The 20% Project

I have just read a really good blog post from a really good site. The post is called “Inspire Drive, Innovation, and Creativity: The 20% Project in the Classroom” and comes from “The Tech Classroom” blog.

“The 20% Project” is based upon Google’s practice of allowing their employees 20% of their working week to work on ideas that follow their interests, concerns, beliefs, desires, and dreams.

The Google experience has seen  a number of excellent ideas come about because of the freedom of employees to think, to be creative, to collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other. There is no fear of failure and no deadlines to meet. The results can be astounding and often are.. examples are: Gmail, AdSense, and Google News.

The exciting idea in this blog post is that it is taking this brilliant industrial/commercial concept and taking it into classrooms. The writer Kate Petty has included an excellent Evernote shared notebook entry in which she has a list of sources of schools that have already taken the first steps in introducing a “20% Project” in their schools.

I think that any school that has the bravery and innovative spirit to let their students have 20% of their time to explore personal projects will reap the benefits in terms of their student’s increased motivation, skills and progression in research and study skills.

I would strongly recommend that you read Kate Petty’s blog post. I would be interested to know if any schools or colleges in The U.K. have tried this idea yet and if so, with what results.

Why character is more important than content

I have just been reading a really interesting article on the ever-interesting website “Mindshift“.  The post was called “Can Kids Be Taught Persistence?”

This is a review of Paul Tough’s new book called ” How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character“. This book by an investigative journalist, looks at recent developments in some American schools that have looked for answers to why the U.S.A. is underperforming in the world education stakes (according to PISA statistics that is).

They believe that it is necessary to look at the  of what personality traits are needed to succeed in the 21st century world. They come to the conclusion that the ability to handle failure is a significant factor.

In a filmed interview which Paul Tough attended at the Aspen Ideas Festival  one of the participants states at one point: “if you are thirty-five years of age and are stuck with a real problem to solve at work you probably won’t get far by looking back on what you learnt in American history!”

This is so true! I wonder that we spend so much of our time preoccupied with the content of the curriculum and neglect the key issues of what personal characteristics help our students to survive and cope with an ever changing world.

The London Olympics have arrived and in the next two weeks or so there will be successes and failures at all sorts of sports. Those who win will have experienced setbacks and failure in the past. It is not the setbacks that are important in themselves but the ability of the individual to overcome them and work out how to turn failure into success.

I have spoken elsewhere about the necessity of learning to fail. I feel that  Paul Tough’s book needs to be looked at and discussed. I would wish though to put on record that the idea that characteristics like mental toughness can be graded (as is the practice in some schools following these ideas) is frankly farcical and would detract from those aspects of developing a flexible approach to learning that I would like to see in schools. For a really good retort to grading see Larry Ferlazzo’s article in The Washington Post “Why schools should not grade character traits”.

My Google Power Searching Course

I have just completed a six lesson online course run by Google on “Power Searching”. What did I learn?

I learned that I had not been using the full potential of Google, that I was a one-stop shop Googler who would look up a subject and then get a page of results and delve into one of the first five results to get the information I was seeking.

I did not use “Google Images”, I did not refine my searches or exclude the information that I did not want to see by the simple use of a minus sign! I have now realised the power of visual searching, of the use of Google Maps and Streetview to explore information.

I realised that I am a lazy searcher. I am not alone in this. To so many the idea of an internet search is to “Google” the term that you are looking for. You might explore some of the videos but what about the other features that come with this increasingly complex website that has added its name into our daily vocabulary.

There are, of course, other search engines that will give you a different set of results. I have discussed two of these in past posts (“Sweetsearch” and “Instagrok“). I have also discussed the idea that students need to be trained in search skills so as to be able to navigate the increasingly complex and growing sea of knowledge (which this blog post is adding to… Google the title in a few days time and it will be there… somewhere!!).

I feel that Google is to be congratulated for being aware that we are in need of training to become more efficient searchers on the net. They have also added to the increasing use of online courses as a means of getting and communicating knowledge. I was particularly impressed by the use of “forums” to discuss aspects of the course. The increasing availability of online course material from some of the world’s leading universities is a growing resource of the web that may help to transform further and higher education forever.

