Can you tell me how to get to…BEANOTOWN?

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The other day All Change Please! got to pay a visit to BEANOTOWN, a free, especially menacing summer exhibition at London’s South bank. Once you’ve manage to push past the suitably noisy, excited and disruptive children, then towards the back of the space is a wonderful exhibition showing the original artwork of selected stories that chart the comic’s seventy-five year history. The original drawings are of course much larger than they appeared in the Beano itself, and as a result the quality of the linework and dynamic composition comes across much more strongly, and even more joyously.

Now as you’ve probably guessed by now All Change Please! has been a lifelong Beano fan, ever since it remembers reading it for the first time in the early 1960s. Here suddenly was a world where children had minds of their own and were allowed to challenge the authority of their conformist parents, and, although they didn’t always get what they wanted, their disruptive approach often succeeded in initiating positive change in the way things were.

Never dreaming that one day it would take on the role of Teacher, All Change Please!‘s favorite strip was of course ‘The Bash Street Kids’, bringing with it its insights into the world of the classroom. There was the extraordinarily prophetic strip from 1964 in which the kids were all given individual ‘Teacher TV’ sets to answer factual questions from (before they worked out how to change the channel and reverse the process and use the CCTV system to spy on Teacher sitting in the staffroom drinking coffee). And the early 1980s visit by the school inspectors in which Teacher was presented with his own ‘unsatisfactory’ report card. Not to mention the 1970s send-up of progressive education when the kids spend so much effort freely expressing themselves in class that they are too exhausted to go out and run around in the playground at break. But most of all, the classic answer Smiffy provides to teacher’s question: “Who can tell me what design is?“, to which he responds with alarming perception: ‘De sign is de thing that points de way…

And elsewhere, as long ago as 1969, Professor Screwtop was inventing a computer to help Lord Snooty and his Pals do their homework for them. Is there nothing new?

Today The Beano might not be what it once was, and it certainly costs a lot more. But now there’s also a website and, of course there’s even a Beano App

And no less a person than Wayne Hemingway has recently defined ‘brand design guidelines‘ for Beano typography and graphics, and it was Hemmingway who designed the current show at the South Bank, which runs until the 8th September – so come up with a really good dodge, put on your best minxing outfit and Billy Whizz down there as soon as possible! It’s to be found the lower level, in between the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Halls.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/jun/11/beanotown-southbank-festival-neighbourhood

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/festival-of-neighbourhood/beanotown

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Up in the Loft

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Today the idea is that we are supposed to store all our past in the ‘Cloud’, an invisible, electronic space full of ones and zeros where one day we will be able to rummage about and come across long-forgotten digital files. Apart from the fact that this process is dust-free, it isn’t really anything particularly new as Guest Post writer Alan Jones recently discovered when he bravely ventured up into his loft and found some interesting newspaper cuttings from a time long past – before schools even had computers, let alone a National Curriculum.

“Clearing out the loft is not something I would recommend as a leisure activity. It’s very dirty up there, stuff covered with the dust of human skin shed a long time ago. But it’s the rather different dust of human responses long since forgotten that I want to share with you today.

Whilst recently carrying out the activity unrecommended above, I came across the notes from my teacher training course, some thirty-six years ago. Resisting the urge to pyromania that nearly overwhelmed me, I leafed through the yellowing sheets of lined A4, with their mind-anaesthetising scribblings about the History of Education, only to find, pressed between the Victorian monitor system and the 1944 Education Act, as it were, two shockingly illuminating newspaper cuttings from the 1970s.

The cuttings were from The Guardian and dated Wednesday, October 13th, 1976. They were part of the front page and a torn-out section of the editorial. The front page leader issued the warning: State ‘Must Step Into Schools’, and David Hencke’s report went on to describe the contents of a leaked memorandum sent, apparently, from the Department of Education and Science to the then Labour Prime Minister, ‘Big Jim’ Callaghan. The two Guardian pieces sit in a fascinating period of change in the UK education system, coming as they do at the very moment decisions were being made about writing a national curriculum for England, formulating a new examination system to replace GCE and CSE and giving the inspectorate more teeth.

