15 posts categorized "Science"

May 18, 2015

If you want a kid to become a doctor, get them into operations


Juliette Murray was, like me, a kid at school who got 5 “A”s, which in the West of Scotland put a certain degree of pressure on one’s shoulders to study either medicine or law. I studied European Law, and became a teacher - that's what a European Law degree does to you. She studied medicine and is today a practicing doctor, but the education bug is firmly rooted in what she chose to do next.

Murray noticed that, particularly in her local area, fewer students were applying to study medicine than the population number would suggest should. Not only that, nationally the number of medical students dropping out after beginning their course of study is increasing. She wondered if we might we persuade a more representative cross section of the community to become doctors.

Teenagers in the Operating Theatre

She set about improving the opportunities for local youngsters, aged 14/5, at the time of their work experience choices. Existing work experience for those who want to gain an insight into the world of medical doctors is a sanitised course in an educational skills centre, where bored teenagers endlessly take each other’s blood pressure. They have more chance of a realistic insight by breaking their arm and turning up to Accident and Emergency. As any dad-to-be donning surgical greens knows, getting into an operating theatre is where a passion for surgery will be born or, in my case, definitely put to one side as a career option. So, the question became: how might we offer a more realistic experience of what being a doctor, surgeon or other medical profession feels like?

Culture of obstacles
Starting with her local hospital, Wishaw General in NHS Lanarkshire, she set about overcoming what she describes as a “culture of obstacles”. Two years later, though, and students are indeed undertaking real life surgery work experience, experiencing a live operation theatre and seeing the pressure of the job first hand.

A key hurdle was finding students to populate the programme. John McGilp, head teacher at local Coltness High School, became a  partner in launching a 2015 pilot scheme, co-designing timing and content of various interventions throughout the year to find and prime students for the experience. Beginning with second and third year high school students, they had an early experience in June of the CAT test, required as part of every application to medical school, before other workshops on how to apply for the degree course and what kinds of subject requirements there might be.

120 pupils and their families came to an initial meeting of several high schools’ students, where they met with role models who raised expectations and aspirations. Above all, meeting other students from other schools in the area reinforced the idea that no-one was ‘alone’ in thinking of this ambitious path, that “people like me” did it, too.

The programme makes a point to involve other health care professionals, not just junior doctors, for those for whom it isn’t the right fit, or whose applications are not successful. And, in the meantime, more junior doctors are offering to participate, enthusiastic to help and increasing in number as word gets around.

If it's that good, why doesn't it happen everywhere?

This is a nascent and growing example of what happens when people, who no doubt have many other things going on in their busy lives, make a decision to spend that bit more effort on a mission they feel is worth while. Thankfully for Murray, she found a willing school partner early on, who put in an equal extra effort to make it work. But for ideas like this to 'scale', it requires more than a pack, website or even funding - there was next-to-no additional funding to make this possible in the first place, and not even a purchase code to buy coffee and tea for school kids.

There was just passion and perseverance to do what felt right.

Now, the team are adding to their passion with data showing how it works.

The key is whether other Head Teachers and their leadership teams feel passionate about closing the achievement gap in this way, raising aspiration of what might be possible, to set up and run a similar programme in their own area.

May 08, 2015

Making isn't as important as the design thinking dispositions that come with it

In the Designing Spaces for Learning Masters subject I wrote and teach at Charles Sturt University, there is one week spent on Experimental Spaces. Part of that module is on making and maker culture. I purposefully didn't dote an entire one of my sixteen weeks on making, but write about it as a type of activity requiring a type of space that many treat as 'experimental':

...Making, and the attitudes outlined here, are nothing new. The oldest record of technology, engineering and craft being made a core area of learning goes back to 1868, and the first Chair of Engineering in any university was in 1959, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Until the 1990s, it is fair to say that the emphasis was on building skills, not mindset, that would lend themselves to industry.

"In the 1990s, though, we see a change in Scotland towards state secondary and primary schools introducing craft, technology and design courses, with an emphasis on enquiry, problem-framing and making to learn. It might be argued that many of the criteria for a successful maker space and for the Maker Movement itself have been nurtured, developed and finely honed over at least 25 years in those countries like Scotland where, rather than pushing such subjects to the fringes of school life - or out of school life altogether - "maker" type school subjects have morphed with the times, to maintain their relevance (Dakers, 2005; Scottish Government, 2006).

