45 posts categorized "Education Research"

March 21, 2014

Lessons from Disney Pixar on how creativity leads to more summative success

Pixar and Creativity.001

Pixar, since it was purchased by Disney, gives off an air of resilient creative and commercial success, but the journey is rarely that smooth. In fact, the more creative the output, the more commercially successful it is, for Pixar at least, and the processes used by the teams is remarkably close to what we see in highly effective classrooms.

During a keynote en français in Québec, I wondered why learning today sometimes felt less personalised than 30 years ago when personal computers first hit my primary school. Inspiration came to me from my daughters, Catriona and Anna, as for the nth time they sang along to the karaoké version of Disney's Frozen title track, Let It Go:

I was fascinated by the obvious success of this film in hooking my kids, and wondered if I might be able to make some links between what we know works, from the research of Dylan Wiliam, Hattie and the like, and what we see works in the creative industries with films like this. Much of the insight comes from a new book by Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull, which is released this April: Creativity, Inc.. Excerpts from the book can be read in this month’s Fast Company.

1. We all start out ugly

“After the original leaders of animation left Disney in the 1990s, the new people running things were from production. And they brought their values, which were to keep the production people busy and productive with one movie after another. So story development was organized in the same way they organized production. As a consequence of this "feed the beast" mentality, a balance was lost at Disney.

“The cost of that becomes clear when you think of how a movie starts out. It's a baby. It's like the foetus of a movie star; we all start out ugly. Every one of Pixar's stories starts out that way. A new thing is hard to define; it's not attractive, and it requires protection. When I was a researcher at DARPA, I had protection for what was ill-defined. Every new idea in any field needs protection. Pixar is set up to protect our director's ugly baby.”

This process is markedly not just a creative one - it involves critical thinking, too. But the point at which critical analysis is introduced is, well, critical. Too early, you kill your baby before it has a chance to grow fully. We do this all the time when we survey progress too early, or don't know what the purpose of an immersion period is.


2. We’ve been through the process ourselves. We share the language and steps

“People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things--in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie's writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees.”

Key to making sure that the balance is struck, and struck at the right time, is having a process on which you can depend, and which everyone in the team can trust. Most creatives we know at NoTosh use design thinking, or some version of it. The language between each team is different, but the language within each team is shared and common.

They all recognise that in the initial period of immersion it is too early to make the call as to the worthiness of any given problem or challenge. By synthesis they know that there is an opportunity to critique, to make sure that we’re headed on the right path. By the time you enter the ideation, prototyping and feedback loop, you are constantly starting and stopping, but each idea is small enough, light enough and on strong enough foundations of the immersion, to cope with tweaks, both major and minor. New ideas can get ditched easily, with a fresh crop of better ones emerging from the dust of the feedback.


3. Decide on your rules

“Earlier, before the screening, Pete had described what they'd come up with so far. "What's inside the mind?" he asked his colleagues. "Your emotions--and we've worked really hard to make these characters look the way those emotions feel. We have our main character, an emotion called Joy, who is effervescent. She literally glows when she's excited. Then we have Fear. He thinks of himself as confident and suave, but he's a little raw nerve and tends to freak out. The other characters are Anger, Sadness--her shape is inspired by teardrops--and Disgust, who basically turns up her nose at everything. And all these guys work at what we call Headquarters."

“That got a laugh, as did many scenes in the 10-minute preview that followed. Everyone agreed that the movie had the potential to be, like Pete's previous film Up, among our most original and affecting. But there seemed to be a consensus that one key scene--an argument between two characters about why certain memories fade while others burn bright forever--was too minor to sufficiently connect audiences to the film's profound ideas.

“Midway down the table, Brad Bird shifted in his chair. Brad joined Pixar in 2000, after having written and directed The Iron Giant at Warner Bros. His first movie for us was The Incredibles, which opened in 2004. Brad is a born rebel who fights against creative conformity in any guise. So it was no surprise that he was among the first to articulate his worries. "I understand that you want to keep this simple and relatable," he told Pete, "but I think we need something that your audience can get a little more invested in."

“Andrew Stanton spoke next. Andrew is fond of saying that people need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you're faced with two hills and you're unsure which one to attack, he says, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it's the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one. Now he seemed to be suggesting that Pete and his team had stormed the wrong hill. "I think you need to spend more time settling on the rules of your imagined world," he said.

