Caucasian girls staring at cookies on table

What we can learn from big businesses

A large part of the national debate these days is focused on education, and specifically on increasing student performance, retaining teachers and curtailing higher number of absentees and dropouts. Only recently, the department of education in the UK pledged to invest £1.3 bn in teacher recruitment despite the recent PISA results and OECD findings making an example of the US and other countries, demonstrating that spending more on education doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in student achievement. Part of the issue is that the education sector has expanded dramatically over recent years, leading governments around the world to view education as a prime source of revenue. Additionally, the international race for better student assessment scores has led to fierce educational competition, both on a national and international level. In a fast-evolving landscape, can educational institutes look to top businesses to keep their heads above water? The trend is certainly on the rise in higher education, where more and more institutes are hiring corporate consultants to formulate successful business strategies. Could schools be next? To help you decide, we’ve selected the top three business strategies that could benefit schools.

 

Find your mission

Enter the hedgehog concept. First proposed by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, the hedgehog concept provides a step-by-step guide for institutions to identify their mission and then capitalise on it.

 

The idea is that the hedgehog might only really do one thing, but it does so exceptionally well: it excels at defence. No matter what the fox might do to catch the hedgehog, it simply cannot succeed and will always end up with some sharp spines in its face. The hedgehog’s simple strategy is what works best for it. Similar to this, an organisation is able to identify their mission by understanding what they do best or what works best for them, and then playing on those strengths. For example, if a school already enjoys a good reputation for science education, then that school’s mission would be to design programmes and activities that build on and celebrate that reputation. It can strengthen its science programme by forming valuable partnerships with EdTech companies and participating in science fairs and competitions on a national level. It can also provide extensive, updated training to its teachers so that they are kept aware of current developments in science teaching and potential tie-ups with leading institutions, offering students the chance to attend placements or career talks in the STEM field.

 

Embracing outliers

An outlier is defined as someone or something that is situated away from the main system, but in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he uses the word to define individuals with expertise, who have achieved such extraordinary success that they have come to define their own category of accomplishment – think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Robert Oppenheimer. So, how do we apply Gladwell’s concept to school education? Our version of embracing the outlier is aimed specifically at schools catering for unconventional student populations or facing certain challenges. The idea is to find the educational need in the community and address it. This requires good planning, organisation and the recruitment of appropriate staff in order to support this.

 

For example, Crays Hill primary school in Essex faces a unique challenge, in which all but two of its students belong to travelling families. Yet despite the various issues the school faces – the constantly changing student numbers, negative bias from the neighbouring community, finding staff that is willing to work with these challenges – the school has been praised by Ofsted for providing a “good quality of education”.

 

Blue ocean strategy

In Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne divide the market into two parts: red ocean and blue ocean. Existing markets form the red ocean, on account of everyone competing for a chunk of market share and bloodying the waters in the process. The blue ocean, on the other hand, is calm and clear because it represents markets that are either undiscovered or reconstructed – Cirque du Soleil is probably the best-known example of a blue ocean strategy, in which the circus concept was reconstructed to create an entirely new, successful market. But can this strategy be implemented in education? Well, it already has – through programs like the Granny Cloud, which connects voluntary educators around the world by Skype to children in remote places, where education isn’t always possible. For schools, a blue ocean would lie in areas that have not been properly explored before. Schools need to think about what they offer and how that offering differentiates them from the herd. It’s also a question of understanding and fulfilling needs in education that aren’t being met. A good example of this would be offering courses like advanced coding, or by offering technological workshops, where students are encouraged to build and design their own inventions. Schools could also promote study abroad programmes and organise unique internships through strategic tie-ups with institutions . But it’s not just about meeting student needs – addressing teacher needs, too, can be a way forward to an excellent education: provide teachers with quality educational resources (especially digital resources) lesson planning exercises and professional development courses.

 

There are many other business strategies schools can adapt to their specific needs once they have identified their mission. At its heart, business management is all about understanding the market, organisation and consumers – a valuable approach for any organisation that’s looking to better itself. Schools are no different. Addressing institution goals can help give teachers a better idea of the direction in which they are leading their students. Taking the time to address staff needs alongside student needs gives schools a better chance of a high success rate – not just in battling teacher recruitment issues, but also in addressing chronic absenteeism and dropout rates amongst students.

