Sunday 28 February 2010

David Byrne on Creativity

There aren't may people in the world I am envious of but David Byrne, musician, artist, designer and all round creative guru, is one of them. This interview from the Tate Shots Sound & Vision series takes place in the Roundhouse in Camden against the backdrop of Byrne's amazing Playing the Building installation.

What I like about this interview is Byrne's understanding and exploitation of the inter-disciplinary nature of the arts. It's interesting to hear him talk about the influence of his art school education and the importance of the ideas articulated in The Bauhaus but also why it's almost impossible to be creative unless there are constraints or limitations that focus your energies. The footage of music and choreography combined also made me reflect on the amazing performances this week as part of the Ludus Residency at Tallis. I was really struck by the power of the music and dancing combined in the ID: Me production and wondered if we could encourage some kind of collaboration between dancers and musicians at Tallis this summer.

This video might make a good starting point for our next Visual, Media & Performing Arts faculty meeting. We're thinking about ways in which the work we present as part of this year's arts festival could, in some way, respond to the architecture and history of Thomas Tallis School. Byrne's installation at the Roundhouse, created from a series of pipes, mechanical gizmos and an old pump organ, is a brilliant example of the way in which this kind of art can transform our understanding of architectural space. The Roundhouse has been both a railway turning shed and a rock music venue. This work brings these two histories together. Playing the organ turns the whole building into a musical instrument and the sounds it makes evoke the noises of old locomotives. Brilliant!

Wednesday 24 February 2010

News from Guy

I've just received this email from Guy Connelly (Clock Opera). He has had some fantastic ideas about potential projects in the summer. Here goes:

Hi Jon

Thanks for all this.

We'll be playing a few small festivals in April & May, one or two in London, so I'll be sure to let you know!

You have some really exciting people involved. I love DJ Tendraw's approach and would love to work with him. I've wanted to learn more about circuit bending for a long while.

I didn't get around to seeing David Byrne's installation at the Roundhouse, but thought the idea was fantastic. Did you see it? Perhaps a similar idea to what Nick's been doing. Would love to know more.

Wasn't aware of The Happiness Project, but really like the idea. A great way of generating melodies. As well as my own music, I love to chop up vocals when remixing, to come up with new melodies and lyrics, so this is right up my street. I remember the great reaction we got from the hidden speakers broadcasting the group's thoughts about home to students arriving and leaving school. It would be fantastic to generate music from thoughts about the school eventually to create a Tallis theme.

Perhaps we could invoke Burroughs & Bowie and have chop-up lyric workshops too, where printouts of thoughts are combined & rearranged to create unexpected lyrics for Tallis songs.

Last year, we didn't get chance to realise the idea of the ghost steel pan band. It'd be great to give it a proper try this year. To refresh your memory, inspired by a moment in Lynch's Mulholland Drive and by a sequence in Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit (at the National Theatre again now, do you know it? Can't recommend highly enough), the idea was to record the band, then, towards the end of a live performance, the band would gradually stop playing, lay down their beaters and walk away, whilst the music would continue. Ideally, the sonic transition would be smooth enough to create a memorable illusion, and I think would fit with the theme of the festival very well.

I love methods that create ideas quickly, and show how easy it is to get started on new projects and avoid the stumbling block of a blank canvas. In this vein, another project I'm involved in at the moment is Dance Spinner (with Jonathan Goddard of Rambert) whereby sequences of movement are generated by a sequence of spins on a board. A bit like twister crossed with choreography! Now we've adapted it to facilitate and inspire music and rhythm. We were in residency at Sussex Downs college late last year and will be running a course at The Place this summer. I don't know how much dance is taught at Tallis, but perhaps something for another occasion?

I'll look into the possibility of Clock Opera playing too!

Look forward to speaking to you soon.


Tuesday 23 February 2010

Ihsan's Story

I received this message recently from an ex Tallis student in response to a message I posted on Facebook. I think it captures perfectly how the spirit of creativity has always been such an important feature of the school's ethos. It's great to know just how important Tallis has been in helping young people take risks and nurture their talents. As Ihsan says, "Nothing to lose, much to gain."

Dear Mr Nicholls,

I was asked via Facebook (and instructed to send to you) to say a few words about what impact Tallis had on me.... and I never got around to it... so here it is... a little late but from the heart!

Thomas Tallis School absolutely shaped who I am today and gave me not only the tools but the direction, motivation and inspiration to grasp every opportunity and challenge that has come my way. The dedication of the teachers and creativity surrounding the building guided me to a profession I love and would not be in otherwise. My passion for dance began at the school with a workshop given by an American touring troupe and was further fueled by the movement classes on offer and many productions I had the privilege to be a part of (Cabaret, Romeo & Juliet...)... These remain amongst the greatest experiences I have had on stage. Nothing to lose, much to gain!

