School Blog

MARCH IS GREEN: One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, More!

One in three children do not know what chips are made from! This is more than a little worrying to me.

I know that chips are made from potatoes, I made some once. I also know where potatoes come from and I don't mean Tesco, my grandparents had a vegetable patch in their garden and I used to help out (well as much as you can at age 5). All I need to know now is how exactly, do I grow my own spuds? Luckily we have Audrey Miller imparting 'grow your own' wisdom on her Scrapbook.

In our newsletter we announced that MARCH IS GREEN here at School of Everything. So if you know anyone who enjoys pottering at the bottom of the garden, encourage them to sign up and share their wisdom with other School of Everything members.

New investment for School of Everything!

We're very pleased to announce a new round of investment for School of Everything.

Tim Jackson, founder of and LendAround, has become an investor and joined the board of the company. Channel 4 has followed up its initial investment through its new innovation fund 4iP and Sean Park and Geoff Mulgan join existing investors Rocco Pellegrinelli and the Young Foundation in this round.

We're very excited because it means we'll be able to continue to grow School of Everything both in the UK and internationally, helping more people find new things to learn near them.

It's so gratifying to know that an amazing group of people and organisations are backing us and helping us make the big idea of School of Everything a reality.

About our investors:

4iP is an innovation fund that aims to re-invent how publicly-valuable content is conceived, funded and delivered on new media platforms. The project, first announced as part of Channel 4’s Next on 4 strategic blueprint, is a collaboration between Channel 4 and a series of regional development agencies and funding partners around the UK. Submissions can be made to 4iP via its website.

Esther Dyson is an active investor in a variety of disruptive start-ups. Her investments have included Flickr and, both sold to Yahoo! and Medstory, sold to Microsoft. Currently, she sits on the boards of 23andMe, Meetup, WPP Group,, Evernote, Boxbe and Yandex, the leading Russian search company.

Tim Jackson founded QXL, the UK-based online auction site that went public in 1999 at a valuation of around $400 million. He's now launching and growing a U.S. based DVD lending site called LendAround. Tim is a former journalist with the Financial Times and Independent and was the managing director of the Carlyle Internet Partners Europe Fund.

Geoff Mulgan is Director of the Young Foundation. Between 1997 and 2004 he had various roles in the UK government including director of the Government’s Strategy Unit and head of policy in the Prime Minister’s office. Before that he was the founder and director of the think-tank Demos, described by the Economist at the time as the UK’s most influential think-tank.

Sean Park is a founding investor in innovative companies such as Betfair and WeatherBill and has extensive experience investing in and advising start-up and high growth companies in addition to over 16 years of experience working at a senior level in capital markets and investment banking.

Rocco Pellegrinelli created Brainpower in 1993 and acted as CEO and Chairman leading the company’s growth in the competitive financial software area and establishing it as one of the top portfolio applications provider on an international scale. After taking the company public at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in 2000 he successfully sold Brainpower to Bloomberg in June 2006. He founded Imaginventure in 2006.

JP Rangaswami is Managing Director of BT Design. He was born in Calcutta and lived there for half his life before emigrating to the UK. Originally an economist and financial journalist, he describes himself as an "accidental technologist". He blogs at Confused of Calcutta.

The Young Foundation is a centre for social innovation and investment based in London, with a 50 year track record of success in creating new organisations - public, private and non-profit - as well as influencing ideas and policies.

Science Department Log - 2009 Week 9

What's new under the hood on School of Everything. We have been a bit slow at writing about what we are doing down in the engine room, but this is the beginning of a plan to be a little more vocal. (We have taken the lead from Meetup's release blog.) We'll have a go at getting one of these posts out each week - but I'm not promising anything. Here we go ....

Massive optimisation of the subject page loading

School of Everything is now significantly faster. A little bit of under the hood optimisation has meant that our subject pages load, on average, two to three times as fast as they were a week ago. It's a huge relief, and makes the site so much more enjoyable.

Search will now look in your local area first

We have altered search to look locally for logged in users. This will hopefully give our members slightly better results. With this in place, we have also become a little clearer about exactly what is being displayed in our results.

The Forum

I fought it for months, but eventually lost, we now have a forum. Somewhere in the early 90s I must have had some trauma that made forums hurt me, so I did put up a lot of resistance. Anyway, a lot of my foruphobia may be ungrounded so I will learn to cope. The forums create a space where we hope people will begin to debate, criticize and compliment.

Profile Completeness

The nag. We have an evil scheme to get members to add more to their profiles by prodding them for more info. It's not really that bad, and we really do believe that everyone has something to teach - they just need a little push.

