Well it is a first for me but today I tried to run one of our popular Locomaths days within a school. Did it work? Well I’ll let you be the judge.

The focus as always was on team working skills and the brilliant Y3/4 children at St Alphonsus’ in Middlesbrough showed them in abundance. They were then left to complete the challenge with the support of the wonderful teachers for the rest of the day. I will be returning to film their presentations at 1.45pm but for now here are some images of them beginning to plan:

It was interesting for me to see how the children had got on without me constantly focussing them on what I expected from the day. The teachers were unsure when I arrived back whether the children had done what I had wanted….but in a sense that wasn’t the point, the way that it fitted the children’s needs as an opportunity to work on a team challenge was the most important factor. As soon as the presentation began, it became clear that the children had worked really effectively as teams and their presentations were pretty well organised and clearly rehearsed:

And finally I had set the teachers the difficult challenge of picking the team that had worked best AS a team. Well done to the top team workers!

Does anybody need talented, committed employees in the next few years?

Great, well I’ve got loads for you.

The fabulous pupils from Ings Farm and Acklam Whin were a vision of what local project teams will look like in the next ten to fifteen years. Seriously, I would quite happily employ most of them in my business today judging on how they worked on our IMG_2782Locomaths Challenge. We started the day, as ever, with a focus on what team skills mean and the list they produced looks like the basis of every project team I have ever heard of. They are using the list as a check point for the way that they are attempting the task and there was a lot of discussion about how they get the best out of every team member.

And now they are attempting the task. They are in groups of up to eight so ensuring a clear team plan, with clear roles and responsibilities for each member has been essential. Looking round the work areas immediately shows that the division of labour has been organised really effectively with different pupils doing different tasks. What is also palpable is the sense of commitment to ‘get this right’. It is hard to describe what the atmosphere is like during our events. Our focus is always to create meaningful, relevant events that punctuate the wider education experience for each child. We have some projects next year which will potentially reach EVERY primary child in the Tees Valley, all 50 000 of them. Here is a taste of what our events look like, I wish I could bottle it!

We know from our experience and the growing research that developing social and cultural capital is the key driver in success for people through their lives. Qualifications and  certificates are a symptom of that mindset and are keys to unlock particular doors in a child’s life, but there are many doors. Great schools put a lot of time and effort into that aspect of a pupil’s development and as somebody who works with close to a hundred schools a year, my experience can tell when that work has been done. You can see it today if you are here at Inspire2Learn. Getting the mindset right, not ‘growth or closed’ but a mindset that is confident, is aware of what the future could hold and how the child could achieve it is the biggest challenge in many of towns. Our primaries are particularly good at doing this. They marry the statutory testing demands with a focus on developing pupil character and awareness of possibilities in later life. It makes a difference.

Let’s see what that looks like when challenged by a project:

They now have to get the myriad of tasks completed and formed into a presentation by 1.45pm. I’ve already heard talk about ‘working lunches’! The presentations will appear here after 3pm. Seriously if you need quality, committed staff, just let me know and I’ll pass on to the school. Believe me, their age is irrelevant from what I’ve seen so far.

Er…well some girls maybe!

It was a bit controversial yesterday’s blog suggesting that girls are naturally better engineers than boys…but you can read why I said it below. However today, after a year of running these events, we had the first ever team with at least some boys in it win the race with the fastest time. That however, was not the most interesting thing about today. We had the ever fabulous Y1 pupils from Oakdene Primary today. They worked hard, they collaborated in groups, they asked a squllion questions. But at the end I was asking them about engineering and the best thing ever happened. I suggested that engineers were usually men. The reaction was immediate ‘Nooooooo!, Don’t be silly……’ really? These Y1 children were quite genuinely gender blind to the role. Many of the girls told me during the day how they would quite like to be engineers. Here they are at working you wouldn’t argue:

Can you see any lack of talent? No. I am very aware that Oakdene are a very proactive school with aspirations. They engage with employers regularly and certainly use the events here as a backbone of activity to integrate with that. Looking at the new OfSTED framework they are clearly addressing the cultural and social capital requirements already. If that is what is happening then the symptoms are what I saw today.

Pics of the teams and boats are below, well done to every team….even the ones who er….sank!

