Tag Archives: silicon fen

A Vision for Education? I can but dream.

Jane Austen bans homework! Ex-soldiers to discipline unruly pupils! I- Levels to restore rigour to examinations!

The breathless Sun-like approach to educational news captures our imagination but leaves us none the wiser about the vision for education in this country. As a leader of a school, I remain bewildered by the fast changing landscape around us. Indeed, where in the hurly-burly of educational news is the “why” behind everything we do? Looking at education piecemeal is a function I know of politics. Identify the issue, make it a problem, proffer a solution. “Simples”.

Imagine for a moment a different world. A world where education is not a political football but is the focus of educators who understand learning and what it needs to be. Of course learning for its own sake is integral to the human condition. As a student of history I revelled in interrogating and trying to make sense of the past but I learnt so much more from this endeavour. I learnt how to think critically.

I recently enjoyed a very twenty first century lesson in the application of learning. I had the privilege of meeting Roberto Cipolla, Professor of Information Engineering, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and a thoroughly nice guy. Interestingly Professor Cipolla also works with Toshiba and is a frequent visitor to Japan. His interest in future learning is focussed on the ways young people learn and the importance of problem solving. He demonstrated his latest creation which has enjoyed world wide coverage. “Zoe” is a virtual talking head who displays emotion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21827924. The work of a team led by Professor Cipolla drawn from the University and the Toshiba Laboratory in the Science Park, it offers the potential for a range of applications. I was fascinated by the creative process behind “Zoe” and how her creators are still investigating how she can be best used in the real world.

Professor Cipolla’s message to us as teachers was to the point. We must educate our students to take risks, be confident. From the perspective of Silicon Fen, we should be encouraging problem solving. Don’t fear coding – embrace it because it is the future.

The message resonates with us because of our approach to learning. A student is not a list of subjects but the sum of its parts. This year we introduced a new series of modules into the Year 9 curriculum which are all about “Myself as a Learner”. Included in the carousel is a module inspired by the Paralympics where students learn about how sport is played when athletes have physical limitations; another module introduces students to the world of forensics where they learn the science behind solving a crime before themselves having to investigate a murder scene set up just for them. Apart from clearly enjoying themselves, the students also engage in making connections between the subjects they study. Taking them out of their comfort zone is challenging but is essential for their learning.

So in my world, where educators call the shots, education would be underpinned by a vision. This vision would be informed by the world our young people live in rather than the politics of the moment. The prevalent discourse, which is akin to ever decreasing circles, would be displaced by thinking about education which is expansive and ambitious for the students. It would not be a world where policy initiatives jostle for position in the media.

I can but dream.

Students with STEM subjects increasingly in demand

Early Friday evening, whilst standing in the senior school reception area, I become aware of a steady crocodile of Year 8 students arriving at the front door with overnight cases and sleeping bags.  Initially perplexed, I quickly recollected that this was the night of the science sleepover.  Our brilliant science staff had arranged an exciting evening of science with birds of prey let loose in the hall, an amazing array of cool scientific experiments and a showing of “Up” to cap an evening of scientific fun.  Whether the girls slept is of course a moot point.

Events like this really matter.  Schools should encourage a genuine interest in science.  In today’s world, where scientific literacy is arguably as important as literacy and numeracy, students must really engage with their learning so it is learnt for life and not just for the next test.  I therefore applaud the opening of the new Science Centre in Jesus Lane with a brief to offer science outreach to schools.  In a city with a global reputation for scientific innovation and more Nobel Prize winners than you can shake a stick at, it seems wholly appropriate that schools should enjoy access to a dedicated resource designed to enhance learning in science.

This imperative is of course part of a broader educational issue. Here in Cambridge where Silicon Fenenjoys a symbiotic relationship with the university, there is a real emphasis on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  And the entrepreneurs who imagine our future are greedy for young talent; their problem is that not enough young people are interested.  An interesting statistic for me relates to the number of women who enter careers in STEM.  As STEM careers outpace job growth in all other industries, women hold only 17% of jobs in science and technology in the UK – a figure decreasing yearly. Given that 80% of jobs in the next decade are likely to require significant technical skills there clearly is a crisis brewing.

