94 posts categorized "Curriculum"

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

TEDxLondon: The Problem Finders [VIDEO]

In September I gave my first (and maybe last!) TEDx talk in London, on something I believe passionately about, and something I do not believe we're getting right, at scale, in schooling.

It's a linguistic nuance that requires significant changes in a teacher's pedagogy, approach, way of thinking and way of of collaborating. It's a change that we're enjoying working through with hundreds of educators on at NoTosh, throughout Australia, the Far East, Europe and, from next year, the USA.

Not on the video, now released by TEDx, is the pledge I was asked to make:

I pledge over this next twelve months to help 10,000 young people discover a problem-finding curriculum, through the development of confidence and skills in their teachers.

Well, with some help from some friends, we did manage to get 10,000 young people discovering a problem-finding curriculum: and we did it in 21 days.

We're working every week now with schools across the world in building The Design Thinking School, a pedagogical framework that borrows from enquiry-based learning and problem-solving curricula to bring new meaning and relevance to students, and we're finding that such a framework works regardless of curriculum, country, culture or language. In independent schools with parents wanting top marks, in city schools where students are disengaged, in suburb schools were students are successful but bored... in every case it's leading to more engaged students and better academic performance, in both elementary and high schools.

These Are "The Problem Finders":

I’ve been lucky enough to see our education system from several sides. I’ve been a teacher, an education advisor for government and I’ve worked as a talent spotter for TV companies and digital startups in the creative industries. I’ve noticed something in the way that we teach our young people that has a negative knock-on effect on their very ability later in life to contribute to a creative, sustainable world. With my teams of educators all over the world I’ve also seen the impact of a simple mindshift that every teacher in every classroom can make.

When I worked with the television corporation, my job was to seek out ideas that people had come up with and invest in them. The key: they had to find a problem that no-one else had solved. Out of 3000 ideas, this past three years, I think I’ve recommended about 30 of them. That means that our most creative people have about a 1% success rate in finding problems that need solving.

Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.

I’ve discovered just how many per cent of our learners are working in a problem finding curriculum. This summer, I met Simon Breakspear, a young educator from Sydney living in Cambrdige. He told me that the biggest headache he had in his current venture was finding a problem that no-one else had looked at. He went on to point out that he had never had to find a problem like this until this very moment, 25 years into his life. Simon was part of the one percent of us who undertake that bastion of quality learning: a PhD.

Another educator and good friend, Alan November, told me story a little later this summer. He once taught a Community Problem Solving course where, on the first day, he set students the task of finding a problem in the local community that they could then go off and solve using whatever technology they had available.From the front row a hand shot up. “Mr November?” began one of the girls in the class. “You’re the teacher, we’re the students. It’s your job to come up with the problems and give them to us to solve.” This was in 1983.

All our students, their parents and the people teaching them, have been indoctrinated that is teachers who sift through all the things we can learn, find the areas worth exploring, and make up theoretical problems for students to solve. On top of this, most educators believe that it is their job to invent problems at just the right level of difficulty to appeal to every one of the 30 children in front of them.
So we see this disingenuous belief that framing fake problems in different coloured books (the pink ones for the clever kids, the yellow ones for those “who need support”) is the best way to create problem solvers.

It is not.

Teachers, for too long, have actually been doing the richest work of learning for their students. Teachers find problems, frame them and the resources young people can use to solve them. Young people get a sliver of learning from coming up with ideas, based on some basic principles upon which the teacher has briefed them, and the teacher then comes back on the scene to run the whole feedback procedure.

How about something different?

In the classrooms in which I work, students explore the twenty or so themes upon which our planet really depends, immerse themselves in the ideas and information their teachers, peers and whole communities can impart, find the problems they feel are worth solving, theorise which ones will work and then try them out in a prototype. In their world, we don’t just write an essay or create yet another wiki or blog to describe what our idea is, but we actually build the solution to the problem with our own hands – in this case, these seven year olds built the world’s youngest TEDxKids event, and talked about their research and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing – or simply most interesting - problems. Do animals talk? Do babies have a secret language? Which cancer should we invest in curing first? Why do slugs needs slime?

