Tuesday 8 November 2011

SoCIT - Plugging Into Creativity

The film we submitted to the Schools of Creativity pavilion at the Royal Festival Hall's 'Festival '51' exhibition this summer is now available online along with those from other Schools of Creativity across the country.

We will soon be hosting the touring version of this exhibition (Dec - Jan) in our Gallery space, just in time for the Post 16 Open Evening (1st Dec) and the official opening of the school in January.

Saturday 5 November 2011

What does it mean to be imaginative?

Over the next few weeks students in Year 9 will be taking part in a field trial on behalf of the Centre for Real World Learning at the University of Winchester and the government body Creativity, Culture and Education. The purpose of the field trial is to research the possibility of designing an assessment framework for creativity. This is the second phase of the trial. The first was concerned with what it means to be inquisitive. This term we are focused on the imagination. Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton, joint authors of 'New Kinds of Smart', are proposing that creativity is made up of several key characteristics. These are:
  • Inquisitive - wondering & questioning, exploring & investigating, challenging assumptions
  • Persistent - tolerating uncertainty, sticking with difficulty, daring to be different
  • Collaborative - cooperating appropriately, giving & receiving feedback, sharing the product
  • Disciplined - reflecting critically, developing techniques, crafting & improving
  • Imaginative - playing with possibilities, making connections, using intuition
The Prezi above provides a really useful overview of the conceptual framework for the research. This term, I hope to be working with a team of colleagues and students in Year 9 to explore what it means to be imaginative. As well as reflecting on their understanding of their own imaginations we will be gathering a range of evidence of their imaginations in action.

We will use statements about the imagination and what it means to be imaginative and ask students to decide how much the statements reflect their learning habits of mind:

Being imaginative means trying things our. It means combining ideas from different places. It means being able to carry on even when you can't fully explain your reasoning.

If this is 'very much like me' then I can show that I can keep my mind open to ideas and that I don't narrow down too quickly. I can show that I look for links between facts and ideas. I use my own intuitions to come up with ideas. I can do these things without being prompted. I am confident about doing these things.
Whenever I have had explicit discussions with students about a particular skill or attribute prior to a learning activity I have always found it to be more successful. I hope and expect that this term's work will benefit from being framed by this exploration of the imagination and that we will have a great deal to discuss and share in terms of how this skills/ability/aptitude can be tracked over a period of time.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

A brief glimpse of our brand new school

I have had the most amazing day in our new school building. Whilst it's not quite fully finished I was able to gain access to my teaching area and unpack all my boxes. having put up with a completely inadequate teaching space for so many years it feels extraordinary to be in spaces that I helped to design and specify and I know the students will love them. The amount of light and space is incredible and it was so lovely to wander around the building today and listen to colleagues waxing lyrical about their rooms and facilities. We know we have been very lucky to be involved in the BSF process when so many people across the country have been denied the possibility of a new school building. Rest assured that we will be working very hard to make sure that we don't squander the amazing opportunity this building affords us to ensure our young people have a fantastic 21st century education.

Sunday 30 October 2011

A pop-up university of the future?

The 2012 Learning Without Frontiers conference will be taking place at Olympia. The website makes the following announcement:

Our design team are busy re-imagining the interior of Olympia’s National Hall to create a “pop-up university of the future” presenting an entirely new experience for our delegates and attendees.

It is interesting to see that the notion of a Pop Up School (#popupschool) has caught on at this event which aims to be a source of disruptive thinking in education. The flashy and obviously very expensive pods illustrated above are a far cry from our Pop Up School at the Creativity World Forum in 2010. Our DIY booth (named 1001/2 because we were not assigned a proper place in the venue and had to squueeze ourselves in between booths 100 and 101) was resourced with paper, pens and other stationary items that we had scrounged from other exhibitors, and yet we were equipped with a number of digital devices (iPod Touches, iPads, laptops, cameras) that enabled us to exist online and engage visitors with the concept of a virtual school.