Yet inspiration is at hand.  The community of entrepreneurs in Cambridge are acutely conscious that more needs to be done to encourage young people to pursue STEM subjects.  Essentially the cavalry has been called in aka Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK).  For the last two years successful entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley in the States have come over en masse to visit schools – they also squeeze in trips to Downing Street and Cambridge University.  Their mission?: to unlock the mystery of entrepreneurship to a British audience and the vital importance of STEM.

We are delighted that our school has enjoyed visits from a range of hugely successful and interesting entrepreneurs.  The most recent visit is captured in a film produced by SVC2UK:  http://youtube.com/watch?v=ec7IGJsOb38i.

The visiting entrepreneurs made a huge impression on our students.  What is exciting to me is the possibility of sharing their inspiration with other schools.  This is where Sherry Coutu enters the fray @scoutu.  Sherry, a successful entrepreneur and a driving force behind SVC2UK, is determined to offer this opportunity to half a million students.  Not a woman to be daunted by a number, her team is devising a clever method of making this possible.  We are delighted that SVC2UK wants to work with The Stephen Perse Foundation in piloting this scheme.  My role is to act as an ambassador, encouraging as many schools as possible to become involved.  My twitter platform is a fantastic conduit for spreading the news.

So the challenge is clear – the gauntlet is down.  A generation of young people face a world of opportunities.  Let’s make it happen.

A Digital Learning Journey

Later this month I shall be making a presentation to a contingent of 200 Swedish politicians and educators about leadership in education.  My presentation is one of a range of talks and seminars in this Apple sponsored event in a week-long series culminating in the appearance of the keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally renowned expert on creativity in education. The focus of the London event is the potential impact of technology on pedagogy.  Most specifically, will issuing a lap top to every student inSweden improve the learning experience in the classroom?  And more broadly how do school leaders manage the pedagogical challenges created by this interface with the digital world?

iPad 2

My invitation to this event is related to the digital profile of our school.  Last September every student in the senior school was issued with an iPad a year after the teachers had themselves been equipped with the device. As an independent school we have the luxury of making our own decisions without reference to the latest government hobby horse and it was blindingly obvious to us that a school disconnected from the digital revolution was failing to educate its pupil for the world we live in.  A digital world.

It is a truism that technology should not be used for its own sake.  This is clearly the concern of our Swedish guests.  Yet it is also clear that there is a world of possibilities.  I am fascinated by digital innovation and how it can transform the learning Eco system.  Only today I was reading a blog about “The Internet of Things” written by Steve Wheeler@timbuckteeth. In this world every object is connected to the Web. “The announcement of a new technology called Touché has the potential to change forever the way we interact with everyday objects…. Touché uses a Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique to make just about any everyday object ‘aware’ that users are touching it.  From door handles to sofas, once connected, objects will be context aware, and respond to our natural gestures.”  Indeed not just learning but our life styles could be disrupted by such technology.

Augmented reality is another development with potential to transform our world view.  AR is a medium through which the known world fuses with current technology to create a uniquely blended interactive experience.  NASA has used AR to illustrate the Mars Curiosity Rover expedition.


The potential for changing the conventional landscape within our schools is huge.

And it is all about the potential.  Arguably the pace of innovation is far outstripping the capacity for educators in schools to harness it to transform the learning experience of students in a meaningful way.  The fear of disruption outweighs any perceived benefits.  After all, the focus of schools is to ensure students successfully engage with a broad and stimulating curriculum; and leave with a clutch of qualifications facilitating progression to the next stage of their lives.

Yet this is the critical point.  Our young people are growing up in a world where it is a cliché that the pace of change is exponential.  Failing to engage with the digital world is ignoring the world which shapes their lives.  If schools are to enjoy the opportunities offered by the digital revolution a key change has to happen.  Teachers, our greatest resource, must not only be encouraged to be active learners themselves, schools must place innovative pedagogy at the heart of what they do.  It is no longer the case that a teacher emerges from Higher Education fully formed.  In the dynamic world in which we live the most effective teacher is one who is on their own learning journey, unafraid of change, within an environment which supports their professional development. A school today should truly be a community of learners.