March 31, 2007

So motivating you can't stop them learning

397831786_cd1b38b937 A few days down south in Shropshire and Oxford have rounded off two months of pretty much non-stop conferences and workshops. I've worked with around 1500 teachers over that time and, considering each one might have an average 80 students a week (between primary and secondary), that's potentially 120,000 kids that might see a classroom near them change, even just a bit. Add to that around 24,000 uniques to the blog, and 1700 subscribers, the slightly surreal fatigue I'm experiencing this weekend is, I hope, worth it. It's not quite over yet - April's got its fair share of kms - but I thought I would leave some notes of what I've learned through doing this over the winter of 2007.

The changes I have been proposing are small steps. We need to pick one or two pet projects and really make a difference through them and then, just as we get comfortable, it's a good idea to share that with colleagues and move on to the next thing ourselves. That's because most of these teachers are the potential innovators - they chose to come along to conferences on new technology. You/They are the ones that'll make a difference.

Four things that hold us back from innovating, or that make us get innovation a bit wrong:

  1. "Thin-slicing"
    Malcolm Gladwell's Blink gave me plenty of parallels in education to think about. Thin slicing is the Pepsi Challenge effect, where we see a guy at a conference talking about something new for a couple of minutes. We then make up our minds: "I love it, I'll just jump into it" or "I'm too old for that/the boss will never go for it". Taking a thin slice of a more complex process makes us less likely to succeed in both these scenarios. Most of the things I've been proposing this last wee while are simple initially, but require more complex thinking about the role of the teacher.
  2. Fear = loathing?
    When we fear things we decide not to take the jump. But if we can decide that failure might actually be a good thing then we can start to play a lot better. Making purposeful play something that both learner and teacher do will help make that learning so much more effective.
  3. Over planning
    I'm not saying that we should stop planning our lessons, but rather that we need to leave room for happy accidents to happen, for those tangents to be developed. This might mean throwing out the annual planner for a week, just to go off on a tangent that might lead to something more interesting or relevant to the kids' own experiences. It might be a false lead, it might be the lead that makes that period of learning 100 times more worthwhile.

    With ICT we tend to overplan our lessons. This might be a starting point, if we can start to see technology as opening tangents ("how could we do something other than PowerPoint to make the task more demanding cognitively and less demanding technically?") rather than closing them off ("we don't have all the equipment we need to do that").
  4. "Why bother?"
    Kids are changing. The 16 year old in 2007 is entering the employment market with only internet-age experiences on which to rely (the internet came into being in 1991). The six year old entering elementary school expects the web to allow them to publish and share their views with the world.

Five elements that have changed outside school and which need to change inside school

  1. Audience
  2. Creativity Unleashed!
    • Student creations can be conceived and published in the same place, whether that's in photographic, video or audio forms . Find out how to do all this. Channel the creative energy and ideas of your students - teacher as guide, not fount of knowledge - and you can turn those silly YouTube aspirations into something much more powerful.
  3. Differentiate... by raising the bar
  4. Authentic goals (for students, not teachers)
    • Create real audio guides for the city in AudioSnacks.
    • Keep a learning log of what is going on in class or on a school trip .
  5. 438003004_5cf11894c9_o It's not about the teach, it's about the tech
    • Use the technology that is in your students' bags and pockets - mobile phone ideas; iPod  use (listen to education material on iTunes Podcast Directory; xBoxes let you speak with fellow players around the world; the games played by kids on their Nintendo DS or Wii (I'm playing one at Steve's here) can often be put into multilingual modes - never has brain training been so draining.

The tools we use should not get in the way of the far bigger question - what is your role in your classroom now and will new technologies integrate with it? The chances are they won't, unless you integrate (i.e. change) with them. The main release these tools will offer the teacher is the extension of the classroom beyond the 'nine-to-four': collaborative tools like these offer free and flexible ways to claim back some of the 200 minutes spent online by our kids each night.

