Constraints on creativity

Much has been written this week about a squeezed creative curriculum in our schools, including a perceived emphasis of teaching children to code to the detriment of other subjects in a timetable.

Two points close to my heart and, for me, very much linked to curriculum and a wider perspective.  Also highlighted through conflict coming out of research into digital making (and creativity) in the formal curriculum and reasons towards my commitment to the Foundation for Digital Creativity CIC.

As I contributed to the start of the Leeds Digital Festival by talking about bridging the digital skills divide, then curriculum and conflict rear their heads.

So two questions to think about when we talk about balancing the curriculum and ideas for change:

  1. Are we equipping all young people with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare for a digital future through a broad and rich curriculum?
  2. If not, why not?

And straight away my focus comes back to the support needed to ensure that curriculum achieves it’s fundamental aim.

Nothing new, for anybody remembering the challenges that school leadership teams faced when implementing the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. Priorities, pressures and support mechanisms (or not).

Understanding the priorities placed on targets for particular subjects and the shift in how schools are supported (does freedom and autonomy for schools facilitate this?) to offer a broad and rich curriculum ought to go some way towards an emphatic approach of opinions and support.

At this point we could go down the ‘community and parental viewpoints about a shift in league tables’ route, but let’s leave that for another day.¬† They are interlinked, though.

I live in hope that curriculum research and noise from Ofsted is the catalyst needed for every child to learn from a broad curriculum, and be equipped at the end of it with a balanced range of knowledge and skills.  To give them choice and options for a future digital life ahead.

Until that day, will we continue to hear more about exam hot houses, 2 year KS3 programmes and a narrowed primary curriculum?

Until that day, will we also continue to hear opinions and suggestions from inside and outside of the education landscape about including more creative and/or STEAM based curricula?

I hope so, but under the umbrella of a broad and balanced curriculum.¬† We see STEM and STEAM acronyms talked about more now and when related to formal education I think in pedagogical and support terms.¬† And I do consider the support and national network of STEM learning, so don’t hold it against me if I slip from using the STEAM acronym when you think I ought not to.

I’ve got a fit for purpose curriculum on my mind and look towards wider participation programmes to encourage particular groups of students into STEM subjects from the school curriculum.¬† Perhaps girls into Computing at KS4 or looking to the work that the Institute of Physics have conducted on gender balance over the last few years.

Let us not forget that our students make selections for KS4 from the disciplines included in STEM or STEAM, not as a subject, as options to individualise their broad and rich curriculum. Consider the constraints on those choices, through curriculum options or wider considerations, and then we recognise the difficulties in offering a STEAM approach for those who wish to pursue one.

We’ll also continue to hear more about an emphasis on teaching kids to code and forgetting about the whole computing curriculum. See, I’m education focused again and thinking about the different support mechanisms that have been in place since before September 2014 , the start of the computing curriculum and still now we hear a lot more about the CS element.¬† Again, another and separate conversation about supporting/developing teachers and leadership teams, but a similar theme.¬† The ‘T’ in STEM or STEAM within the curriculum can be broadly technological and with digital literacy linked across every subject but the foundation subject is computing.

So until the day when we see that broad and rich curriculum for every child, throughout the academic year, please stop yourself and ask ‘where and how’.¬† How can all schools be supported and it be reported on holistically rather than core subjects prioritised even during inspection? *

Something I question as a parent and an educator.

*I’ll leave reporting (or not) on foundation subjects to another post.


Leaf Spotting: Citizen Science with Foldscope

Spent Earth Day getting the kids actively involved in conversations about a proposed Clean Air Zone in Leeds.

What does, and should, it mean to them if they’re living and walking to school within the Zone?

We took the chance to get hands-on with Foldscope and explore issues, opinions and facts currently being talked about.

STEM fitted snugly into Sunday plans as Foldscope travelled with us as we walked inside and outside of the Zone.

What did we hope for?

  1. To get as much fresh air as possible
  2. To see science as an accessible conversation starter
  3. To think about visual signs for the impact of air pollution
  4. To try out suggestions coming from conversations that I’m having with collaborators at the Fdn for Digital Creativity.
  5. To experience environmental science on a practical level, to engage young people about issues ‘in their own back yard’ and start to understand wider implications, and policy making
  6. To undertake citizen science activities and recognise the value, and concerns about inaccuracies, of such projects

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Foldscope as an origami pocket microscope was built within 10 minutes using the the video tutorials – no adults involved.

The kids tested the setup, with a leaf taken from the garden, and connected the microscope to a mobile phone for digital access and recordings of images.  There, all ready to capture the life of a roadside leaf.

Walking routes shown below in North Leeds and the perimeter of Harewood House.  The first image a particular talking point during the local elections with changing road layouts.

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Today it was ease of everything (and great suggestions) that steered us towards a leaf’s perspective.¬† Predictions based on research already carried out by scientists, what they look for¬† and how they understand impact of air pollution, but for us on a very local level.