“Every Pixar movie has its own rules that viewers have to accept, understand, and enjoy understanding. The voices of the toys in the Toy Story films, for example, are never audible to humans. The rats in Ratatouille walk on four paws, like normal vermin, except for Remy, our star, whose upright posture sets him apart. In Pete's film, one of the rules--at least at this point--was that memories (depicted as glowing glass globes) were stored in the brain by traveling through a maze of chutes into a kind of archive. When retrieved or remembered, they'd roll back down another tangle of chutes, like bowling balls being returned to bowlers at the alley.

“That construct was elegant and effective, but Andrew suggested that another rule needed to be clarified: how memories and emotions change over time, as the brain gets older. This was the moment in the film, Andrew said, to establish some key themes.”

If it takes a long time for Catmull to describe the formation of rules that guide the creation of a film, it takes an equally long time to make them clear in a learning situation. Taking Dylan Wiliam’s five key areas that teachers and schools might develop, one might feel that there are ready-made rules about “the way we should teach and learn”, ready to take off the shelf:

Dylan Wiliam.001

But schools need to have internal discussions amongst staff about how to internalise these into the story they are trying to tell, with their clientèle in their locale, work out what the rules of their game are. Then teachers have to have the same conversations with their students, taking time out to think about thinking, to learn how to think - those learnings become the rules of engagement for the class, keeping learning on the straight and narrow, even when a project is complex, even when the project team is only seeing trees and no forest.

 

4. Know how to take feedback, and find a producer to help you through it

“An important corollary to the assertion that the Braintrust must be candid is that filmmakers must be ready to hear the truth; candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary, to let go of things that don't work. Jonas Rivera, the producer of Pete's film, tries to make that painful process easier by "headlining" the main points of a Braintrust session--distilling the many observations down to a digestible takeaway. Once this meeting wrapped up, this is what he did for Pete, ticking off the areas that seemed the most problematic, reminding him of the scenes that resonated most. "So what do we blow up?" Jonas asked. "And what do you love? Is what you loved about the film different now than it was when we started?””

Getting critiqued is never pleasant, even if you’re used to feedback and feed forward from your peers. Despite the feeling that we give good feedback to students, teachers are, in a decade of seeing their feedback on conferences, less strong at giving feedback on their own learning. It takes work, effort, energy and sometimes a little painful learning to get feedback that is, in the words of Ron Berger, Kind, Specific and Useful. In the film industry, the Producer’s job in these “brain trust” advisories is to capture that feedback, headline it and begin to make it as useful as possible for the Director, who’s just had his worked critiqued, and might feel a bunch of things, not all positive.

In a classroom setting, when we are giving and receiving feedback, who is the third person playing the role of Producer?

 

5. The Pupils' View

During my talk, I asked a group of seven students to act as my own braintrust during the talk, providing me with the actions they as students might undertake to make a vision of a more shared learning journey come true, and to highlight which elements of this (new and slightly too hot-off-the-press talk) I should emphasise in the future. Here's what Marianne, Laurie, Marie-Pier, Roxanne, Mathieu, Éloïse and Joana from l'Ecole des Sentiers put to me via Twitter, and what I read out as my conclusions for the talk:

  • As students, we must also get involved! When teachers offer ideas using technology, they are easily discouraged, but students also have their long journey to undertake, too.
  • We must show them that we are interested and we are ready to encourage. Teachers feed the enthusiasm of their students.
  • We should be encouraged to be creative, to risk failure to rise, dust ourselves down and be better next time. Do not prioritize performance above all else.
  • As students we should create a school forum where everyone would be comfortable giving their ideas and asking questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to assert your ideas, as the opinion of the students is also important. We have a head on our shoulders.
  • And sometimes we can see things from another side :)
  • Our idealistic idea: find a way to finance the purchase of tablets for each pupil. There’d be no more need for a heavy textbook, manual or notebook. And we could connect with interactive whiteboards, with communication between student and teacher encouraged. There’s also an ecological advantage.
  • Students want to be involved in the course. No more lectures. Students could also talk in front of the class, expose other ideas, what we have understood. Help us not to have to depend on teachers so much.
  • Students would be able to give their ideas, eg for course topics or written work ... All ideas are welcome.
  • Suggesting an idea is the best demonstration of intelligence.
  • Do not aim solely at the acquisition of specific skills encourage overall development.
  • We must be able to define our own rules :)