And why this urgency to adopt new and changing technology? Because new technology tends to push us into new practices. Take a look at the Scottish Inspectorate's report or the Becta New Tech report to see what I mean. Some ideas will work, some will not. Do you have the desire to try and maybe make some mistakes? Will you blog about it so that others needn't make the same mistakes?


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Apart from "wow", I want only to second your call to leave room for things to happen. Over-planning kills stone dead, IMO.

God you're good...

I agree! I agree! I agree!
But am still in enchained, in my creativity, by the necessity to be resource driven and planned for the mythical supply teacher, in case I am knocked down tomorrow! So I plan to be seen to plan, and the only way I get round it, is not to actually do what is on the plan. That's not ticked and checked in many schools. I have to live with the thought that my creative, go with the flow, deviations are going to be exposed. Heaven forbid! Children driven. The theory has yet to become a reality, with management. So more power to your Keyboard!
And yes I used to have a blog where I did tell about what really happened. Now I have to think about what I write, because there are rules there too.
Apologies for my absence.
PS We can't see Flicker in Argyll, but I got my new super dooper ipod recording setup on Friday, so...

Great stuff. Enjoyed the presentation in Oxford, and as I said at the time, it's really good (and wierd) to see how things have moved on in a year. BTW is that spam above?

Yeah, and I didn't get a notification about it. Thanks!

There is certainly a lot of food for thought here. Overall, I find myself sympathetic to your views. Yet I'd just to put a small counter agrument to help present a balanced view.

Sure, the kids today have mp3 players, games consoles and mobile phones. Two years ago, however, the kids did not have mp3 players, the games consoles were not as good as those today and mobile phones did not have the same features or compatability they may have today.
Next year, the kids may have ditched their mp3 players for the latest gizmo. the games console that is hot today will have been consigned to the attic and we'll all be wanting a new mobile, PDA` or EDA with all the latest 'hot' features.
You mention the Nintendo DS ... ye Gods have you seen it? It looks so dated already, I imagine in only a few months time the kids will be embarrassed to admit to having one.
Surely the reality is that in Education, we cannot go throwing money into technology and software that will be little more than a passing fad.

The DS Lite sold 1.7 million last December and it probably will fall out of favour in a couple of years. However, the it's not the tech but the implications for our teaching that are harder to get. I don't intend to throw money at gizmos - ever. I intend to learn how to adapt my teaching methods so that when a new gizmo comes out and the kids bring it into school I am able to see how that might be useful in the classroom.

That's the difference between technology integration and changing one's practice to accommodate technology. The attitudes behind that practice actually don't change much once they've been adopted, even if everything else is swirling around in apparent disarray.

This is the only way we can hope to "keep up with" technology for learning.

“And why this urgency to adopt new and changing technology? Because new technology tends to push us into new practices”

With a resistance to change with technology in the classroom I am reminded of the old analogy about the elephant tied to a stake. For a year he is tied to the stake and can only walk around the stake with a limited radius. Once he is freed from the stake he continues to walk around the stake and fails to venture any further than when he was tied up.

New technology can push us into new practices if we let it! What a wonderful opportunity technology resources provide to reach out to students in ways they are ready to embrace.

For example, the new Timez Attack game by Big Brainz has kids begging to learn their multiplication tables! Flashcards have never done that for any kid I have ever met. But this ultimate multiplication game found at is definitely on the right track!


Very much enjoy reading the blog...which seems endless. I wanted to raise attention to two things firstly a website created by geography teachers to create video resources: and

Secondly one to host student movies:

The resources maybe of use to some please feel free to use, its all free.


Adam Lawson

Even the comments on your blog are mind blowing. Following your links through has taken me to wild and scary places somewhere in the United States, speaking of videos - I have been using them for years,but what is this new breed all about? I so want to speak the same language as my students so that they will fancy, be interested in, even have a passion for the languages I am trying to teach them, but I am afraid I am (unwillingly) on the wrong side of the digital breach and need someone to give me a hand across it. I no longer wish to hear theories, but I want to see a lesson plan. Is someone of the ilk of Teachers' Tv ever likely to provide one, scripted kids or not? - show me the lessons!

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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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