112 posts categorized "Mobile"

June 16, 2015

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


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.”

February 10, 2015

Failure: When is it "a fail too far"? #28daysofwriting

At a concert in Gothenburg Concert Hall October 23, 2013, Christian Zacharias stopped playing in the middle of Haydn's Piano Concerto, interrupted by a cell phone ringing for the second time the same concert. Was he right to stop?

In this interview, that I've used in two recent keynotes on creativity and failure, Zacharias makes the point that listening to a concert is one of the rare moments in our lives where we can concentrate on just one thing, without interruption. Much like deep thinking or learning, interruptions by phone rings (or bell rings in school) are catastrophic for our projects and ideas.

In this instance, it was just too much. On the up side, Zacharias says, after such an interruption, the audience is even more attuned to what is going on, on the stage.

But not all interruptions need to be treated with the same disdain: 

I love the shrug at the end, a realisation that something simple and playful can diffuse the potential blot on a whole performance. 

In teaching, it's easy to let interruptions get in the way of our thinking. We respond with anger, frustration, telling offs... But it is the regular interruptions to our thinking - the bell, the timetable, the examination - that risk being the biggest incumbrance to sustainable levels of creativity and deep thinking of school students the world over. 

10 years ago, I might have been amongst the masses to point out that the bell, the timetable and the examination are all thrust upon me, as a teacher, and that I have no chance of controlling them merely in the name of creativity. Today, however, I know that teachers can achieve so much more if they design their way out of it. I've just come off a call with educators at Nanjing International School where, in preparing and prototyping ideas for a new strategy:

  • students have taken longer periods of time with specialists, rather than the chop-change of a regular schedule - more learning, less running around between classes;
  • homework has been replaced with home learning, based on the self-created projects students undertake during the day;
  • students develop personal projects get deep into learning outside the classroom, where there are no bells or timetables (said one kid: "When you're interested in it it's really easy!");
  • parents are sitting in with their sons and daughters during class and lunchtime, to see how they learn what they learn;
  • students are starting kernels of social entrepreneurship firms whose objective is longevity and sustainability, not short-term money-making.

All of these have come as a result of the school working as a whole, with design thinking mindsets along the way, to think differently about learning, to make learning happen from the point of view of what works for the student, more than what works for reinforcing the existing system.

Less of the status quo can only ever be a good thing...


I should finish by pointing to the encore of Zacharias, where his playfulness is finally visible.

January 14, 2015

Engage, Inspire, Empower - language learning and technology

I got back to being a language teacher last night, doing a quick talk and then conversation with some of the teachers participating in our Malta Better Learning with Technologies groupHere is the video of the talk, where I was inspired by the instant nature of understanding we gain from the cartoons we've seen over the past week:

  • The universal language of image
  • The growth of the image thanks to technology - Insta...everything
  • The move of technology's dominance in text (blogs and podcasts of 2005) to image (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat in 2015)
  • How do we play the whole game of learning, every day, in the language classroom?
  • What S.T.A.R. moments do we create for our students to amplify the meaning of what we're doing?
  • Can we inform students later, and start with the why of engagement, inspiration and then empowering through information and the 'how'?
  • "Real world" does not mean we have to take every student on a foreign exchange visit. Real world is no longer the long-term relationships we had to build with partner schools in 2005. Real world can be short-term reaching out to someone, just for a lesson, for a moment, to gather an empathy for how others might think.
  • Real world can also be imaginative - video games as a stimulus for writing, or TED talks for stimulus in reading and listening (and speaking!).

November 03, 2011

LA class seeks augmented reality help: apply within

Paula Cohen, from Los Angeles, has the kernel of an art project idea for her class. When she told me about it, it felt like an augmented reality twist might make it come true. I can see the concept, but lack the technology skills to see how to pull it off. I'm hoping someone reading this blog might be able to share their expertise and ideas on how to make a living graffiti project come alive. Here is Paula's original email, published with her permission:

I have this project I have been wanting to get off the ground with my students.   I was visiting SPARC this summer and it came up of how there is a current ban on murals in Los Angeles going back to some signage legislation that was intended for corporations.

A local drive entails passing a multitude of billboards, many digital, flashing distractive messages and sales.  That is when I got this idea to help young people reimagine their communities.

What if they could take a series of digital photos of their communities and through a program like photoshop and  deep conversation, they could transform their communities on screen into what they imagined.

For example: lawns could turn into food gardens, billboards could become PSA's and murals, each corner could have a youth center, etc.  (Ok, that's my imagination!)   Do you have any ideas?

Thank you, Paula

In my mind it's something with Layar that could work best, and I've shared my small selection of AR links with Paula in the hope there's some inspiration in there. But what would you do?

June 19, 2011

"If you want it to stick, you need a pic"

Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times (UK) a few weeks ago touched on the supremacy of shaky mobile phone footage in deciding the pecking order of what we, generally, consider important and what we care less about (below). In this tree-falls-down-nobody-sees-it philosophy, have we become dependent on the loudest, clearest, best presented stories to make our decisions, at the expense of more valuable but less tangible ones we need to chew over for longer?

