9 posts categorized "Great Ideas"

July 07, 2015

"I like it" is not good enough

Creative conflict is the ability to agree to disagree, and use the disruption of a disagreement to make your work better. It relies on the partners in disagreement to both be on top of their game, both of them respectful of the other's views on how something might be made better.

Teachers seek this creative, quality feedback discourse every day in their students' work. But every month I bump into another educator who will not "believe" that the practice I'm sharing with them will make their students' outcomes better. The frustration of practice being negated by a simple "I don't believe this will work with my students / in math / in this school" is hard for me to mask - if you want to know one of my 'buttons', press this one.

The video clip I show in return, helps those who don't understand creative conflict get the point, without having to take it personally. It also shows the subtle difference between simply taking research "as is", and having a critical eye on the research.

Barenboim's masterclass pianist plays at a dynamic which is not written in the piece (like a teacher choosing to ignore what a piece of research says). When pushed on why he does it, he says: "because I like it". Barenboim has two options in his potential reply. One would be:

"But the manuscript says this, so play it like that".

This is the musical equivalent of what might be said by the emergent research-led cabal who wouldn't have a teacher teach a certain way unless it had been researched robustly that way first.

Instead, Barenboim asks him to reflect, to think about why he's taking the manuscript / the research and interpreting it differently, in his own style. It's an example of the fine line between virtuoso and just getting it wrong, in spite of what the manuscript suggests you might do for 'success'. And the clip makes the subtle, nuanced point in a way far more subtle and nuanced than most edu-speak can ever manage.

June 16, 2015

When a Snow Queen starts a school: the no-grades route to University

Drumduan

No grades (ever), no sitting down at desks, and harnessing student boredom as a motivator to create and explore might seem an odd recipe for academic success and entry to university, but that is exactly what one of Scotland's newest schools is attempting to do.

Drumdruan Upper School was created a few years ago by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, star of many a Hollywood blockbuster and forever in my mind the terrifying Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The school extends a Steiner education beyond the age of 14, and takes students through to their University years. The Observer has published a fascinating and detailed account of some of the recipe that makes this a special place and, above all, has bowled over the traditionally conservative schools inspectorate:

That is not what happened: the inspectors sat in the classes and watched the students. And if you watch the students at Drumduan, you soon notice they are confident, articulate, highly motivated and respectful. These are, in fact, the words used by the inspectors in their subsequent report. You might even believe the students at Drumduan wanted to be there. The inspectors clearly felt so, but it was when they had retired to an office to confer that Krzysztof, a master of the spontaneous gesture, delivered the coup de grace. He sang to them.

Music is something of a hallmark at Drumduan, where children participate in regular workshops – often on instruments like a wheelie bin – and start each day singing in four-part harmonies. “We were rehearsing in another room, and I said: ‘This song is terrific, we have to show these inspectors,’” Krzysztof recalls. “So we burst into their office – they were a bit alarmed – and I said: ‘I’m sorry, we’ve just got to sing this song to you.’” The song was “Media Vita”, a medieval score of haunting beauty that reduced the inspectors to tears, according to Krzysztof. Bowled over by their praise – he is a man whose emotions are close to the surface – Krzysztof asked if he could give them a hug, probably a first for all of them.

 ...

“There’s no grading, no testing at all,” Tilda had explained to me earlier. “My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it – happy and inspired.”

May 08, 2015

Making isn't as important as the design thinking dispositions that come with it

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In the Designing Spaces for Learning Masters subject I wrote and teach at Charles Sturt University, there is one week spent on Experimental Spaces. Part of that module is on making and maker culture. I purposefully didn't dote an entire one of my sixteen weeks on making, but write about it as a type of activity requiring a type of space that many treat as 'experimental':

...Making, and the attitudes outlined here, are nothing new. The oldest record of technology, engineering and craft being made a core area of learning goes back to 1868, and the first Chair of Engineering in any university was in 1959, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Until the 1990s, it is fair to say that the emphasis was on building skills, not mindset, that would lend themselves to industry.

"In the 1990s, though, we see a change in Scotland towards state secondary and primary schools introducing craft, technology and design courses, with an emphasis on enquiry, problem-framing and making to learn. It might be argued that many of the criteria for a successful maker space and for the Maker Movement itself have been nurtured, developed and finely honed over at least 25 years in those countries like Scotland where, rather than pushing such subjects to the fringes of school life - or out of school life altogether - "maker" type school subjects have morphed with the times, to maintain their relevance (Dakers, 2005; Scottish Government, 2006).