Those predictions, about why a future Leeds can be different, were based on the map included in the FAQs for the proposed Clean Air Zone.  But for more significant learning, mapped onto what the kids see on a day to day basis. Traffic congestion every weekday morning and afternoon, with an understanding of how significant citizen science can be.

And finally, their images and predictions annotated and layered onto a Google map and shared amongst themselves.¬† That bit’s not included here……would be good to talk about scale.

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So what do scientists look for when reporting on air pollution and how can their findings help our community if and when positive changes happen?  Today was a springboard for conversation and an opportunity to be curious with Foldscope.

Keen to read more?  We found this report worth the read:


Heat transfer printing with tinkering possibilities

A birthday surprise this year was a Saturday Heat Transfer Printing course at the fantastic Leeds Print Workshop.  Result, loved it : )

Great chance to learn about basic techniques and it certainly opened my eyes to possibilities with my own e-textile projects and ambitions with creative data viz.

A snapshot of my learning steps and the foundations for adding wearables:

Exploring surface pattern imagery

First steps with heat transfer techniques centred around getting stuck in with random outcomes.

Having a go with painting, sponging and paper templates and seeing what emerges through a design process based on time to explore over cups of tea.

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Trialling brushstrokes with dye

I’d taken along some inspiration in the form of sakura fabrics from another gift, a Japanese¬†Furoshiki project.¬† That was my starting point of an idea to explore with the brushes and adapt later in the day.

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Understanding the beauty of layering

It’s a few of years since the first spark of interest about printing emerged from a conversation with the Bare Conductive team.¬† Yep, should’ve done it earlier.¬† I’m hooked!

You might be able to make out my thoughts along the way, for layering circuit designs within the patterns on each textile piece, but also for layering multiple pieces for a future project.  Big thanks to Kirsty at Leeds Print Workshop for developing those ideas with me during the session.

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Using new equipment

For those of us extolling the virtues of laser cutting as a brilliant way to see your designs come to life quickly, then using the heat press gave that same feeling of (nearly) instant success.

Transferring the dye to make the surface pattern at 180ňö means my pieces are permanent as long as I stick to a 40ňö wash!


Producing new (not blank) canvases (well, synthetics) for e-texiles

So here are the pieces created during that first session, which will now be adorned with sensors and LEDs as tinkering and research projects with the Internet of Curious Things programme.

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Sensing a more connected and brighter future through digital making

It’s been a busy couple of weeks sharing and learning through communities and contributing with what we’ve learnt through our Foundation’s activities at events.

Understanding the value of partnerships and collaborations gives amazing opportunities to evaluate projects and decide on plans moving forward.

Conversations at¬†The Things Network Conference¬†earlier this month led to incredible insights into other people’s visions as the tools are now in place to ‘build communities through LoRaWAN’. Great to be part of a global panel talking about adding value to communities and building networks.

And the opportunity to share our strategies to help democratise access of the power of LoRaWAN for everyone through a keynote at the same conference.

Removing the barriers: Empowering communities to make a smarter, more connected world with LoRaWAN.

The presentation explores two areas of our programmes:

  1. How can we develop more diverse and inclusive programmes to engage all citizens in real world problems through digital making and adopting LoRaWAN?
  2. How can we effectively facilitate collections of digital storytelling projects engaging communities in cities across Things North to creatively solve local issues?

Starting the new year with a STEM role model focus

This year has given me many opportunities to embrace change and direct more of my time into areas of passion and importance.

Alongside establishing programmes with the Foundation for Digital Creativity, we’ve been working with the STEM Ambassador Hub Trans Pennine to include opportunities to inspire young people exploring STEM futures by including the support of STEM Ambassadors.

As capable and realistic role models, we know that their input will positively impact on the perception of STEM futures for some students and equip them for possible roles in the digital and STEM world.


From the recent #ThisGirlCodes Project (click image for more info)

I’m so excited by the opportunities this will give for young people to¬†make connections with their own lives and consider real world environmental solutions as the programmes enrich learning.¬†¬† 

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Image taken by @BloodyNoraDJ at Make Believe in Leeds, April 2017 (click image for more info)

Moreover, it’s also my time to commit time as an Ambassador and share my passion for STEM to a younger generation.¬†

Induction was delayed until January, so that’s a perfect STEM start to 2018 ūüėÄ

First Light: Electric Paint Lamp Kit

Perfect timing to build on the ‘Dynamic Circuits’ workshop we’ve just delivered with The Ada Show, and continue that exploration through creative tech.

If it weren’t for watching paint dry (literally, that’s not an opinion!), the instructions and boxed kit were so intuitive that it could’ve been ‘open to first light’ in under 10 minutes.

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A quick starter with the twist board and templates saw us up and running with the touch lamp, and origami themes soon emerging.

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Next to tinker with the dimmer and proximity variations before we embark on a personalised project.

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3D Festive Pi Hack

Told the kids they could crack open the selection box if they cracked the Python code.

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10 minutes later and I was left with the leftovers.¬† Next challenge is to change the colour, sequence and I get to keep the Curlywurly ūüėć

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Best festive accessory available for the Raspberry Pi from The Pi Hut.

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