Factory education fails everyone — @EDUWELLS

Reminding teachers of what it’s really like to be a student in school is one of my favourite professional pass times. I was presenting at a conference recently and at 3pm, many teachers were talking about being overloaded with information and how tired they were. I highlighted that this was exactly what it’s like to […]

via Factory education fails everyone — @EDUWELLS

Review: Griffin’s BreakSafe is the magnetic USB-C connection the 12-inch MacBook needs — 9to5Mac

One of the most interesting accessories that came out of the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year was Griffin’s BreakSafe Magnetic USB-C Power Cable. As a 12-inch MacBook owner (and lover), one of the things I’ve missed the most with the machine is the MagSafe connection. Apple introduced the MagSafe technology 10 years ago, but thanks to…

via Review: Griffin’s BreakSafe is the magnetic USB-C connection the 12-inch MacBook needs — 9to5Mac

Creativity in Schools – A Decade on from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk

Creativity in Schools – A Decade on from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk

Creativity in Schools – Sir Ken Robinson

So, what has happened almost a decade on?

The first of a series of iconic TED talks about how education needs to ‘shift paradigms’ occurred almost a decade ago back in June 2006 (yes, that was ten years ago this year). Sir Ken Robinson set the ball rolling with his TED Talk about how ‘schools kill creatively’ – a talk that still tops the ‘all time viewed’ lists with 13 million views in 2012…and over 37 million views as I type this in February of 2016.Sir Ken

Sir Ken has his critics who say that it’s easy to be seduced by his words when there is no action plan to apply (read his books and there are plenty of sensible and useful words of wisdom as to how we can improve things….). Personally I totally agree with Ken (and in fact saw Ken give some similar insights earlier in his career when he was professor of education at Warwick University in the UK).

So, a decade on, where do we stand?

Sadly, given all the hype and constant gossip about how wonderful Sir Ken’s vision is, we (schools) seem to be achieving very little in terms of creating (no pun intended…) a genuine shift in approach to how education is responding to the needs of business and enterprise, cultural and social anthropology and a rapidly changing modern world.

We know that schools are notoriously slow on the take up of most things. Actually, that’s not quite true. They are often quick to buy in to an idea but then lack the strategy and vision (planning and money) to see it through. I remember on one of my first teacher training experiences at a school in Edmonton, North London (around 1983) seeing a white van back up to the Design department to unload fifty brand new BBC Master computers with screens. This was the age of change and technology…this would transform what we were to do. My Head of Department was grinning like a Cheshire cat…but quite quickly I discovered that not all was well. I was asked to give some INSET on their use to all teachers (two weeks in to my first teaching practice aged 19 or so…) and thereafter all but two machines ended up in a locked cupboard. I had one BBC Master to play with and one other was taken to the front of school for administration staff to play on.

And there is the rub.

Staff had no time to ‘play’ and many believed that these contraptions were the devils spawn (and to be honest many struggled with the Banda copy machine in the staff room let alone any other technology above a hole punch and stapler). Government gave high end kit to schools to help stimulate creativity and technological change without offering time and budget to allow it to happen. Things stalled and ground to a halt. I remember re-visiting the school for another training period about two years later and the BBC masters were still in the same cupboard….although a couple of Atari ST machines had entered the department now with their ‘colour GUI’ and a Meg of RAM if I remember correctly.

The desire for change

This may seem harsh but schools are not always great at adapting to change from a strategy and vision standpoint. They mean well, and those in seats of decision making will often embrace the idea of something new from a concept standpoint, but very few understand the need to support that vision with a hands on, practical and feasible plan of action. This is frequently not about money; it’s about the desire to want to change the way we do things so that they improve; to help children get prepared for a world of work that we don’t really fully understand ourselves (the frequently banded about quote ‘we are preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist’ springs to mind) and to fundamentally change the curriculum content and approach we have in place.

