The A4 piece of paper challenge

At the start of a new school year I thought I would set out a challenge for any pupil of any age anywhere. Actually there are two categories for the challenge (1) Individual and (2) Group.

The Challenge:

You have one piece of A4 sized plain white paper. You have to do with it what you want.

You can:

write on it

Draw on it

Cut it

Rearrange it

Sculpt it

There are no rules and no limitations.

Afterwards you will explain what you have done to others. Was it a success? What can you do to improve it? If it failed… what did you learn?

The group challenge is to see what can be achieved if every participant in the group has a piece of A4 paper that they can contribute in some way to the project. There is one rule here  that every piece of paper must be used in some way.

This challenge is to encourage thinking, organisation, experimentation, collaboration  and most of all creativity. It is not linked to any curriculum but would help any pupil of any age to develop skills that they would find invaluable as they participate in the 21st century world.

Good luck to all who attempt this… please get back to me with any pictures, reports, videos showing the challenge and its results.


It seems to me that this post represents the situation for teachers in Britain as much as in the U.S.A.
As we start a new academic year here in my country we have the usual debates about over-inflated exam grades and the so-called paucity of teaching in our Primary schools.
I said to my brother (a librarian not a teacher) yesterday, that the problem with the Politicians, the businessmen, the media pundits is that they have no real understanding of what it feels like to be a teacher.
I am now retired after many years of teaching. I am not spending many hours getting my classroom ready for the next year of teaching.I am not having to attend the endless staff meetings where headteachers look at masses of data.
Children are not data and there is so much that is immeasureable as the post says.
What is important is to repeat the message. TEACHERS MATTER…they are significant….. they help to change the world. Have a great year in whatever educational setting you teach in.

Why originality is crucial

I read last week that there was a lot of concern about plagiarism that followed the first few Coursera online courses. The report was that students who were assessing other students work noticed wholesale copying of sections of their own work or sections from published work such as Wikipedia.

The problem with all of this is that it reflects the culture that we have all grown up in in respect of education being about academic success in terms of grades and exam passes. I know because I have been guilty of plagiarism myself! When I look back at the essays that I had to do for my A Level History course for example I remember that I would look through the textbooks and take the relevant passages and then write them out piecemeal without any attribution or maybe (if I was feeling really creative) rewrite the words with essentially the same meaning.

I remember a number of times when my teachers said that they found it difficult to find out exactly what I thought. The reason for this was patently obvious…. there was nothing in my text that reflected what I thought and the real me… the me that is made up of the sum total of my experiences, my feelings, my opinions, my attitudes toward the world… was nowhere to be seen.

In writing the posts in this  blog I have occasionally taken sections from other people’s writing because I feel that they are significant and add to the message that I am trying to communicate. I always try to attribute the quotes and put them in speech marks. Which is why I was a bit concerned the other day when I received an e-mail from a source I used for one of my recent posts which asked me to give attribution to the original source of the information that formed the basis of the post. I had mentioned the website in the title and also in the text. I used their infographic but made sure that there was a link to the original article where the infographic appeared. In my opinion I could not have made greater attribution than this. I feel that I was pointing out to all who cared to read the post that I was not the originator of the material but was trying to report upon it and comment on its usefulness.

I am only too aware of how plagiarism can be seen as intellectual theft but feel that the biggest loss is that it holds students (and indeed the adults that they will become) from developing their own voice. It is their distinctive voice that readers want to see and hear… they can read a Wikipedia article on any subject whenever they want…. the importance is what do they want to say? What do they want to communicate? What is their opinion on the subject that they are writing?

I have had to make a journey in understanding the importance of originality in communication. I hope that my fellow lifelong students will take the same journey and realise that it is not about getting something done but about getting your distinctive voice heard. Only when you speak as yourself will you truly get a response from your audience. It may be hatred, derision, concern, disagreement but it is often approbation, agreement and allows you to influence the debate.

Those who know me and the way I think and talk will recognise these words as entirely my own (for good or for bad) and as such, this has been a successful post from my point of view….. no speech marks or attributions were required!

Children and technology: a powerful infographic from

I recently received an e-mail from Hannah Edwards who is part of a team of designers and researchers who have put together a fascinating new infographic about the impact of technology on young children. The original can be found on the site.

There is plenty to discuss in the infographic but the most telling and interesting sentence (in my opinion)  was this: “Today 70% of children between the ages of 2-5 can operate a computer mouse, but only 11% of them can tie their own shoes.”

See what you think about the infographic that I have been able to use on my post because of its Creative Commons License.

I would be interested to see what any of you think about the infographic.


The keys to the kingdom of knowledge


I have just signed up for two Coursera online courses. I have also watched Daphne Koller’s TED talk on the power and importance of online education

I am very excited by having wonderful high level courses available free to me. I look forward to communicating with academics and fellow students from across the globe.

