Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

August 2, 2012
by Pete Jones

QR codes and documenting brilliant learning

One of the most powerful influences on a student’s passion for learning is how others notice their efforts. To notice what they have done; the hard work, the progress made, the energy used, the mistakes learnt. This is going to be my number one priority to work on developing this year. I have always been a teacher who gets ridiculously enthused about what students are capable of creating (I am an Art teacher after all), but apart from letters home, praise in lessons for genuine hard work and creativity and displaying of work in it’s most traditional form, I don’t exactly push the boat out.

The  passion which students have to develop, improve, to search for greatness can be seen as an intrinsic quality. If you looked around your class, you probably only think this quality relates to some of the students you teach. As I have spoken about before, this may have a lot to do with the mindset of that student.

A fixed mindset; where people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. How many times do I hear ‘I can’t draw’ (to which I usually quote Paul Klee about a ‘line being a dot going for a walk’…now jog on…)

Do our schools make students believe that through determination anything is possible? That the sky is always the limit? How do we get the message across that ONLY through hard work can we possibly get better. It was the film producer, Samuel Goldwyn  who famously said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ Wise words.

I look back at the awe inspiring opening ceremony of the London Olympics, devised by the remarkably grounded Danny Boyle. It would take a thesis or two to unpack the depth of creative thought and sheer determination which made that happen, but it is a great example of the sky being the limit in terms of making an extraordinary vision come to life.  What can we do in schools to help celebrate our own ‘history of learning’? What would make students think every day that I can do more? Be  better? Aim higher?

A growth mindset; where people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.  Me thinks Danny Boyle must have this in spades.

So how do we talk about, display and celebrate and nurture the growth mindset to make sure that when students leave our school, they still believe anything is possible, with dedication and hard work?

There were times watching the Olympic ceremony where I felt passionate about my country. Passionate that we can create such a remarkable vision. The visual feast created on that evening makes me think about how my school should celebrate the culture of learning in our school. Celebrate the achievements of every worthy student and essentially, to get students to notice what hard work can bring by making a ‘big deal’ of achievement.

Since writing my last post ‘Judging a book by it’s cover’, several tweachers have clearly had similar ideas about the vision of learning and how to recognise the learning culture within their schools. (Particular respect to @ICTEvangelist, @Davidfawcett27 and @karen_macg).

So here is an idea for celebrating and archiving brilliant learning. With massive thanks to Mark Anderson’s recent post on this, the use of QR codes could be such a revolutionary method of spreading the brilliance of learning at a school. Take a look…


Imagine seeing this at your local bus stop..

Now.. Imagine this poster put up in your community.

Imagine posting a link to a brilliant poem written by a Year 7 or a French conversation on ‘sound cloud’ or bench designs for the local park, the persuasive letter writing examples to the local MP (and the responses?!) The possibilities are phenomenal. By getting your local paper or free posh magazine to run a feature on it, how to get a QR reader onto your smart phone etc. You can immediately engage students learning with the outside world. Documenting the history of learning within you your school. You could also engage lifelong learning by getting the community to question their own approaches to learning; take this example and use your QR reader!

Scan this with your phone

So as an Art teacher, I can see two ways of using QRs straight away. The sketchbooks I order for school have a free foil stamp on.. Now If I put a QR stamp on with a link to our virtual gallery or examples of excellent sketchbooks…

Or again. How about students recording what’s inside their sketchbooks and creating their own QR which documents it. Again, just an example, but you can use your QR reader below….

So. Like said, just how amazing is this idea? With a bit of head scratching about logistics and permutations, this could be a wonderful way of publishing the learning of great minds. In Ron Berger’s book, the ethic of excellence, he speaks about the importance of public displays and this could be another powerful tool for schools to publicise the brilliance of learning happening within their walls.

As Danny Boyle gave us his extraordinary vision of Britain, what can we do to create an extraordinary vision of learning in our schools? This is one idea which I will be developing next academic year. Oh and for those who like Banksy, I know this could get me into trouble, but I am an Art teacher..

Next blog… ‘Pop-Up learning shops’ and Guerrilla marketing…

July 25, 2012
by Pete Jones

Judging a book by its cover. Ideas and thoughts on how learning is displayed in schools.


When students, staff and visitors walk into your school, what is the first thing they see?

