Creativity? √ Animation? √ Classical music? √

Another busy day here at Inspire2Learn with over 60 children engaging in the ‘BBC Ten Pieces’ of classical music. Most of the children are familiar with the piece although not by name! We spent the beginning of the day listening to each and discussing how it made them feel. This provided an idol opportunity to use the LEGO ‘Build to Express’ sets that we have here at the centre. You can imagine the general use of skeletons, cutlasses and chains that they chose to use for building their feelings while listening to ‘Night on a Bare Mountain!’ imageRebecca Topping from Middlesbrough Town Hall popped in after a quick break to tell the children about the pieces of music from a musician’s point of view, discussing the various instruments in an orchestra and how the music is built up. And then….

The children were then asked to choose one of the ten pieces for their animation using the same LEGO set. Using movie planners, pop up film studios and requested backdrops the children have managed in the last 90 mins to : a) write a story and storyboard it b) create the props for their movie including a backdrop c) learn how to animate. As I look around the room (with ten minutes to go) I cannot see a single child who is not fully engaged with the task in hand, not one. They chose to miss out on a dinner break too!

The montage below gives a flavour of the creativity, problem solving and team skills required to accomplish this task successfully.

This was the first time that the majority of the children had ever attempted animation before so taking on such a challenging task might have been considered a set up to failure. But we have sen it time and time again, motivating tasks with a clear end point using a range of media always brings out the best in the children who come here. So, here is the showcase. I have moulded it into one long animation with a break between each individual piece of work. The soundtrack is taken from three of the ‘Ten Pieces’ which can be found as downloadable mp3s on the BBC website. First attempts? I can’t wait to see what they will produce after a bit more practice…

We will be running lots of events like this next year so please keep an eye on the events page for next year’s diary when it emerges in the next few weeks. We are also happy to come and run these in schools too!

He is the music man…

imageIt is with great pleasure that we are hosting David Kirtlan today at Inspire2Learn. For those of you who don’t know him, he is one of the leading digital technology trainers in the world and is probably best known for his work with schools developing iPad bands. Having often worked with David at various events around the country over the last few years it has been a glaring omission in our offer for local schools in the Tees Valley.

So here he is! Currently working with 32 children from 8 schools the children are learning about playing as an ensemble, taking parts and layering instrumentation. Many of the children have previous experience of playing ‘real’ instruments but using iPads for the entire orchestra is new to all of them. The culmination of the day will be a live orchestra performance and YOU can watch it live on this page at 2.15pm this afternoon. We have plans to involve David much more closely with the Centre over the coming year as part of our massive new offer for schools. If you would like to be involved please contact me:

David is also always very happy to come and work in individual schools and you can either contact him through me or by clicking on the link on his name above.

Let’s see how we are getting on…

an hour, three instruments and some serious concentration later…

And now ladies and gentlemen, we present I2L’s iPad Band….

“the Inspire2Learn centre does exactly what it says on the tin: it inspired us to learn”

Maybe I am getting lazy using quotes from the teachers and children who use the centre as post titles but my excuse is that they reflect the feedback we get from the events.

IMG_1279We had our first Y5 Aspiration Fair a week or so ago attended by 250 pupils from 6 of our primary schools. By the time we have completed the next four planned we will have had close to 2000 pupils through the door.

But what is it?

Anyone who has read this blog recently will know that most of our events are underpinned by the belief that we need to raise children’s aspirations for what their futures could be like after they leave school; or what is the point in being there? We also know from a fair bit of research (the ASPIRES stuff is probably the most accessible) that throwing money at 14-19 is probably missing the boat by a fair margin (though should not be ignored!). My own experience as a primary school teacher tells me that by about Y5 children are already deciding what they definitely aren’t going to be based on very little information. So one of our big aims here is to ensure that any activity has an underlying theme of employability skills and opening eyes to possibilities.


