Mr Smith’s Monster Page

I love this site for many reasons.

Firstly it is about creativity. The intention is to make a monster and to compete (in the nicest possible way) with others from around the world in making your monster that represents your own ideas.

Secondly it is about collaboration. The monsters are designed by a whole class or group and is about the idea of children cooperating and bouncing ideas off of each other. (a very very significant real world skill for our changed world).

Thirdly it is about global I said above this simple idea has now spread worldwide and there are entries from North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The site itself is marvellous. There are games, videos, podcasts and more and I would think that any elementary/primary child who gets to see it will be interested immediately.

If you are an elementary or primary teacher and haven’t come across it before I would strongly suggest that you look it up.

A 21st Century Education

The title of my blog post is the title of a series of videos made by The Mobile Learning Institute.

The videos can be found at

This is a superb series of videos. The Institute has managed to get together a number of powerful leading figures who have the vision to have transformed their practice as teachers or administrators and  academics who are teaching the next generation of educators to be aware of the changed world that we live in.

I was particularly impressed by Larry Rosenstock’s video “Project Based Learning at High tech High” where I saw how Larry has mixed academic and so-called “vocational” learning and has emphasised the aspects of creativity that lead to the skills that students will need in order to survive in the 21st century.

I was impressed, as I have always been, by Stephen Heppell’s excellent video “Enpowering Young Learners” where he takes a taxi ride across London (where I was born) and discusses the opportunities of world class 21st century learning and the problems of the factory approach inherited from Victorian Britain.

Alan November is always worth listening to and watching. I would though recommend you to watch Professor Yong Zhao’s video “No Child Left Behind and Global Competitiveness”. This was a powerful video where the power of creativity and the new skills for the “flat world” of the 21st century are talked about in a backdrop of the University of Michigan where he teaches the innovative approaches to teaching and learning for tomorrow’s educators.

All of these educators have one thing in common..a belief that education has to adapt and change to the changed world that we live in and that at the end of the day we are educating children for a world that we can hardly imagine that demands creativity and flexibility.

Professor Zhao cautions us about the dangers of universal testing and the way that China (where he comes from) Japan and Singapore are now beginning to encourage diversity and flexibility. He contrasts this to the U.S.A. where No Child Left Behind and the obsession with standardisation is narrowing the curriculum at a time where it needs to be widening and deepening.

I really feel that you would benefit from seeing these videos and would like to congratulate the Mobile learning Institute for having made these videos… which are beautifully shot with clever cinematography and excellent use of music… a real find for me and hopefully for the readers of this blog.

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Greg Mortenson: Pennies For Peace (updated: April 2011)

What appears below is an object lesson in how the  manipulation of the media can lead you to jump on bandwagons. I feel it is important that I point out to people who may wish to read this post the link to the CBS 60 Minutes report that has investigated Greg Mortenson and found out some disturbing details about him that he has, of yet, not answered directly.

Please see:;contentAux

I recently joined in the Twitter  backchannel of an Edutopia webinar called “The Power of One” which was given by someone I freely admit that I had never really heard of called Greg Mortenson.I only got to know that the webinar was taking place because I follow Edutopia on Facebook.

I started to get interested by the comments that were coming from the participants and followers of the webinar and I started to comment on a few of the tweets myself. As the webinar went on I became more and more interested in this man and wanted to look him up.

I looked at the information on the Edutopia site and found that he had written a book called “Three Cups Of Tea” which was based on a saying that he had been told about by the elder of the village in the mountainous area of Northern Pakistan which he had wandered into after a failed attempt to climb the treacherous KS peak in honour of his dead sister. The saying says that a man can get three cups of tea.. with the first one he is a stranger, with the next a guest and with the third he is family and that they would do anything for family!

The thing that he wanted the people to do was to help him build a school in this remote and terribly poor area of the world. He had been helped to get back to health by these people and this was his way of trying to repay them. He had also been moved by the site of so many of the children in this area sitting in the cold open area and writing in the ground with sticks.