The use of video material was good and linked to YouTube uploads. I would very much like schools and colleges to look at giving time to allow students to really explore the web through powerful search tools and to be able to communicate their findings so that knowledge is not hidden in a private space but can become a public resource.

Thank you Google for a really useful and enlightening experience. I even had a Certificate of Completion at the end!

The last time the Olympics came to London

English: William Grut winning the gold medal f...
 William Grut winning the gold medal for modern pentathlon at the 1948 Summer Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



I have been reading a really interesting report from the Guardian  “London’s 1948 Olympics: the real austerity Games”.

This report showed how the last time that the Olympics came to London the city was trying to recover from the near destruction of many parts of it by the German Luftwaffe. There was deep austerity in the country and the games could only be put  on with a very restricted budget. There was no new Olympic Stadium built and the athletes had to be content with lodging in RAF accommodation.

The 2012 Games are happening at a time of austerity here in Britain. But the stark differences between the 1948 games and the lavish spectacle that we can expect at the brand new stadium in the brand new Olympic Park at Stratford (East side of London) starting this Friday (27th July)  are remarkable. To quote the article: ”

This month the Commons public accounts committee expressed concern that once the cost of the security lockdown of London was taken into account, the final bill for the 2012 Games would be a little shy of £11bn, a fourfold increase since London put in its bid seven years ago, and almost equivalent to Britain’s gross domestic product in 1948.

By contrast, the cash-strapped Attlee government, which at one stage considered ceding the right to hold the Games to the United States, earmarked just under £750,000 for the Olympics. Even when inflation and more than six decades of growth are taken into account, the disparity in spending between the 1948 and the 2012 Games is marked: about 0.7% of GDP in 2012; less than 0.01% of GDP in 1948″.

The amazing thing is that the games in 1948 turned in a profit!:  “Spending came in at £732,268, below the budget of £743,000, while receipts (mostly from ticket sales) were £761,688. The taxpayer will be footing the bill for London 2012, but that was not the case 64 years ago. The austerity Games made a profit of almost £30,000 – of which the taxman received £9,000”.

Money was not the main thing in this Olympics. The people of war-torn Britain had been starved of sport for the war years. There was a need to cheer everyone up and to give some hope of a brighter future amid the deprivations of a nation that was living on rations  (and would continue to do so until July 1954).

The 1948 Olympics were not dominated by Professional sportsmen and women winning greater commercial credence by winning medals. It was about the achievement of the modern Olympic ideals that were stated by the founder of the modern movement Pierre De Coubertin, thus: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”.

I wonder how much of these original ideals will be witnessed in the next few weeks at the modern version of London’s Olympic Games? I suspect very little….. we now live in age where winning is everything and second place means failure. The effort is not enough… the agents are hot on the trail of signing up the victors for numerous commercial sponsorships and T.V. adverts!




Papert’s Dream Revived

I am a friend, on Facebook, of Professor Mitch Resnick who is  “LEGO Papert Professor of Learning

Research at the MIT Media Lab.”

The title of his professorship says it all, he has overseen the creative use of Lego in developing children’s ability to use technology in a playful and creative way. He is also the direct protégé of the ideas of Seymour Papert.

I first came across Papert as a young teacher watching a Horizon T.V. programme called “Talking Turtle” in 1983. Below is a video showing a part of the programme and giving you a feel for Papert’s visionary views and the limitations of the expensive technology of the time:

In many ways the vision of children creating things using technology and using programming as a means of facilitating this has not come about. Resnick explains the reasons for this in his recent article in the magazine “Educational Technology”: “Reviving Papert’s Dream”.

He talks about the way that the Media Lab at MIT have developed a new and powerful programming language based on Paper’s original program “LOGO”. This program is called “Scratch”, it uses simple to use tools to get children (or adults) to create powerful graphics, games, presentations (the uses are almost endless). It has also made every uploaded effort available to everyone else and can be used as a basis for further development.

It is creative, fun and most importantly gets children to become writers of programs and not just readers. Schools and individuals all over the world have participated. But it is still just “scratching the surface” (excuse the very weak pun).