I thank the school and the teachers once again... as my feet won't stop dancing

Ihsan Rustem

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday 22 February 2010

"Show us your creativity on youtube"

Check out some of these interesting ideas and thoughts on what creativity is, and if you wish make your own!

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Tangled Feet & Clock Opera

I've just received a very enthusiastic response from Guy Connelly, aka Clock Opera, to an invitation to be part of our Arts Festival plans this year. This follows another equally enthusiastic email from Kat Joyce, co-director of Tangled Feet Theatre Company. It's really exciting to have such exciting and innovative practitioners keen to work with us again to develop a festival programme that acts a catalyst for thinking about creative learning.

So, since you are also involved in helping to plan the festival (like last year), what would you like Guy and Kat to start thinking about? Remember, the theme for this year's series of events is 'Past, Present & Future' and the idea is to get everyone to reflect on the school's history of creativity, its current ethos and how we make a successful transition to the new school.

You can post your ideas on the project Wallwisher or leave a comment here.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Past, Present & Future Ideas Wall

With reference to my previous post about this year's arts festival, I have created a Wallwisher to gather ideas for site specific installations, happenings, performances and other events. Feel free to add your ideas to it or links to other exciting and inspirational projects that you think could help us think about what we could do.

Past, Present & Future

This is a presentation I have created to stimulate thinking about a different kind of arts festival to the one we have been used to. The Heads of Department in the Visual, Media and Performing Arts met before the holiday to discuss a more collaborative approach to the arts festival. We agreed that a more inter-disciplinary programme of activities that kept the best of our existing practice, but that also provided more ways for young people to engage in the commissioning process, was desirable. rather than having each department working on a separate event, we thought it would be more interesting to conceive of the festival as a sequence of artistic interventions that used the whole school site as a venue. Thus, we might have film projections on stairwells, dancing down corridors, live music accompanying a fashion show on the concourse and art work in lockers. We chose the theme of 'Past, Present & Future' because we want all the work to be site specific and respond to the social and cultural history of the school. We hope that our final arts festival on the current site next year wiull be an opportunity to fully celebrate the place and convey us into the new school with a strong sense of who we are, what we share and how we want to work together in the future. This year's festival is, therefore, a kind of dress rehearsal for a much larger set of events next year.

I'd be very keen to know what you think about all of this. The brief led process described in the Prezi above may not be relevant for younger students (this process works well for students on BTEC type courses). How could we engage younger students and those not on vocational courses to get involved? Do you think the Student Commissioning Group could have a role in helping to organise the art festival? Do you have any great ideas for projects/happening/installations that you would like to contribute? If we invited Tangled Feet to work with us again, what do you think we should ask them to help us achieve?

I look forward to an avalanche of great ideas soon and to discussing all this at our next meeting.

Here are all the ideas that the Heads of Department came up with at our planning meeting:

Showcase of product and process - explore unusual ways of presenting work

Audience participation - audience part of performance, therefore understand process of creation

Put on a show in 2 weeks - use different amounts of prep time depending on discipline and process (e.g briefs need longer)

Live multi arts event plus risky improvisation - happy accidents, some freedom, room for students to express themselves - interactive multi discipline promenade - analogue and digital arts
- mini performances

A huge tent - a total art environment that consumes the audience - keep some sense of the school building - tarpaulin over concourse - create corridor under links? - constructed environment actually and virtually - outside the norm - surprise, audience stumble upon work in unlikely locations, the unexpected

Students trained in doing front of house - need more student input, able to run an entire event - all ages involved, not just G&T - vertical grouping

Digital/keyboard orchestra - iPod touches, circuit bending, turntablism, samples etc.

Experiment with live creation, av, audio, performance art, in the moment - add to pre-recorded multi media content

2 week collapsed timetable - no negative criticism about students out of lessons - support from SLT - whole school involvement

Street artists, street party - food, outdoor gathering - food represented sculpturally - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Sensory equipment, using light, movement and sound together

Inclusion - parents, staff, professionals, family ...

Layered performance - more than one taking place simultaneously - involves all disciplines - engages staff from across the school

Celebration of school's work across disciplines - the social/cultural history of Tallis - past, present and future - taking us into the new building - continuum

Evidence of collaboration - organised and meaningful - chaos (?)


