I was delighted last November to be asked to write a report for the Irish National Council for Curriculum & Assessment on Computational Thinking. I couldn’t do it on my own, so invited a team of friends to help – Nina Bresnihan, who had been conducting literature review on this for her PhD, Dermot Walsh who had been looking at professional development in his PhD as well as an innovative primary practitioner and Joy Hooper, formerly working to advise both New Zealand and the UK on technology enhanced learning and also an experienced primary practitioner. We were advised by friends Stephen Powell and Glenn Strong and also consulted with Jane Waite, Dave Smith and Amanda Jackson – key players in the UK’s efforts to bring computing to the Primary level. I felt pleased to have such an experienced, knowledgeable and willing bunch to call on.
The result is now out and can be found on the NCCA’s web site. Some of the ideas have moved on in the short six months since we began, but that is inevitable in such a vibrant space – you can see some of the material updated in this blog.
And finally on Tuesday – I helped screen a preview of the excellent film ‘Sink’, viewing and discussing with friends in the local Labour Party and in the company of the film’s writer and director, Mark Gillis.
Set in London’s East End, the film portrays Micky, a working class man who attempts to keep his family – himself, his aged father and troubled son – afloat in the context of a punishing welfare & jobs regime. In the film, metaphorically and literally, the banking crisis of 2007 looms on the London skyline, but I found myself taking issue with others in our discussion after the film. It was suggested that the current ‘system’ was an inevitable response to that banking crisis. Although I would be just as judgemental about the bankers, I felt that the system is in fact a deliberate design by the Conservative government that used austerity (I like to call it arseterity) as a cure for notional overspending by the previous Labour government. It has proven to be a wicked and cruel policy that has impoverished the weak and enriched the already wealthy.
The film portrayed Micky as helpless, as he sinks within that system until in the end he decides to transcend it, introducing a moral complexity that got us talking.
So what else could be done? First we must recognise that the system is no accident and that it can be changed. My friends in Ireland who had canvassed in so many neighbourhoods, Joan Baez singing Joe Hill and my own systems thinking inspire this recognition in me!
As an enthusiastic member of the Institute for Educational Cybernetics a few years ago, I became clearer about the value of a systems thinking approach to addressing social challenges – specifically, in my case, the design of education. Cybernetics was famously applied in the context of central government (a word that is fundamental to the field) in the case of Cybersin and Allende in early seventies Chile.
But such centralised thinking must be matched by consideration of each individual’s need to think, value, and act accordingly, to make any system function well. We can suffer as victims of a system or we can choose to become effective ‘ants’ and through principled action, change it or make it serve our collective needs!
For me, this is why I chair the local Labour Party and seek to encourage members to work together, respecting their diversity and humanity.
In the wonderful world of Twitter, I serendipitously came across Lankelly Chase. I won’t address all of their work here, but I do recommend their account of their vision, mission and values, which focus on the systems which surround those who suffer severe disadvantage.
I think their model of systems behaviour, although intended to help improve matters for the likes of Micky, could also be applied more widely, but with one proviso – it should address the system and the individual.
The system behaviours Lankelly Chase identify in this regard are about perspective, power and participation and relate to ‘everyone’ and their understanding of the system – I have added my notes to these and to their assumptions.
What do you think?
Lankelly Chase’s words
My notes of advice to the individual
1. People view themselves as part of an interconnected whole
Everyone working towards positive change understands that their actions form part of a web of activity made up of the contribution of many others. Everyone wants the system as a whole to work, and knows they cannot control it.
Make acts transparent at every level, cross refer and give credit to others.
2. People are viewed as resourceful and bringing strengths
Everyone is viewed as bringing both strengths and weaknesses as part of a resourceful network of people who are continually growing and learning from each other.
Praise the strengths; recognise and forgive the weaknesses; offer ‘unconditional positive regard’.
3. People share a vision
People appreciate each other’s perspectives and seek common purpose and understanding.
Allow for diversity; tolerate alternatives.
4. Power is shared, and equality of voice actively promoted
All people are able to play their fullest role in building an effective system. Unequal distribution of power, including structural inequality, is continually addressed.
Exercise positive discrimination e.g. use all-women short lists, or more fun: insist that men make and serve the tea & coffee.
5. Decision-making is devolved
Those people closest to a complex situation are free to engage with its uniqueness and context and to use their initiative to respond to it.
Act freely within a framework of responsibility to values and integrity rather than unquestioning loyalty to leaders.
6. Accountability is mutual
System improvements are driven by accountability to the people being served. The people being served are supported to take responsibility for their own change.
Offer meaningful redress when something goes wrong.
People feel safe to ask the difficult questions, voice disagreement and deal with the conflict and uncomfortable emotions that surface.
Ideally, be a friend who listens and cares!
