Four Year 8 pupils sat solemnly across the table accompanied by their teacher. It was a Dragons’ Den moment. Their pitch? They had created an app to solve the widely perceived problem with our house token system. In our senior school each teacher is expected to carry around house tokens and award them as appropriate according to the designated colour of the house. With the best will in the world, it is adding another layer of complexity to the life of a busy teacher to remember to have tokens for each house in every lesson. Indeed, one of the students had experienced a situation where the teacher wanted to award a house token but had run out of the required colour. Oh the injustice. So I awaited their solution. Simple yet effective. With technical support from their very smart teacher, they had created an app where by, with a touch of the teacher’s iPad screen, house tokens can be awarded and taken away. The state of play between the houses can be monitored closely adding to the spirit of competition – very Hogwarts.
Leaving aside how these ingenious students have solved what was proving an administrative headache for the school, this whole scenario is real life learning within a school setting. Identifying a problem and scoping out a solution – in this case a digital one taking advantage of the 1:1 deployment of iPads in the school. I was delighted because here were Year 8s thinking differently.
So how do we as educators offer a learning environment which acts as a crucible for such an approach? First, the school must value the educational development of every student in a holistic sense. More than a set of data to be measured, each individual should be treated as just that – an individual. A young person is potentially a bundle of exciting ideas and unlocking their thinking should be the core business of every school. Pivotal to this is the approach of teachers. Challenging, encouraging, guiding in equal measure. Sage and facilitator. No small task but what can be more rewarding?
To signal our commitment to this ethos we have created a discrete footprint within the curriculum with the ambition to encourage pupils to think differently. In the Junior school the Philosophy for Schools course (P4C) is popular and effective. With their natural curiosity, our young students happily challenge and question a whole range of issues. In the Senior school every year group now has an unexamined course offered purely because the learning opportunities encourage thinking unconstrained by a mark scheme.
Another iteration of this approach is the creation of the new Cabinet of Curiosities. Recalibrating the concept of the library for our digital age, the Cabinet is conceived as a portal between the real world and the virtual. Skilful curation of resources unlocks a learning opportunity previously impossible within a school. A visit to the Cabinet is but the beginning of an intellectual adventure. Currently a Sherlock exhibition is being planned with real life objects as pointers to this great literary detective and an i-Book as a conduit to associated areas of interest. Our talented digital researcher is already exploring the world around Sherlock linking his genius to other figures in detective fiction and famous theatrical detectives – curiosity piqued the student is offered a learning gateway to history with resources about the development of the police force and forensic science, and creativity with suspense music in detective stories. This is not to mention exploration of ethical issues related to crime. The joy of the digital world is that the possibilities are limitless. And the opportunities for thinking outside of tram lines are endless.
We shall continue to strive as a school to think differently about our learning environment. And we shall continue to focus on educating our community of individuals to think differently. As our Year 8 coders demonstrated: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” Voltaire