Category Archives: Taking risks

TEDxKids@Sunderland pt 2 – thrilling to be so very wrong

All involved have been overjoyed and even a little overwhelmed by the fantastic response to TEDxKids@Sunderland (see here for the first post about this project).

Twitter has done the event proud, with pupils receiving good luck messages, from across the globe, then responses during and after the event to the real time tweets (@TEDxKidsSland) made about the talks. The pupils are on half-term holiday this week, so on Monday they’ll find out about much of this – and think about how they want to collate, map and display that feedback, in among their busy time setting up the website and editing the videos they took of the talks to ensure others can share the experience of the day.

Some tweets were read out during the event, with the audience being as amazed and delighted as the pupils, and we ‘project adults’ rather enjoyed our peek at #TEDxKidsSland once everyone had gone home:

So how did it reach this point?

We left the story at the project idea being well received by the school – prompting Ewan McIntosh to respond “thanks for agreeing to this – I’m thrilled to help plan and deliver something that I hope will have a sizeable impact on all concerned (including me!).” Creative Partnerships places great value on the practitioners they engage with being willing to take risks, to be able to explore and be challenged themselves, not just replicate comfortable off the shelf solutions. Ewan was clearly going to make my job very easy!

The two class teachers were, of course, central to the journey – Ewan left the first planning meeting saying “there’s a natural apprehension about trying something new” this was a stretch, it wasn’t something that everyone knew would go just fine. When reflecting post-event the Y3 teacher was brave enough to admit this initial response as being quite a strong one, although now feeling unlikely:

It is hard to imagine that just a few months ago I was feeling that this was impossible. Too much for Year 3. How could all the complex abilities of all my class be served equally?

For once it is thrilling to be so very wrong. We as teachers always feel that it is us in the driving seat. That we are imparting all our hard earned knowledge. That we set the bar and the childrens job is to work hard enough to reach it. But yesterday, in fact this whole experience has proved the point. We need to let go of the reins. Because it has been the children that have challenged me to be a better teacher. They have raised the bar every day of this project and it has been my job to keep up.

I feel humbled by what my kids achieved and can’t wait till after the holidays when I can get back in the class and let them know how very proud I am of them. How proud I am to have been part of their growth as individuals. Proud to have shared this short, yet immense journey.”

Neither teacher was aware of the TED format before the project, and Ewan’s first task for them (and others in the team) was to choose some talks, from TED or elsewhere, that they felt could be used in class to help pupils to think about the makings of a great talk, and (as importantly!) to comment on some of each others videos and ideas. The format for sharing this was through the on-line Posterous ‘learning log’ set up to capture and easily share/respond to each others thoughts and planning. I have found this log such a valuable resource, as would be expected some were quicker to use it than others but it became a valuable way to keep the adults in the project connected – as not everyone was in school all of the time, and for those who were conversations are still not always possible.

Using Posterous as a project learning log

One of the aspects of the Ewan’s approach that I really liked was their proposal phrase “NoTosh doesn’t work on a ‘day rate’ basis, but rather on a ‘fair use’ policy over the period identified.” What we have found is that working with them hasn’t just about the days there is face to face to contact, it has been a partnership approach throughout. It is the on-line sharing that has really given us a way to tap into that expertise (regardless of what country he happens to be in at the time!), but also to gain from everyone’s else skills too.

The next step was for Ewan to outline the project time around the ‘design-thinking’ process, explained in one of his blog post here. Creative Partnerships is about linking together creatives and educationalists in the belief that that combination working together has the potential to create something valuable in the classroom. Ewan describes design thinking as core to the practice of successful creative companies, and sees it as a great tool for schools.

So the next bit takes us into the classroom to meet the pupils (the exciting bit I know) and into the next blog post…

Do let me know if you are hearing what you need to about this journey, or if there is anything you want to make sure is covered.

Advertisements

TEDxKids@Sunderland – the start of the story

TEDx shapes appear at every authorised TEDx event

Pupils making the freestanding TEDx letters which appear at every licensed TEDx event

Anyone who follows my twitter feed – or that of Ewan McIntosh or Tom Barrett of NoTosh probably couldn’t miss that last Friday, 27th May 2011, was the day Year 3 and Year 4 students from one primary school in Sunderland, UK achieved a remarkable event – their own TEDx developed, organised, performed and documented by the pupils in those two classes. Through a wonderfully pupil led project those young people approached a task many adults would think twice (and maybe more) about.