Coconut floating on the sea

Going coconuts for citizen science

What do you do if you’re a team of geoscientists studying the behaviour of a commercially-important local river, but you don’t have the budget to buy fancy equipment? When Thom Bogaard and Rolf Hut of Delft University of Technology were faced with a similar problem, they came up with a simple solution, they enlisted the help of local students in making their own equipment: citizen science at its best.

 

Lacking access to expensive equipment, Bogaard and Hut have enlisted the help of locals in studying the water quality of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. They have been looking specifically at how the river “moves, mixes, how it might disperse and dilute pollution if faced with such a problem.” The duo attaches coconuts to colored balloons and a bicycle light (for visibility in the dark), before dropping them into the river. Local students posted along bridges then take note of when the drifters pass them by.

 

Why coconuts?

Here’s where the scientific thinking comes in: while making their own drifters, it was important to choose objects that would not be affected by the velocity of the wind. Coconuts were perfect because their density is almost the same density as that of water, meaning that the coconuts travel submerged just beneath the surface. Any movement is therefore driven by the water current only, rather than the wind. The team of scientists also came up with some other DIY devices, such as a waterproof plastic box containing a GPS tracker, data card and cell transmitter.

 

The benefit, of course, is not just conducting research with low-cost equipment. It is also a training of sorts for the dozens of local students involved in the project through “tinkering for data”, as Hut proudly describes it.

A young British boy in a business suit is standing on a pedestal looking through a hand-held telescope in the English countryside. He is looking for more business opportunities.

Now and next: the latest trends in education

Education is always evolving. Pedagogic techniques and classroom technologies constantly change and shift the manner and method by which we learn, and yet in many ways, we still need to catch up with ourselves. Modern classrooms still follow an industrial-age model, where the teacher stands up front and the students line up in rows across the classroom, all facing forward. Keeping both the excitement of new developments and the need for future change in mind, we’ve developed a list of the current and upcoming trends in education.

 

Blended learning

The rise of digital technology and particularly its growing popularity in the classroom has made the practice of blended learning ever more important. Blended learning is an excellent way for teachers and educators to begin making the gradual transition from traditional teaching to having technology incorporated into the classroom. Blended learning effectively switches things up in the classroom, encouraging students to really engage with curriculum topics. There are a number of ways teachers can use blended learning in the classroom: an educational film can be used to introduce a curriculum topic at the start of a lesson followed by discussion, or a topic taught in class can be reinforced through an online quiz. Blended learning also offers a degree of flexibility, in that it allows educators to experiment with different teaching methods such as the flipped classroomor class rotation.

 

Virtual reality

Think immersive. Virtual reality is the next exciting chapter of the digital revolution. From games to education, VR is already showing great potential in revolutionizing the way we learn, play and travel, as the three can all be easily linked. Projects like Google Expeditions allow teachers to take their class on virtual trips anywhere on this planet, and even beyond it. Additionally, the career expeditions allow students to step into the (virtual) shoes of various professionals to learn more about various careers in STEM.

 

Game time

There has been a fierce debate over the past few years about the advantages of gaming, especially in education. While some argue that can be distracting to actually help children focus, many experts believe games are conducive to learning. Games in education – or gamification, when combined with other hands-on activities and teacher instruction – can make for powerful learning tools. Games are hugely popular because they are engaging, fun and easy to access digitally – a medium that the younger generation is very familiar with. They also teach people problem solving skills, leadership abilities, determination and sporting integrity. Games such as Minecraft and the Angry Birds Math Game Time are already very popular with young children. Games can also be incredibly helpful in teaching children with learning difficulties. The recent advent of VR has made gaming even more popular and it’s only a matter of time before games will have be incorporated in classroom teaching.

