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Mission possible

Posted: September 24, 2017 in The Networked Educator

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SShh! Geniuses at work

The time: 9:50-10:15am every Friday

The place: The Ideas Hub, UWCSEA Dover, Singapore

The Mission: to work on a personal creative project

If you had 1 day a week to do what you like and to be creative what would you do? What about 1 hour or even 20 minutes each week? Students at UWCSEA in a Grade 6 advisory group every Friday are engrossed in planning something creative, something fun and above all self-driven.

So how do we structure the time to best help our students delve into their area of choice? How can we make the best use of the resources and time to authentically investigate and make?

Jacqui Benson is a Middle School Maths teacher, a creative thinker and enthusiastic maker. With an underused facility open to students during the school day, an ideal opportunity dawned on her and she shared this with her new  22 x 11 year olds during the first few weeks of term. Hearing about this I was keen to join in and, having read Spencer and Juliani’s book Empower over the summer, the opportunity to truly empower students with choice seemed perfectly timed.

 

Mad ideas or bad ideas

A moving car, robots, sewing, LittleBits, and banning plastics. These are just a taster of the projects our group are investigating each Friday morning.

Further down the school, iTime is a part of their working week, where primary students visit the Ideas Hub with their class teacher weekly to work on all sorts of creative projects. But, as students get older and move into Middle or High School, these creative personal projects dwindle and, for some, sadly disappear altogether. I have so many students (and adults) tell me they cannot draw, that they are not creative and don’t know where to start when given a problem to think about or solve. Yet creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving are at the top of the skills needed, according to World Economic Forum, to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

Having been a teacher for over 20 years, and valuing creativity above all other skills, I was excited to now see creativity and thinking at the top of the necessary skills for the future. Our roles as teachers must be to equip our students for this and it is all of our responsibilities, not just the art, drama and music departments. Thinking is involved in all subjects and in walks of lives, yet often an undervalued and tapped into skill. Being able to think and work creatively should be an integral part of school life.  Having trained as a graphic designer the Design Cycle is a natural workflow for me and it mirrors the way our minds need to work when solving a problem.

There are a multitude of methods, visuals and instructions for the creative process out there, from Spencer and Juliani’s Launch Cycle to Tiffany Shlain‘s 10 stage video, but the language and the sentiment are the same and always about generating lots of ideas. Often students (and adults) say they are not so good at this. They become fixated with a single solution and don’t allow themselves to wander into other possibilities. This is where creativity happens. Those what if and aha moments. You have to fail or at least produce bad ideas in order to take a new direction and then ultimately the good, and even great ideas follow.

But youngsters need help in getting there.

The Investigation

PLAY  –  PITCH  –  PLAN  –  PRODUCE  –  PRESENT

In the Hub, we are adopting a streamlined version of Juliani’s Genius Hour Blueprint. Genius Hour (aka 20% time, iTime or Passion projects) originated from the concept of 80:20 time used to investigate ideas not pursued in the normal working week. It became a time for individual creativity to flourish and for great ideas to blossom. From Google’s introduction in the workplace to personalised education and project-based learning, it engages and empowers individuals.

What's your passion sketchnote

What’s your Passion? sketchnote by Nicki Hambleton

The first session in the Ideas Hub last week, saw students heading straight for the woodworking area or trying out the sewing machine and playing with littleBits. But some were unsure, not knowing where to go, what to do or what to try out. These were the most interesting students, about to embark on a journey of discovery: clueless but curious. I asked lots of questions:

What do you like to do? What have you seen that intrigues you? What are you drawn to? What are they doing over there? What is your passion?

