Sunday, 25 May 2014

Designing & Making & ICTs = Creativity Cubed

There can't be many activities that come closer to the essence of what it means to be human than the sheer art of making, the magnificent process that links the mind to the medium. The ability to take nothing but a notion and to translate that into a tangible product that is as real as as the hands that made it.

As someone whose life is dominated by screens, I would be the first to extol the virtue and legitimacy of pixel manipulation as a creative medium, in fact most of my work is predicated around precisely that. But it still doesn't come close to literally getting your hands dirty, the assault on the senses of the noise and smell and sweat of actually cutting and shaping and forming with your bare hands. Nothing like it.

Real vs Virtual? You don't need to choose

Which is why I started up the Designers & Makers Activity with Carl Waugh (Head of DT Dover Campus) this year. You see, I think the most exciting use of tech is the kind that does not make puerile demarcations between the 'real' and the 'virtual' - yes sawdust is more 'real', more tangible, than symbols on a screen, but, and this is critical, you don't have to choose. Just as with the stop-motion activities we use in Art lessons and in Kindergarten, arguably digital technologies are never more exciting than when they is used in the service of 'real life' making and creating.

Clearly our kids agree. When I gave them the choice halfway through the ECA, between continuing working in 'resistant materials' (wood metal & plastic to you non DT types) with their hands, or manipulating a 3D model in SketchUp to export to the 3D printer, half of them declined, favouring the fervency of cutting and drilling and forming instead.

Pure focus.

Creating vs creativity

Which brings me to a concern I have here—the relentless emphasis on, creativity, yes it has it's place, but sometimes, sometimes it's enough to just have an excuse to shape something, without a care for it to be validated or endorsed by a 3rd party, let it be what it is. So often the kids come asking me 'is this OK?' or "is this finished?" and I tell them, again and again, you decide, you are the creator, you conceived of it, you are creating it, it's your choice whether or or it not it meets your expectations or not.

Create - to cause something (anything!) to happen (small c) 
Creative - the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something (big C) 

(Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future)

I won't lie to you, some, maybe most of their solutions, are not particularly 'creative' but they are creations, their creations—see the difference? That is enough. So they're not creative products that I would rush to purchase (actually, a few are) but that doesn't matter, when you see their beaming, ecstatic faces as they strut out of the workshop and later around the school) proudly displaying their designer bag/key/pencil-case fobs.

Howard Gardner explains:
"Creativity as a generalisable capacity [...] has distinct limitations. We recognise a variety of relatively independent creative endeavours. A Creator can solve a hitherto vexing problem, formulate a new conundrum or theory, fashion or work in a genre, ...
We also [need to] recognise a range of creative achievements—from the little c involved in a new floral arrangement [or designing and making a bag fob] to the big C entailed in the theory of relativity." (p80, brackets mine)

According to Csikszentmihalyi, (try saying that without Googling it) creativity occurs when—and only when—an individual or group product generated in a particular domain is recognised by the relevant field as innovative and, in turn, sooner or later, exert a genuine, detectable influence on subsequent work in that domain. This perspective applies to the full range of creations, across spheres and across varying degrees of innovation (from the littlest c to the biggest C).
Well I can't see how we can have the critical BIG C conversations until we've given our kids loads and loads of 'small c' experiences—time to explore, experiment, and make loads and loads of mistakes, and enjoy it. What I do know is that regardless of your opinion or mine, these kids are solving 'vexing problems' (to them), 'formulating new (to them) theories', in the pursuit of 'generating products' that are 'recognised (by themselves and their peers) as innovative'.

That's good enough for me.

Creativity Cubed

ICTs + Powerful Pedagogy + Traditional Tools = Creativity Cubed

Creativity as making (small c), Creativity as innovation (big C), Creativity as problem solving.

Creativity with breadth, depth and height—Creativity Cubed

I have to confess that, I am slightly biased towards Design & Technology (DT) as a field of human endeavour, that's my background. My first degree was in 3D Design, along with the PGCE in DT that followed it, which led to my first 5 years in teaching as a Secondary School teacher in South London, back in the 90s, while continuing freelancing as a Web/Graphic designer during evenings, and weekends.