Subjects change but curriculum’s, on the whole are antiquated. Creativity is not a new thing in schools. Arguably primary and kindergarten staff have been doing ‘STEM’ and ‘STEAM’ activity in schools for decades – playing, building, failing and working in teams often in a sandpit or on the carpet with tons of Lego, Stickle bricks (remember them?) and other cool things – combining Art, Science, Design, Language, Maths…

What we need, as students move up to secondary or high school, is a rudimentary change to what is delivered at the curriculum chalk face. For this to happen we almost need to wipe the slate clean and start again.

The problem we have is that many who are at the decision making end of directing and developing curriculum’s at government or school level have frequently come up through that industrial age of education that Sir Ken refers to in his original TED talk (and so expertly captured in the RSA animation of that talk RSA Sir Ken Robinsons TED Talk). These folk have been button-holed as ‘bright’ or ‘academic’ (and many are…) and have seldom been through a creative area of study at school. Rote learnt knowledge has been seen as a better foundation than one where they have had to solve complex problems on paper through an iterative process or with their hands in Art, Design and Technology – or indeed on stage through performing arts. Arguably, the nearest many have come to creative thought or play has been on the rugby or hockey pitch (or other team sport where spontaneous flair and decision making is often required).

Reverse Engineer the way we do things

To achieve the change that Sir Ken spoke about needs a fundamental upturn in philosophy where the practical application of knowledge is seen to be on an equal footing (?) with the ability to simply rote learn facts for an exam. For this to happen we need to reverse engineer the whole structure of academic acceptance.

What do I mean?

The world of work needs a workforce who are creative, flexible and can apply previously harboured knowledge well (be that from school, university or work experience).  They need to be worldly, good communicators, gregarious, empathetic, skilled and confident.

Firstly, governments need to have ministers responsible for education in employ who have actually come from an educational background – folk who have delivered and managed in schools and who have a better (more realistic?) understanding of what students and teachers need to deliver.genius-quote-albert-einstein

Secondly, if a student chooses to go directly into the world of work from school, rather than attend University, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Parents and schools need to understand that in the same way that industry does. Getting hands on experience of a business may well put them in better stead than doing three years in further education with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Accepting that is key and is normally a fight for parents who get caught up in the ‘league table’ nonsense where students often achieve artificially high grades centred on a factory process – the success of which is based on sitting a one and a half hour paper at the end of two years study. Not good. You also have the ‘when I was at school’ scenario when parents of a certain generation were educated in schools that led them to believe that some subjects were more academic than others. It’s a big rut to climb out of psychologically.

Thirdly, universities need to supply courses that are current, flexible in delivery (able to change content mid course to satisfy employment demands) and that allow students to apply what they have discovered at school rather than treating them all as ‘starting from scratch’. I have heard of universities that take students onto certain courses and simply tell them that they have to ‘unlearn’ what they did at school and do things differently; so your first year becomes, in effect, a foundation year. What a waste of schooling and finance. Schools and universities need to talk to each other more.

Schools need to de-construct and review current curriculum’s. They need to have the confidence to do it. Do we still need Latin? Do we still need to study Shakespeare (as opposed to other more contemporary writers…)? Should everyone study at least one foreign language? Do we continue to have the mainstay of ‘core’ subjects at the heart of what schools do – Maths, English and Science (with extra languages, Art, Geography, History, Design and Technology in tow)? I don’t know, but questioning and jiggling to take some risk would be healthy.

keep-calm-and-carry-on-designing-12For me I’d love to have Design at the core of the curriculum with science, business, humanities, languages, maths and the arts radiating off. The idea that working with your hands (manufacture, creation, enterprise) is the realm of ‘less able’ students is totally unfounded. Bright students can, and do, work with their hands. Art has long been considered the ‘accepted’ manual skill for bright students along with Music. Sadly Drama, Dance and Design have always struggled to gain the same acceptance along with physical education (a tough A-Level in reality).

In essence, anything that has not grown out of the land or ‘popped’ out of a human has been designed; someone, somewhere, has sketched the idea and developed it. That’s both academic and creative in my book.

