December 26, 2012

To the moon (but not back, yet): a year in the clouds

Ewan McIntosh 2012 travels
For the past six new years I've taken an interest in how much I'm sitting on a plane each year, destroying the planet that my children will inherit. Travel is an increasingly inevitable part of business, particularly in tough economic climates where, if you're not prepared to jump on a plane I fear one might lose any momentum worth talking about. For all the Google Hangouts, Skypes and Facetimes in the world, my team and I at NoTosh have found that online interactions lead only to one thing: people want to cement relationships face-to-face at some point.

2011 was already a headying number of miles to crunch, mostly at the back of the plane, I hasten to add. This year makes last year's 130,000 miles or so look like a stroll in a large park. Heck, by June this year I'd already covered 30,000 miles more than that.

10 times around the world, one trip to the moon (but only a little bit back towards home), and about 10 trees to plant: that's what 2012's 242,226 miles represent.

Why so much travel on planes?

NoTosh has been growing this year. 2011 saw Tom Barrett join the family, this year another great addition in Peter Ford. I've never been a fan of "hiring help", having a company website listing legions of 'staff' who, actually, are part-timers or an occasional extra face when the lone consultant at the top of the pyramid ends up over-stretched. As someone who's hired consultants from that kind of "broad church", I've rarely had the experience I thought I would. As a teacher "being given PD", I've felt the painful lack of continuity between a string of different consultants brought in, lacking any connection between their message, research or impact. With NoTosh, a tight-bound team who very often live out of each other's pockets, people have been able to play off the different personalities of the team. This means that all of us have been traveling more, as more people ask for seconds or thirds on the learning we've been doing with them.

A non-existent Scottish / UK market, and a booming clutch of global clients has led to many more trips through to Scandinavia, the Middle East and Australia. Scottish revenues at NoTosh are tiny - maybe around 5% of our total this year. The UK as a whole contributes a lot less than 50% of our turnover. It might be down to the economic squeeze - although we work in countries with far more squeeze to their purses than Scotland or the rest of the UK - or it might be a degree of tall-poppy-syndrome for which we are famous. It's more likely down to the fact that we've not yet really made an effort to sell anywhere in the world, let alone Scotland. Everything NoTosh has achieved so far has been down to kindly word of mouth, great partners and superb teachers that have put in the hours on interesting, impactful practice. For that, we are grateful. Even if it means that we get a bit clogged up with airplane aircon.

Australia is in itself big reason for a well-worn seat 14F. We've purposefully been looking to Australia since early 2011 as a place that a) has a heritage of great education innovation, b) realises there's always more to learn, and c) shares some of the educational heritage of Scotland. This year has been back-to-back Australia, working with schools throughout Brisbane and Sydney's Catholic Education Departments, as well as with independent schools there. We've also been working on creative projects with political parties and other groups, something we want to expand upon. 

Will we reduce those miles? Yes.

Tom BarrettIf you don't want to travel somewhere, you live there. 2013 should see fewer of those trips to Oz and back - there was a point earlier in 2012 where I'd done seven return trips in 12 months! Tom Barrett moves in a matter days, with his family, to engage schools and creative groups who want to help build NoTosh - permanently - downunder. I'm grateful to Tom beyond words for the commitment he's made to our team in doing this - it was a case of stars aligning between his and his families wishes, and our opportunity here and now. I'm sure the promise of sunshine and the occasional beach might soften the blow for him and his family.

We're likely to hire again, too. We've spotted some talent that we're interested in, and now need to find those larger clients or groups of schools who, over a year, say, want to begin engaging with us on some deep projects on assessment, design thinking or creativity. We're also sure that there are more schools and groups of schools in the UK with whom we could build as strong a relationship as we have elsewhere.

Peter FordWe're building incredibly exciting UK-based programmes. Peter Ford has been a lead on three significant projects over the past nine months that have involved our whole team. We'll be sharing these in the New Year, along with their global expansion in 2013. For us, it's just great to see more, larger, bigger scale learning programmes taking hold in the UK, in spite of the recession.

There are a few other surprises, too, that my team and I will keep under wraps for the moment. If they're any good, you'll know about them in good time, I guess. All of these, though, are geared up to keeping our landing gear down, firmly planted on solid ground as much as possible. Wish us luck!

December 21, 2012

Bach: the Design Thinker

Bach music

As a teenager I loved playing Bach on the piano, an instrument that for most of my playing time I was maybe less than loving about. It was all about first of all learning the rudiments, then adding in what you felt about it, then bringing the parts together into a whole that always felt greater than the sum of those elements I'd practiced in bar-by-bar, note-by-note detail. Today, I still play music - percussion - and it's the same process, I guess, that I describe in Bach: learn the rudiments well, pull them together bit by bit, then unleash the whole to see what it sounds like together with the band.

