This is the second in a series of articles about taking risks with Education Leadership, Learning and Teaching. The articles are based around a workshop that I have been doing with the same name for Scottish Local Authorities and the EIS.
In the first article in this series I have already mentioned Monkseaton High School in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle. It is a school that has embraced controlled risk taking and does things differently.
But there are of course lots of other examples of education delivery around the world where doing things differently and risk taking approaches are encouraged.
Lets look at some examples:
1) Tinkering School (my personal favorite!)
"Tinkering School offers an exploratory curriculum designed to help kids – ages 8 to 17 – learn how to build things. By providing a collaborative environment in which to explore basic and advanced building techniques and principles, we strive to create a school where we all learn by fooling around. All activities are hands-on, supervised, and at least partly improvisational.
Grand schemes, wild ideas, crazy notions, and intuitive leaps of imagination are, of course, encouraged and fertilized."
Gever Tulley (founder of Tinkering School) talks more about the project in his 2009 TED Talk (embeded below):
One of the key aspects of Tinkering School is its playful approach to learning and teaching. I’m a huge advocate of play and games in education. I think that if you think about any good game they tend to offer challenge, progressing and reward. Computer games are now so sophisticated as well as challenge, progression and reward they also offer personalization and real-time feedback.
Hmmmm… not a bad five words to describe what we continuously try to create in our classrooms and learning spaces. I’ve written a lot about games based learning before and this recent talk that I did for Microsoft sum up most of my current thinking.
Some schools have taken the notion of games and computer games to an extreme. Which brings me nicely onto my second example of different global practice.
"Quest to Learn [in New York] is a school for digital kids. It is a community where students learn to see the world as composed of many different kinds of systems. It is a place to play, invent, grow, and explore.
Quest to Learn has purposely responded not only to the growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn, but also to the belief that access for all students to these opportunities is critical. We believe that supporting students, their parents and communities in a quest to become motivated, resourceful, life-long learners is a true aim of education."
Of course some people are skeptical about on-line teaching and I strongly believe that children should have a blended approach to learning. But part of this blend has to be exposure and use of digital technology.
It is however interesting that increasingly some learning delivery models are entirely available on-line.
Which brings me nicely onto my third example of different global practice.
"The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.
With a library of over 2,400 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 180 practice exercises, we're [Khan Academy] on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace."
More information on The Khan Academy in this short You Tube Video:
Here is an interesting thing to consider. The Khan Academy gets over a million unique views a week (and rising). What percentage of these come from the UK to do think? I would bet not very many. I’ve got no real data to back this up but I expect statistically many of the views come from Eastern Asia and India. Of course there is nothing wrong with this - in fact a free on-line education is in theory great for everyone. But we do need to consider why globally some people are motivated to learn and others are not.
I have said time and time again that in the UK we do not lack resources (I know we could always have more) but we do lack motivation and this seems to be a very hard thing to crack at a system wide level.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we replace our schools with The Kahn Academy or even smaller UK versions of it. But in the back of a taxi on the way to Reading Train Station Professor Sugata Mitra once told me, “If a teacher can be replaced by a computer, they should be.” I think he was quoting Arther Clarke.
Of course he didn’t mean that we should replace teachers with computers. But he is right and I have come across a few (luckily, very few) teachers in my career who’s only role seems to be to press the spacebar to advance the PowerPoint presentation while rows of children copy the projected side into their jotters.
This is not an engaging activity, it is very poor pedagogy (if done all the time) and is certainly not a great return on investment for a teachers time.
The work of Sugata Mitra brings me onto my forth example of different global practice.
Professor Mitra’s work is fascinating and if you have never seen his TED Talks (one and two) you need to spend some time watching his projects on the use of technology to educate children in places where no one wants to teach.
The ‘Granny Cloud’ is one of is latest and most successful projects.
"When I last visited India, I asked the children what they would most like to use Skype [the internet telephone service] for. Surprisingly, they said they wanted British grandmothers to read them fairytales – they'd even worked out that between them they could afford to pay £1 a week out of their own money," Mitra said.
He had already recruited one woman to spend a few hours a week reading fairy tales to the children, with her life-size webcam image projected on to a wall in India. He appealed to Education Guardian readers to volunteer. And some 200 people stepped forward.
"Many are retired teachers, who are now regularly on Skype teaching children in the slums," says Mitra. "The children are forming relationships with them, and the teachers, many of whom were upset at the thought of having finished their careers, have realised they're more important than ever."
More information on the Granny Cloud in this short YouTube Video:
Again, I am not saying that this is the answer to our literacy issues within the UK Education System. But I am constantly surprised with how few schools have grasped the concept that it is now very possible to beam and expert into your classroom for real-time engagement with children and young people.
We simply must make more of these opportunities to turn our schools and classrooms into child centred exciting places for young people to learn, question and imagine.
Obviously, the above examples aren’t the only examples of schools taking risks and doing things differently. There are lots of others for examples including Shirleands Collegiate Academy in Birmingham, Broadclyst Primary School in Devon, Saltash.net Academy in Cornwall, High Tech High in San Diago, Silverton Primary School, Western Sydney and of course the proposed all through Academy on Portland, Dorset.
It is also important to remember that you could never lift one of these models and retro-fit it into a new community. Some of the learning plazas in Wales have tried this and it just doesn’t work.
What risk taking schools and leaders do is take the best bits from a global recipe and create a model to serve their local circumstance and need. As long as the model they work towards is flexible and agile it doesn’t matter if some parts or ideas do not work - the important thing is that it is kept as child centered as possible and the philosophy of trying new things is built into the very foundations of any new school.