The words just flow

Recently, I had a few moments to go over the nearly 600 posts that I have written in this Blog!

There were many on my main life’s preoccupation, education. There were a few on more general political and social matters, the odd book review, a fair number on websites and technology and an obvious interest in Sir Ken Robinson and Ted Talks.

I found one post that was very different from the rest, a personal reflection on the things that pets add to our lives. It was really about the ownership and privilege of living with two wonderful Shetland Sheepdogs, Toby and Skye.

At the time of writing the original post, Skye, our younger dog, was still alive but he grew old and ill and we had him  “put to sleep” ( to use a much better phrase than the ‘put down’ one that I mentioned in a negative and disparaging way in the post) a few. months ago.

I was very taken by the last paragraph where I stated something that I believe is so important:

Looking back I am so glad that I have had the privilege of looking after my dogs. I have learned so much from them and they have enriched my life in a way that I would never have felt possible. We learn so much from our pets and they are really important in our lives. This is my lifelong learning blog and I have enjoyed writing this piece more than practically anything that I have ever written about education… because it is real and because it related directly to my experience. Teachers need to be aware of this when they give children boring things to write about…. let them express what they are passionate about and the words will flow.

The last sentence is the key one. I know how hard it is to write when you have little or no interest in your subject, I had to endure years of writing reports to parents that contained stock phrases that really meant nothing to them or me!

My blog has been different, I have written what I like and have rarely found it hard. The dog post was particularly easy. I have recently been reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous psychology study “Flow“. Flow is the state of being where we are totally immersed in what we are doing. The task is not hard it literally ” flows” and time seems to rush by. We are often unaware of happenings around us.

This post has been easy for me to write, it has flowed because I know what I want to say and have a real interest and engagement in saying it.

Blogs are good for developing writers because they give them the freedom to express what matters to them. When writing matters, it flows.

For those interested in reading my original post on the dogs it can be found here.

P.S. My persistent wife has managed to convince me to get another dog! We are getting a Bichon Frise puppy in June and no doubt there will be some posts on him in the future!

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Creativity in the third age

I have at last caught up with the joys of reading my Saga Magazine. I have a subscription to this magazine which I took out on the advice of a friend when I moved and following my redundancy and retirement from educational consultancy.

I say “at last” because those few brave souls out there who are regular readers of my blog posts will know that I recently bemoaned my over indulgence in various free MOOCs which have occupied a lot of my time.

Having decided to pare down my “Moocdom” I got back to the joys of sitting down and spending a couple of hours immersed in a few good articles.

One article in particular caught my attention. It was called “Young At Art” and was about the artist Henri Matisse, who, in his 80’s and suffering from bad arthritis which made him unable to properly use a paintbrush, had the brilliant idea of cutting out paper to make shapes that could be hung as mobile sculptures.

Here is an example of one called “Blue Nude” (1952)

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The article was not specifically about Matisse’s art but about creativity in the third age which so many of us are are now in and whose membership is set to grow and grow as we live longer and longer ( on average).

I am particularly fascinated by the potentialities that this situation presents for us. In my retirement I have increased my learning and in particular have become immersed in the subject of Psychology. Michael Weight, the writer of the article, used psychological research to investigate Matisse’s late flowering creativity.

He states:

“Though great artists respond to ageing in different ways, it is striking how many of them have found a final burst of energy and creativity towards the end of their lives. ‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,’ as Samuel Johnson drily observed, ‘it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ 

Not everyone is as blessed with inspiration as lasting as Matisse’s, however. ‘Don’t imagine you’ll have it for ever,’ warned the writer Doris Lessing, bereft of creativity five years before she died. ‘Use it while you’ve got it because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plughole.’

But does it? Does creativity wane? The consensus on this subject has certainly tended to favour Lessing’s pessimism, ever since the publication of psychologist Harvey C Lehman’s influential study of the relation between age and achievement, which found that ‘superior creativity rises relatively rapidly to a maximum which occurs usually in the thirties and then falls off slowly .”