It made me wonder though about just who is able to access these “gems”. I have been through an extensive and mercifully free higher education  (I am old enough to remember when it came free from a grant to those, like myself, who qualified for it). In the course of my studies I was able to pick up the machinery to access higher education, namely reasonable literacy, some mathematical skills and most importantly the ability to know where and how to access the knowledge.

In the long march from the days when books were chained up and knowledge was the possession of the very few privileged members of society, I had been born in a place and at a time where I could gain access to the “keys to the kingdom” of knowledge  as this has been made more open and available to succeeding generations. I was in the first generation of my family that went to University.

In the same period that I have been alive on this planet there were many born in the same month as myself who hadn’t the fortune to be born into that situation. They had little or no access to schooling and absolutely no chance to get into higher education. They may have died by now from malnutrition or war but if they survived most of them will be as illiterate as they were when they were born nearly sixty years ago!

So it is great to hear Daphne talk about the crying need for education in places such as South Africa, but I wonder how many will have the ability to access this wonderful new development. Have they had the chance to have a basic primary and secondary education where they have learnt the literacy and numeracy skills that they will need to  access the materials from the online courses from lofty institutions around the world? Do they have access to the internet?

I feel that we need to applaud the aims of organisations such as Coursera but also appreciate that the real need is lower down the    educational hierarchy.We need as many people as possible to have the tools to get the keys to the kingdom and that means basic literacy and numeracy. I still wonder at how many potential Einsteins  lived and died through inability to gain access to the basic tools of educational discourse no mind the higher areas of human knowledge that they may well have enriched to the betterment of us all.


Re-thinking the future

Dame Ellen MacArthur. Photo by Laura Kidd.
Dame Ellen MacArthur. Photo by Laura Kidd. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The video above comes from one of the most interesting and potentially world-changing sites that I have recently come across, namely, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

I came across the site by following a link to the new TedEd site, which is also a site well worth investigating and deserves a blog  post to itself! The specific link is:

I was fascinated by the story of Dame Ellen MacArthur, the famous round-the-world sailor who gave up her life at sea in order to follow a plan to transform the way we make and use things which is called “The Circular Economy“.

In a nutshell the idea is that we are living in a world where we are wasting our resources and then throwing them away or burying them which will eventually come back to haunt future generations who succeed us. The present solutions of recycling are about extending the period before we run out of resources or totally pollute the planet and make it uninhabitable by our species.

The solution put forward in the circular economy is to follow nature’s pattern of a circle of life.In this model nothing is wasted, plants become food for animals that decay and eventually become part of the nutrients that feed the soil for the next growth of plants.

How then does this relate to the man-made world? Well, we do not have a circle of natural  production, use and re-use, but we could aim to make products that can be re-used again and again. The idea is to change our way of thinking and owning.

Take a washing machine for instance. At the moment this is made from materials that mostly cannot be re-used. The idea is to create a machine that can be re-made. In order to do this the concept of ownership needs to looked at. Instead of owning and then disposing of the fridge, you lease the fridge from the manufacturer and then return the fridge to the manufacturer who can use the materials to make a new machine.

This “circular economy” is certainly one that challenges our ideas about how we live and how we consume. It is already being looked at by a number of large industrial and commercial companies like Nike, Renault and Cisco.

I found a number of very interesting resources on the site that has led me to further investigate this potentially powerful concept. It is the sort of site that can change your way of looking at the world and maybe even your life!


Watching the winners and the losers at the Olympics made me think. We see the end product of many many hours of hard work, graft and endeavour. We see the glorious shots of successful athletes, rowers, gymnasts, swimmers etc.,  as they bask in their glory in the midst of thousands of cheering spectators and in the eyes of millions and millions across the globe.

We do not know about the many miles of road work, the hours in the gym, the getting up at five thirty in the morning to do numerous repetitive laps of a swimming pool in front of maybe one or two coaches. We sometimes hear about this from the sportsmen themselves. They tell us how much they owe to their parents, their family, their friends and of course their coaches. They sometimes tell us about a key factor to their success.. namely, failure.

Without the ability to fail and learn from failure we cannot succeed. I doubt if there has been one sportsman in the Olympics that has not fallen, under-performed or made a tactical mistake in an important moment in their career.

Just as it is with the sportsmen it is with everyone. I noticed the following photo on a post of one of my Facebook friends:



I think that the idea that persistence is essential to making any idea (or aim) a success is correct. In reality though, I believe that it goes something like this:

Idea (or aim) ……. try and probably fail…. try again…. and again…… learn from your mistakes…… take advice…….. be flexible enough to admit that you are not the finished article and can improve……. if everything comes together (and a lot can and will go wrong)…. SUCCESS.

You have then achieved something and maybe it is something that will get you in the record books or even down in history (we cannot all be Usain Bolt! ).

If you have been trying and are hitting the proverbial brick wall, don’t give up, because it may be that you are still inside my revised “route to success”. Admit that you may be wrong, take advice and be prepared to rethink what and who you are… you may surprise yourself and achieve the success that has eluded you so far.