The World’s Most Innovative Schools: HSRA, St. Paul, Minnesota (“Hip Hop High School”)

(in this video, HSRA’s founder explains what it’s all about)

by Alec Patton

I found out about the Hip Hop High School thanks to the High Tech High School – specifically, Samuel Steinberg Seidel’s article about it in Unboxed, High Tech High’s ‘Journal of Adult Learning in Schools’.

St. Paul, Minnesota’s High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA) is a chartered high school driven by project-based learning, and run on hip hop principles -interpreted by Seidel as follows (this is just a sampling – so to speak – of the design principles that he identifies): (more…)

May 12, 2011 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Love food, hate waste?

by Claire McEneaney

It’s no secret that we at the Innovation Unit are a bunch of foodies. There isn’t a week goes by without a tale of someone’s latest culinary invention or dining experience. Many of grow our own vegetables and we’re always swapping tales on how to get your veggies to have more va-va voom (tip: get a wormery!). We are also ardent recyclers, encouraging our building to go green, swapping all our printer paper to recycled paper, and using Boris bikes to get to meetings. So, when I discovered Love Food Hate Waste I knew I had to blog about it.

Love Food Hate Waste campaigns to raise awareness about the need to reduce the amount of food we waste. From all that off milk, mouldy bread, slimy bagged salad, and forgotten yoghurt pots, we throw away almost 8.3 million tonnes of waste food, which is a pretty astonishing amount. (more…)

May 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

e-Bay, social care and the Big Society

by Raj Cheema

Last month, Slivers-of-Time Markets launched a video about the impact their ‘e-bay’ software is having in the social care market. The aim of the video: getting the message across to central government that their work could be a powerful catalyst in encouraging volunteerism in the social care market – on a local level.

Slivers-of-Time Markets help organisations create an online market place where time from local people becomes the currency between time-seekers and time-givers. For example, Tesco use the Sliver of Time system as an over-booking system to enable their staff to pick extra hours of work. It lets shopworkers sign up for extra shifts in their own or other nearby stores when they have free time to do extra work.

Slivers-of-Time Markets was one of the projects that participated in Innovation Unit’s enabling independent living programme. The organisation wanted to adopt the online software for the social care market and, noting their high-potential in light of the personalising social care agenda, we connected them to six local authorities in London. By enabling individuals to contract directly with one another, Slivers-of-Time Markets opens up the labour market and places control in the hands of service users.

According to a recent report from a group of charities, nearly one in four disabled and older people have experienced cuts to services and increased charges for care, with families “pushed to breaking point”. In a survey conducted by charities including Carers UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Scope, more than a fifth of respondents said services had been cut back even though their needs had stayed the same.

In this video, Slivers of Time talk about their work with Hertfordshire County Council. Hertfordshire have a large group of elderly people who need support but fall below the elgibility threshold. The online system enables time-seekers to find local (vetted) volunteers who can donate some time and help out with isolated elderly people. The potential of this scheme to transform the way in which social care is delivered personally has recently been noted in the Local Government Chronicle and Community Care.

Slivers-of-Time Markets is now hoping the government will support a series of regional trials to encourage local volunteers to give some time and support local authorities in meeting the needs of the vulnerable. If ever there’s going to be a success story of Big Society in action during the recession – surely this has got to be a strong contender? Good luck Slivers – we have our fingers crossed!

May 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Calling for ideas to tackle local health problems in Birmingham

by Raj Cheema

Young Foundation is scouting for people with big ideas to tackle health problems in Birmingham. If you think you’ve got what it takes, here is your chance to put your hat in the ring and answer four questions:

1. Tell them about the health problem you hope to fix
2. Outline how your idea is big, bold and new
3. What support do you need to get your idea off to a flying start?
4. Who is involved in submitting the idea?

The ten most promising proposals will be invited to attend a ‘Big Idea Bonanza Festival’ on 1st July 2011. The festival will challenge teams to strengthen or create a business in a day, tap into specialist expertise and pitch to a panel of dragons for the chance to win up to £2,000 of start-up funding and bespoke business support.

To apply you must be a public sector employee, third sector organisation or resident of Birmingham or Solihull. They welcome applications from individuals, teams or established organisations looking to launch a new idea or grow an existing service. Closing date is Friday 17th June 2011.

