What Caity Did… in Melbourne (part one, day one)

Last week I got to go to Creative Innovation 2013 in Melbourne. It was three days of new ideas, ‘positive human collisions’ and tweeting like I didn’t need my thumbs.

My trip began at Stupid O’Clock on Wednesday morning and a bleary-eyed trip to the airport. Things got better once I was in the air, because flying over land is fascinating. I spent most of the trip looking out the window, grinning, enjoying seeing the mountains and rivers passing by surprisingly slowly. After working my way through the airport, finding the baggage claim and a peak hour taxi ride into the city, I found myself at CI2013 and straight into my first Master Class with Stephen Heppell on Student led learning and design.

Prof Heppell had occasional moments of brilliance and clarity, but for the most part jumped randomly from idea to idea, without explaining why something was so, or what has caused people to take the decisions they did. Instead of (as I had expected) explaining what student led design for learning actually meant and why it was important, he just showed us pictures of kids in before and after classrooms, with the odd anecdote which wasn’t always related to the point he was trying to make.

However, after giving it some reflection, and also hearing him speak (in a much more to-the-point fashion) later in the conference I think I’ve been able to establish some basic principles behind the professor’s approach.

  1. Ask kids how they want to learn, and what they want to have in a classroom.
  2. Give them the tools to solve problems by themselves – there isn’t much you can’t do with a smartphone, a raspberry pi, some textas, paint and ingenuity.
  3. Budget constraints don’t have to be constraining. We saw classrooms made over by kids with a budget of less than 500 euros up to a school that was architect designed and state-of-the-art and cost 20 millions pounds. In both cases, spaces were transformed, kids got more engaged in learning and attendance and results improved.
  4. Bigger classes are not always a bad thing. He showed us examples where three teachers were taking on classes of up to 60 children, with one leading the lesson, one helping kids who got stuck, and one stretching those who needed it. This has been proven to be much more effective than one teacher doing each of those things in turn – and only one teacher has to plan a lesson! It also means kids are more likely to band together and solves things together.
  5. Chairs and toilets are important! Do you enjoy reading sitting on a school chair? No! You curl up on a lounge – why not try this at school? Did you know 50% of girls in the UK never go to the toilet at school because they are yucky. Imagine what that does for dehydration and concentration by mid afternoon. Fix toilets and—yep—results improve.

There were other things I’m sure that I’ve neglected to note, but that’s what spoke to me!

 *****

After that talk, I had a break until late afternoon, so I checked into my hotel early and took a nap to counteract the long day I’d already had by that point. After a big wander around looking almost in vain for postcards to send to the minions, I grabbed a late lunch and went to my second master class with Cyriel Kortleven.

Cyriel’s topic was lss=mr (less is beautiful) and went to the heart of effective communication and looking at what actually makes humans happy. He had just written a book, and this informed the talk. It was really engaging, with lots of activities thrown in to keep the audience interested and many good take-away thoughts (though he wanted us to leave with just one). He encouraged us to keep perspective on what we choose to do: if I start something new, maybe I’ll have to stop something else. This could help me save money, time and energy.

In writing his book, Cyriel had come up with 17 principles for making things simple, then he realised this was bonkers. He got it down to three:

Start to stop

Simplify

Let go

When starting to stop, one should explore the big picture…

…and focus on the small picture.

“Focus means saying NO to the hundred other good ideas there are”

– Steve Jobs.

Being able to say no, in a polite and clear way is really a sign of respect, for oneself, and for the people around us. If you don’t want to do something, say so, and explain why – it’s better than doing a half-arsed job and disappointing someone who was counting on you, and it gives you room to be awesome in other areas.

As you simplify ‘don’t do anything else than what you’re doing.’ Be aware of the curse of knowledge: this will leave you only seeing the things you want to see or are interested in. For example, watching this card trick and see how the deck changes colour:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_262395&feature=iv&src_vid=voAntzB7EwE&v=v3iPrBrGSJM (sorry, haven’t worked out how to embed things yet)

Did you notice? Me either!

When writing, stick to the essence and avoid jargon. Write so your Aunt Bertha could understand what you’re talking about. When you think you’ve got something, explain it in one paragraph. If you really want to know you’ve mastered a topic, explain it in a tweet. If you can’t do that, you don’t understand it as well as you think you do.

To get your ideas to stick with your audience, your writing needs to factor in being:

S       imple

U      nexpeced

C      oncrete

C      redible

E       motion

S       tory

Check out the book ‘Made to Stick’ for more on this idea.

Finally, let go of control!

Consider what the cost of being in control might be for you? Do you want to let go of control? Sometimes we think we’re in control and we’re not, like with Stephen Covey’s ‘Sphere of Influence’ and ‘Sphere of Control.’ Concentrate on the things you can actually impact, and leave worrying about the other stuff to someone else.

Is letting go always a success? No! But: “Failure is not an option. It’s a privilege for those who try.”

 *****

That night I attended a Deep Conversation with Bjorn Lomborg, Jon Duschinsky, Scott Anthony, Peggy Liu and Jason Drew. I found this so interesting and entertaining I didn’t take many notes! One unfortunate stand out was the anti-government (both elected and public service) attitude of the moderator, Mr Robyn Williams (apparently he’s a famous Radio National Science Dude.)

Three thoughts from their conversation:

When you throw money at a problem you stop looking at the problem and start looking at symptoms. Then, getting bang for your buck overtakes thinking on the best way to actually solve the problem.

Applying creativity to a problem makes people talk about it: this often snowballs and leads to a solution.

Innovation = something different that has impact.

One other highlight…

was sitting at a table with a lovely young man called Andrew who was one of eight scholarship winners attending the conference. He got the gig because he and some university friends have developed a cheap to produce ‘Bioburner stove’ which as far as I can tell operates like a wood gasification stove, except it can use dung, etc. for fuel, but cuts out above 90% of all emissions (I think it was higher) so that people who cook inside aren’t breathing in toxic fumes – this effects 400 million people each year. They are working out how to get them into the developing world. If you can help, drop them a line!

 

Read on for part two

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