As Sir Ken said, we need to ‘shift paradigms’.

We need to educate and nurture future wealth creators (not just financial – anthropic wealth too) who can develop innovative products and services. I reiterate, despite Sir Kens 37 million ‘likes’ on the need to have creativity in the curriculum there are still many within government and education who feel it’s not required a decade on. The current EBACC debacle in the UK is looking to throw out creative education from the curriculum and quite rightly there is uproar from many sides across business and education.

The biggest anxiety for me, in all of this, is that we will probably still be having the same conversation in several years’ time, recognising that creativity is important, that we drastically need curriculum change and so on. But will folk have listened? Will there have been change? I truly hope so.

By that time Sir Ken’s original talk will be up past the 100 million views mark. Probably.

 

Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

My social media feeds have been buzzing in recent months with the word ‘Makerspace’ – being seen by many as the great new educational discovery. Thousands of primary (junior school) staff and secondary (high school) Design & Technology teachers must be pretty frustrated.

Designing and making has been at the core of education since the so called ‘Three R’s’ were spoken of. Reading, Writing and Wroughting as in to ‘wrought a wonderful design’. Hansard recorded this in 1800 and something.

Design and Technology has been in the UK curriculum for many years. Yes, it moved from simply practical skills in wood, metal, plastic and ‘hands on engineering’ through ‘Craft Design and Technology’ (CDT) and onto ‘Design and Technology’ (DT) and, for many (myself included) simply ‘Design’ where the amalgam of Art, Manufacture, History, Science, Languages and Business come together. About 30 years ago for me when I studied my four year B.Ed Honours degree in Design & Technology for education. Yes, I am proud of it.

In the USA ‘Workshop or ‘Shop’ has existed for eons too. 

Basically, places where students can go and make stuff based on the backbone of designing and sketching (no CAD yet…), evaluating and testing and discovering has been a cornerstone of education for many years. In some countries being ‘academically able’ and ‘good with ones hands’ is seen as a fundamental dichotomy. What I’ve known since I was studying Design & Technology as a student in the mid 70’s at school is now seen as something new. Wake up call folks. It’s not. Far from it.

What has happened is that many so called academics are rapidly realising that an ability to simply rote learn and harbour knowledge is no longer the mainstay of education. The world needs folk who can do significantly more than that. A little knowledge applied well is better than loads of knowledge sitting inside a cranium waiting for the next quiz on TV or trivial pursuit amongst friends.

Makerspaces are doing what every primary teacher does with their kids. They play. They assemble. They create. They disassemble. They discover. They fail. They learn. Using Knex, Lego, pipe cleaners, lolly sticks, art straws and so on. 

Makerspaces do what we do in Design (and technology) but arguably at a lower level with regard to material science, process and technique. In Design, the aim is to create and manufacture products using (as far as possible) industrial process and technique with manual skills and incorporating current technologies where possible. Designing starts on paper, evolves through modelling and prototyping with ongoing evaluation before arriving at a more developed idea for testing. 3D printing, CAD and CNC certainly comes into it (I used my first CNC router in a school in 1990 and 3D printing has been around for almost a decade in schools now if finances allowed). 

Good schools have had workshops for many years (as they did sports fields…) but short sighted folk (academics?) made decisions that took them away. Now, because of the world need to supply folk who are creative, practical entrepreneurs we have the ‘Makerspace’ phenomenon. A place where a 3D printer on a trolley, some wipe clean ‘write-on’ desks and some plastic bins of Lego (and an iPad for coding work…) is seen as the saviour of modern day education.

It’s not. It’s a fad. 

Governments are simply waking up to the fact that a subject that was seen as ‘not academic’ by many is now being seen as the vital saviour to our world economy because kids learning facts for exam success alone is simply not enough.