Design Tech is, in my humble opinion THE place you should look if you want to see how digital technologies can really work seamlessly with traditional tools and skills. Even back in 1990s, the only area of the school I worked where you could expect to see computers in use for learning other than the IT Lab, was the DT lab; only in DT they weren't being used to 'teach IT'. No. They were actually needed as powerful tools for enhancing teaching and learning, and most importantly creating.  No one was even talking about an integrated model then, but in DT you wouldn't work any other way. From Graphic design on early Apple Mac black & White Classics, to robotic control with old BBC Micros, and CNC milling with Applications running in MS DOS, you couldn't really be an effective DT teacher without embracing the transformative opportunities afforded by ICTs.

Nothing has changed, except that the tools just get better, faster, more capable, and easier to use, in a process of iteration, or evolution, but certainly not obsoletion, and the DT facilities at UWCSEA are certainly no exception. The 'dream' behind this ECA was to see what could be done with some of the recent technologies brought in by Carl Waugh, the Laser Cutter and the 3D Printers, while also introducing kids in Grade 4 and 5 who have never set foot in a workshop their first experience at creating with  resistant materials like wood, plastic and metal.

ICTs & Synergy

So how did this work?

SketchUp Modelling of their TouchDraw Design
Gallery below:

For the first 3 sessions, the students focused purely on designing, using the vector graphic TouchDrawApp on iPads, this allows the kids to use some powerful vector features like subtraction and merging, but especially allowing them to export their designs as SVG files that the DT machines can handle. They had to design two versions, one to be made my machines, the other to be made by hand—the latter needed to be simpler to allow for their inexperience with working with resistant materials.

The fact that their designs were digital meant I could easily print them for transfer to the materials they would use, as well as export their machine designs to use with the laser cutter, before they commenced work on the hand made designs.

4 or 5 session later ... (making by hand takes a LOT longer than making by machine, something these students have a profound appreciation of now...) the students were given the option of modelling the design in 3D using SketchUp, before making it by exporting it to the 3D printer. As mentioned earlier, many students opted instead to stay in the workshop, so much for tech trumping traditional tools...

So, once again, the tech served to enhance the 'real world' experience. An approximate ratio of screentime to make time in this activity would be at least 1:5, one session with digital tools on screens for every 5 sessions with traditional tools in the workshop, less for those who opted out of the 3D printing.

So there you have it, the human propensity to make remains undaunted in the 21st Century, far from negating it, tech tools transform designing making, just as it always has with traditional tools, it's not either/or, it's both.

Gardner H (2006). Five minds for the future. Harvard Business Press.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Calculators in the 21st Century

What place do calculators have in the 21st Century?

Some would argue, none, and that they never should have had a place even in the 20th Century. Certainly one of my earliest memories of TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) was the replacement of the humble 'log book' by calculators in my Maths classes on the west coast of Ireland, back in 1986 or so.

This post is not about to debate an argument that is at least 20 years old, but I am happy to point you to this post which discusses the nuances of matter very well indeed.

I would like to highlight some comments made about calculator use by the renowned John Hattie, in his magnum opus, Visible Learning, where he says:

Calculators + Good Pedagogy = d = 0.72

"Ellington found that the effects were much higher when calculators were involved in the teaching process; for example, when used for composition problem solving, the effects were d = 0.72: "When compared with students who did not use calculators, students in treatment groups were able to solve more problems and make better decisions with regard to selecting methods for generating solutions"(Beddington, 2003, p 169) 

For more on Hattie's meta - analyses, have a look at my other post here, but for now, take it from me that a rating of d = 0.72 is very good, no, not very good, it's astounding.

Now, I've been thinking for some time, what if you took the pedagogically sound use of calculators and applied them to a technological tool that is favoured by adults who work with numbers the whole world over? What do financial professionals use to manipulate numbers? Calculators?—you must be joking, no they use spreadsheets, why? Because,

Spreadsheets are the calculators of the 21st Century

Maths Problem Solving with Numbers (click to enlarge)

I can tell you that my work with students confirms this, in fact, if I take the liberty of tweaking Hattie's profound eulogising about the wonders of spreadsheets calculators I think the observations hold true, no, they are truer, more emphatic in my experience than ever:

"Hembree and Dessart (1986) found that the pedagogical use of calculators spreadsheets improved students basic skills both in completing exercises and problem solving. Across all grades (and particularly above grade 5, when calculators spreadsheets become more prevalent) and across all ability levels, students using calculators spreadsheets lead to greater effects in students' basic skills in operations and particularly in problem-solving."  
Visualize Data with a couple of clicks (click to enlarge)

"The effect on problem-solving seems to relate to improved computation and lower cognitive workload demands. They also found that there was a better attitude towards mathematics and an especially higher self-concept of mathematics for those using calculators spreadsheets compared to those not using calculators spreadsheets.