He recounts his story in his first book which I ordered and have just started to read. I will be writing a review of the book in this blog when I have completed it. This morning though I was able to go to the address that I have posted above and actually listen and watch the amazing photographs of a man who I now believe is one of the most remarkable human beings alive.

If you do get the chance then I would strongly urge you to listen to this webinar… because what we have here is a man who has achieved great things by building schools and who has been kidnapped by the Taliban and had his life threatened by people in his own country the U.S. A. … but who has steadfastly kept to his mission of building schools and using education as a means of overcoming poverty, injustice and creating a peaceful world…. he has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize and, in respect of his very real understanding of Afghanistan (a country, which, like Pakistan its neighbour, he has also built schools in) he has had the chance to influence the U.S. Chief-Of-Staff and point the way to a peaceful solution to what is becoming a terrible war with many casualties. I am sure that he will one day receive this prize and maybe there isn’t anybody who deserves it more.

I have subtitled my blog entry “Pennies For Peace” and this is another amazing part of Mortenson’s amazing story. When he returned to the U.S.A. he was broke and had no real home except his car. He was determined to raise money for the school to thank the Balti people who had saved him and nursed him back to health. He wrote over 500 letters (typewritten) to  famous people and received one cheque back (spelled check in U.S.)

Almost despairing of ever getting any help for his cause he heard from his mother, the Principal of an elementary school, that the children in her school wanted to hear his story. He came and talked to them and they were so moved by what he said that they decided to save all their extra pennies and give them to him… collectively this amounted to a lot of money.

Mortenson used this idea as the basis for launching his “Pennies For Peace” organisation

As you can see from the picture above  the organisation has spread from the original school to schools all over the U.S. A. and Canada ( I am hoping to pass the idea on to a school that I work with in Britain). This is such a marvellous idea. It gets children to contribute in a very real way to the building of schools and indirectly to the building of peace.

It is, as it says in the site, an international service learning programme. It is truly one of the most wonderful ideas that I have come across in a very long time.

I have one last photograph to show you.. of Greg Mortenson with children in one of his schools. He has built over 130 schools now, many of them for girls, who he believes hold the key to real change in their society (following the African saying that he learnt from his childhood, educate a boy and you educate one person, educate a girl and you educate a whole community).

This is truly a great story of a remarkable human being I feel so lucky to have come across it, as I do most things, from being a part of a social network such as Facebook… much maligned but in many ways very powerful and capable of changing the world … as Haja Ali the  chief of Korphe village in the Karkoram Mountains of Pakistan and Greg’s mentor said to him once…. “listen to the wind“.

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In defence of the arts in education

A long time ago, in an age of economic upheaval (I think it was the early 80’s) I remember seeing a world renowned conductor at the “Last Night of the Proms” at the Albert hall in London. He made the customary last night speech to the wildy patriotic and predominantly young audience and said, “there are those who are calling for a cut in music and art education and I say to them that they do this at their peril!”The speech received a very loud cheer and hit home with me, that it has stuck in my long term memory ever since.

As those of you who have read this blog will know I am a fervent supporter of the work of Sir Ken Robinson (there are a number of videos of his on this site  and a review of his excellent book “The Element”).  He is a passionate advocate of creativity in education and indeed believes that creativity is essential to our future on this planet and should be core curriculum and not just something tacked on to the basics of literacy and mathematics.

The more I have looked at this subject the more I have become convinced of his argument. Creativity is the ability to create something from  nothing. Whether it is from a piece of stone that becomes a wonderful sculpture, a piece of music that moves us to tears or a piece of poetry that reaches into our soul.

About a year or two back I discovered , quite by chance, as is the way with me and my internet searching, “The Kids For Coltrane” The guiding light of this project is a remarkable teacher called Christine Termini Passarella. I’ve got to know quite a lot about Christine from having read her entries in the website and following her as a friend on Facebook.

