Tag Archives: inspiration

Doing the #twistedpair with teaching colleagues – taking a risk!

Flickr photo by Anktangle

As part of a couple of professional exchange days, I decided to use Steve Wheeler’s #twistedpair idea to invite my colleagues to write. When I say ‘I decided’, I mean I spent several weeks agonising over whether to do something safe or take a risk with the #twistedpair. See this post for the history. Finally I decided to take a risk and go with the writing session although I was convinced that nobody would choose my session over the other, more obviously traditional, professional development sessions.

I promised Steve that I’d report and here it is. I actually had 10 teachers come to my session (with 3 other choices). It was so much fun! With the changeover from the previous session, we actually only had 10 minutes to write after a shortish explanation with examples of #twistedpairs to get people going. We all shared; that was the best part.

Some people were happy for me to share their #twistedpairs (some in the early thinking stages due to time limit):

Professor Dumbledore and Frida Kahlo (group effort by 2 Art teachers) –

  • They are both larger than life
  • They both command an audience
  • They both express themselves through their clothing
  • Big picture philosophy
  • They have an intimidating presence yet they draw people to them at the same time
  • They are both story tellers
  • They are both very open-minded
  • They are both risk takers

Thanks Vanja and Mihaela!1

Joan (English and Performing Arts) wrote about how Ken Robinson and Doris Day inspire her:

Ken Robinson is someone who inspires me because he talks about creativity being central to education. His books The Element and Out Of Our Minds made me shout out loud as I read each new idea on the page. “Yes, I agree with that!’ or “Yes, that’s what I think/do in my classes!”

Doris Day also made me shout – I played Calamity Jane in year 12 and the musical was about a mix of love and feminism. As the character of Calam I got to explore ideas relating to feminism, I was in my ‘element’ as described by Ken Robinson, singing, acting, thinking and discovering things about myself and the world. The song that encapsulates all these things for me had the line about ‘my secret love, not being secret anymore’. “Now I shout it from the highest hill.”

We also heard about how Florence Nightingale and Nike worked as inspirational #twistedpairs for Jenny. We heard about Josh Thomas and Michael Long.  Some #twistedpairs I’ve forgotten because I didn’t force people to hand over their writing.

Alex is happy to share what she wrote:

Here Emily Bronte converses with William Shakespeare.

EB: I want to ask you whether you travelled to all the places that you wrote about. Italy, Africa and India.

WS: No but I was a robber of tales tall and true from the sailors at the docks.

EB: I live in a parsonage in a tiny village. I can’t move beyond my own footprints nor can I escape the influence of my family.

WS: Well of course you are a woman, and remember ‘your name is frailty’, you aren’t to be trusted in the world beyond your father’s house and will always need to be protected from ‘ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ‘.

(Excuse me for quoting my own work, but then again, on one else has ever come close)

EB: Too true, by your reckoning and insistence.  I have been gazing into the world of the human heart, having neither knowledge nor opportunity for experience I have had only human behavior as a model. What else might I have written if I had seen the world?

WS: Too many of your Victorian novels have remained in drawing rooms.  Even men were too bound by their own watch chains to look outside. At least you did examine the human heart.

EB: And you were excited by the prospect of defeating Spain and conquering the world. The age of exploration was dawning.

WS: Yet you Victorians in your plump complacency had conquered, but still you didn’t understand. You believed that you were the pinnacle of human civilization and the apex of intellectual life. That no one else could write or rule as well as you could.

Themes: feminism, gendered discourse, colonialism

Motivation: Looking at the contrast in political, social and economic contexts from the epochs represented by these two writers. More of a disciplinary focus, stimulated by the change in VCE Study Design and the introduction of a comparative essay for Year 11 next year.

Thank you for taking a risk with my session. I think we had fun. I learned a lot from all of you. In particular that I am blessed to be amongst intelligent, creative and talented people. I wish the students would see this side of you more often.

If you’re interested in reading what other people have done with #twistedpair see this list.



We all need a regular kick in the pants


Janine Antoni, “Inhabit,” 2009. Courtesy of Luhring Augustine Gallery

 I agree with the Art21 blog post, Another kick in the pants, that everyone needs the occasional kick in the pants, only I think that maybe we need it regularly. Joe Fusaro says

I use Art21 for a kick in the pants from time to time, whether it’s to inspire my teaching by watching Carrie Mae Weems or to give my studio practice a jolt by listening to Kiki Smith talk about her process for making works of art. I mean, everyone needs an occasional kick in the pants, don’t you think?

Joe goes on to mention TED talks as another source of inspiration, and I have to agree with him –  TED.com and Art21 have been regular sources of inspiration for me too.

TED’s theme is Ideas worth spreading, and its mission is of epic dimensions:

…our scope has become ever broader…. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving work in progress.

A clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers is an amazing boast, and the reason why so many people either discover TED with joy or continue to return to its rich storehouse.

The scope of Art21 is enormous, and its themes a dream for teachers of art. The series explore such themes as compassion, consumption, ecology, fantasy, humor, identity, loss & desire, memory,paradox, place, play, power, protest, romance, spirituality, stories, structures, systems, time, and transformation. Each theme is tantalising in its scope, eg. compassion – artists explore conscience; reconcile past & present; expose injustice; express tolerance. It makes me wish that Art were compulsory, or at least, not separate from the official literacy which seems only to reside in English. A sharpening of higher order thinking skills will find no better place than the Arts (although it certainly resides in all subjects).

Every day I still find myself explaining, justifying and defending my online activity. I always point out that it’s the connections to people and ideas, information and images, which I would otherwise not discover, that keep me coming back to my laptop. It’s a breathlessly vast source of inspiration and ideas, a regular kick in the pants – pushing my thinking, challenging me, jolting me and enriching my life.

