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.

 

http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/18/5818192/adobe-ink-and-slide-review

Adobe Ink & Slide – The future of creative sketching and drawing in Design and Art in Schools?

Adobe Ink & Slide

Educating youngsters for today and tomorrow

I first saw one of these videos back in 2005. The core storyline has not changed much over time (but I do like the reference to the sales and influence of Mac products in this example…) BUT they do highlight the massive challenges facing a generation of youngsters moving into the world of work. People like Sir Ken Robinson have highlighted the plight of creative education (lack of progression) in schools and his TED talks are inspiring. Check them out if you have not done so already (search my blog for some featured talks…)

Preparing youngsters for the world of today….and tomorrow. Not an easy task. As mentioned, there are a plethora of ‘Did you know?’ type video montages out there highlighting the issues that face those not only growing up in this rapidly changing world, but facing those responsible for educating those youngsters – leading them forward. Sure, there are many statistics thrown into these things (there are lies, damn lies and statistics….) BUT there is no denying the fact that that the world is changing exponentially with the onslaught of technology making it a smaller, busier and a far more frenetic planet to live on with regard to the sharing and dissemination of information.

Educating youngsters to discover and learn HOW to analyse and synthesise that information is crucial. Getting them to think creatively and apply that knowledge to solving problems will be vital. Getting them to harness and work with that technology as a key tool is vital. Challenging and exciting times for all involved.

Education and Creativity – Who needs it?

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The simple answer is that we all do.

But I am not talking about an ability to reel off all fifty (or sixty seven depending on what you read) European Capitals or spell the word ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ in 10 seconds or less.

I am simply talking about the ability to apply knowledge effectively to solve problems creatively and innovate. Oh, and work with your hands – be practical. That’s important too.

ImageFor me a little knowledge applied well is of far greater use than a mountain of knowledge that resides in someone’s cranium never to see the light of day.  Many schools simply work on the ideal that ‘cramming’ is the way forward; Learning the ‘way of the exam board’ by constantly doing past papers so that technique is assumed. The aim being to avoid ‘red ink’ on your papers so you know that you have been coached through the process with apparent effectiveness? What happens if that exam paper changes the format of its questions and no one knew? A ‘two point’ marker was now obsolete and all the questions were ‘four point’ markers? Oh the shock horror of it all. It happens. The secret though is how you respond to the change – think on your feet and apply the knowledge you have gathered irrespective of how the question is phrased/set. Sadly many are unable to do that.

I often think that it would be great for everyone studying GCSE’s (a UK qualification for 15/16 year olds) to sit one exam paper in a subject. Let’s take Mathematics for example. The syllabus is set by a central agency (government possibly – like in France) and the teachers deliver that body of content as they see fit, in their own way. All the students in the country then sit the same paper at the end of two years study – a level playing field for everyone.

ImageI realise that there are countless issues with the idea (not least the financial ones relating to the various syllabus providers that make their money from ‘bums on seats’ as teachers and schools choose a syllabus for a myriad of different reasons…) but wouldn’t it sort out the wheat from the chaff regarding ability? Everyone had to answer the same maths questions – no coaching of exam paper techniques, just applying the ‘language’ of maths that they had accumulated over two years of study.

In my subject, Design (and Technology), you can’t really ‘train’ students to answer questions because invariably the outcomes are often different; unique. None are really wrong, or right – they just need justification as to why you have chosen your final idea over another; A bit like Art in many ways.

Of course there are areas of material science and engineering skills that have to be applied and learnt for the theoretical and practical parts of the course (written exam and coursework components). Not only do we have to apply that knowledge but we need to learn how to grow that talent – that is  the key to an innovative and creative outcome.

ImageThe fact that for so many the process of idea evolution as a consequence of sketching, modelling, making mistakes, communicating, evaluating and modifying to improve your idea… is alien to many… to me is very sad.

This is especially so as it is these core skills that so many youngsters are lacking; and it is these core skills that are required in the real world of work irrespective of academic (or other) discipline. 

Radical? Design Thinking? Not really; Just education.

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The Layout and Design of a Modern Classroom

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I have been intrigued by some of the articles that have circulated recently about the ‘design’ of the ‘modern classroom’ as a consequence of ‘on-line’ learning. Well, I hate to shatter anyone’s illusions but the so called ‘on-line learning’ layout of a modern classroom goes back over twenty years to when the first lap-top equipped environments came to the fore in schools (in Australia I believe).