This might explain the recent powerful growth of makerspaces in some environments (American and academics-focussed international schools) versus a lack of financing and marketing for such spaces in others (thanks to the long-standing provision of maker technologies in state schools in the United Kingdom, for example).

Some new research emerging from the Harvard Project Zero team is also pointing to the fact that making itself is nothing new, and nor is making itself anything particularly unique in what it offers students, either. However, the new interest in making is helping education institutions and systems remember something that they had forgotten, lost when they originally got rid of stalwart craft subjects in the interest of 'academic rigor':

Students learn a tremendous amount through maker-centered learning experiences, whether these experiences take place inside or outside of makerspaces and tinkering studios. There is no doubt that students learn new skills and technologies as they build, tinker, re/design, and hack, especially when they do these things together. However, the most important benefits of maker education are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their world. (Emphasis added)

That sense of self, community and self-efficacy - "I can change the world around me" - are the same results my NoTosh team have seen in learners who undertake more student-led, immersive, complex learning, where they find the problems they wish to solve. The same effect can be found in the nascent research on design thinking for learning coming from Swinburne University, Australia (Melles 2010; Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. 2012). The benefit is visible where  the problem itself is academic and not practical, even if the problem itself offers no opportunity for physical construction, even if the problem is not related to science, technology, engineering or maths. It appears to be the very process of working on something you have chosen to work on offers that very sense of 'real' and ownership that are so much at the core of sharing learning objectives, success criteria and being in a position to act meaningfully on feedback.

Picture from Russell Davies

References:

Dakers, J (2013) Technology Education in Scotland: an Investigation of the past twenty years. Conference proceedings from Pupils Attitudes Towards Technology (PATT 15). Retrieved from: http://www.iteaconnect.org/Conference/PATT/PATT15/Dakers.pdf

Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum design thinking: a new name for old ways of thinking and practice? Sydney: Proceedings of the DTRS8 Conference 299-308. http://www.academia.edu/392724/Curriculum_Design_Thinking_A_New_Name_for_Old_Ways_of_Thinking_and_Practice

Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. (2012). Teaching design thinking: Expanding horizons in design education. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences 31 162 – 166

Scottish Government (2006), Experiences and outcomes: Technologies. Retrieved from: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningteachingandassessment/curriculumareas/technologies/index.asp

February 21, 2015

Crazy, stupid... innovation. The imperfect perfection of Tower Bridge #28daysofwriting

I've had a lovely week on holiday down in London with the family, being proper tourists. Under the dreich weather of Monday we ventured Thames-side and towards the terrifying but fun seethrough walkways of Tower Bridge. Along the side of the walkways were photographs of some of the world's great bridges, together with some of the history about how this iconic bridge came to be.

What did we learn?

This landmark, required to cope with the overwhelming population growth on either side of the river and increased river traffic to the upper parts of the Thames, was borne out of many, mostly failed, prototypes, most in the form of sketches.

Thank goodness we didn't stop at the first prototypes submitted to the public competition. The dual lock system would hardly have helped with the drastically increasing river traffic of the industrial revolution:

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And a system of hydraulic elevators would have failed in the other sense, not really foreseeing 2015's automotive traffic needing a quick north-south crossing:

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Some designers simply did without a bridge and went for the tunnel - perfect for traffic throughput in the longer term and not disruptive at all to the river traffic. In the end, though, it was feasibility that killed these tunnel ideas off - the runways required to descend human and horse-drawn traffic into them were so long that they ate up most of the land either side of the river:

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As the final designer was chosen, even his first drafts were off the mark on the aesthetic side:

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In the end, the rules for killing ideas and honing the kernels of interesting ideas down haven't changed since the bridge's completion in 1894 and today, as I describe them in my bookdesirability (do they want or need it?), feasibility (can we do it?) and viability (should we do it?).

The result, is an imperfect perfection that we recognise in an instant:

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February 06, 2015

Sporf Strategy: Beware #28daysofwriting

Sporkife

I picked up this Sporf in Amsterdam Schipol airport. A spork I'd seen before, but the addition of a simple serration on the side of the fork end makes this a genuine "three-in-one" implement for eating one's full three-course takeaway meal on the plane. The sporf is no innovation; back in 1940 the "sporf" was born. It took me until 2015 to notice this one thanks to its rather pleasant design.