We need decent manufacturing spaces with lathes, milling machines, hoists, welding and heat treatment and plastic forming kit, sewing machines and food preparation areas, benching with tooling, design studios with paper and pencils for designing and theory (materials, business, languages…), cad suites and CNC equipment (yes, 3D printing etc.) for small prototype work so that students can understand the whole concept of taking an idea from concept to completion. We need assembly and disassembly lessons (recycling and re-purposing). We need liaison with industry too – schools need to outsource and bring expertise in). 

In fact, what some good schools should (and many still do) still have – a Faculty of Creative and Entrepreneurial Studies that embraces Design, Technology and Art. Oh. That’s what I had at school. 30 years ago (3D printing aside….although we did have a plug mill and an injection moulding machine). 

Makerspaces = Design (& Technology) departments. Full circle?

PS. We also now have STEM/STEAM thrown into the mix as well – a blog topic for another time….

Using MED’s in School (Mobile Electronic Devices)

IMG_3947-0
There is no ignoring the onslaught of smart phones, tablets and laptops in schools today. Trying to ‘ban’ these MED’s or prohibit their use is like saying to students that they can’t use pens or pencils (because they might write on a wall or desk). We have to embrace them and learn how best to use them so that they support a student with their learning. Above all you must educate students to use them appropriately. Prohibition is definitely not the answer. Trust is key.

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Really? Is this required?

The first thing, and I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, is getting teachers to change the way they manage their classroom/lab/studio. A few simple things can help make both the teacher and student so much more at ease in the classroom when using MED’s. I’ve been using laptops in schools for twenty years, smart phones and PDA’s for over a decade and tablets for five years or so and have dicovered many things by getting it wrong in the first instance then learning from it.

Laptop Classroom.
Don’t have your desk at the ‘front’ of class. Have it at the back (or if you want flip the students so that they sit facing the back wall where all your great visuals and resources are hanging/posted. Maybe not ideal to many but hey, a change is always good and it gets everyone thinking…). That way when students use their laptops they know you are behind them…they won’t fiddle on Facebook or watch YouTube videos on their favourite rock band because they do not know where you, or your eyes, are. I realise that this is not always possible (in a lab for example with tiered seating) but where possible, have a go at least.

You can see their screens as you wander around – simple ‘old school’ classroom management in the modern day (yet I am still surprised by just how many teachers still base themselves at the front of the class with walls of raised laptop lids facing them). Of course you move to the front as you need to engage with a whiteboard/-touch or what have you (although you can control many whiteboards from tablets and desktops). No good teacher stays static in a class nowadays – do they?

If you want full attention, get the students to shut the lids of the device. Work won’t be lost, the device just sleeps (do make sure they save their work every 5 minutes though just in case…)

Use software to help monitor screens – software such as http://www.Netop.com are excellent and can be easily installed on your desktop, laptop or tablet so you can easily monitor each student screen at a glance from your own device.

IPads, Tablets and Smart Phones

Many schools have established 1:1 laptop/tablet programmes in operation and as a consequence many acceptable use policies (AUP) are already in place. MED’s are fantastic bits of kit that you don’t necessarily have to teach students to use (especially smart phones) as they teach themselves so you can simply crack on with teaching and learning using the MED as a tool in support of what you want to achieve. However, how you approach their use in your classroom/lab/studio is your call – you must be comfortable with it and obviously it must be in-line with your school policy on MED use.

At the start of the lesson get all students to place their phone (iPad or tablet) ‘screen up’ on the corner of their desk ideally in ‘airplane mode’ until you direct them to use them (all wifi and Bluetooth disabled) . That way, there is no fiddling in pockets, bags or texting underneath the desk or behind ‘stood up’ textbooks….and you can see at a glance if there is activity on the device as in most cases the device screen goes ‘live’ and lights up when a text, sms or call comes through. When you need them to access the www, use video or photo, calculate, record sound, use an app you’ve identified etcetera they simply turn airplane mode off and go for it.

Students will quickly appreciate that you embrace using the devices and that you trust them to do so appropriately in support of their learning and in line with your school MED or ICT user policy. A win win.