I was lucky enough to be involved in the design and build of a school back in 1998 which at the time was the first fully lap-topped school in the Northern Hemisphere with every child from age 4 to 18 had a lap top.  How we designed and laid out the classrooms was not simply ‘technology dependent’, but looked carefully at how a teacher and pupil actually interface – work with each other. It also looked carefully at the ergonomics of the desks, chairs and tables in relation to keyboard and screen use.

The first thing you notice with many teachers and their classrooms is that there is still exists the perceived need to have the teacher’s desk at the front with waves of pupil desks facing forwards. Then, you notice that many teachers plaster the walls at the back of the classroom with all sorts of vibrant and informative subject related material – wonderful. Except that none of the pupils can see these fantastic resources because it is behind them (and if they turn around to look they will invariably be in trouble with teacher).

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During my teacher training and subsequently over the past 25 years of teaching, I have seldom simply stood at the front of a class and ‘Chalked and talked’. I like to move around and to be honest the place I liked to be was at the back of the classroom. Why? Pupils behave more (they don’t know where you are but can still hear you) and when you do need to emphasize something or write on the board you move to the front and address the class ‘old school’ style.

Move forward to 1998 and with a laptop equipped classroom the layout was even more appropriate. The only addition to this was that my desk was now at the back or side of the classroom because the technology meant that my notes/presentations are projected onto a screen at the front (wherever that may be). I have control of my presentations via a small handheld presentation remote (with laser point to pick out key points as needed) and all the pupils desks face forward or inward depending on the situation BUT they have adjustable swivel chairs that allow them to adjust to the correct height for them and also move to face different areas of the classroom or indeed me. I can see all their laptop screens so it is easy to see if anyone is ‘surfing’ or somewhere that they shouldn’t be (although I also had software that allowed me to see all their screen images on my own master screen if I needed to) and the pupils are on task simply because they don’t know exactly where you are so can’t take the risk of misbehaving.

Fifteen years on my classroom is still very similar except that in addition to my electronic white board/screen I have a flip chart and a wipe clean white board to doodle on.  Also, laptops are ‘old hat’ being replaced with tablets and other devices. But I adapt accordingly. I don’t tell a pupil off for using their mobile/cell phone in my lesson if it is being used to support what I am doing with them – be that taking a photo of a design or prototype, surfing for information or talking to an industrial contact in another country.  But I am rapidly discovering that I am the exception rather than the norm.

It’s quite scary – normal learning spaces have remained the same for centuries: a rectangular box filled with rows of desks facing the teacher and writing board. As a result, today’s students and teachers suffer because these outmoded spaces inadequately support the integration of the three key elements of a successful learning environment: pedagogy, technology and space.

Change begins with pedagogy. Teachers and teaching methods are diverse and evolving.  From one class to the next, sometimes during the same class period, classrooms need change. Thus, they should fluidly adapt to different teaching and learning preferences.

Technology needs careful integration. Students today are digital natives, comfortable using technology to display, share and present information.

Space impacts on learning. According to Tony Bates of Online and Distance learning Resources:

more than three-quarters of classes include class discussions and nearly 60 percent of all classes include small group learning, and those percentages are continuing to grow”.

So where are we heading in 2013? What is the ideal classroom layout for a school? Flexibility is key.

I strongly believe in the statement that ‘we shape our environments, and our environments shape us’. Providing teachers with a flexible, well-designed learning environment is likely to encourage major changes in their delivery and method; stuffing them into rectangular boxes with rows of desks will do the opposite.

What is clear is that schools and teachers need to do some hard thinking about online learning, its likely impact on classroom teaching, and above all what kind of school experience we want pupils to have when they can do much of their studying online.

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Choosing a Good School

Choosing a Good School

Seeking a school at home or overseas? Short of time or spoilt for choice? Or need advice on choosing a university? Then this site may be of value (I have no personal involvement with this site – it just has some useful information and links on it)

Dick Powell (Seymour Powell) talking about Designing

Short video of someone I admire greatly as a designer. Someone who inspired me when I was in teacher training and someone who actually interviewed me for a Design teaching job once. I have followed Dick and his work with Seymour Powell for almost 30 years. He always talks sense and with passion.