I am always thrown when I ask students what is your passion. Often they do not know how to answer this as they may not have one. It takes time to figure out what they want to do and sometimes they just need time to play to see investigating what there is and what might be interesting to them. Two girls wanted to continue their Grade 5 Expo project about banning plastic bags and were starting with a petition. I asked them, what do you want to achieve? What will success look like? Then what? They hadn’t thought much further than their original project and just wanted the time to continue it. This was fine, but I wanted to push them more creatively. I wanted them to think what difference they could make and what they thought that might look like in the context of our school, the community and beyond. It will be interesting to see how far they travel from their original plan. In the second session, we introduced the group to the next phase following their initial investigations.

The Pitch

The second phase in our revised structure is, for me the most exciting. Anticipating what different ideas these boys and girls have in their 30-second elevator pitch, I just can’t wait! Some will be very clear as to their idea, others very unclear, but, come next Friday we will hear them all, then open the floor to questions. This is an important phase as it can help the struggling ones to clarify their thinking and, for the fixated, blinkered ones, open their idea to other possibilities and directions. We aim to do this through a circle solutions approach with a follow-up on Padlet to pose and answer questions, and, if you like, with the permission of the class I will post the link here as an update next week. Please feel free to jump in and comment. I expect they will be secretly thrilled to have an outsider interested in their project at this early stage!

Purposeful Planning

Having clarified their idea it will be on to the main event: planning, more playing, experimenting, making, creating. Often creativity can be quite messy, figuratively or literally! But it always starts and ends up somewhere different, occasionally quite the opposite from where you originally thought. and that is the wonderful thing about the creative mind, how geniuses and, in particular, how young learners work – they don’t restrict their thinking or preempt the result. But even as young as 11, this utterly free thinking is all but over; the active imagination is closing down. Why is this? Why do we lose that wonderful freedom of imagination of a kindergartener? Do we lose it naturally as a part of life and growing up or do we stop using it or stretching it, like a muscle in sport, as the curriculum takes over?

Whether young or old, we all need to find time and space to work our creative mind, to activate our imagination and to allow bad and plain mad ideas to foster and grow. If you haven’t seen Elizabeth Perry’s Learning 2 talk “Play on” about her 10 minutes a day drawing practice, do watch it, and if you have, watch it again as it is a wonderful example of an adult’s journey into creativity and exercising the brain. It is also a great story of failing not failure (Spencer & Juliani, Empower) and about grit to deal with mistakes as bumps on the road of discovery.

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Lightbulb moment by Maureen Barlin on Flickr

The lightbulb moment

As for me, I have too many passions, too many projects and too many ideas. But, if I were to choose one, it would be to do the opposite: To practice meditation, to clear my mind in order to be more open to alternative possibilities. To anyone who knows me this will be a difficult task. I have always been blessed with having a creative mind with tons of ideas (often too many) and to try to have a clear mind with no thoughts seems impossible! But we all need to switch off occasionally, and it was whilst having my hair washed yesterday at the hair salon, that I found, just like in meditation (and often in the shower!) as my mind cleared and I relaxed, I then had my best ideas, genius thoughts and creative possibilities. I had to concentrate really hard to remember them as the shampoo was washed away, not wanting my ideas to do the same! So, as I returned to the chair, excited with my brain’s activity under calmness, I quickly jotted them into my sketchbook.

What do you do to be more creative, to activate your imagination?

What would your Passion Project be?

 

 

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It’s the start of the year, with new routines, rosters and rotas. With the new term comes new students fresh from Primary School and raring to get into the Art room at the end of a busy day of listening, learning and hopefully a lot of laughter. I want my room to be a refuge, a rare oasis of calm and happiness and above all a place they feel safe. I want to get to know them, all 247 of them, especially the ones I have taught before yet never truly got to know well. How does one get to really know another?

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The first week meeting my students is also tainted with some sadness as I say a tearful goodbye to my eldest son, who departs for University back in the UK. It is with heavy hearts that, as parents, we have to finally let go and allow them to fly with their own wings, when really we just want to hold on to them for a little (or a lot) while longer. Do I know him well enough to know he will be happy, healthy and ready to embark on a new adventure 1000s of miles away?

Do we know anyone truly?