 

Contextual learning

We at Twig have always been great believers in the merits of contextual learning, and with NGSS, there is definitely a movement towards this pedagogic technique. So what does contextual learning actually mean? Put simply, it’s linking what’s taught in the classroom to the wider world. (You can read more about it here). A great way of contextualising learning is to introduce a subject – for example, the scale of the universe – by way of a film. A discussion is then held in class around a question (How do we know how big the universe is? How do we compare it?), before students explore that question on a school trip to a planetarium. Here, they would collect photos or notes as evidence, and then back in the classroom, they would share their findings in individual or group answers. The teacher can then review their findings by playing the film back. Has their understanding changed since they were given the opportunity to contextualise their work?

 

As well as encouraging students to link their theories to the workings of the real world, contextual learning helps foster curiosity and expand understanding.

 

Communication and social skills

IT has changed how we seek out and take in information at lightning speed. Schools are adopting the use of digital resources, too, with many educational resources available online to students and parents. In the very near future, schools will have to seriously evaluate the skills they teach children at school in order to counter problems such as chronic absenteeism, student boredom and dropout rates. There will also be a shift in values and skills that are learnt in schools. Already, the successful PISA ratings of countries such as Finland have thrown a spotlight on the importance of teaching children good social and communication skills. The rise of technology should encourage us to place a huge importance on the development of these essential skills. Online learning has its drawbacks: it can be isolating, dampening children’s social and communicative skills, which are essential in the workplace and indeed in personal life – we need good communication for business as well as interpersonal relationships. Important social skills such as empathy, responsibility, and an ability to work in a team are essential for a well-functioning society: skills that neither technology nor the Internet can teach young people.

 

IT has changed how we seek out and take in information at lightning speed. Schools are adopting the use of digital resources, too, with many educational resources available online to students and parents. In the very near future, schools will have to seriously evaluate the skills they teach children at school in order to counter problems such as chronic absenteeism, student boredom, and dropout rates. There will also be a shift in values and skills that are learnt in schools. Already, the successful PISA ratings of countries such as Finland have thrown a spotlight on the importance of teaching children good social and communication skills. The rise of technology should encourage us to place a huge importance on the development of these essential skills. Online learning has its drawbacks: it can be isolating, dampening children’s social and communicative skills, which are essential in the workplace and indeed in personal life – we need good communication for business as well as interpersonal relationships. Important social skills such as empathy, responsibility, and an ability to work in a team are essential for a well-functioning society: skills that neither technology nor the Internet can teach young people.

 

Breaking away from convention:

The rising influence of PISA scores and the growing concern of nations all over the world about how to prepare an efficient future workforce has made educators push for major changes in the schooling system. Educational experts are currently evaluating the importance of school schedules, curriculum, and even nutrition! These changes are already reflected in Finland’s decision to scrap many traditional subjects in an attempt to integrate more interdisciplinary learning. The introduction of NGSS is already changing the way science is being taught, with the emphasis being laid on contextualising science within the real world in an effort to groom every student into a responsible, intelligent and active citizen of the planet. It won’t be long before more exciting changes revolutionise schools and universities, too.

This nerdy chimpanzee is thinking really hard for a solution.

Five pedagogies that are every teacher’s best friend

Being a teacher is hard work. Lesson planning, project planning, class management, administrative duties, marking, managing deadlines, student motivation, parental expectations… The list goes on.

 

On top of this are the new pedagogic techniques that need to be integrated into the classroom. How do teachers find the time to digest all this information? To help you save time and energy, we have picked out and demystified the top five pedagogies that will help you in the classroom and make your life easier.

 

1. Blended learning

What it is: Blended learning is a method of teaching where active, engaged online learning is combined with traditional classroom teaching.

 

How it works: Teachers can start by introducing a topic in class with a short educational film. They then divide the class into small groups to discuss the film, which helps the teacher to gain an insight into student understanding. Each group then goes on to present what they have understood to other groups. Alternatively, teachers can assign an activity or quiz to each group to assess the class’s level of understanding.

 

Why it works: Blended learning changes the way students think and learn by transforming them from passive recipients of knowledge to active generators of knowledge. It can also help to encourage quiet or shy students to interact with each other and with the class as a whole. Similarly, teachers can use blended learning to keep a noisy, difficult class engaged and focused.