En tant qu'élèves, on doit aussi s'impliquer! Quand les enseignants proposent des idées en utilisant les technologies, ils se decouragent facilement. Donc les élèves on aussi leur bout de chemin à faire.
Il faut leur montrer qu'on est intéressé et qu'on est prêt à les encourager. Les professeurs se nourrissent de l'enthousiasme de leurs élèves
On devrait être encouragé à la créativité, le risque, à tomber pour se relever meilleur. À ne pas prioritiser les performances.
En tant qu'élèves nous devrions créer un forum école où tout le monde serait bien à l'aise de donner leurs idées et poser leurs questions
Pas avoir peur de poser des questions et de s'affirmer, car l'opinion des élèves est aussi important. On a une tête sur les épaules
Et on voit parfois les choses d'un autre côté :)
Idée idéaliste: trouver un moyen de financer l'achat de tablettes propres à chaque éleve. Plus besoin de manuels ni cahier de notes,
Et connecter avec les tableaux interactifs, la communication élève-prof est favorisée. Avantage écologique également
Les élèves veulent être impliqué dans les cours. Plus de cours magistraux, les élèves pourraient aussi parler en avant de la classe, exposer
Aux autres leurs idées, ce qu'ils comprennent. S'aider entre nous et ne pas dépendre des enseignants
Les élèves aimeraient pouvoir donner leurs idées, par exemple pour les sujets de cours ou de productions écrites… Toute les idées sont bonnes
Une idées c'est la plus belle demonstration de l'intelligence
Se developer en tant que personne a l'école. Ne pas viser l'acquisition de compétence trop spécifique et encourager le développement global.
Il faut pouvoir définir nos propres règles :)

EchofonLiteScreenSnapz001

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?

August 22, 2012

What's the difference between PBL and Design Thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2012

SOLO Taxonomy: giving students a sense of progress in learning

I am here

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

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

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

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

SOLO Taxonomy Stepping stones

 

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

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

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

 

Additional links (14/08/12):

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

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

February 25, 2012

Clair 2012: Le design thinking, du studio à la classe

NoToshClair2012

In early February I presented, in French, a 90 minute story about how design thinking and the educational worlds of formative assessment, school building, curriculum and assessment strategy are all bound together.

I wanted to show to the audience at Clair 2012 in New Brunswick, Canada, what can happen when these apparently unrelated worlds of technology startups, product design and formal education are bound together by leaders with foresight and an understanding of the detail and complexity of learning, amazing learning opportunities can happen.

It was a joy to speak about the complexity of learning and teaching, with the time and audience who got it - it was, after all, New Brunswick teachers that taught me how to really teach through their French immersion, project-led pedagogy.

It's the first time I've ever had a standing ovation for a talk, especially one that was 90 minutes and between opportunities for the audience to drink wine and eat cheese. I was taken aback by that. And even more humbled by the words from Stephen Downes, who also braved his fears of keynoting en français at the event:

I've had my criticisms of Ewan McIntosh in the past and I will no doubt have my criticisms of him in the future. But they will be a bit tempered from now on, I think. Ewan McIntosh weaved what can only be called magic at the conference I attended at Clair 2012, in northern New Brunswick. It wasn't simply because his French is easier to follow than his English ;) - he wove a tapestry of ideas together talking about what it is that will draw out students, interest them, engage them, and get them to be more than just followers of orders. It was one of the best presentations I've even seen - visually beautiful, low-keyed, personal and engaging. He has clearly learned a lot from his work with TED, but also, with 90 minutes to work with, the talk was never rush, never forced, and, in the end, exactly the right length. He received a standing ovation at the end, very much (to my observation) a rarity at education conferences. Well deserved.

I think part of it was to do with speaking French, but not because I was making an effort to speak it or anything, more that as a result of speaking my second language in an unfamiliar context I took extra care, and extra time from the normal 45 minute keynote sprint, to weave the complexities of our learning world in a simple way.

It was great fun, and I'm grateful to Roberto Gauvin, the Principal teacher at Clair's learning centre, for the opportunity to come through the metre-thick snow and -30˚C freeze to work alongside such a dedicated group of franco-canadian educators. 

You can download a copy of the talk from the Clair 2012 website (right click/control click and select "Save As..."). Better still, you can see the actions stemming from it and other talks when you dip into the manifesto for change, the DeCLAIRation, a pragmatic document for change based on what we all heard from the four speakers and our many corridor conversations.