We certainly confused a few people. "So, what time does your pop up school start?" and "Do the students have to wear a uniform?" were frequently asked questions. But I like to think that we also raised a few eyebrows and delighted a few visitors with our proposition that the idea of a school is changing due to the different ways in which we are able to learn in the 21st century.

I am tempted to book a ticket to LWF2012 to see what a big budget "pop-up university of the future" might look like. You get a 'free' iPad if you book in the next two days (price £800). However, I hope that it will look and feel and function a bit more like this.

Friday 21 October 2011

Design for Good


"Creativity can defeat habit"

Musical bicycle

Check out this demonstration of collaborative creativity:
What if you would be able to generate music by the simple act of riding your bike? This project started with that question. We have build the first prototype and thanks to Jeffry Sol and Vincent Beijersbergen we were able to do so in a month. And yes it was pretty difficult, but loads of fun.... the idea is pretty simple; basically, a wheel and dynamo work the same way as a record player. But it was not as easy as it looks. First, we had to come up with a solution for the wheels; how can we change the records? The forfork was blocking the wheel. That's why we changed a 30 year old bike into a lefty bike; and build a construction that would still support the weight and would be strong enough for people to ride on it. The biggest challenge of all was to make sure that the needles would stick to the record and follow the grooves, without skipping too much. Therefor we bought two vertical record players and took them apart, to see how they worked. Also; we wanted our bike to be as low tech as possible; that's why the only "extra" energy we used was a 9 volt battery to support the amplifier. In order for the records to run smoothly, we also had to change the crank of the bike and the chain. After that, we build our own horn, to have some extra volume, and we sprayed the whole bike black. We had some sponsors like bikestores, handy people and DJ's and that's how our dream in progress turned out to be real... Here's to the crazy ones; thank you guys, you rock. - Merel, Pieter and Liat


Monday 3 October 2011

The importance of creative constraints

A couple of weeks ago we were faced with an interesting challenge, what one might call a 'creative constraint'. We discovered that we did not have enough publicity booklets for prospective Post 16 students. The booklet would cost several thousand pounds to both redesign and print. It would also cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent trees. We have a much reduced budget for publicity and marketing this year, a situation faced by many schools across the country. We also had a looming deadline by which we needed to have a new set of marketing materials ready. The final challenge was perhaps the most significant. We need to recruit approximately 200 new members to our Post 16 Centre over the next couple of years in order to make the books balance in our new BSF school Opening on 1st November).

We met to discuss these constraints:
  • a tight deadline
  • a small budget
  • a recruitment challenge
  • ecological issues
After some time batting ideas around I made the suggestion that we ought to rethink our whole strategy. Why did we need an expensive printed booklet? How many people actually read it (all of it anyway)? Given that most of our Year 11 students transfer to our Post 16 Centre, where were these extra 200 bodies going to come from? How could we create what we needed on a tight budget and in time?

The solution I suggested was taking almost the entire marketing strategy online with a new mobile friendly website, lots of social networking integration (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr) and harnessing the talents and energies of our fantastic students, parents and friends to help out. I suggested that the most successful marketing strategy, especially with students outside our school, is word of mouth. The majority of those who choose to study in our centre have friends at Tallis who tell great stories about their time here. How could we support this 'word of mouth' effect and build a community of learners communicating about the benefits of studying at Thomas Tallis School?

Given the budget and time constraints (and my limited knowledge of web design) we chose Weebly as our platform for the website. Weebly is a brilliant, free, online web design tool. It offers plenty of decent looking templates for the novice designer (we use it with our students to create ePortfolios) and the ability to tweak the design behind the scenes. Its drag and drop interface is pretty intuitive and published sites are automatically mobile device friendly. It has taken me a couple of weeks to create the site from scratch. I bought a custom domain, a good looking Tumblr template for the blog news feed and a Weebly Pro account. The total cost of the new site is just over £100.