The sporf is a little like most strategy documents that I come across. It is one implement designed to serve a multitude of goals, but with one fatal flaw: you can only ever use one part of the sporf / strategy at any one time. With the sporf, things would get messy trying to use the spoon and knife and the same time. The knife and fork work quite well in sequence but physics prevents me using both at the same time as I can with the older technologies of knife and fork

In strategy formation, we can develop a multitude of potential purposes within one document, killer vision statement or mission. But it's important to recognise that the teams around us will only ever be able to do one thing really well at any one time. This is a lesson oft ignored by schools, in particular, as they attempt to ask educators to create an ever-more creative curriculum without having first tackled attitudes towards summative assessments throughout the year.

It is also a challenge in some of the world's most successful, but now stagnating, big businesses: they've spent decades or centuries building a reputation across a large array of devices, technologies, components or clothing, but the real strategy is working out which of the current array needs killed off to enable teams in their quest to develop something totally new, properly innovative.

It's the reason I added the "...and actually make them happen" to my "How to come up with great ideas" book. Writing a sporf strategy is easy: you just need to keep adding components. But, to actually make those strategies happen you need to thump out the timetable of development and delivery very carefully, for, no matter how talented your team, or how many bodies on the ground you have, the institution can only ever move forward on one big idea at a time.

February 05, 2015

My book is finally available on Kindle!

Book arrived

The original limited edition version of my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, is down to its last few copies barely 10 weeks after we received crates of them. This was the full-colour 'beautiful' book that I had wanted to make, but its manufacture was incredibly (and surprisingly) complex. Once the last copies have been sold, we'll only reprint on special bulk orders of 70+ for this beautiful landscape paperback.

The zingy full-colour iBooks version lives on, of course!

In the meantime, we've been working on producing a more simple version of the book, black and white, with no pictures, for those who want to have the book on their Kindle device, and it's finally available!

February 02, 2015

Angostura Bitters and the mistakes we live by - #28daysofwriting

Bittersbottlelabel

Last Friday the legendary Creative Director Gerry Farrell gave a talk about all things 'ugly', and many stories revolved around how we deal with failure, or apparent failure. In one story he talked about Angostura Bitters, an alcoholic mixer with which I had a brief relationship during a passing phase of enjoying the ladies' drink "Long Vodka". 

In the early days of the drink, the two brother team who created it decided to get recognition for their new drink by entering a contest. In an efficiency move, one was charged with choosing the best bottle for the job, the other brother placed in charge of the label production.

One small mistake: they didn't communicate on the size of anything.

When the bottle came back with a label that was far too big for the bottle, it was too late to fix. They entered the competition regardless which they promptly lost. However, one judge remarked about their "signature labelling", and the rest is history. Ever since, they have kept that original  label, too big for the bottle with too much text on it.

In most creative organisations (including schools), the 'mistake' is what kills the idea before it even gets a chance to compete. Releasing even imperfect ideas, like a blog post rushed out in 28 minutes one morning, is better than ditching the whole damned thing. And we invent lame excuses for not creating / releasing / writing publicly. If I were to replace any of your school language with the Angostura story we'd end up with:

  • Who'd be interested in (this drink)?
  • I've spent all this time thinking about making (a drink) but I don't think people will try it.
  • (The bottle) is the wrong platform for (this drink) - we need to wait until we buy the right one.
  • The boss won't like (the drink) that I've made. Better I keep it quiet, never let anyone drink it, than go let him taste it first.
  • OK, the boss hates (my drink) - it lost the competition - so we'd better throw in the towel. 
  • If I don't get permission to make (great drinks) then I just won't try it.
  • I've got too many (drinks) ideas to choose which one to make first. So I'll do nothing.

I could go on. These excuses take seconds to come up with. Actually doing something takes a lot longer.

This kick up the backside, that no-one will make your ideas happen for you, is the very thing I go into depth in, on my new book How To Come Up With Great Ideas.

January 04, 2015

When is failure a failure? Maria Joao Pires has an answer...

The 1st Movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair. That is exactly as virtuoso pianist Maria Joao Pires must have felt as she realised that she had practiced the wrong concerto for a summer concert series.

This clip is a wonderful example of agile leadership. In the moment of panic, the conductor takes control, not with a baton or by stopping the orchestra, but with a beautiful embracing smile, and a jovial reassurance that she would manage.

Pires then takes the leadership role on, summoning her memory, her expertise, talent and prior learning, to tackle the new concerto she hadn't been prepared to play in the first place.

When we talk about failure in learning, it is vital that we talk about failure and what we learn from it. Failure for failure's sake is a tragedy. Pires had 'done her homework' and knew the other concerto (and probably many others) by heart, from experience. She had also done her homework in being able to 'make the show go on', regardless. But no doubt, she'll rehearse with the orchestra before future live performances, she'll make the time to have that preparatory phone call. Thankfully, her learning gives her the opportunity, post-performance, to try again and get it right.