To get a feel for the power and potential of Scratch see their website. If you haven’t tried it before then you can freely download it. If you are a teacher (particularly in a Primary school) I strongly recommend that you try it and most importantly let your children try it. Let them play and learn and develop their powerful ideas. In this way, as Resnick says, Papert’s great vision of the early 1980’s will not only be revived but will hopefully lead to great programming and use of technology in the future.

Why the arts must be in the curriculum

I am an avid follower of Sir Ken Robinson. I have read his book “The Element” , watched his TED Talks and as many other videos I could find of his on YouTube. I am one of his many friends on Facebook and yesterday I received this posting from that site:

  • ‎”@adam_voigt: If true, this is a decent step forward: Education takes a dramatic new course via” Gt news.

    Following the link led me to a really important development in Australian education and potentially a lead for the rest of the world.

    The link was to an article in “The Age” called “Education Takes a Dramatic New Course”

    The opening paragraph says it all:” For the first time, all Australian students will study dance, drama, media arts, music and the visual arts until year 10, under a draft new national curriculum released yesterday”.

    There is a powerful rationale for this, not to enhance the spiritual and emotional development of the child (although it will undoubtedly do this) but (to quote the report): ”Learning subject areas like music and drama inspires creativity, encourages young people to think critically, helps develop their sense of identity and can provide great benefits for learning in other core areas.”

    This is really important, the arts are not seen as an add-on that can benefit a few artistically minded individuals, a luxury to be appended to the curriculum core which has to be English (or the native language), mathematics, science and Physical Education. No, the arts are seen as a core area of study which gives children essential skills for becoming citizens in the 21st century.

    I would argue that the most important skill is creativity. The chance to develop our skills in the ability to “think outside the box”, “imagine the unimagined” and solve problems that do not follow a strict logic. These are skills that can make the difference between our species’ ability to survive and prosper on this planet.

    I once saw a “Last Night of the Proms” concert where the conductor gave a speech at the very end where he defended music as an essential skill in any modern educational system and not a luxury. He extended music to all of the arts and stated “we neglect the arts at our peril!”

    I am delighted that the Australian Government has recognised the importance of the arts in being a basic right and necessity in any 21st century school curriculum.

    I would go further than Sir Ken who stated that it would “be a decent step forward” I believe that it is an essential one. To read the actual draft arts curriculum go to:

Learning from failure

I was investigating TED Talks on learning and managed to come across David Damberg’s TedxYYC  talk (see above).   Like so many of the less publicised  Tedx talks this was really something of a find.

Here was a young engineer who had been working with Development projects in Malawi, Africa. In the talk he shows a photograph of a young boy drinking fresh water from a tap. He states that the picture was a lie and later tells us exactly why this was the case.

It appears that the project was to use gravity to transport water from higher ground and then save it in tanks in the village where it could be used as a steady supply of fresh drinking water. The only problem was that there was no regular maintenance of  the pipelines and they ceased to function efficiently. Subsequently the village did not have their wonderful fresh water and were as badly off as before.

The reason for the failure of this project was because the “unsexy” part of development is not the brilliant pipelines and the tanks it is making sure that there was maintenance of the pipelines! This was not done in this case and the result was failure.

Failure in itself is not the end of the world, the problem is, as David Damberg states, do we learn from the mistakes? Do we admit that we have done them? Do we communicate with each other about our mistakes so that others can learn from them?

Damberg and others decided that they needed a forum to discuss their mistakes, to admit that they had done them and to allow themselves and others to benefit from the lessons learned from these mistakes. Accordingly they set up a website called “Admitting Failure” . This website is a brave attempt to tackle the questions  posed by failure. There are case studies from people who have attempted great projects and failed to see them work. The whole subject of how we can learn from failure is addressed.

Reading through the site and many of the stories I was wondering why other areas do not admit to their mistakes and realise that we can learn from them. When was the last time that a Government, any Government, stated that they had made a mistake in any of their policies?  Have any of the Bankers ever admitted that they made mistakes? What lessons can we learn from it all?

Failure is not a disaster… it is feedback from learning. It allows us to make progress… just look at the repeated mistakes made by             great scientists and inventors like Thomas Edison. There should be no fear of failure if it is looked at as part of learning.. but it is only effective feedback if we actually learn from it.