The Big Idea: making the most of RSA Animates in school using a new collaborative website, WatchDrawThink.org, by Ewan McIntosh FRSA, Founder of NoTosh.com.
RSA Animates have proven irresistible intellectual nuggets for many “grown ups”, and evidence suggests they help us learn about topics better. But what about their potential for little ‘uns and teens at school?
RSA Animates can undoubtedly provide rich stimulus for learning, and the visual representation of abstract or complex ideas has become increasingly admired by educators all over the world. However, harnessing these clips successfully is not necessarily obvious or easy for educators who’ve not tried before.
RSA Animates have proven irresistible intellectual nuggets for many “grown ups”. But what about their potential for little ‘uns and teens at school?
WatchDrawThink is a new RSA Catalyst-supported project launched by Ewan McIntosh FRSA and colleagues Peter Ford and Tom Barrett FRSA at education firm NoTosh. The collaborative site aims to provide a space for teachers to share ideas, example lessons or projects where students use RSA Animates for their learning. The idea is that teachers will get inspiration on how they might use a whole or part of an RSA Animate video as an initial stimulus or part of an immersive discovery session on a given topic.
Why use RSA Animates in school?
RSA Animates have tended not to be used widely in school, perhaps because they handle genuinely complex cross-curricular knowledge. But it’s the very visualisation that is so tantalising, that also makes the comprehension of these complex areas of knowledge easier, and the viewer’s chances of retaining the message so much better. Professor Richard Wiseman’s own research study of RSA Animates showed that the visualisation used could help viewers retain up to 22% more information than had they just listened to the audio alone. You can watch Richard Wiseman and Andrew Park, the illustrator, talk about this at an RSA Event.
Support from Catalyst helped deliver an initial session with RSA Academies teachers in March, where the potential for their use within the English curriculum was confirmed. Teachers spotted relevance to the curriculum in areas as diverse as physical education (Dan Pink: The SurprisingTruth of What Motivates Us) and mathematics (Renata Saleci on The Paradox of Choice), as well as a blanket appreciation of their potential use in language arts, design and primary education.
WatchDrawThink’s first prototype
Launching as a prototype platform in time for teachers to get engaged in the last term of this school session, WatchDrawThink is crowdsourcing as many light-touch – or involved – ways as possible to harness three particularly rich RSA Animate clips in the classroom. Anyone, student, teacher or parent, can jump onto the site and add their innovative, short, sharp idea for handling a segment or whole clip to achieve a specific curricular goal or to create an engaging task with the clip.
Over time, based on how people use the site in the first couple of months, the website will also provide support from the NoTosh Team and RSA Academies with specific ideas and advice on:
- How to plan a competence-based unit of work or set of lessons that encourages student-led research on the back of an RSA Animate stimulus
- Different ways to use visualisation to express knowledge and understanding on a topic, à la RSA Animate.
How you can get involved
Teachers and students can get involved this term and see which of the RSA Animates might help you explain a new, complex topic in a simple way. Use the WatchDrawThink website, Twitter hashtag #watchdrawthink or Facebook page to share your own lesson outcomes (videos, images, texts, comments, blog posts) and share further ideas.
If you’re a parent or Governor, share the site with your child’s teacher.
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst
It’s nice to be able to show others our work, especially my grand parents who live far away. Laura Warick-Student
As part of my role within the RSA I am lucky to be able to constantly see the creativity of students of our Family of Academies. On a recent visit to Arrow Vale and Ipsley I saw some highly original and thought provoking pieces; this is of course true across many of the nation’s schools, youth centres and community spaces. At Whitley Academy the same is true. They are especially passionate about student artwork and creative thinking.
Staff, students and parents are really proud of the original and inspiring student work. It is great to share! Lorraine Allen-Principal
Milliner to the stars, Stephen Jones, visited the school for a day in early November of 2011 to advise pupils doing A-level Art and BTEC Art on how to design a hat. They handed in their finished designs as course work to count towards their final marks. Mr Jones designs hats for celebrities as diverse as Marilyn Manson and Beyoncé Knowles at his studio in London’s Convent Garden.
The Principal Lorraine Allen has been considering her students exceptional artwork and felt that students work should not be kept behind Whitley Academies four walls. She has been working with staff to create a belief that students should be working to “be the best they can be”. From then on it became a case of how student art work was shown to a wider audience and not when. The school worked in partnership with students and agreed that Whitley Arts would be developed as an online portal to promote and inspire current and budding artists from Whitley Academy. There are separate pages to promote work created by students in Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 along with an e-commerce page which allows anybody to purchase works of art that students have created in a range of different medium from postcards to A2 canvas prints.
