8 Rules for education

SchoolThis is my perspective on how we need to educate children for their futures not our pasts. It is a personal view based on my experiences in education and feedback from the European projects I have been involved in.

They are not in any particular order. Of course, most aspects I list cannot be viewed as individual facets but affect each other and often duplicate.

Really interested in your comments on these thoughts, do I go far enough, what else would you include?  I purposely have not directly mentioned technology as I see technology as basic tools, that can be used in the processes described here.

1. Autonomy – to build responsibility

Autonomy transfers the responsibility for learning to the learner, places the learner in control. This should be an evolving, individualized, process that starts from the beginning of education by providing simple, supported, choices. This would evolve, as the learner develops, in to more choice, more personally directed work, more autonomy.

The concept, also instilled from the start of the process, is that the learner must understand why they must have education with examples of what education can bring, and what can happen without education. They need to see the big picture of what it is all for.

The aim is to produce learners than can self-direct themselves in a responsible manner, for ends that they desire.

See also, Self-criticism, below.

2. Personal relevance – as opposed to rigidly adhering to a class, school, authority curriculum

This concept starts with the premise that every child will not need the same knowledge as the next.  Clearly there is a base every child must have, but in my entire life, for example, I have never had to calculate the area of a circle or use Pi, I have had to become strong in mental arithmetic, simple algebra, understand statistics, but calculus never.

Let’s look at children as individuals not as groups. That educational success is not just a set of test scores but a preparation for an individual’s life, not just societies perceived needs based on 20 century requirements. We need students prepared for the future digital world.

3.  Collaboration – as against competitive, individualized testing

Learning to collaborate and work in teams is an essential skill to learn, also that every member of the team must contribute.

Knowledge has become so deep and atomized that we need ways to be able to bring the parts  together to solve problems and build innovative solutions. It goes further, in my opinion we need experts in bridging profession and academic fields, who can act as links between the fields.

Todays individual testing regimes do not include the ability to utilise group intelligence. Instead it leads to rigorous teaching to the test that is no preparation for the realities of the future.

4. Self-criticism – rather than standardized remote criticism

To attain autonomy that is relevant , structured and efficacious the learner must be capable of self-analysis and criticism. This can also be part of the collaborative process were the group learns to become proficient and non-personal in their appraisal.

Self-criticism is best learnt from failure, but today pass and fail are the maxims of education, instead of being only part of the process. As others have said, there is no such thing as failure in education but just steps on the way to success.

Students need to understand how to analyse their work, criticise and improve, and most importantly, be happy with what they have achieved. Again this should start from the earliest schooling as a basic part of the learning methodology.

5. Autodidacts – against spoon-fed learning

I have a fondness for autodidacts, being one myself (see the name of this blog). The reality is that we need all our learners to be autodidacts, as no one has a clue what skills and knowledge they will need in their futures.

Learning to learn, is categorically the most important skill we can teach in education today.

Today’s system is almost totally tied in to the, ‘Spoon feeding mode’ with teachers and text books. This will not work in to the future.

How? I trust in group intelligence, initially throw the students a problem above their level, let them collectively solve the problem. They will. We saw this beautifully in a European project were primary children were asked to build automata without having  any preparation in understanding the mechanisms required.

6. Creative and emotional – cold and formal

If we want to teach, we must engage children. A cold, logical, approach, especially of subjects that do not interest the individual, is ineffective and boring. No one, young or old, likes learning subjects they find uninteresting. Why do we expect children too, just because its for their own good, that’s patronising and does more harm than good.

There are many ways to make learning engaging, we know that the arts and music are great tools and effective ways to retain knowledge.

We need to find each child’s passion, if that is satisfied their whole learning experience is improved, of subjects they like and don’t like.

7. No stress – stress

Some individuals respond well to stress, though studies show that the quality of their work, may diminish. For most of us stress is damaging and lowers efficiency and results. A search on Google for, “Effect of stress in the workplace” brought up 1,270,000 results, its a major issue. Yet we bombard children, more and more, with stressful pass/fail tests.

Breaks between lessons are reduced, school time extended, more homework given. We pile the stress on the children. Can we not understand that the damage stress does to working adults, is the same, if not worse on children that have fewer resources to cope.

Younger children go to school for  the breaks, ask them, and give them. Just this once I will quote Finland, 15 minute breaks, every hour. The shortest school year, little homework, very little testing. They do OK, why can’t we?