Girls are better engineers than boys!

Well that has to be the conclusion I am afraid.

We have run the STEM boats event countless times this year and yet again a team of girls has produced the fastest boat on the day. This was the first time we had run the event with KS1 and the brilliant children from Brambles, Layfield and Saltburn worked tirelessly from start to finish to produce effective sail boats. Yes we had a huge focus on team work throughout the day and yes we did some scientific method to test different shapes and sizes of sails, but the winning times were just as good as any other pupils we have had from Y1 – Y9! Growing research (and common sense if you ask any teacher!) will tell you that attitude is everything when trying to achieve both at school and in life generally. These types of days do not focus on curriculum, targets or test scores. They are solely focussed on giving the pupils the opportunity to develop the skills and attitudes they will need in most of their adult working life. Engaging children to want to have a great future through the right attitude has more of an influence on how well they will do than anything else. From what I have seen today they will have some very successful careers ahead of them if they continue to work with the attitude that they showed.

The images below shows just how focussed, organised and determined the children were when working on their boats and testing them:

And the teams ready to race!

And the winning times!


Code Kings and Queens

Astounding. I think that probably sums them up best. The brilliant pupils from Hillsview, Brambles Primary and Acklam Whin have been simply astounding.

‘Here are some robots that I want you to tell a story with. Oh and they have to follow a complex map to tell their story. Oh and you have less than 4 hours to learn the software, try out solutions to the challenge and create a coherent programme.’ And boy did they do this! Sometimes we find that these longer challenges can have a few children flagging bit during the afternoon, losing focus and becoming a bit lost. Well that certainly didn’t happen today, In fact I reckon most of them would keep this up all week if they got the chance….and they would be very welcome to. Particularly of note was the concentration levels shown by some of the girls today. I recently filmed in a lot of coding/digital type businesses and one thing they all told me was that they wanted more female employees but they just didn’t get the applications. Well I can assure them that the future is bright, really bright and Middlesbrough’s continuing growth as a Digital Hub is in very safe hands.

The pictures below say it all but there will also be some videos of their programming in action later today.

Modelling the challenge step by step:

And a ‘simple’ explanation of one team’s plans:

Below is a compilation of the final attempts to run the course. None of the groups had been allowed to test drive the course during the day, many had recreated it using masking tape or rolls of paper as test tracks. Despite the difference in the floor texture and the fact that it takes about two and a half minutes for at the complete programme to complete the course we actually had some get all the way to the end. Amazing stuff. Even though not everyone did, they knew where they had gone wrong and every single one of them could be heard muttering how they could correct it as they went back to their seats. They REALLY understood what they had been learning.

The final attempts are now below:


Raising Young Aspirations

Oh I so much look forward to these sorts of days. The evidence for the huge impact that events like these has on these children’s future success in their careers is growing week by week. The latest being a pilot randomised control trial published yesterday (here). It specifically correlates actual rise in grades at GCSE but also details the children attitudes and commitment which anyone who works with businesses knows are the key attributes to getting quality employment.

We had fabulous support as always by a range of companies, individuals and organisations: Nifco, PD Ports, Rolls Royce, Teesside University, NHS, CUBIC, EDF and Pop with his Tesla! He’s actually a doctor but he loves to inspire children about technology. The children from Layfield, Lockwood and Saltburn had such a range of experiences and the evidence tells us that most of them, particularly the ones who find school work a challenge,  will do better in school and in life simply by being part of it. This isn’t changing education by ‘teaching them better’, it is about widening social and cultural capital so that they want to do better.

And how to build a jet engine made by Rolls Royce:

Or drive a Tesla with your phone:

Who would want them on your team?

Lovely to welcome Y7 Sacred Heart to the Centre today. They needed some space and some activities for these students so we set them the Locomaths Challenge. As usual the focus is on teamwork and getting the pupils to experience a time limited challenge that they entirely direct. We also emphasise the skills and attitudes that they will use during the day in order to be successful; skills and attitudes that they will ned when they are older. A key question from this morning was: would someone pay you money to sit next to you in an office on a project? Commitment, focus, enthusiasm are all incredibly important attitudes to have in most work spaces and this was an opportunity for pupils to experience what that means in a time pressured, out of school situation.

