Saturday 28 February 2009

The Genius of Photography

The BBC4 series "The Genius of Photography" is a great example of how television can be the most wonderful resource for learning. The entire series is available on YouTube in convenient 10 minute sections. This website helpfully lists all the links with a brief description of the content of each episode. The opening programme also demonstrates how intimately art and science are bound together. Witness Abe Morrel's amazing camera obscura photographs. It seems to me that technology, in all its forms, is often the most important aspect of the school curriculum because it is able to link apparently disconnected disciplines. It is no surprise that one of the inventors of photography, Henry Fox Talbot, was an eminent scientist. He was frustrated by his inability to draw and began to wonder if there wasn't a better way of capturing the shapes of things on a flat surface. His experiments eventually became a new technology called photography. Literally, drawing with light.

If you haven't seen this series, I strongly recommend you watch the whole thing. You won't be disappointed.

Friday 27 February 2009


I was reading this article and I was thinking our school should have thought about having one of these in the new school building.

"A company unveiled today what it says is the first helter-skelter to be built inside a UK office building.
Tenants taking up space in the new Electric Works block in Sheffield are offering their staff a quirky shortcut from the top of the four-storey building to the ground floor. The 85ft (26m) long spiral slide cuts the journey from the third floor down to seven seconds. Toby Hyam, managing director at Creative Space Management, which runs the building, said: "Electric Works will be the first office building in the UK to have a permanent helter-skelter for the use of those who work there. "It will also be available for business visitors and for conference visitors, but it will not be open to the general public." Mr Hyam went on: "Companies and the individual people working here feel that the helter-skelter reflects their approach to work, where the division between work and play is blurred and where the risk, imagination and creativity that characterises their work is going to be reflected in their surroundings. "In the current economic conditions it is encouraging to see that there are digital businesses which are sufficiently confident to invest in new offices and facilities."The building, the second of five which will form Sheffield's new Digital Campus, opens next week. It is designed for companies employing up to 75 people in the creative and digital sectors and will provide workspace for up to 400 people. The helter-skelter was designed and built by Wiegandslide, the same German company which built the slides on display recently at the Tate Modern art gallery in London."

Wednesday 25 February 2009

The Element

"The most powerful method of improving education is to invest in the improvement of teaching and the status of great teachers. There isn't a great school anywhere that doesn't have great teachers working in it. But there are plenty of poor schools with shelves of curriculum standards and reams of standardized tests. The fact is that given the challnges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions."

Sir Ken Robinson "The Element"

Monday 23 February 2009

Food for Thought

Thanks to everyone for your contributions to this afternoon's meeting. Here are the notes for you to have a think about. We would like you to reflect on the suggestions and develop them in a bit more detail. Please leave your ideas in the form of a comment. Remember, you all have the ability to create new posts to the blog. It's a really good way of continuing to discuss ideas about creative learning between meetings.

Notes from the Creative Tallis Action Research Group Meeting
23rd February 2009
Present: Jon, John, Soren, Danuta, Billy, Christie, Shreya, Matthew, Tom, Tom, Amber and Seb

1. Film of Shine Week 2008 shown to group. Discussion of the aims of Shine Week and the broader context of developing talent and creativity nationally

2. Reviewed discussion from last meeting about “Food for Thought” event. What is the event for?


a. To engage parents in thinking about creative learning – not just information but interaction
b. To encourage parents to think about the value of collaborative learning activities
c. To seek guidance and support from parents about how the school can improve
d. Launch our own version of the Creative Manifesto for Britain
e. Curate an event that inspires and provokes the audience

3. Who should be invited to the event?
• Parents and carers
• Primary school students and staff
• Teachers (from Tallis and beyond)
• School managers
• C P staff