We have already seen some interesting benefits with this new approach:
  • We have discussed the Post 16 marketing strategy with colleagues and got them actively involved in promoting their curriculum areas by using the blog and Facebook page
  • We have recruited a few parents and friends with experience of working in the fields of journalism, radio, PR and design to help support students in managing the new social media strategy
  • We have beaten the deadline and gained an audience for the site well beyond school via Twitter (@creativetallis) and the blog
  • We have the ability to constantly update the website with the latest news and information about the centre (this would have involved lots of writing letters to prospective students in previous years) thus saving hours of admin time
Time will tell whether this strategy achieves the ultimate goal of recruiting new students to our Post 16 Centre. We haven't abandoned the notion of printed material, but the savings we have made on the booklet, by creating a website, mean that we can now establish a creative partnership with an artist in residence to create a Post 16 fanzine with a group of students.

Would we have arrived at this strategy and its solutions without the original constraints being imposed upon us? I doubt it.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Mad Pad

I've just been playing with the new MadPad app for the iPhone and iPad. The video above demonstrates how it works. You simply record 12 short videos of ambient percussive sounds which the app trims automatically for you and assigns to separate pads on your device. Once you've completed your recordings you can tweak the pitch and volume settings for each pad. Then you're ready to record your beats mix and upload to the internet or save to your camera roll.

I fully intend to load the app onto my iPad and the school's iPod Touches. I'm pretty sure that students will have a great time remixing the sounds of the classroom and the whole school environment. What a great bit of imaginative design that's perfectly suited to mobile devices.

Here's my first effort using sounds gathered from my kitchen. I created and uploaded the video using the iMovie app:

Monday 15 August 2011

Education Evolution

Sir Ken Robinson posted a link to this video and related website on Twitter recently. I really like the way these students have become advocates for a different type of education, one that is reflected in the learning spaces we inhabit as much as it is by the curriculum. It made me reflect on the role of the beanbag in class, the perceived need for interactive whiteboards at the front of the room and the role that mobile technology should play in learning (in and out of school). It also made me think about how we get the most out of the various learning spaces we will have in the new building, specifically the circulation and public spaces, the in-between spaces, and whether new kinds of furniture might be required to enable informal learning experiences to blossom.

The posts on the project blog are interesting too. The most recent one reveals the trials and tribulations of digital communication. After a brief flurry of interest near the publication of the initial video on YouTube, the class became disheartened that it had not gone viral. However, their message had certainly hit home at a local level, garnering an emotional response from the school's district superintendent. Now, it appears, the video has been picked up and promoted by various folks and is gathering a broader audience.

The construction of an online campaign is a fantastic way for young people to learn about digital tools but, most importantly, provides them with an opportunity to have their voices heard beyond the classroom and/or school where they happen to study. In the process, they can learn about the rights and responsibilities of authors and publishers, the etiquette of the internet, the various techniques for building (and keeping) an audience and the need to support their online campaign with all the conventional features of democracy: meetings, interviews, ballots, speeches, conferences etc.

I really hope this campaign continues to develop and reach educators and young people (and perhaps even politicians) across the globe. I wish the young people responsible for it every success in developing their already considerable skills.

Tuesday 2 August 2011


Interesting post about use of DSLR.

I was fortunate enough to work as Production Photographer for a short film called "Two Minutes" Starring Larry Lamb and Jodie Whittaker. They were shooting on a Canon 5Dmk2 which is becoming more popular with short films and as you can see in the previous post something that the wider film world is embracing. Not only are they cheaper they are also lighter and the quality is incredible.

I've seen the final edit and it's a thing of beauty.

Saturday 30 July 2011

The power of the DSLR

This is a short behind-the-scenes look at the most recent Lucas Films production 'Red Tails'. What's remarkable about the film is that some of the key scenes are being shot using Canon DSLRs. Although this is still an unusual situation in the film industry, the fact that these cameras can shoot both stills and high resolution video footage makes them the perfect tool to use in schools. And now we have the powerful example of George Lucas' empire to justify their inclusion as an industry standard tool.