8. Parents
One critical area that is often overlooked is the influence of the parents and the home on a child’s education. At a school there can be solid attempts to level the playing field but in the home it is a much harder proposition but still something that should be addressed.
One idea is to provide parents a clear roadmap of what the school as a whole and the individual year will be attempting to teach and how the parents can help in the process. Based on the framework above it will help to tell parents that encouraging and trusting their child and themselves is a positive and useful support to the child.

Creativity Teams – taking creativity workshops further

If we take it for granted that we do need creativity in the classroom as a tool to enhance learning, to promote and sustain children’s natural creativity and to engage children’s passions in to their learning. That we must continue to be innovative through creative thinking to sustain our societies. Then we need to analyse and think how education can help to achieve that goal.

Efforts are being made to bring creativity in to the classroom, there are creativity experts, courses. I am doing creativity workshops for teachers that work. But how long or effective or deep are these initiatives.

I think the first question we must ask is, are we all inherently as creative as each other. For me, creativity is as diverse as we are individual. Children are differentiated inherently as more artistic, musical, lateral thinkers, mathamatical, linguists. A strongly creative person is relatively rare. We do know for a fact that many children’s creativity talents are stiffled during their schooling.

What I do believe is that for most of us we can be most creative in groups, collaborating. In a group, ideas can be tossed around, different thinking strategies employed, good ideas, bad ideas, quickly evaluated by the collective intelligence of the individuals. Most of all creative ideas get initiated, appraised, and built up step by step to arrive at really good ideas.

The plan

IMG_1924 IMG_1910I propose all teachers irrespective of subject or teaching level, should have creativity workshops to build their confidence, to show that them that they can be creative in their teaching. The workshops need to be multifacted, using the arts, music, games, singing, building, lateral thinking and include learning by doing.

The function of the workshops is to allow teachers to understand the why, how and what they can do, to bring creativity in to their teaching.

The creativity workshops for teachers I am doing are producing wonderful results. Teachers finish the workshops, bubbling with ideas to enhance their teaching themselves. The creativity is there it just needs to be allowed to breathe.

I also propose that the teachers involved should go further and make a ‘Creativity team‘ in their school. The team could include:

  • Teachers who have attended creativity workshops
  • Arts and music teachers, to help bring in the arts at a technical and material level
  • Administrators and curriculum specialists

The task of the Creativity team is to look at the existing curriculum and lesson structure and build in ideas that can enhance the teaching of the learning objectives. Some of the ideas could be simple, aimed at a single point, others can work on larger issues, some acting as motivators for the children’s holistic attitude to learning. Finally there can also be ideas that work for a whole year group, or even the school level.

Initially the team would need to meet quite often to start working out the procedures and methodologies and set targets and evaluation criteria for their individual case. Once the system is working and the concepts and results are more set it will become easier as the ideas and methods used, become more familiar through all the school.

An advantage of doing a Creativity team at a school level is that it allows the realities of the culture and individuals in the school to be included, to allow their opinions and their attitudes to change to be addressed, for them to be given help and to engage in the changes personally, to buy in to the process.

Video produced during a workshop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOuRDpw1gLI

(With a thank you to Alexandra Chistyakova for suggestions on the first draft of this blog)




The Bridges of Istanbul

As many are aware on the night of Friday 31 May I started a new Facebook group to support my many educator friends that were on the streets of Istanbul and soon in other cities across Turkey, facing the brutality of an out of control police force. This group has grown beyond comprehension in a few days with educators from over 50 countries adding their voices to the group. I wanted to write something to add my vision of how I feel about Turkey and what is happening. I am not sure if it works? I do thank Jeffrey Doonan for his insights.


The Bridges of Istanbul

As far as I am aware, there used to be one important bridge in Istanbul, it’s still there this bridge, the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn. This bridge is featured in Turkish literature, theater, poetry and novels. It is rare that a novel set in Istanbul does not mention this bridge; it is part of the culture of the city.  The first Galata Bridge was built in 1845 and this is the fourth version on this site.

This is a human bridge full of people crossing, trams, buses, taxis. Men fishing, line the bridge all the day and night. There are shops under the arches of the bridge, markets adjacent; the city intrudes up to the banks of the Bosporus on either side of the bridge.

It is a bridge of life, all the myriad peoples of Istanbul can be seen on this bridge mingling, crossing, hurrying, lolling and watching.  For me, it represents the multitude of societies that form Istanbul, rich and poor, old and young, religious and secular, locals and tourists all swarm on the Galata Bridge in harmony, bridging physically and as a society.

I love crossing this bridge by foot or on the tram, I feel the heart of the city.