Key points:

  1. Make sure your school has an Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Acceptable User Policy (AVP) in place
  2. Make sure you have an MED policy in place (could tie in with above)
  3. Make sure your school E-Safety document has been honed in collaboration with your students, colleagues and parents so it is an inclusive document. Getting whole school buy-in is crucial so that everyone feels that they have ownership of it (and most importantly everyone knows what it entails).
  4. Experiment with classroom layout and establishing what works for you. It’s your class/lab/studio so be in control but do get student inclusion in the thought and planning process. It helps.

Above all, embrace the use of MED’s in your classroom and look at the positives NOT the negatives. Not always easy to do but trust, and clearly defining the school AUP to the students, is crucial to establishing a clear and successful culture of MED use in your classroom.

You won’t look back from my experience.

Parents In UK facing prosecution for taking family holiday in term time. Madness or…?

Parents In UK facing prosecution for taking family holiday in term time. Madness or…?

The current hot educational debate in the UK centres around the legal prosecution that families may face if they take their child out of school during term time for a holiday. This is not simply about truancy (a real issue that does need dealing with…) but focuses on families that take their child(ren) out to enjoy an annual family holiday.   

As a parent and a teacher I find the arguments in favour of this prosecution quite weak. Firstly, let’s ignore the disruption caused by absent teachers, substitute teachers and strikes. These undoubtably cause upset to a child’s education. Let us focus on the obvious.

Schools, by their nature, have (on average) three lots of 12 weeks split up by three main holidays (Christmas, Easter, Summer). It’s a constant that everyone understands. Yes, it is not ideal (and many are calling for more, short breaks rather than three long ones…) but let’s use the current scheme as our basis. 

It is easier for busy working parents (especially those on shift work) to dip in and out of that fixed timeline rather than schools trying to shift things. Most working parents do not have the luxury of selecting their ideal slot for a family holiday. You have to plan in advance and many employers will spread annual leave over a working year to avoid bottle necks.

Schools have cut back on the amount of external trips they do, mainly due to financial cutbacks and the rising demands of red tape (Risk Assessment) which makes teachers less inclined to get involved. So, if a parent has the opportunity to take their child(ren) to a foreign country, to experience another culture, to be immersed in another language, to see different Art and architecture….at no financial cost to the school, shouldn’t schools embrace that? Surely it is enriching a child’s education and directly feeds back into the curriculum in many areas. International or not, a family holiday helps bonding and cements the focus on quality family life.

The other real-world factor is that travel and accommodation is massively more expensive during those key holiday times. Tourist operators know that. A few weeks either side of the Christmas holiday, for example, can save a family thousands. I know when I’d go….

There has to be balance though. I think it’s correct that school Heads should be able to ask parents to give, say, a months notice if they want to withdraw a child for a holiday during term time. It shows premeditation and planning. Weddings, funerals etc. would need to be by negotiation if falling outside of a weekend or needing foreign travel. A Head must have the power to work in partnership with parents, not be driven by dictate on all issues. Common sense and trust by both parties is key and I would hope that no Head will refuse a genuine request for help to either celebrate a family wedding or mourn the passing of a loved one.

The last argument offered in favour of this is just ridiculous. The suggestion made is that a week off school could cause a child to reduce their GCSE grades by up to 25%. Really? Well, if teachers are deliberately putting 25% of the syllabus into one week, that the child happens to miss, then we have a far bigger issue than simply a family holiday. If a child breaks a leg and is off school for a few weeks a good teacher will ensure that homework is sent, textbooks are referred to and the internet used for that child to try and stay on top on what they might have missed. Surely the same can be done if a child legitimately gets away on a family holiday? So not a lot is missed in real terms.

It seems that the issue is more about Ofsted KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that Heads are expected to ‘hit’ with regard to pupil attendance rather than the real need to forge partnerships and develop a sense of trust between schools and parents. All this action does, I suggest, is drive a wedge in between.

That can’t be good.