Transform number manipulation by moving it online, collaborative, social. 

"... this enhancement in attitude was probably because the use of calculators spreadsheets helped relieve students traditional dislike of problems expressed in words (by reducing the cognitive load of having to compute as well as problem solve)."
"Using manipulative materials and calculators spreadsheets helps to reduce students cognitive load and allows them to devote their attention to problem solving."
Adapted from Hattie J (2013). Visible learning, p146-147

Transforming Calculations & Mathematics

As powerful as spreadsheet applications like Excel and Numbers are, already leveraging SAMMS elements like access to the internet to gather data, clarify facts, strategies; move modes of operation from teacher centred/pushed data, to student centred/gathered data, and the the mutability afforded by the spreadsheet—what calculator has an undo key? What calculator allows you to grab aspects of data and literally tweak it, or even move it around the sheet, recalculating variables at the speed of thought?

But we can add even more SAMMS to the recipe. Moving the entire activity online, namely with a 'cloud' based spreadsheet application like Google Sheets, that allows us to add the transformative elements of ICT that are:


Now students and teachers can work anywhere, any place, any space, on the same sheet. From real time feedback using comments, to transforming 'homework' into just an extension of classwork,


The sheet becomes a mini social network, a micro-community; allowing a group of students to collaborate on the same spreadsheet in real time, or to assign different aspect of a more complex problem to various member of the team, to be interconnected as the separate aspects of data are clarified, calculated and ratified by the team. At any point, any student can duplicate the entire sheet and continue work work separately, or move it to another tab within the same sheet.

All of the work you see here was completed with Grade 3 students, recently I have been able to continue this work successfully with students in Grade 2, using Numbers on the iPads. Here is one of our students to explain it for you:

If the only thing holding you back is lack of understanding of how spreadsheets work, don't panic, I have all the guidance you need right here:

Step by step, but to do the activity you see here really only requires a formula as simple as:

Answer (empty cell) = (click first number) + or any other operator, eg -,/,*) (click second number) Enter/return. Done.

Answer = 1+1. That's it.

See the Picasa Web Album below for some more examples:

Hattie J (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge. P 146-147

Spreadsheets for Everyone

Spreadsheets rock my world.

Spreadsheets are, at least in my experience, probably the least appreciated of the five core domains of ICT, unappreciated at least by people who have never used them. But, once you get a glimpse into the sheer mathematical beauty of the way these sheets of interconnecting cells, rows and grids can empower mere mortals to manipulate screeds of data like magnificent mathematical machines, well, you won't look back.  The ways that modern spreadsheets help people organise data from the miniscule to the massive, and free us to focus on the meaning of the numbers as opposed to the mere mechanics, is nothing short of transformational. 

5 core domains: Text, Image, Audio,  Video and Data - which ones are you weakest in?

And yet many, if not most educators languish in lethargic reticence; whether it's apathy or antipathy, who can say? What I do know is that the with the developments in terms of sheer processing power and refinement of control interfaces, the information and data management tools that used to be extremely complex operations, the purview of financial professionals only, are now suitable for anyone with or without a mathematical background. Spreadsheet applications like Numbers and Google Sheets have made it easier for the ordinary user, even kids as young as Grade 2 (Year 3) and below to manipulate, edit, and share the data stored in spreadsheets, using different functions and computations.

And no, it's not just about graphing. You can do that in a Word Processor or a Presentation tool. No. Spreadsheets are all about manipulating and managing data.

For examples of how I've used spreadsheets with kids as young as Grade 2, see this post. If you are a total spreadsheet noob and need to start from zero... read on.

So you feel like a novice when it comes to spreadsheets? Well it only takes 10 minutes to fix. Here is a labsite lesson I ran for our Grade 4 teachers, to get them from spreadsheet zeroes to spreadsheet heroes in one lesson. The whole thing is available below, in it's entirety (40 minutes) or in convenient bite sized attention deficit sized morsels below. You only need to know about 'Functions & Formulae' to get started.