Based on our thinking from the last paragraph it was inevitable that our Aspiration Fairs would be created. We targeted the key sectors where employment possibilities will be greatest (data from TVU) in the next ten years: Logistics, Engineering, Digital Tech and Construction. To ensure that schools had few barriers to attending we have created a range of dates and even paid for their bus travel via Routes to Employment who have worked really closely with us to make this a success. They even ran one of the sessions so that the children had a flavour of thinking about their own career. It is a taster of something that they are offering into primary schools over the next year.

Two hours broken into 20 minute intense ‘workshops’ led by real people from a range of roles in each sector proved to be very effective. Becky from ItchyRobot certainly inspired a whole table of girls that I spoke to, especially one who hadn’t realised that studying art was a desirable part of web design. PD Ports brought a huge ‘tractor’ (not a Massey-Ferguson) with Harry and Jim which created the basis of conversations around the IMG_1284importance of Teesport and moving goods around. Andrew and his apprentice from Jacobs and Connor from Cleveland Bridge showed different aspects of engineering and Dave from GoAhead brought loads of hands on activities based on VEX and Crumble. Construction had great role models in Sharon and Jess representing NAWIC and the wide range of roles that the word ‘construction’ obscures. It was breathless for the presenters and a real dose of groundhog day but the feedback from the schools was even better than we had aimed for.

IMG_1287Several teachers have told me that the conversations about different careers have continually resurfaced in the ensuing couple of weeks, especially in relation to work they are doing in the classroom. This interests me particularly because of a conversation I had recently with a secondary school leader. She told me that the school was working hard to ensure that all teaching was at least good. No argument there. But it was the rational that interested me. She said that many children don’t engage in lessons and often truant because the teaching isn’t good enough. I don’t agree.

At school a lot of my lessons were very ropey, some bordered on abuse by the teachers but I didn’t EVER truant, fail to turn up or stop working. I wasn’t the hardest working child in the school but I always did what I need to do to get to the next stage. Why? In built resilience? Huge determination to succeed? A family who would tan my hide if I didn’t behave? Nope (well, a bit of the last one to be fair…). I worked because I knew that I had to if I wanted to do the next step. I had no career plan at all and no help to get one but what I did know was that points make prizes and that if I did what I needed to, despite the quality of teaching, I would have options to play with for a good job. There was always an end goal in sight.

Many of the children in the Tees Valley do not have that outlook. They hear about unemployment and may be surrounded by it at home. School has become a meaningless run of tests and exams with no relevance outside of its four walls. They aren’t my words, they are what I am told by TEACHERS, lots of them at all key stages (except EYFS where the whole child is still a key principle).

By engaging with the wider world, seeing the relevance of what they are learning (don’t get me started on KS2 Reading and SPAG though!) with a reason to pass the exams they will see a future for themselves. And that is why we run our events in the way that we do, creative, rigorous, all age and authentic through interaction with a range of local companies.

There are still places left on some of the dates if you didn’t know about this and wanted to come (24th May, 17th June, 4th July and 8th July) because unfortunately some schools still regard this sort of things as getting in the way of learning what a subjunctive is…


“What did we do so right to go there?”

IMG_1159I have changed the name of this post following feedback from a teacher in one of the participating schools. She wasn’t at I2L during the day but was waiting for children when they arrived back in school. Her words: ‘I have never seen those children so buzzing about anything‘. The title is a quote from one of the children who had taken part. Every teacher knows the value of motivation for effective learning and the feedback I have had from all the schools has been the same. Of course every lesson can’t  be ‘build a space hotel’ but using events and activities like these to develop children’s wider skills (the ones they will need in everyday life and their future work careers – see posts passim) is continually proving to have a knock on effect in EVERY lesson. At least for a while….but that is why we put so many events on, usually at no cost to schools, so that schools can pick and choose which fit in with their own timetables across the year. Having a centre to do this is proving more invaluable all the time because it gives focus and direction to the activity. I was asked by one of the teachers yesterday if I could create a concept and come and do something in school. My answer of course was yes, I do it all the time, but I also wanted to highlight the value of it not being in school, something she agreed with. She related the interchange between a group of girls who felt that they had now learned ‘buffet etiquette’ (pronounced buff-Et) because they had been in the queue with some of the work ambassadors.

