Curiosity as a route to intellectual risk-taking

I have had the most amazing week of learning. It began on the South Coast (see previous post), working with a group of teachers who are bravely searching for ways in which they can give permission to their students to take intellectual risks, and, more importantly, encouraging their students to accept this offer. Without doubt, one of the hardest tasks for us all. They are well on the way to develop ways that explicitly foster the characteristics of independent learning and that generate a love for learning in and of itself.

The following day, I was on the train, travelling to Nottingham ready to meet with some inspirational educators generously sharing their approaches that offer opportunities to ‘learn-things’ differently. This was an absolute treat. I was introduced to a diverse range of ways to encourage deep thinking, learning design that offers creative immersion and common-sense, insightful ways to foster positive attitudes towards learning.

Whenever I have the opportunity just to sit and listen to what others are doing to drive learning forward, my brain goes into overdrive. New connections are inevitably formed in my brain and any existing connections and ideas are consolidated. In the frenetic world in which we all work it shames me that I do not manage to do more listening and less doing, as I know this would most certainly make my ‘doing’ far richer. After all, I spend a whole heap of time banging on about this as one of the fundamental characteristics of an ‘expert pedagogue’: the need to be a professional reflective practitioner [Note to self: must try harder].

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of meeting an Agent Of Wonder. Really. That’s his job title. I think that he must be the only “Agent of Wonder” in the UK Education system, if not the world. Dr Matthew McFall is an extraordinary man. He is leading an amazing project in a school that aims explicitly to foster curiosity across the whole school community. He has created a ‘Wonder Room’ which is packed full of interesting, unusual, out-of-time, out-of-context, thought-provoking objects (see photos). All members of the school community are encouraged to come into the room and simply explore, think and marvel at the objects on display. There are puzzles of all descriptions, abstract photographs, petrified animals, a typewriter, illustrated books, keys upon keys upon keys…

He held up a woolly mammoth bone. He explained that he had carried the bone around the school, inviting students to suggest what it might be. He invited them to look closely, to hold it, feel it and to sense it properly. Once they had decided that it was a bone, he asked them to look even closer, pointing out two distinct bulges; “What do you think happened here?”… “This mammoth must have had a tough life, don’t you think? A couple of serious blows that resulted in breaking his/her rib in two places…I wonder what sort of character the mammoth needed to be?” And then he went on his way, leaving students to imagine and to wonder.

When we were there, Dr Magic (for he also does magic tricks…well why wouldn’t he?), had just been into a Year 7 English lesson to work alongside the teacher and the group on developing their curiosity using appropriate objects from the wonder room to enhance their imagination and creative writing. Delightful.

I wish I could have reversed my week. If only I could have shared this very deliberate ‘curious-learning’ methodology with the group of teachers I met on Monday. I am sure that they would have loved it just as much as I did! What a great way to encourage learners to take those intellectual imagine…to question, to speculate and to take those much needed but very risky intellectual leaps of faith into the world of ‘there are no stupid questions; so have a go and enjoy seeing what happens.’ Now there’s a route to full on learning.


Optimus National Gifted & Talented Conference

I’ve been speaking at the Optimus National G&T Conference today and I’ve had a great day meeting lots of enthusiastic teachers eager to develop quality teaching & learning opportunities for all learners in their schools. Optimus are great conference organisers, it must also be noted.

7th November 2010: I’ve now taken the pdf documents down as I’m busy creating and adapting new versions. Once they’re ready, I’ll put them up for your perusal and further comment. If you want to get hold of any of my resources, just drop me a line and I’ll try my best to help out.

I’m writing the Full On Learning book at the moment, so everything I write and create is now subject to copyright, hence I have to be watchful about what I can make available. This is weird for me as I’m used to putting everything up for sharing. Sorry about this!

Happy learning.


“If everyone could educate, we could educate everyone”.

First thing this morning, I was uploading a file to my @DropBox account and noticed that they were hiring. Out of interest, I had a look at what working at a company like DropBox might entail, and saw this:


How cool! It describes how it offers a working environment that appeals specifically to to the way in which they want their employees to think and live.

How might we define the ‘benefits’ of learning to reflect the type of mindsets we want our learners to develop, I wonder? Could we write a Job Description for a learner that truly reflects the skills and dispositions we are seeking to draw out of them? And how would this same rule apply to educators? I would have loved ‘sense of fun, play and exploration’ to have been listed under ‘essentials’ in my job description when I was starting out in the classroom. That’s certainly that type of learning environment I always sought to establish when I was teaching. I would like to think that I still express this quality as ‘essential’ now I work with teachers and teaching assistants.

It chimed with the work I’ve been doing recently that incorporates the concepts of Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE into an educational pedagogy. In particular, his TED Talk and RSAnimate talk about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I’ll be posting about this very soon, with some very simple ‘think-resources’ that I’m testing out, but take a look at the talk(s) and see what you think.

I then came across this TEDx Talk by John Werner and MacCalvin Romain from Boston TEDx and was reminded of the @theRSAorg   RSA Area Based Curriculum Projects; something I would love to start developing with schools in my own work. As I continued to listen to the talk, however, an alarm bell went off. I love the sentiment of ‘if everybody could educate, we could educate everyone’ but ONLY if they are supported to share their thinking through the channel of an effective pedagogy. In this way, we would create a truly collaborative environment of learning:

1.Teachers and students would learn about their subject as it is applied in a wider and applied context
2. Industry would learn from educators about how to the develop skills, gifts and dispositions found within in their workforce
3. Industry would gain an insight into the perspective of young people, their next generation of consumers, participants, employees and leaders.
4. Young people would have access to mentors, role-models and indutry-trained and experienced practitioners
5. Schools and colleges would connect with local business and employers to form a community hub

All of this would ensure that they schools can offer the best possible ways in which students can access the curriculum, in addition to the offer of an enhanced curriculum in itself. 

Not only that, but it then makes me think of how powerful would it be if we, as educators, shared our own expertise about how humans learn and develop with those who run businesses, laboratories and retail outlets. I wonder what impact that might have on the way in which the workplace is organised, how we encourage innovation and how organisations can nurture the capacities of not just our children and young people but those who are already in the workplace, seeking fulfilment in what they do, how they act and how they contribute to the future economies and communities which we are preparing for our young people to enter. How this might support the development of life-wide (rather than life-long) learning?

Some random musings for a Tuesday morning, at least.

PLTS resources created through fabulous collaboration

(Taken from an original post on a PLTS Action Research Blog)

These resources are under development with the PLTS team at the moment….it goes something like this…

(1) Have an idea

(2) Ask, “I wonder if…?” within earshot of team members

(3) Prototype gets developed

(4) Prototype is tested and refined both in terms of its design and its application to task

(5) Prototype becomes a real resource

We are a great team!

The resources are designed to stimulate QUALITY LEARNING CONVERSATIONS, using the language and concepts of the PLTS. We’ll let you know how are ‘field trials’ go.

The dice are designed as one per PLTS, in two versions, one set is to be used reflectively with the prompt of ‘Have you…’ and the other set is to set PLTS targets ‘Try to…’. They are made out of wood and are, in themselves, things of beauty! The swatch cards are for teachers to refer to when they are observing learning, to support the integration of PLTS language and the cards are for learners to use to reflect and develop the PLTS as a shared language for learning. We’ll be road-testing them all with our project teams of Confident Communicators on Thursday, when we’re holding the Presentation Day for the project. The day is being run alongside an LA AfL teacher conference, and the teachers will attend some of the presentations as a CPD workshop to have a go at observing the PLTS in action using ‘Observing Learning’ techniques we’re developing.


