January 03, 2015

Dispositions of thinking, from design thinking

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The problem with "design thinking" is that everyone thinks they do it already, but they all do something different. And, far too often, evidence of actual student 'thinking' is hard to spot in the various products, 'maker' outputs and endless movies produced in these 'design thinking' 'projects'.

For my colleagues and me, design thinking is giving careful consideration to what kind of thinking you want to undertake at what specific moment of learning. It's brutally simple, hard to pull off well.

It means that you have to know what kind of learning is even possible in a given project, with what kind of content, and what skills will be required to access that content with the minimum viable teacher assistance beyond teaching those skills, or marshalling challenging discussion. Above all, it's about making sure that students know

  • what they've learned,
  • how they know they learned it, and
  • what their next step might be.

Often, as in the picture above of some of my students on a Sunderland Uni media degree, there is little being 'made' or physically constructed (so often, design thinking is perceived as being about craft, design or tech), but all their thinking and discussion on the issue at hand is made visible, as evidence (for themselves) of the answer to each of those key self-assessment questions.

But NoTosh is not alone in its efforts to help educators understand how to put more of the learning onus on students. Harvard University, no less, seeks dispositions of thinking that are not dissimilar, and in many cases identical, to what makes up the impact of design thinking that we see in our schools:

  1. The disposition to be broad and adventurous
    The tendency to be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options.
  2. The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity
    The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions.
  3. The disposition to clarify and seek understanding
    A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations; an alertness to unclarity and need for focus; an ability to build conceptualizations.
  4. The disposition to be planful and strategic
    The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans.
  5. The disposition to be intellectually careful
    The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely.
  6. The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons
    The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons.
  7. The disposition be metacognitive
    The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one's own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective.

This new year, we will be overhauling our NoTosh website to reveal more of the ways we've helped schools, and they've helped themselves, to become more robust in delivering on these dispositions with their young people.

January 02, 2015

Inspiration is everywhere. Even in Galena, Kansas...

I love this tweet from a couple of years back by animation firm, Pixar:

Pixar inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere: A lonely old tow truck in Galena, Kansas caught our eye. You know the rest...

What were they talking about?

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Now, I don't think I know anyone from Galena, Kansas, but I'm pretty sure that those kids in Spring Grove School don't believe, hand on heart, that inspiration is everywhere, as they set off into their new year, examinations, tests and keeping up with each other's Facebook boasts. That, after all, is what January in 2015 will mean for so many: an attempt to look forward to a positive future, but a reality check, around January 5th, that actually life will carry on as it always has done, always will do. 

Life-changing, world-changing or neighbourhood-changing inspiration is everywhere, though, and no more so than in places where things are not working.

On p.43 of my book I talk about the attitude real innovators have: they don't blog that "things in the system don't work, it's all broken!", and they don't ask facile questions such as "what does 21st century education look like?" and then not bother answering them. Instead, they spot the small details that get in the way and go about removing them, altering them or rebuilding them:

Most successful innovators in and outside education spend their time always seeking out what doesn't quite work, what doesn't satisfy the needs of the people it should do, what could be made incrementally better. They are not negative people; far from it, in fact, as they seek not to moan but make the world a better place, one incremental change at a time. Doing this means that they spend time – small snippets and extended periods, depending on what time they have available – looking at the world around them with a critical eye and an endless run of questions about why things are the way they are. They are not satisfied to leave an under-par situation – they want to make it better as soon as possible. 

  • What are things really like at the moment?
  • If we were to take a snapshot in time, where is our school, where are our learners?
  • What are people trying to achieve at the moment, and are they managing it?
  • What are the areas where people find they're held back, or encouraged to take their learning further?
  • How do we engage with parents, the school board, the wider community?
  • How do we know they're happy with it?
  • Where are the people who are happy with what we do?
  • Where are the people who we don't know are either satisfied or not?
  • What about the people who are not, at the moment, part of our school community? Why are they not?
  • What are they doing instead?