8. Leadership is collaborative and promoted at every level
Leadership is identified and valued as much in the person experiencing interlocking disadvantages and the frontline worker, as in the CEO or commissioner.
Lead by offering a service to frontline workers, rather than accepting a privilege.
9. Feedback and collective learning drive adaptation
People can see a learning loop between the actions they take and their understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, so that each is being continually adapted and refined.
Seek to reflect in and on action. This is cybernetics and is an aspect of my PhD!
Systems are complex and often messy webs that are constantly shifting. They consist of tangible things like people and organisations, connected by intangible things like history, worldviews, context and culture.
Recognise that systems are multi-layered, and performance at one level cannot be simply explained by characteristics at another.
Everyone who is part of a system holds a different perspective on its nature, purpose and boundaries. No one person holds the whole truth (including us).
Make these perspectives clear, through listening and dialogue.
Everything and everyone exists in relationships, and these involve emotions.
Recognise emotions, impulses from bodily reactions and also feelings, constructs formed in the mind, sometimes through faulty or incomplete logic and evidence.
Change emerges from the way the whole system behaves not from the actions of any one project or organisation. We therefore need to help build the fitness of the system to generate positive change.
Embrace those we dislike or find uncomfortable.
The complexity of systems means we can’t fully plan how to achieve the changes we seek, but we can identify several conditions that enable positive change and the actions that are likely to move us toward our goal.
Gather evidence, review and plan again for an iterative, action inquiry approach.
Nevertheless, I was disquieted by the notion of ‘levels’ being applied to the original four categories – it seemed to me, that like Bloom’s taxonomy, it made too much of some kind of progression or value. But the reason for this, is that evaluation is conceived as the employer’s business to decide whether the training was any good, so the later ‘levels’, such as Behaviour and Results are considered of higher value than Reaction and Learning. Kirkpatrick’s insight was to see that many evaluations stopped at Reaction and failed to see the need for further work. I feel that Learning, Behaviour and Results naturally occur later, so I have made this diagram which places them as moments along a time continuum. This then guides the researcher to know when to look at which kind of impact the learning episode had, and I make a few suggestions for the kind of methods that might be employed, but these are not exclusive.
Phillips came along and reinforced the employer’s perspective by adding Return on Investment, making it clear that we should recognise that training costs money, and that the benefits ought to be contrasted with this cost.
I have no quarrel with Phillips, but feel that the educational researcher may not be so driven by such single perspective stances as ‘benefit to the firm’, but also by the other aspects the learner may feel: of fulfilment and stimulus, and even having a moment to reflect. Without leaving the paymaster, we can still include such ideas as Confirming (that you are competent), Predisposition (towards further learning), Networking (to build a personal learning network), and even Inspiration, thus building a kind of learning capital in your workers! These are my additions to this common sense and useful framework and you can download a printable poster here.
I have been re-working this diagram for some time, but recently discovered the simplicity of using the metaphor of head, hand and heart to remember it, thanks to colleague Joy Hooper. On searching I find many different angles on this: for example Julia Singleton, and by J.D. Meir, but I feel I am not abusing their ideas too much to find my own meaning, expressed in this diagram.
My purpose is to guide the design of education, in this case by framing learning outcomes and acting as a structured and holistic check-list. It is intended to be simpler, more holistic and interdependent than the rich framework designed by committee under the direction of Bloom and his colleagues. I also wish to avoid the notion of hierarchy of difficulty which Bloom’s taxonomy implies and which then becomes an inappropriate guide to progression.
In my version, the overall learning outcome is that the learner is competent – effective in using their capacities to achieve. Such competence is a combination of knowledge, craft and character.
For example, to produce a group story about a butterfly’s life-cycle, one might be involved in explaining the scientific phenomenon through making a poster to form a narrative and collaborating with others. Each of these performances are combined seamlessly in life and interact as the work proceeds:
To explain the story one must learn the facts of the butterfly’s life-cycle and construct a mental model of how transformation from egg to butterfly takes place in dynamic sequence.
To make the poster, one must learn skills through practice using tools and media.
To collaborate one must master emotions and manage attitudes towards others.
So, my intent is that when designing and educational resource or activity, that one considers as many of these factors as possible or at least can say why they are not relevant to the task in hand.
The workshops introduced our ideas about using a version of paired programming to give confidence to novices in programming. We had developed these ideas, together with colleagues Mags Amond and Lisa Hegarty, also from Trinity College Dublin, through the CTwins project funded by Google’s CS4HS – Computer Science for High School.
The workshop slides for ATEE 2017 also included ‘Art’ in the title, since it was my notion that developing an art project would be personally fulfilling.