I first watched The Lab: Decoy last year and was intrigued by the concept. One man, 6 photographers, 6 perspectives.

It is fascinating to see, not only the skill and sensitivity of each photographer but how much the story influenced their portrayal.

“What would you like the photograph to say about you?”

Art expresses the heart and the none better than the medium of photography to capture more than just what someone looks like. Each photograph reveals some of the characters of a person through pose, position or emotion. Each photographer puts some of their own feelings and beliefs into their final chosen composition. My favourite part of the fascinating video is by far the grand reveal and the comment by the actor, “it almost looks like 6 different people”. How do people see you? How would you wish to be photographed? What story would you tell to help someone get to know you better?

 

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still from The Lab: Decoy

 

How do you portray someone through photography? As we embark on a digital photography project with Grade 7, their first task was to capture their partner and design a poster if they were running for student council. As they got underway, I overheard similar conversations to the video as students checked in with their partner as to how they felt they should be portrayed. Perhaps this is my first glimpse of them, not just as a person, but as a photographer.

“I want to bring out something of who you are”

How do we do that? How can art or photography capture the real person?

“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is infront of it”

 

Grade 7 poster campaign

Getting to know you

Think about when you have met someone for the first time. How often do we judge someone by their name, looks or first impressions? Do first impressions really count? If this were true, some initial impressions of me might be that I am too quietly spoken, therefore shy or unconfident. They might notice that I am a good listener, so I am interested in them. But how much do we give away on a first meeting? When do you reveal your true identity, warts and all? When do I reveal that I am a tech geek, chocoholic, football widow and an introvert with wannabe extrovert tendencies? When do I share that I love being around people but also need peaceful time alone?

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Photo Credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) Flickr via Compfight cc

Introverts are perhaps the least well-known individuals and there will be introverts in your class – some obvious to you, some not. How do you sense them, how can you engage them, and how can you support them?

There are many articles, books and videos guiding us about introverts but here are 3 recommendations:

  1. Watch Susan Cain’s Ted talk The Power of Introverts
  2. then read her book, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
  3. finally, scan the list of 14 real life examples of extroverted introverts

 

Stop demanding group work
Go to the wilderness and unplug
Solitude is often a crucial ingredient for creativity
Own your intro/extroversion but delve into both

As I scan my 11 classes online, searching for any clues as to their inner personalities, one click takes me to their medical information, learning issues, contacts, siblings and previous attendance. But I don’t see what excites them, scares them, what their favourite sport, TV show or food is. I can’t access what their dreams for the future are or how many pets they have. I can’t tell if they love my subject or loathe the very thought of putting paint on a paper or drawing a plant. I can only guess their story.

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On the first day, Middle School teachers we were asked to write a short blurb, an introduction about ourselves, for students to gather together a picture of their teachers for their parents in the initial weeks of term – but what about their blurb, their story?

I wish I had asked them to write to me about what they would like me to know about them, much as a Primary teacher might ask students to send a postcard introducing themselves during their holiday. I wish I had the time to chat with each and every one about their likes/dislikes, life at home and away and to see where we cross paths and interests.

In the meantime, I have asked Grade 7 to make a Top Trumps card as an initial door into who they are as a person and an artist in my class. It’s a bit of fun but a starting point for discussions into their strengths, passions and Achilles heels! (If you don’t know what a Top Trumps card is, google it!)

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Will I judge them by their first artistic creation, or by their ability to complete the homework creatively and on time? What will I learn about them from their questions, their answers or their silence?

Could blogging allow their voices and their idiosyncrasies to unfold?

I have only one lesson a week with all these individuals – how can I use the time wisely to get to know them better?

How will you be getting to know your students better this year?

Postscript: Like to get to know you well was a hit back in 1985 from the fabulous Howard Jones, who is still creating, performing and sharing his passion today. I dearly loved his words, sentiments and hair, and I continue to follow his changing style and endless innovation in music and technology today.