Today there are two more bridges in Istanbul, and eventually to be a third. The Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. These are very different bridges to the Galata Bridge, these are technical bridges, no pedestrians, no trams, no humans are seen on these bridges. They are designed to move vehicles from Europe to Asia and vice versa as efficiently as possible. Most of the time they don’t.

There are traffic jams that stretch for as far as the eye can see, the jams are always there, except for very late at night and early in the morning. These bridges do not provide any societal level bridging, they are devoid of life, just crawling, impatient, black, four wheel drives and other ostentatious representations of new wealth.  Nobody is seen on this bridge except frustrated heads in the vehicle on rather side. People do not mingle with each other, make way, or even bump in to each other, there is no human contact, no culture, no representation of these bridges in the literature of Istanbul, as far as I know.

For me, the Galata Bridge represents a real city full of extremes, attitudes, variety and but also a bridge for tolerance, culture and respect.

The Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridges  are unfeeling, intolerant, bridging nothing except space.I like the view from these bridges but it’s always a fleeting view, wizzing past the window. The traffic moves once you get on to the bridge so any value in seeing the Bosphorus and the city laid out far below is superficial and minimized.

I visualize these bridges not as physical entities that connect one side to another but represent the act of bridging people. What is bridging people? My view in this context is that when we intermingle, rub shoulders with the other man and woman, we realize that they also have value, they are also humans with multitudes of intermingled and confusing thoughts and ideas. We see that the stereotype does not really exist, that all societies are as mixed.

Thus the bridges are symbols of how we build tolerance and respect or not. In the context of what is happening in Turkey today, the government is represented by the new modern bridges, the cold, inhuman, blocked arteries, closed windows, opinionated souls, that rush past alternate views of Istanbul and Turkey. The Galata Bridge represents all that is wonderful, inclusive, human and passionate about the multi-complex, multilayered Istanbul and Turkey that I love. The Galata Bridge is represented in Gezi Park, the AKP are the two new bridges.

It just won’t work

In England, the USA and many other industrialised nations, education appears to be regressing, falling in to a pit of conservatism with unrealistic, rigid curricula, onerous testing, blame being attributed to teachers and massive student failure. We are faced with political pressure for factory production were all students are considered faceless, inhuman sponges without the huge range of human talents, thought processes, abilities, cultures, feelings and emotions.

For me diversity is the most important part of life, the incredible variety that we all exhibit individually and collectively makes the most fascinating, exciting, passionate part of being alive, and they want to strangle this almost from birth. Are they completely mad?

Teaching has become teaching to the test, teaching by rote, grammar, spelling, and facts, everything that will not prepare our students for the incredibly complex, future work and life situations they are sure to face.

Now of course children need basic skills, but no longer do they need a teacher at the front of the class or a text book in black and white, regurgitating facts. The facts are all there on the Internet for self-discovery, we still need teachers to guide, facilitate, build the synergies, and ensure the right information is accessed at the correct cognitive stage.

I can hear you asking, why do you want children to self-discover, what is wrong with teacher mediated learning? The answer is very simple and clear, education cannot keep up with the pace of change and the advances in knowledge.  Most importantly the advances in technology will keep imposing dramatic changes on society, on their future careers and how they work in those careers.  The only way to deal with these changes efficiently will require everyone to be self-learners. To know where to access information, knowledge, to integrate the new knowledge to be able to weigh different sources and evaluate, compare and draw conclusions.  This is where teachers are critical, to teach these skills.

The most important skills children need today are:

  1. To learn how to learn, autonomously so they know how to build new knowledge and can adapt to whatever comes next.
  2. To be creative in their thinking so that they have value in the future world, and can contribute.
  3. To be adaptive learners not imprisoned within subject boxes, but capable of stepping outside of a discipline or subject, being capable of integrating information across knowledge areas and finding new synergies and values.
  4. Collaborative learners and workers, no one person will have all the skills needed for the future working environment, we all have to understand the value and how to work with  our peers and colleagues that may be coming from a completely different frameset.

Can you tell me how a demotivating, competitive test contributes to the above skill requirements?  Why teaching by rote works? How does demoralizing the teaching profession reach these targets?

Obviously they don’t and never will. All the above do is satisfy the political masters who do not understand what education today needs, and are fixed on the standards they needed when they were in education 20, 30 or 40 years ago, before computers and the Internet had so radically changed so much.