You can see how I have been a little pre-occupied with the relationship between art, craft and programming through my recent blogs:
In a happy co-incidence, I today found myself in a useful conversation about the design of the programming tool, Scratch, that we used in the project and the workshop. In the conversation, we rightly focussed on the design of Scratch, which has become so wildly popular that a heavy weight of responsibility lies on the development team to get it right. I tried to explain why Scratch is important in this blog post:
Nevertheless, I feel that as well as considering the tool design, we must also shift attention to the activity and mental models that I believe learners symbiotically develop alongside their use of the Scratch tool. The Logo programming language developed in 1967 and its turtle geometry microworld is one of the most potent developments to recognise such activity and mental modelling – although I believe not the earliest (I believe sentence generation using lists preceded it?).
“In a microworld, the central technical actors are computational objects. The choice of such objects and the ways in which relationships between them are represented within the medium, are critical. Each object is a conceptual building block instantiated on the screen, which students may construct and reconstruct […]. To be effective, they must evoke something worthwhile in the learner, some rationale for wanting to explore with them, play with them, learn with them. they should evoke intuitions, current understandings and personal images – even preferences and pleasures. The primary difficulty facing learners in engaging directly with static formal systems concerns the gap between interaction within such systems and their existing experience: it is simply too great. That is why computational objects are an important intermediary in microworlds, precisely because the interaction with them stands a chance of connecting with existing knowledge and simultaneously points beyond it.”
In the turtle geometry microworld, the computational object is a robot turtle on a stage, equipped with a pen to trace out lines as it moves according to program steps.
Scratch starts with a different microworld sporting a cat rather than a turtle and is a particular kind of computer game with interacting sprites. It leaves in the jigsaw blocks for a turtle geometry microworld but they are somewhat spoiled by the sideways view of a stage rather than the top down view of the space that the turtle inhabits.
In the conference workshops we asked completely novice learners (adults using Scratch and ScratchJr) to program knock-knock jokes, with two sprites and message passing to synchronise the joke-telling activity.
Firstly, together with colleagues, we performed this joke (thanks to Pamela Cowan for such an excellent idea, performance and preparation):
Ghost: Knock knock!
Cat: Who’s there?
Cat: Boo who?
Ghost: No need to cry!
Secondly, we asked the adults to humanly perform their own jokes working in pairs, so that one adult would be the first actor in the joke and the other the second. I was building on the concept of ‘body syntonic’ which is so powerful in the turtle geometry microworld, but in this case, it is the act of interactive joke telling that forms the mental model of the problem, to be then expressed formally in programming and debugged.
In the Scratch turtle geometry microworld, the pen jigsaw blocks are the foundations of formally expressing the acts of an imagined turtle with its pen. Children (and adults) can ‘be’ the turtle and act out the actions either bodily or in their heads, exercising their mental model of the turtle, which may then help them debug their formal expressions in code (jigsaw blocks).
In the case of our knock-knock microworld, we presented on the projector screen a subset of jigsaw blocks to start with:
In one instance of the workshop, to my delight, one learner added other blocks, using repetition to tell a more complex joke.
So perhaps the set of immediately available jigsaw blocks should reflect the microworld the learner’s imagination and mental models are anticipated to inhabit? I would go further and propose microworld-appropriate stages (and stage views, as we have in Turtlestitch and Beetleblocks), sprites and costumes. In Turtlestitch I would propose a spider sprite/costume and indeed rename it Spiderart or some-such. Perhaps there should be a choice of microworld, “I’m doing turtle geometry today” which leads one to the set of jigsaw blocks most appropriate to that microworld? I emphatically do not mean that this means restricting access to the wider set of jigsaw blocks, simply that it provides the best recommendations from the menu for the kind of restaurant you want / are ready to eat in.
To extend an already overworked metaphor, after the learner has been eating at diverse restaurants, each founded in the same underlying elements of heat, ingredients and combination, perhaps they would begin to strengthen their knowledge of the invariates which inform the mental models that underly their understanding of notional machine and programming language?
This is a diary of my Eclipse road trip in August 2017 from Las Vegas to Idaho and back to Las Vegas via many canyons, an eclipse and a visit to my friend Derek in Sedona, Arizona.
I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday 17th, with plenty of time for the long drive north to Idaho to find a good spot for the eclipse on Monday the 21st. After that, I planned to drive to Sedona to meet Derek and then back to Las Vegas and home.
Thursday 17th – Manchester to Las Vegas to North Rim
I flew to Las Vegas from Manchester at 9:15am, partly to get a good price and also to have the chance the night before to enjoy the company of friends Stephen, Joy & Lily and dine with them and niece & nephew-in-law Sineád & Adam, recently moved to Manchester.
I turned up at a reasonable hour, but neglected to plan accommodation in the US, intending to sleep in the back of the SUV I hired. I was surprised that the check-in desk wanted to know where I was staying in the US, but quickly located a motel and told them that – nobody cared whether it was the truth! I was flying with Thomas Cook on a budget and didn’t expect a meal, but they did serve two and ‘tap water’. You could buy drinks.
