Effective use of technology is the key

I think it is important to make the point that technology, in itself, is not the answer. Technology is just a tool, but what a tool!

To turn our back on the advances in technology is to become 21st Century Luddites.

I read some comments in  Google Plus Community that was saying that technology is overhyped and that we should be making sure that students can use pen and paper effectively before we let them loose to explore the world of the net.

I understand that the tools are being used ineffectively at the moment but that does not mean we should turn our back on them. We need to be making sure that the new literacy of the web is taught well. To say that most students are lazy and just do a simple Google search which then leads to wholesale use of great chunks of text that is used in lieu of original work or thought is correct. The problem lies with the fact that we do not encourage originality, we do not teach critical thinking and we probably use and misuse Google searches ourselves!

The great advances in digital technology have outpaced our ability to understand how to effectively use them. There are too many teachers who lack confidence and indeed knowledge of what is possible with the new tools. This is an urgent area for teacher training to concentrate on.

Just like the earlier development of the industrial revolution we shall get to know these strange new tools. The next generation of teachers will have lived with them almost from birth. Knowing though is not mastering or using effectively. This will take some time but is absolutely essential. A return to simple pen and paper is certainly not the answer.

Arvind Gupta: making science come alive

I have been very fortunate recently in coming across the above talk by Arvind Gupta called “Turning Trash Toys Into Learning”.

Gupta is that very rare person, a consummate communicator who is able to provide practical examples that fires up the imagination of the viewer. I watched as he showed example after example of experiments with forces and electricity using nothing more than “trash” materials.

I then looked up his website http://www.arvindguptatoys.com and found that it has a free library of downloadable books as well as literally dozens of videos that he has made showing the immense range of his practical science experiments.

I would really have loved to have had him as my physics teacher when I was at school and had to endure lesson after lesson of talk with mathematical formula that meant absolutely nothing to me. In Gupta’s world science is real things,with real effects and it is exciting and strikes a chord in you immediately.

I would strongly recommend that you look up his website and, if you are a physics teacher, get hold of some trash materials and get your students making and experimenting with them. You will probably find instant interest and many of the behaviour problems will disappear as occupied and interested students do not have the time or reason to be disruptive!


English: , a notable Indian toy inventor and p...
English: , a notable Indian toy inventor and populariser of science. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The MOOC process is more important than standardisation

I am at present doing two “MOOC‘s”. I did my first through Coursera, last year.
In that course I learnt about the many problems faced by our world in terms of population, energy and the change to our climate as well as the continuing growth of urbanisation and the effects that all of this may have on our ability to survive as a species on a beautiful planet that we have used and very much misused.
It was a great course in getting to interact with fellow learners from countries across the globe. There were great discussions about some controversial topics. There were also little tests every week and a project that was to be peer-assessed.
At the end of the course we were to be told if we had gained a certificate of achievement. I did not get mine. I was not in the least bothered by this outcome. I did not do this course to gain any qualification. I wanted to expand my horizons and increase me learning. That I was also able to interact with some brilliant people and be able to question my perspectives on some of the most pressing problems for our Earth was a definite outcome for me.
I read today about a discussion that took part at a conference in the U.S.A. about standardising MOOCs and making them fit the more traditional academic model. This I feel will be a wrong move. The MOOC is all about process. The ability to learn with and from fellow learners throughout the world and possibly to have a change in our perspectives that comes from this process.
I am currently taking a really fascinating g MOOC from M.I.T. called “Learning Creative Learning”. In this course we have been divided up into small groups based on time zones. We will be doing some practical creative exercises using some of the ideas and products from the M.I.T. Media Lab. At the end of it I may not have any certification, I will not get a degree but I will have had the opportunity to watch some great minds doing cutting edge research about how technology and learning interact, I will have had the chance to interact with some great people and I would have increased my learning.
The MOOC is a brilliant development of the Age of Information  I sincerely hope that it does not become a dull and boring extension of the outmoded lecture and examine that I went through when I went to University 40 years ago!

Second childhood

To all my fellow lifelong learners. I have just embarked upon a brilliant MOOC from the MIT Media Lab called “Learning Creative Learning”.

I have been looking at the philosophy behind the “Lifelong Kindergarten” which is directed by Professor Mitchell Resnick and I  feel that they are essentially correct in their assumption that Kindergartens have it right and the formal schooling system has it very very wrong.

The Kindergarten allows children to do what comes naturally to them, to explore,to play around with objects, to experience situations and to allow their senses to relate to them just how things fit into their world.

The formal schooling system wants to direct you.It tells you what to learn, when and puts you in boxes with people who just happen to be the same age as you but have widely different interests and levels of “development” (whatever that term really means).

