Monthly Archives: August 2010


Notes from Ewan's session here in Adelaide:ewan

Creativity in education - most over used and mis-used phrase in the classroom. Exploring how a startup company approaches creativity. Design thinking - used by architects, design artists, media etc - focuses on the concept of immersion, synthesis, ideation and prototyping.

Immersion - "When a wind blows, ride it." Education is naturally skeptical of new things and trends. Annual staff reviews don't make sense in a world where start ups look 3 months ahead at most. Changing plans is an "unattractive proposition" for education but it is impossible to see five years ahead for anything. Social TV - BBC Virtual Revolution.

Re-consider education from the perspective of a young person - what you know isn't as important as knowing how to find out what you want to know. Use a Google form to ask your students what mobile devices do you own. Share those results publicly via blogs. How can you use these devices and the media they use (game based worlds etc) in your classroom? Sense of immersion means total engagement.

Synthesis - showed a fast motion video of an advertising firm at work with a messy table where the team meets then breaks off to do individual work or pairs. Over time, the display board behind the meeting table takes shape and order while the piles of resources on the table lessen and become organised as the goals of the project reach completion. Showed Open Street Map which is like Google Maps created by the people for the people - a good demonstration of synthesis, showing his inside view of Mapumental. Synthesis is creating solutions to problems that have many different prongs. Use of blogs to summarise the day's learning to post out to the parent community - sort of like a learning Facebook update!

Ideation - often seen in schools as brainstorming, shouldn't be the first thing done. People bring biases to the table in the brainstorm (cognitive bias) - done after the immersion and synthesis to remove bias. Cited the music industry as an example - videos at rock concerts, iTunes links in YouTube etc. An example from Tom Barrett - Addition in Adelaide. Social writing -  using the blog to write a book in a collaborative way. Woodlands Junior School - another good example where 75% of Google's traffic for Mother's Day.

Prototyping - 5,127 failures before Dyson got the prototype right for his vacuum cleaner design. People trying out things to see what works. People editing the maps when the Haiti earthquake struck to provide up to date details for rescue and relief services. Use tools like Google Fusion Tables. Creative writing adventures via Google maps and Street View - prototyping is "playing around" but heading towards a solution (story etc.). Risk analysis is something that needs to be negotiated with students, parents and community. Developing entrepreneurial learning is not about making money but starting with  ideas as an individual but then connecting with others to bring their own ideas together.

Ewan's Challenge: What passion can you discover and explore in 100 hours? It is one hour every day for 3 months - becoming an expert in that time.


I'm paid to be impatient. In a role like Teaching & Learning Technologies Coordinator, I'm impatient for staff to pick up new pedagogy and to utilise the teaching and learning opportunities that our school's technology can provide. I'm impatient for change - for the school to become a better place, one that services students better, one that is more rewarding and meaningful for staff to work at and where students graduate with a base of skills, knowledge and dispositions to make their own way in our society and be well placed to take up whatever opportunities open up.

I'm sure many of you have seen this graphic somewhere.

I've most recently seen it used as part of a research conversation with teachers about their use of technology in the classroom, but it is used in a wide range of professions and situations around the globe. But it is very contextual. Ask my staff where I might sit on the bell curve and many of them will place me in the category of Innovator. But I've been reading connected educators' work for too long to know that would be very wrong. I think I'm actually in the Early Adopters (in the field of K-12 education) which means that most teachers I know within my own system don't see as big a picture as I can. The old adage of "the more you learn, the more you realise how little you actually know" is very true. Even so, I'm still in a category of impatience, wishing that others would or could see the compelling necessity (from my perspective) to really push to evolve and continually change practice, to trial new things and be creative.

Many teachers that I know don't share my sense of urgency. They have a different, slower pace and are harder to move from one mode of doing things to another. They feel anxious about new ways of doing things and sometimes are affronted by the suggestion of change. ("I'm an accomplished teacher. I've had plenty of happy, successful students doing things my way. Who are you challenging me to change? Leave me be to do my own thing.") This de-privatisation of practice is very threatening to some, not because they doubt their own choices in methodology and curricular delivery but they fear the judgement of impatient folk like me. And if one takes a broader look, what is the incentive to fast track change? What is the payoff for creative teachers?

Bill Kerr points out that the system we go through in order to become educators and then the system that employs us has a focus on "general skill level and adaptability but not brilliance or excellence in any particular area."