As we flew over Canada and the northern mid western states and finally Wyoming and Utah, I could just about work out where we were using Galileo and its offline maps. I had downloaded them earlier in England to help me navigate when I feared that out in the midst of the American West I’d be without a network to access Google maps. The last part of the flight, coming in over Utah, Arizona and into Nevada was really beautiful, although looked scarily desertified and hot – we landed around midday Pacific Time.
Las Vegas McCarran airport has a shuttle bus to the hire car centre, some blocks away, and I hired my SUV and set off to a nearby Walmart to shop for cooking gear and food, water, beer and ice. I got the cheapest sleeping bag for $15 and a foam mattress cover to sleep on for $2 instead of the inflatable bed I’d planned. Other camping purchases include a saucepan, frying pan and propane stove. I got two gallons of water in plastic containers.
I headed out of La Vegas via the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard and drove north on the interstate freeway I15, passing through the awesome Virgin River Canyon and paused in St George as evening descended, the first of many stops at Walmarts along the way to benefit from their free Wi-fi.
I drove on before finally stopping around 10:30pm along the state highway 89A, just before Jacob’s Lake. I was so tired, I could only drink a beer for supper.
I slept until 2:30am and woke to see the moon rise. With the clock in my head disrupted and feeling wakeful, I decided to drive on to North Rim to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. I had to refuel at Jacob Lake around 3am and arrived at the North Rim visitors’ centre around 4am in the black before dawn. I walked the path to Bright Angel Point in the dark and waited alone to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.
Walking back, I realised how precipitous Bright Angel Point was, with sheer cliffs either side of the path and at one point a narrow bridge. Take a look at the link above and move the mouse around to shift your view! I suffer a little from fear of heights, and felt a little dizzy and out of breath on return to the car – later I learnt that it was most likely contributed to by the altitude, around 6,000 ft.
I drove back up the beautiful road, seeing wild bison, and then turned off to the East Rim overlook to cook breakfast in the forest. After eating, I took a short walk to see the East Rim view over the Grand Canyon: behind me, a delightful alpine scene of forest, meadow, deer and antelope; before me, a flat desert plain scarred by the Colorado River’s canyon cut-in deep, dark and devilish looking.
Friday 18th – North Rim to Ogden
Rested and well fed, I started the drive back through Jacob Lake and then Fredonia, Kanab and to visit Bryce Canyon.
Unlike the North Rim, Bryce Canyon was heaving with tourists and I parked and took the shuttle bus around to the viewpoints, again feeling the thinness of the air at around 8,000ft.
It was a most dramatic scene, demanding many photographs.
The road back from Bryce Canyon went through Red Canyon, remarkable by the standards of any other place, but overshadowed here:
Then north through Panguitch and across for the I15 to Salt Lake City and Ogden, reached in the dark, where I stopped, exhausted. I found a quiet place next to the freeway on an old main road at junction 341 on the I15 with West 31st Street and slept as long as I could.
Saturday 19th – Ogden to Forest Road 142, Mackay, Idaho
Waking again to the moon rise, now a slim crescent, I drove on.
Short of Pocatello, I took a turn to look for a breakfast spot and found myself in the South Mink Creek and stopped in the Slate Mountain trailhead car park to make breakfast and read a book for an hour.
Back on to the I15 and through Pocatello, I visited the Shoshone-Bannocks tribes’ museum at Fort Hall, notable for the abstract patterns on the Native American art:
Through Blackfoot, where I turned north west on the US26, I crossed the Snake River plain and passed Atomic City. This small village was built to house the scientists operating the many nuclear research establishments scattered widely over this desert plain as part of the Idaho National Laboratory. I visited the EBR-1 nuclear reactor museum near Arco which was the first Uraniam breeder reactor to generate electricity.
Filled up with petrol in Arco, I drove up past Mackay and its reservoir, an area I had scouted out on Google street view, but it was already pretty busy, so I drove on and turned off towards the hills on the west side of the valley. After seeing Ospreys with fish in their talons by the side of the road, I discovered a track and stopped to ask two men in camouflage clothing where it went. They turned out to be hunting with bow and arrow and advised me it would lead to the top and that there would be good camping spots there.
They were absolutely right – I drove up and found an excellent camp site in the shade of some pine trees and set about eating dinner. I had established my eclipse camping spot a day earlier than I had left time for, so felt really pleased to get some good rest and enjoyed the sunset illuminating the Lost River mountain range to the east across the valley, which included Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,661 ft.
Sunday 20th – day of rest
After a good sleep, I still woke up early and watched the moon rise – so thin now as it neared the sun that it was almost invisible.
After breakfast, I walked along the road and then sat down to read Analogue Mountain, a gift from friend Doireann for Derek, but here I was with nothing to read and a day to fill!
For some reason a little later I discovered that the car wouldn’t start – the battery had run down. I blamed the sidelights.