It is always a balance in teaching, and working with such a large number of schools now across the Tees Valley is confirming my initial belief that focussing lots of the centre’s efforts on developing wider skills for students is vital for their overall achievement and future life chances. Enough wittering…..

The final presentations:


52 children from four schools  employed in developing ideas for a new Space Hotel. How do you create a cafe in micro-gravity? What games might you play when you have difficulty staying in one place? These are not questions that phase our young designers and engineers at Inspire2Learn. Three of the schools were even video linking back to the rest of their class in school to ask them for designers, marketeers and film makers to help create and sell their hotel idea. Another, St Benedicts ran their communication through Padlet. Innovative and effective! No pressure and a fun day? Not really. The idea of the scrapheap challenges is to engage the children in the employability skills and experiences that it is very hard to replicate in school. The ones that we have built our framework around for schools to use to check if they are addressing these.

We also have 8 volunteers in the building today from engineering, science and employment backgrounds, engaging the children in conversation about how they are managing their work, what problems need to be solved and how they will achieve their aim. And their aim is?

To create a short presentation to camera detailing what they have achieved during the day and why. Sadly this could not be a live video web feed as the web monkeys who supply our broadband seem to have blocked all the services we routinely used last time (FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts). It would have been nice to have been told that things had changed without us having to actually try using it to find it doesn’t. Maybe I should check next time that the internet is working the same as it has done previously, the light switches work, the taps give out water…

I posted pictures as the work progressed. Many of our volunteers also left to visit the schools taking part and engage the students working in their classrooms. This was found to be a hugely beneficial aspect from both the team at the centre and the children back in school.

Can I also just ask? Why weren’t your students taking part? Oh, it clashed with something else, no problem, there are three more scrapheap challenges this side of the Summer so let me know when you want to come. Oh and if you are in ‘the world of work’ and would like to drop by for even an hour (but half a day would be even better!) drop me a line.

“Miss, you took 10 children into there today, and left with 10 inspired young women!”

I’ll take that as an appraisal; the words of a year 9 student on the way back to school after today’s ‘Inspiring Girls’ event.

FullSizeRenderNicky Peacock opened the day with an inspiring and hilarious account of how the ability to ‘fake it until you make it’ and ‘always say yes and work out how to do it afterwards’ were nuggets of information that are clearly the secret to her success as photographic artist, musician, art promoter and recently, artistic regeneration director. I’ve missed several of her mini careers out but speaking to some of the delegates at lunchtime they were genuinely inspired to look at the positives in a given situation and get involved.

We had such a mix of speakers that my brief description really won’t do it justice…so make sure your students are there next year (and at similar events ALL year).

We had Donna from the Army who genuinely opened up some students’ eyes to the range of roles that the Armed Forces offer, particularly the support that they will give to ensure recruits achieve qualifications. That struck a chord with several students when I spoke to them at the end of the day.

Rachael and Hannah from PunchRobson stepped in as late replacements for a colleague but you couldn’t tell. Several students had never considered Law as a career that they could aspire to and the session definitely broke down some barriers.

Lorraine Coghill (Ogden Trust and Durham University) is practically staff at the centre this week supporting our STEM day on Monday and our Scrapheap Challenge this Friday. Science and fashion design….surely not? But how do the materials get made? How can we use science to really push the boundaries of what materials can do and be? It was with some reluctance that I had to move some of the students at the end of one of her sessions to their next workshop, they were so engrossed.

Siobhan Fenton from Teesside University talked about animation. Sounds a bit niche? Not IMG_1112at all. She began each session by asking each and every girl in the room what they felt their strengths were and then related their answers to the huge number of roles in film, media and even games production. Pulling together her session with an animation made by a girl who five years ago would have been a delegate from one of the schools attending today,  but now works for an animation company in Germany was the icing on the cake. This wasn’t just talk, it was real and the girls came out of her sessions enthused about what they could achieve.