 

2. Flipped classroom

What it is: If you follow our blog regularly, you’ll know that we at Twig World are passionate about integrating the flipped classroom approach. Flipped classroom reverses the way that information is delegated – students watch short films (for example) at home before engaging in comprehension activities in the classroom.

 

How it works: Teachers use a lesson which they would have traditionally taught in the classroom and give it out as an online homework assignment. This can be in the form of a video, slideshow or some online reading. Teachers then discuss the content with students or assign exercises based on the homework film in class to see how much the students have understood.

 

Why it works: A flipped classroom is an excellent way to develop students’ reasoning and thinking skills. It encourages students to process information and draw their own inferences. In addition, flipped classrooms can prove very useful in leveling the field for students with learning difficulties, as it allows each student to view, pause and rewind the film as many times as needed in order to understand the topic.

 

3. Contextual learning

What it is: As the name suggests, contextual learning focuses on providing theoretical learning within real-world scenarios.

 

How it works: Teachers introduce a topic in class, through either a traditional lesson or through a film. The class is then encouraged to try to contextualize the topic with recent happenings. For example, a film on earthquakes can be an introduction for students to start thinking about this natural phenomenon and where they occur: research will soon reveal that they are frequent around the edges of tectonic plates, in locations like Japan, Indonesia, and Southern California.

 

Why it works: Contextual learning opens up the classroom, allowing students to apply the knowledge they learn in class to the real world around them. It helps students understand concepts like cause and effect and the interconnectivity and broader application of science. Contextual learning can also be easily integrated within other pedagogies such as the flipped classroom or 3D learning, during which teachers assign students to find out more information about the real-life event and present it in class.

 

4. Differentiated learning

What it is: Differentiated learning recognizes that each student has their own individual style of learning. The National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum defines it as “a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent is to maximise each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is… rather than expecting students to modify themselves for the curriculum.”

 

How it works: Differentiated learning requires teachers to do a fair bit of background research into students’ histories and learning styles. Once teachers have assessed their students’ ways of learning, they need to go through the curriculum and identify topics that can be tailored to differentiated learning. After this, it becomes a question of creatively incorporating these concepts to different teaching styles. For example, you might have a large group of students in the class who are creative – these students can be taught the parts of a flower by making paper flowers in class. Equally, children who love sports can be taught laws of motion through ball games.

 

Why it works: Differentiated learning allows students to learn in the way that suits them best, allowing them to grasp a concept completely. While it’s not always possible to cater to every learning style at the one time, a differentiated instruction can be a change for the classroom and extremely rewarding in helping students with learning difficulties learn alongside their other classmates. It also makes for a fun lesson!

 

Class Rotation (whole and group)

What it is: Class rotation involves one of two options: the entire class can switch between online and classroom activities (whole class rotation) or the students can be divided into groups, and each group was given a different activity (group rotation). In the second option, the teacher visits each group individually.

 

How it works: During whole class rotation, the teacher introduces a topic to the entire class via an educational film or online activity before opening up a discussion of the topic for the whole class. This is then followed by the teacher assigning an exercise or quiz to each student. The idea is for the teacher to move through various activities with the class as a whole.

 

During group rotation, the teacher introduces a topic to the whole class via a film, then divides the class into groups of four or five students. Each group is assigned a different online task. For example, one group may be given an online quiz, while another might be tasked to read an article for discussion. The teacher visits each group in turn to check their progress.

 

Why it works: Class rotation is a good way to manage a big class and keep students occupied and focused on the task at hand. It breaks monotony, and encourages active learning. Group rotation also helps a teacher give each group one-on-one attention.

 

Each of these pedagogies involve the teacher acting as a guide, shifting the responsibility of learning to the students. This type of approach not only eases the pressure on teachers, but also helps students to take an active part in learning. They develop important collaborative, problem-solving, rationalising and reasoning skills as a result.

 

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Barriers to a good education: what holds us back?