Most learning in school, though, does not give time for failure to be learned from. Instead, even though half or more of the students in the classroom may have scope for improvement, teachers feel compelled to "move on", to "get on" to the next piece of content, or to get onto the test. Really, in an ideal world, the student makes the decision about when they are 'done', ready to move on to the next thing, and often they will know what that next thing is.

Where the teacher holds all the planning in their hands, though, when the teacher perceives curriculum and success criteria as teacher-destined documents, and not as documents to flesh out hand in hand with students, this 'ideal world' does not happen.

Make the first step of 2015 towards letting students really do their homework: give them the curricular and success criteria tools we've normally kept behind the teacher's desk, and work out with them how their projects, their ideas and their ambitions meet them halfway.

January 02, 2015

Inspiration is everywhere. Even in Galena, Kansas...

I love this tweet from a couple of years back by animation firm, Pixar:

Pixar inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere: A lonely old tow truck in Galena, Kansas caught our eye. You know the rest...

What were they talking about?

93i

Now, I don't think I know anyone from Galena, Kansas, but I'm pretty sure that those kids in Spring Grove School don't believe, hand on heart, that inspiration is everywhere, as they set off into their new year, examinations, tests and keeping up with each other's Facebook boasts. That, after all, is what January in 2015 will mean for so many: an attempt to look forward to a positive future, but a reality check, around January 5th, that actually life will carry on as it always has done, always will do. 

Life-changing, world-changing or neighbourhood-changing inspiration is everywhere, though, and no more so than in places where things are not working.

On p.43 of my book I talk about the attitude real innovators have: they don't blog that "things in the system don't work, it's all broken!", and they don't ask facile questions such as "what does 21st century education look like?" and then not bother answering them. Instead, they spot the small details that get in the way and go about removing them, altering them or rebuilding them:

Most successful innovators in and outside education spend their time always seeking out what doesn't quite work, what doesn't satisfy the needs of the people it should do, what could be made incrementally better. They are not negative people; far from it, in fact, as they seek not to moan but make the world a better place, one incremental change at a time. Doing this means that they spend time – small snippets and extended periods, depending on what time they have available – looking at the world around them with a critical eye and an endless run of questions about why things are the way they are. They are not satisfied to leave an under-par situation – they want to make it better as soon as possible. 

  • What are things really like at the moment?
  • If we were to take a snapshot in time, where is our school, where are our learners?
  • What are people trying to achieve at the moment, and are they managing it?
  • What are the areas where people find they're held back, or encouraged to take their learning further?
  • How do we engage with parents, the school board, the wider community?
  • How do we know they're happy with it?
  • Where are the people who are happy with what we do?
  • Where are the people who we don't know are either satisfied or not?
  • What about the people who are not, at the moment, part of our school community? Why are they not?
  • What are they doing instead?

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions that might be of interest to any innovator, and to answer any or all of these questions would take a long time, but that active immersion into the way things are needs to happen all the time.

Immersion is just as it sounds: long, deep and sometimes painful. The swimming pool analogy isn't bad for explaining it:

If you were immersed in a swimming pool you'd have the water over your head. You would, over time, become short of breath. A real immersive experience would push that feeling just a little beyond what feels comfortable before, finally, at the last possible moment, coming up for breath. And, with every time you get immersed in the water, the longer you can bear it before coming up for breath. With more practice, you can swim while holding your breath, travelling while building resistance to the pressure. In a school, this is the equivalent of the Head Teacher and other leaders being capable of not only managing business-as-usual, but also having the mental bandwidth, the practice of longitudinal immersion, to see potential for ‘new innovation’ as it arises. In short, it's about taking time to reflect, not regularly but constantly, on how things might be made better.

This is, if you like, a manifesto for problem-finding in the way we manage, lead and create innovation in our schools, in the same way as I started pleading for problem-finding over and above problem-solving five years ago to this week. Problem-finding is what really shifts the school's thinking from 'stand and deliver' teacher centricity, and so, too, it can move innovation from the board room (far from the point where the innovation will make a difference) to the classroom and community:

So, instead of lofty resolutions for 2015, that we will all break by January 5th, in our hearts and minds at least, why not start seeking big innovation in the little details, by problem-finding, not idea-creating?

Reference:
How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available from NoTosh Publishing. Kindle and standard paperback due Summer 2015.

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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