How To Start An Education Revolution

Part of the manifesto is an ongoing Revolutionary Google Doc, developed in a furiously productive 50 minute BarCamp session that I led on Starting A Revolution. I've been reading Gene Sharpe's work on real, political revolutions, and wanted to produce a live, step-by-step guide to education revolution, much along the same lines:

 

This growing document is designed by 100 educators who gave up a Saturday morning in a gym in Clair, to provide links to research that disprove the key naysayer arguments for curricular, assessment and pedagogical change in the classroom. Well, it's a dream document for a keynoter, even one with 90 minutes, because the Saturday morning exercise allowed us to revisit and question all those things we had heard from the keynoters through two days of conference, and back up our views with research and leading practice, rather than anecdotes.

It's open until March 11th for changes, and then we're going to use it to create change in the Francophone and, with some translation, the Anglophone worlds of education, by create a copy that can be sent to every politician and Principal we know.

February 08, 2012

Stop ping pong questioning. Try basketball instead

A little run of posts inspired by my favourite educationalist of the past decade, Dylan Wiliam. He's the chap that explained formative assessment to me in twelve pages flat, and changed my practice forever.

In this two-minute clip he pleads with us to move away from IRE questioning (Initiate a question to the class, Response comes from one child, Evaluation comes from the teacher ["that's right", "interesting answer" etc etc). He describes this form of questioning as table tennis question and answer, where all questioning, thought, wisdom and learning revolve around the teacher, and occupy just one child at a time. Back and forth, back and forth...

He asks us not to do table tennis Q&A - play basketball instead. Pose a question, pause, ask another kid to evaluate the answer child one gave, and ask a third for an explanation of how and why that's right or wrong.

Finally, don't allow hands to go up to give an answer - your students results will be worse than if they do otherwise. Instead, the teacher can encourage certain students to take part in this three-way questioning activity, and work over time to get them playing question basketball for themselves.

February 02, 2012

Making a creativity-friendly school timetable

Danger Zone
School timetables work for so few people, yet it's only a few daring souls that seem to be prepared to change them. A new piece of research adds to the evidence that more flexibility is required to make the most of the latent creativity in our learners and teachers.

At NoTosh we're working with several schools on reshaping their school timetables to create space for teachers and students to conference, one-on-one, on how the day and/or week will look for each student, personalising content and the way learning will be undertaken. We've also been taken with trying to map the energy levels of students and staff to better shape the overall day, discovering, for example, in one school that no-one was fit for learning well first thing on a Monday (quelle surprise), and suggesting we should start and end the day later.

Last night, via Mike Press, I found a new piece of research showing a counterintuitive effect of energy on creativity: the less fresh you are the better it is for your ability to think and act creatively:

"...Tasks involving creativity might benefit from a nonoptimal time of day.”  What this means in everyday language is that morning people should try to solve problems requiring creative thought in the late afternoon, and evening people should undertake them in the morning.

So, where an entire school is fatigued first thing on a Monday is where people should be engaged in creative problem-finding projects, perhaps, rather than in learning the core content elements that might act as a foundation for some project work. 

This is counterintuitive to many who believe that when we're fresh and full of energy we should invest our efforts in our "best" work - if you want to approach it creatively, it might be best to approach it when you're feeling less than your best.

January 23, 2012

Why does innovation in education take so long? Field, Habitus, Identity - that's why

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I spend my life convincing educators to do things differently. Of late, we've taken the policy at NoTosh of not working with a district or school unless the Principal, the Head Honcho, the Boss is in the room participating. Why? Because the Field, Habitus and Identity developed by all the teachers in the room will provide the eventual block to any change happening.

Pierre Bourdieu's view of the world, set up nicely to help you see why you always need to have a whole-school approach to innovation, is nicely summed up in this research paper pdf, in a succinct three pages.

The Field is where what we're informed by research as being good learning and teaching is thrown out in the hubbub and busy-ness of the school day: "Forget what they tell you about teaching at Uni - this is where you'll find out how to really teach." To get over this, the whole field needs to experience the changes being proposed to remove the pressure of the field to descend to lowest common denominator.

The lowest common denominator in the field? Every time? Yes - because the Habitus of the people in the field is formed from the strong experiences of learning at school, the thirteen years compulsory schooling that shapes our inner understanding of what a successfully run classroom or school looks like. When we enter the classroom again, in our twenties, thirties or forties, it is this strong visual (and odoursome) memory that kicks back in, and we revert to the way we were taught. This is why it's important to always know what your happiest and least happy memories were at school, and work out ways to emulate the former and change the latter.

Finally, the Identity of a teacher is formed from this collective mix of historical habitus and current day field - individual responsibility for development within the collective responsibility for change as a whole school is the only way to adapt for the long-haul.

