Technology is not the complete answer

I was looking at a Powerpoint of a research report by Kelly Geo called “Your Brain Is In Your Hand” ( I would choose the second option which allows you to see the slides as a manual click per slide).

This report is based on Kelly’s research into the ability of the “digital native” to actually use pen/pencil and paper as a means to think through ideas. She uses geometry as an example of where students who did a diagram were able to understand a problem and get a solution whereas many of the students who just attempted to answer the question by reading a screen often failed to get the answer and would often say that they did not understand the question.

The report is a timely reminder to us all that technology is not the total answer to all of our educational needs. It is often presented as if it were some sort of panacea that would transform education.

It is , when all is said and done, a tool. It ranks amongst many tools that will allow children to develop their thinking and their mastery of subjects. Sometimes there are more conventional means to help us understand. As Kelly states in her report, pen and paper is a powerful tool. It allows us to doodle, to experiment, to visualise ideas and to think things through.

The classroom should have as much powerful technology as it is possible to supply to aid children’s learning but it must also have plenty of paper for them to scribble on, to design on, to cross out on and to think with. I know that this runs against the grain of the new mantra of the “paperless classroom” but I am not advocating some sort of return to a chalk and talk instructional model with textbooks and exercise books. I am merely advocating the continued use of the powerful human device of piece of paper and a writing device to allow the hand to aid thinking as Kelly so ably demonstrates and argues for in her report.

The visual native


The digital native is brought up in a visual world. From an early age they learn to understand pictures and the effects that they can have.

The video above is a great example of where a creative intelligence has been applied to interpreting the lyrics of a song using pictures. The pictures are remarkably moving and have a powerful effect which brings out the emotion of the song. (The song is used as a means to explore the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London).

For another example of where Katie Miller, the person who put together these videos, uses her skills at choosing appropriate and powerful images,  see her interpretation of Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” .

This is yet another example of where we must widen our assessment of student’s abilities by allowing them to express themselves in a form that is not just written. In Katie’s case there is an obvious ability to research and then use visual images. She shows real skill and potential and this tells me a lot about her as a person, which is what prospective employers are supposed to be looking for.

Sophia Pink: video expression for a digital native

The video above was written, edited and directed by 14 year old Sophia Pink. As well as having a very strong message about fighting censorship of the internet and the high cost of access to the internet in some countries (such as Cuba, mentioned in the video) it is also technically slick, blends technology with video effectively, uses music powerfully to establish an atmosphere and has been well researched to use images that have a powerful impact.

Looking at the video I could yet again see the point that is increasingly being made about video as the natural form of expression of the digital native. Unlike my generation that grew up as passive viewers of film and television, the young people of today are brought up to think in terms of pictures and now in terms of using technology to produce powerful stories such as the example of Sophia’s award winning effort.

A few months ago I posted an excellent video by a 13 year old Canadian boy Graham that showed just what a problem the shortage of water was in our world. Like Sophia’s video it showed a mastery of the media that was quite amazing for someone so young. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, the Digital Native is growing up in a world dominated by pictures and clever use of increasingly free and powerful technology.

I still pose the following question for our schools… when are we going to realise that increasingly it is video that represents the literacy instrument of choice of our children and it is video that should become a major part of representing what they can do in school.

Following on from last Tuesday’s excellent #edchat discussion on Twitter about the use of e-portfolios, I think that I have a lot of evidence about Sophia and Graham’s interests, abilities and potential from watching their excellent videos. Higher education can also use this as evidence along with other evidence that could be placed on an e-portfolio when making decisions about their ability to study for a degree and eventually this could form a useful part of their job applications.

I do not know either child’s grades from school and frankly I don’t care. Their videos tell me so much about their ability to plan, to write, to collaborate with others, to understand the use of video, to understand the use of music to create an atmosphere, to edit and to influence others, to understand their world and to try and change it using the power of video, their ability to understand technology and use it…. I am not surprised that they have picked up so much credit for their efforts… I wonder if this has been reflected in their school’s acknowledgement of their abilities and potential? Will these videos be part of the evidence for their college applications? I hope so.

The right to be different

I was surfing the net today and came across a very interesting article purely by chance (as is the way with the net). The article was about Lady Gaga talking about being bullied when she was a teenager.

It was not a particularly well written article but it made me investigate this story. I found a very interesting clip from one of her concerts where she discusses being thrown in the trashcan (dustbin). Her reaction to this event was to shout out her anger long after it had happened and also to state that she was the living proof that you can rise up from what must have been a very low moment in her life and become the person that you want to be.

She states elsewhere that she always upset people just by being different. It made me think about the fact that difference has always made people prone to becoming victims of bullying. I think that somewhere deep inside of us is a fear of the odd or the peculiar, of the person who represents a different kind of truth to our own conventional existence.