TED is a global phenomena – inspirational talks presented at TED events but made available through the internet. In their words: “TED’s mission is spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building  a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”  TEDx is: “designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.”

The first of the audience arriving for TEDxKids@Sunderland

So how did a group of pupils in Sunderland tap into and respond to this? In this first of a number of posts I’ll be making about the project I’ll describe a little of the early part of the journey. This journey that led pupils to be delivering talks about their passions and concerns, talks including: Why you should raise money for Cancer Research…Why my Mum is my best Friend… How big are families?…What are you doing about car pollution?… What would it be like to win Wimbledon?… Why slugs have slime… Do you know what it is like to be me?

In its final year of the Creative Partnerships programme, the TEDxKids@Sunderland school wanted to continue with a strand that had run across the two previous year. The enquiry question summarised this as: “Can more opportunities for ‘speaking out’ support pupils in extending their vocabulary and understanding situation appropriate language, and support the understanding of body and facial expression?” They particularly wanted pupils to be able to better understand the range of appropriate language forms that exist and to be able to modulate between them successfully – thus extending their speaking skills to benefit both their literacy skills and to support them through life.

One of the joys of working as an Agent on the Creative Partnerships Change School programme is it giving me a three year relationship, assisting schools to build enquiry based creative programmes (supported by creative practitioners) which aim to respond to key objectives within their school development plan. My knowledge of the pupils and staff grew and with that an understanding of approaches that would challenge everyone but also energise them and stand a good chance of being deliverable. But there are never any certainties in a process which encourages appropriate risk taking.

In Spring 2010 I had the opportunity to see Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference. I was inspired by his emphasis on learning for purpose and willingness to challenge school leaders about their fears of new technology. I immediately applied for a bursary to secure some mentoring support from him – around building knowledge of use of social media and wider technology (It was successful – hurrah!!). In spending time with him I came to learn that language was something Ewan was passionate about so it occurred to me that he might have an interest in the school’s  enquiry. The response he came up with was a brave one, and he enthused to me (on my mobile phone at a service station carpark!) “wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when you offer young children a format like TED, what would they make of it? How far would they take it? How might they respond to it?”

I hope you can see that right from the start it was a curiosity about the pupils response and actions – it wasn’t ‘lets organise a TEDx’ but ‘lets see what the pupils want to do with this.’ This pupil led approach was perfect for the ethos of Creative Partnerships, and taking it back to the school it was greeted with enthusiasm from the Head, who turned out to be a TED lover already, and with a deep breath, and some intrepidation,  we were off…

Facebook and mobile phones taking students in new directions

Developing facebook profiles to explore the historical characters selected for the performance

When Prior Pursglove College, Guisborough came into the Creative Partnerships programme in the hope of support for students developing a performance for the College’s 450th anniversary celebration they can be forgiven for not imaging that it would lead to facebook profiling and actors on stage receiving instructions via mobile phone to determine their next actions thanks to an audience empowered by interactive tablet computer technology.

A great blog post of the project, written by Adrian Riley of Electric Angel – the artist brought in to work with students, can be found here.

Audience members made selections which activated mobile phone messages to actors on stage giving them performance instructions

The idea for the project came from looking at how additional funding could bring significant challenge and new practice to the performing arts department who were keen to work with arts professionals from beyond the world of theatre. The notion of pervasive games I introduced was new to staff and pupils, and we felt it could make links beyond what others expected of a celebratory piece of outdoor theatre, offering pupils a highly contemporary starting point to look back through history. The brief we circulated among potential arts partners was more specific than is often the case, and students were delighted with the proposal offered by Adrian Riley, which suggested some starting points for exploration but kept the project very pupil led.