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions that might be of interest to any innovator, and to answer any or all of these questions would take a long time, but that active immersion into the way things are needs to happen all the time.

Immersion is just as it sounds: long, deep and sometimes painful. The swimming pool analogy isn't bad for explaining it:

If you were immersed in a swimming pool you'd have the water over your head. You would, over time, become short of breath. A real immersive experience would push that feeling just a little beyond what feels comfortable before, finally, at the last possible moment, coming up for breath. And, with every time you get immersed in the water, the longer you can bear it before coming up for breath. With more practice, you can swim while holding your breath, travelling while building resistance to the pressure. In a school, this is the equivalent of the Head Teacher and other leaders being capable of not only managing business-as-usual, but also having the mental bandwidth, the practice of longitudinal immersion, to see potential for ‘new innovation’ as it arises. In short, it's about taking time to reflect, not regularly but constantly, on how things might be made better.

This is, if you like, a manifesto for problem-finding in the way we manage, lead and create innovation in our schools, in the same way as I started pleading for problem-finding over and above problem-solving five years ago to this week. Problem-finding is what really shifts the school's thinking from 'stand and deliver' teacher centricity, and so, too, it can move innovation from the board room (far from the point where the innovation will make a difference) to the classroom and community:

So, instead of lofty resolutions for 2015, that we will all break by January 5th, in our hearts and minds at least, why not start seeking big innovation in the little details, by problem-finding, not idea-creating?

Reference:
How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available from NoTosh Publishing. Kindle and standard paperback due Summer 2015.

December 21, 2014

2014's travel... within a hair's length of the moon

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Since 2007, I've been blogging about my travel, simply because it has always formed a major part of my life, and remains a hobby I love. Also, since 2007, things got more interesting than a family holiday to nearby destinations, marked by my first visit to New Zealand, with a six-week-old Catriona. In 2009 I got a "proper job" working with Channel 4, meaning I was reduced to 41000 miles of super-commuting between Edinburgh and London.

Since then, the irresistable rise of miles has been  related to the continued growth of my little company, NoTosh, which today celebrates its FIFTH birthday! Preparing an office launch in Australia meant 2012 was a killer, with seven return trips to Oz. Prepping growth across Asia, where we now undertake as much online-only work as the rest of the world combined, meant that 2013-4 have been fewer days away from home, but bigger trips as we line up new school after new school - the largest single voyage was 32000 miles alone this year. 

2007: 51,281 miles

2008: 81,887 miles

2009: 41,902 miles

2010: 106,372 miles

2011: 128,555 miles

2012: 242,266 miles

2013: 207,837 miles

2014: 237,195 miles

That's 1,097,295 miles travelled since my first kid was born, or the equivalent of traveling 44 times around the world, or two return trips to the Moon (with a couple of round-the-world trips spare). In short: it's probably far too much.

With our new US office taking shape, adding a new flavour of NoTosh to the mix, and the Australian office booming, I look forward to concentrating on the development of new reduced-travel ways of working with our schools and creative clients. Those who've been sampling our prototypes of online-only thinking and doing have loved it, being free to dive deep in their own time, and be coached in some more profound change than is afforded in a traditional 'professional development' environment. I hope we can continue to design these together - 2015 is already looking like a road less-traveled. Well, we can live in hope...

December 01, 2014

Flexible space? Remove your tables and desks...

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"Put a wheel on it!" This is the phrase that has my eyes rolling back several times over when people think they are creating a 'flexible' learning or working space. Flexibility requires flexibility of thought as much as furniture, and the one piece of furniture that says "you only have one thing to do" is the hallowed desk. Offices organise hierarchies with them; schools get locked into 19th century style timetables with them. If only you could get rid of the desks at the touch of a switch....

During the day, this Amsterdam design studio looks like a typical workspace. But at 6 p.m., someone turns a key, and all of the desks suddenly lift up into the air, with computers and paperwork attached. The floor clears, and the space turns into something new.

