Throwing it at them

An interesting day today with a range of students, Y7 – 9, from Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough. We wanted to focus on their creativity in the same way as the previous post on this blog. What immediately struck me was how much more reticent they were than primary age children when asked to talk about their own ideas and stand by them. They had great ideas, they really did, but it took a fair bit of cajoling to get them to open up in the main.

So, the activity focussed again on the nature of creativity and how it related to jobs before giving them an opportunity to apply some new skills to a creative situation (design a new LEGO set). As always, we don’t try to quantify or ‘level’ creativity (or any of the employability skills) but we develop them and focus on them through reflection and action. The opening session revealed their thoughts on what creativity is:


We used this as the basis for the work that followed.

The task was to create a short advert that included a range of creative approaches. I purposely did not want to intervene too much in the thought process but simply showed the some of the possibilities in Garageband for voice and music, Green Screen for effects, iMotion for stop motion and iMovie to glue it all together. I have run a day session on each of these apps in the past so it was interesting to see how the students would adapt and use what they felt was needed. And that is exactly what they did. I wouldn’t say many have a polished finish because they only had so long to work and they tended to focus on getting one aspect right; whether that was the sound design or the green screen or the structure. You can see form each video below what was of the most interest to each group and how they developed that idea. In an ideal world we would have had sessions on each technique and then the task treated as a single activity but life sometimes isn’t like that. It’s clear from the playlist below which aspect each group focussed on, some worked so effectively that they even got more than one technique pinned down. If only we had more time….

But overall, great work and we concluded before they left, ‘attitude is everything’.

Creativity in action

dsc_7994It was appropriate that today was one of our LEGO creativity days. We hear about creativity as one of the key attributes/skills that employers want from employees. Today follows from yesterday. Let me explain.

Yesterday we welcomed Anthony Mann and Elnaz Kashefpatel to the centre. Maybe not household names but two of the lead researchers at the Education and Employers Taskforce. A group tasked with reviewing, unearthing and creating quality research into the efficacy of work related education in schools. Their work is varied and hugely influential in directing what makes great employer/education, why it works and what more we could be doing. Rigorously identifying the key factors will help us to make it more effective, their research shows clear long term financial gain for children of all different ages who engage in this sort of activity. The more often the bigger the gain.

So back to today. We have fifty children from three schools: St Benedicts, Riverdale and Whale Hill.They have been asked to define creativity. Really interesting responses were then used to create a checklist for what might creativity look like in action: using experience, new ideas, problem solving, communication and imagination were key features. Following our employability theme we then asked the children which jobs needed these characteristics. Ranging from rocket scientists to builders it was a fairly easy task but then I asked them which jobs do not require creativity. Tricky and a great discussion ensued. Following a short challenge with our LEGO Build to Express Kits, the children were also shown the basics of a voice over movie in iMovie. They now had experience of how top put things together but they needed a challenge to get their imagination generating new ideas.

A simple task, design a toy for Black Friday and sell it using a short advert. NOBODY was allowed to build a single thing without defining the toy’s audience, the value proposition and USP….and then they built. Their videos should be available on here by 4pm. in the meantime have a look at the images below to get a feel for the day.

So what is the link between today an yesterday. Yes it is focussed on employability ‘skills’ and linking their work today with what happens in the real world but more importantly it focusses on experiences. Not a quantifiable ‘level 1 in creativity’ but repeated exposure to the situations and personal requirements that these children will experience and need in later life whatever role they work in. Even taking part in a day like this has the evidence base behind it to say that these children in the room will have a slightly better chance at getting a job and being paid more than the children currently back in school. That is why we run so many sessions so that schools can give EVERY child the experiences on an ongoing basis through their school career.

As Dr Anthony Mann put it ‘Mud sticks so keep throwing mud and the evidence is that it does make a difference’.


Exciting? Well we thought it would be when myself and Karen Marshall from Accenture hatched a plan a few months ago to widen children’s horizons for their potential future careers in a digital world. We wdsc_7850eren’t planning a careers day; we wanted to give the children lots situations using digital technology to develop the everyday skills that employers find so valuable.

So, with 150 children from
four primary schools, we ran a series of workshops throughout the day using different types of programming, robots and hands on tech. The lovely people from Geek Talent also supported on the day and we look forward to working with them again in the future. The children gain so much from working with positive role models in what were genuinely challenging scenarios. Didn’t see anybody give up, become sullen or spit their dummy out once!

Stella led the day from Accenture and, in keeping with their intention in being involved in school outreach, the prizes at the end of the day were awarded for ‘positive attitudes,’ ‘helping others’ ‘not giving up’ and so on. I am told time and again by ALL of the companies that support our events (getting on close to a hundred in the two years we have focussed on this) that these are the traits that they look for in employees. Qualifications are pretty low on their agenda, GCSEs show if the kids had commitment but not much else from their perspective. So all in all the day was a huge success, below are some of the images of the workshops:

And our brilliant prize winners from the day. Keep up these working attitudes and they will go far!