After much worrying and thinking – I was a good way off the road and from the nearest habitation – I decided to make a sign to invite help. Every hour or so, a vehicle might pass on its way further in to the forest – there may have been as many as 12 people camping within a mile or two of me by the time of the eclipse.
The first encounter was with two quad bikers who couldn’t help, but promised to pass on the message.
Then a Mercedes van stopped and Dan Stempien got out, full of good cheer and had the jumper leads needed to start the car. Phew.
He travelled, lived and conducted his work in the summer months from his converted van. He was pleased to have found a mobile signal, with the help of an extra arial on the roof, which meant that he decided to camp next to me – welcome company.
A generous soul, he also gave me a spare pair of eclipse spectacles to watch with the next day.
Later, four other friendly eclipse watchers from Salt Lake City came along to say hi to us as their ‘neighbours’ and we enjoyed a discussion of stars and constellations over a drink.
Monday 21st – eclipse day
I was up early to watch the sun rise – no sign of the moon!
After breakfast, Dan and I watched the eclipse together and agreed it was both fantastic and emotional. The reduction in light and warmth as we watched the sun being ‘eaten’ was remarkable, perhaps exaggerated by the mountain top location. At totality, I was surprised that I could see the photosphere (atmosphere) of the sun with its coronal flares so comfortably and so brilliantly. The moment of the ‘diamond ring’ was phenomenal, a genuine jolt of adrenaline and cheers and whoops where audible from our neighbours, who were at least a mile away on another hilltop.
I set off for Sedona shortly later, finding modest queues as I exited the valley to Arco. Traffic was light until arriving in Blackfoot, where I mistook the northbound I15 slip road to Idaho Falls for the entrance to Walmart, so wasted time finding the next exit back to Blackfoot and to Walmart to pause and connect to the internet. Traffic on the I15 south was so bad that getting out of Blackfoot proved very slow and so I drove on side roads to avoid the masses. Eventually it picked up and I drove until nightfall to the same spot in Ogden, just North of Salt Lake City, that I had slept in on the way north.
I didn’t sleep long and woke in the night,deciding to drive on. This was premature, and I had to stop again just south of Salt Lake City to sleep some more.
Tuesday 22nd Salt Lake City to Sedona
I woke early and drove on, stopping to breakfast just off the I15 outside Fillmore, and then visited the statehouse museum in the city (town).
The museum had interesting original artefacts and explanations of the history of Mormon settlement and Native American relations in the early days. Particularly miserable to hear of the slave trading undertaken by a local chief, and his burial, which entailed the slaughteringof his two wives and his favourite horses to lie in his burial site with him. Also the staking of a young Indian child to district wolves from desecrating the grave. Shocking.
I then drove on a bit and stopped to visit the Kolob Canyons – remarkable rocks.
Next to Jacob Lake again and more petrol before descending the East Rim of the Grand Canyon and visiting Marble Canyon and the Navajo bridge as the sun was going down.
Then a long drive to Flagstaff, passing mile after mile after mile of Vermillion Cliffs and seeing many Native American homes and villages. In Flagstaff, I paused to connect with the Airbnb host for the place where I was to stay in Sedona, and tell Derek I was an hour away, before driving down to Sedona. Derek met me outside the house I rented and we eat takeaway and locally brewed beer and had a good talk before a much needed sleep.
Wednesday 23rd – Sedona
Derek came round in the morning and we went to buy a pass to visit sites in Sedona and breakfast in a nice cafe with traditional Mexican food.
We visit the ruined Sinagua dwellings in the Palatki Heritage Site and a grotto with cave paintings and a house built by a more recent settler who planted fruit trees in the canyon. We returned to drink in a lovely cafe and talk about micro worlds.
Later we visited Derek’s mum, talked butterflies and then went to sit on a rocky platform near Chimney Rock, not far from where I was staying, and enjoyed the sun set, talked about Derek’s condition and made a video for the Italian teachers in Urbino, who we were missing.
Finally, we enjoyed a delightful meal at the Mariposa (butterfly). A real pleasure to have such quality time with Derek.
Set off at 6:20 to drive to Las Vegas, with a brief visit to the Hoover Dam. Cool and rainy for the first time, flight home uneventful.
David Garland was without doubt the most accomplished professional I have ever had the honour to work with. I first met him when interviewing candidates for the headship of Holly Trees Infants in May 1997. He didn’t interview as well as some – his charming self-deprecation didn’t show off his strengths, but luckily we saw through that, picked him and never looked back.
He worked hard to create the most effective education for local children by organising the merger of the infants and junior schools to create the current Holly Trees Primary School. Not content with that, he organised the building of the current premises, moving from one of the worst buildings in Essex to one of the best. He did all of this whilst maintaining a hands-on, compassionate and high-standards job running the school (both schools for a short while) and did this through effective delegation, systems and support for colleagues. He earned their respect through his willingness to muck in and teach classes when needed and showed everyone what clear vision can do and how to go about making it work. When he was obliged to apply for the Primary headship, every member of staff wrote to me offering their support for his application.