The large shared desks are attached to the ceiling with steel cables, and use a mechanism from large theatre productions to lift everything up and down. During work hours, the desks balance on rolling cabinets to keep them at the correct height and steady. When the work day is over, the whole room can be cleared in a couple of minutes.

November 26, 2014

Inside Out Thinking Down Under - provocation for learning

Provocations lead to deep, broad learning, and students tend to learn more, faster as a result. I've been showing educators how this is so, and how to do it, for the past five years with my motley crew. New Zealand educator Rob Ferguson woke me up this morning with a tweet, about how a provocation (the video, above) led to his students not just "doing art" for their 10th Grade assessments, but "doing art" to make a difference, as part of a global movement of artists:

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This might seem simple, but at play is some good, deep thinking. The provocation, through the video clip, comes at the beginning of learning, along with many other resources and content sources in an immersion that will contradict, delight, frustrate and generate a discord. This is not PBL where the teacher creates just one problem or open-ended 'essential' question, but a more realworld scenario where conflicting and provocative takes on several subject matters create confusion and discord. This discord is what sets students off to "problem-find" for themselves, seeking the genuine core of the many problems and many potentially 'essential' questions being presented. Having synthesised down to their own problem, or "how might we" statement, students will set out to ideate and prototype their solutions to the problem, or their way of showing off what they have learned. Often the ingredients used in the provocation will reappear in the prototypes, of which the photo above is one example.

Simple on the surface, deep, complex, frustrating, confusing learning on the underbelly: that is what we mean by design thinking for learning. And not a 3D printer or robot in sight!

You can read more about the use of provocation to create innovation in your school in my latest book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

September 19, 2014

Google Teacher Academy with NoTosh: a heck of an opportunity

 

Teachers take the seemingly impossible and make it happen. Every day. Teachers are the moonshot profession. We want to work with as many of you as possible in London and Amsterdam this year, at our GTA design thinking workshops.

When NoTosh took the Google Teacher Academy (GTA), we wanted to move it beyond simply exploring 'tech tools' and see if we couldn't harness the talents of educators, a sprinkling of technology, and a foundation of inspiration and moonshot thinking to really change the world of education.

Well, Google let us do it.

This weekend is the time to get your application in for London or Amsterdam's GTAs this autumn. Applying is the first step in opening up an amazing year ahead:

  • two weeks to put forward the education challenges you face on your doorstep or in your classroom;
  • two days intensive design thinking / technology professional development and action with the NoTosh crew, Googlers and selected Google Mentors
  • six months support from the Mentor team to put your prototype ideas into practice and continue to transform learning in your school.

If you're a school leader, please apply yourself, or encourage your teams to do so. If you're an innovator teacher, jump in and share your dreams for learning. If you're an educator in FE, HE or early years, consider representing your sector with an application, and add something different to the mix.

The Google Teacher Academy has been redesigned to help teachers gain understanding of the latest technologies while working in collaborative teams to solve chunky challenges that they've identified. Participants will be coached in harnessing the design thinking process to select and frame the chunkiest challenges in education, locally and globally, before working over two intensive days to prototype solutions alongside Googlers and selected expert coaches. 

Design thinking is an innovation process used by some of the world's most successful organisations to find and solve the greatest challenges on the planet. It is a simple process that can be harnessed back in your classroom, putting your students in the driving seat of their learning.

Selected expert mentors and Googlers will introduce new technologies with the potential to transform learning, as well as revisiting more familiar tools with a lens of student-centred learning in mind. 

Participants will learn by doing, working in teams of fellow educators to trial their ideas there and then, before being supported for six months by a mentoring team as they try out new methodologies and technologies in their classroom.

NoTosh, your facilitators for this journey, are global experts in innovation, creativity and learning, with offices in Edinburgh, Melbourne and San Francisco. The entire team plus a group of selected educators from the UK and Netherlands, will be on hand to support you as you put your ideas into practice.

You can apply for GTA London and GTA Amsterdam until September 22nd. 