Later on in the article he talks about an interesting study by P.H. Franses, a Dutch professor of Applied Econometrics who looked at the creative output of 189 famous artists and came to the statistical result that the artists were on average 41.92 years old when they created their most expressive art. Franses calculated that the
Average fraction of their lives that this represented was 0.6198 and that this was just 0.0018 away from the so-called “Golden Ratio” which was so celebrated as ideal proportions in art, music and nature.

So is it all downhill from about the age of 42? Recent research in the field of neuroscience has shown that our brains have remarkable plasticity and we are capable of learning, growing and creating throughout our lives. Thomas Hobbes, the great political philosopher famously took up the playing of a flute in his late 80’s!

I did some internet research and found a really good article about late flowering creativity called “Find Your Inner Genius“. One of the stories covered as that of Daddy Mack, who decided to take up the learning of the guitar at the age of 45 and is now a very well respected Blues Guitarist with his own band which has made records and has gone on numerous tours in the United States and in other countries.

I find it comforting to believe that Matisse was not some freak of nature but represented the fact that we are all able to find our own creative potential at any age. The third age gives us the time and space to explore this and I for one will continue to do for as long as I can. I sincerely hope that this post has given some of you the belief that you can do the same.

Too many MOOCs

I have been over enthusiastic in my desire to learn. Because I am now retired, I have plenty of free time on my hands. I am fortunate in many ways to be retired at a time such as the present where many of the great higher education establishments of the world are offering courses for free (MOOCs).

I have, in the last year, taken courses on Creative Learning from the Digital Media Lab at M.I.T., Mathematical Education from Stanford University, the major threats facing our planet from the University of Illinois, Psychology from Birmingham University, Jazz Appreciation from the University of Austin, Texas, P2PU courses on the open web and Deeper Learning, and Web Science from Southampton University!

I am currently engaged on the repeat (year 2) of the M.I.T. Media Lab Course on Creative Learning as well as doing a Creativity Course from Stanford University.

My head is literally spinning from trying to keep up with expectations, readings, assignments not to mention watching the videos and listening to the podcasts! I have, on top of this, taken on a role as a mentor for the M.I.T. course which involves a weekly, online, team “hangout”.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the Learning, the interaction with others, the brilliant chat on the community forums, but it is time consuming.

My wife made a good point the other day when she said that, as a retired person, wasn’t I supposed to get some leisure time to read a book, catch up with a video of a T.V. programme that I’d missed, take up bowls or just take a walk by the local, beautiful riverside?

The more I have thought about this, the more I feel that she is right. I have overindulged in MOOCs because they are interesting and because they are free! Would I have taken as many (or indeed any) if they came at a cost? I doubt it.

I have decided that, from now on I will ration my MOOC study, read some good books, go bowling and take a few lovely country walks. I will enjoy my study then, be able to really dig deep into areas of interest and genuinely enjoy being retired!

Creative answers to test questions

I was reading a Facebook post today that took me to this wonderful collection of children’s original answers to test questions.
Many of these answers have done the rounds on the internet and you will no doubt have seen them before.
The interesting thing to me is the creativity shown in these answers which was obviously spotted by the teachers who made them public.
Yes, they are funny, but they do contain some real information about children’s dread of tests and how they can be pushed to protest or just put in anything that comes to mind under the time pressures and the expectations that they are labouring under.
Two of my favourites are these:

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A creative space

There is an arts and craft centre that has started in our town. It is on the site of an old motel.

The aim of the charity that runs it is to encourage the local community to participate in exhibition of art and craft work. There are lots of examples on sale. They also run art and craft sessions, both taught and collective.

Besides this there are craftsmen who work on the site. One of these is  John Carter who makes and repairs stringed instruments.
The only thing that is missing at the moment is a dedicated technology area for making especially for young people, but that will be the next step for the charity!

To see more about the Centre see their website at www.RealitasCommunity.org

Below are some photographs that I took of John’s workspace and the Centre. Oh I almost forgot, they have also made a great old-fashioned English tearoom that they have called “Totty Teas”. If you’re in the area pop in and have some homemade cake!