Big Top overarching circus theme - use professional artists, rig for trapeze, teach parents and students, a circus skills extravaganza

Keep best of current practice e.g. Fashion show, Restaurant, Midsummer, Motown, but with greater collaboration

Co-ordination? - need an artistic co-ordinator? Someone who could understand all the arts courses and disciplines

Brief driven work, written into the curriculum across VMPA

Saturday 13 February 2010

Have you ever?

Sorry didn't mean to post just the title there...

I remember that when I discovered recording your own voice and listening to it on your ipod for revision, and thought it was amazing.
But now, when I have to give presentations and such, I do it without even thinking twice, and now record others videos and all sorts of things. It's less time consuming than a lot of other methods and can be very effective.
Not quite sure what I'm getting at here but do you think that you learn more effectively by watching presentation or by making them?
Something I found myself thinking this morning.


Thursday 11 February 2010

Pecha Kucha

OK. So how do you think the phrase "Pecha Kucha" is pronounced? No, I didn't know either until I watched this video. The reason I'm blogging about Pecha Kucha is that I got an email from my brother today. He lives in New Zealand and wrote to tell me about a Pecha Kucha event he had attended in Auckland. His mail reminded me that I had seen the phrase on a list of seminar events at the last Handheld Learning conference. Not really knowing what it meant I had ignored it, choosing to listen to the slightly mad ramblings of Malcolm McLaren instead.

Now that I have become better educated, I think there might be some really interesting applications of Pecha Kucha in school. The idea is simple - create a Powerpoint (or Keynote) presentation of 20 slides that play automatically for 20 seconds each and talk whilst they scroll by. I really like the creative constraint here and the way that a few simple rules can bring something as potentially boring as a Powerpoint presentation to life.

I wonder of all staff InSeT days should be delivered using this model? If it's not worth saying in 6 mins and 40 secs, it really isn't worth saying. And what about Tallis LAB? Perhaps we should insist that the presentations done by students for the "Make it better" project conform to Pecha Kucha rules? It would guarantee that all groups could present in the course of one lesson and make sure that they were succinct and animated in order to get their points across. Most importantly, they would have to prepare and collaborate on their preparations really carefully, thus ensuring lots of metacognitive and creative thinking.

I think minimalism is in the air tonight. About an hour ago, my friend Emma sent me a tweet saying that she was going to be interviewing Steve Reich as part of the Red Bull Music Academy in a couple of weeks and what did I want to ask him? I confess I was at a bit of a loss to think of something clever. In the end I decided to ask him which visual artists had inspired his music. I then scuttled off to iTunes to listen to excerpts of some of his amazing music. They reminded me of Guy's (Clock Opera) soundscapes for the performance of "Home" in the summer.

Anyroadup, that's enough rambling from me. I need a holiday! Thanks for all your hard work this term. After the holiday I have exciting news about a possible trip to the States (and maybe Scandinavia too).

Webplay Blog

I thought people might like to take a look at Sydney's blog. She was clearly very impressed by the students she saw working and the students on the ARG.


Tuesday 9 February 2010

Our new app

I have received a few favourable reviews on Twitter of our new school iPhone and Android app and was prompted today by the very generous Johannes Ahrenfelt (@ahrenfelt) to describe the rationale behind and the process of making it.

Since we began blogging just over a year ago as an Action Research Group on these very pages, it has become increasingly popular in school as a way of creating a reflective learning journal. We now have well over 25 semi official school blogs and many more if you include those kept by individual students and class groups. Tallis LAB has been influential in popularising the use of blogs and they have had a tremendous impact in a variety of curriculum areas, particularly those with a vocational focus. I think this must be for several reasons:
  • they offer learners (young and older alike) an opportunity to curate the story of their learning journey
  • they provide a platform for sharing great ideas and resources
  • they are perfect for publishing a whole range of rich media content, in addition to text based reports
  • they can be personalised so that the blogger has a real sense of ownership of their learning story
  • they can grow in sophistication over time as the blogger becomes better acquainted with the technical issues
  • they can support creative professional development for colleagues
  • they can be linked to a host of other web based networking services
  • they provide an opportunity for genuine collaboration with one's Personal Learning Network
I am sure there are other reasons but these are paramount from my perspective.

When I realised just how many blogs there were in existence and, in addition, how many other virtual networks had been created for learning in school (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Ning, Flickr etc.) I began to think that it would be amazing to share these with our whole school community. Then I stumbled across a recommendation on Twitter for iSites, a company that offered to help you create and publish your own iPhone app. As someone who really values the learning potential of the iPhone, I was immediately intrigued but dismissed the idea that, with my very limited technical know-how, I would be able to do it myself. Nevertheless, I checked out the site and began to dabble.