There is so  much to say about Christine and her wonderful children from  the Queens area of  New York City. She has used the fact that her school and the children who go there come from a part of the city where the  great Jazz musician John  Coltrane lived. The children investigated the music of Coltrane and used this as the basis for art as well as writing and discussion about the large issues of life. Look at the video below to get a feel for the work that Christine was doing a couple of years back with such very young children.

She has been greatly influenced by her attendance at Harvard University’s Project Zero and in particular by the work of Professor Howard Gardner and his ideas about multiple intelligences.

I feel that Howard  Gardner and Sir Ken Robinson are both strong proponents of the need for arts education to remain as a key part of any school curriculum. It is not just about producing artistic geniuses, that may happen and once in a while it is bound to, it is much more than that. It is about the ability of art to allow us to develop our imaginations, to create from nothing and to build from nothing. It is how we have got to where we are as a species on this planet and it is what makes us different from all the other animals on this planet.

The idea behind this blog post was a news item in my Facebook following of Edutopia. The item is called “The coming Tsunami”  by B. J. Adler There is a useful comment in it by Christine about a forthcoming conference… I thought I would use this blog post as another effort to spread her message about this conference…

Hi all…I experienced incredible PD at Harvard University with seminars given by Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner. I just learned that they will be part of a conference that may interest this community. It will be at the Guggenheim Museum in June. See details below from an email I received.

A Conference for Educators

Thursday, June 3, 9 am–5:30 pm
Friday, June 4, 9 am–1 pm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Unfortunately, as I live in England and am unlikely to be able to get to New York on June 4th I shall not be able to attend myself but I wish them well and would encourage anyone reading this post to go along if they are able. We must defend the arts and creativity in education… if we do not do so it will be at our peril!

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Firstly, have a look at the TED video by Blaise Aguera Y Arcas who is a really good example of the state-of-the-art  software developers who are working on augmented reality and 3D imaging that will be transforming education and indeed our view of the world in the future.

The thing about Photsynth for me is the fact that it throws up the central problem that the current world of education is going to have to tackle… how we can continue with the structures of education.. the Victorian classrooms, the textbook dominated pedagogy, when there are things like photosynth, not just on the horizon, but actually here now!

I was actually impressed the most at the start of the video when Blaise was zooming around the numerous shrunken photos and he went to one that became the whole of Dickens’ book “Hard Times”.

I investigated this further from the comments on the TED site  and found a link to Hard Rock  who have an excellent use of the multi-images idea shown in this film. Go to

I just wondered how teachers would make use of a resource like this. I found myself immersed in looking at images of the rock stars and then looking very closely at the Red Indian coat worn by Jimi Hendrix in the 60’s… there was an accompanying explanation which may have led me on to many areas of investigation. This is where I find the current power of the internet so exciting and so different from the textbook world that I grew up in and was “educated” in.

Enjoy the video and the brilliant hard Rock photos.. I would be interested in your feedback on this.

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Passionate Teacher Leaders

My learning journey has, as this blog will show, been greatly influenced by links in tweets. Two of my Twitter friends are Salome Thomas-El (@principal-EL) and Richard Lakin (@Thanks2Teachers).

I found out about these two men by looking them up on Google. They are both very similar in some ways and in others very different.

They are both passionate teachers who became excellent Principals with a desire to effect change and bring about success for their students. They have both written books about their experiences that I have recently read and which I will discuss now.

“Teaching As An Act of Love” by Richard, is, as the cover says,  “Thoughts and recollections of a former teacher, principal and kid”. It is a book which has a number of stories about Richard’s teaching career but also brings out his philosophy about teaching and his desire throughout his career (and now) to create a real learning environment for the children in his care.

As an ex-headteacher myself I found myself wishing that I had read this book a lot earlier in my career. I feel that it has a lot of really good things to say about organising schools, motivating teachers and involving parents.

It is a book that has some very funny stories (I especially liked the story about the chicken at Christmas) and also some very sad moments. The author has almost total recall of a very long career and has kept a lot of the materials that he used throughout.