This might explain the recent powerful growth of makerspaces in some environments (American and academics-focussed international schools) versus a lack of financing and marketing for such spaces in others (thanks to the long-standing provision of maker technologies in state schools in the United Kingdom, for example).

Some new research emerging from the Harvard Project Zero team is also pointing to the fact that making itself is nothing new, and nor is making itself anything particularly unique in what it offers students, either. However, the new interest in making is helping education institutions and systems remember something that they had forgotten, lost when they originally got rid of stalwart craft subjects in the interest of 'academic rigor':

Students learn a tremendous amount through maker-centered learning experiences, whether these experiences take place inside or outside of makerspaces and tinkering studios. There is no doubt that students learn new skills and technologies as they build, tinker, re/design, and hack, especially when they do these things together. However, the most important benefits of maker education are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their world. (Emphasis added)

That sense of self, community and self-efficacy - "I can change the world around me" - are the same results my NoTosh team have seen in learners who undertake more student-led, immersive, complex learning, where they find the problems they wish to solve. The same effect can be found in the nascent research on design thinking for learning coming from Swinburne University, Australia (Melles 2010; Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. 2012). The benefit is visible where  the problem itself is academic and not practical, even if the problem itself offers no opportunity for physical construction, even if the problem is not related to science, technology, engineering or maths. It appears to be the very process of working on something you have chosen to work on offers that very sense of 'real' and ownership that are so much at the core of sharing learning objectives, success criteria and being in a position to act meaningfully on feedback.

Picture from Russell Davies


Dakers, J (2013) Technology Education in Scotland: an Investigation of the past twenty years. Conference proceedings from Pupils Attitudes Towards Technology (PATT 15). Retrieved from: http://www.iteaconnect.org/Conference/PATT/PATT15/Dakers.pdf

Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum design thinking: a new name for old ways of thinking and practice? Sydney: Proceedings of the DTRS8 Conference 299-308. http://www.academia.edu/392724/Curriculum_Design_Thinking_A_New_Name_for_Old_Ways_of_Thinking_and_Practice

Melles, G., Howard, Z. & Thompson-Whiteside, S. (2012). Teaching design thinking: Expanding horizons in design education. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences 31 162 – 166

Scottish Government (2006), Experiences and outcomes: Technologies. Retrieved from: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningteachingandassessment/curriculumareas/technologies/index.asp

April 29, 2015

Recursion - Google search has a (computational) sense of humour

The most common application of recursion is in mathematics and computer science, in which it refers to a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition. (Wikipedia)

The Google search for recursion concurs...

February 21, 2015

Crazy, stupid... innovation. The imperfect perfection of Tower Bridge #28daysofwriting

I've had a lovely week on holiday down in London with the family, being proper tourists. Under the dreich weather of Monday we ventured Thames-side and towards the terrifying but fun seethrough walkways of Tower Bridge. Along the side of the walkways were photographs of some of the world's great bridges, together with some of the history about how this iconic bridge came to be.

What did we learn?

This landmark, required to cope with the overwhelming population growth on either side of the river and increased river traffic to the upper parts of the Thames, was borne out of many, mostly failed, prototypes, most in the form of sketches.

Thank goodness we didn't stop at the first prototypes submitted to the public competition. The dual lock system would hardly have helped with the drastically increasing river traffic of the industrial revolution:


And a system of hydraulic elevators would have failed in the other sense, not really foreseeing 2015's automotive traffic needing a quick north-south crossing:


Some designers simply did without a bridge and went for the tunnel - perfect for traffic throughput in the longer term and not disruptive at all to the river traffic. In the end, though, it was feasibility that killed these tunnel ideas off - the runways required to descend human and horse-drawn traffic into them were so long that they ate up most of the land either side of the river:


As the final designer was chosen, even his first drafts were off the mark on the aesthetic side:


In the end, the rules for killing ideas and honing the kernels of interesting ideas down haven't changed since the bridge's completion in 1894 and today, as I describe them in my bookdesirability (do they want or need it?), feasibility (can we do it?) and viability (should we do it?).