Whitley Arts will underpin learning and interest in the Creative Arts at Whitley Academy by using student artwork as a focal point, and by encouraging a culture of innovation, inspiration, and personal development. The RSA/RBS report Disrupt Inc. highlights the need to allow young entrepreneurs to develop in their own way. Hopefully Whitley Arts will help open students eyes to the possibility of creating work that is admired and coveted by the public in the future. Through negotiations with artists and the Academy it was agreed that artists would receive 25% of the sale price of each piece sold with the remainder used to support the arts, the students, and their learning at Whitley Academy. Please visit the site to see some of the creative work developed by students.
I am sure our students are as proud as I am, especially as it is now no longer just our community who gets to see our students talent, but also an international audience. Miss Riach-Creative Arts Teacher
The RSA’s Family of Academies are continually looking at ways to improve student learning and enhance their experiences. If you have any ways of supporting the Academies in the arts or any other field then please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter where I’m @pickfordrich
Next month on the 18th of April we will be hosting our second Fellowship Roadshow. RSA Academy in Tipton will be opening its doors to Fellows who feel they can support the work of staff and students. Please contact me for more details.
I was struck by just how powerful the work of a few individuals can be to create and sustain an idea following a meeting recently with Ian Jamie, a Fellow and School Governor at Whitley Academy. Through personal experience and insight of the local situation he has begun to work with the Academy to help support Year 12 students as they begin to consider their next steps. Having experienced the power of support from a network of alumni and family friends as he developed his career he has seen the value of connectivity. Ian and the staff that are working with the 6th form are keen to take the best from their experiences to offer similar opportunities for 6th form students at Whitley Academy.
As students move into 6th forms, colleges and work the need to focus their minds is increasingly encouraged. Choices and decisions are looming and it is school, families and friends that offer support and advice. Recent work from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that young people and families rarely suffer from a lack of aspirations but what if students families and friends have limited experiences of the wide career options available?
At Whitley Academy Ian Jamie and the Academy staff will be offering further support to Year 12 students. He has worked with the school to create a programme to help students explore where they want to go after Whitley Academy. As Temi Ogunye notes in his blog about school networks it is important to “provide opportunities for [students] by creating the conditions within which useful connections can be made and enriching experiences can be had.”
This is the overarching aim for the work in Coventry. The Academy has identified career connections for all its Year 12 students. Through personal and community networks the staff and governors have begun to draw up a list of supporters to offer advice, encouragement and links with the world of work.
On Thursday 21st of March they will be taking the next step by hosting a targeted careers session for the 6th form to help foster these connections. Ian is hoping to encourage further support from another powerful network that we all know about. I have been tasked with seeking out a number of Fellows from our 27,000 strong network to offer support and time to students, so if you see email@example.com or @pickfordrich in your inbox you know what might be coming next. If you have any of your own ideas for supporting students across the RSA Academies then please contact me. The RSA will be running open roadshows at each of the sponsored schools across the next two terms. The first was held yesterday on Monday, 4th of February at RSA Arrow Vale and Ipsley Academies. Watch this space for a report about this event.
Just over a week ago we invited 40 student leaders from the schools in the RSA Family of Academies to come to the RSA to discuss student leadership and enrichment. We asked the students to prepare for the event by reflecting on what they thought student leadership was for, why it is important, and how it could be improved in their schools; and we asked them to do the same with regard to enrichment. Then at the event we mixed the students up so that they were all working with students from the four different schools – schools in Tipton, Coventry, Lambeth and Redditch – and asked them to draw on their thinking in order to discuss student leadership and enrichment. And, most importantly, to start to design innovative solutions to various student leadership and enrichment challenges. In fact, the main task for the students on the day was to design an innovative new enrichment activity that could be introduced in or across their school(s).
The event links to RSA Education’s three core themes: social justice, democracy, and innovation. We are determined to make sure that, regardless of the fact that schools in the RSA Family of Academies serve communities with above average levels of disadvantage, all of the students have access to worthwhile enrichment activities. We also want these activities to be as innovative as possible and one way to achieve this aim is to give the students themselves a say in how they are designed.
The event was a real success and the students engaged in some genuinely interesting discussions around what it means to be a student leader and what the point of doing enrichment activities is. They also came up with some great ideas for enrichment activities which could be introduced in the Family of Academies, and each school is currently in the process of selecting those which they would most like to lead on. I can’t divulge exactly what those ideas are because I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the result of the schools’ decision process, and, to be honest, the students made me take an oath of secrecy. But I can offer some reflections on what I think both the students and the RSA took away from the event.