The book is available as a free download from Richard’s site which is The book can be accessed at I would strongly recommend that you download it as it has much to offer for student teachers, experienced teachers and especially those who are aiming to become principals.

Richard is also a passionate opponent of the current testing children to death policies of both the last administration in the United States (with No Child Left Behind) and his misgivings about the direction of the present administration’s approach. He is very concerned to promote the “small schools movement” and writes about how we need to humanise education for the good of the child.

Salome Thomas-El is known to many as Principal El. He is a charismatic individual who has a passionate interest and concern with the education of the children in inner city Philadelphia where he has worked for many years as a teacher and also a very successful principal.

I researched his background using Google and found that he had written a book called “I Choose To Stay”. It was about  ( to quote the front cover sub title)  “a black teacher refuses to desert the inner city”.

I read this book to find out about his motivations to stay in the inner city of Philadelphia (which I have a personal connection to as I have cousins who live there) and found that it was a riveting read which shows just how he grew up in a deprived area of the city and had no father figure on a regular basis. He was a highly intelligent child and was able to go to a very select High School. He managed to go to university and found prejudice there because of his colour.

He wanted originally to work in the media and indeed would probably have had a really good career in T.V. (he appears quite regularly on a T.V. programme in Philadelphia giving advice on healthy lifestyles). He decided though, eventually, to go into teaching and found his real calling.

In the book he details the problems that many of the children from the deprived areas of the inner city of Philadelphia. As he states he has attended too many funerals throughout his career and seen able children who were killed in gang fights or died of substance abuse who may well have gone on to become really useful citizens for their community, city and indeed country.

But there are the success stories as well. In particular he shows how he used one idea, the game of chess, to motivate the children at his school to show that they were as good (and indeed better) than other children who came from more privileged backgrounds.

I had a personal interest in this because, as a young teacher with two highly able children in a primary school in a deprived area of Essex, I found chess as a a means to motivate and interest these children and for many years I ran chess clubs in the schools that I taught in.

As Salome writes in his book, the game of chess is all about using the mind to outthink your opponent. It develops spatial awareness, strategy and also the ability to think ahead. The school he worked at had once been National Champions in the U.S. but the game had fallen away and was no longer played by many at the school. Salome reinvigorated the game and used it as a means to give confidence to the children. It wasn’t easy as there was initial disinterest but from initial successes and hard work he managed to breakthrough and his school teams won many championships, often against opposition that was older than themselves, including the National Championship again.

The book is about more than chess.It is about a great teacher and leader who has inspired others and has chosen, as the title of his book says, to stay in the inner city and fight for the children he so obviously loves and cares about.

I enjoyed reading both of the these books. I found that I cried at points in both and was inspired by the sheer passion that was shown to really make education work for the children they taught and led. I would highly recommend anyone who has an interest in motivating children and getting them to achieve their real potential to read these books (Salome also has a new book out at the moment so look up his other work on Amazon).

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Give Me Shelter: Edutopia

This is what it’s all about. If you want to know where 21st Century learning is going then watch this video.

Today I got into a discussion with a colleague about the knowledge versus process discussion that comes up from time to time in respect of what education should be about.

I stated that we will eventually have to admit that, on a base of literacy and numeracy skills, children will need to be able to explore the world of information and make their own information up.

The power of this video is to see the process of writing, filming, collaborating, discussing and of course the merging and use of communications technology that is here for all to see. In the process the students are exploring a complex social issue and are building up their own understanding of it.

What is the alternative, to use textbooks and watch someone else’s video and then comment on that? I feel that this video shows why there are a growing number of people such as myself who are trying our best to promote the excitement and potential of the use of new technology and the alliance of this use with a new freedom for students to explore and find, interrogate and then use data and represent this data in a multimedia format.

We will need to ask questions about assessment and learning. For me the skills that are to be gained are apparent in just this small bit of film of  a project that obviously took a long time.

I hope that those of you who have had the opportunity to see the video and have been impressed by it will look up other videos on the You Tube Edutopia site or indeed look up the main site which is still a frontrunner in the promotion of a new view of education….

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