Can Farnborough’s Extended Project inform Extreme Learning?

This week’s edition of the BBC Learning Curve included a short piece about the piloting of “Extended Projects” at Farnborough 6th Form College. Our Extreme Learning projects aren’t aimed at that age group: but it was good to hear from some people who have direct experience of this new approach to learning.

The program is currently available on Listen Again here (this piece is between about 19m 40s and 29m 30s) and due to be repeated at 23.00 today on Radio 4. The interview is also on the college’s site as a stand-alone mp3 file (9MB). Click on the Audio mp3 icon to listen. Link

Key features:

  • The pilot involved S6 students, working on 5000-word projects during summer months.
  • 120 or so started, and about 70 completed their projects.
  • The projects were bound into proper books, like dissertations.
  • Response was astonishing, with unselected students asking to take part.
  • The dissertations were presented by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who recommended extended projects for schools.

The projects combined 2 A-level subjects. This was compulsory, and was seen as important in teaching students about the difficulties associated with subject boundaries. The research projects were described as “excavating the area in between” subjects.

The projects weren’t graded. Although the links below discuss grading arrangements, it sounds like the decision was eventually made not to grade the projects, but instead to provide a subjective response, including good feedback. They wanted students more than anything to be proud of their work. The variety of projects described probably made the development of grading criteria more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps this was because the students involved were using the projects to supplement their A-levels? In that context, perhaps formative assessment, to guide future learning, is more appropriate?

Students saw coursework as unchallenging by comparison. These projects clearly weren’t a soft option. The HT interviewed claimed the rigorous projects developed resilience and stamina, but admitted that a number of students had found the projects depressing at times, but had come through that.

Don’t “over-specify” the projects. This advice came through strongly, particularly regarding time allocation.

Those on content-heavy courses were most prone to drop-out. Examples given were chemistry and biology, where the coursework content was huge.
What ideas could we learn from this?

We haven’t spent much time thinking about how we might recognise the achievement of an Extreme Learning project.

  • Perhaps some sort of professional publication could be created, in a similar way to the Farnborough dissertations, and presented to the student? A professionally presented CD or DVD with a copy of the project web site on it could be done at moderate cost, and be a useful part of the student’s portfolio.
  • A formal presentation ceremony is perhaps also something we could consider; it could help build confidence.

The Farnborough College site includes these other links

Remixing as learning: are schools ready for Dapper and Pipes?

Yesterday’s thoughts on Extreme Learning, where we talked about using the term “mashup” to describe a form of output material, is supported by Becta’s second volume of its Emerging Technologies for Education paper , out this week. It includes this description of the way that use of social software supports the way young people like to learn.

But perhaps more interesting is the fact that (social tools) operate at the intersection of technology, teaching and creativity, which is a need that Sir Ken Robinson, a leading expert on innovation, identified so eloquently at the 2006 TED conference. In this respect, the fundamental pattern of learning and innovation using social tools – find –> remix –> share – seems ideally suited to the way most young people like to discover and make sense of the world around them, which is reason enough for an optimistic view of their likely impact. (from Chapter 1, by Lee Bryant of Headshift, Page 10: Link)

Yahoo Pipes logoI’ve never seen this connection made so explicitly before. It makes me wonder if, as we develop East Lothian’s new learner-centred social software site, our current main menu options, Explore and Share, might be complemented by a third, Remix? That could link learners to some of the tools now starting to appear which Dapper logoexplicitly support the remixing activity, such as Dapper (thanks Robert) or Yahoo Pipes (thanks again Robert!). It’s early days in this area, but there’s no doubt use of these tools is now within the capability of some secondary school students, and they’ll only get easier to use.

Inter-authority web support for Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE)

Click to open a larger version of this image in your browser There’s now a prototype web site to support inter-authority work on A Curriculum for Excellence. We’d appreciate feedback on it.

This site, which is based on an Exc-el blog, is is the first step towards building web support tools to help Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian local education authorities collaborate on new curriculum development.

The basic idea is to develop that site as a “big picture” entry point which enables visitors to find out about, and engage with, ACfE developments at inter-authority level. It provides links and information to put the work into context and to provide an overview of what’s happening. Because comments are enabled on every Page and Post visitors can contribute their perspectives. There’s also an Event Calendar.

Visitors can then easily browse, click through to, and engage with more detailed information on individual pieces of the picture. An example you can look at just now is the Active Learning Partnerships project page from Preston Lodge High’s Althernative Curriculum project. There you’ll see summary paragraphs being fed from the main ALPs project blog.

Feedback on this site would be welcome. It’s currently operating in “Stealth mode“, so shouldn’t yet be picked up by search engines such as Google and Technorati, and isn’t appearing in the “Latest Post” lists on the eduBuzz blog.

The C word and WordPress Multi-User

How much control do we have over what students can do on a WordPress Multi_user (WPMU) site? This is cropping up in a few conversations, so I thought it worth providing a summary (based on the WordPress documentation site) now that we’ve got some experience.

Our guiding principle here is that we will allow as much autonomy as possible to promote intrinsic motivation.

Continue reading The C word and WordPress Multi-User

The Amazing… Craig’s Blog!!!

The Amazing ... Craig's BlogIf you’re interested in student blogging you must have a look at Craig’s amazing blog. The title is his – but he’s not kidding.

Backstory: This is one of the blogs started yesterday, just before lunch, by an autistic S1 student who was completely new to WordPress.

He’s already using Pages to build up a web site about his hobby, birds. Here are just some examples:

Not only were Craig and his classmate Fraser reluctant to leave at lunchtime, I notice this blog has been developing this evening. Why not have a look, and leave a comment?

This is a powerful demonstration of how WordPress might be used in the context of the Extreme Learning Curriculum development.