Some small bits

- A new announcement block
- User home page scrapbook now includes teaching subjects
- Automatic location detection on signup

Important Bug fixes

- Fixed the subject/place links (again)
- Removed the "in the world" that snuck back in on global subject pages
- Jquery Fix for Collapsible fieldsets in forms
- Mini icons for users without pictures
- Fixed the names of subjects and places in the sidebar on subject pages

ICT for Development Meetup - 2nd March

A couple of weeks ago, a very interesting collection of people crammed into the London headquarters of the Movement Design Bureau for the first meetup of "GlueSniffers" - the network we've started to stick together skills from the tech world with the knowledge and experience of those working in grassroots international development. Next Monday (2nd March) sees the follow-up, here on our home ground at the Young Foundation.

The reason for building stronger connections between these two worlds is simple: the spread of communications networks is overtaking that of basic infrastructure, so that we are heading towards a situation in which millions of people have access to mobile phones (and then mobile internet) but not to reliable clean water. As GlueSniffers co-founder Vinay Gupta writes in his excellent essay, 'The Future of Poverty', there are many "no-capital" or "low-capital" solutions for water purification, toilets, small-scale agriculture - solutions which could be spread far more effectively as the kind of information networks most of us now take for granted reach out to the people directly affected.

Pamela McLean, Colin Tate and others at GlueSniffers I

At the last meetup, I found myself in conversations about the spread of wifi in Peru, online tools for mapping infectious diseases, and how School of Everything could provide face-to-face back up for services like Appropedia and Akvopedia. It looks like other people had an interesting evening, too - judging by Pamela McLean's blog post and Mark Charmer's photos. (Though I don't remember Imogen Heap being there...)

If this stuff interests you and you're in London next Monday, come along to GlueSniffers 2:

Monday 2nd March, 2009 - 5.30-8.30pm

The Young Foundation, 18 Victoria Park Square, E2 9PF - map here

(Followed by beer and pies in The Camel, Globe Road.)

For more information, get in touch with me - dougald(at)schoolofeverything(dot)com.

GlueSniffers is a joint project organised by School of Everything and - the open source for water and sanitation.

Beta The Devil You Know

As you may have seen in our February Newsletter, we are currently looking for guinea pigs.

We hope to grow our beta testing group over the next few months and test lots of different bits of the site to make sure it does what it should and is user friendly! We are looking to test our new payment system and we were wondering if you'd like to come and visit School of Everything HQ (in Bethnal Green, London) for tea and chats and help us out with a little bit of testing. We'll give you presents!

There are a couple of requirements. We need you to:

* Be teaching regularly for money
* You and your students based in the UK
* Have a School of Everything teaching profile

If you're interested in joining the beta testing crew, drop me an email: [email protected].

Please. Thank you.

Slang lessons

Claire and I were in a charity shop by the office, buying suits for the next Formal Friday, and overheard the assistants giving the new Japanese assistant lessons in London slang. Here are a few terms, for those who aren't sufficiently 'street' to know them already:

'peng' = good/hot
'butters' = bad/ugly (As in "dem beats is butters man")
'nang' = good
'sick' = also good
'sket' = a slut, a sexually promiscuous girl

Also enjoyed their exchange with their six-year old sister:
- 6yo: "Why can't I say 'sket'?"
- Sister: "Um... because it's offensive"
- 6yo: "What does 'offensive' mean?"

Ah, the ways we learn...

A quick web search directed me to these sites if you want to know more:
* The London Slang Dictionary
* The Double-Tongued Dictionary

Any slang teachers out there interested in signing up and teaching us old folks a lesson?

Touch typing everything

We spend all our time typing, but can we touch type? We decided to find out.

Here are a few of us at Everything HQ attempting to type our names with our eyes closed:

abFWWR FTAWALI (that's Sangeet Gyawali)
ANDY GIBDON (that's me)
claoew kedxals (Claire Medcalf)
david pdw|dw (Dave O'Dwyer)
peter btoenrll (Peter Brownell)
Russell Blakeborough (show off)

And here's Claire, teaching herself how to do it:

Claiee medxalf
Clsire medca;d
Claiew medcsld
Claire medcaof
Claiee medcaod
Claire meda
Claire medcaod
Claire medcaod]
Claire medcald
Claire medcaopd
Claire medcaod
Claire medcallk
Claire medcalf
Claire medcalgffffffff
Claire medcalf

Well done Claire.

Pete's trumped us all thought and got himself a nice piece of kit to help him learn: a keyboard with no markings...

What they don't teach you in school.

Last week my toilet broke. I phoned the landlord right away, but it was going to take a while to get it fixed (even though it was just the flush that broke). So we were left in a bit of a situation. What should we do in the meantime? Cross our legs and pray for a plumber?

The next day - and I'm not quite sure how it came up in conversation at work - Andy pointed out that "all you need to do is pour a bucket of water down the bowl to flush it, that's what the flush does anyway." Which was great to know, and I didn't have to have a loo full of poo for the foreseeable future; but I also felt complete frustration and shame that I didn't know something this obvious already. I'm not stupid. I'm no Einstein but I have been blessed with sufficient common sense to get me this far. So why didn't I know it? Thankfully none of my housemates seemed to know this trick either - so I could pass my learnings on and enjoy their amazement at my apparently infinite wisdom. But my point is, you don't just 'know' stuff - you are taught.