September 18, 2014

I voted

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Scottish Independence is not just what I voted for today. It might not even be what we get. Whatever happens, my country is a better place for it already.

I voted for a nation that has taken the notion of 'democratic debate' to the extreme that few in the Western world have ever, genuinely, seen.

I voted for a dialogue that values hope and ambition over fear and incredulity.

I voted for a nation that has been having a deep dialogue about its future for no fewer than three years, while others 400 miles away assumed the status quo was in the bag.

I voted for the shivers-down-your-neck cheers of hope and optimism in George Square on Wednesday night. I voted for the "chance of hope" of which a certain no voter wasn't so sure, in the same Square that evening.

I voted for the quiet chats and discussions, in the backs of taxis, in pubs and cafés, outside schools between mums and dads, while we wait for our kids to leap out. 

I voted for a highly visible and social dialogue, where the influence of the Establishment, a ridiculous but very real entity growing out of central London, is diminished to the point of laughability by the people, men, women, children and teenagers alike, who tell it as it is.

I voted for a future dialogue that values the views of all, even if they're not in agreement with us, and a mutual respect for importance of getting our thoughts out there to debate in the first place.

I voted for a new breed of media industry that mocks the bias, the interested parties and the in-crowds, and presents information as it is on every day, not just polling day.

I voted for a growth mindset that believes the country of over 5 million is capable of as much economic growth, invention, ingenuity and promise as a land of 60 million.

I voted for a country that will never have nuclear weapons on its soil.

I voted for a country that will value green renewable energy over anything else, and provide 25% of Europe's green energy.

I voted for the reality that my vote in a General Election will actually elect a government that is close to what I chose.

I voted so that, never again, will I see politicians from another country tell me that I am not capable of running my own affairs (or at least, I won't care what they say).

I voted to get out of the arrangement whereby I should be grateful for every penny that I am given, while contributing more out of my pocket than I receive.

I voted so that we could punch above our weight, and not be told to be quiet.

I voted to put up with the hard times as well as the good, because at least they'll be our hard times to work through together.

I voted for a risk, a risk I know is like all other risks - they pay off with time.

I voted for the risk to pay off some time, but maybe not in my time.

I voted so that we could get on with this venture together, especially with those who didn't think we should do this at all. Without the 'nos', we are nowhere. It was Salmond who said in 2011, "we have won a majority of votes, but we haven't the majority of wisdom". That will still be true, more than ever. 

I voted so that my company in Scotland can thrive as an equal to my company in the United States, that my country can thrive as an equal to every other nation on the planet, not as the cousin who speaks up at the Christmas dinner and gets told to pipe down and let the big boys get on with it.

I voted so that, even when the mega businesses, who believe they rule our planet and maybe even do, tell us that we're wrong, we can smile, say "thank you", and get on with our idea of a quality life instead.

I voted so that one of the richest countries in the world can eradicate the poverty that is on its doorstep (and I'm happy to put my money where my mouth is to do it, when I know every penny is doing what it was intended to).

I voted so that my children can identify themselves with two cultures who value equality above all else: they are Scottish and French. Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.

I voted yes.

I voted.

September 03, 2014

Keep your audience captivated: article in GTC Scotland magazine

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At the beginning of a school year we are bombarded with messages telling us how to teach, what to teach, when to teach it. At the end of the day, there's so much anyone's head can cope with. In this term's Teaching Scotland magazine, from the General Teaching Council of Scotland, I've written a feature story on the power of concentrating on a simple question: How might we generate "happy learning"? It is an excerpt from my new book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas (And Actually Make Them Happen) (iTunes; Paperback):

"Take a moment to recollect your happiest memories as you learned something new. Where were you? What kind of activity did you undertake?

"I've asked around 8,000 young people, mums, dads, parents and business people this question over the past four years, and their answers are remarkably similar. The top reply is often: "Making stuff". Close behind is school trips, learning that took place far away from school, or out in the school garden. Others describe moments they felt they could choose what they did next, or followed a truly personal passion. Nearly everyone remembers a passionate teacher.