Accenture are probably the biggest company in computer software in the region…but who has heard of them? Well 50 girls have at least now! Karen Marshall brought two of her female apprentices to talk about their career route since leaving school, what they do at work, how it fits with their studies and how their vocational route has offered them future possibilities. The fact that Lucy and Emily are only a few years older than most of the delegates really helped to get the message across that this is something that is open to them if they aim for it. Computer programming clearly isn’t a bloke with Biros in his top pocket staring at a screen all day.

And finally, though of course not least, Ann Stonehouse and her colleague Jess Costello. Their session very much took a look at  how the girls can focus their ideas, their hopes and dreams, and then plan to make them a reality. Using a range of props (and post it notes!) the delegates began that process through the questions they were faced with in the session. I know several of the girls appreciated the opportunity to sit down and focus on something that they felt they wanted to do rather than perhaps the pressures they faced in other situations when their futures are discussed.

And I can’t forget to mention Chloe Meehan who gave up her lunchtime and rushed across CdC42RlWwAEz9QLwith her Olympic Torch to simply engage the girls in a real example of what happens when you have the attitude to get involved. I think she ended up in the most selfies.

The atmosphere in the centre all day was so positive and the feedback I have had from all of the schools involved has simply made us more determined at I2L to create more events that engage our students from primary to the time that they leave school. It is the strength of having a centre that can host and attract such events that gives our students in this area a real boost if schools want to get involved.

I was recently told by a senior leader in one of our schools that problems they were having with attendance were due to the quality of some of the lessons that their students went to. I now disagree. Students will put up with quite a variable range when it comes to quality of teaching. The difference is made when the students see the relevance of what they are being taught and see it as a stepping stone to a longer term aim. It doesn’t help that schools are continually held under the cosh of having to hit educational targets that bear absolutely no relation to what the world of work is asking for from schools. You can’t blame schools for that though. They are told they have to have this many A – C students in x number of subjects or they will be rated as failing. What do you expect them to do? Until the rhetoric in education shifts to what the purpose of education is, to prepare students for the rest of their lives, not just a test, then not much is going to change is it? So, for example, any failure of ‘powerhouses’ will be derailed by students’ lack of direction and motivation, not by a lack of a humanity GCSE.

Today showed how much enthusiasm and motivation can be generated when students are given the opportunity to see what the world might look like for the rest of their lives and what they have to do to achieve it.



It is happening!

We have schools from across the Tees Valley here today to create a LEGO animation in a day using their iPads. The focus is on creativity, problem solving and effective team management – they don’t have long because they finished films need to be live in the web this afternoon. Watch this space later today.

The day is not a competition and I have assured all the teams here that the product of their work is not the point (though we expect high standards!) it is the learning and skills that they walk away with that is important. Over the years I have found that film making, and animation in particular, has always been the best vehicle for getting children to work effectively in a team and have to solve real problems as they occur. Today’s event is being run through the lens of the employability framework that local schools have been using to embed the language of employability into classrooms and then at flagship events, this being one of them.

So the children are absolutely absorbed in their work and it is great to see that even the most planned teams are having to adjust and adapt to the situation on the day to get themselves to where they want to be. More soon!

As promised, more from us. The teams are still very much focussed on their tasks in hand, there are one or two furrowed brows as the clock relentlessly seems to head to 2.10pm and their hand in deadline. However they are also taking the time to visit other teams and learn from their experiences. This is both useful for their own learning but also an important part of developing wider skills, gaining confidence to know how to talk to people you have never met or worked with before. Great atmosphere in the centre today. Who’s up for our next event…?

And if we look at what is happening in the room in more detail we can see how the skills, attitudes and experiences found in the employability framework are very much in evidence as the day progresses. I would have said that tenacity would have been the key attitude to show but it is VERY clear from what is happening that as we enter their fourth straight hour of work the children are still as enthusiastic as they were at 9.30am.


And here we have the playlist at last. A massive well done to everyone involved today. The vast majority of you had never done any animation before, let alone stop motion with an iPad so the learning curve has been huge. For some it was as simple as learning that the camera and the stage need to stay still in relation to each other, for others it was making sure that characters ‘acted’ long enough for you to be able to overlay a speech track. Regardless of what the specifics were, the creativity and problem solving going on…and ow reflection to make it even better next time has been amazing. The playlist is just waiting from two videos from one of our schools but that will hopefully be completed tomorrow. For now, enjoy!