Education is a fundamental right of every child in the world. It is an essential step to preparing young people to become responsible, informed and knowledgeable adults. Education is also the only means we have to fight global hunger, poverty, unemployment and inequality. Teaching a child how to read and write is essential, but it’s not an education in itself. A good, well-rounded education instills a lifelong love for learning, curiosity and the ability to critically question scenarios and rationalise solutions. It is inclusive of good social skills, communication skills, values and knowledge. And yet, not every child in the world receives even a basic education, far less a good education. According to Unicef, around 25 countries in the world have lower than 80 percent net attendance. In order to change these statistics, we first need to understand why this is. There are several factors that prevent children from getting a good education all over the world. Here, we look at a few:

 

Poverty

Poverty and a lack of quality education are locked in a vicious cycle. While education can help to combat poverty, many children are constrained from receiving an education precisely because of their impoverished backgrounds. According to UNESCO, low and middle-income countries consistently show that children from poorer households, ethnic minorities or rural areas are significantly less likely to make the transition from primary to lower secondary school and from lower to upper secondary school. They are also more likely to be delayed in their progression through grade levels.

Poverty adversely affects young people on multiple levels: good quality learning resources are seldom affordable and are therefore inaccessible, and poor nutrition can cause impaired cognitive and physical development. Children from impoverished backgrounds can also suffer in terms of language development. In her book Educating the Other America, Susan Neuman states that “children who are poor hear a smaller number of words with more limited syntactic complexity and fewer conversation-eliciting questions, making it difficult for them to quickly acquire new words and to discriminate among words.” The latest PISA report found that the number of young people from impoverished backgrounds miss school four times more than their peers who come from more well-off backgrounds.

 

Mental health

Mental health disorder is a term used to describe any condition that disrupts a person’s mood, thought or behaviour, often for long periods of time. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders are all common mental health issues. Research shows that roughly 20% of the world’s children and adolescents suffer from mental health problems. In 2016, it was reported that one in fivechildren in the US suffers from a mental disorder in a given year, while in the UK, teachers across the country have reported that students as young as four years old are suffering from depression, panic attacks and eating disorders. The good news is that with early intervention and help, most can overcome these difficulties successfully. Causes of mental disorders can vary, but stem from parental problems, media and cultural pressure and examination stress. The most common barriers to finding appropriate support are considered to be a lack of capacity in an already small number of local services coupled with strict budget constraints.

 

Gender disparity

Differences in gender perceptions and bias in education  particularly within STEM subjects – has been a cause of concern for educators for a while now. Girls grow up surrounded by social and cultural perceptions that tend overwhelmingly to promote low self esteem and doubt of their own capabilities. Stereotypes associated with girls and technology – such as the idea that girls can’t code, or that boys are better at science and maths – affect female students at an early age. Research now shows that girls as young as six associate men with brilliance, while a recent OECD report showed that gender differences don’t disappear, even in the best-performing students of advanced levels. Again, teachers are hugely influential when it comes to promoting STEM amongst their female students and encouraging them to take on more leadership roles at an early stage.

 

Conflict

In no other place is the importance of education more prominent than within conflicted and war-torn countries. Education is key to a country’s progress, but in war zones it also provides hope for the future of that country by way of conflict resolution. Education can also provide much-needed stability to those within conflict zones.

Malala Yousafzai is just one example of the many young people struggling to educate themselves in conflict-ridden countries, where attacks on education are common. Unicef released a statement saying that “More than 25 million children between 6 and 15 years old, or 22 per cent of children in that age group, are missing out on school in conflict zones across 22 countries,” and other figures show that just 2% of humanitarian aid is dedicated to education. A similiar plight is also faced by refugee children who struggle with serious issues of displacement, poverty and trauma. Several organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and the World Economic Forum, have since written about steps that countries and donors can take to secure more educational opportunities for refugees from war zones.