This process is not dissimilar to design thinking, the way of structuring one's thinking so as not to miss out on a potentially epic idea or solution to a problem that we've been harnessing across the schools with whom we work. Rebecca Cochran has taken Bach's music and composing style to reveal how in composing these he, too, was following many of the design thinking processes and habits of mind. In her blog post she explains each one in greater detail:

  • Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive.
  • Bach employed iterative prototyping.
  • Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures.
  • Bach co-created with others.
  • Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity.
  • Bach wrote music for the people. 

Hat tip on this, I think, is Tom. Pic from Magnuscanis.

December 08, 2012

Modern schooling: all retch and no vomit?


British Philosopher Alan Watts sums up an attitude that took me years to understand, and which underlines the attitude to life that all my colleagues sign up to. If you want to do something - defend the charged, taxi people through cities, teach children, grow wine, whatever... - then do it.

I'm working at the moment with a group of teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs in Finland, all of whom are passionate about what they do. They'd do it, I'm sure, were money no object. And because they love it, they practice it, they get good at, and so people pay them to do it so well.

Yet I've met educators on my journey who wouldn't do it, were money no object. They should go and find something else they really want to do, and not perpetuate the model in front of our children. Life is already too short to be doing something you don't want to.

The full transcription of Alan Watts' If Money Were No Object:

What do you desire?
What makes you itch?
What sort of a situation would you like?

Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students, they come to me and say, well, we’re getting out of college and we haven’t the faintest idea what we want to do.

So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?

Well, it’s so amazing, as a result of our kind of educational system crowds of students say, well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers, but as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way. Or another person says well, I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses.

I say, you want to teach in a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do? When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that — and forget the money, because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.

You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.

And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is.

So don’t worry too much that everybody is – somebody is interested in everything, anything you can be interested in, you will find others will.

But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track. See what we are doing is we’re bringing up children and educating to live the same sort of lifes we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch and no vomit — it never gets there.

And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question: what do I desire?

October 29, 2012

Rosendale Book: How we learn what we learn

RosendalePrimarySchool
One of the schools my firm NoTosh is lucky enough to work with every week is Rosendale Primary School, in south London, UK. Its teachers, its students and its leadership team are a treat for Tom, who spends every week with them, and for Peter and me when we're lucky enough to come in as reinforcements. For nearly two years, we've worked alongside teachers and leaders there to develop thinking and strategy, as well as some damned good practice, around formative assessment, 70% negotiated timetables and design thinking in the curriculum, which now permeates their work from Reception through to the final year of school. Neil Hopkin and Kate Atkins, the Executive Head and Depute Head respectively, with their staff have developed a truly Tots to Teens strategy for their students. And they talk about it all the time on their own learning log.

To share with parents and the wider world how they do what they do and why they do it, Neil and Kate have authored a great online and paper edition book, outling How We Learn What We Learn. It's a gem, and a year-by-year manual on how to inspire creativity and excellence in learning.

October 10, 2012

Raise Your Hand For Girls! The new brown eye, blue eye from Belgium

Just released on YouTube is a new campaign from Belgian agency Duval Guillaume, where they changed the operation of schools for a day. Boys went to school to learn. Girls went to school to clean out the toilets and undertake other menial tasks.

It feels to me like a modern-day, marketers version of the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes experiment from Jane Elliot in the early 1970s. She undertook an experiment in arbitrary discrimination between "underclass" brown eyed people and the upper class blue eyed people. She did it against the fallout of Martin Luther King's assassination. We need something fresh like this today to make sure that we don't tolerate the tolerated, that all girls get to school, wherever they are in the world. Our fallout is last week's shooting of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, shot because she believes girls should go to school.

Next week I'll be in Antwerp to hang out with Kris Hoet, the Director of Digital at the agency who came up with the idea. I wonder what questions educators might have about how we might harness the power of digital and the savvyness of great marketers to improve learning outcomes for more children?

September 28, 2012

What the SOLO Taxonomy means to me: Chris Harte

Newcastle buddy now living in Oz, Chris Harte, creates a video to explain the SOLO Taxonomy from his school's perspective.

September 10, 2012

Creative confidence and the power to change the world around us

This week I've been working with senior education folk in Brisbane to show, through a set of stories and discussions, how their own creative confidence is so important to bring about a sense of self-efficacy in their teachers and students. Self-efficacy is that feeling that whatever you do can have an impact on the world around you. Creative confidence is not feeling uncomfortable when people start to approach things in ways that rock the status quo.

Self efficacy is pretty much at the core of motivation to learn, the motivation to do anything! After all, we don't tend to undertake tasks that we feel we'll never manage to complete or get good at: learning Arabic, cooking a soufflé... Students in school can have self-efficacy and see how to complete the "game" of doing well at school, while others assume they'll never score highly in that game and just disengage. Some have self-efficacy in spades, and others have little.