The standards they want to attain are based on false conceptions; the necessity that all students reach a certain level in Maths is a perfect example, answered by a simple question. When did you last use trigonometry in your work….. I can’t hear you. Is it more important to know the grammatical names for the parts of a sentence, or to be able to channel creative energies in to a coherent story? To be taught that your classmates are your rivals, or that if you work and think together the world can be obtained.

In my last post I wrote that I do not believe there is a realistic, public education structure today that allows committed and knowledgeable educators to give students what they deserve. It is time to take back education.  See ‘The Revolting Teacher’ group on Facebook


Is it time for teachers to be revolting?

Last week, the guru of the modern movement to change education globally to fit the new realities of the Internet and digital world, Sir Ken Robinson, spoke for the third time at a Ted conference.  Again he was inspiring, in his delivery and content. He spoke what appears, to the vast majority of educators’ perfect sense. Yet we know his logical, sensible and realistic words will go ‘Smack’ against the political wall were policy will be decided.

In these difficult times, politicians have become more entrenched, more sure that the old ways are the best ways, and less trusting of pedagogic experts, or even the teachers the very people who are trained and experienced to implement good education. The testing regime seems to be purely directed at weeding out an army of ‘Bad’ teachers, when it is the generals who are too blame for poor results.

A colleague, who is a head of department in a large district educational authority, recently told me that he tried to present a plan to his political masters, to change education in his district. He had detailed out a complete system and methodology for change. After a week of frustration he spoke to me. He was appalled at not only the lack of understanding of basic education that he was trying to present, but worse, the politicians did not have a single idea to contribute to the debate. A lost cause.

There are multiple reasons, and in a previous guest blog, I spoke about the vacuum of a common educational theory, and also why there cannot be a single theory. We know that the quick answer is because children are not chemicals that react in an identical way every time the reaction is run. Children are individual biological and psychological entities and require individualistic programmes to succeed.

I am also not going to get into explanations of why we need to change education, you already know my maxim, ‘We should be educating children for their futures, not our pasts’.

What I want to talk about here is whether the thousands of committed educators across the world, who I know are fighting for their students, can or should be doing something about it, and if so what can they do?

Well for a start we can look more closely at immediately available resources that we can use. We can watch this excellent film how Finnish teachers are teaching and being trained . I offer my European projects that are loved by students as they are targeted at autonomous, creative learning, self-constructed learning, collaboration, peer-feedback.

I am not arguing that my projects are the start and finish, but they do offer ideas how we can build cross-curricular frameworks, but most importantly bring in to learning, for me, the most important missing element, children’s passion. The things they love.  If we can get to the children through their passions, we won’t be educating, they will be playing and learning.

Tangible steps, I have made a new group on Facebook (sorry those that don’t like Facebook, but I know how to use it best), called ‘The Revolting Teacher

I propose a few ideas for the group as a start point:

  1. How can we enrich our students education so that they stay motivated to learn
  2. How can we include future orientated teaching within the close confines of current educational curriculums?
  3. How can we advocate to change the scandalous failure of current education
  4. How can we learn and teach each other

Happy to hear your ideas as well, but in the group please, so we have an open discussion.

I do not believe, except for civil action, we can change what is happening today. The lunatics are in control of the asylum. What we can do is try to teach in ways that we know the students can relate too, to attempt to give our students the education they deserve, not the pedantic hearsay that bears no relation to their needs, for their futures. We just need to share our ideas and support each other.

TedX an unknownable opportunity

A couple of months ago, I met an educational technologist at 4a.m. on a Friday night, well Saturday morning, called Elizabeth (Liby) Katz  on Facebook, she had sent a friend request to me and as I found out, she was interested in the work I do, but isn’t that why we love social networking. Well Liby runs an educational technology company so we had plenty of mutual ground to discuss before we both decided it was time to call it a night.

A couple of weeks later, groovy Liby tells me that there is a call for proposals for a new TedX conference on education; and in the belief I had a story to tell that could influence education, she believed that I should put a proposal in. I took a look; it didn’t seem that difficult to adapt some existing text so I completed a proposal.

Next thing I know I had been accepted, I was blown away. What a career opportunity, what a feeling to have my passion for changing education recognized at a TedX level. For me it was an Olympic gold.  Liby was the first to know.

I then entered the TedX system, initiated with a meeting with the manager of the event. I was surprised to meet with a 3rd year student, actually I would describe Roi as a mature, well very mature student. I liked Roi immediately. I don’t think we talked about my TedX talk at all there was so much other ground to cover, his work, my dreams, his dreams, my work and it was only another 3 months till Christmas and still shopping to be done.

