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‘I am astounded’

img_1054Those were the words of the STEM ambassador Gareth Attwood who came to support our event today. He was unable to come first thing so joined the activity at the end of the morning. ‘How can I help them?’ he asked as he arrived. I suggested he just go and have a chat with each group to get an idea of what they were doing. So what were they doing?

They were focussing on how to be creative. That doesn’t mean they were drawing pretty pictures for fun. They had tackled a range of activities during the first part of the morning that got them thinking about creativity for a purpose and how that related to jobs that they might like to do….or not do in the future. Considering we had a mix of Y1s from Ormesby Primary and Y4s from St Benedict’s it was brilliant how they mixed in with ideas. All this prepared them for a task to design a new LEGO set using the great ‘Build to Express’ sets as a basis. Of course they were not allowed to just build. They had to create a simple business plan starting with targeting an audience, identifying a value proposition for that audience then working out their USP. Confused? They weren’t!

To show how fabulous their teamwork was I also asked them to make a short advert. I had assumed that they knew how to use iMovie but they didn’t. Was that a problem? Not really. They had a problem to solve so they overcame it. I gave them a few pointers and the results are below. I occasionally run whole days using iMovie as a great vehicle for developing wider ’employability’ skills in a creative context. A whole day using iMovie produces a very polished product; these children not only learned the basics of iMovie but also planned and produced a short movie to a brief…in 45mins. Well done to all of them. As I said before they left,  ‘If you watch it and think you could have done a bit better here or a lot better there then brilliant – because you are now learning to add quality to your work and will build it in next time’.

Passing a test is a one off event; walking around with an understanding of how to improve is effective for ever.

Wintry Weather? We have got it sorted!

img_1033Isn’t it great to be back into a new year? Don’t all cheer at once! Well after a first week back of working in classrooms we had our first centre based event today which involved teams from our local VEX league. The league was funded by the CSI and we wanted to build in some one off ‘cup competition’ type events….today was the first.

We had six schools who could make it for the whole day and they were issued with the challenge of creating a variation on their original clawbot designs. With the weather looking like being exciting for drivers in the next few days the challenge was to design and build a snow plough. Unfortunately I2L has not had the pleasure of the snow queen as yet this year but a mix of cubes and paper shreds stood in its place.img_1031

The teams were tasked with not only designing, building and testing their designs but also to showcase them in the form of an advert by the end of the day. It was brilliant to watch teams sitting in huddles with paper and pencils, discussing ideas, trying them out, discarding them, going back to previous designs and so on. I’d have this lot project planning with me any day.

As you can see from the pics below there were a range of designs and some of the groups wanted to add a green screen element for authenticity.

It fills me with great pride that children in our local schools just consider use of green screen, voice over and animation as ‘what they do’. Sadly with time constraints the finished videos have suffered from some issues of sound quality but that in itself has been a great learning experience. The playlist below has the finished videos for you to enjoy.

So now I can put my feet u……….oh no we have another 70 in tomorrow using LEGO with iPads for a creativity challenge…..I can’t wait!

“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.

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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…