Creative Behaviours

The time when I am able to work from home is precious. It gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in readings, resources and videos that push my thinking forward. It also allows me the time to develop my creative behaviours. I’ve just started ploughing my way through an overly-long reference list I have compiled over the past two months from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and I’m now exhausted in the best possible way! There’s some amazingly inspirational thinking around and all of it is only a click away, especially now I have my PLN up and growing.

I’ve just watched Gregg Fraley @greggfraley speaking at TEDx hosted by NASA and whilst I listened, I doodled…only to find that one of his key recommendations was to purchase and use a notebook. How good did THAT make me feel?!

Watch and enjoy…my sketches are below (ordinarily, I wouldn’t have included them, but on removing the “YARDSTICK OF COMPARISON”, I found that they are perfectly valid forms of my self expression – thanks, Gregg!).

Teacher Voice

I’m just returning from an excellent day with two secondary schools and their feeder primaries exploring ‘Gifted & Talented’ together for a whole day. This resulted in over 200 teachers coming together to think, discuss, share and plan for the last day of an exhausting, snow affected term. My role was to deliver the keynote and then I had the privilege of working with the teachers throughout the day as an on-site consultant. In truth, this role was simple…watch, listen, observe, answer questions (usually with further questions, such is my way) and then listen again as they developed their concrete plans for provision. The departments from the two schools either worked together for the whole day or worked for concentrated sessions on their own and then joined each other to compare and share their planning.

Doing this kind of work around the country reaffirms my firm conviction that commitment, passion and enthusiasm is very much alive and well in teaching. I wish the media would spend some time listening to this. I wish politicians would spend some time seeking it out and watching it.

We rightly develop strategies to ensure that learner voice is amplified in our schools and that young people have an authentic say in how they learn. I wonder whether, particularly at this time in the political calendar in the UK, it is time for us to develop similar strategies for teacher voice? We need to invest in the creation of a culture of reflection and learning conversations between teachers. There needs to be deliberately constructed, systemic collaborative learning opportunities for schools to come together in their entirety to share their values and develop their practice.

The day ended with everybody back in the main hall. Action plans for every department had been completed and evaluations submitted. 

An inspirational day. And, as ever, much more to think about for me.

Happy Term Break!

Design Thinking to stimulate Creative Learning


I’m working on an educational set of cards following the same pattern as these IDEO cards. This, however, is the place where I acknowledge (and publicly thank) my original inspiration for what I am now working on. I hope they’ll be useful to teachers in supporting creative thinking. I’ve created some ‘Joker’ cards to add to the pack. More to follow when the project is complete.

Here are the original cards. I bought the complete set of these cards after I saw them on the IDEO website. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO does some great work around stimulating creative thinking  (watch him on talking about (1) SERIOUS PLAY and (2) SMALL DESIGN) and I had them sent to me from San Francisco. This PDF version demonstrates the simplicity of the way in which they work. Categorised under four suites, (Learn; Look; Ask; Try) these design thinking playing cards are a superb tool to use with students and teachers when:

  • problem solving
  • developing creative thinking
  • project planning
  • structuring enquiry
  • developing strategic thinking (staff and students alike!)
  • supporting learners to work in a more open & collaborative way
  • supporting learners who need more scaffolding

The list goes on! I really recommend purchasing teh cards and checking out for some great ideas, philosophies and apporaches to developing solutions. They’ve also got some great videos on iTunesU.

Please let me know if you find this post useful.

Click in the centre of the box to view in full screen.


Connecting beyond the world of education

My quest this year (as it has been for the past few years, in fact) is to make greater links between the ‘bubbles’ that we tend to inhabit. In a rapidly inter-connecting world, the skill for learners and educators is to connect, adapt and develop relevant and engaging learning opportunities together. I read and look out for ideas and thinking beyond the world of education to make sure that my own work is relevant and enriched by the great minds of others. 

In the spirit of such connectivity, have a read of this great new e-book from Seth Godin (