This is the sixth in a series of ten posts about my experience last week at the 2009 Microsoft Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna.
Over the years I’ve read various bits of work from Futurelab and have even been interviewed a couple of times. Sarah Payton, from Futurelab, led the facilitation of the second day of the European Microsoft Innovative Teachers Forum. During her presentation Sarah was talking about the Enquiring Minds Project.
I was really interested in this for a number of reasons first of all it sounded very like our East Lothian Extreme Learning Project that I was involved in a few years ago (maybe an idea ahead of its time?) and also Sarah sold the idea, the thinking, the research and the tools behind the project really well.
According to Sarah this was her favourite tweet of the conference, ‘Sarah Payton from Futurelab introducing herself and showing us a picture of a goat!’
Seriously though, what a
great introduction. By showing a picture of herself at school visiting a local
farm and feeding a goat. She had instantly captured the imagination of the
audience. Very few of us remember tests
we took at school but we all remember the extra curricular activities and interesting real
life learning experiences.
Unfortunately, in the UK it’s still mostly the test
results that get you the jobs and the system continues to cut the extra
curricular and exciting activities. I think
this may eventually lead to some people having a really negative, perhaps
even fearful, experience of school?
Anyway, so what is Enquiring Minds? (from their website)
Enquiring Minds is...
- a response to the challenges schools face in the task of preparing children for a future characterised by rapid social, technological and cultural change
- a distinctive approach to teaching and learning that takes seriously the knowledge, ideas, interests and skills that students bring into schools
- a set of principles to underpin relationships between adults and children in schools and classrooms, which see children taking increasing responsibility for determining the content and purpose of their learning
- a set of print and digital tools to support teachers and school leaders to implement, adapt and explore Enquiring Minds approaches
- a three-year programme of research testing these approaches,
principles and resources in UK schools.
Enquiring Minds is not...
- a new name for thinking skills or learning to learn approaches
- a return to the child-centred permissive education of the 1970s
- a special programme for gifted and talented or disaffected children.
Or as Sarah described it,
‘it’s about children coming to school and not taking off their backpack of knowledge - instead teachers help children up-pack their backpack [knowledge]'
So how does it work? It’s very simple - but as I’ve always said it’s the simple ideas that change things and have real impact!
Basically children pick a topic
or a place and research it through the eyes of different minds. For example
they might pick Vienna and think about questions
to answer about Vienna through the eyes of a scientist, geographer, mathematician, politician, tourist
Tools to help children do this were developed through Exploreatree (http://www.exploratree.org.uk/) this is a free resource that anyone globally can use or tap into. Its very self explanatory so clicks on the link and have a play around.
Children that took part in the initial pilot enquiring minds projects commented on their freedom to think, how the work opened their minds, promoted positive skills and most importantly, for me, changed the relationship with the classroom teacher. You can find out more about the project here.
Next Sarah set us a task about 'what does a 21st Century Learner need?'. We had to share our ideas and feed back to other groups in the hall. I forgot to mention that I was working with a great bunch of Scandinavians! Here’s James Kent presenting his groups thoughts back to our group.
Finally, we were set a group
talk to use the enquiring minds methodology to work in small groups to research
and explore Vienna.
Stuart Ball (or was it Bell?) from Microsoft UK gave the
audience an overview of some of the technology they might choose to use. As
always Stuart encourages people to be as creative as possible and always backs
up his arguments with, ‘children would love doing that!’.
He showcased the Davitt Random Activity Generator and talked about other new technologies such as Deep Zoom and Photosynth.
I’ll talk more about how we got on with Sarah’s challenge in my next post.