The talk above from IDEO and d.school founder David Kelley contains a powerful trio of stories about how self-efficacy has moved on from its origins with Albert Bandura in seeing how phobics can overcome their phobias, to a set of understandings about how humans measure their progress towards goals and decide on their next steps based on those measurements, sentiments and reactions. 

Kelley's bias is on creative confidence and turning the tide on the number of people who, from the moment they're institutionalised in school through to adulthood, decide to tell people "I'm not creative". His belief is that, in the same way snake phobics can be trained to get themselves out of that phobia, creative-phobics can be trained to get themselves out of that hole, too. It all starts with a basic set of assumptions and processes like design thinking that turn that scary creative journey into a familiar well-trodden path:

Much in the same way the snake phobic can see other people are not phobic, and must have found the means within themselves to be that way, we can realise that people we see as creative found a set of processes, steps and attitudes that allow them to think in that way.

September 05, 2012

Computer 'web' to change billions of lives (yeah, right)

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Through a mutual friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook, in a very interconnected example of how the 'computer "web"' really has changed at least four lives, came this reportage in Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid, The Sun, in the 1990s. But all is not what it seems. It is, in fact, created by The Sun themselves as part of their, wait for it, education site.

September 04, 2012

If you could only teach ten points, what would they be?

If you were to look at your school year ahead, and choose only ten things to actually teach explicitly, what would your top ten lecturettes be?

 When we're working with teachers on our take on Design Thinking, one of the hardest concepts of change for folk to get their head around is that teachers can teach a lot less to achieve much more. In that initial "immersion" into an exploratory area, students need plenty of content made available to them, but they don't need taught it. They just need rich resource and time. Here's how some of our Brisbane Design Thinking School teachers approach that immersion stage, by trusting their students and doing their best to "get out of the way of learning":

 

Immersion from Danielle Carter on Vimeo.

So counter-intuitive is this point, that we normally end up referring to research that shows how much we can learn without being taught. Sugata Mitra's hole in the wall experiments in India are indicative of what can be achieved when children with no or little education, and no English, are given lots of content and time to grapple with it together. Within months, by coaching each other and playing, they become fluent not just in a new language, but also in the science or maths concepts they've been playing with:



Likewise, there's some compelling research showing how much more learning takes place when students work collectively in a team, coaching each other to create a team-based product of learning with individual accountability built in. The effect of cross-age or cross-ability coaching is equivalent to every student, not just the one "being coached", having one-on-one teacher coaching. There is double the amount of learning, in fact, than when the teacher is leading learning from the front (evidence from Dylan Wiliam's Embedded Formative Assessment, page/reference unknown at present time).

And there are also personal stories; not highbrow, large scale research, but it makes the point powerfully, too: we don't need to have teachers teach for learners to learn:

Last year, while sitting with Sugata in a pre-keynote speakers' room, I showed him a video I had shot in the car a few months previously. It is my daughter Catriona, sitting in her seat, singing along to the Beatles. The interesting thing is that she knows all the words to the song, verbatim, having never been taught them. Not only that, but having not had a CD player in the house since she was born, and having only just got a CD player in the new car, she had never heard this music before, either. Except for the nine months she was in the womb, when we did have a CD player in the house.

 

If you were to look at your school year ahead, and choose only ten things to teach, what would your top ten lecturettes be?

Is it really OK to steal someone's ideas?

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I'm still astonished in this day and age of podcasts, videos, uStreams and Twitter commentaries that professional presenter colleagues feel that it is reasonable to hijack, steal and resell stories or thoughts from others without giving due credit or hat-tips. Jay Cross's post has reignited my distaste of those who think nothing of charging big $s to regurgitate, without credit, what someone else spent time working out.

Each week I have to see some unmistakable McIntoshisms pass over my Twitter feed, with gushing virtual applause and retweeting, and no doubt hoots of enthusiasm in some far flung conference venue, but without the slightest nod of recognition in my direction. Tonight alone I've seen three of them pass under my nose.

I guess I should be flattered. Maybe I should be old enough and ugly enough not to care about such things. After all, ideas are six and half a penny, and it's how they're executed that matters. But when ideas are shared freely on this blog, the only payment required by the creative commons licence being a nod and a mention, it feels a little bit like someone giving a note to the beggar and asking for change. If you ever hear a talk or come to a workshop that my team or I lead, you'll be very aware of the constant verbal "linking" to people, books, videos, websites... That's because we feel it's an important part of being part of this community.

If you make your living out of helping educators, give them a real helping hand by showing them where you get your ideas, so that they can go and find more of the same for themselves. When we don't make every effort to "link" verbally in our talks, workshops and conversations, it's not just theft, it's wholly unhelpful for the learning of our peers.

Picture from FeedMeRobotFood

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

Ewan’s education keynotes & MasterClasses

Module Masterclass

Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

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