Pupils had never developed a piece of theatre like this, and it was far from a comfortable experience as they learnt about the unpredictability of audience led interactive work. They gained confidence but did decide to scale down some of the possibilities to help limit their nervousness. About half of the students cited the research period as a highlight – a surprise to them, with one realising that she could bring her joint passions for history and theatre together in a fantastically engaging way. Another pupil talked of how she “had done more work for this project than the rest of the course put together, because it depended on us – if we didn’t make it it wouldn’t happen. No-one was going to do it for us, and there was no script to just perform. It was really down to us – Adrian gave us great inspiration, showed us some amazing things but he expected us to use that and do something with it. He isn’t from theatre, he was clear about that, he didn’t know about making performances – that was our job.”

Students presented the work twice during the College celebrations, in their words “it was more like something you’d get in London – things like that don’t happen in Guisborough.”

Staff are keen to replicate some of the approaches Adrian introduced and have already developed a range of possibilities for how facebook can be used across their curriculum. Lead teacher on the project Laura Hawley feels “students will carry this experience forward with them probably more than all the other work they have done. It was more experimental and something that they will deepen their understanding of over their next few years at University. When they look back they will be even more impressed with what they achieved.”

We’d all like to hear about any other examples of work like this – do let us know if you have dabbled with technology in similar ways.

B&Q here we come – yes, with Year 3

I met with two amazing teachers at Alderman Leach Primary School in Darlington last week. They were really challenging! After some discussion their creative partnerships project plan is looking like giving Year 3 pupils an opportunity to build and construct – on a large scale. A pupil led project, with materials and tools around, and an exploratory approach offered – in the hope that pupils experience and enjoy taking risks and develop some responsibility for their own learning along the way.

I found it was me panicking, asking ‘but what curriculum do we need to cover?’ as they insisted that they could look at anything that hadn’t been covered naturally at the end of the project and mop up missed topics over the rest of the year. For them it was the attitude to learning that they wanted to explore and support pupils to build curiosity.

All three of us have been inspired by  Grounds for Learning and their approach to risk assessment to support not hinder such activities, and love the idea of taking young pupils to B&Q shopping, loading the trolly up with saws and drills (and that is early years pupils – our Year 3’s should be a dream then!!).  And are enthused by the excitement and achievement of pupils working with The Tinkering School in the US – especially the 7 year olds making their own rollercoaster –  now we are talking….

Gever Tulley founder of The Tinkering School’s blogs this inspiring and challenging post

“One of the great pleasures of running the Tinkering School blog is that I get amazing email from people around the world. One message that really got me thinking was one from John Wood who took some time to list his accomplishments before graduating from high school:

  • Build a 180mph race car
  • Build a cannon that fired a 13 ounce cannon ball 1000 yds into a 12 in. target.
  • Build a house
  • Invent a learning system, to teach my sister the functions of complex machines of any complexity (I later found out that I had rediscovered systems theory)
  • Invent a diagnostic system to understand many of the disfunctional interrelationships in my nuclear family (With a little help from Fritz Pearls)
  • Develop a plan to extort $20,000,000 from the city of Houston, Tx. (Why I mention this ridiculous idea is amusing. I wrote the idea up for a tenth grade composition class and got lots of unwanted attention! It was also the impetous for a successful life long career in security!)
  • Learned to repair and refit loose dentures for my grandpa and read an anatomy book.
  • Graft 5 types of apples on one tree
  • Repair plumbing
  • Repair electrical apliances (vacuum sweepers were my favorite)
  • Operate most common heavy equipment (front loader, dump bed trucks, backhoe, Ditch Witch etc.
  • Use high explosives
  • Work a gold mine
  • Survive in the woods, desert or in a city for a week at a time without planning or provisions. (This one got me grounded for months!)
  • Defend myself against against a knife or gun attack (both have saved my life)
  • Repair an elevator
  • Write a poem to a girl that made her cry with joy

John graduated high school in 1971.

In summary he says:

My life has been enriched by my childhood experiences more than I can express. I have done things others can only imagine or dread. However, without the freedom that my father gave me to risk life and limb without tragic injury, none of my successes or my facinating life would have transpired.I would have stayed the frightened, withdrawn person, I was as a small child.

I’m not advocating or recommending this list of accomplishments, but I marvel at how impossible it would be for most kids these days to do any of them.