What I love about the video of the wonderful song “Hoppipolla” by Icelandic group Sigur Ros, is that it shows a group of old “children” being naughty but also regaining the freedom to explore, to experience and to feel that they do not have to fit into conventional boxes.

For myself I am not proposing to hop in and out of puddles  ring bells and then run for it,or join my friends in having a “pretend war” against a rival “gang”. I am though hoping that I can clear my mind of the cobwebs that have set in from too many years of living and working in the straitjacket formal education system.

I am hoping that the neuroscientists are right and that I can use the newly found plasticity of the brain to actually learn new things and recreate the sense of wonder about the wonderful world that we live in despite the fact that I am now 60 years of age.

I am now an enrolled member of the Lifelong Kindergarten and hope that many others will get the chance to explore their philosophy about sheer joy of learning, creating, tinkering. As Joi Ito (the inspirational Director of the MIT Media Lab) puts it, education happens to you, learning is what you do for yourself.


Learning Creative Learning

Image representing Scratch as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I have just started a MOOC run by the MIT Media Lab called “Learning Creative Learning”. This course is the first “MOOC” that the Media Lab has tried and so far we have been divided up into small groups based on similar time-zones. My group is therefore made up of people from the U.K., Ireland and Portugal.

The groups run through Google Plus and my group LC-380 have all introduced ourselves to each other and joined the online community.

Yesterday (Monday 11th February) I watched the opening lecture of the course given by Professor Mitchell Resnick
assisted by Philipp Schmidt and Natalie Rusk.It was a live lecture on Google Plus Hangouts.

I have been a longtime fan of the MIT Media Lab which was co-founded by one of my all-time educational heroes, Seymour Papert.They are still using Papert’s “Constructionist” philosophy which I read about many years ago in his book “Mindstorms“.

Mitchell Resnick, the leader of the course, was a student and disciple of Papert’s and he supervised the introduction of an exciting development of Papert’s “Logo” computer language called “Scratch” which I have written about in an earlier post.

In this course we will be looking at exciting developments at the Media Lab such as “Scratch” and “Makey Makey” . We will be focussing on “learning” throughout and seeing how a “Constructionist” approach really works.

This is my third MOOC and so far the one I am most excited about. I will report what I learned at the end of the course…I expect it could be a long post!


Where America leads the educational world

Yes the title of this blog post is not supposed to be ironic or a joke of any kind. The United States really does lead the educational world in the area of design, innovation and creativity in schools.

The above video is a TedX Creative Coast 2012 talk was by gifted teacher Jaime McGrath and outstanding web designer Andrew Davies. They went into a Savanna school where Jaime taught and allowed the children to use their creativity to design things.

They start with a pop quiz asking which of three items; a school desk, a website and a patented medical device, were designed by children in schools and Andrew says, isn’t it obvious… it’s all three of them!

Davies admits, as a professional designer that he had his doubts about children’s capacity to innovate until he arrived at McGrath’s classroom.

The talk is simply staggering in showing what can be done when children are given the chance to show what they can do. Design is such a good means of facilitating this. I recently looked at the work that is coming out from the Stanford “D” School and feel that the happenings in Savanna would be so good to see for these pathbreakers.

There are so many people in the United States who are doing such wonderful things with some very fortunate children. I have always followed the Science Leadership Academy of Philadelphia and their visionary 21st Century Principal, Chris Lehmann. I am an avid follower of the Creativity focus that is going on in Oklahoma. The Blue School (which I know is private and has been under some criticism of late) is a great experiment in a creatively based education.

I try and catch as many TedX Talks as I can and have noticed how many brilliant ones have focussed on the area of creativity and innovation. I would in particular commend “A Crash Course in Creatvity” at TedX Stanford, delivered by Tina Seelig.

These are exciting things  in an essential area of educational development. It is an area where the United States is showing the rest of us how it can be done and just how amazing the results can be. I would hope that somewhere along the road there are business people, politicians and academics who will realise that this form of education need not be the fringe of American education but should form the basis of what every child should have access to.

I stated above that this is an “essential” development in education. It is essential if children are to ave the ability to be flexible, creative and innovative in a world that is ever-changing and where, as the Talk states, 65%  of tomorrow’s jobs haven’t even been invented yet!

America, you should be celebrating teachers like Jaime McGrath and their visionary approach to education. Personally I do not know or care what his class test grades are, one of the children in that class  just might come up with an idea that will change the world!


How Aaron Swartz paved way for Jack Andraka’s revolutionary cancer test




This article  is a pointer to us all about the need to keep the fight for an open internet. There are thousands of people who may been helped to live because of Jack Andraka’s amazing discovery.

I believe that academic articles need to be freely available especially in medical research. We need any and every breakthrough we can get. Any arguments with that?


Jack Andraka 2012 ISEF Winner
Jack Andraka 2012 ISEF Winner (Photo credit: IntelFreePress)