teacher to assess learners' progress, but far more powerful is when the learner him- or herself is encouraged to use the language as a self-assessment tool. Giving the rubric to the learner by making it clearly visible in every classroom increases their capacity to take ownership of their future direction of travel.

The SOLO Taxonomy is like a stepping stone progression through the perceived understanding of a given area. We use it in the ideation phase of our design thinking work to test how rich an idea might be, or whether more immersion in the topic needs done to add depth to it:

SOLO Taxonomy Stepping stones

 

The model provides five levels of understanding of a given topic or area of learning:

  • Pre-structural - The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it. In languages, this feels like knowing odds and sods of language, but never being able to pull together a sentence for oneself. 
  • Uni-structural - The student's response only focuses on one relevant aspect. In a languages classroom this might be where a student can answer a specific question with a very specific answer, but can't go "off piste" linguistically.
  • Multi-structural - The student's response focuses on several relevant aspects but they are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative. In a languages classroom you might see a student able to link together some obvious connections of language, but still unable to pull the conversation around to other related areas.
  • Relational - The different aspects have become integrated into a coherent whole. This level is what is normally meant by an adequate understanding of some topic. In a foreign language this might be the capacity to speak the language well enough to understand and be understood, but perhaps some of the cultural impact or context is still lost.
  • Extended abstract - The previous integrated whole may be conceptualised at a higher level of abstraction and generalised to a new topic or area. Here, in a foreign language, we can imagine both a linguistic competence but also the capacity to develop an understanding of how that language has impacted on its culture, on other cultures, on literature and so on.

Tait Coles describes how he put it into action with phenomenal results in his classroom, and David Didau builds on Tait's thinking and provides some resources to get you started:

 

Additional links (14/08/12):

Pam Hook, a New Zealand educator who has taken Biggs' thinking and created many of the graphical rubrics and other resources you'll see peppered around the web, provides a rich bank of practical advice and printables to get you started on her site. If you're starting a school year, her downloadable slideshares will help you help colleagues make sense of how this can change practice.

Have you been using the SOLO Taxonomy? Want to start this new school year? Let me know in the comments how it impacts the capacity of your students to take control of their own learning.

January 16, 2012

Design Thinking 2: Immersion - don't give students a problem to solve...

The Future Belongs To The Curious - so says this compelling clip passed on by Christian Long. But so say the scores of teachers with whom we work, when we suggest to them that the average 13 years of compulsory schooling content can be covered, easily, in less than 13 years time if, in fact, students choose what they cover, and when.

This is the core tenet of the first phase of The Design Thinking School: Immersion.

When we began working with our schools in Brisbane, we explained Immersion like this: 

The first phase of design thinking does not take one fifth of the time: immersion might take up to 70% of the process, as great observations can lead quickly to great ideas for solving real problems. It's a process of opening up opportunities to explore, not shutting them down. This is where, from a teacher's perspective, all control sometimes feels lost as students explore unexpected tangents. The trick is keeping out of the way, and letting students justify to themselves and to others why some tangents are worth exploring and others less so.

Immersion: observation and empathy with others

The act of just observing what goes on in the world is one that most adults struggle with: we want to jump to inferences and even come up with ideas to problems that we've perceived. But there's only one way to spot a great problem: find it through speaking with people, observing their "thoughtless actions", as Jane Fulton Suri puts it, noticing the small things that don't work, and the band-aid solutions people have to make the world around them work better. It's in these observations, and the empathetic process of putting yourselves in their shoes, that interesting problems no-one has solved, and questions to which no-one (yet) knows the answers, will emerge.

Observations might be made around a general theme or a more specific challenge (often framed in the "How might we…?" or "What would happen if…?" vein). The teacher's job with his or her students, much like the client working with creative design agency, is to negotiate the initial trigger of research, the brief, which needs to be

1. open-ended enough not to suggest a pre-existing bias or answer to be second-guessed

2. epic enough to be worth solving or working out (it needs to pass the "so what?" test of your average 14 year old, regardless of the age group of children working on the challenge)

3. negotiated enough to allow the students to find interesting tangents to explore, but the teacher to retrospectively see how curricular goals can be matched with their learning.

 Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, puts it this way:

"The key of a design thinking structure is enough flexibility with enough specificity to ground its ideas in the lives of their intended beneficiaries."

How about these for starters?

  • What would happen if we cut down the last tree?
  • What would happen if humans became extinct?
  • How might we create a carbon zero school?
  • How does an iPad know where it is?
  • What would happen if there were no religions?
  • How might we solve a problem that will improve the lives of 100 people in our local community?