But here’s what I do advocate: we should all strive to write a poem that moves someone to tears, we should all have lives that are more interesting that what we watch on television.”

Are we risk averse as adults? How do you fare against the TV challenge? What challenge do you give yourself?

A ‘thing’ is, well, a ‘thing’

I have just written a brief for artists to work in Kirkbymoorside Primary school. Pupils there love hands on activity and have decided to commission someone to work with them to design and make a ‘thing’ in the school grounds. The ‘thing’ will be some sort of structure/sculpture/happening/’thing’ that helps pupils to explore science, so it might have bits that come from it, it might do something, or in itself it may offer an experience. It sounds great this ‘thing’ even though no-one has any idea yet about how it might look, what it might be made of or how it might be used – because they need to decide that through exploration and experimentation.

Over 15 years ago I remember a Crafts Council conference following which ‘the vessel’ came to be common lingo – gone was the quandary over whether to call something a vase, a sculpture, a jug and so-on. Well today it felt like like ‘a thing’ should become common parlance – what else could it have been called? What better description is there? So that is what I put in the brief – a ‘thing’. Anything else would just have limited it.

I’m curious to see what the response will be.

40 seconds of attention

This week I heard documentary filmmaker Emily Barber telling Longbenton College that TV soap opera writer guidelines are to construct 40 second scenes, that being the current ideal for maintaining attention.  They also have to vary sound levels, so that it draws the attention of the ‘viewer’ away from their laptop or mobile phone app, which thay are likely to be using at the same time as having the TV on.

Pupils are going to be making 1 – 3 minute films , it suddenly seemed a long time….

We can hear You

I’ve been sorting through notes from the last school year and came across the scribblings from a wonderful day I spent in Thorney Close Primary School in June. The school have been working with drama practitioners from Northern Stage to support pupils in having more confidence in speaking aloud, and to more consciously modulate language depending on circumstances.

Every pupil in Year 4 and Year 6 gave a short speech that afternoon. There was many a tear from a teacher I have to say – in response to the girl who hadn’t been able to say anything to the class without crying previously, confidently taking her place; when a pupil addressed the audience with why he was proud to be deaf; when we heard how special it was to have friends; what it felt like to be bullied; why a boy wanted to be a footballer but thought they shouldn’t earn more than doctors …..

Pupils had been given total freedom over what they wrote their speeches about, and teachers realised they never gave that permission, that there was always a topic or theme. The power of the experience fed off that autonomy, the success was fully theirs.

When we first met with Northern Stage they expected the school to want drama workshops with a performance at the end. The conversations that focussed the project down were great – it was so clear that this wasn’t about pupils being actors and delivering a script, it wasn’t about ‘shows’. It was about them getting a feel for the power of expressing their thoughts, and that the skills of actors and dramatists might be useful in getting there. It is that negotiation between the skills of educators and artists that create a mix that pupils can take where they need to. No-one in the ‘professional team’ was an expert speech maker, but everyone in the room had experiences they could offer that enabled the pupils to become speechmakers.

In truth it was only a beginning – there is a lot further to go, pupils at the school don’t have the starting point that some children do – but it was a beautiful beginning.

What would your speech be about? How do you feel about making it?


And we are off!

Argghhh – it is real. Here I am blogging. Setting up this blog has felt like stepping into the unknown but it has been fun exploring the possibilities.

I met with Ewan McIntosh in August, Ewan is an international name in new media and education so his kindness in talking me through the very basics – including correcting my spelling of youtube (whoops – we were talking basics you see) and smiling sweetly when I called him Ewan McGregor by mistake (deep cringe!!!) – was  very generous. I heard terms such as ‘social media embassies’ for the first time in my life before he sent me off with a long list of things to think about.

I spent what felt like for ever pondering names, finding out they had already been taken and getting back around the drawing table. I came up with Makes Me Excited….. because I heard myself saying it when describing to someone else what I wanted the blog to be – a place where all sorts of inspiring snippets exist that get me excited about the potential of artists and the education world working together.

Do sign up for blog update notifications in the box on the top right, comment away on the posts, offer ideas and links for material and  join me on the journey.