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.

 

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.

3D Printing on the go – a fad or genuine development of a wonderful technology?

I think this article that I found on inhabitant.com is really interesting. 3D printing on the go – developed by a French designer and supported by crowd funding. Is this the future of manufacturing for independents and designers in this fast paced world that we live in?

3D Printing On The Go

When Marketing Fails in Schools

There are many ways marketing in schools can fail.

Banana skin

Marketing is one of the few business disciplines that can do as much in the future for a school as it does in the present.  Successful schools are aware that ‘planting seeds and tending to the crops’ will reap rewards down the line.  But, at the same time, those involved or leading marketing in schools can also bridge the gap of the ‘now-until-then’ and provide immediate benefit. That is when schools really win.  Too many long term activities with no short term view will cause failure.  The flip side is that if there is too much of a focus on the ‘now’, schools tend to wobble into the future with uncertainty.

So, what’s the right balance?  How do you know if you’re getting it right?

We’ve all seen it.  Sales’ driven schools like to pull marketing into what becomes frequently known as ‘sales-support’ (pupil registration or the proverbial ‘bums on seats’). With marketing attached to the hip of the sales team (admissions/registrars), they can provide great assistance with proposals, research, audio-visual presentations, and more equally riveting immediate activities.  If this becomes all consuming, then marketing becomes highly tactical however this can lead to strategic oversight on all sorts of critically important activities:  messaging, branding and positioning within the market.

Marketing that is only future-driven will lose perspective over what’s actually resonating with current forecasts. Currently independent education is going through massive peaks and troughs due to many economic uncertainties. Consequently they can miss out on critical input that can hone in on positioning and target numbers.  What’s more, and maybe more importantly, is that the admissions organisation and marketing tend to lose sight of each other.  Marketing within schools is often seen as out of touch and irrelevant to business generation (you just have to look at the relative lack of social media use in schools currently – by Heads, Governors and so forth). Those involved with marketing in this scenario are often confused because they are bringing in the leads – but sometimes many, many months too late.

Like all successful business functions, solid marketing teams put together marketing plans that specifically address both dynamics.  Their plans highlight the intended rewards and challenges.  They scope out resources and expectations.  They also identify Service Level Agreements for the business.  Nothing makes a Head happier than knowing ‘how’, ‘when’ and at ‘what speed’ they can rely on marketing.  Nothing makes a marketing team member happier knowing that they can do their “day job” and not be expected to drop everything on a penny to support pupil recruitment on an impulsive notion.

Marketing is a balancing act.  It takes strong leadership that can see the need to invest in marketing when times are hard (the last thing you do is ‘cut back’ when your chips are down…); rally the troops and enthuse when required; say “no” when needed; and have real courage of conviction.

The long term view of what marketing does for a school requires some internal fortitude to know that any bets placed will become realised.  The short view of marketing requires crystal clear expectations and the strength to pull away, or add more, at the right time.  Marketing departments fail when any one of these is not accomplished.  They also fail when the balance is not effectively achieved.

I have failed.  And, that’s the last thing.  Those successfully involved in marketing (and other disciplines associated with schools) have failed as often as they have succeeded.  I have learned to embrace my failures; learn from them, review and go forward armed with that experience to hopefully avoid further pitfalls where possible. Have you?

What Are The Skills Required For A Teacher Of Product Design?

Product DesignI have just answered a question on a forum I use whereby a colleague has asked what, exactly, are the skills required for a teacher of Product Design?  As someone who has taught and worked with Schools & a few Universities over 27 years delivering Product Design (and has now moved on into a consultancy capacity) I felt I could offer some thoughts based on reasonable experience.

For me, the key skills (in no particular order) are:

  • The ability to sketch with a pencil/biro on paper for me is the most important. You don’t have to be a ‘brilliant sketcher (some are, some aren’t…) but a picture really does paint a thousand words. Convey your ideas freely and spontaneously in the first instance. You can then sieve through all the ‘reality’ checks regarding manufacture, costs, health and safety etc. as you develop your concepts and ideas.
  • Modelling/prototyping and manufacture is vital.  Forget any CAM at this stage but having basic key making skills across a range of resistant (woods, metals, plastics) and compliant (paper, card, clay) materials is a requirement of the job, not incidental.
  • Don’t have a fear about the latest CAD/CAM software or latest technology. Be aware of it, have a grasp of what it can do for you then look to use part of your team to apply the bits you need. Don’t expect to be a knowledgeable user on everything.  Know what you want and drag the resources (human and other…) towards your goal. You will have skills in one or two areas but invariably as a product designer you will be, re-wording a well-known phrase slightly, ‘Jack of all trades, master of one or two possibly…
  • Take risks. Challenge the status Quo BUT be prepared to support and justify your decisions – back them up with substance.  Always ask ‘Why not?’ rather than simply ‘Why?’
  • Stay on top of communication throughout a project be it Twitter, email or phone calls. Above all else, don’t forget that ‘facemail’ i.e. talking to someone over a beer, coffee etc. is the most important part of a project and establishing a rapport with your pupils/students/clients/customers/colleagues is vital. In today’s society it is being rapidly forgotten but people skills are crucial to success.  Don’t lose them.
  • Don’t be afraid to say to a student/colleague/client simply ‘I don’t know’. On teacher training I have seen so many good practitioners trip and stumble by trying to pretend that they know an answer because they feel that they will lose face. Don’t. Be honest. You will get more respect that way. Admit you are unsure and then say ‘…however, let’s go and see what we can find out about this to try and get an accurate answer…’ Everyone learns then.
  • When using the World Wide Web to research things don’t just search in your own language. Use words from other cultures. I am still amazed when I see youngsters (and adults) gathering research by, for example, just typing in English words. Use French, Spanish (Mandarin or Japanese if you want to show off…). Chair/Chaise/silla, car/voiture/coche and so on. Not everyone writes their websites in English (or French or Spanish…). You open up a whole extra slice of the internet regarding idea generation by doing this.
  • Listen to your students/clients. Show an appreciation for what they are saying to you. Tease out the important bits of information. Never wade in directly and say to someone (especially a youngster) that their idea is stupid, silly or fantasy. You don’t have that right. Guide them, educate them, inspire them but never stamp on their ideas.
  • Above all else, enjoy what you do. As a teacher of design, irrespective of discipline, every day brings a new challenge and that is a wonderful way to work.

New Website for V2Education (Vee2.com) is Live

V2Education Consultancy

At long last my new website is up and running.

Designed by an ex student of mine from some ten years ago (check out his excellent work at http://www.willpaige.co.uk) I am really pleased with the design and simple yet sophisticated interface of the site. A classic case of ‘Less is More’.

Great Job Will…Great Job…[Thumbs Up Icon]

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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