Thursday, 19 November 2009

Big fulcrum

Just returned from the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha. #wise09

The Summit was very helpful - so many useful conversations and Twittchats! It also provided a fascinating contrast between the World Economic Forum typeview - "let's build system on systems, make big admin even bigger..."; and my (+others') view that this is a bottom up people's century / self organising communities / mutuality kind of time.

My favourite question from floor to illustrate the gap was "how do you systematise bottom up change"; lol. Favourite moment was a four-on-stage panel. One speaker, a nice chap from the WEF was chatting on about the need for systems and big gov and other last century stuff; also on stage - looking very bored indeed - was Biz Stone (of Twitter) and Professor Mitra (of Hole in the Wall, and other projects). Aftwer a while Biz and the prof started chatting in a whisper, then business cards were exchanged and rather nicely, as the WEF speaker embraced Systems, these other two were illustrating the 21st century's core process of "helping people to help each other" right there - hopefully with Twitter throwing a bit of support to Prof Mitra's fab projects. Fun to see real change happen in front of our eyes...

WISE is going to be a significant annual event - not the least because Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned opened with a real call to action to everyone - get on with it!

...and that is what is needed, isn't it?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Museum of Islamic Art

The new Museum of Islamic Art, Doha is a remarkable building - as you can see. A treasure trove of Islamic art artifacts are inside and of course the repetitive patterns and tessellations of Islamic art are everywhere. Perhaps less obvious at first sight is the way that the top of the building is symbolic of a woman's eyes looking through her burqua - her veil (can you see the eys at the top of the building?).

It's only when you look close up at Islamic texts - I was enjoying the blue Qur'an from the 9th century - that you see how important the rhythm of the caligraphy is - a little like looking at  Labanotation describing dance (is that Kinetography? I think so).

Inside, the Museum does a remarkable job of displaying the collected works. Since I am now excitedly involved in building a new school from stone in the Portland Stone quarry in Dorset i was very interested in the use of stone everywhere inside - and to see the British Museum's relationship with MIA - Brit Mus is built from Portland stone too. Small world.

Barrow transport

Dohar is a magical, delightful place.

In the heart of old Dohar, the Souk Waqif boasts a mass of tiny shops with hand blended perfumes, tailors and much, much more. The passageways between these shops are so narrow that deliveries of goods will always be problematic - or rather would be if it wasn't for the small army of bespokely quilted wheelbarrows that provide that service.

A "barrow rank" so to speak is seen here - and you can see one of the many narrow passage ways beyond. Each barrow is carefully owner-secured by a padlock and chain by the way, although Dohar is one of the safest places I've ever been. You can see from the flat worn on each tyre (solid rather than pneumatic, by the way) that these barrows to a fair old mileage!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Space to think

Some years back I was part of the team assembled by Balfour Beatty to "transform" Knowsley schools, just outside Liverpool.

We took them to see Hellerup School in Denmark, connected them to Sheree Vertigan in Reece High School in Tasmania - pioneers of Home Base learning, showed them ideas and designs from all over. A wonderful local authority were ambitious enough for their children that they sought to replace some 11 comprehensives with 7 Learning Centres, against much controversy and, what was in my view, a backward looking, "alternative" plan by the then existing headteachers.

Fast forward, and it was a joy to be there today and see how well the new designs - this one is the Halewood Centre for Learning - are working: chatting to students they reported the remarkable changes in behaviour and motivation, the open, agile home base spaces were being used exactly as intended, the huge "amphitheatre" in the heart that doubles as a staircase (shown here) is now the premier cultural performance facility in the area, with the Liverpool Philharmonic playing there shortly. This has been the experience in Knowsley, where the council has taken the bold move of closing all of its 11 secondary schools, transferring them to 7 new Centres for Learning, using £150 million of government money.

A big 1,000+ school would be impersonal - too easy to coast or be lost. Like so many schools I'm associated with this one is designed around several ‘homebases’, with unique-colour carpeting, and their own designated toilets, study rooms, and a Commons for meeting friends and tutors.

I asked the articulate and thoughtful students who showed me round what was best about the places: the community sharing the space? the sense of intimacy in the home bases? the teachers' open areas adjacent to the home bases? the cathedral like hugely high ceiling?. "No", he said, "it is just that here, you have space to think".


Friday, 6 November 2009


this was fascinating - a prototype session over two days to learn from in preparation for tourhe Great Learnover event in 2010 ( One of the Harris academies hosted this prototype session and watching children from around the world discuss each others learning, in detail, was compelling. Here by the way you can see a useful trick which is to stick postie notes on the screen you are watching to remeber who the various faces are!

To take one example converstion: Swedish children: "how do you organise your learning days?" UK children were puzzled "we have a timetable, someone else organises it". Swedish children surprised.
UK children "how many exams do you do?" Swedish children - we do four at 16, but mostly we have teacher assessment. UK children "How do you get a job with only 4 exams?!!" and so on.

On the other hand, the overseas children were much taken by the collegiality of the Harris Children's Commission and the sense of "belonging" that they all shared although they came from multiple academies. So much to learn from each other, but we need to really break this sense that this only one way to do learning - it is so unfair on our learners.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Rites of passage...

three for one here - (1) this is Oxford Street - the heart of London consumerland - and a novel traffic experiment where on the lights' cue folk can cross on the diagonal.. and tonight (first night) plenty of people were there just to watch ("they'll all be killed..." etc). And (2) some London red busses for those of you not in UK who think the are cute and don't ride bikes around the city.

But also (3) the Christmas lights (turned on this week) set me thinking about cues and clues and signification again. There are very few markers left in our lives of the passage from childhood to adulthood. They really matter, but we seem to be left with only these two: (a) you get a phone at about 9 or 10 ready for "big" school, and (b) you get a High School prom at the end of compulsory exit exams.

Somehow that doesn't seem like enough - cue frantic reading on anthropological texts. Folk in Oxford Street tonight (as they watched the diagonal crossers collide) were remembering being old enough to come up to see the lights etc., and I have reflected elsewhere on how education should be central in devising these markers in the newly secular world that we now inhabit. In UK schools, where uniform is prevalent, the "moving out of uniform into "work standard' clothes might be one such marker...

Fresh ideas for what learning related rites of passage to adulthood might be effective are welcome...

User generated?

Interesting experience tonight: I did a TV interview on the BBC's 24/7 news channel - with a huge global audience I was told - on the old chestnut of exams. It seems that wise Denmark (see last week) are allowing internet access in exam rooms for 14 school / colleges and will invite all schools to participate by 2011. I'll post the interview here later. I mentioned our eViva project from some years back.

But the Millbank studio was not where the interviewer was - so i sat facing this camera, noone else around, no technicians (huge contrast with the 28 folk in the room when I did Newsnight live!) - and the monitor on the camera was off (broken?). So staring at a disembodied voice of the interviewer, chatting to a lens alone (through a glass darkly?)... and yet it all felt so straightforward after all those podcasts, twitcams and other USG stuff.

For a sense of audience you only need an imagination....