You can see from the pictures below the excellent effort that most have made:

I was really impressed with the quality of many of the presentations. Most were really detailed with clear rationale for decisions the team had made. It was clear that they had worked effectively together. But a also I’d like to commend some of the presenters who maybe didn’t have the longest or most detailed presentations but at least they showed the leadership to stand up on behalf of the team. That was definitely a learning experience for some.

Digital City Code Camp

We’ve been meaning to do something like this for years and then a great meeting with Steve Dougan at Teesside University introduced me to the student board in the school of computing. Fast forward a few months and we have 64 pupils here today from 16 schools across the Tees Valley. The fantastic students have create an day of activities based around the BBC Micro:bit creativity kits and the level of coding and particularly fault finding has been amazing to watch. In fact several of the groups have switched their block style coding to the source Javascript in order to solve problems in the tasks more effectively. The local digital economy is growing and growing and it is pupils like these who will the future workforce that builds on our local reputation for excellence and innovation. Schools can do so much but opportunities like these really bring the raise the value of learning coding and how it relates to future local career opportunities. I am gobsmacked at the quality and complexity of their work. It sure beats the old way we talk ‘computers’ focussing on how to use a mouse or how to use a Microsoft package!

Huge thanks to the students from Teesside Uni and all the schools who took part form across the whole area. Even the Big Weekend couldn’t stop them getting here: Sacred Heart, St Josephs, Myton Park, Park End, St Gerards, Bankfields, Throston, Grangetown, Normanby, Whinstone, Corpus Christi, Chaloner, UCA, Oakdene, Whale Hill and Barnard Grove.

To be honest, the interest from schools was so great (at a week or two’s notice!) that we had more schools than kits. Do we ever let schools down here? No, of course not. The additional schools who couldn’t fit in the Microbit session have been creating. day in the life of a robot using our I2L kit. The videos are below the images of them working (from 3pm):

And a week (ish) in the life of the robots:

Professional People

How many times have you walked into a business and everyone was the same age and from the same housing estate? None? Me neither. One of the real strengths of our events at Inspire2Learn is the constant mix of pupils of all ages. The way that we structure tasks means that they are often easy to access for most ages but are then differentiated through the experiences and skills that different pupils bring. Today is a great example. We have pupils from William Cassidi Primary, Unity Academy and Catcote Academy. The age range os from Y5 – Y13! And has that hampered anyone? Has that changed the task in any way? Not one jot. In fact it creates a really purposeful atmosphere. As always the start of the day was focussed on what we mean by effective teamwork. That created a set of criteria which we will be looking for as the day progresses. Completing the task has required the groups to define roles, create a plan for the time available and get on with it. You can see form the pictures below that there have been some really great strategies developed to complete the task and the quality fo the work so far has been exceptional:

Following a few technical hitches, here are some highlights form the presentations!

Thinking Outside the Self

On paper this is called an Enterprise Day but as many people in education will know, ‘enterprise’ is often used as a cover all for a whole range of activities. Our focus falls on two things: teamwork – always; and developing an idea for a particular audience. In this case they have been asked to create a new LEGO set. To be honest, the LEGO is the least of it and we use it as an additional creative element to the day; it helps to formulate ideas. They have been asked to work through a process, identifying an audience (an audience that is not them!), identify what will attract that audience, draw them in – and then create a new set that appeals to those values. It is always interesting that despite a structured walk through of the task, some warm up tasks to introduce the key thought processes to consider and a partially worked example, once the LEGO comes out many children simply disregard it all. They immediately want to create with the LEGO. That is no bad thing in itself but I am pretty sure that the design teams at LEGO don’t start with a pile of bricks most days and then just start building any old thing. The average 6 year old would be just as effective. There has to be thought behind the product, an aim, interwoven with creativity that produces something that is both novel and yet oddly familiar in that it focusses on audience values. The pupils from Rye Hills and Abbey Hill have all taken the end product idea on board and the key audience. To a greater or lesser extent though they have tried to implement the thought processes that we have provided to ensure that the best product that could have been produced has been achieved.

Finally they combined their product development skills and advertising understanding to produce some simple adverts that show the structures that they have been learning about. Not bad for half an hour’s work!

And some of the finished adverts: