Learning and Thinking in the 21st Century

Some very stimulating infographics appearing on Pinterest aimed at teachers. This one highlights some of the assumed skills young people will need in the 21st Century. Many of these are not new, eg “find information” but the emphasis is switching to collaborative approaches, to learning as a social activity, where engagement is vital. The importance of validating and evaluating information is ever more significant as pupils learn that all sources of knowledge have their limits and bias. Discernment and judgement are essential when using the internet as a research tool.

This infographic was created by Canadian educator Med Kharbach, and you can find out more on the website Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . See here for other posters from this site. Also check out some good references on Med’s Google Plus page. One that caught my attention was Danah Boyd’s  ‘”It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

As always, learning needs to be placed in a wider social context, and Boyd uses extensive research among American adolescents to show how young people create their own rules for negotiating the complex social network life that they inhabit.

Learning and Thinking in 21st Century

Bertrand Russell on Education

As well as being a distinguished mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell took a strong interest in education. Here is what he, writing in the 1950s, had to say about the role of the teacher as mentor, and the importance of “thinking”

“We recall that science and philosophy were pursued in schools of societies where there was close collaboration between teachers and students. The important truth which seems to have been understood..from the very beginning is that learning is not a process of dishing out information. Some of this, of course, there must be. But it is neither the sole function of the teacher nor yet the most important one. This is indeed more evident today than it was at that time, for written records were rarer and harder to find than they are now. With us, it stands to reason that anyone who can read can collect information from a library. Less than ever before should a teacher need to pass on mere information. All the more is it to the credit of the philosophers of Greece that they should have grasped how genuine education must be pursued. The role of the teacher is one of guidance, of bringing the pupil to see for himself. But learning to think independently is not an ability that comes all of a piece. It must be acquired by dint of personal effort and with the help of a mentor who can direct these efforts. This is the method of research under supervision as we know it today in our universities. … Education, then, is learning to think for oneself under the guidance of a teacher…”

( Wisdom of the West)

Maria Popova, in her excellent blog, “Brain Pickings” outlines Russell’s “Liberal Decalogue-10 commandments of teaching”

These are:

1.Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2.Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3.Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4.When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5.Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6.Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7.Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8.Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9.Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10.Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Nicolai Luganski recital, Queens Hall, Edinburgh

I was fortunate enough to join a friend at this morning’s recital in the Queens Hall by Russian pianist, Nicolai Luganski. Starting with a quiet, reflective opening, “In the Mists” by Janacek developed into an intriguing essay ion the theme “music as impressionism”, each movement offering new glimpses; now gentle, now staccato, with occasional dramatic flourishes reminiscent of Rachmaninov. The piece really needed the audience’s full attention, and so it was a pity that the first, fragile minutes were interrupted by coughs, noises off and a mobile phone. It took a while for the misty atmosphere to reassert itself, but it was well worth the trouble.
The four Schubert impromptus require the utmost concentration. They are hardly impromptu at all, rather they are carefully structured, substantial works, each with several themes, that allow the pianist to explore the full range and potential of the early Romantic piano. Here, Luganski’s restrained, thoughtful playing ensured that familiarity did not breed contempt; rather we heard the piece as a whole, sonata like in duration, structure and intensity. The audience were spellbound.

The second half saw a more bravura style of late Romantic piano, with Luganski on home ground, bringing out the full orchestral timbre of the five Rachmaninov etudes, the left hand in particular emphasising power and depth “Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este” by Liszt was captivating, and a sparkling rejoinder to the sombre, brooding and at times explosive tone of the Rachmaninov.
The final work, Liszt’s arrangement of the Liebestod from “Tristan and Isolde” was expertly controlled, quiet and only gradually, bar by bar, building up to the long awaited climax. Always in command, never resorting to bombast or cliché, this was a fitting finale to a concert that skilfully combined a range of styles. The two encores, music by Grieg and Rachmaninov only helped to demonstrate both his lyricism and his sheer power and technical mastery.

Google Global Challenge

“The Vertical Ladder” from William Sansom, “Selected Short Stories”









A  chance find in King’s second-hand bookshop in Callandar led me to pick up a Penguin collection of short stories by William Sansom, a writer new to me. Born in 1912, Sansom only started to write after various other careers, including a spell in the City, an advertising agency, and a film director. He has also written films, TV plays and musical lyrics. His stories are minor masterpieces of descriptive writing, allied often with underlying unease or tension. Among these are the quasi-horror, “A Woman Seldom Found” with its very unexpected, supernatural ending, and, my favourite, “The Vertical Ladder”, which manages, in a few pages, to play on our two very human fears of heights and of being trapped. With its emphasis on the inner thoughts of the protagonist, Flegg, climbing the vertical ladder of an old gasometer as a dare, we are drawn increasingly into his predicament, and can only guess what will happen beyond the story’s closing lines:

“He looked up, following the dizzying rise of the rungs to the skyline. From this angle, flat against the iron sheeting, the gasometer appeared higher than before. The blue sky seemed to descend and almost touch it. The redness of the rust dissolved into a deepening grey shadow, the distant curved summit loomed over black and high…Flegg imagined despite himself that the entire erection had become unsteady, the quite possibly the gasometer might suddenly blow over like a gigantic top-heavy sail. He lowered his eyes quickly and concentrated on the hands before him, He began to climb.”



Reform Scotland Report on Education in Scotland


                                                                                                     ( source: ReformScotland website)

Today, Reform Scotland, a ‘think tank’ published a major report on the state and direction of Scottish education. It is entitled, “By Diverse Means: Improving Scotland’s Education.” It will take some time for the implications of the Report to sink in, and it is not yet clear how it will be viewed by politicians and educationalists. Some will love it. Others will wince at the criticisms. It certainly makes some hard-hitting points and has a raft of recommendations. It is broadly supportive of CfE, but questions some of its principles, and argues, as others have done,  that it must be subject to much more rigorous scrutiny. Its main thrust is that we don’t do enough for children from poor backgrounds and that school still fails far too many pupils. It observes that we are still using a 19th Century model of schooling in a 21st Century setting.

There is a plea for schools to have more autonomy, saying, “schools are entitled to take decisions where there is no statute, rgulation or established national policy that indicates otherwise.” and that,

“The state, both nationally and locally, should encourage and support greater diversity in Scotland’s school system. In order to do this, greater autonomy is required at school level. The autonomy of schools should be greatly extended. As a general principle, decisions that can competently be taken at school level should not be taken elsewhere. ”

The authors suggest a board, similar to those of independent schools and universities, might be set up to manage the interests of each state school

There will be much debate about this Report, but I was struck by the section on technology, as the following extract shows:

It is clear that new technology offers huge possibilities. It provides readier access to information than has previously been possible and in ways that many people find motivating. Education could learn much from the computer gaming industry with its capacity to handle multiple pathways and provide instant feedback in sophisticated ways. New technology has organisational possibilities that could finally render traditional timetabling and class organisation obsolete. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity to open up new dimensions of choice. Yet its impact in the classroom has as yet been relatively limited.

Similarly, knowledge about the workings of the brain and the nature of the learning process has expanded rapidly over the past two decades. John Abbott of the 21st Century Learning Initiative summed up the possibilities thus:

“Our growing knowledge of and understandings about learning show, for example, that the brain is driven by curiosity, learning must be active, children learn in different ways and at different rates, intelligence is mutable and more than just a general capacity to learn, children’s search for meaning starts very early in life, the brain works best when it is building on what it already knows and when it is working in highly challenging but low-threat environments and that learning is an immensely complex business. Some would argue from this that to put our faith in a highly directive, prescriptive curriculum, is to go ‘against the grain of the brain’, that it inhibits creativity and enterprise … the very skills needed in the complex, diverse economy and community for which we need to prepare our children.

Work by cognitive scientists lead them to advocate constructivist approaches to learning, with its progressive deepening of earlier understandings, and the joining together of what had earlier been separate, disconnected ideas.

The Santa Fe Institute would go so far as to say that ‘nearly everyone would agree that experience is the best teacher, but what many fail to realise is that experience may be the only teacher’.

It goes on to say,

As yet, the educational impact of neuroscience has… had little impact within mainstream schooling.

Schools have to consider that the impact of new technology on schools will increase dramatically. It will allow schools to plan and deliver a more personalised curriculum through greatly improved record keeping, more sophisticated timetabling; enable wider curriculum choice through distance learning and video conference, encourage project work and homework to be properly integrated into the whole learning experience expand the capacity of the system to give timely individual feedback; develop research as an important element in learning, thus facilitating approaches such as “flipped learning” and enable an element of “anywhere, anytime” learning, perhaps particularly for older learners.



Three teaching ideas to follow up

Always trying to see the practical application of social media tools in teaching and learning.

1. Class Blog

Like many colleagues, I find using a blog to help support the work of my First and Third Year classes. The blog included additional information, details of homework and copies of powerpoints and video clips viewed in class. It is intended to help pupils take responsibilit yfor their own learning by creating a dedictaed site of vetted resources, notes and exam tips. I am adding revision material and simple revision tests, using Survey Monkey. Th eblog is a key tool in helping to introduce the concept of …

2. The flipped classroom.

This makes use of the substantial amount of online video clips to which pupils can be directed. You cna then follow these up in class by quizzes, tests, past paper questions. You might show the clip once as an intro, and then ask them to watch it at home. By putting the relevant links on the blog, you ensure your pupils are only watching the clips you want them to see. Here, I recommend BBC Leaning Zone. They can be encouraged to view these several times, at their own pace, enabling them to pause and take notes. Additionally, I am using Survey Monkey to devise questions that make them go back to the clips to get the correct answers. All of this is part of the philosophy of the flipped classroom. To quote Wikipedia,

“In flip teaching, the pupil first studies the topic by himself, typically using video lessons. In the classroom, the pupil then tries to apply the knowledge by solving problems and doing practical work. The role of the classroom teacher is then to tutor the student when they become stuck, rather than to impart the initial lesson. This allows time inside the class to be used for additional learning-based activities”

I have along way to go, but given the interest in this concept there is a huge amount of material to choose from. Kahn Academy first made this concept popular; , eg:

3. Padlet (formerly Wallwisher)

This is a simple electronic noticeboard, on which pupils post electronic post-its, in a process called “building a wall”. These can be questions, ideas, suggestions. I have embedded a couple of examples on to my blog ( eg for S1 Geography, here) and have got pupils to provide feedback by posting messages. You need to give the pupils guidelines, eg on language, content, style, etiquette, but to me it seems a very powerful way of gathering pupil feedback, thereby helping to create a culture of collaboration. It can be used to guage pupil views as part of self evaluation. For example, I am asking my first years to post questions they would like to revise in class.