The entire lesson (40 minutes)

And here in sections:

Spreadsheet skill review:

Review cell address, and ranges of cells, eg: A1:B6

Functions and Formulae

Review adding the contents of cells, by by using the SUM function and by writing a formula, eg A2+B3.


Critical to the 21st Century classroom model, is ensuring that you as the teacher are NOT a prerequisite for success. Students need to be empowered to resolve their own challenges. The sooner you establish this as 'normal' practice, the easier it will be.

The students should not 'need' you to learn.

This section is purely concerned with the appearance of the spreadsheet. No Maths required, resizing columns and rows, adding text,. and outlines.

Students build a framework within with they can insert relevant data.

Now that the framework is ready, this section guides students through 'telling' the spreadsheet what kind of data will be entered into certain cells.

IMPORTANT: In a spreadsheet you cannot just add a $ sign to indicate currency, symbols like these actually contain 'functionality' in a spreadsheet, so in short, nothing will work.

Instead if you writing dollar signs, let the spreadsheet do that FOR you, by telling it to format certain cells as currency.

This feature as other uses as well, for example making certain cells display percentages. You cannot do this by just adding a % sign.

Students enter specific data that need to be totalled using the SUM function.

As more information is entered, the total at the bottom of the sheet should automatically update, this allows students to begin 'modelling' 'What if?' scenarios:

What if we buy 15 of those?

Then students can write a subtraction formula to subtract the $20 that they were initially loaned from their overall total.

Student's that finish early, should be used as 'quality control' ie checking on their peers to make sure that they are finished properly, and that their sheets are working properly.


This section is an 'extension' section.

This means that the spreadsheet will do what they need, but these features will make it even better... IN particular enabling more effective 'modelling'.

  • Inserting additional columns to allow better management of multiple quantities.
  • Refining the use of formulae to add and subtract
  • Creating a 'ripple' effect whereby cells reference other cells
  • Using conditional formatting to change the colour of a cell when the value changes.

Students will need time to 'play' with these interrelated features, in order to get to a point where the logical sequencing of calculations makes sense.

They may also use ways to get it working which are not the same as yours... it may even be better...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Sharing Ownership of Files in Google Drive

So if you are about to depart UWCSEA, you will need to remember to leave your important Google Documents behind. Behind the scenes your school GMail account is eventually turned off and moved to an archive state in the months after you leave. When this occurs any document or resource that you have created, uploaded and therefore owned within your Google Drive will disappear.

If you have shared and uploaded resources into shared department account you will need to shift ownership of these before your leave... so that your legacy of documents will live on.

Step 1 - Search your Google Drive using the following command.

Use the search bar within Google Drive to filter for documents that you own, but have shared with another account or have uploaded into folders within another account.

From: your account
To: department account

Example: (be careful about the gaps)

Step 2 - Select the files that you wish to change ownership

You can hold down the shift key and then select multiple files at once. The grey text next to the file name points to the folder where these files are currently located. These folders will be within the Google Drive account that you searched with above.

Step 3 - Click on the Sharing Button to change ownership

Now you can choose to make a different account the owner of the resources. As shown below, you will need to find the departmental account and then change this permissions from Can Edit to Is Owner. Once you press save the permissions will be alters.

(A word of Caution - be careful about selecting too many documents at once to change permissions. From experience 20-30 at once is ok, but after this the process slows down or even stops.)

Step 4 - Final Check

You can now do the same search as Step 1 and see a reduced list of documents. The resources you once owned will still be in the same folder location, but now owned by the departmental Google account. You can also use this process to shift ownership of files which are using up a lot of space in your personal account. Remember you have a 30GB personal limit for files that you own.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Stop-motion Storytelling in Kindergarten

One of our Tech Mentors in K2, Zöe Brittain, added a transformational element to her preparations for this year Arts Festival, by inspiring her students to create short stopmotion stories, retelling the story of The Ugly Duckling.

All of our iPad grades, which includes Infant School classrooms and Grade 2 all received a 'Justand' iPad stand this year, these are ideal for stop-motion, as Zöe's kid's so ably demonstrated.

As is usually the case with these powerful applications of ICT, the 'value added' is remarkable, but the outstanding aspect for me is the way this activity really focuses on collaboration—seeing 2 or 3 kids all communicating and collaborating, and trouble shooting in unison really is marvellous to behold, another excellent example of the UWCSEA profile, made visible.