All this I learnt through my professional relationship with him, but on a personal front he also welcomed my own son as a pupil, diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, with open arms. He built trust and friendship for my son from the whole community at Holly Trees to nurture his strengths and manage his weaknesses. Subsequently, my son went on to Cambridge, gained a Masters at Guildhall and is now studying for his Doctorate. I believe the teachers, assistants and pupil community at Holly Trees together made this possible, but David was at the heart of this community. My gratitude to him and all the team knows no bounds. I feel nothing but love for this man and deeply regret the lack of opportunity to show it and return the kindness and service he made possible with his vision and his heart. To his family, I can only say how sorry I am that he is gone and offer my thanks to them for their support for him, a man who I feel shaped so many lives for the better. He will never be forgotten.
I had the privilege of attending the funeral for Bianca Ní Ghrógáin on Thursday 11th June in Clondalkin, Dublin.
Here she is, relaxed at a meeting last year, where we were discussing technology and learning. She has a half smile playing on her lips, a familiar look of sceptical inquiry as I pompously drone on, and a sense of sassy clarity as I introduce her to the audience. She was someone who had a lot to tell about making learning meaningful, delightful and successful.
Her untimely passing – she was 32 – leaves a legacy of powerful educational ideas, but more importantly action. She benefited from technical confidence, educational inspiration and powerful moral purpose. The students and children she taught were challenged to question everything, fired-up to take meaningful action and reminded to be both sceptical and open-minded.
Today, at the Computer Education Society of Ireland meeting, I was reminded of her version of the flipped classroom. Normally this means flipping the content, otherwise presented by the teacher during a lesson, so that information is accessed beforehand. The time released is then given over to activity rather than passive listening – mutual exploration, problem solving and discussion. In her case there was a further flip – the learner taking the front-seat, managing their inquiry, pursuing a problem and acting-up to the status of adult with responsibility for their learning. She found that her 9 and 10 year olds were hungry to be the teacher – the highest reward she could offer for good work or behaviour.
Lessons with Bianca tackled problems normally thought suitable for much older learners, but she found no difficulty in balancing their immaturity and lack of experience with a young person’s ambition.
Her humility would mean that she rarely bragged about these success – I think she thought them to be vital and obvious as ways for her learners to ‘become’, paying attention explicitly to adult dispositions in development.
Naturally, this attitude spilled over into her work with adults. I am proud to have worked with her (and best friend and collaborator Susan Nic Réamoinn) in workshops at the CESI conference, learning about the Makey-makey kit for turning programming into real-world, tactile problem solving and design. She understood the value of making working prototypes as a way of understanding complex abstractions and was a supporter of the Maker movement and involved in running MakerMeets to bring like-minded makers together.
It wasn’t until today, listening to Mags Amond, another of Bianca’s best friends and collaborators, that I realised that Bianca’s ultimate “MakerMeet” was on Thursday 🙂
Searching through an old computer back up recently, I found this foreword I wrote for a colleague’s book over ten years ago, back in 2004. I found that I still felt I agreed with these earlier views, and that it might be useful to others:
There is a relationship between the human mind, the modern computer and mathematics which is often misunderstood. Indeed over centuries, humankind has used the developing concept of the computer as a metaphor for the mind, and the growing knowledge of the human mind as a metaphor for the computer, and it is now unclear which was the chicken or the egg. This interchange of conceptions suggests a central place for the computer in our culture, that the often heard, but rather dismissive remark, “it’s just a tool”, can underestimate.
It can be persuasively argued that tools and technology have been at the heart of intellectual endeavour since the stone age, and that the sciences and mathematics owe a debt to tools, rather than the reverse, as a source of intellectual development in our culture.
Since mathematical concepts and logic lie at the heart of the computer’s function, it comes as no surprise that the study of mathematics and the use of ICT may be profitably intermingled. The concepts of algorithm, function, operation and set all have concrete manifestation in the world of computers to parallel their abstraction in mathematics. One consequence is that the computer, through the spreadsheet, database, LOGO programming and modelling & simulation environments, has the delightful capacity to make concrete of the otherwise abstract ideas of relationship and process. For example the mathematical variable in algebra is often a mysterious object: “Please miss, tell me how much x is?”. The same (but subtly different) X on a computer, although capable of varying, can always be known as a value at any given time. A spreadsheet cell containing a function always shows an answer, for the moment. Suddenly, elusive mathematical ideas become tangible and may be played with, bringing dead algebra to a ‘what if?’ life.
So far so good – it seems that there is already an impressive case for doing mathematics, practically, with a computer.