Thursday 28 July 2011

My Learner Sketch

I was recently sent a link to the Faces of Learning website. It's a really interesting project designed to elicit stories about individuals' experiences of learning. Once registered, you can share your story either by text or voice recording. The project aims to:

envision a world where all people understand their strengths and weaknesses as learners, and where everyone expects and demands high quality learning environments throughout their lives.

Not a bad ambition.

One of the features of the site is an interactive sketchbook in which you paste statements about yourself (you can reject statements you feel don't adequately represent you to the bottom of the page). Once yo have chosen all your statements and posted in the sketchbook, you are shown the final version with additional comments designed to encourage you to reflect on your strengths as a learner. Extra information about these various attributes is also provided via hyperlinks. The last page encourages you to reflect on things you may need to work on. You can download (as a PDF) or email your sketchbook.

It occured to me that this might be an excellent way for us to further explore the assessment of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills and encourage more meta-cognitive reflection. It might, for example, be a great way to begin a project in Tallis Lab, providing a kind of self-assessment of perceived learning power that could then be used to inform future discussions with each students about the progress they are making.

FSOR #49

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FSOR #49, a set on Flickr.

Felix's School of Rock #49 at Thomas Tallis School, July 2011.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

The Finland Phenomenon

This week I shall be mostly investigating the education system in Finland.

Monday 25 July 2011

Time & Place

This year's Turbinegeneration theme is Time & Place. This pack of activities supports Tacita Dean's installation in the Turbine Hall and contains some fantastic suggestions for art exchanges with partner schools.

Friday 22 July 2011

Play Tallis

I loved so much of the learning that took place during Tallis Perspectives but this is one of my favourite projects. It was inspired by the great website Bb 2.0 but with the idea that we could try to capture the ambient sounds of the existing building before it is demolished to make way for our new playing fields.

It proved to be quite a technical challenge (both in terms of the music and the film making) but the end result is a lovely collage of noises and sights. Well done to all the members of staff and students who worked on its creation!

What is Project Based Learning?

Let Jeff Robin from High Tech High explain...

And here's what it's NOT in case you were wondering.

PS Thanks to Tammy Parks from Howe High School for the link.

Sunday 17 July 2011


Yesterday I discovered by chance that Thomas Tallis School has won the £3500 Cassio prize for the best exhibit at the Royal Festival Hall's '51 Festival of Britain anniversary show. 42 schools across the UK were asked to submit work to the show for a special pavilion showcasing the work of Schools of Creativity. A similar schools pavilion formed part of the original 1951 show. We submitted several pieces: films of the Tangled Feet residencies and performances, The Crate film made by the Tallis Creators with Eelyn Lee Productions, a films about cultural learning and the arts made during our trip to Oklahoma, our Manifesto for Creative Tallis, and the designs created for the walls of the new building by Gilles & Cecilie Studio.

I happened to be at the Southbank yesterday and popped in to see the pavilion. I bumped into Rehana Mughal, one of the practitioners working on the exhibition, and she told me that we had won. Amazing!

What struck me most about the whole show was the very careful way the exhibits had been displayed and the way the experience of ordinary people who had visited the 1951 exhibition had been foregrounded. I then discovered that the exhibition had been co-curated with several volunteers and that they had all learned a huge amount about how curation works from the experience (see above film). Earlier in the week, I had been fortunate to meet two of the assistant curators at Tate Modern to discuss ways in which Thomas Tallis School could be more involved in the education aspects of the Tate's work. I will be joining the teacher consultation team in September. We had a great chat about several possible initiatives to encourage young people to think about how exhibitions are constructed and designed and the similarities between designing an exhibition and curating an ePortfolio. These skills of selection, visual communication, literacy and cultural awareness seem to be even more crucial on the web as young people find ever more sophisticated ways to share their talents or, with little thought and sense of responsibility for their digital presence, advertise their shortcomings and inadequacies.