What does Learning Look like Crazy 8

What does Learning Look like? Post it Crazy 8 thinking routine challenge by Nicki Hambleton

Think of a lesson you have been planning.

You might have spent hours putting together the most engaging lesson for your students: visuals and slides mapped out, handouts printed, you’ve planned fun and varied activities and you have probing questions at the ready.

You have taught this lesson a hundred times so you know the content well. But how will you know if your students have really understood and learnt anything?

What does learning actually look like?

I asked the same question to a group of educators at the Learning 2 conference, Warsaw back in April, where I was running an extended session called Learning and Thinking Out Loud through visual note taking and thinking routines. I used the simple routine Crazy 8, first demonstrated to me by Kelly Grogan and Ed Chang from the Chinese International School, HK at the iPad conference held at UWCSEA.

I explained that they would be drawing 1 idea per post it every 20 seconds (a feat most thought they would be incapable of, but weren’t!). Each idea drawn would represent what learning looks like. To show them what I meant, I drew a quick example:

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quick doodle for collaborative learning

At the end of the 3 minutes their ideas looked like this:

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Crazy 8 example doodles.JPG

We shared thoughts and discussed what they had drawn with comments such as:

“Learning can be messy”, “Learning is never ending” and “Learning should be fun”.

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Photo from Learning 2 conference, Warsaw, April 2017

What learning actually looks like and what it should look like can be quite different, but learning out loud, making it more visible and tangible can aid further discussion and understanding of that thought process.

What would you draw for What Learning Looks Like? 

What alternative question might you ask in your classroom for students to draw their responses using the Crazy 8 thinking routine?

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Photo Credit: Alan Vernon. Flickr via Compfight cc

When I was at school, learning was predominantly teacher led and all about listening, reading and writing, with exams at the end of the year. I don’t recall there being any student choice, collaboration or to that extent much fun, but that’s how it was.

In my classroom today, my students share that they are more empowered by autonomy and choice and, wherever it is possible, I try to include them in the planning process. But how do I know that they are learning or indeed, what they are learning?

You may be thinking that learning in Art is quite obvious as it is visual – a drawing, sculpture or painting. But how do I know whether they have truly understood the concept, the skill or technique? How do I know what is going on in their heads?

When learning only goes on only in one’s head we cannot see it, understand it or question it. We cannot track the thought process, probe into their thinking or push ideas in other directions. It is only when we get students to visualise their thinking that we can start to understand their processes, methods and see the way they work.

If you haven’t read the book “Making Thinking Visible” by Ritchhart, Church and Morrison or “Creating Cultures of Thinking” by Ron Ritchhart or devoured the resources on the website Project Zero and the Visible thinking routines, I strongly urge you to do so at you earliest convenience, I promise you will not regret it.

Project Zero began 50 years ago, led by a team of researchers including Howard Gardiner, discussing the cognitive skills needed for arts education and conceptual understanding through the arts.

You can find multiple, easy to use thinking routines through the website and many educators from elementary to high school use these to enhance and visualise thinking in their classrooms.

The best way to start is to choose just one routine and try it in different ways with different concepts and classes.

see-think-wonder

My most favoured routine is SEE THINK WONDER, which I use when introducing a new artist or art form such as installation art, when reflecting or giving feedback and when analysing or discussing artworks. During a discussion, it allows students to think more out loud, hear others ideas and to expand their own thinking. For Middle School art students it opens their minds at the start of a new unit and allows them to ask questions and wonder about the meaning or reason behind the artwork. In short, it gets them thinking more independently.

You can read more about the Making Learning Visible online course on their website and about UWCSEA’s group experience in a previous post of mine.

Recently I stumbled on a new routine, via Simon Brooks’ website called 8 to 1, where students whittle complex concepts into more manageable understandings, essentially by capturing it in 8 words, then 4, 2 and eventually down to one word:

1. If you were to write exactly 8 words that captured the heart of what should be remembered, what would those 8 words be?