You'll notice that these are not framed as problems, but rather generative challenges out of which many problems could be found. It is these subsequent problems that students will set out to solve. This means that in a class of 30 students, working in groups of three, four or five, you could end up with 10 different problems being solved within the same initial challenge. Or, you might find students being drawn to one problem in particular.

What they did with this process opened up their eyes to a much more enrichening curriculum approach than anything that had been 'carefully' planned by the teacher. Students didn't just cover what needed covered - they went up and over that limit to surpass the core curriculum, putting it in context, and bringing in other, new and existing content that made their project ideas work.

The key to success, and the differentiator compared to other problem-based learning approaches? Students, not teachers, work out the challenge they want to solve.

This key idea is what I explored in my TEDxLondon talk on the problem finders:

 

Now you can see for yourself how this plays out in the classroom in the video produced by the Brisbane Catholic Education Office.

Tom: At Mount Vernon School in the United States, as part of the ITU Telecom World conference that we helped to reinvent with the participation of 10,000 young people through design thinking, one picture sticks in my mind. As part of the empathy phase young students, no more than six or seven years old, carried water, large canisters of water, from home to school. They had pain on their faces, sweat pouring down their cheeks. All this to better understand what it's like. Because they did that, they thought up better products, through a broader range of solutions.

Ewan: It's hard to teach that empathy/observation part. Teachers want to cover what they feel they want to cover. But empathy and observation is going to go beyond what you need to cover in any six week period, because this isn't a six week project. It's a way of working, a way of learning that frees up so much time later in the year or in the child's school career, with enough cooperation between schools. I wonder whether this is why 3-18 schools, independent mostly, are able to better understand the potential time saving and the ability to reduce the repetition most school students have to put up with.

Cassie: The immersion stage is a very difficult stage. It's not about generating a solution, drawing in a sketchbook, or Googling ideas or finding information. It's about finding emotions, people's feelings, finding empathy for the problem. 

Miriam: When we were in that immersion stage and we were really trying to create that empathy, we were trying to get out of the students their feelings, what they thought about it and then what action can we take to be better? It was sort of empowering to them to see that they can do something about it. It's not just your teachers, your parents your school, you can actually go out there and do something about it.

January 11, 2012

Release the reins of learning: an annual post-script from... my mum

Reins

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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]
  3. 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.
  4. 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? 

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 7: Implementing the Wrong Solution

Wrong solution
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

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).

Picture from Noel C

January 04, 2012

Collaboration 4: Overshooting the potential value

Baguio Airport
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

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:
 

Overshooting the potential value

Sony again made a collaboration slip-up when they went to collaborate with Columbia Pictures in 1989, the idea being that filmmaking and film delivery could be brought together in interesting ways. The problem arises when the films are no good, and any synergy is rendered useless: "Synergy: big wind, loud thunder, no rain." (as cited in Deals from Hell).

When I'm working with startups in a Business Model Generation workshop, inspired by the book of the same name, one of the challenges for them is seeing between who is a potential paying customer and who is a worthwhile partner. The key in partnership is in the name: it should be considered a lifetime commitment, and a partner can never be converted into a client at a later date. Clients are what businesses need, in order to gain results.

In the creative industries, there is yet further questioning of the value of collaboration. The best films (and definitely the easiest filmsets to work on) have one director who just directs. He or she tells people what it is they want. There might be some room for negotiation, or for a "why don't we try it this way", but by and large the director knows what they want and they don't so much collaborate during the shoot as get the thing done before sundown.

I wish it was as easy as that, though. Collaboration is often better than a lone genius going about their art. Gordon Torr spends an entertaining 288 pages struggling between creative examples of where the lone genius has won the day, and creative teams where synergy was the only way to success in Managing Creative People. He never does reach a conclusion, although he does point out that job titles and hierarchy are a key killer of creative potential, something that relates to how collaboration's costs can oft be misunderstood (my next post)...

In an education context, to gain results in the literal or pure learning sense, we need to know who and what resources constitute 'clients', from whom we'll get stuff to enrich our minds, and who we want to view as collaborative partners because the sum of those parts will be greater than the individuals themselves. It's not a given that two people collaborating will offer this secret sauce, so we have to think very carefully about with whom we collaborate, what we get out of it, what they get out of it and the potential for both parties to get something new out of the partnership and collaboration.

Never again should the words "get into some groups" or "partner up" be uttered without some thought by the students, and by their teacher, about who is going to offer whom a genuinely additive partnership for a collaboration.

Pic of the deadly Baguio Airport by Storm Crypt

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

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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