I very quickly realised that it was easily possible for me to gather together a range of feeds, design a simple splash screen and header (using some of the artwork created for us by the brilliant Tak! Design when they sorted out our school's graphic identity) and organise this content into suitable headings - blogs, twitter, video, photos, projects. The iSites interface is very simple. The only thing missing is a live demo of your completed app.

It has taken me a total of about 5 hours to create this app and cost only $25. When I felt I had finished it, I clicked the publish button with some trepidation. I didn't realise, at that stage, just how easy it would be to edit and republish on the fly (I have since altered the design and structure of the app about 3 times since it was published 5 days ago). I also wondered whether Apple would approve of the app since the projected audience for it would obviously be quite small given that it was so closely associated with one school.

It took about 2 weeks in total for the app to be approved first by the iSites team and then by Apple. Throughout the process, iSites kept me informed by email of each stage. I have since emailed them a couple of times with rookie questions and the responses have been relatively swift and useful. The Android app appeared before the Apple version by a couple of days. All very efficient from my perspective. I have since looked at other app design services but they appear to be quite a bit more expensive. I suppose it would be better to be ad free, but that seems like a small negative in a largely positive experience of app design.

I am hoping that creating the app will galvanise our thinking in school about the value of blogging, web 2.0 tools, social networking and eLearning generally. It would be great to have more curriculum blogs. We are already talking about using Twitter as out main news feed on the website and a discussion about a possible new VLE and the value of an institutional Google Apps account is well under way.

Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend iSites to any other school considering creating their own app.

Monday 8 February 2010

Skills Swap and Skills Sessions

I have mentioned in the past that Mr. Nicholls and I have been trying to think of a way of making it possible for staff and students to exchange and learn new skills. There was a time when training for teachers happened in London hotels on special days out, but the problem was that by the time you got back into school you had forgotten what you had learned and there wasn't anybody around to ask. We thought that Skills Swap would be a good idea because it would be a flexible and fun way for staff and students to coach, mentor and support each other to get new skills. If you got stuck with something then you would know that there was advice and support in the building and this would encourage people to be a bit more ambitious and confident to update their skills. The idea is that people fill in a Skills Swap card and fill in what skills they would like offer and what skills they are seeking. You can click these links to see how to fill the card in and click here to get a blank card to fill in.

The other part of the idea is a rolling four week programme of sessions focusing on a particular skills area. To see what the first topic is you can have a look at the flyer and the explanation of how it works.


Saturday 6 February 2010

An assessment framework for creative learning

The following ideas are taken from an assessment framework for creative learning produced by Vaughan Clark, an old friend and an ex Tallis teacher, who works at Eton. He is responsible for running a Saturday School focused on developing creative learning. These statements are therefore designed to support the self, peer and teacher assessment process for students on the course. They look better presented in a grid but I'm blogging this from my phone and I'm a bit limited in desk top publishing power. The skill levels increase gradually in sophistication beginning with basic competence and, in theory, concluding in advanced level creative learning attributes.

I wonder if these level descriptors might be useful for us at Tallis in finding ways to assess creative learning competencies? Might they help us identify, describe and communicate important features of creative learning? I wonder if we should try to create some kind of handy guide to creative learning for staff, students and parents? Could we work with a designer to make it really exciting and visually coherent? Maybe we could even collaborate with Vaughan and his colleagues at Eton in putting it together? What do you think?

* Movement from a rigid thinking approach to a more flexible approach

* Begins to generate a range of ideas and plays with their form

* Asks a range of questions about those ideas and forms and begins to challenge the conventions and structures behind them

* Risks asking a range of questions from a range of ideas that leads to significant analysis based upon the degree of success of the questions and statements in generating new meanings

* Problems are being resolved through a clear process of challenging questions that are based upon testing a range of possibilities, some of which may be unsuccessful, but which lead to a resolution

* A growing understanding of how to apply knowledge networks

* Begins to understand the core concepts within the subject domain and can apply questions to discover these

* Begins to use the core concepts within the subject domain (e.g. Physics) to seek to resolve the key problem

* Begins to develop an understanding of how to use technologies to resolve the problem by testing ideas

* Makes judgements that are becoming less dependent upon received knowledge

* Judgements about the value of ideas are becoming more independent

* A range of co-existing alternative ideas and interpretations have been considered

* An understanding of other factors that help to shape judgements, such as social and cultural contexts are beginning to be considered

* The final product is the result of clear independent judgements

* It shows a richness of texture of ideas which lead to the possibilities of analogies and metaphors being generated by the audience

* A range of connections and relationships of ideas/knowledge/understandings of meanings has been articulated clearly

* Progress in the degree of motivation displayed in resolving the problem

* An active role in attempting to generate meanings and understanding is evident.