2. Now that you have your 8, can you distill them down to 4?

3. And 2?

4. And 1?

5. REFLECT: Share your 8 words, your 2 words and your 1 word.  How did your thinking change?  What did you learn about what’s most important here?

Sharing their thinking seems to be at the heart of the routine and I see this as the most valuable learning experience for them. Brook posts a student example, below, relating to Hamlet’s speech but this routine could easily apply to IB Physics, HS Geography or MS Art.

 

 

How might you try out this routine in your class?

How could this help students to share their learning?

How does learning look different in other curriculum areas?

EMPOWER sketchnote

EMPOWER sketchnote by Nicki Hambleton drawn on iPad using Adobe Draw

Student choice is the heartbeat of ownership and empowerment

so what can we do to ensure this is integral in our students learning? How do you integrate personalised learning into your lessons?

Personalised Learning

Personalised Learning visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

The book has certainly given me much food for thought here relaxing in Italy, sipping rich red Tuscan wine and munching on sweet succulent tomatoes and bruschetta.

What have you read this summer that has changed your thinking?

How can you embody the ideas in Empower to help students own their learning?

What does learning look like in your classroom?

One of my goals for the next academic year is to build students’ skills in self-directedness and, to help this process I have been investigating Hyperdocs as a strategy to guide students through the unit yet allowing them choice and time for personal progression. Hyperdocs are a possible solution to personalised learning using technology to gather multiple resources online.

 

Hyperdocs are and are not

Hyperdocs.co

 

 

Hyperdocs, a transformative, interactive Google Doc replacing the worksheet method of delivering instruction, is the ultimate change agent in the blended learning classroom.

You can read more about Hyperdocs on Cult of Pedagogy or on the main Hyperdocs site. Have you used Hypedocs yet? How has this changed student learning?

I would love to hear about your experiences, challenges and thoughts on personalised learning, empowerment and any other ideas you have for making thinking more visible.

Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.

This blog post was a reflection of and in response to the powerful TED talk by Will Richardson “The Surprising Truth about Learning in School”.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 8.32.56 PMThe Creative Revolution – full STEAM ahead

First there was the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century with the mechanisation of the textile industry. Then, the second industrial revolution of the early 20th century leading to increased mass production and in the 1980’s the Digital Revolution was well underway, changing industry again. So what’s next?

Are we about to have a new revolution or is it staring us in the face? Could this be the Age of Creativity?

According to Sir Ken Robinson, “Creativity is as important in education as literacy” so what are we doing about it? (TED, 2009)

Ken Robinson Creativity

We read about the importance of STEAM and the integration of the Arts being crucial for holistic education, so why, in the UK, are creative subjects being cut from GCSEs and A Levels, including History of Art. (Independent, October 13th 2016) In fact, A Level History of Art will see its last students examined in 2018. In response, historian Simon Schama says: “Axing art history deals another blow to the creative capital of this country. Art history is an exacting discipline: to engage with it needs history, philosophy, languages, literature, tools the next generation needs.”

In the US, Trump proposed cutting funding to Arts related agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (Independent May 1st 2017)

In Australia, over 50 creative subjects have lost funding for student loans including jewellery, circus and art therapy (Student loans cut to creative courses, Richard Watts, ArtsHub, 10 October 2016).

So instead of supporting and promoting more time and resources to creativity it appears to be quite the opposite.

Why is creativity so important to our future?

For over 20 years I have been promoting the benefits of the Arts and how the skills involved in our subjects go beyond simply being able to paint, draw, sing or dance.  It genuinely upsets me that students, at aged 14, can all but give up any form of creativity as they enter GCSEs. Even Group 6 of the IB Diploma is optional, where students do not have to choose a creative subject and can opt for another science or language for example. In my short video, prepared as a proposal for an ADE showcase on creative thinking, I highlight the growing trend away from creativity further up the school and how this skill is such an important life skill. A skill needed for a world that is rapidly changing, for jobs which we do not yet know and the obvious need for innovative and creative thinkers.