Enrichment activities are those activities and experiences that students enjoy outside of the classroom which broaden horizons, develop new skills, and contribute to personal and social development. Part of the point of the event was to emphasise to the students that these activities can make a great deal of difference to their prospects and opportunities after school. The teamwork, creative, and project planning skills that you get from helping to direct your school play; the confidence, communication and public speaking skills you get from participating in a debating competition; or the spark of inspiration that you get from doing work experience at a law firm or going to visit an exhibition. All of these enrichment activities have the potential to be life-changing for young people. We wanted to make sure that the students understood this. Furthermore, we want the students at the schools in our Family to have access to innovative, exciting and challenging enrichment activities and the opportunity to contribute to their design.
We also wanted to make sure that the students understood how important it is to be a student leader and that there are ways to be a student leader outside of your student council. This is why we invited social entrepreneur and RSA Fellow Matt Kepple to speak to the students (read more about this here). Most importantly, we wanted to emphasise that student leadership is itself an enrichment activity and so the students should see the event as an experience designed to broaden horizons, develop new skills, and contribute to personal and social development. This is why the theme of the event was ‘Enrichment Though Student Leadership’: student leaders coming to the RSA to discuss enrichment and help to design new enrichment activities, gaining and developing new skills along the way.
One of the key things that we learnt from the students on the day is just how eager they are to engage with each other, not simply as students from different schools, but as fellow members of the RSA Family of Academies. Part of the aim of this event was to create this atmosphere of community and collaboration across the schools, but we did not anticipate that this would strike such a chord with the students. Almost all of the new enrichment activities that they designed involved the schools in the Family engaging with each other in some or other interesting way. It is clear that the students are keen to learn from and about each other. And it is clear that they can sense the great potential in bringing different schools with different strengths and weaknesses to work together – so can we.
Students leaving school today face a daunting set of challenges, not least a competitive job market and a crowded university admissions process. These circumstances put students under great pressure to make the right decisions, and a project funded by our Catalyst seed fund has tested a new approach to helping students think clearly and realistically about their options.
The Transitions Programme, led by RSA Fellow Ingrid Wassenaar, delivered a pilot programme working with four schools from the RSA Family of Academies. The starting point for Ingrid and her team (Zella King and Jon Harris) were the findings of Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education. One of her report’s central themes was the difficulty faced by students in navigating the complex system of post-16 options.
In such an environment, argues Ingrid, good information about options alone isn’t enough. “What are needed in order to process this extraordinary amount of information are thinking skills,” she says. “Young people need to strengthen their sorting, analytical, and interpretive muscles in order to stay focused on their dreams, weed out what is non-information, and assess what is really viable, really desirable, and really future-proof in terms of their unfolding careers.”
The team’s response was to provide six workshops focussing on the skills that young people need to make sound decisions. Four of these focussed on skill areas: creative problem-solving; critical thinking and feedback; personal networks and persuasive speaking. These were supplemented by two one-on-one sessions with students, one looking at their progress to date, and another at their future ambitions.
The report on the pilot programme (Word document) provides a rich seam of qualitative feedback from the students, many of whom seem to have found the programme useful in thinking more clearly about their options. Some of the responses hint at a deep uncertainty, with one student admitting: “I want to know what I want to do, and do it, not experiment. I’m unsure, not frightened, but not looking forward to the future.”
The session on personal networks showed me that who you know and who they know is interesting, analysing what kind of group you are in.
- student feedback
It’s clear from the feedback that the workshop facilitators initially struggled to persuade students of the worth of the programme. In particular, they questioned why the workshops (particularly those on problem-solving and critical thinking skills) were relevant to their career decisions. Once this had been overcome though, many students developed a broader view of their options. For instance, one commented: “The session on personal networks showed me that who you know and who they know is interesting, analysing what kind of group you are in.”
The single biggest issue with a project like this, as the project team acknowledge in the report, is that it is time-intensive and therefore expensive to deliver. The Catalyst funding provided support for travel, accommodation and materials, but no compensation for the facilitators’ time. For this reason, “the programme is unsustainable in its current form”. This said, in the context of the abolition of the Connexions careers service, the Department for Education has said that schools now have more freedom over how they deliver face-to-face careers advice. Ingrid will maintain the relationships with the RSA Academies, and would be keen to hear from any Fellows who are interested in helping develop the programme further (you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org).
More generally, though, Ingrid’s project shows how effective Catalyst can be in helping to test out a new approach to a social problem – if you’d like to know more, information on the fund and how to apply is available on our website.
Sam Thomas is the RSA’s Project Engagement Manager. Follow @iamsamthomas on Twitter.