We look forward to the next one with even more companies supporting the event.

Livin’ on a Prayer!

It’s not everyday that children walk into a room with basic musical knowledge and walk out 5 hours later having laid down a cover version of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’. But that is exactly what children from St Benedicts and Captain Cook Primaries did this afternoon. Certainly none of them had used Garageband to any great extent, but by 2.30pm we had bassists, lead guitars and rhythms section all merrily playing in unison – almost! We invite internationally renowned David Kirtlan to the centre a few times a year to work wth our students and he never fails to disappoint, in fact he has followed up with several schools in recent years by running days back in school for them. Click on his name for more details.

But for now, enjoy the images below and the recordings we got by the end of the day. Now everybody, after four….one….two…three….four…. “Wooooooah – oh…..”

iPad Creativity

“No sentences please, no capital letters, no full stops or any of those semi – hemi – demi – colons that you all need to use to be effective writers in our society…apparently….”

Yep I got some funny looks from the children this morning from St Benedicts and Riverdale Primary schools when I told them the plan for the day. The teachers didn’t bat an eyelid, they’ve been here before and know that we offer a very different sort of day to being back in school. I also told the children that nobody was wrong today, the only ‘wrong’ that they could do was in terms of collaboration and communication with their partner.

So what were they doing?

Writing emotion basically. The day is based on some work I did a few years ago in Handale Primary with some Y1 children. Use Garageband to write a simple score for a short story (in the form of a film clip today). Previously this has led to some fabulous writing because the children begin to understand the emotion of the scene through a different medium; one which they are bathed in when watching stories on a screen but hardly ever notice.

A day isn’t long so we warmed up by doodling what different scenes a range of music clips evoked. We followed this by an excellent example of a piece of music and animation in perfect harmony. I’ve used ‘The Beauty of Life’ several times in the past and the rich textures of music, animation style and content could easily spawn a week’s quality work but today it provided a great example of how the visuals and the sounds work together.

After break was understanding how to create music in Garageband and layering tracks. The children rarely have an issue with this in my experience as long as they are guided to the key functions they need. Using the smart instruments and some simple tempo changes the children wrote the score for ‘a walk in the dark’, simply a phrase I threw at them. They now had the skills!

The playlist that will appear below will illustrate their work and inevitably some will be more on the mark than others but that is not the point. They have thought about the emotion, the connection with audience, in a way that working on improving noun phrases and adjectival rarely can. For now enjoy some of the images from the day so far:

And here is the finished work. Bearing in mind that the children looked at me blankly when I asked who had ever used Garageband…or iMovie just 4 hours earlier:

VEX and WeDo leagues Challenge 1

Well done to all the teams that turned up for the first challenge last Thursday. Amazingly only two eggs were damaged on the evening at the VEX event and they were by the same team! You know who you are…

It was interesting to see a range of modifications that had been applied to most of the VEX robots, including some ‘egg delivery systems’ that had variable success. The WeDo robots however showed even more variation with Riverdale devising a powered winch rather than a powered car to move the objects along the course. They also used gear wheels to limit slip on the drive belts.

The aim of the leagues is to get pupils thinking like engineers. Yes they can use experience to base their thoughts on but thinking about the fundamentals of the problems and how best to solve it is the key. If that means a totally novel approach then so be it. As the year progresses we will also see much more of a focus on the programming integrating with the hardware. There will be training available for the VEX software in late November and that date will be announced to all teams soon.

Although this is a league, we have shied away form ‘points make prizes’ at this initial stage however at future events there will be prizes up for grabs. For now though I will simply mention that all teams performed really well in both leagues and that LJS were the quickest in the egg slalom. Next challenges will be live early next week…


Another very successful day here today as three schools attended our first (of five) STEM days for 2016/17. We had hands on activities from a range of STEM ambassadors across engineering and technology disciplines. GoAhead Training led sessions programming VEX robots, Labman braved the elements to build and launch rockets, Gareth Atwood explored materials and energy, Connor from Cleveland Bridge created binary patterns as a key concept of computing, Jessica from Teesside university built tubular paper bridges and the team from Analox explored sensing through their own products and a range of activities. Browse the pictures below to get a flavour of what your company or your pupils could get up to at future events:

Logistical Support

Who knew it was National Lorry Week?

thumb_dsc_6393_1024Hands up…no, not you, or you…well I did because of the close support our local logistics companies have given to the employer/education events that we have continued to develop here. Today was a bespoke day to celebrate National Lorry Week but we also wanted to ensure that the children had a quality experience and understood the role of logistics vehicles on our roads.

Children from Southbank Primary and Grangetown Primary came to the centre to find out more about the range of roles that the logistics sector has to offer. It isn’t all about driving trucks!

The day opened with a brilliant presentation by Wendy O’Donnell the Assistant Harbour Master for the River Tees. Her expertise and obvious enthusiasm for ships, the merchant navy and the workings of the River VTS was both engaging and interesting for the children who didn’t know very much about Teesport’s existence despite living within 2 miles of it!