Focussing on what will make the difference

It is inevitable that Inspire2Learn has ended up at Schools North East’s Future Ready Conference. The number of events and initiatives that we have set up for the coming year very firmly set out our stall as ensuring that employability skills and attitudes. Already this morning we have spoken to a number of schools who are a) surprised at what a quality offer we have for any school to get involved with and b) that most of it we don’t need to charge for.

I advertised the Inspiring Girls event to schools on Tuesday. We are nearly fully booked. That speaks volumes. I am told time and again that the events that we create are brilliant and really needed… why are we the only people running them? Well we aren’t. I support other organisations on a regular basis with their events, either with feet on the ground or through awareness raising to a schools. And that seems to be the problem. Schools are barraged by the number of possible events and organisations that they can be involved with. But time is precious and even when they are aware, how do they know what to pick?

And I think that is where we come in. We are in the unique position of being a service and a top quality venue. When an organisation wants to run an event for schools, even an awareness meeting, we can convene it. Who would they go to otherwise and how would that happen? It also works both ways. I could have gone round companies knocking on doors saying ‘I want to run a day inspiring girls with influential and charismatic speakers’ but only when I got some support would I then have to go looking for a venue, and funding for it and so on. I was able to work the other way round for the event on 8th March and it has resulted in such an uptake in a handful of days.

So the Scrapheap challenge days, the career days for year 5s, the inspiration events and several more about to be announced could NOT have happened without the centre as allure for the people and the external funding we have managed to attract.

We continue to support the curriculum of course, convening expert courses and events (we are the launch venue for the new website for the Museums in the Tees Valley next week) as well as external provider events that schools buy in. We continue to host school led events (we have 45 revision students in today ahead of a much bigger maths event in a few weeks) and in between working in a growing number of classrooms we still run our own courses and events aimed at the curriculum. However, we increasingly see that purely passing the exams at the end of the curriculum is barely 25% of what our children will need to be successful in the world of work. The framework that has been mentioned in posts passim is a great starting point that gives schools a clear set of terms to embed into the language of the classroom that gives a focus to these important skills and attitudes. 

 As Dr Tom Harrison is given a round of applause for his talk about character education and its impact on life chances, I am reassured that what we are able to provide is very much an important ingredient in the recipe that is a child’s years in education.

Engineering the Future?

DSC_0424 (1)After six weeks of working through different aspects of running an engineering company, the students from Ingleby Manor Free School finally completed their final presentations. Drawing on aspects of what they had learned over the previous weeks, they delivered their business plans to a prestigious invited panel of judges. Not that presenting to successful business people put them off one bit. The panel, made up of Andy Preston, Anne Stonehouse, Rebecca Hodgson and Erika Marshall had given up their time to support such an innovative approach to teaching students about the aspects of business that our current education system doesn’t really cater for yet ironically will give them the best chance of developing a successful career once they leave school. Over the weeks they worked with engineers, book keepers, marketeers and a range of people from different companies, all eager to help promote employability skills and knowledge of potential careers to our future workforce. Julie developed the course for schools based on many years providing INSET in schools for students. She wanted to take her programme of running a business in a day to a new level by using Inspire2Learn as a business centre. By coming out of the school setting the students were faced with a more authentic learning environment, more akin to a real workplace. This allowed Julie to work with the students, or ‘staff’ as she referred to them throughout, in a manner that was more like how they will experience a business environment, rather than a school. They even sat and ate lunch alongside people from ‘the real world’ as part of the process, giving them that experience of having to make conversation in such a situation.

The judges were impressed with the range of skills that the students showed, focussing on the strengths of their potential business propositions. All were fantastic but one presentation really stood out and local businessman Brian Waugh has offered to help the students take their idea a step further by producing actual resin prototypes of their product packaging.