I really look forward to the final two days of the Tallis Perspectives cross-curricular learning project, precisely because there is an expectation that the learning that has taken place is shared publicly in a series of exhibitions, performances and installations. In the 21st century, everyone is a curator!

Sunday 10 July 2011

i, Scientist

I am delighted that we will be taking part in this year's version of Beau Lotto's brilliant i, Scientist project at the Science Museum. Check out this film to get a glimpse of the great learning in store for our dedicated team of explorers.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Thursday 30 June 2011

Learning to Learn

I've just been reading about St. paul's Convent School in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. I was particularly interested in their approach to meta cognition and learning to learn and the integrated use of iPod Touches. Here's an extract from the article on the Futurelab website:

Learning to learn and the 16 habits of mind

All pupils in their first two years at the secondary school undertake a Learning to Learn course. They also are trained (by the older students in F6 - aged 16) in Professor Arthur Costa’s 16 habits of mind. Prof Costa maintains that a critical attribute of intelligence is not only having information but also knowing how to act on it . The 16 habits of mind (such as persistence, thinking flexibly, remaining open to continual learning) contribute to this intelligence. For more detail on how the school has implemented these 16 Habits of Mind across the curriculum see the video at http://ihouse.hkedcity.net/~sp1400/hom/index.htm.

The 16 Habits of Mind are listed below:
1. Persisting
2. Managing impulsivity
3. Listening with understanding and empathy
4. Thinking flexibly
5. Thinking about thinking (meta-cognition)
6. Striving for accuracy
7. Questioning and posing problems
8. Applying past knowledge to new situations
9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
10. Gathering data through all senses
11. Creating, imagining, innovating
12. Responding with wonderment and awe
13. Taking responsible risks
14. Finding humour
15. Thinking interdependently
16. Remaining open to continuous learning

Technology provides additional learning opportunities and enables the girls to showcase their work

The school’s learning portal enables the students to log in and access additional activities, for example additional videos and audio recordings and accompanying exercises to test their English comprehension. The students showing me round the school had made frequent use of these materials. I was shown active class discussion areas, not only featuring questions on homework logistics but also intense discussion on the role of school, the responsibilities of parents and what students need to learn to prepare them for life. Sister Margaret described how extensive use is made of ipod touches to enable students to revise topics and practice Putonghua (spoken Chinese). Technology allows the school to extend learning opportunities beyond the school day and the school term.

There is clearly lots to learn from schools in other parts of the world as well as those nearer to home. I was also struck by the headteacher's reminder of the multiple ways in which we can demonstrate and celebrate our unique talents and intelligences:

Sister Margaret points out the 100 different pursuits of the children painted on the screen to emphasise that everyone is good at something and the key is finding out what and building upon it.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Thrashed at chess by the ghost of Marcel Duchamp

As you can see I've just been thrashed in a game of online chess. I'm rubbish at chess so it was not a big surprise that it took my opponent just a couple of minutes to rub my nose in it. However, I didn't feel too bad about it since it's not everyday you get to play with the ghost of a famous artist. Marcel Duchamp is one the founders of conceptual art and perhaps one of the twentieth century's mots creative minds. He gave up making art to become a chess master. He obviously saw many parallels between the kind of conceptual strategies he used to create challenging new art works (some of which redefined how we think about art) and the game of chess.

The creator of this website has apparently designed the computer opponent to play in the style of Marcel Duchamp. I think this is an idea that Duchamp himself would have found highly amusing.

Saturday 25 June 2011

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

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All That Is SolidAll That Is SolidAll That Is SolidAll That Is SolidAll That Is SolidAll That Is Solid

The first day of performances at the Greenwich + Docklands Festival with Tangled Feet. I am so proud of our wonderful students (mostly from Year 8) who are taking part. I can't wait for the performances at Tallis on Tuesday.