Others in a Brisbane primary school we’re working chose to explore living for 24 hours without technology to immerse themselves not just in what makes technology so vital, but also the challenges and problems to our wellbeing that technology brings.

It takes courage for a teacher to let go of the reins of learning sufficiently to inspire problem finding where no textbook, teacher or standardized test knows the answer, where the teacher’s voice is but one of 30, 300 or 3000 others chipping in, guiding, coaxing and coaching through the ether. But this kind of learning surpasses the depth of thinking demanding by any traditional textbook, teaching or standardized test.

I began with a story about my friend Alan’s class, his students protesting that “he was the teacher, and they were the students”. Well, he persisted. After a year of problem-finding, those students insisted on the school opening up over the summer vacation so they could continue to find problems and solve them. When a new computer arrived, a student broke into school over the vacation – he didn’t break in to steal the computer, but to practice coding it. It’s rare we hear of students breaking into school to learn. But, I guess that’s what Problem-finding does to people.

Guy Claxton: What's the point of school?

Bored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Good results versus engagement

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

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

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

What do you do to show you're learning?

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

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

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

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

The Could Be Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

Battling with duplication

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

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

 


Developing empathy

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

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

Pic: Bored by Matt

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

October 03, 2011

Can your students join 10,000 others designing our future?

Problem finders
At TEDxLondon, BLC, Naace and a few other events this summer I asked if people wanted to join me in trying to encourage more curricula that were based less on students solving the irrelevant, contrived pseudo problems given to them in textbooks, and based more on finding great, real world problems that need solved.

A superb opportunity for action has come along.

Ever wondered what 10,000 young people could do to solve some of the world’s greatest problems? We want to know for the world’s most important ICT event, ITU Telecom World 11, by gathering young people's vision for the future on world2011.us.

The October 24-27 event is the flagship meeting of the world’s telecoms industries, brought together by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialised United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies. In the run up to the event, and during it, we’ll be showcasing the ideas of young people, aged 8-18, alongside the debates, panels and corridor discussions of these influential delegates.

I've been at so many events recently that have either totally lacked the student voice, or made third party reference to it through second-hand reportag from their teachers. This is a real chance for your students to make a global impact on problems that matter, wherever they are.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime real world project-based learning opportunity, that ties into most teachers’ curriculum at any given point in the year.

We’re providing some brief points of inspiration to get you started, over the seven key themes, and will open up a wiki space today where teachers can collaborate and add to each other’s resources on the areas.

By October 24, we hope to have videos, photos, blogs and examples or prototypes of what young people believe might help solve challenges on their own doorstep. Sign up your class, school or district to begin sharing the ideas of your students. We want you to tell us how technology could be harnessed to:

To take part, you just have to sign up your interest, and from there you’re able to submit posts to the project.

Pic: some problem finders in one of our schools in Ormeau, Brisbane, Australia.

August 27, 2011

Why Eric Schmidt is only partly right about science & technology education [#mgeitf]

Eric Schmidt Google

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was the first non-television exec to deliver the McTaggart Lecture at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last night. A core part of his talk was on the state of "UK education", and how "over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together." Britain should look to the "glory days" of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together, he said. 

"It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time. He was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet."

"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made."

It's a shame, though, that he didn't Google a little more on the education system of the country in which he was speaking. Scotland.

There is no such thing as "UK education", only English and Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish. The latter is significantly different from the others, and programming is a core part of our curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18.

It's why my daughter learns input-process-output at nursery school (kindergarten) through computer programmes and robots. It's why the literary structure and coding expertise needed to create a computer game is taught in more and more primary (elementary) schools. It's the reason that the very "learn how to use, not how to make it" approach to software has been questioned for the last eight years or more in Scottish computer science circles, and moves are made to reinstate the importance of programming at secondary (high school) level.

It's why our definition of 'text' in the Literacy (arts) guidance moves well beyond "the three Rs" and includes the likes of text messaging, computer games and the web at large.