Projects and events of this type fit really well with the ongoing focus of many of our I2L activities based around promoting employability skills, attitudes and experiences for our students. Julie is hoping to extend the project with the school across the year with a new group of students each time. She is also keen to develop a similar project with several schools sending pupils to the same project, developing those collaborative skills in situations where they don’t necessarily know the person they are working with very well. Please let us know if you are a school who is interested or a business who would like your staff to engage with our workforce of tomorrow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rather VEXing

IMG_0446I am often asked by teachers what the point is in getting kids to code. Why do they need such specialist knowledge? That of course is an outside view looking in. Knowing ‘code’ is really knowing about how to organise a piece of work, identify a problem in it and then solving the problem to make the code better. You could replace the word ‘code’ with the word ‘writing’ in the last sentence. It is about effective thinking. Ironically to learn the grammar of ‘code’ is probably a lot easier than learning to read and write in english. I think any teachers and parents would back that up when they see children getting to grips on a range of levels with algorythmic thinking on different devices and different programmes. But sometimes the process is accused of having no real purpose, it is just a set of instructions on a screen. Other than the implicit development of thinking skills and the awareness raising of the career opportunities I would like to suggest that there are many ways of making code creation both purposeful and relevant.

Step forward VEX as one of those great solutions. We have been hosting taster sessions for children across the Tees Valley over the last couple of days. From 7 year olds to secondary students. The response from the schools has been unanimous ‘when can we buy a kit?’. The sessions have been run by GoAhead Training who are a fantastic, effective local supporter of connecting schools and industry. They run projects in schools as well as creating and supporting events across the area. We invited a range of schools to come and experience VEX for a couple of hours to find out if they would be interested in using them in school. The answer was….er….YES.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From basic programming of movement to the addition of sensors and appendages the robots are extremely expandable in their range of uses and international competitions feature schools from all over the UK…except the Tees Valley. So these tasters are the beginning of an exciting new collaborative approach to using robots in schools in the Tees Valley. Inspire2Learn will be looking for funding pots over the next few weeks to create a joint bid on behalf of any school in the Tees Valley who would like to be involved. Internationally there are challenges, leagues and geek-meets that focus on use of the devices that, yes, promote STEM as a key element of education but also all of the wider employability skills that children will employ when being part of a robot team. Step one of the plan is to acquire robots in schools and then ensure that our teachers get the possible training through GoAhead. Speaking to teachers over the two days it is clear that they would love to be involved now that they have seen their children so engaged. They would also love to be involved in local leagues. Yes there is an international challenge competition but what about on an ongoing basis? On a Friday night the school football team heads off to play the school down the road. On a Thursday night why couldn’t we see the ‘robot team’ head off to play another school…and not just their own age groups! It was great to se over the last few days children from mainstream and special intermingling and achieving the same outcomes through access to the technology and the right support.

So watch this space, I think you might be hearing a lot more about this over the next few months and if you want, you can be part of it, just let us know.

Imagining the possibilities

What a fabulous event at the weekend over at Middlesbrough College. A huge number of practical, hands on activities that engaged all ages (my 4 yr old loved it). It was great to see such a diverse range of activities represented, everything from robots to beekeeping. Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to see Jason Bradbury (except watching him eat lunch on the table next to us!) but we certainly didn’t feel like we had missed out. Following the day I have been contacting several of the people I met to see if they would like to be involved in our STEM days. As readers of this blog will know from previous posts we hold days for about 100 students to come and engage in really hands on activities with real people from the real world of work! Feedback is always great and this year we are supplementing it with some larger scale ‘scrap heap challenge’ days and wider employability days. These are all lovely events but it is essential that they have more rigour to them than simply a nice day out. The employability framework that I wrote during the summer based on the ‘skills gap’ research and reports is currently being trialled in 7 primary schools and initial feedback has been very encouraging. It seeks to change the currency of the classroom not simply add on yet another thing to do. We know that the biggest impact in children’s lives can be made when they are younger and this is part of a strategy by the Aspire Trust to ensure that the children who attend their schools are given wider aspirations and opportunities than simply an academic education. There will be more detail on this over the next few weeks along with details about the upcoming Scrapheap challenge and ensuing events that you can get involved in.







Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 438 other followers