What about your department area?

What is the purpose of display in your school and what does it say about the curriculum in your school?

How often and why are displays changed?

If you asked a student from your school to close their eyes and talk about your classroom, what would they say?

Is your school a lighthouse for learning or a sterile space full of clean corridors?

If we imagine the curriculum is not just the subjects we teach, but the ‘glue’ that binds the school together, a major part of that is the indirect experience students have every day; where they spend their free time, what kind of welcome greets them as the trundle through the gates, how they feel about your classroom, what their school ‘says’ about their learning.

In some parts of my school, we have those insipid inspiring posters, we have displays about what jobs you can get with certain GCSE’s, we have tired, worn out displays of outdated learning frameworks and we have a lot and I mean a lot of space which reflects very little to do with learning. This really frustrates me, because at our core, we are a forward thinking school, which is encouraged to take risks and innovate. It’s just the spaces we have are not nurtured for learning. They’re there to be wiped clean every evening, to be walked through at pace, on the left… I SAID LEFT JENKINS!!  and ignored by the masses.

It certainly doesn’t have to be like this. One of the key factors for improving attitude for learning is recognition of hard work. But how often do we recognise (apart from the grade, comment, well done, pat on the back) the wonderful things that our young people produce?

The walls of your school are part of the curriculum, the glue, the very fabric (obviously), but they could have a really important role to play in how a student feels about learning. So what does your school say when you enter the door? Welcome to blah blah blah, will visitors please report to reception? What percentage of students have work/evidence of learning on the walls? How does your classroom create an enquiring, active mind?

I have had some ideas about this. Let me know what you think….

1. I want the entrance to my school to say, “Welcome to the most worthwhile day of your life so far” and in small print, “and if it hasn’t been, tell someone why!” or something along those lines. Too often, I see schools in which signage is designed for visitors, not students and why they should come here each day.

2. I want every student to have an A3 clip frame or similar, which once a month, during a form time, they have to get down and replace with evidence of their best work; could be a photo. This will be placed on the “My greatest achievement so far” corridor. Every student, every month. Display and celebrate. Can you imagine teachers using this as a tool. “Joe, would this piece be good enough to go in your frame? Why not?”, “what can we do to change your opinion about this?”

Once a year, the ‘greatest achievement’ had to be something outside of school too.

3. Every teacher had to do an audit of the purpose of display in their rooms.  This must include student input. If anything hasn’t been used within the past month, bin it.

4. The staff should agree on what classroom/corridor display is for (as long as it really hits the mark, look at good examples ) and write a policy, which can be used on ‘learning walks’to make sure it’s reflected.

5. Some kind of constantly changed ticker-tape or quote display as you enter the school.

A constantly changing list of learning moments from students and teachers. Famous quotes for Risk Month, Explorer Month…

What we are often faced with is a veneer of greatness; copious quotes from the Ofsted report stuck onto the entrance sign “This is a good school, which provides well for all its pupils”. SO F***ING WHAT! How about we look at what the Americans do outside their evangelical churches. With those letters that can be changed regularly or a LED ticker tape of up-to-date using quotes from staff and students about learning. Imagine first thing you see is a excerpt from your poem you wrote yesterday on the entrance, the red dots running across with exuberant pace, reminding you why this school is such an exciting place to learn. You could end each day texting your valuable learning experiences to the SLT in charge of (something or other) and they can choose which go up(or a great registration activity in forms)- great to get to know students and which departments are providing valuable learning experiences. You could have Eureka month, where students save up their best ‘I’ve got it’ moments to share. The ‘Fail, fail better month’, there is plenty there to fire up the passion for learning.

These are basic aims. Personally I want to see illuminated learning sculptures glowing at night around the school grounds. I want hidden speakers with recordings of brilliant learning conversations hidden the bricks, I want an authentic French market once a month in the MFL corridor. I want the whole place to scream out loud that learning is what this place is about, but I guess its one step at a time.

So now, ask yourself those questions at the top of the list and then think about what it could be like if we really wanted it to all be about the L word not the O word?

Students often say the most enlightening things about learning (if you ask the right questions)and do the most incredible work. We need to capture, preserve and celebrate this, at least for a while before it disappears into the aether. Making it part of the glue that binds the school together.

Skip to toolbar