The result, is an imperfect perfection that we recognise in an instant:


May 15, 2014

Real problem-finding attracting global researchers: Year 9, Denmark


Year 9 students have made a discovery through their own problem-finding in science, and international scientists are honing in on the consequences. Wifi and 3G next to the bed? Not any more.

More on problem-finding from my TEDx talk.

Cross-posted on NoTosh's Facebook page.

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.

March 05, 2011

Gever Tulley: Don't make "vocational" a dirty word

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.

In the last of our four films this week, Gever Tulley, founder of The Tinkering School and author of 50 Dangerous Things, Montara, CA, USA, thinks that we are forgetting about one of the most crucial parts of learning in the quest to increase the scope of learning in science, technology, engineering and maths:

"The first interesting thing about this interview was the speed - or lack of it - in the internet connection. Gever, and the rest of the West Coast of the USA, had just awoken and, as happens every day in late afternoon London time, the connection speed dropped to a snail's pace. This, even in a country like the UK, is part of the real digital divide that still exists.

"Gever feels that we're finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there's a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

"We're figuring out the value of the creative programmes that, in these tough economic times, have been cut. As we erode children's exposure to the arts we also erode the opportunity that science is beginning to reveal: for example, that a child who plays music at a young age happens to do better, longer than those who don't.

"We need to stop relegating the vocational arts to secondary programmes and start embracing making and doing as part of the regular educational experience for both kids and adults."

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.

November 15, 2010

Gever Tulley: "Teach less so we can learn more"

I caught up with Gever Tulley from The Tinkering School at The Education Project in Bahrain, where we were exploring just how we can set up more student-led learning starting from the teacher- or school plan-led processes most schools are stuck in at the moment.

Gever is most well known for his two TED Talks: Five Dangerous Things For Kids and Teaching Life Lessons Through Tinkering. Concepts discussed at a $6,000 a ticket conference are one thing.

What can regular schools learn from his experiences? My quick video with Gever provides some starter points (also available on Vimeo). The key learning from Tinkering School that can be shared with regular schools can be summed up in one statement:

Do less teaching and let students to make more responsibiulty for their education.

The very same mantra was echoed two weeks later in South Africa at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum by a high school student on the main stage. But, how do we make this move in regular schools? Gever thinks there are three good starting points:

  1. Classroom sessions can be self-directed
    Start small, with projects that are discovery-based, such as taking apart an existing device, exploring it.
  2. Get students used to Design Thinking
    It's hard to come up with projects - use some design thinking processes so that students get better, over time, at discovering really interesting problems for which they an create solutions.
  3. Provide protection
    Let kids do their projects, providing some safety nets so that when they fail that failure is supported. Students should be able to take up the pieces and have another go at it, without suffering 'social harm' from their initial failures.

If you want to explore some more ideas around the processes involved in Design Thinking for learning, I'd be delighted for you to join my session (this session room opens one hour before the talk) Tuesday 16 November 6am GMT, at the Global Education Conference. Register online now.

June 09, 2010

Michel Thomas iPhone app, and a reason for learning 'cos' in maths

I admire pretty much everything the many Matts and others at Schooloscope a few weeks ago and, now, a suite of Michel Thomas language learning apps for iPhone.

What caught my eye in the behind-the-scenes making-of blog post was the graphic, opposite, showing how Matt (Brown) designed a "procedural petal", the captivating animated flower that flows in colour with Thomas' hypnotic voice. It's the first time since quitting maths class aged 16 that I've seen how and why you'd use cos.

I was forever that annoying kid who'd always ask Mr Cooper [swap for your own maths teacher's name] "why do we have to learn this?". Rarely did I get an answer beyond, "you might need it one day", and Mr Cooper hadn't picked up on his colleague Mr Walker's fascinating with programming BBC computers and early Macintoshes. Had I known that understanding cos could've helped me get a job with BERG building iPhone apps for Michel Thomas then I'd have stuck it out to the bitter end.

Alas, I didn't, and instead became a teacher of French and German, which means I can but admire and now attempt Spanish with BERG's beautifully produced homage to Michel.

If you want to learn language fast before heading off this summer holiday, then I reckon the boys' app is a great place to start - see the sample video below.

Notwithstanding this, please do check out my good friend Mark Pentleton's award-winning, iTunes-chart-busting Coffee Break language series. It's ace, fast for learning, too. It's just missing procedural petals.

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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