School Blog

Pot Sherds and Pedagogy

There's only so much you can learn sitting at a desk: sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. That's as true for us at School of Everything as for the Year 8 students from Holmes Chapel Comprehensive that I met when I escaped the office for a day at The Blackden Trust.

Handling objects in the Medicine House

The Trust cares for a parcel of land in East Cheshire that has been occupied for 10,000 years, as well as the two historic houses which form the latest stage of occupation. It runs courses on which students from local schools join archaeologists in exploring the history and meaning of the site. What happens on these courses is education at its best: open-ended, demanding, serious and fun.

I joined them for 'The World of Wotsits', an introduction to archaeology which starts from the students' own curiosity. Tutors Dawn Parry and Tom Hughes encouraged the group, as far as possible, to answer its own questions about the construction of timber-frame houses, the symbolism of a Saxon round shaft, or the tumbledown outhouse which turned out to have been a combined pigsty, henhouse and privy. By mid-morning, the students were recognising patterns, speculating about the purpose of objects and making connections back to things learned earlier.

Neither Dawn nor Tom is a trained teacher, but both are knowledgeable and passionate about sharing their knowledge. Between them, they got this group of twelve and thirteen year olds starting to think like archaeologists - or rather, and this is the significance of the style of learning embodied by the Trust, to think for themselves. There should be far more opportunities like this for children to spend time with skilled, enthusiastic adults from beyond the school walls. (For another inspiring example, check out Maya Plass's Learn to Sea project.)

The force behind the Trust is Griselda Garner, herself a retired teacher. Talking to her after the students had left, something else came into focus about its approach to learning. The opportunities offered to children and young people at Blackden are, above all, meaningful. Where classroom work often consists of arbitrary activities, students on the Trust's courses learn by taking part in the actual process of archaeology. Sorting pot sherds, for example, a member of the group will spot something that contributes to the evolving interpretation of the site.

There is a further sense in which the Trust's activities are deliberately meaningful. Where a course sparks something in a student, the Trust recognises a responsibility - and its door stays open. This may develop through students being invited back to help with research on the site or as volunteers on future courses. What matters is that students aren't offered a taste of something with no opportunity to take it further.

The Blackden Trust is something special - but the attitude to learning which it embodies is one I know is shared by many of the teachers here on School of Everything. And there must be other equally inspiring projects out there which we haven't heard of yet. If you know of any, please tell us about them.

During September, the Blackden Trust will be running courses for sixth formers interested in reading Archaeology, History or Geography at university. Details are available here.

What Everything did about Dammy Bruce

You may have seen a few announcements on School of Everything recently about 'Dammy Bruce', who tried to abuse the School of Everything messaging system last week for a counterfeit cheque scam.

Several of our teachers reported this, so once we were sure it was a scammer we blocked 'Dammy Bruce' permanently. Thanks to everyone for your vigilance - we're glad this nuisance has been dealt with quickly.

Since then, we've been doing some more work on helping School of Everything's community stay safe and secure online.

We've written some new pages on how to be safe online (and off). Click here to read our new safety pages.

We're also developing a 'Report This' button that'll appear throughout the site, including in messages. This will make it quick and easy to report any suspected scammers, spammers and other abusers of School of Everything.

We'll have this live on the site as soon as we can. Meanwhile if you see anything that looks suspicious or that you're unsure about please let us know (here are some ways you can talk to us) and we'll get straight back to you.

Welcome Jenny

Please give a warm welcome to Jenny Morecombe, who's joining Team Everything as community manager.

Jenny has run online communities and chat rooms for Disney, ABC and the BBC, and has lots of experience looking after online communities and making sure they're safe and happy.

She's also an inspired treasure hunt organiser, a bit nifty on a snowboard and an all round good egg. Here she is in the Rocky Mountains:

We're really chuffed to have Jenny on board, and you'll be hearing lots more from her from now on. Welcome to Everything, Jenny!

We won a UK Catalyst Award!

Hurrah - we won a UK Catalyst Award! We're very proud.

The other winners included Wheelies, the Freeconomy community and Slivers-of-Time.