The upshot of the meeting is that we agreed we would both love to work on a second TedX conference together, oh and my talk would be 15 minutes only. I knew Ted talks are short so that was fine. By the way, pay attention to the minutes as we run through this reflection. I also found out that they had over 100 proposals for 12 slots selected by a committee, and the audience was invite only and included the Minster of Education. I came out of this meeting feeling good.

Next step in the process was inundating my amazing European project partners, my entrepreneurial educators, with requests. Requests for materials, videos from PopuLLar project , ideas, analyses, automata (moving toys made in the CLOHE project) and videos, did I already say that?

I better move on with this, I was contacted by my mentor and arranged for an online meeting with him to hear my talk, this came and went with a useful and interesting discussion. I felt I was on the right track and the few comments were positive and reasonable. Pretty good going with Mr. Obstinate over here.

On the Thursday before the event, the next Monday, the TedX team published the list of my fellow speakers. My confidence was shaken when I saw the strength of this group of innovative, creative achievers. I felt intimidated but challenged. Could I speak at this level, would I look incompetent, would my ideas and thoughts be of a high enough standard?

I practiced; my biggest stress was remembering by heart, I am not good at remembering words, maybe part of my incompetence in learning languages. The stress led to my first migraines for almost a year. I also made my first Prezi to accompany my talk.

On the Saturday before the event was the first rehearsal followed in the evening by the dress rehearsal.

I arrived at the venue, talk clutched tightly in hand, printed in full, as notes, on my laptop, on a memory stick. The venue was small, the stage large, the lights dazzling, the cameras everywhere, chaos. I started meeting my fellow lecturers, the first being a former basketball star Daniel Yahel, who now does performance teaching. He is huge physically, and with a huge character, I took an instant shine.

One by one rehearsals were completed, now my turn, I took the stage, I had confidence in what I wanted to say but had no idea how it would be received. Mainly without my notes I spoke. Then problems, my speech had taken 16 minutes, the director Lionel came and spoke to me. ‘Joel this is the longest talk, you need to make it 10 minutes’. ‘I was told previously I would have 15 minutes’, I replied. What confidence I had felt quickly evaporated how could I come up with a new version and learn it in 2 days.

I sat down in an empty room, opened my laptop to see what I could cut. Then Dr. Roey Tzezana another speaker, walked in to the room, we spoke, I told him my problem and immediately he offered to help. We hadn’t spoken before, he just offered. In the space of 10 minutes we managed to trim 4 minutes of my speech, and then he went to work on his own speech. Roey’s attitude was a highlight but typical of all my fellow speakers, offering immediate, unequivocal, and open support to each other.

A word about my speaker colleagues, there was something exceptional about all of them from the youngest Eden, just 17 to the eldest. They all felt like people in control, I saw little evidence of overt nerves. They felt like people who know what they are, that are comfortable with what they had to say, obviously all are big achievers, creators, idealists. I didn’t speak to everyone but all those I spoke to believe in change and have a vision.

Although a little nervous, I spoke again during the dress rehearsal, the new version was accepted. I also got to see Renana Raz (choreographer / dancer) she blew me away with the intelligence of her work. Like much dance performance; videos cannot capture the scale and power http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPYWA3caiIE .

The Sunday morning, I received final instructions, when to arrive, what I could not wear, what time I was slotted in for make-up (woo hoo). Then the bad news, please trim your talk to 9 minutes, ugh, have you ever felt that panic when you want to just run away. I managed to run to the computer, but it was a close call. More, more, more, practice and then it was 6.30a.m.on Monday morning the day of the event.

I mentioned Roi the chair of the event, but I have not yet mentioned the team of students that organized and took all the roles in running the event, I would imagine average age about 24. Directing, studio managing, TV production, design, publicity, logistics, every single part and department was covered,  professionally and enthusiastically, wonderful to work with them.

On the day I arrived, the venue had been transformed, a determinedly festive air, the Art Director, running around doing art direction stuff, the artistic decorator, decorating away with her origami fish. The caterers catering, the DJ playing, the reception staff recepting (is that a new word?). All I had to do was have my face painted, a new and narcissistic experience and stay cool in the green room. The other speakers arrived, we greeted and reassured, our time had come.

I spoke at a TedX conference that day, I still do not believe that my work, no not work, my passion is interesting and relevant enough to society to merit such an honour. I am moved to be rewarded at such a high level. At a conference with such inspiring achievers.

The highest compliment I was given that emotional and special day was after my talk, someone said to me, someone I trust, ‘Joel you looked and sounded like a Ted speaker’.

And then I walked to the train, and went home to my life.