Ideas for the event

• Each attendee receives a gift of a statement/question/answer to a question about creative learning. Chinese whispers, responses to the statement, responses to the responses
• Problem solving, exploring different learning styles – using a variety of skills/learning strategies, get participants to reflect on how people learn
• Ask participants to contribute manifesto points to reflect their interest in creative learning
• Present parents with a story about what we do already at Tallis and why we are interested in creating more opportunities to be creative
• Ask for a creativity wish list – ideas for the future
• Make a massive mind map on the floor about creative learning
• Play a party game – teach parents how to play a computer game reflect on skills, abilities and knowledge of young people, competition, challenge, flow, open source technology, design our own application for the Wii, new learning tools
• Puzzle, problem solving – relate to the manifesto, backwards thinking exercise, begin with something that we want to see happening in school in 2 years, work back from there
• Multi-media presentations - sound and visuals important
• Spread over two days to engage different audiences with a range of activities

Friday 20 February 2009

Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi in full flow

You know that feeling when you are totally absorbed in something to the extent that you are no longer aware of time passing. Ken Robinson calls this being "in your element". Czikzentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-hi-yee) prefers the word "flow", a state you attain when the challenge you face is slightly greater than the skills you have at your disposal, requiring you to develop new skills. He believes this is a state of almost pure happiness and fulfilment. Check out the film above to find out why.

When do you feel "in flow"? What circumstances suit you best - working alone or with others, indoors or out, thinking, talking, making...? We are all creative in our own way and we all have the capacity to find "flow". Where do you look and how do you feel when you find it?

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Video games are good for you

Contrary to tabloid scare stories about zombified youths wandering city streets hunting for hapless victims following 24 straight hours on their Xbox, a new EU report claims that video games are not only good for you but should be taken more seriously as a potential learning tool by schools.

The committee, responsible for internal market and consumer protection, states clearly in the report that "video games can stimulate learning of facts and skills such as strategic thinking, creativity, co-operation and innovative thinking, which are important skills in the information society."

This is a welcome corrective to the largely mythical fears about the supposedly negative effects of video game culture on the young. Before video games, commentators were up in arms about the horrors of comic books and rock 'n' roll. In a recent book entitled "Grand Theft Childhood", authors Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, co-founders of the Centre for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetss General Hospital in Boston, attempt to deal directly with some of the myths surrounding video games and violence. This balanced study, based on interviews with thousands of young people, concludes that video games affect young people in different ways and that there are significant benefits for some. These include:
  • Games may encourage and provide an outlet for creativity
  • Games allow teens to try on roles and behaviours in a safe environment
  • Games can provide practice in planning and anticipating consequences
  • Games may help teens manage difficult emotions (coping with stress, anger)
  • Games may promote involvement in sports/exercise (boys who played realistic sports games spent more hours per week on physical activity)
  • Games can improve visual/spatial skills (especially valuable for girls)
  • Games provide a focus for socialising (especially for boys)
  • Games may provide a source of self-esteem and pride (especially for kids with ADHD and learning disabilities)
There has been some research about the potential benefits of gaming and education in the UK. The Consolarium in Scotland is a great example of how an education system can embrace the positive benefits of gaming. It comes as no surprise that Scotland is now a world leader in the computer gaming market.

What are your thoughts about all this? Should we be actively promoting gaming in school and, if so, how should we go about doing it?

Monday 16 February 2009

The beauty of networks

Harry Beck is quite rightly a design hero. His work in conceptualising the map of the London Underground network, disregarding geographical accuracy for legibility, has been an inspiration to many designers faced with the problem of representing complex information in a visually appealing way. The artist Simon Patterson has playfully subverted the relationship between the map and the information it contains in his work The Great Bear.

Japanese designers Information Architects have used this model to produce a map of the companies who dominated the internet in 2008. This is the third iteration of their design (the fourth is due out this month) and the most ambitious to date. As well as modeling their map on the Tokyo subway system, with companies like Apple occupying stations in upmarket areas of the city and Microsoft in the "cheaper" neighbourhoods, the designers have created two further layers of information concerning brand experience. This is how they describe the concept:

"We named the brand quality layer “Brand Experience.” It illustrates our perception of user experience and brand management of the main stations. We studied the usability, user value, and interface (simplicity, character, and feedback), and rated each site on a scale of eating at various types of Japanese restaurants.