Panoramic View from the Shard

The Guardian published an excellent panoramic view from Britain’s second highest structure, The Shard.

The photo picks out, and offers commentary, on a range of famous London landmarks.

You can see the photo by clicking here. and there is plenty of detail from Wikipedia here.

Books do furnish a room?


At a recent in-service course by Radley’s Head of Digital Strategy, Ian Yorston, we heard about one school in England-Wellington College -which has completely removed thousands of its books from the library, to replace them with i-pads and Kindles. This was with the express aim of complelely reinventing the concept and purpose of a school library. Likewise Essa Academy in Bolton has  given all pupils and teachers their own iPad. This helps students and has cut costs, including reducing the school’s £80,000 photocopying bill to just £15,000 a year. You can see the BBC report here:

As someone who loves books, and who enjoys collecting old Penguin paperbacks, I am instinctively concerned about the supposed twilight of the book.
The tenth novel in Anthony Powell’s series A Dance to the Music of time is memorably called “Books do Furnish a Room”. There is indeed something very pleasant about well stocked shelves of books of all sorts and sizes, their spines producing a spectrum of colours. To browse and by happenstance alight upon an interesting title or an intriguing dust jacket by a new author is the pleasure of serendipity. The classification system often throw up strange juxtapositions of authors somewhat in the manner of Heston Blumenthal concoting a recipe of seemingly mutually hostile ingredients- bacon and ice cream, perhaps. We are lucky-our school has a very well resourced, modern and popular library, with the latest titles, and helpful staff. To remove this would seem an afront; it certainly would not go down well with pupils I have talked to. In my office I have a shelf load of Penguin cerise travel and adventure books, and the more modest green foliage of the Crime and Mystery series, assembled over several years of collecting in second hand shops the length of this country.
Yet, presumably there is a well thought rationale to the decision. Wellington College has a good reputation. From the BBC’s website, we read that, “The £2m redevelopment at Wellington College will use the latest touch-screen technology to replace half of its main library’s 20,000 books.(The School is) keen to recognise the radical shift in the way people, especially young people, are reading and learning.”

And Dr Bill Bell from Edinburgh University says that,”Traditional books ‘may not survive electronic age’ They..need to be adapted to include technology..as new devices now encouraged different reading styles. Dr Bell, Director of the Centre for the History of the Book, suggested they books need to become easier to navigate, with more information links to satisfy people who are used to flicking between different programmes on computer screens.”
One key piece of evidence in measuring the success of a library are statistics on borrowing. How many times are books taken out? It is argued that books often look god but they are never removed from the shelves. Open a random 10 books and count how many times they have been stamped in the last year.if the answer is hardly ever, then why stock them. Why bother?
This doesn’t tell the full story-not all books which are read are necessarily borrowed; nor, of course are all borrowd books necessarily read. What is important is a responsive staff, who intuitively know what pupils are reading, who closely follow trends, and who can anticipate the next big idea. They too will love books and be knowledgable. Any modern library is a resource centre, with lap tops, PCs and places to study but also to chat. But the best resources can be the librarians themseleves. . A liberal and eclectic approach to purchasing is needed, to ensure modern, well written teen fiction is available, as well as the classics. A stimulating set of magazines and newspapers, plus subscriptions to online journals and strong links to university library systems undoubtably help.

Perhaps the rapid uptake of Kindle, and other platforms for e-books, such as iTunesU does seem to presage a major shift in reading habits. We shall still read, bu th emedium may be different. The very identity of “the book” is called into question. To quote Bill Bell from the BBC again:

“..there is a new literacy which has emerged among younger users and readers who are incredibly adept at multi-tasking. The older generation might want to read a book from beginning to end but it takes a different type of skill to multi-task and keep all of those things going simultaneously. It’s about having a hybrid experience, it’s no longer sitting and reading linearly from beginning to end, it’s about developing new kinds of skill. A new generation of authors are starting to think in more multi-linear ways about the way they can structure narrative.”

All this has profound implications for book lovers, and the future of libraries and the ever decreasing number of bookshops…

How effective is a school’s web space- an American Example

Some fascinating data, presented in a lush visual mix of colours and fonts. While this is for the USA, what appeals is how we could apply this to our own situation; providing examples of some useful lines of enquiry regarding how effectove our web presence actually is, in comparison with others.

Schools That Rule the Web
Created by: Best Education Sites