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Learning Without Frontiers - Highlights from Day 2

lwf2"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

David Puttnam kicked off Day 2 of the conference with this quote attributed to Einstein - a reminder of the need to release the talents of young people. He called for them to be given the skills and agility to be prepared for an unpredictable world and recognised digital technology as a key driver of this change - a theme which continued throughout the day.

Here are some highlights and interesting ideas from the rest of the day.

A scientist's perspective

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, began his talk as an anxious member of the public. What about the threats from misuse of technology, particularly now that 'the village idiot could have a global impact'?

However, even within this context he was speaking as a science evangelist. Young people have a natural interest in science (think tadpoles or space) and this must be maintained. New technology and global links allow more creativity in science, for example an increased role for simulation in exploring galaxies or in using data mining as a route to new discoveries. Technology and collaboration means that anyone in the world can now participate in frontier science.

Young people's reliance on technology as well as the potential for its misuse mean that science teaching is more important than ever - we need to have a feel for science to participate effectively in the debate. Faced with issues such as world poverty and the need for clean energy, technology needs to be applied effectively and young people need to act as global citizens and stewards for the future.

Trends for 21st century education

From toothbrushes to ipads, are the things around us becoming more beautiful? Jesse Schell from Schell Games (and previously Disney) thinks so. As well as beauty, Jesse highlighted customisation, sharing and reality as key 21st century trends.

BUT, how much do we see these trends replicated in the classroom? Often, things aren't beautiful. They are standardised (in the way we test and the way we think), withheld rather than shared, fake rather than real. In education we have often been immune from trends and slow to adapt.

How might these trends be brought into 21st century learning?

  • Beauty - this happens through design, not on its own. We need to bring something new. What about a new grading system where students all start at F and have to work their way up?

  • Customisation - people want to learn about a huge range of different things and in very different ways. In some schools, school libraries have become informal spaces for education where young people can 'hand out', 'mess around' or 'geek out' and the space has been designed to fit, with mentors around to help when needed. Curious young people will win through - we need to make all young people more curious and if education is standardised, curiosity is punished.

  • Sharing - teachers should try to create situations that demand it from young people. They could, for example, give them access to different types of technology and ask them to design a virtual world with each taking on responsibility for one aspect e.g. design, sound or programming. They can't succeed unless they work together.

  • Reality - students who want to get into a particular industry can hear online from teachers who have worked in that field. Simulations also allow us to get closer to reality - for example, allowing a trainer to design their own scenarios.

Bring a browser

Technology-in-education guru Professor Stephen Heppell believes that if young people are allowed to take the lead in learning they can do extraordinary things. With the trend of young people increasingly making use of their own devices in schools, we are now in a 'bring a browser' sort of world which opens up new opportunities as well as challenges.

At Lampton School in Hounslow young people have been allowed to design a new classroom with a technology focus and their ideas have been shared with schools in Australia. Stephen Heppell's view is that Building Schools for the Futurewas a brave initiative and we now need to raise the bar again. Schools are powerhouses at the heart of our communities and we can build better schools and remodel learning if we work with young people, not just for them. With Michael Gove's announcement about ICT, it is up to schools to respond.

Schools need policy guidance and to hear experiences from other schools if they are to stop blocking the use of this technology by default. The a research project at, aims to find and share effective best practice in the use of mobile devices and social media in the classroom.

Let us know if you agreed with the speakers in the comments below.

Videos of some of the speakers are also available via the links below.

Transforming the maths curriculum by Conrad Wolfram

Scientists behaving badly & why they're good for innovation by Michael Brooks

Learning to Innovate by Geoff Mulgan, CEO, NESTA

Nurturing Creativity & Innovation by Jacob Kragh, President, LEGO Education

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