Why blogging works for me – part 1

When I set out on this process of having a blog, only a couple of months ago, I have to say I was a skeptic. I knew that I ought to have better awareness of these technical things – not then even knowing the phrase social media. My move to action was mainly because I was shamed by Ewan McIntosh at a conference pointing out that being technology illiterate limited the role you could take in designing effective education processes and enabling young people to be well placed in the contemporary world. I’m not one to naively jump on board when it comes to technology, after all I don’t even have a TV!, but this was tempting…..

That keynote was four days before a deadline to apply for a regional Creative Partnerships learning bursary and before I knew it I had put the two together and was off – with funding to enable Ewan to hold my hand along the way. What had seduced me into thinking it might all be a good thing was Ewan talking about using this ‘stuff’ effectively, to support what you wanted to do and save time. Now that was a radically different take for me – from the outside it looked like a time sink not a time release.

Ewan's how to...

So anyway out I set on this journey, with a list of activities set by Ewan and the promise of continuing support. As far as I thought we were in the set up phase – building a blog. No-one was going to be reading the blog as they wouldn’t know it was there and I dreamed of the benefits coming by the time we were a year in and this ‘learning network’ was up and running. How wrong!

What I have been amazed by is how quickly the process has been useful. In trying to understand blogs better I read  some other people’s in the spheres I’m interested in – and immediately some of those posts were useable in school project meetings, for instance:

  • In a project planning meeting a teacher spoke excitedly of “that place where pupils build things, they built a rollercoaster” I knew she was talking about  Gever Tulley’s work at Tinkering School – because I’d be reading about it only the night before. A small thing – but the joint understanding we had meant we could travel far quicker in planning discussions and the trust she had in me sharing her vision was invaluable.
  • Sharing school and pupil websites informed discussions with both a primary and secondary school about ways of capturing learning from a project – and in a format that encouraged parents engagement. With the potential of posts and videos being sent directly to parents e-mails and facebook accounts. Seeing other schools doing some of it made it feel much more possible for these schools. Showing them http://www.blogbooker.com (found thanks to a post in Derek’s blog re-posting Richard Byrne’s slideshow)  helped them think about ways blogs could still be evidenced in pupil’s portfolios.
  • Having followed a link to Professor Sugata Mitra’s TED talk I discussed with a Headteacher about to equip his school with IT the value of group activity around computers rather than one computer per child – he shared the talk with his staff and they are considering buying better equipment but less of it to support group dynamics within child-led learning.

That is only the tip of a small but definitely present iceberg…And then there is the excitement of knowing what people you respect are reading – and reading it yourself. I didn’t expect to feel that sense of connection, or that people would inspire me so easily – simply being open with what they are curious about. Twitter has way more going for it than I would have thought – once I’d given myself permission to be okay with not having to read everything!

It is still very early days, I have my next list of ‘McIntosh tasks’ to take me forward. But I’m starting to let people know the blog is here and to get into conversations on other blogs, twitter and the like – moving out of the comfort zone of observer to participator. I’ve set up google reader to help monitor RSS feeds and the share the juiciest bits. I’m looking to build a team of people to blog with me, and  – well heaps more.

I’m even starting to talk about my learning and advocate the value of what I’m doing. The first session is tomorrow to colleagues at a Creative Partnerships meeting in the Tees Valley, and then next month I’m doing the same for Hull CP colleagues – who would have thought it.

Still no TV though – not in a hurry to change that one!

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Art, Science and Language

On Thursday I went to a talk by author Ian McEwan at Newcastle University. It was part of Parallel Worlds a weekend of events looking at the relationships between art and science. His new novel Solar has a, very humanly flawed, nobel prize winning scientist involved in research on climate change as its main character. I am a McEwan fan, from the extracts read it seems a wonderfully amusing book, in addition to the usual detailed observation of  human behaviour and endeavour. It was a fascinating event, in which McEwan shocked me by saying he felt too much contemporary literature was studied in schools and called for students to have extensive knowledge of the older literary cannon.

Prior to the event I had my own linking of art and science courtesy of the very large concave mirror sited in the Herschel building, the location of the event. The mirror was gifted to the Physics department by “Sir Howard Grubb Parsons Co Ltd”, a once famous local engineering company, in 1967 (co-incidently the year of my birth).

I loved the distortions that it created and soon gathered a crowd around me as I began to investigate its qualities – people who had passed it by only moments earlier hardly noticing came back to ‘play’ themselves.

What had captured my interest was a potential link to a school project I’d only been discussing a few hours – which is based on the theme of The Madhatter’s Tea Party. I felt quiet Alice like being distorted by this enormous mirror.

Leaving the event another item in the building caught my and my friend’s eye – now how often is it that you see the word ‘egress’? Maybe we had stepped into a parallel universe after all. We started to talk about all the alternative words that could be placed around a school building, in response to the frequent pleas of teachers for pupils to extend their vocabulary.

What words would you put up? I’d love to compile a list of appropriate ones – do help me out.