We chose restaurants as the metaphor for brand experience because, from an interactive branding point of view, a visit to a website is like a visit to a restaurant in terms of service, feedback, content, pleasure, character, and memorability. And also because Tokyo has the highest density of good restaurants in the world."

It's interesting to see which companies do well in terms of their perceived brand experience, but what I love about this more than anything is the analogy between brand quality and food. I wonder of there is anything in this for us with regard to our thinking about the Food for Thought project?

On the subject of information design, I stumbled across the Visual Complexity site today. It aims to be "a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks." Given the increasing significance of all kinds of networks as a feature of modern life, this site could well become an important resource. I followed the links to a couple of sites and the one that really grabbed me was Glocal. The Glocal Project is a collaborative, multifaceted artist-led project that examines the changing role of digital image making today. Its main aim is to examine the "new digital lives of images." I downloaded a couple of the software toolkits which proved to be a lot of fun. You can choose from the following simple applets which allow you to create a variety of photographic images based on historical precedents:
I'm particularly fond of the Motion Sequence applet! I was also keen on the Image Breeder which produces families of images based on a kind of genetic metaphor. You choose two images from a list of thumbnails and they "breed" to produce various offspring. I assume this is something to do with the way they are tagged. Fascinating stuff. Not only is this attitude to digital images really exciting but they've gone to the trouble of making the site extremely beautful too. Not just for the nerds.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Picasa for the Mac

I've just downloaded the new Picasa photo management tool for the Mac. It's free and in beta mode at the moment but looks like an interesting addition/alternative to iPhoto. I don't think I'll use the web upload function too much. I can't imagine not using Flickr to manage my pictures online. But I do like some of the simple ediing features. My favourite so far is the Collage function which enables you to select a folder of images and create collages like the one above at the press of a button. Images can be shuffled to your heart's content and there are various other options available such as Contact print and Grid. You can also add various frames and drop shadows to your images. You can also publish direct to Blogger out of the application. That's how this post was created.

By the way, the above images are all taken from various photoblogs kept by students at Tallis. Cool.
Posted by Picasa


Hobnox is a very cool alternative to sites like MySpace (not the name of a new biscuit) where you can upload files (music, photos, video), create a blog, make contacts, send messages and view everyone else's content. The main difference is that the site appears to have been designed by "creatives", people who work in the creative industries, and is consequently beautiful to look at and very exciting to use. As well as a kind of online TV channel, there are interactive elements like the Audiotool that allow you to create amazing electronic compositions.

It's hard to describe how good this site is so I strongly suggest that you head over and take a look. I've had a go at creating a profile, uploading some photographs (which I have made available using a Creative Commons license to anyone who is interested) and making a tune. If any of you manage to create a really good tune using the Audiotool application, post the link in the comments section.

Have fun!

Monday 9 February 2009


Check out this example of a school using Blurb to self-publish students' work. I can highly recommend the service, especially the little square books. St. Boniface's College in Plymouth do some great work with photography. We collaborate with them on a Flickr Group and they could teach us a lot about how to engage young people in thinking about and developing skills behind the lens. They've also got some great ideas about community engagement.

Maybe we should aim to document our work this year and publish a Blurb book? What do you think?

Sunday 8 February 2009

Italian Exchange 2008 Video

Created using the all new iMovie 09. The group took a normal video camera plus four PSPs equipped with a camera attachment which they used to create video diaries. As you can see, one person was considerably more prolific than the others! The Italian students arrive in Kidbrooke in a few weeks so we'll have a chance to return their wonderful hospitality.

Italian Exchange Scrapblog

Check out this online journal of the recent Italian Exchange to Bergamo created by Ms Totten using Scrapblog. The video will soon be available on TallisTube and there are further details about the trip, including a Google Maps itinerary on the MFL web pages.