"This simple exercise is a great way to find out whether the people around you 'get' what great learning is about, and not a research paper in sight."

I go on to describe how this exercise has been harnessed in High Tech High, amongst other schools, and the impact is has had on learning outcomes, by shifting the focus from "learning by recipe" and teacher-defined projects, to more student-led discovery.

The full PDF edition is online along with the specific article, Keep your audience captivated.

Thanks to Meghann McDermott, my old high school orchestra buddy and now a teacher, too, for sending me a photo of her copy!

August 29, 2014

Out Now! How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make The Happen

How To Come Up With Great Ideas iTunes

Finally! How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen is out, in iBooks, at least. You can buy a copy now in your local store, and get your own ideas to fruition quicker and better, with your community in mind:

USA:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

UK:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

AUSTRALIA:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/how-to-come-up-great-ideas/id909659149?mt=11

The book is available in every iTunes store globally. The beautiful, full-colour paperback is currently in printing in England, and will be heading out to pre-orders from September 9th, and available for general sale shortly thereafter (http://notosh.myshopify.com/products/how-to-come-up-with-great-ideas).

Thank you to all those who pre-ordered and waited patiently for it. I'm delighted that my first book is finally out there in people's hands, and cannot wait to hear back from readers on how they develop their innovative ideas.

Here's the blurb for those of you who've not yet dived in:

How can students, teachers and school leaders in the education world innovate, share and build on new ideas, taking them out of individual classrooms to have a wider impact? What could schools ever learn from luxury fashion houses, political campaigners, global tech, media and telecommunications companies, and the world's biggest businesses of tomorrow, the startups? 

You can achieve ambitious visions for learning through swift innovation by borrowing from the people who invent, create much from little, and refine their ideas with a swiftness few of those large corporations, Government or schools have seen.

Learn more through practical steps, workshop activities for your own teams in your learning environment, and plenty of real success stories, to help kick-start the innovation for you.

How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen can be purchased on the iTunes store as an iBook, and in paperback on http://www.notosh.com/books

July 27, 2014

Why not?, and the power of getting on with it

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We are all artists. But not all of us should exhibit.

So says John Hegarty in "There Are No Rules", which I continue to dip into during my break in Tuscany. I laughed when I read this line, because, in my own drawing/sketches case, it's too true. We can all be creative, but not all creative produce is equally stop-you-in-your-tracks creative. The thing is, you don't know until you start to create, whether or not it's going to be worth exhibiting. You've just got to start. And this is why starting is so hard - we can be fearful that what we produce will not be worth exhibiting, so we don't even bother to start it off.

But when I'm on holiday, I don't care so much about what other people think. Most tourists display this characteristic, with their clothing choices perhaps, or their behaviour in the bars on the Southern Spanish coast. I display this characteristic in "having a go" at things I'm normally afraid of wasting time on: writing, drawing and sketching.

I tend to create more on holiday than I do during the working year, the audiences being smaller (Facebookers are also on holiday, the readership lower, the conferences closed for another season) and the canvas being less daunting. One of my favourite holidayish things to do is to draw on paper placemats before my meal arrives, using my daughters' coloured pencils to create whatever comes to mind. I've spent this week on honing my horses skills, learning how to draw them again (when I was 3, I could draw a good horse, jumping over a hedgerow).

During the working year, all of this would draw a simple question: "Why, Ewan?". But during holidays, no-one questions WHY I want to draw horses. On placemats.

It's the distinct lack of "why?", in fact, and the implied criticism that seems to come with those three letters, that relaxes me, helps me concentrate, helps me focus my efforts on one thing, and doing it best I can, and often a little bit better than that, in fact. No devil's advocate. No "have you thought about doing cats instead?". No "why?".

Just a "why not...?"

Cross-posted to the fabulous NoTosh Facebook wall.

You can pre-order my new book, to be released in August: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually make Them Happen.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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