Lady Gaga proves that creative people may often appear strange to us, I do not particularly like her music ( my wife does), but I do admire the strength of character that she shows in being the person she wants to be.

I think we should embrace difference and accept that it has often led to some of the most inspired people who have lived on our planet. I would like to see schools doing more to try and understand students who want to be themselves which may appear strange to us. The message needs to go out that humanity is not born to roam the streets in an expensive suit and that creative people will not fit into the conventional silos that we want them to go into.

Our creative,different people have a right to be themselves whatever they conceive that to be.

Kyung Lah: Human Insight

This talk was one of the most moving TedX talks that I have ever seen.

Just in case you may have forgotten there was a terrible sunami following an earthquake in Japan a few months ago. At the time when it happened the media of the world descended upon the stricken area and brought us vivid pictures of the distress that the survivors and their rescuers were going through.

It made great television and was the highest trended item on Twitter for days as well as being an item that was posted and liked by thousands on Facebook. But, like all of these tragedies, the days and weeks pass, the world’s attention turns elsewhere and the people who live in the area have to try and reconstruct their shattered lives outside of the glare of the media and no longer trend on Twitter.

In this wonderful talk the journalist Kyung Lah tells us some individual stories about continuing human suffering and does so for a very good reason, not that we should try and remember (although we should) but that we should try and learn to look and ultimately to listen. She shows us the continued suffering of the Sunami hit area and she tells us to look at the faces of the survivors who are still hurting after events that all but destroyed their world. She says that we should not only look but listen because in the aftermath of an event there is a huge shout of pain… but suffering continues and it is a whisper…… do we try and hear that whisper?

The blogging opposition in education

As part of the educational bloggers community I read every day about fellow bloggers who are voicing their concerns about developments in education both in my own country and in the U.S.A.

I read about the way that teachers are being fired or threatened with the sack because of test results. I read about the concerns with the type of education that is being promoted by the administration s in both countries and by the money that supports a certain view of education that comes from people with huge amounts of disposable cash  like Bill Gates.

I have just read a post that states that the mass media are influenced by the people who have a view of education that supports intensive testing and direct instruction. Somehow the voice of the opposition does not get the airing that it warrants and therefore the public is getting a skewed view of the debate.

In the past there would have been very little chance of any other message getting across unless it was through the few “liberally minded”  papers or T.V. stations. Now though we have bloggers who shout out their message for their readers to read and pass on via social media and the use of powerful search engines such as Google.

Posts such as “We’re Not Getting Paid” by Kirsten Olson can help to spread an alternative message. It may not be the Huffington Post or be funded by the Gates Foundation but it allows a different message to get “out there”.

The blogging community combined and collaborating has a growing and increasingly powerful voice… if you feel concerned about these issues then maybe you should consider using blogging as a means to express your point of view and make the whisper into a call into a shout into a bellow that says “there is a different way!”

The need for a problem solving approach in school mathematics

I have recently run some training for a group of Mathematics Subject Leaders on problem solving. I looked at the Nrich site that has so many wonderful problems that cover mathematical enquiry from the earliest investigations up to quite sophisticated problems for A Level students.

As a non-mathematician myself I found myself excited by the prospect of investigating many of these problems. Sometimes the answers were fairly obvious, often they involved many possible answers and on some occasions they were as near intractable to me as it was possible to be. Thank goodness the site includes solutions sent in by students from all over the planet who have worked out some wonderful solutions to the problems.

In my training we talked about the useful things that problem solving gave people. High on the list were that they required tenacity to stick with things even when they were wrong, that they allowed you to learn from mistakes and that they were often opportunities to work together in a collaborative way that led to more effective answers to  the problem.

The video above is like a detective story.It is the search  for a solution to a problem that had baffled mathematicians for centuries and related to  Fermat’s Last Theorem that  states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. Many years ago a young boy who lived in Cambridge, U.K. found out about the theorem and it set him on a life’s journey to solve it. The video explains how he was able to do just that, through tenacity, the help of others ands by learning from many many mistakes.

Having just re-read a chapter from Jo Boaler’s wonderful book “The Elephant In The Classroom” where she talks about making mathematics real to schoolchildren and not the artificial, dry and ultimately quite boring subject that it turns out to be for so many of them, I just wish that all trainee teachers that were going to teach mathematics in any way could see this video.

I do not suppose that we will have all our children solving Fermat’s last theorem but we can enthuse them to understand just how powerful mathematics can be and give them real life skills in working together, learning from each other, learning from mistakes and persevering even when it all looks impossible.

My colleagues left the training saying they had enjoyed the problems and looking forward to exploring some of the sites that I had suggested they look up. I hope that they will really make the effort to make problem solving a key part of their children’s mathematical experience. They will help them to develop key 21st century skills and maybe, one day, one of them may just be like Andrew Wiles and solve a really big problem… you never know!

Why should schools blog?

I have two reasons for writing this post.