Library 2.0: The Challenge of Disruptive Innovation

This was a paper published in 2006 after a conference. To put it as simply as I can (because it's a long paper) it's talking about how web 2.0 technologies and the connectedness of the internet has given the word library a new name. The New York public library for example, is an online library that serves the same purpose as Amazon. But other sites, like YouTube and even the Tallis Shorts, are also libraries as is the whole internet really. The paper talks about trends that we see in users of the internet; the knowledge, how people connect, search, investigate, participate. But I wondered how different this was to their real lives. People will respond differently when senses are taken away. You may be able to feel a keyboard, see the computer screen but you can't see the person you are talking to. If you are seeking libraries or information then why would you stop at a comment box and comment the person whose information you are reading?

The internet community is, for some people, easier to engage with and I think this is why schools should take new technologies seriously. If a new website is made that could be useful in a school then of course you have to be wary about who outside of the school may be accessing it but then anyone could walk through the school gates at the beginning of the day. There are risks with everything you do. For every one of my lessons the students all talk about work and send files to each other over MSN/MySpace and other websites because it's so efficient. The school should be promoting such websites not blocking them on the school server.

Saturday 7 February 2009


Amber, the source of so many great ideas, showed me a site she's created for part of her A level Geography course using the web based service called Synthasite. This allows anyone to create a website, free of charge, in a matter of minutes (or hours in my case) using a range of templates which can then be modified. Your site can have multiple pages featuring, for example, a blog and picture gallery (which can link to your Flickr account). Management of your rapidly expanding site is really easy and the whole design experience is satisfyingly simple and quick. Previewing pages is easy, there's an integrated picture editor for your images and you can upload documents as part of the file storage feature.

Here's my Synthasite. It took about 3 hours to make and I'm so pleased with the results that I might actually maintain it (I really only made it to test the resource).

The ease with which sites like this can be made and maintained on the web for free means that all students could keep their own learning website, rather than just rely on the tools available within the school's VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). I'm not sure how many students in Year 7, for example, already have websites. I'm sure the number is higher than many teachers realise. What interests me about this is the way web site design encourages the creator to organise information in interesting and engaging ways that are simply not possible using paper and pen. Good websites are media rich and dynamic. The addition of a well-kept blog provides an ongoing, up-to-the-minute self-evaluation tool, encouraging reflection by the owner and peer-to-peer commentary. Some of the concerns expressed by teachers about the use of student websites revolve around issues of security, inappropriate content and assessment. How do you read and mark a set of websites? How do you protect young people from being approached by unsavoury characters online? These questons lie at the heart of a shift in the traditional power relationships between learners and teachers that have occurred partly as result of new technologies and the distribution of powerful self-publishing tools. Part of the answer lies in providing appropriate guidance for young people about looking after their online presence and trusting them to self-regulate their activities, something which Demos, in a recent study about young people's use of new technologies entitled Their Space, found to be largely happening anyway.

How many of you have a Flickr gallery, a MySpace page, a Facebook or other other kind of web presence? What do you use them for? Do you think keeping a learning web site about your experiences in school (and beyond) would be a good idea?

So, all you Year 10 students currently enjoying your work experience, why not create your own Synthasite about what you've learned? Create a gallery of images (taken on your phone if you don't have a camera), a blog reflecting on what you have enjoyed, been challenged by and what impact the experience has had on your attitude to education and employment and a set of links to useful web resources.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your website's new address so that we can all take a look.



Take a few descriptive words, for example illuminating, lethargic, energetic.
What would you call an energetic sound/sight/smell etc.
Now what would be the difference between an energetic sound and sight?
Or would an energetic sound and sight invoke the same emotion/feeling?

Friday 6 February 2009

Stephen Heppell's Phone Blog

Look carefully and you can see that Creative Tallis (that's us) have made it onto Stephen Heppell's blogroll.  Given that he is this country's (if not the world's) leading expert on ICT and education, I think we can all rest assured that our work is being taken seriously by people who make a big difference. Perhaps we should be cheeky and ask Stephen to pop into school and give us all a pep talk? Keep up the good work folks.