In England, the education minister has gone from not mentioning technology at all in his curriculum and policy plans, to making piecemeal and out-dated contributions about how technology provides a great carrot and stick for learning. The differences between this and the forward-looking ambition of his Scottish counterpart are stark.

Yes, the McTaggart lecture is designed to "boil down to anger and arch-villains, impossible proposals and insults". But, Mr Schmidt, before going in for a great, potentially constructive insult for our neighbours, please accept an invitation to discover more about the country - and its own education system - that you have been kind enough to visit.

Read the McTaggart lecture in full.

Photo from TechCrunch

July 23, 2011

#BLC11: Help write the keynote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 2011

Rupert Murdoch on education: a colossal failure of imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is true in every area except one: Education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

Photo from the World Economic Forum.

May 18, 2011

Fewer instructions, better structures

_MG_3354

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

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

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

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

Our goals?

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

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

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

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

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

April 17, 2011

Learning Futures: How to engage students

Engagement
These days technology is often the last thing I'd recommend schools bother with when trying to engage students. There's plenty else we can invest time in before technology will achieve even a fraction of what it can in an engaged school. And now a set of action research reports in the UK is showing the path many schools might wish to take.

I'm working with several primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools at the moment in England, Australia and the States. All of them face the same daily and long-term strategic challenge: students have never been so disengaged. Many have seen technology as a principal hook to reverse this disengagement, which is why they get in touch with us, but quickly on my initial visits to schools I'm keen to point out the other steps that we need to get through before technology will add what it could do. Otherwise, I'm just a tools salesman, selling tools that the owners don't know how to harness.

The journey is a complex one, and one that, in my opinion for what it's worth, most of the 'big' eduction commentators in North America still fail to recognise. I've complained numerous times before about the fetichisation of 'tools' and 'edtech' by those who work with and in schools where other elements of the teaching and learning process clearly deserve fetichisation first.

What are these elements?

A unique and undervalued research project based in the UK, with partners in the US (including High Tech High), is discovering, analysing and sharing those elements through its regular pamphlets, blog and, above all, grounded practice across nearly 50 schools.

It's our job to help scale this ambition to other schools around the world.

Engaging-schools-cover Learning Futures' The Engaging School: principles and practices has some choice quotes amongst the practical steps school leaders might take to begin turning this apparent tide of disengagement. Here are my favourites:

The irony, for commentators like Alfie Kohn, is that invariably, “when interest appears, achievement usually follows” (2000, p. 128).

It is almost as though we have accepted the inevitability of learning as a cold shower: you’re not expected to enjoy it, but it will do you good.
...
We have recently seen a large number of students becoming disengaged achievers, performing well academically, keeping out of trouble, but rejecting further and higher education.

A second problem with the traditional model of engagement stems from its predominantly instrumental applications: engagement as a vehicle to improve student performance or discipline within school. Inevitably, such a mindset constrains success indicators within a compliance model. Students are deemed to be engaged, for example, when/if they:
    •    attend regularly
    •    conform to behavioural norms
    •    complete work in the manner requested and on time
    •    are ‘on-task’
    •    respond to questioning
If we have greater aspirations for students—beyond compliance and toward a commitment to lifelong learning—then the conventional concept of engagement is inadequate.
...
While project-based learning and activities that go beyond school can be liberating for staff and students, it is important that activities incorporate a sense of bounded freedom—that students are given a clear set of guidelines, procedures or protocols within which they can make choices. As one Year 9 student put it: “I’d like to have a little bit more of a say, but...I think you need the teacher there to sort of guide you.”

Students are absorbed in their activity: anyone witnessing a young person playing, say, on-line role playing games will know what this looks like. It is rare, however, to see such depth of absorption in school-based work. Munns and colleagues (2006) at the University of Western Sydney (2006) have quantified the difference as being in-task, not just on-task. Other indicators of high absorption would be students wishing to continue beyond the end of a lesson, or not even noticing the lesson had ended—what Csikszentmihalyi (1990) has described as being in ‘‘flow’’.

Picture of engaged gamer from Mr Toledano.

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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