But in fact, there is even greater scope, because the computer has added to this capacity for logic and computation a unique facility to integrate and generate visual and dynamic material – multimedia – and to portray the most aesthetically pleasing visual and musical outputs based on mathematical data. Using LOGO and other software to discover geometry empowers us to pin down elusive abstractions with concrete experiences. LOGO also encourages us to benefit from our kinaesthetic, body-centred capacities when solving problems by acting ‘turtles’ ourselves.
In all of these ways, mathematics and the computer can combine to appeal to our multiple intelligences and raise the stakes for capability in learning mathematics.
But sadly, the potential identified here is often missing – why? – perhaps in part because such experiences have not been lived by many of today’s teachers. Hence the purpose of this book: to begin to unlock the genie in the bottle and promote creativity in mathematics teaching and learning through practical advice and relevant detail.
Such advice is legion in this book, with valuable commentary to reassure the inexperienced teacher so that they may tackle both statutory and unspoken expectations, from the National Curriculum and the Numeracy and Literacy Strategies, with carefully explained and justified lesson ideas.
Pupils will also benefit from the appropriate deployment of ICT in Mathematics advocated here: the handling of data and creation of graph & chart which may come from speedy ICT tools and the teacher’s knowledge, enhanced by this book’s exposition, coupled with the generation of their own data and purposes conspire to make the exploration of mathematical concepts both meaningful and relevant. Genuine ‘what if?’ questions may be asked and answered, alternatives judged and genuine inquiry fostered – the ‘quantitative’ improvement in the speed of production brought about by ICT begins to change the ‘qualitative’ nature of engagement with mathematics.
With the confidence that this book will inspire, the truth and beauty that excites successful mathematicians may begin to be appreciated by a much wider audience of teachers and learners, and the symbiotic relationship between our society and its most powerful tools may be continued, to all humankind’s benefit.
Reader, Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University
This text was the foreword to: ICT and Primary Mathematics: A Teacher’s Guide
Nick Easingwood and John Williams
Published by Routledge 5 Aug, 2004
No this is not a treatise on reflective practice, it is reflective practice.
Today I took friend @benjeddi ‘s advice and decided to RiskIT (for only seven minutes rather than two weeks). A key RiskIT element is to be ‘Not afraid of failure, but learn from it’ – an attitude I have nearly always benefited from, despite some pain.
I was presenting at TeachMeet Essex, in front of an unusually strong gathering including many head teachers. The meeting exceeded my expectations of this novel form of CPD with excellent food (thanks KEGS’ chef and kitchen), excellent organisation (thanks @aknill and @ICTMagic) and clear evidence of the power of a good head’s sanction, thanks @headguruteacher!
My risks were:
to demonstrate from an iPhone via Reflection on my laptop;
to test a proposal for developing modern apps based on lost ideas.
It all went wrong, as it often does when you use technology in a presentation for the first time, but since I am going to do it all again at #tmbolton on Friday, I fruitfully learnt from the experience. For all those let down by a slightly duff speech, here is the video from Videoscribe I would have like to shown:
Incidentally, I created the video by using Reflection to record the video as it was played by VideoScribe on the phone. A subsequent re-compress using Quicktime Player 7 to half size and H264 yielded a video only 3.3Mb in size.
Creative linguist, learning media developer and pedagogue,
Head of Language Centre at Anglia Polytechnic University
Dedicated wife to Colin Babbs
Informal, enthusiastic tutor to my son
Favourite remembered saying: “half the time in English we mispronounce French and the other half, German”
Alice’s work in the middle nineties to develop language learning multimedia material and virtual spaces for language learning was a decade ahead of its time – Alice was an unusual mix of imaginative ideas and perfection in detail who understood ‘delight’ and made every attempt to foreground affect in her designs. Sorely missed doesn’t really say it.
Elle ne s’en ira pas, elle ne redescendra pas d’un ciel, elle n’accomplira pas la rédemption des colères de femmes et des gaîtés des hommes et de tout ce péché: car c’est fait, lui étant, et étant aimée.
On Monday 15th Feb, the National Archive of Educational Computing moved to its new home, bringing it to a spare school science lab from a storage facility. Now the work can begin to make sense of it all and enhance the web site.
Thanks are due to Keith Lashmar of Chelmsford Van Hire and his tireless workers, together with Maureen Gurr and Patrick Millwood for helping to make it a smooth and well-organised move.
By coincidence I was in Chelmsford the next day, and saw the last room of Ultralab about to be demolished – we were on the top floor of this building. A sad day.
A real buzz of learner-centred excitement surrounds the reports of iPod projects presented here – especially the desire to create rather than simply consume resources. Interesting reports of large and small scale use including ESSA Academy’s 1 to 1 roll-out. Working with Friezland‘s Year 3 was a treat and reinforced what I learnt from listening to delegates, that iPod and App store had simplified the whole management issue so much that kids and teachers could take charge and feel empowered.