Singing is good for you!

I've just discovered a cool website which features the deeply held beliefs of a wide variety of people. This article by Brian Eno struck a chord (pun intended) with me, particularly the idea that singing can make you more attractive and that it might be a way of redesigning the British education system:

"I believe in singing. I believe in singing together.

A few years ago a friend and I realized that we both loved singing but didn't do much of it. So we started a weekly a capella group with just four members. After a year we started inviting other people to join. We didn't insist on musical experience — in fact some of our members had never sung before. Now the group has ballooned to around 15 or 20 people.

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing.

Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call "civilizational benefits." When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.

Well here's what we do in an evening: We get some drinks, some snacks, some sheets of lyrics and a strict starting time. We warm up a bit first.

The critical thing turns out to be the choice of songs. The songs that seem to work best are those based around the basic chords of blues and rock and country music. You want songs that are word-rich, but also vowel-rich because it's on the long vowels sounds of a song such as "Bring It On Home To Me" ("You know I'll alwaaaaays be your slaaaaave"), that's where your harmonies really express themselves. And when you get a lot of people singing harmony on a long note like that, it's beautiful.

But singing isn't only about harmonizing pitch like that. It has two other dimensions. The first one is rhythm. It's thrilling when you get the rhythm of something right and you all do a complicated rhythm together: "Oh, when them cotton balls get a-rotten, you can't pick very much cotton." So when 16 or 20 people get that dead right together at a fast tempo that's very impressive. But the other thing that you have to harmonize besides pitch and rhythm is tone. To be able to hit exactly the same vowel sound at a number of different pitches seems unsurprising in concept, but is beautiful when it happens.

So I believe in singing to such an extent that if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you."

Sunday 1 February 2009

Tallis Tube

You may or may not be aware that Tallis Shorts, our unique online media player, is struggling to cope with the huge number of files uploaded to it in the year since it was launched. At the moment the dedicated server in the USA where the site is hosted is full. This means that we have had to remove the upload facility until we decide what action to take. This will probably mean the creation of a brand new Tallis Shorts on a different server with more space and a few new features.

In the meantime, we have created our very own YouTube channel called TallisTube. There is such a lot of great stuff going on in school at the moment that it would be shame if we didn't share it with the rest of the world and, now that YouTube has been unblocked in school (hurrah!) and we are developing a mature attitude to the use of Web 2.0 tools, it seems only right that we should have an official YouTube presence. There are always risks involved in broadcasting on the internet, but I think these are far outweighed by the massive advantages. We are also exploring the possibility of setting up an iTunes U presence. This is a service dominated at the moment by American universities who supply students across the world with pod and vodcasts of course material free of charge. Imagine if Tallis was able to publish its own curriculum material online for students. Some subject areas have made progress in doing just this using the school website with promising results. Staff and students are using Tallis Talk more and more to debate issues directly related to their learning in school. Recent examples include Mr Greig's question bout the Kobe earthquake in Geography and Mr Walsh's request for thoughts about the use of mobile phones as learning tools as part of the Personal and Economic Well-Being course. I have attempted to put all my current Year 12 photography lesson content on the site, including links to websites and access to relevant images. If nothing else, students can no longer claim that, because they missed a lesson, they didn't know what to do. This seems like a small issue but, I think, encourages them to think about their responsibility to manage their own learning and become more independent. It is always interesting to note which students find this a liberating attitude and relish the opportunity to exercise more control, compared with those who are keen to be spoon fed.

There is no doubt that the preparation and publication of these resources takes time and energy. My view is that the school needs a proper strategy and suitable incentives to encourage both staff and students to get more involved in this kind of "anytime, anywhere" learning.

Do you have any bright ideas about how this could be achieved? Would you like to have more access to learning materials online? Would you like to be able to email your homework to your teachers? Do you already do this? If the school created an iTunes U account and uploaded course materials, would you use them?