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)

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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. 

Educating youngsters on how to enjoy the sun (not block it out)

cr-blog-make-friends-with-the-sunI have to state from the outset that I am no doctor, heat or sun specialist or any other ‘guru’ on sun related symptoms relating to humans. I am, however, a caring father of two lovely girls and I like to think that I have a modicum of common sense based on significant experience of living in hot climates.

In the northern hemisphere it is currently summer time and we are experiencing some rather unusually warm weather for these parts 35+C. Nice.

As a kid I grew up in Hong Kong, a place where the weather can be very hot (along with 100% humidity at times…) and my mum, dad, sister and I were frequently outside in the sun enjoying all the trappings of an expatriate lifestyle (pools, beaches, boats, sports…).

My mum was always careful to ensure that we had two things: skin protection and shade. There were no creams or ‘factor 50’ back in the late mid 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, just oils and after sun lotions. We used these extensively. But most importantly, for every half hour in the sun we were made (my sister and I) to sit in the shade for 20 minutes or so and have a cool drink. In that way, from a very early age, we understood the need to do ‘sun and shade’.  On the occasions where we were out on a boat or something a T-shirt was often worn in addition to oils (although certain types of UV rays will still easily reach your skin through a cotton T-shirt…).  We were taught to appreciate that the sun is good for you.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-48192/Why-sun-good-you.html

Fast forward 30 years and I have worked in schools in Europe that have experienced rather hot weather in the summer. But here is the grind. I would frequently receive emails (and see notices on walls) from well meaning colleagues and parents about ‘how’ we should ‘cover up’ to protect themselves from the sun. The common sense side seems to frequently go out of the window and we create by default a culture of ‘sun is bad’. Let me explain.

The four times I have seen someone faint from the heat (two adults and two teenagers) was because they were wearing inappropriate hats; too tightly adjusted thus, preventing blood flow, and with no vent system whatsoever in the ‘cap’ or brim of the hat.

pith helmet

In an ideal world we would all wear the iconic pith helmets as Michael Caine did in Zulu when out in the sun.

A truly brilliant design but in this style/fashion conscious world we live in probably a step too far for many.

http://www.gentlemansemporium.com/store/001973.php

Tilley hatIn real world terms the great range of Tilley hats probably come closest to something that works very well but still retains a degree of style.

http://www.tilley.com/uk_en/men/hats/warm-weather/t5mo-organic-airflor.html

But will the phenomenon of the baseball cap as a fashion icon ever really be overcome? Even when many insist on wearing it incorrectly even when the sun is in their face (#commonsense…).

hat shade fail

For kids, the ideal ‘hat’ is a visor (like some tennis players use…) but its not cool; the old wives tale of at least 80% of the heat in your body exiting from the top of your head still abounds.In reality, this is not the case at all BUT when you are doing physical activity i.e. playtime/running around, then heat does increase around the head and therefore ‘sealing’ it in with a tight hat is simply not an ideal thing to do. I come back to the tennis player example. How many times do you see tennis players running around in the heat with a hat on? Seldom.

But you do see a few with sun visors…Ana Ivanovic in a white Adidas tennis dress and Adidas visorSo when I see advice given for youngsters to wear baseball hats, often too tightly adjusted and without proper ventilation in the upper brim or ‘cap’, it concerns me. Hair (for those of us that still have it….) is there for a reason – to protect our heads from a myriad of things not least the sun.

The most important provision a school can provide for protection from the sun is shade – so kids (and staff) can get relief when they need it or are directed to do so.

sunshade

Sunblock’s and 50% UV protection cream also alarm me. Your body needs vitamin D to survive, and the earlier you educate youngsters on how to use the sun as part of a healthy lifestyle is crucial. Skin protection is of course very important, but don’t block your skin and pores with greasy ‘paint like’ blocks.

Get professional advice if needed but a good waterproof protection oil/cream from an early age with appropriate UVA and UVB filters will help a youngsters skin acclimatize and adapt to having the sun on them for short periods safely. So two things to be aware of:

  1. Exposing the body (not just your face) to sun is a good thing in moderation BUT you must adhere to that ‘sun and shade’ principle I mentioned earlier (along with regular hydration).
  1. Hats and sunblock’s are not the simple answer, and in many ways are often incorrectly used. They can cause more problems than good if used inappropriately

Bottom line – education and balance is key. Sensible behavior is vital so that your body gets the Vitamin D it needs, whilst remaining protected, to help contribute to a healthy and lengthy life.

Schools Need to a Embrace Mobile Technology & Social Media, not Ban it.

social-media-logos_15773

I’ve noticed more and more that schools are caught in a rut on the use of mobile technology/Social Media. I think this is born out of ignorance or fear rather than a genuine belief that this mobile tech is ‘bad news’.

I cringe when I see see staff ‘take in’ mobile phones when on a school trip, or ban mobile phones in the classroom,  thinking that they will dominate the social side of things….and of course they could UNLESS you EDUCATE the kids to use the tech correctly. Banning or taking them in is not the answer. Educating youngsters to use the tech at the right time and correctly is key.

This ideal has to come from the top – the leadership team. Your Head/Principal should have a blog/use twitter to convey thoughts, ideas and establish the vision for his or her school. Deputies should be using social media to contribute to ideas and convey issues. Schools and departments should use Pinterest to harbour new ideas and share good ones. Youngsters use these mediums. They get it. Why don’t the adults that pride themselves on being educators and ‘educating the youth of tomorrow’? As for Facebook…well, if you are reading this, and your school is not on Facebook (at least to show others what is going on and good in your schools) then I am afraid you are already way, way behind if not lost for good.

There is an annoying culture amongst many adults that Social Media and Mobile Tech is bad for youngsters. Sure,  like anything, there can be problems and these need to be carefully managed BUT if you do not embrace the opportunities social media presents, and the technology that facilitates it’s use, you, and your school, will rapidly find yourself fighting a battle you will never win.

This stuff is here to stay and is not going away. Establish the vision, find ways to best use it, to harness it’s learning power and you will have students and staff banging on your door to show you ways that their education and learning is improving as a consequence.

Ignore it, or don’t embrace it, and you will find yourself  significantly out on that educational limb.