We can't rely on school and university to teach us everything: We have to teach each other - passing on knowledge down the generations and amongst ourselves. I spent three years at university studying Graphic Design and they truly were the best three years of my life. My tutors were the wisest and most inspirational souls I've ever met and I am very grateful to have been taught by them. But the lesson that sticks in my mind most is being taught how to 'siphon-off' using a straw by a friend when my Dark Rum and Ginger Ale was overflowing in the union bar.

I wonder what important life lesson I will learn tomorrow? Pint anyone?

The Straight Dope on Learning Styles

The glorious truth is that people think and learn differently. Some people like words, but not pictures, some like movements rather than sounds. Why are people different? Who knows, perhaps because Allah loves wondrous variety.


A funny thing is that we have the tendency to ignore this fact. Perhaps because empathy is difficult, perhaps because learning makes itself invisible. I have a dear friend, Cat, who doesn't have visual imagery. When she thinks of a dog, for example, she doesn't see one in her mind's eye. She doesn't see anything. When she dreams she rarely has pictures --- she just knows what is happening in the dream. People often don't believe this. They think that everyone must experience their inner world in pictures, the way they do. Sorry. People are just different. Some always see things when they imagine them, some don't. Some people have a sense of pitch, some don't. So it goes.

So the idea of learning styles makes a lot of intuitive sense. Surely if we know that people think and learn differently, we should be able to design our teaching to take advantage of different learning styles. Right?

This is where we hit problems. Are learners either primarily visual, auditory, kinesthetic (as claimed in NLP)? Or are they primarily analytic, creative or pragmatic (as proposed by Robert Sternberg). Is the world made of Convergers, Divergers, Assimilators and Accomodators? Maybe instead we should use the Myers-Briggs categories of Sensers, Intuitors, Thinkers and Feelers?

Faced with these possibilities an academic psychologist has a standard set of questions they would like answered: can you really divide people up into a particular set of categories? Are the tests for these categories reliable; if you take the test twice will you come out the same both times? Are the categories you are trying to use related to how people learn? If you use a theory of learning styles, do people learn better? Can you use learning styles to predict who will benefit most from particular styles of instruction? Does using a learning styles system - any system - for teaching have other effects on learners or teachings, such as making them more confident or making them expend more effort?

These questions stem from the way academic psychologists systematically approach topics: we like to establish the truth of psychological claims. If someone comes to us with a theory about learning styles we want to know (a) if learning styles really exist, (b) if they really are associated with better learning and also (c) if, when learning styles are taken into account, learning is better because of something about the specific learing style theory rather than just being a side effect of an increase in teacher confidence, effort or somesuch.

So, what have academic psychologists found out about learning styles? We know that some of the supposed categories of learning styles are actually dimensions that vary continuously across the population. For example visual imagery: it is not that some people are visual thinkers, it is that most people have some visual imagery and a few have very strong imagery and a few, like my friend Cat, have less than average. We also know that people can change their learning styles over time, for different tasks and in different contexts. We also know that it is very difficult to prove that teaching that uses learning styles is better because of the particular theory of learning styles used, rather than merely because a learning style theory, any learning style theory, is being used and this makes people pay more attention to what they are doing.

Learning styles seem intuitively sensible. Having thought about learning styles helps teachers improve their teaching and also helps increase their confidence and motivation. But there is no strong evidence that any one theory of learning styles is the best, or most true, compared to the others. Learning style theories can be useful without being true, and it isn't clear that knowing the truth about the differences in how people learn will be immediately useful or produce a more useful theory of learning styles. This difference between truth and utility is a typical dilemma of psychology.

Sadly, the headlines for this conclusion aren't snappy. It is easier to say that "Some people are visual thinkers and others are auditory thinkers" than it is to say that "Thinking about presenting information in different sensory modalities will make your teaching more varied and help those you are teaching who have different preferences to yourself". Using a learning style theory is great, but you lose a lot of flexibility and potential for change if you start to believe that the theory is based on proven facts about the way the world is, rather than just being a useful set of habits and suggestions which might, sometimes, help guide us through the maze of teaching and learning.

Part of a series:

Image: jelly belly by House of Sims

Claire in the Community

We have a new team member here at Everything HQ!

Well, she's not really new, she's Claire, and some of you may know her from her work inviting teachers to join School of Everything. Hello.

Claire's been freelancing with us for a few months but now she's joining the core team and taking on some new improved responsibilities. She'll be welcoming new users to the site and taking care of the needs of our growing community. She'll also be telling stories about what people are up to in our community and elsewhere, and writing lots of interesting things for our blog, scrapbooks, newsletter and other places. And since she's also a copywriting maestro, she'll also be running our marketing activity and creating advertising campaigns to promote School of Everything to people who might like it.

So she's going to be quite busy. Cheer her on at claire.medcalf[at]

Don't be shy, say hello. We'd love to hear from you.

[email protected]