It’s worth summarising what the paper tells us about the contents of this memorandum. It begins with typically journalistic sensationalism. The leaked document, it suggests, signals a policy that ‘at a stroke would end 100 years of non-interference in state education’ and Hencke goes on to tell his readers that,

‘Its 63 pages constitute a severe indictment of the failure of secondary schools to produce enough scientists and engineers and the memorandum calls for drastic measures to change the attitude of children entering schools, and for much tighter control by inspectors of the education system.’

‘The time may be ripe,’ the memorandum is reported as saying, ‘in the face of hard and irreducible economic facts, for major changes in the curriculum of all secondary schools, ending the traditional rights of teachers to control the curriculum.’ Schools, it suggests, are becoming “too easy-going and demanding too little work” and quotes employers as saying that “school-leavers cannot express themselves clearly and lack the basic mathematical skills of manipulation and calculation and hence the basic knowledge to benefit from technical training.”’

Pupil options at the age of 13 and 14, the memorandum goes on, sometimes result in the choice of “unbalanced or not particularly profitable curricula” or of pupils opting in numbers “insufficient for the country’s needs for scientific and technological subjects.”

In the Primary sector, whilst the memorandum apparently found time to praise some schools and teachers, it warned that ‘less able teachers are not able to cope with modern methods and….there may be a need to correct the balance and return to more formal methods.’

Darkly, the memorandum seemingly went on to assert that ‘the Inspectorate would have a leading role to play in bringing forward ideas and is ready to fulfil that responsibility’ through what are described as ‘enhanced powers’ that would sit alongside examination reform, a ‘reconstruction’ of teacher training courses and an almost machiavellian promise to ‘fund promising developments which could be crucial to the promotion of its ideas’.

But, the article stresses, ‘the central theme….is to argue for a return to an agreed “core curriculum” in secondary schools which….should be introduced to ensure improved standards.’

Now, it scarcely needs me to draw the parallels here between the Callaghan government’s plans for targeting what it saw as weaknesses in the education system back in1976 and the current analysis of, and plans for wholesale change to, the current system:  schools are failing, students/pupils are not being challenged enough, industry is complaining about the skills of school-leavers and the kids are choosing the wrong stuff when they’re given the choice. The proposed solutions also seem alarmingly familiar: we need to get back to basics in primaries, sort out the radicals in the teacher training colleges, enforce a solid core curriculum and, whatever else we do, make sure the presentation is spot-on.

Sitting up in the loft, torch illuminating the fragile print from 1976, I was moved to ask myself two questions:

Is the similarity here proof, in fact, that education policy is formulated, actually, not by radical, barnstorming, sweep-it-all-clean politicians, but by civil servants, most of whom were/are pleased to avoid sullying themselves with the pre- and post-adolescent school learning environment but were/are prey to all the prejudices and unsubstantiated opinions of the expensively educated?

How radical is Michael Gove, really? He claims to read a lot of stuff that he only half understands and then to act on it, but has he, in fact, merely swallowed wholesale the same ideas still churning around the education department – make kids work harder, take control of the basic curriculum, reform the exam system so that it’s accountable and reliable, inspect schools until their pips squeak and deliver it all in flash, upbeat presentations.

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And what of The Guardian’s view of the proposals leaked to it in 1976? This may surprise you – from the editorial of Wednesday, October 13th of that year, it would seem that its support for the proposed changes was more-or-less unquestioning. Its inside-page piece, ‘The core of our problem in schools’, begins with an ironic tone that makes little attempt to hide its contempt for teachers:

‘Shudders will be seismically recorded in many teachers’ common rooms today in response to David Hencke’s exclusive report….of a confidential Government plan to introduce a national curriculum for schools. Is nothing sacred?’

If you’re a Guardian reader and somewhat shocked by this tone, you will be even more surprised by what follows:

‘Like doctors, teachers too have become increasingly committed to professional independence. But just as the clinical independence of doctors is eventually going to have to be reduced – so too is the far more recent professional independence of teachers. Only the naïve believe teachers can be left to teach, administrators to administer, and managers to manage.’

Limit the professional independence of doctors and teachers and suggest that trained, well-qualified people cannot be trusted to carry out their role effectively? Is this really The Guardian speaking?

The editorial, far from softening its tone in the last paragraph, warms to its theme, suggesting that,

‘in a school week of 35 periods, there could be a requirement that 20 out of the 35 periods are reserved for core subjects. If, as expected, the Prime Minister reveals the plan at this speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, next week, all manner of parrot cries can be expected. Clearly the teachers will be making the loudest protests. They should be reminded that we already have “state control” over the primary school curriculum.’

This is pure Gove, isn’t it? This is E-bacc, go-to-war-with-the-teachers, get out of the profession if you don’t like it stuff.

Plus ca change. Yes – but hearing pre-echoes of Gove in a Guardian editorial is scary. Time to climb down out of the loft, methinks.”

The Alternative Guide to Learning

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The other day All Change Please! gathered together some of its chums and went along to the latest and delightfully deserted exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank. Now regular readers will doubtless recall that last summer All Change Please! presented Invisible Learning, which described a virtual exhibition it had curated, based on the Hayward Gallery’s 2012 ‘Invisible Art’ exhibition. This Summer’s show at the Hayward is called The Alternative Guide to the Universe, and, based around Richard Dorment’s entirely sensible review in The Daily Telegraph, All Change Please! is again proud to present its annual alternative alternative virtual blockbuster exhibition: The Alternative Guide to Learning

According to the Hayward Gallery website, The Alternative Guide to the Universe “explores the work of self-taught artists and architects, fringe physicists and visionary inventors, all of whom offer bracingly unorthodox perspectives on the world we live in. Taken together, their work conjures a kind of a parallel universe where ingenuity and inventiveness trump common sense and received wisdom.” Or to put it another way, essentially the contributors are all completely stark raving bonkers, but somehow their creativity manages to joyously explode out into the gallery.

Just like The Hayward’s artworks that have been created by ‘gentle, well-meaning and creative souls‘, so All Change Please!’s Alternative Guide to Learning show has been created by gentle, well-meaning and creative teachers – no Marxist Enemies of Promise here. Taken together, their work conjures a kind of a parallel universe where ingenuity and inventiveness trump common sense and received wisdom and produce a truly creative approach to an appropriate 21st Century education. All Change Please! hopes you’ll all enjoy the show.

On display at the Hayward Gallery are James Carter‘s wonderfully intricate models, diagrams, charts and drawings based on his theory that gravity is an illusion caused by the doubling of the earth’s size every 19 minutes. Meanwhile at The Alternative Guide to Learning‘s virtual exhibition, a fringe physics teacher has used similar materials to represent his theory that learning is a similar illusion caused by doubling the size of his class every 19 minutes.

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Back at the Hayward, French civil engineer Jean Perdrizet exhibits a machine he designed that he was convinced enabled him to communicate with the dead in an invented language he called ‘Sidereal Esperanto.’  Meanwhile in The Alternative Guide to Learning a modern languages teacher exhibits a language lab that he was convinced enabled him to communicate with children in an invented language he called ‘Unreal French’.

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According to Richard Dorment in the Telegraph, recluse Emery Blagdon may ‘have been on the right track when he sought to harness the curative powers of electricity, but he definitely wasted the last 30 years of his life building a healing machine featuring long strings of thin wire festooned with ribbons, butterflies, brackets, spokes and gears‘. Similarly at The Alternative Guide to Learning, a D&T teacher might have been on the right track when he sought to harness the creative powers of woodwork, but wasted the last 30 years of his life building a ribbon organiser container holder box device featuring thin wood festooned with ribbons and internal brackets, spokes and gears.

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In the Hayward‘s exhibition we see Morton Bartlett‘s ‘meticulously detailed plaster dolls of children, each half the size of life, anatomically complete, and dressed in clothes he designed and made himself’. The dolls have realistic faces that express fear, misery, sensuality, and distress and are photographed ‘in a way that is so lifelike that you sometimes have to look twice to determine that these are not real children‘.

But in All Change Please!’s exhibition we see a PE mistress’s plaster dolls of children’s faces expressing fear, misery, sensuality, and distress at the thought of having to partake in a cross-country run in the pouring rain. However, on looking twice at the photographs the viewer realises that these are indeed real children.

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Meanwhile Richard Dorment wonders if it matters ‘that Parisian street cleaner Marcel Storr’s intricate designs for fantastic buildings rendered in coloured inks on paper were intended to be used for the rebuilding of Paris after a nuclear attack’? Accordingly in its exhibition All Change Please! wonders if indeed it matters that an art teacher’s intricate designs for fantastic buildings somewhere nice and warm, rendered in coloured inks on paper, were intended to be used for the rebuilding of her school after an arson attack by former pupils?