For me, this move towards talking about what we hear about loudest and clearest, rather than talking about the hard stuff that does not come in this "chicken nugget" form of information bundle, is absolutely reflected in the world of education discourse, particularly around discussions on what learning is for.

The echo chambers of the blogosphere, the political classes, the civil servants, parents... they - we - are all as guilty as each other for paying too much attention to the loudest, not necessarily the most vital, discussions for our children's future.

It's too easy to believe that you are collaborating and gaining some kind of otherness just because you've ticked the "collaboration box" of using Skype, a wiki, a blog, whatever medium you wish. Gary Stager picks this up nicely in this Will Richardson post. Will despairs at a teacher's 'inability' to grasp the value of a change to his methods, particularly the perceived value of collaboration to achieve the same goals that the teacher was gaining within his four classroom walls. Rightly, Gary calls into question whether collaboration is really all that worthwhile, all of the time. The answer is: most times not. Small active mixed ability and mixed interest teams, coming up quickly with their own ideas, is often just as effective (if not more so) than a more drawn out collaborative process through technology with teams from around the world, but where those teams consist of people who share the same values, aptitudes and interests as the home crew.

All too often, though, the accents of those with whom we are collaborating, in the broadest sense of the word 'accent', are merely reflections of the views with which we are most comfortable. In this way, we fall for the trap Jeremy Clarkson outlines in his column: "It used to be said if it bleeds, it leads. Now, though, if you want it to stick, you need a pic."

Jeremy Clarkson on camera phones

April 05, 2011

Hull shows why Gove's Govt can't ban mobile phones in schools

Mobile Phones in Science
Michael Gove has unearthed an unpopular policy from 2007 with his plans to ban mobile phones in the classroom from this summer. It's a daft policy, reflecting a small (minority) group's gut feel and no research or reflection, and below is a classroom example showing - simply - why he's wrong to consider it.

We'll no doubt see forthcoming policies banning the use pencils (you can flick 'em across the desk and poke kids in the ribs with them, you know) and we'll stop teaching children how to read the poetry of Wilfred Owen, lest they get upset at the gore of war, despite the fact they see it every night on the television. The rationale for all such anti-mobile, anti-internet, anti-anything policy is "safety", but its implementation creates a false sense of security in school, further growing the bubble in which schooling lives while the real world races by youngsters unprepared to deal with it.

The Scottish Conservatives have this week also revealed where Tory policies actually originate from: circa 1948, I believe (and so do the press). They'd have disengaged youngsters leaving school at 14 years old to learn a trade, despite the fact that in Scottish schools there are already ample opportunities for youngsters to focus on vocational skills, and 25,000 new apprenticeships were announced just before the closing of this Parliament.

A simple classroom example: students know how to harness mobile for learning

Politics over, though (and I've got some inherent biases, like everyone), there's a more serious point here about how wonderful mobile phones are becoming for learning, and how we're merely scratching the computer power they offer. That computing power is often superior to that provided by billions of pounds worth of Dell, RM or other well-known brands of black boxes thrown into schools each year. But the high-computing potential of mobile phones may be lost on Gove and his Ministers, so I'm going to pick a much simpler example.

I've been thrilled with some work I'm doing in Hull this past week, and have seen some stunning enquiry-based learning in the secondary school where I'm working on technology integration.

But it was in a science classroom, with students needing to keep time in a heatloss experiment, where they came into their own. Schools, when I was a pupil in one, invested a relatively high sum in 'scientific' stop clocks - these single-purpose devices come in at about £10/$20. But students have no interest in using these when they have a more accurate stopclock, and a host of other tools, sitting in their pockets. Having cleared it with the teacher, students unearthed a wide array of wonderfully accurate kit: iPod touches, shuffles, iPhones and, in huge numbers, Blackberries (above).

IMG_1044 12 minutes to Google, or 40 seconds?

In another area, a student conducted a quick Google search to seek out the image she wanted to work from in a design and technology class. Students in other classes, using laptops provided by the school, took about 12 minutes to get them out, get logged in and get searching. Students on their cell phones took about 40 seconds.

Write to Mr Gove - and your government, too

Doug Belshaw and others have launched an open letter to Mr Gove - and other Education Ministeries, too - to explain why mobile phone technology, far from being banned in schools, must be embraced, and teachers and parents equipped with the intellectual, pedagogical and societal skills to harness their potential with youngsters. I encourage you to add to it.

March 04, 2011

Juliette Heppell: Technology's last stand in learning: cell phones, consoles & Facebook

In a four-part video series for GETideas I travelled the world in 24 hours and asked four educators I admire what their "two stars and a wish" for learning would be for 2011. I'll blog the films here over the next week.

Juliette Heppell, a high school teacher from the West End of London, UK, is seeing so much that is right with learning and technology, but the last crucial step is taking technology to where our students already hang out - to cell phones and social networks:

"Social networking in our school has been vital in engaging students in seeing the connection between learning in school and learning at home.

"Persuading teachers to use Skype in the classroom has resulted in some interesting projects, although the first stage involved teaching them how to use it at home as a form of professional development.

"We need to use what the students have already much more: it might be skills, or it might be equipment that they can bring into the classroom. Handhelds, consoles, mobile phones, research skills, enquiry skills… We're getting there, but we're not quite there yet."

Juliette's site features in this popular post from last month: "Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?".

January 10, 2011

Stop sorting children by their date of manufacture

Abdul Chochan
Six years ago we got a hard time for getting our students to create little snippets of audio for each other and the wider world - using iPods for learning was seen as expensive and gimmicky. "Who has those devices? We couldn't possibly purchase devices for children. They're far too expensive for them to own them any time soon."

Six years on Abdul Chohan was getting the same feedback at his school, the Essa Academy. At the Learning Without Frontiers conference he recounts how he had seen iPod Touches, the next generation of device from our low-fi iPods of 2004, as the key to untapping new learning landscapes for his learners.

With a seamless wifi setup in the school students never lost touch with the web through their mobile devices. Polish students, recently arrived at the school, were able to decipher English-language physics lessons by backing up their learning with the Polish language version of the theme's wikipedia entry.

Above all, teachers could stop judging what students should or could be doing based "on their date of manufacture" (or, as some might add, on their sell-by date). Youngsters were able to extend or support their own learning as they saw fit, when they saw fit.

Students overnight had knowledge at their fingertips (and in their pockets) in text, on the web and in podcasts (boys in particular were amongst those downloading 900 or so GCSE Pods to revise for the examinations).

Edmodo provided a learning social network through which teachers and learners could send messages, manage their learning, set tasks, ask for help.

This film about the Essa Academy iPod Touch project from Newsround sums up more of the impact on the school:


The £40,000 ($80,000) leasing bill for printers will, as a result, be greatly reduced as the amount of paper being used is reduced significantly.

The cost of the devices themselves, even with a refresh rate of 18p/35c per day included, is therefore relatively affordable.

The results? Where, a year or two before, the school had been set for closure by the Government watchdog for having a pass rate never above 30%, examinations results coming in after this mobile investment, at Grades A*-C, were running at 99%.

When we believe that youngsters are capable of anything and, vitally, provide the human and virtual help and support to make that potential a possible, there's nothing that can hold them back.

Mobile As A Lens On The World: Word Lens instant translation

Mobile allows us to have a lens on the world. Word lens lets you translate cothes tags, menus, any written text on the fly, using your cameraphone, as this video shows:


Karen Cator: A mission critical infrastructure for a new teaching profession

Karen Cator
When teachers ask Karen Cator "when is all this technological change going to happen" she gives a tongue-in-cheek answer: August 2012. From the urgency in the US Education Department technology director's speech at London's Learning Without Frontiers Conference, you can tell she'd like to see it happen a lot quicker.

She compares the hunger of the 150,000 innovators from all over the world who came to CES in Las Vegas to what is going on in educaton. Consumer electronics is a world of massive change: in 2010 there wasn't one tablet on the lips of those innovation-hungry folk, this year there were more than 50 being trialled and talked about. There were 150,000 professional learners getting themselves gen-ed up.

Education, meanwhile, seems to currently lack that scalable innovation that the world of touch electronics and wireless mobile has achieved. Is there a way for us to create more scalable, higher quality learning in schools? Is there a way to instil in every teacher the notion that they are a lifelong learner, with a portfolio of learning and repertoire of their contributions to the learning of the profession? Cator, to put no fine a point on it, wants every teacher in America - and beyond - to a) learn how to teach better, b) share that learning with the world, online, in public, and c) ratchet up the professionalism of teachers by removing the ties that keep their hands behind their back as they try to teach. By this, she means moving teachers to a digital learning environment where educators have every technology and tool they need at their disposal. Mobile phones, the super computers in every child's pocket, she says, must be switched on.

The School of One is one example upon which Cator pulls to show how technology can help us do more than simply tinker with curriculum or assessment:

School of One re-imagines the traditional classroom model.  Instead of one teacher and 25-30 students in a classroom, each student participates in multiple instructional modalities, including a combination of teacher-led instruction, one-on-one tutoring, independent learning, and work with virtual tutors.

To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on his or her academic strengths and needs. As a result, students within the same school or even the same classroom can receive profoundly different instruction as each student’s schedule is tailored to the skills they need and the ways they best learn. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their live instructional lessons accordingly.

By leveraging technology to play a more essential role in planning instruction, teachers have more time to focus on doing what they do best - delivering quality instruction and insuring that all students learn.

But in order for this model of learning to scale we need to find ways of harnessing technology - multiplying the investment in people that made School of One possible is not going to work for the many. What needs constructed in order to make learning as engaging as a video game and as effective as a face-to-face tutor? How can feedback loops be improved?

Teachers need to be more widely connected to each other, and to expertise in the field. And they need access to resources just-in-time. We need to ratchet up the teaching profession.

Productivity is more or less guaranteed by activity pitched at the right level, at the right time for each individual student. We cannot expect this competency-based learning, at such an individual level, to succeed unless we have a Mission Critical infrastructure. And that includes the cell phones in every child's and teacher's pocket.

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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