Firstly, I did some research for a video that represented the views of children in school about the value of blogging to them and found the excellent video above which has a clever mix of children’s ideas set to some really imaginative animation that compliments what they are saying so well.

Secondly, I have just been asked by a colleague to use my experience as a blogger myself to address a group of pupils at a local secondary school on the advantages of blogging… so I thought I’d start by showing them just how I actually blog and create a post.

I want them to experience the joy of the writing process and to see how you can express your ideas, your passions and your interests using a blog. I really hope that I m able to pass on my enthusiasm for blogging to them and maybe, just maybe, one pupil will become switched on to the joys of self-expression that blogging can bring, to the communication with others that it can become and for the  power  in the idea that your words are being read by someone maybe thousands of miles away and that it may educate them, move them or even upset them, but at the very least it is creating a connection with them.

I shall of course be writing a post in the future to report on my success (or failure) with this project.

What makes a good teacher?

I have just read a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education called “What Finland Can Teach The Stanford School of Education”.

I felt impelled to write my reply to this article which presents teacher education in Finland as exemplary and the situation in the U.S. (and by implication other countries such as my own, the U.K.) as lagging far behind, taking poor students who are given little quality support and teaching and who make slow progress (academically).

The basis of this argument, it seems to me, is that teachers are produced through some form of training. That if we adopt the Finnish model of teacher training we will rectify the (supposed) disaster of current education practice where there are a large number of not particularly academically gifted people teaching our children poorly and thus getting poor results.

I have been a teacher for over thirty years and am now a consultant.I have seen hundreds of teachers throughout  my career and know that the art of teaching, getting through to children, inspiring them, is something that does not follow from academic prowess of the teacher.

I have developed into (I’m told) a very good teacher of mathematics at primary level. I did not do any formal mathematics after the age of sixteen where I took my G.C.E. (as it was called then) and then left the subject, which I considered boring and not linked to anything in my life. I only returned to the subject after I qualified as a teacher  following an  average degree in Politics.

My teacher training was a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (P.G.C.E.) from the then Brighton Polytechnic. I enjoyed my year of trying to pretend to be a teacher and emerged as a qualified practitioner.

It was really the first few years of my career that I learnt how to teach. I got a lot of things wrong, the kids had a field day with a “rookie” teacher. I shouted much more than I ever should have. I considered on more than one occasion leaving the profession and doing something else. But along the way I got support from colleagues who said to me “don’t let them get to you, believe in yourself, stick to it and you’ll discover the teacher that you can be.”

I did stick to it and slowly the teacher emerged. I found that many things that I developed were not taught in a college or university. I learnt to”read” a class, to understand their moods on different days and also to understand my own and how this reflected in my teaching.

I was told, after a few years, that I had to specialise in a “core” subject. I decided on mathematics because, in teaching it, I had begun to understand so many things that had never been explained to me as a pupil. Slowly,the beauty of the subject, the excitement of how,as human beings, we have developed something as abstract and yet so powerful,as mathematics, got to me. In the process I found that I began to communicate my excitement to the children and was often surprised by their ability to understand a problem and come up with a really interesting solution.

The conclusion of this autobiographical meander into my past is to say that I do not hold with the theory that teachers are made in some great Ivy League institution like Stanford and that these highly qualified people will reinvigorate the profession and make us all more like Finland. I believe, as some very learned educationists like Professor Yong Zhao does, that there are many many innovative and brilliant teachers in the classrooms of the U.S.A., Canada, Britain, Australia etc., who have a innate capacity to inspire their students and understand what is needed in the changed world of the 21st century. Many of these teachers do not have first class qualifications but have the key within them to inspire, motivate and mentor. I believe that these skills are developed through practice and cannot be taught.

So does it matter that Stanford University is not producing the huge numbers of highly qualified teachers who will change everything for the better? In my opinion no. A small institution down the road may have sent out an academically average performing student to take her first steps into the world of teaching who may well prove to be a genius at it and inspire so many throughout her career.

How the internet is revolutionising education

As a follower of Dan Colman and his wonderful Open Culture website, I received a link to an article  called “How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education” by Courtney Boyd Meyers from the website  TNW (The Next Web).

By any accounts this is a really bold and thorough essay.Itcovers many of the exciting developments that are happening on the web and that are pushing the “internet revolution” into education which is beginning (perhaps) to realise that these developments cannot be ignored.

I see many of the people mentioned in this article as the pioneers of the Education Internet  Revolution (The Founding Fathers perhaps). I was particularly impressed by the P2PU video which shows the kinds of thinking and the new kinds of entrepreneur that the web has created.

I think that the article pays looking at, bookmarking and that the ideas need to be spread far and wide in the education industry (and to their political masters). I hope this blog post has been one small step in doing just that. I will end by re-quoting a quote from Abraham Lincoln that is found near to the end of the article:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion.

-Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,502 other followers