January 18, 2011

If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing

I was delighted to be offered the op-ed for the BETT edition of the Times Education Supplement. I chose it to highlight the potential of thinking about learning as construction, rather than a series of activities that need 'done', and I'll be developing its ideas for my opening keynote at this year's Naace Annual Strategic Conference:

Ewan McIntosh In The TES Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.

There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.

The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."

In the piece I cite just a few of the examples I've been lucky enough to see through 2010, and as a result I've started hearing about other maker-curricula on my own doorstep: Oliver Quinlan's students, described in his TeachMeet BETT talk as they created self-determined projects around the theme of London's Burning, is just one more prime example.

What are your contributions to a maker-curriculum? Let me know, and I'll be sure to include more glorious examples of students engaged in making to learn rather than doing to learn when I open the Naace Annual Strategic conference with my keynote, Don’t think. Try: How brave teachers around the world are making change for themselves.


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I really enjoyed hearing Sugata Mitra talk about 9 months ago on this 'Self Organization' project in depth and found him (and the project) fascinating. His second project around the 'Granny role' could potentially be the basis of a further blog? If you've not seen it you can watch here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXxYgpQhsrU

Excellent thoughts Ewan. Can't wait to hear the how these thoughts develop. With yourself on Tuesday and Sugata on Weds at the Naace Conference i declare we are all in for a thought provoking time. I met some amazing practitioners on the Naace Stand at BETT talking about their own innovative and inspired worlds ...within their classrooms. Will be great hearing from them in the months ahead as we all endeavour to surface what the power of technology can deliver for our learners .....whilst making the day job for our teachers awesome. Thanks to all for sharing their stories at Bett. I too loved Oliver's contribution at teachmeet.

bravo Ewan. i love what you are doing. thank you for sharing. wish i could be at your conference. i'm hoping/assuming it will be archived.

over the course of the last two years, especially this year in the lab, we've gone through several girations similar to your passion, planning, and provocation projects.

what we've been experimenting with,
in regard to focusing on resources that matter, namely people:
and in regard to a basis for self-organization:

Thanks for the mention and including my video Ewan. I enjoyed the article, it is great to see lots of schools coming to similar conclusions about what kind of learning to value and developing approaches down these lines.

What a great resource. As a teacher, it is so easy to get caught up in the political arena of education are argue over how to get school teaching supplies that will help teach great lessons. I believe in getting back to the basics and approaching learning through experiences.

So Ewan, I think I must have read this blog post as a bit of a challenge. Today I found myself standing in front of my S1 class and saying 'So, from now on you have an hour every week to come to school and decide what you want to learn. Whatever you like'. No joke, there was cheers of excitement.
I had taken the approach of Suguta Mitra last year with S5's - it was interesting, but this time like you suggest, the pupils are initiating and directing the learning.
If you have a free morning one Thursday it would be great to see your input into our class. Think this will be running for a while. We're in Barnton in Edinburgh - so not too far from your house!

I agree with this article in its entirety. The best way to learn anything is to actually do it.

Agree to this, but unfortunately in my country...this things are overladed.. No one wants to learn even a little bit of something...

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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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