* An understanding of the value of learning within a social community is understood and participated in

* A degree of control is sought over the shaping of ideas and relevance of questions, but also a willingness to experiment and explore ideas is increasingly evident

* Problems are being anticipated and questions are generated increasingly independently to lead to action and production

* The value of questions, ideas and resolutions is considered and their significance is considered in generating new meanings

* Evidence of engagement with learning communities beyond the studio room are evident, e.g. further, wider reading; parents, etc

* The success of the product is evaluated independently with increasing self-confidence

* Defining characteristics of the meaning of the product are coherently articulated using a rich vocabulary which demonstrates a developed understanding of the subject domain and the contexts in which that subject domain is interpreted

* The learner clearly demonstrates ownership of the product

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Word it out

Made with WordItOut

One of the frustrations of the excellent Wordle word cloud application is that it's difficult to embed the finished cloud in another website (especially if you're working on a PC). Word it out appears to have solved that problem. Once you have created your word cloud, it is saved online and you can embed wherever you like. Job done!

The example above is taken from the recently published, complete Ofsted report on Creative Learning.

Friday 5 February 2010

Our Student Voice Prezi

This is the presentation we created for the Student Voice: Are We Listening? event at City Hall on Thursday evening. Raihan, Billy, Seb, Tom, Amber (remember her?) and Chenai all took part and were a real credit to the school. They described some of the many ways we have developed our Student Voice initiative at Tallis but with a particular emphasis on student authorship and social networking via the internet. We have already received positive feedback from the event organisers and we are expecting a visit from friends at Islington Arts and Media School in early March to find out more about each other's School of Creativity plans.

Web n Play

I received a lovely email from Sydney on Wednesday following our meeting the previous afternoon. She was clearly very impressed by the group's ideas and creativity. I thought I could use Sydney's notes from the meeting as our minutes. I am meeting Lisa Sproat today to see how we can find ways of inviting some primary schools to get involved. I will post after the meeting to keep everyone updated. Thanks again for all those who attended, and also for Billy for chairing the meeting.

Sydney's Notes:

They would like to work with between 2-4 primary schools
They want to do the project before the end of this academic year
They want to involve Year 11 students in the project, which means we have to run the project over the last three weeks of term, due to exams
This will mean that we have to condense the normal project schedule (8 weeks), which is fine so long as the primary schools are willing to dedicate a lot of time to it over the last 3 weeks.
I stressed that WebPlay Local was a very flexible model and that we could adapt it to fit our needs, although we needed to decide what those needs were and also to find out what the priorities were for the primary schools
We discussed, but did not decide, the platform that the project would be delivered through. We can of course use Thinkquest, which is what we currently use, but as we are increasingly running our projects on learning platforms, and as there is a mandate to get primary schools using learning platforms, I suggested that maybe it would be good to use the authorities. It as also mentioned that you use a series of collaborative tools that we could use, there is only an issue of internet safety for primary school students. A decision still needs to be made on this.
I suggested ways of involving the Tallis students could include: performing in the secret meeting, acting as Jet Set and Go agents online and possible in-class (helping with local walks etc). Helping with the secret meeting (ushers etc, helping to create the final travel guides (these don’t have to be ppt or websites, they can be videos – plays, newscasts etc).
I said that we would work together as a group to adapt the curriculum
here was talk of involving primary schools that you are already doing professional development work with on media (video, photos etc) and that the project could reinforce the skills they have been learning
I had also mentioned how impressed I was with the deaf students whom I met while I was with you. I suggested that maybe it would be worth working with a primary that has a deaf unit and feeds to Tallis and then involving some of the students we met in the project, including signing all our resources and a performing/signing at the Secret Meeting. I would be really interested in pursuing this idea.
I explained that the normal fee for primary schools to do the normal WebPlay Local is £500 and that we would stick with that and provide all the coordinating and extra design/management time for free. (because it’s really exciting and will be really fun!)
I stressed the importance of moving quickly because of the time constraints. I said we would have to have a deadline for a decision (and for having primary schools involved) in two weeks, so let’s say 19th Feb?
I said that if we decided to move ahead the first thing I would do would be to meet with them again and bring our normal project management plan, which we would fill in together. I think this way of working would give them valuable experience at project planning and management, in addition to the benefits they will get out of the project themselves.