It's a bit of a double edged sword. We need creative educators to open new possibilities - I would say that all educators blogging or using social media for education would have be considered as creative and innovative - but we have mandated curriculum to cover. The popular thought is that time spent on creative new approaches is at the expense of focus on curriculum delivery by traditional pedagogy. I believe that you can still cover the curriculum requirements while pushing the boundaries but the other conundrum that I've experienced is the most creative and innovative teachers are often the most filled with doubt about their own (often exemplary practice) while there are many self satisfied teachers working in much the same manner they have used over the bulk of their career. I'm not trying to paint one group as superior to the other but to merely point out that these two groups exist (along with various shades of others in between) and that moving together as a unified group towards a collectively improved vision of education is a very difficult process.

Not that long ago, primary school teachers here in South Australia generally were left alone to make their own sense of the curriculum (as inconsistent and hard to decipher as it was at times) and run their own show within their classroom. This culture worked for most teachers in terms of comfort because you relied on your own self motivation for change and improvement in the craft of teaching and learning. Those who thought they had it figured out ran a similar program year in and year out, often never sharing their ideas with anyone. Often these teachers were loved by parents who had a nostalgic affinity with their child's description of their school days - so that status was guarded jealously shutting out too much professional interaction with younger, less experienced teachers. Leadership tended to leave teachers alone to "get on with it" and attend to the pressing needs of the budget, the constantly changing staffing formula and dealing with those problem kids who wouldn't comply in some of these more traditional classrooms. My own evolving practice was boosted by ending up next door in an open space unit ("good" teachers couldn't wait to get out of those into a closed wall room where their methods weren't so public) next to another never-satisfied-with-how-I'm-doing-things teacher who became my mentor, my team mate, my subversive conspirator and friend while constantly trying to reinvent a better way of enabling learning for the students in our charge. So, interestingly, progressive schools are now characterised by team work, co-planning, common vision, professional development targeted against that vision and leadership geared towards that continually improved future. Even less than ten years ago, that was a rarity. Educators looking for that sort of environment had to create it themselves.

From my observation, progressive schools are still a minority. There are still plenty of schools that could fit into the Late Majority or Laggards section of our system. Teachers at those schools are either frustrated and looking to find a place where their innovation and creativity will be applauded or be part of the "way things are done around here" but many others are quite content in the comfort of predictability and comparatively lower expectations of their practice. One might not even notice the difference here in South Australia if it weren't for the ten year appointment rule that shoehorns teachers out of one school and into another. I've seen teachers suffering culture shock as they come into environments that embrace change, pilot new approaches and emphasise team work and open examination of each other's classroom practice. They complain of unreasonable workloads, of grappling with new technologies far beyond their comfort zone and see the requirement of working in teams or buddies as a slight on their years of experience. [Those annoying teachers who are always trying new things are just putting unnecessary pressure on us to do more.] Success in one site does not translate to that same status in a new environment. But it's adapt or move on as these schools with clearly defined goals and vision cannot be held to ransom by individuals dragging their heels.

As one expands the view and steps back and look across a system, it's hard to see how valued these innovative schools are. Sure, every now and then, a school with a particular program or achievement is held up to the spotlight and applauded for its efforts but I don't see the compulsion or incentive (stick or carrot) for every school to be expected to keep up with the pace setters. Maybe, a system as large as a state public school department can only fund so much progression or just accepts that the Categories of Innovativeness is just a fact of life, a natural social system anomaly that can't be changed. I don't know. But in my role, in my impatient role, the larger view influences the smaller. There are many teachers who don't see the urgency, don't see how our rapidly changing world and society impacts in their classroom and just wish people like me would just back off and let them get on with the job.

From where I sit, these educators and these schools, are still the majority. Maybe the "tall poppy syndrome" that Australians are famous for is a reality in education. In the same way that teachers have their work cut out with students whose person is shaped by their life outside the classroom, maybe educational innovators are hard pressed to do more than just show possible pathways. Bill pointed to Tom Hoffmann's post about how US innovative educators are no safer in their jobs than anyone else maintaining the status quo, despite a nation-wide mantra of weeding out the laggards. With our own education debate being increasingly hijacked by politicians, it would be foolish to think that the same couldn't happen here. What constitutes an outstanding or innovative educator is very open to debate, depending on where you sit in Australian society.