And another ‘thing’

The Generator

Remember that ‘thing’ that Kirkbymoorside Primary School are looking to create? Well I received an e-mail from Rhiannon Ellis at the Theatre Royal in Wakefield last week that began:

“I recently saw that you were interested in a ‘thing’ to explore science and wanted to let you know that we potentially have a ‘thing’ to give away!”

You see – the ‘thing’ word is catching on just as I wanted!!

Rhiannon explains:  “Over the last six months we have been touring round festivals and so on and  so forth with a specially architecturally designed ‘Cultural Generator!’ (which is kind of like a magical shed!). We have done this in conjunction with various cultural organizations in Wakefield but as we have reached the end of the project  the Generator is about to be installed in an exhibition at the Beam Gallery and we are discussing its life beyond the exhibition. It struck me that perhaps it could play a part in your future project?”

What a fantastic offer.

Why not pop along to see it, and let us know what you think. Or if you can’t make it to the exhibition there is a fun film of it being constructed here. (yep still not quite worked out the inserting video into a post bit – next lesson I think!!!)

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?

It works….

I received an e-mail from the deputy head at Dormanstown Primary on Friday, her school is just going into its third year of the Creative Partnerships programme. It read..

Just finished our Creative Partners planning staff meeting and can’t believe how far the staff have come in terms of ‘creativity’ and ‘creative thinking’.  So pleased.

That is it – this is just a great news, congratulations to everyone kind of post. Every Friday should have one!

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?


Delightful learning

I confess I got a bit distracted today. I was researching contemporary composers for brass instruments  (more of that later, I’m meeting with five schools on Friday who are going to be developing learning programmes with Brass – an international festival in Durham) and through a series of click, click, clicks ended up off one of those tangents which took me to to a post on Richard Millwood’s blog (which is full of all sorts of interesting things).

Richard writes: Ever since reading about John Heron’s ‘up-hierarchy’ of delight, with his wonderfully expressive language, I have been enjoying adding new elements (although disregarding for now their connection, except as a list). I have made a poster of them …….

Richard Millwood's Analysis of Delight.

The idea is that they are a source of explanation and stimulus for designing delight into teaching & learning.

Why do we like playing games on the computer? – perhaps because high quality and visually seductive graphics offer ‘appreciation’ and the many choices and their consequences feed ‘zest’.

Why do we like learning together? – perhaps because we get ‘conviviality’, ‘recognition’ and ‘controversy’.

Why do we persist when learning is tough? – perhaps because there is ‘interest’, ‘recognition’ and ‘resolution.

Is this all too obvious? Or do you, like me, want to put this poster on your wall to keep it fresh in your mind?

Yes Richard – I want this on the wall and the covers of those planning files I take out with me…… Thinking of developing delightful projects Makes Me Excited….. Thank-you!

Expectations are high after award winning DVD

Tomorrow sees the start of my planning meetings with schools for this academic year.  I’m looking forward to the discussions with Dormanstown Primary School, near Redcar. In June they were winners of a Northern Grid Learning for Learning Award for best use of ICT in Modern Foreign Language and runners up in the Subject category.

The entry was from a Creative Partnerships project  we worked on which saw digital artist Rosie Davey support Year 2 pupils in making an interactive DVD/game – in french! At a time when policy makers are commenting on the lack of take up in language study these 6 year olds showed great enthusiasm for it.

You walk down the street and visit each building along it - interacting in french as you navigate the various activities offered in each.

The DVD provides a computer based environment that enables the ‘player’ to explore a scene and make decisions about where to go – built into the environment are many activities developed by the pupils from games to language tasks. The environment itself was also created by the pupils. This format allowed a wide range of approaches and materials to be used from collage to computer animation, and included speaking and listening activities.

The class teacher Sue Skillcorn was a key part of the delivery team, she feels the project supported not only pupil development but expanded the teacher skill base – she explains:

Increase in pupil confidence and self esteem has been a major outcome, pupils normally reserved in class have become speakers and used techniques like talking through masks to build that, the confidence to speak has transferred into writing approaches and improvements have been seen across literacy areas.

The project gave pupils different ways of presenting their knowledge, in a fun and highly engaging way. Pupils  worked together very effectively, they negotiated, debated and reached conclusions that are based on compromise to a higher level than we usually see in classroom. There was a willingness to share skills, for example a pupil usually quite self focussed offered to support and advise other pupils on using the ICT.

We teachers have become significantly more confident in using ICT across the curriculum and are increasingly planning it into teaching delivery, from using computer through to video cameras. Staff have a better understanding of what pupils are capable of technologically – which is far in excess of what we assumed.

Teachers have also learnt new ways of building individual pieces up into collaborative end points and have begun to use those techniques in different curriculum areas, such as story-writing. The school has a far wider understanding of what ‘arts’ might mean in the school. It has inspired and given permission to staff to think in cross curricular topic based planning.

Redcar and Cleveland Education Authority are so impressed by the children’s DVD that they now want to roll it out to the other Primary schools in the area.

I’ll let you know what the school gets up to this year…..