We celebrated by splashing out on a new, bigger, faster and more orange remote-controlled helicopter. It's too big to fly in the office, so here it is on its inaugural flight in our local park.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us get this far! Onwards and upwards...

Suspicious message? Tell us

We've had some complaints over the last day or so about suspicious emails from "Dammy Bruce", a suspected scammer using the School of Everything message system. We've suspended the account.

If at any time you think an enquiry might be suspicious, or you're asked for financial details or other sensitive personal information, please do report the user to School of Everything as soon as possible. We will suspend any user until we are confident that their enquiry is genuine.

Seedcamp applications open

Last September, School of Everything was a finalist for Seedcamp and applications are now open for this year's competition.

If you've got an idea and you're thinking of putting it into action, all of us would completely recommend you enter. It's a fantastic experience and as Saul mentions on his blog - a great way to validate your idea.

The Five-Minute Teach

The 2gether08 Festival of Ideas and Action kept Everyone busy last week. Alongside a packed programme of talks and workshops (including one on social entrepreneurship and government that included Paul) the Fringe events took a playful approach to bringing people together.

At the Fringe, School of Everything hosted The Five-Minute Teach, a series of mini-sessions where people taught something you wouldn't expect them to teach. The only rule was: you have to be able to teach it in five minutes.

Mecca Ibrahim taught us how to save a fortune on microwave popcorn by making it in a paper bag.

Here's what was left of the popcorn very soon afterwards.

Tom Taylor taught 8 Ways To Find Out Where You Are (including how to magnetise a needle if you don't have a magnet). (Here's the presentation he made.)

(Photo originally by Aleksi Aaltonen (Thanks, Aleksi!)
Ben Matthews taught Business Card Origami. Click here for an audience video of his session.

Thanks also to Lucy Wills (teaching Open Sauce), Safiya Ahmed and Dom Campbell (teaching The Perfect Cup Of Tea), Jess and everyone at 2gether08 for lettings us do it, and everyone else who joined in the fun.

Videos to follow...

Welcome Hugo

Team Everything has grown again. Hot on the heels of Sangeet, Everything's new designer, we're very happy to welcome Hugo Rumens to Team Everything. When he's not playing the guitar or being a bit of a foodie he's a brilliant developer, and we're delighted to have him on board.

Unlike Sangeet, he was quite happy for me to take a picture of him for the blog. But this business of not taking pictures of the Science Department at work is starting to be a bit of a tradition. So here's a picture of not very much of Hugo, along with that most essential Science Department tool: the double espresso.

Welcome to the team, Hugo!

We won!

Last night School of Everything won a New Statesman New Media Award, in the Inform and Educate category.

Here's the Every Thing, posing with our shiny new trophy.

The Every Thing wins!

Needless to say, we're delighted. Thanks to the judges, the New Statesman and everyone who nominated us, cheered us on and generally spread the love. And of course, commiserations to other finalists Dad Info and Futurelab's Powerleague too.

Here are a few of Team Everything being dignified and restrained in their celebrations last night.

Everything wins! by blackbeltjones, on Flickr

What do you really want to learn?

We want to help people learn what they really really want - when, where and how they want. But up to now, we've been more focussed on supporting teachers than learners. In fact, if you didn't want to teach something, no-one could even find you on the site.

Well, fear not. After much technical huffing and puffing, today we're launching personal profiles for everyone. And we want to know what you really want to learn.

Here's how it works:

  1. Log in or sign up for a free account and join the community of learners.
  2. Add subjects to your profile to tell the world what you really want to learn.
  3. Other teachers and learners on the site can see what you're interested in and offer to teach it, or to learn it with you.

We want to create an education system that's truly focussed on the needs of learners. If you tell us what you want to learn, we'll tell the world, and help you find teachers and learners near you who can make it happen. If you want, we'll even notify you by e-mail when new teachers register for your subjects.

So, what do you really want to learn? I want to learn lots of things. Start building your profile and share what you want to learn too. And why not start your own subject and invite your friends to learn it with you?