Being creative is not about being artistic, dramatic or musically minded. It is about thinking differently. Creative thinking is a skill that must be encouraged and taught through opportunities in every subject.

Tara Prendergast, in her TEDx talk The Creative Revolution, reminds us that we are “living in a world that is moving so fast and where technology is blowing our minds”. Being creative is one of the top skills needed to prepare students for this future. According to P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning “A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.”

 

In order to develop this essential skill Prendergast says we should “build community and a culture around creativity”. So what does this look like in your school? What exists already to encourage and cultivate a culture of creativity?

How can we encourage creativity?

In Primary school, play forms a crucial role in allowing students the time and space to freely experiment, invent, fail and succeed.

The Kindergarten approach allows learners to develop as creative thinkers for a world that is changing more rapidly than ever – the need to be creative is imperative in order to come up with innovative ideas for solutions we don’t not know about yet. “We need to develop innovative solutions to unexpected problems that will arise” (Mitchel Resnick, MIT). In the same way that Kindergarteners learn, we need to continue this approach throughout our lifetime: experimenting, inventing, failing and succeeding. There is a genuine need to tinker and play in order to develop creativity.

In my previous post about Play, I talked about the need for students and adults alike to be more playful, to problem solve and thus more creative. But what about higher up the school? How can all subjects integrate elements of creativity alongside their content?

In the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, CREATE appears at the top, upgrading “synthesis” and leapfrogging “evaluating”, for we know that, in order to create we must thoroughly evaluate first. How do different curriculum areas incorporate this higher order thinking?

 

What do you do to promote creativity?

Taryn BondClegg, a 5th Grade teacher, recently posted about creativity on her blog, Risk and Reflect. If you are in Primary, I urge you to read this engaging post about her Creativity Thursdays. Actually, if you are NOT in Primary, I urge you to read her post! In brief, she dedicates one whole day a week for her students to pursue their creative passion or a creative project they want to learn more about. They select from “a menu of creative endeavours” each week and what Taryn noticed goes way beyond simple creativity:

Not only were students developing their Learner Profile attributes, PYP attitudes and ATL skills, but there was also rich, authentic engagement with literacy, math, humanities and science!

Whether you are interested in STEAM projects or just want to help develop curious and creative individuals, there is compelling evidence for teaching innovation and creativity.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

Pete O Mara, in the Times Herald article on May 17th, 2017, states that “developing the creative mind has never been more important“. Why are schools and parents paying more attention to grades and assessments and such little emphasis on creativity and imagination?

“We place such a high value on intellect in our education and ignore imagination.”  (Pete O Mara)

Creativity in Education - exploring the imbalancePhoto Credit: Shakespeare1980 Flickr via Compfight cc

There are so many ideas for incorporating creativity, imagination and thinking, I found it hard whittling my research down to just one to start you off! The 3 Rules of Creativity by Stephen Guise on Pick the Brain, back in 2014, still rings true for me today and hopefully offers you some simple guidance:

3 Rules of Creativity

Rule #1 Limit your options and narrow your focus

Being specific about what your task or goal is will help focus your ideas. Too many options can be overwhelming so limit these so you can develop better ideas. Narrowing your focus can lead to greater creativity.

Rule #2 Believe you’re creative

Self belief plays a huge part in being more creative as it does in many walks of life. Believing you can improve is the first step.

Rule #3 Embrace bad ideas

By rejecting bad ideas you may be preventing a good idea forming. By accepting bad ideas are just ideas you might be able to combine them to produce a good idea.

Simple, right? You have no excuses – get out there and not only teach creatively but teach for creativity. (Quote courtesy of Sir Ken Robinson)

I’ll leave the last word to John Spencer on how creativity is tough. It is tough but worth it.