We got excited about TeachMeets, punchy presentations (whilst acknowledging the scope for lengthier, compelling presentations), Twitter and Blogs and the value of global networking. But we couldn’t tackle the challenge of recognition for such learning – could it be that informal learning should be left alone and valued for its own sake? Perhaps its value is in developing risk-free peer-learning, light reflection and seeds for the adoption of new practices – formal learning undertaken for rigour, recognition and career progression will always benefit from such experience.
All-in-all a valuable moment to pause for thought before tackling the new academic year (and a chance to see how a hobbit might feel in Lothlorien 🙂 .
In the sixth act, ‘Act VI: The act of learning’ Mark Pilgrim quotes from the Kindle Terms of service (still accurate at the time of writing this blog entry):
Termination Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate without notice from Amazon if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees.
Suppose I was the kind of modern, 21st century learner who augmented their memory with notes and annotations on electronic devices such as the Kindle?
Suppose I was the kind of professional who carried their digital notes to work to augment my performance in real-life work situations?
Both of these augmentations would be out of my control if I subscribe to Amazon’s conditions and slip up – even if I did not stray from their compliance, their recent act could be tantamount to a lobotomy…
Regardless of my rights, my augmented mind is being controlled…
UPDATE 31st July 2009
A student is suing for loss of learning – from the lawsuit:
“28. As part of his studies of “1984,” Mr. Gawronski had made copious notes in the book. After Amazon remotely deleted “1984,” those notes were rendered useless because they no longer referenced the relevant parts of the book. The notes are still accessible on the Kindle device in a file separate from the deleted book, but are of no value. For example, a note such as “remember this paragraph for your thesis” is useless if it does not actually a reference a specific paragraph. By deleting “1984” from Mr. Gawronski’s Kindle 2, this is the position in which Amazon left him. Mr. Gawronski now needs to recreate all of his studies.”
Just read Paul Haigh’s blog on opting-out of Building Schools for the Future ICT , in which he speaks of the injustice for leading & innovating schools –
“The DCSF will say there is a fair procedure in place for schools who feel the way we do- they have 42 days to produce an Alternative Business Procurement Case that the business experts in their Local Authority will have had 18 months to work on (in our case 107 pages long).”
and he continues to say –
“This is a trick, there is no way any school can show economy of scale (even though I actually have the figures to prove we can- it won’t be accepted, it’s sacrilege to suggest it) or show ‘transference of risk’ (we don’t talk about transferring the risks of educating our children elsewhere, we talk about professionals taking responsibility in house- isn’t this a lesson from the credit crunch?)”
It’s hard not to sympathise, but I wonder: can schools like Paul’s club together across the UK and share the burden?
Isn’t this an excellent opportunity for open source procurement thinking?
(This is the logo of TeacherNet UK – a project to revitalise CPD for teachers by using online community and the internet from 1996-2000, after which it became the name of the governments’ website to provide unified information for teachers.)
This seminar lead by Professor Marilyn Leask at Brunel University, feels like a revisit of the work we did over ten years ago when the internet was fresh.
The question is how to best exploit technology to enhance continuing professional development for teachers? I have five minutes to answer…
… and of course the easy way out is to pose two further questions:
What is it about Facebook?
Facebook is highly successful in maintaining vibrant relationships between people, which leads me to ask:
Is it a successful online community or is it a social network?
How is it achieving this without facilitation?
I think it’s a tool which permits both online community and social network and there is a need to reconsider these terms and their meaning. Its success perhaps derives from these four things (amongst others):
simple ownership and participation, the ability to make your own space and express creativity by putting your own material in it;
automated gossip, the reporting of other user’s activity;
some control over privacy and membership in hands of the user including identifying relationships with others;
a route for creative developers to extend the system.
Such features continue to be innovated and prevent us from settling on a specification – we need a platform able to change without confusing participants.
How should we conceptualise CPD?
I have been working at the University of Bolton in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics to build an undergraduate and masters degree framework, the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project (IDIBL), which permits any professional practice to be explored in the workplace and online. In devising this framework, we tried hard to leave the subject discipline to be determined by context and to focus on inquiry discipline. Nevertheless there remained a problem of how to form viable online communities to study in this way, and our solution was themes.
In the world of teacher CPD, I argue that a multi-professional theme such as ‘Every Child Matters’ would form the basis for such a theme. In this kind of CPD, masters study is undertaken together with the social worker, health professional, special needs expert and police in order to gain a rounded understanding of a learner-centred improvement in practice.
Thus I would applaud the GTCE for considering action inquiry a central process in the Teacher Learning Academy, but extend that thinking to include a broader online community of the professionals that surround the challenge society faces in transforming schooling. And, benefit from the know-how in higher education of action research methodology and the opportunity for peer evaluation at a high level of rigour.