Thanks to Derek Robertson for the push over to Bourdieu this morning, while I toiled with change at the EU workshop on harnessing digital games for inclusion and empowerment of the disengaged, pictured above.

January 10, 2012

Design Thinking 1: Overview of a transformative learning ethic

Design Thinking Brisbane from Danielle Carter on Vimeo.

In 2011, with NoTosh, I started a programme of learning with the Catholic Education Office in Brisbane, to transform learning with our Design Thinking School programme. Six months on, we've captured some of the teacher feedback, thanks to our film friends at the Education Office, and it's revealing more transformation, more engagement of teachers in their own learning, and more responsiblity of learning transferred to students than we could have ever hoped for.

Over a short series of posts I'll take you through the key elements of the process, what it looks like in the planning and execution phases and how students, teachers and leaders respond to it.

While Design Thinking is a process that dates nearly 30 years, born out of the firm IDEO in California, and we've only been working on the process in schools since the summer of 2010, the workshops and online community support that we've been nurturing in Brisbane and other locations around the world is based on two fairly unique elements of practice we're lucky to come across every day at NoTosh:

  1. The marrying of what we know works best in learning, based on the most recent research on formative assessment, school design, experential and active learning, play and technology, with what we know about the creative process of design thinking;
  2. Taking our regular work with tech startups, film and TV companies, fashion houses and designers to inform, update and validate the creative processes' likelihood of generating new knowledge, as well as reinforcing existing understanding.

I hope that my reflections on the forthcoming posts are useful. They're far from complete - there's a book later this year to get closer to that - but they might provide a starting point for working this out in your own classroom or, if you're seeking to change a school or district of schools, it might provide the starting point to get in touch to work together.

January 03, 2012

Collaboration 1: Collaboration is the key influence in the quality of teaching

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

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

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. The Microsoft-supported ITL Research revealed in a large-scale study:

"Innovative teaching happens more in environments where teachers collaborate. In schools where teachers report more frequent collaboration with one another on teaching practices, innovative teaching scores tend to be higher... Teachers told us that collaboration can be an important mechanism for sharing teaching practices and for mutual support toward improving them."

 Anecdotally, this has also been the prime driver in the continued growth and success of the TeachMeet movement since 2006, and EdCamps since then, providing environments in which teachers, for whatever reason, feel comfortable sharing. We'll explore over this series of posts what makes collaboration work sometimes, and fail others.

In education, the ITL Research mentioned earlier offers some light as to how further barriers might be approached.

"If innovative teaching is not yet commonplace, under what climates and conditions does it flourish? For a host of reasons, ecosystems (be they educational or biological) have strikingly different features in different places. Accordingly, we might expect different approaches and conditions to be driving factors in the different parts of the world represented in this research. We report here on factors that emerge as salient across countries, drawing from both survey data and qualitative reports.

Collaboration relies on a supportive culture, alignment of incentives, and times built into teachers’ schedules during which collaboration can take place."

And when John Hattie undertook his study of 800 reviews he found that the most effective teaching practices included a reliance on "the influence of peers, feedback, transparent learning intentions and success criteria... using various strategies, attending to both surface and deep knowing:

  • Reciprocal teaching (teachers enabling students to learn and use self-learning)
  • Feedback (specific response to student work)
  • Teaching students self- verbalization or self/questioning
  • Meta-cognition
strategies (awareness Problem-solving and knowledge of one’s teaching

In short - the most effective teaching requires the most effective collaboration. The challenge, I believe, is that in education, as in the world of business, many or most collaborations are not effective.

Morten T. Hansen spent years trying to work out why leaders sabotage themselves by promoting more collaboration in their organisation:

"In their eagerness to get people to tear down silos and work in cross-unit teams, leaders often forget that the goal of collaboration is not collaboration in itself, but results. Leaders need to think differently, focusing on what Hansen calls disciplined collaboration."

In Collaboration he examines companies like Hewlett Packard, Proctor & Gamble, Apple and BP to find out how the best teams know when to collaborate, and when not to.

In education, the sign of a bad collaboration might be summed up flippantly with the line: "Oh no, not another wiki…" The web is littered with "collaborations" that may have made the teachers involved feel fluffy and warm, but which added little to the results of the learning process.

Morten T Hansen outlines from his decade of research six key reasons for most collaboration's failure, and over the next six blog posts, we'll explore each one in turn.

Pic from Andrew Wong

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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