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Back at the Hayward are Canadian Richard Greaves‘ buildings that move and sway with the wind, constructed using rope and twine to represent a living organism. At The Alternative Guide to Learning we see Michael Gove’s school buildings that also move and sway with the wind, constructed using rope and twine to represent a living hell (and to save money and ensure rich architects do not receive any awards).

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In the Telegraph, Dorment wisely advises that to see the Hayward exhibition properly we need to ‘spend some time interrogating each art work, determining, among other things, the sanity of the artist or inventor and how that affects our understanding of his or her work‘.

Likewise at the Alternative Guide to Learning we are strongly advised to spend some time interrogating each teacher during parents’ evening, determining his or her sanity and how that affects the children’s understanding of their homework. You don’t have to be mad to be a teacher, but it probably helps.

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Admission to All Change Please!‘s virtual exhibition is free and it is always open to all, but if you want to grow up to be a politician, journalist, lawyer or solicitor, better results might be obtained by paying the termly fee to attend a private view.

Meanwhile a visit to the real Guide to the Universe exhibition at the Hayward Gallery is highly recommended. Better still, take some school-children with you and let them discover that Art and Design is not just about analysing creative intentions and making formal responses to given briefs using the visual elements, but enabling their imaginations, passions and aspirations to run riot.

Flickr Image credits: with thanks to the following, in order from the top of the post downwards.

Damien Cugely 

eddiehosa

GC Communications

Mikaela Danvers

Dwayne

Stephen Mitchell

Zachary Veach

Loving Earth

Pass Notes: Design & Technology

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Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch  http://www.flickr.com/photos/agentfin/8205912475

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Vive la langue française?

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La semaine dernière Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! was en vacances en France having le bon temps. Beaucoup, il ya many années Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! has étudiéd le français à l’école, ‘just in case’ il could be utile un jour. Malheureusement, ce n’ est pas être le case, et il estime that it wasted beaucoup de temps et d’efforts pour peu de return, mais il est surprised combien vocabulary il se souvient encore après tout ce temps.

Eh bien, that’s quite enough of that. So, why do we spend so much time teaching children French at school? Back in the mid 20th Century France was probably the foreign country you would be most likely to visit, and it was considered essential for entry to Oxbridge. And apparently if you learn one language it makes it easier to learn others. Going even further back it was the official court language, which of course the ‘educated’ needed to be able to speak. But these days we travel globally, and the vast majority of people we meet speak at least some English, or know someone who does. If they don’t, then Spanish, German or Mandarin would be likely to be far more helpful, especially for business purposes. And then of course there is also Google Translate, and all those clever little apps that are now nearly as good as the legendary Babel fish, that make learning a language much less of a necessity.

For the vast majority of children of course their work or leisure time is unlikely to require GCSE level fluency in a foreign language. While All Change Please! supports the idea of all children perhaps learning some useful everyday French, or even better German or Spanish, at a young age, it wonders if five further years of academic study to GCSE (England) French level for everyone is really appropriate?

Meanwhile, according to this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html  there are a number of wider benefits to learning a foreign language. These include:

  • improved test scores in maths and English
  • the development of multi-tasking skills
  • a possible delay in the onset of dementia
  • improved memory recall
  • becoming more perceptive
  • more logical decision-making.

Maybe, agrees All Change Please!, but these benefits are hardly acquired uniquely by learning a foreign language and can be gained in other ways too, and in the context of a somewhat wider skill-set.

And while we’re talking about learning different languages, what about coding languages? The jury is still out as to whether everyone needs to learn how to code, and, while it might provide lucrative employment for a few gifted students, like so many other things, the repetitive, boring day-to-day, factory-level work will be out-sourced to another country where they do things cheaper. So what we really need is what other countries can’t provide – at least for now – that is an agile, creative approaches to the solving and implementation of complex and innovative IT solutions that successfully utilise well-designed user interfaces. Do we really need a generation of children capable of nothing more than whatever the coding equivalent of Franglais is? Hmm. Perhaps it will come to be called Codlish?

Meanwhile, All Change Please! is pleased to be able to say that it drank le bon vin, took un bateau pour un château et de manger quelque chose beaucoup de gâteau

Le All Change Please! got by with a little help from Google Translate and Tricia Translate.

Image credit: Fickr, wiseige  http://www.flickr.com/photos/whizzer/6078576560