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My life album playlist

As part of my creativity MOOC (mentioned in yesterdays’  post) we were asked to make up a 10 song playlist that would go with our album cover:

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Here is my list, along with the accompanying sleeve notes:

1. “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner” Flanagan and Allen
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        An old, classic “Cockney” song about the great city I was born and grew up in.

2. “Waterloo Sunset” The Kinks

          A song the reminds me of the great commute to the centre of the city. The great music that was around in “Swinging London” in the 1960’s when Carnaby Street was world famous and everything exciting seemed to be happening there. A great time to be a Londoner and to be alive.

3.   “Streets of London” Ralph McTell

            This song resonated with me as portraying the darker side of homelessness in the city. It was often sung by the children in assemblies when I became a primary school teacher.

4.   “London Calling” The Clash

            My final years in London were in the 70’s. The optimism of the 60’s had disappeared. The Vietnam War and the student uprisings along with assassinations of the Kennedys and The Reverend Martin Luther King left a sour end to the decade. The punk movement started in London as a reaction to the fun songs of the early 60’s which led to the “acid trip” of so many artists by the late part of the decade. This song is hard in beat and lyric and is so different from the early London songs in the album.

5.   “Another Brick in The Wall” Pink Floyd

       The 70’s saw my transition from Grammar School Boy to University (to study politics) and by the end of the decade to become a trainee teacher. This song was personal in a number of ways. My secondary school was just down from New North Road, Islington and Roger Walters used to live there at the time it was being recorded with the help of children from Islington Green School. I remember seeing Walters, guitar in hand, at the top of his steep front steps on a hot sunny day in the late 60’s when I was walking home from my school!

6.   “The Hackney Gentrification Song” Robin Grey.

Never heard of the song? Well look it up on YouTube. A great indictment of how Hackney changed from run down inner city working class area to the upwardly mobile and expensive area it became.

7.   “Southend-on-Sea Mark Eitzel

I moved to Essex in 1975 and we settled in Southend. It took an American to look at the complexities of a seaside resort that had been overtaken by events that had not reinvented itself and in many ways still hasn’t.
Here are a few of the lyrics:

You said to me
“You’re from California
And you’re as dumb as can be”
You said to me
“Are you the Scarecrow, the Tin Man
Or are you Dorothy?”
You said to me
“I’m beginning to think that you’re
A part of the enemy”
You said to me
“If I was drowning would you save me
From Southend-on-Sea?”

8.   “Billericay  Dickie” Ian Drury and the Blockheads

A great punk Essex song that sums up the good and bad about living in the county with its fake tans and jack-the-lads.

9.   “School’s Out” Alice Cooper.

In December 2011 I retired from being a Primary Mathematics Consultant, following  a career of 32 years as a teacher and headteacher (Principal). School was out for me but learning had really just begun.

10.  “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” The Korgis

A great song. I am enjoying being a lifelong learner, writing my blog and learning to be as creative as I can possibly be.

My album cover design

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I am doing a creativity MOOC from Stanford University called “Creativity: Music To My Ears“.
Every week we will be given a creative task. This first week we were asked to design an album cover about our lives.
I started with working out the main theme of my design. I decided it should cover the two parts of the U.K. that I have lived in almost all my life, namely the great city of London where I was born, raised, went to school and left for good at the age of 22. I then lived most of the next 38 years of my life in various locations in the much maligned and misunderstood county of Essex.
I had to find relevant photos to express the essence of each place. The title ” London Boy, Essex Man” was fairly simple to think about but required a download of an Android App for poster design.
I used another Android App, Pixir Express, to arrange the “collage” that would constitute my album cover.
I played around with the sizing and presentation of each section and took out a few pictures that didn’t fit in well to the effect I was looking for.
I am pleased with the final effect and now have to think up what music (actual or original ) I would actually put on the album!
As an exercise in creativity it was thoroughly worthwhile.