Educational Mashups Part four: creativity boosts from the wise

In this fourth part of Educational Mashups (see Part 1Part 2Part 3) we’re looking at a range of ideas from a cross-section of industries which can encourage us to become even more creative, or if the worst case scenario has already kicked in, break that dreaded writer’s or thinking bloc.

Take a Mini Retirement?

The remarkable designer Stefan Sagmeister realised that his studio was coasting, lacked spark and innovative ideas – not good for a forward thinking design studio. To halt the continuation of a potentially dire future Stefan decided to take time off. In his view, we spend approximately 25 years of our lives learning, then there’s another 40 years for working and 15 for retirement. To combat this lack of creativity and drive, Sagmeister decided to take 5 of the 15 retirement years and intersperse them with the working years leaving 1 year sabbatical every seven years.

Take a look at his talk at the TED 2010 conference where he explains his ideas further:

Most of the design ideas Sagmeister produced over the next 7 years came from that sabbatical. Take a look at his website to discover his amazing work and inspiring book Things I have Learned in My Life. Sagmeister does not advocate that you ‘just take time off’ without planning your sabbatical. On the contrary, he tried that and it did not work. He produced a timetable for thinking and stuck to it and there is of course that tiny little detail of funding your time off…

Sagmeisters timetable

As teachers and educators isn’t it impossible to take time of from work to reflect? Isn’t that a luxury we can’t afford? In some respects it is impossible, well at least if you wish to take 12 months. However, the potential to use some of your holidays as reflection time and experience booster, is possible and should be encouarged. Humour us here, take out a pen and paper do this:

Write down three things you’d always wanted to do but never seem to have the time.

Many of us can probably agree that holidays seem to disappear once started. Time off is spent visiting friends, catching up speaking to people on the phone, drinking good wine and going on that well-deserved holiday to the French riviera. Work, Love and Play. That’s the way life goes? In March last year Johannes decided to refrain from doing any additional work as he had just completed two books and two interactive CD-ROMs together with Neal. It was time for a long break. As Johannes’ wife became pregnant and because he also started a new job in September of the same year, rest seemed to be the perfect thing. This was a very exciting time of course and much of the time was spent preparing for the new arrival (!) but there was also plenty of time to read, listen to talks, watch good films, reflect as well as visiting interesting locations in the UK and Sweden. This time away from writing really provided space for thinking and developing ideas. It was also during this time that the idea for a new book came up.

After eight months Neal and Johannes meet up to discuss the idea for a fifth book and they both agreed to start a blog to keep ‘brainstorming’ ideas, and in essence, write small chunks of the book online something which they did with Exam Class Toolkit (many of those core ideas can still be found on the old website). We had not discussed any writing projects for more than a year and it was that time away from writing that inspired us to start Take the Plunge (which is migrating soon). Moving forward and becoming more creative requires us to broaden our horizons just like Stefan Sagmeister so when you plan your break or holiday next time why not include moments of reflection and new experiences that are not neccessarily linked to work.

Making the ‘dull’ interesting

How often do we miss, skip or ignore some of the minor things that happen or appear during a normal working day? Read each statement below and immediately say/write down what you do:

  • when students enter your classroom?
  • during the first 5 minutes of your Department/Team Meetings?
  • if a student arrives late?

What do you do then – prep, hand out worksheets, wait? Chat to colleagues; go through the agenda? Tell off the student; ignore them; show them to a chair? What do you think students do outside your classroom while they wait for you; or what colleagues do whilst you talk them through the agenda and so on? If we consider that these seemingly insignificant issues can make a difference and try to use our imagination to make them matter then we are not only developing our own creative teaching repertoire but this process could, indirectly, lead us to encourage students to examine the details in the fabric in whatever they do. Sounds a bit far-fetched? Watch this brief clip to see what we mean:

Being creative about minor details could also make students’ learning experience more enjoyable. If you want to make students remember your lessons as something different and making them feel positive and engaged when they walk through your doors or get your colleagues inspired in meetings, then consider how you could make the dull more interesting.

Here are a few examples of using the smaller details to your advantage:

  • take photographs of the students as the walk in and then at the start of the lesson show a selection and ask them what they were thinking or felt as they walked in
  • use QR codes outside the classroom and get them excited about what they will learn (see this post on using QR Codes in your lessons) even before they walk through your door
  • if you have a new student to the class, and particularly if they arrive late, shake their hand and introduce yourself, then show them to where they should sit

Can we make a movie, Sir? Or, How to Get Students to Listen

Students enjoy producing their own mini movies, either by piecing together other people’s clips or by recording their own dramas. Some of these can be amazing movies particularly when they have gone out of their way for example by using Green Screen technology or used different locations to enhance the content of the production. Sometimes, however, without the guidance by the teacher, the movies students create can lack substance and are simply a ‘fun thing to watch’ – a wasted lesson. Next time one of your students ask if they can make a movie to answer the key question of the lesson why not challenge them to write a script and create an animation that illustrates the key messages of that script. A bit unclear? Watch the first 30-40 seconds of the movie below to see what we mean:

This brief animation was produced by The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and uses Barbara Ehrenreich’s talk ‘Smile or Die’ to encapsulate key segments of her speech – great speech by the way. If students use this way of presenting their information and the script will have to be purposeful and the illustrations clear.

If you want students to really listen to an audio clip, understand a piece of text or make them watch that important documentary without having to play video bingo or fill-in-the-blanks-as-you-watch, then showing them examples of animated typography can inspire them to listen more carefully, particularly if they have to create one themselves. The following audio has been taken from the movie Snatch and the producer of the animated clip could quite easily have used a combination of Prezi and a standard video editor to create this effect – students could do a similar version on their own:

Using typography, even at a very basic level, can engage students more creatively in their work. This is worth exploring further. Here is a series of links if you would like to look into typography a bit more:

Design Notes
Typography tutorials
Best Typography Videos on Youtube

And to finish off – a brilliant example of using typography:

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Johannes Ahrenfelt

Johannes Ahrenfelt has previously worked as County Advisor for Learning & Teaching with ICT, Head of Department and University Lecturer. He has taught for 10+ years in schools around Norfolk, UK, and is currently leading an inspirational team in Norwich as Head of Faculty. Johannes shares his passion for pedagogy on his blog, social media and when delivering training in the UK and abroad. He has also published several books worldwide, one of which has been translated into Mandarin and Malayan.

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