 

Learning difficulties

The term “learning difficulty” is used to define a huge number of neurological conditions that impair or affect the ability to process information and acquire new skills. Children can live with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD or ADD, but should this affect their right to a good education? Absolutely not. Despite persistent stereotypes, people with learning difficulties are often incredibly brilliant in a particular skill. Some of the most famous and talented people have learning difficulties. Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps has ADHD, and used his love for swimming to help him focus, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad has dyslexia, and both Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are believed to have lived with Asperger’s Syndrome. The Mental Foundation estimates around 286,000 children below the age of 18 in the UK have a learning disability. While there is no guarantee that kids with learning difficulties will attain fame and fortune, they should still be able to receive a good education. The first step is to obtain a diagnosis: each learning difficulty is different and needs special support. Patience, too, is vital: children with learning difficulties often act out due to confusion, frustration, or simply not being able to focus – but shouting, punishing and criticising will only ever make matters worse. It is important to allow children with learning difficulties time and space to learn at their own pace. Educational films and games are invaluable here, as they allow young people to improve focus by actively engaging with the content. They can adjust their pace by rewinding, fast-forwarding and pausing as and when they need to.

Desctop with paper context menu saying: Edit. Still life with stationery and office supplies.

From blackboard to iPads: has education changed for the better?

Education has come a long way through the ages. Socrates liked to ask probing questions, encouraging his students to draw their own conclusions, and Aristotle walked the cloisters of the Lyceum, holding lengthy discussions with his students. Public education as we know it was conceived sometime in the 19th century, between the enlightenment period and the industrial revolution, and as such was driven by both intellectual concepts and economic needs: a model that experts today call factory-based.

 

Any discussion on how education has changed is a lengthy one, spanning shifting pedagogies and classroom cultures, and should also involve an analysis of the educational policies and cultural attitudes over the years. But perhaps the most engaging and relevant of these factors is the method of instruction, for it is by far the most visible (and measurable).

 

Educational technology was first introduced in the 1960s by Seymour Papert in the form of the Logo Programming Language. Developed in collaboration with Jean Piaget – a renowned psychologist – Logo was developed to teach novices, including children, programming. Since then, technology has been seeping into education steadily, even more so in the past few years. At first, technology was seen as a supplement to traditional teaching methods, with students queueing for their turn to have a go at Microsoft Word; today, technology is fast becoming integral to the classroom.

 

In recent years, many schools have taken steps to integrate technology into the curriculum, usually by acquiring more electronic tablets. Yet modern technology moulded to a conventional curriculum can do very little to transform the learning experience effectively. Over and again, research has indicated that in order to maximise the benefits of using technology in the classroom, the technology actually has to be used correctly. In particular, it must support the following key components of learning: active engagement, contextualising curriculum topics within real-world problems, frequent classroom interaction with opportunities for feedback, and the ability to build on existing knowledge. There is also the valid concern that it can actually prove detrimental in the classroom, with arguments surfacing that technology actually functions more as a distraction than a help. Some have also expressed concern that a generation dependent on technology is less inclined to think critically, choosing instead simply to look up answers online. So, has education changed for the better? Or has technology made it worse?

 

There are some strong arguments for the former: One study, by IT trade association CompTIA, shows that around 75% of educators believe technology to have a positive impact in the education process. Another, conducted in Auburn, Maine, shows that kindergarten students using tablets scored higher on literacy tests than those who did not. Finally, research conducted by The Open University states how, used correctly, ICT can improve student achievement and creative thinking skills, while also saving teachers time.

 

Studies aside, a lot of it really comes down to practical sense. Students today, often dubbed as millennials, grow up actively using technology – by the time they reach school, they are already competent users. For these children, entering a classroom modelled on 19th-century ideals, learning from a blackboard is both uninspiring and tedious. Another point to consider is this: how else can we prepare future generations to be competent and successful in a digital age without integrating technology at the basic classroom level? Like every instructional method, technology too has had its share of teething problems, but the key to overcoming these lies in using it correctly. Already, newer inventions are replacing older models, with virtual reality being the latest entrant to the arena. Handwriting, encyclopaedias and dictionaries are fast becoming a thing of the past, with more and more students doing their homework digitally and looking up their sources online. Technology has also allowed students in remote countries to gain access to quality education through initiatives such as the Hole-in-the-Wall Education Projectthe “granny cloud” and Twig Box.

 

While we are still a few years away from a curriculum overhaul (although the NGSS framework in the US is a major step closer in that direction), technology has allowed educators and teachers to keep up with the progress in the real world and move forward – and that can only be a good thing.