I would recommend Art21 to anyone, not just art lovers, because it provides a window into a world of ideas and creative concepts, and of course, TED.com because of its amazing array of interesting people who have a way of making complex things simply fascinating.

Why brainstorming is ineffective and how to fix it


Photo credit: khoraxis

Psychblog has posted a controversial article entitled  Brainstorming reloaded which claims that brainstorming doesn’t work after all. Brainstorming, as a method of pooling the group’s ideas, has been around for a long time. I know that Australian teacher librarians, at least, still promote it as a starting point for research, and subject teachers are also using it as a springboard to discussion within a topic.

Brainstorming certainly looks like a great way of dealing with some of the problems associated with decision-making and creativity in groups, such as groupthink and people’s failure to share information effectively. By suspending evaluation, encouraging a relaxed atmosphere and quantity over quality, the brainstorming session is supposed to foster creativity.

But the article goes on to undermine the effectiveness of brainstorming:

But now we know that brainstorming doesn’t actually work that well. Experiment after experiment has shown that people in brainstorming sessions produce fewer and lower quality ideas than those working alone (Furnham, 2000). Here’s why:

  1. Social loafing: people slack off to a frightening degree in certain types of group situations like brainstorming.
  2. Evaluation apprehension: although evaluation isn’t allowed in a traditional brainstorming session, everyone knows others are scrutinising their input.
  3. Production blocking: while one person is talking the others have to wait. They then forget or dismiss their ideas, which consequently never see the light of day.

The article suggests that brainstorming be conducted online in order to achieve higher quality results:

In this research brainstormers typed in their ideas to a computer which also displayed other people’s ideas at the same time. This rather neatly gets around the social loafing and production blocking problems.

The conclusion of the psychological literature, therefore, is that people should be encouraged to generate ideas on their own and meetings should be used to evaluate these ideas.

I’m not sure what you might think about this, but something doesn’t sit right with me. It sounds like a good idea to simultaneously generate ideas online – I like the idea of all the contributions being visible real-time – but I think the classroom has its own group dynamics. Perhaps this research is more relevant to business. I think that there is a group dynamics and sense of trust which has hopefully been created by the classroom teacher. I’m not sure if secondary students are too critical of their peers’ suggestions in the brainstorming process.

Even if you set up the individual and simultaneous online brainstorming, wouldn’t students be threatened by the competitiveness of generating as many ideas as their peers? This may not be obvious online, but they could easily tell if others are typing in suggestions or just sitting there. You would also have the problem of those who think quickly getting in first with ideas that others may have come to later. Altogether, I think you’d have the same problems. At least with the teacher mediating an oral brainstorming session, he/she would be aware of those needing encouragement to contribute.

However, I do like the idea of an online brainstorming tool which allows every student’s contribution to be seen. Online brainstorming tools like bubbl.us are good, but are not a collaborative tool. Collaborative online brainstorming sounds like a solution to the isolation of a regular online tool. The article points out the importance of the group in the activity:

Why not just send people off individually to generate ideas if this is more efficient? The answer is because of its ability to build consensus by giving participants the feeling of involvement in the process. People who have participated in the creative stage are likely to be more motivated to carry out the group’s decision.

What do you think? What are your experiences with brainstorming? Your thoughts about the effectiveness of brainstorming, either as part of classroom discussion with the teacher writing down the group’s ideas on the board, or students using applications like Inspiration or bubbl.us

Am I missing something or is there a collaborative online brainstorming tool which I should be using?

 And what is your reaction to the last line of the article?

Groups aren’t where ideas are born, but where they come to sink or swim.


Teach the child

Today I read Steve Shann’s recent blog post which I won’t try and fail to summarise.  I welcomed the introspective, quiet depth of his post. After my recent focus on the promotion of technology – always as a way to enhance learning and teaching – Steve’s anecdotal reflection led me back to the business of teaching young people, which is always about relating to them, and understanding them, awakening their understanding and wonderment. Sometimes we might get lost in perfecting rubrics, we might get stuck on assessment, ticking off technology skills – and then I always feel like something isn’t right, until I come back to what is essential – the kids.

In his post, Steve mentions how he feels about

some of what goes on in our classrooms, with children being made to perform unchildlike tasks, often to please a teacher, parroting back information for which they can see no use and to which they feel no connection.

Then he shows this video


I don’t know about you, but this was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in a while.  Steve wrote:

I found it deeply moving. As I watched those little faces live the song, I was catapulted back in time over 55 years ago when, as a very young child, the world was a place of heart-quickening wonder.

It’s good to see something like that and be reminded that we are teaching young people, not curriculum, not to the test or the marks. I’d like to believe that if we hold onto that, and when we inspire learning in our students, that they’ll follow through with the rest.

Steve’s post was about much more than this, and I recommend you read the whole thing.

New young blogger and writer

Her post is called Scribbles, and she has a way with words.I love Varia’s blog, Siberian Pepper.  

“Education is not about getting the piece of paper at the end; it is hopefully, a community and an exchange between people all yearning for knowledge and new skills. I plan to suck it up as much as I can, put everything in, run my hands ragged over the keyboard and look in strange places for inspiration.”

Who am I being


This inspirational talk is by Benjamin Zander, a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven, known for his charisma and unyielding energy, and once conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.
Benjamin Zander has ‘two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us all realize our untapped love for it — and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections. He uses music to help people open their minds and create joyful harmonies that bring out the best in themselves and their colleagues’ (TED). Continue reading Who am I being