The children then got the opportunity to explore six different types of trucks that had been kindly offered through Devereux, PD Ports, Scania, Mobile Mini, Teesside LGV Training and Volvo. The drivers were really helpful and gave the children an in depth tour as well as the opportunity to sit in the cabs. The children came alive with millions of questions but in hindsight I think disabling the airhorns might have been a good idea!

Back in the auditorium and the children were asked to try reaction and eyesight tests on img_1997our iPads to see if they had the ability to cope with being a truck driver. By undergoing the tests the children were then asked to nominate their table ‘champion’ to take on the dreaded ‘PingPong Exchange Test’ in front of the whole audience and live on the big screen. Well done to Holly for becoming our overall champion.

The day was an excellent example of how supportive local businesses are being helping children of all ages to realise that there are lots of exciting possibilities open to them when they leave school. Inspire2Learn has developed a programme with most of the key sectors in this area so if your company is not involved yet please let us know. All we need is a little of your time. There is becoming a real appetite in our local schools to include more employer engagement in the children’s education because the growing evidence currently suggests that it is has a measurable impact on their life chances.

The Robots are Coming….again!!!

Yep the new kits for the Y3/4 robot league have arrived and YOUR SCHOOL could be receiving one to be part of the WeDo LEGO league in the Tees Valley. How do you get one? Simple, you must send me a submission froimg_1944m your prospective robot team of pupils explaining why your school should receive a kit. Submissions must be NO MORE than a side of A4 or NO MORE than a 30second video submission. As ever, creative approaches are very much welcomed. This is a great opportunity for authentic writing for purpose.

The league will be launched on 27th September (9.30 – 2.30 lunch included) where teams will be expected to attend (one adult and up up to 3 children) to receive the kit and initial training. Fixtures will then be played on the following dates:

20th October

8th December

2nd February

6th April

(All at 1pm until 2.30pm at Inspire2Learn)

With a final celebration Challenge event on 30th June (9.30 – 2.30). There will also be a one off ‘cup match’ on 20th January 9.30 – 2.30.

A new challenge will be issued at the beginning of each half term and the fixture is the chance to apply your solution against other teams.

The kits combine building skills with a brilliant programming interface that I have used with children down to Y1 successfully….but the possibilities for the older children are endless.img_1945

To submit a bid for a kit please email:

By Friday at 3pm. Successful teams will be notified by the end of Monday 19th.

Want to earn more money?

Emergency-Pounds-Cash-Sorry you are probably too late! I’ll explain…

During the Summer I attended an excellent conference by the Education and Employers Taskforce. They are commissioned to review and produce research looking at the engagement of employers with education. Does what it says on the tin. Their monthly bulletin has been the source of lots of our rationale for running ’employability’ events (see the Events tab). The conference addressed many of the issues that we have discussed on this website over the last few
years but one piece of recent research really stood out.

Who has heard of the National Cohort Study? Nope, me neither until recently. It is a randomised study looking at the progress through life of all the babies born in a random week in 1970 (about 18000 participants). It is still ongoing although with the inevitable drop out and loss of contact with some subjects (still about 8000 participating). Every few years the research team would get in touch with the subjects and ask them questions about their life. The questions are often aimed at key issues that certain age groups might be mainly concerned with. For example in 1986 many of the questions were about IMG_1279school leaving issues and about career guidance, work experience and so on. Forward fast to some of the more recent data and the average earnings of the subjects are revealed beyond the age of 40. What the E&E team have done with this data is try to correlate the incidence of employer engagement by the end of school with current earnings.

They did find a correlation…in fact they have found a very significant statistical correlation. Their data suggests that for every input, experience or contact that you received at school from someone in the world of work, your current earnings will be 0.4% higher. This applies to the most educated as it does to the least…across the board. So you will most likely earn 1.2% more than the person with the same qualifications as you if you had three more experiences. Sounds pretty unlikely doesn’t it but by digging around the literature there are several examples of recent studies from the US and the UK that actually put the figure higher…though with smaller sample sizes.

Now have a look at our Events page and tell me which ones you want your children involved in, I’ll give them 0.4% more wage each week for every one that they attend!

IMG_0425We have changed some of the booking requirements for events this year. Most events can accept 12 pupils from any one school but you can send different sets of 12 on different days. So for example, you can send 12 children on the first STEM day…they will come back excited and telling all their classmates about it which creates a buzz; then another 12 can go to the next STEM day a few months later and so on. That way there can be a sustained effect from the events rather than just coming to one a year. Several schools have already booked in a whole year’s worth of events for each class to create a sustained programme for their school.

One further change is that where we have enough external funding for pupil based events, we are able to offer it at no charge. For some events though we will be asking for a nominal fee of £60 per participating school to help offset the cost. This charge does not apply to R&C schools because they already fund the building. We are also offering this to any Trust, Alliance or other(!) where multiple bookings for room hire or on courses shows that they are contributing to the cost of Inspire2Learn. Please contact Andrew for details.

Our brochure of events with lots of added detail can be found here.

See you all soon.