Return completed application forms should be sent to Eleanor Cappell at or (you can also call her on 0121 380 9019/ 07956 317 236).

May 11, 2011 at 9:58 am 1 comment

People Powered Health – Innovation Unit working with Nesta on coproduction for people with Long Term Health Conditions

By Peter Baeck

This week saw the launch of NESTA’s People Powered Health programme.

People Powered Health is a new programme from NESTA, working with the Innovation Unit, to support the design and delivery of innovative services for people that are living with long term health conditions.

Over the next twenty months, it will provide investment and support to partnerships of commissioners, providers and consumers of health and social care services to develop innovative solutions that achieve better outcomes for people living with long term health conditions and reduce the pressure on health services.

The focus of the programme is the concept of coproduction – that people’s needs are better met when they are involved in an equal and reciprocal relationship with professionals, working together to get things done.  (more…)

May 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

4Children launch ‘Sure Start census’

by Claire McEneaney

Families charity 4Children has created a census to track the changes in services run by children’s centres across the country, as the removal of the ring-fence of funding kicks in. The online survey, sent to all Children’s Centre managers is part of 4Children’s ‘Shout out for a Sure Start’ campaign, which is dedicated to prmoteing the work done by Children’s Centres to support young children. Data collected by the survey will see Children’s Centres providing information on the number and type of staff they employ, the number of childcare places on offer, the balance of universal versus targeted servcies, and the extent of charges for services. Centres will then complete the survey annually, every March, and 4Children will track the changes. (more…)

May 5, 2011 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Harris Student Commission on Learning to launch its findings at the Whole Education event 16th May

by Alec Patton

Since 2008, over 250 students and staff in London’s Harris Federation of academies have conducted a major enquiry into teaching and learning methods (supported in part by Learning Futures). Students have interviewed experts on learning, spoken to students across the globe (via a Skype-enabled overnight ‘learn-over’), visited innovative schools in Britain and the US and tested different approaches in their own schools.

Now, at the Whole Education Whose Curriculum Is It Anyway?  event in London on 16 May, the commission is launching its ‘new design for learning’. (more…)

May 5, 2011 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

The big AV vote: have you made up your mind?

by Claire McEneaney

To AV or not to AV, that is the question. Tomorrow’s referendum sees UK citizens have their say in the kind of voting system we’d like to use going forward. As voters, we have a choice: either we keep the current system, first past the post, or move to a new voting system, the alternative vote.

This referendum has been hugely political, with various parties supporting either the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaigns. I can’t help thinking that all the political wrangling has muddied the waters around the vote on AV, making it a party political issue. Many people are surely going to be influenced the stance of the party they usual vote for, but even that isn’t clear-cut, with members from the different parties taking up individual stances on the issue. This is one referendum which certainly isn’t already straight-forward. (more…)

May 4, 2011 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

Learning Futures guest blogger: Schrödinger’s student

Guest blog post by Martin Said, Teacher at Cramlington Learning Village

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Our friend Erwin would say that the tree neither falls, nor doesn’t fall in the first place but that’s not really that helpful, or is it? So if a student is sent away to somewhere other than under the watchful eyes of their teacher, are they actually working and how do you know?

The answer is that you don’t – or at least you can’t know other than implicitly through your knowledge of the student and the training (yes, training) that you have given them.

Our school is heavily involved with Learning Futures and their themes of:

  • School as Base Camp (not just a location)
  • School as Learning Commons (with all users sharing access to and responsibility for its resources)
  • Enquiry Based Learning (by seeking out and evaluating information)
  • Extended Learning Relationships (i.e. reciprocal between adults and young people and supporting learning)

If we are to hold true to these themes then it seems sensible and right that we should open the door to our classroom from the inside, and that is what I try to do. I say try as there are a numbers of issues at play here. Firstly to some of you reading, letting students leave my classroom might seem a very natural thing to do. Indeed when I visited High tech High recently and observed a teacher ask her students “Shall we take a comfort break?” I found myself thinking “How humane!”

I am guessing though, that there are many of you who would worry at the thought of children wandering the corridors unsupervised. Well, you would be right to do so, because if children are simply wandering the corridors then we as teachers or actually more specifically in my practice, I haven’t got it right, and that is why I say try.

We are currently working with Year 8 students on making “sweded” (see the movie ‘Be Kind Rewind’) versions of movies on a shoestring budget. As part of the filming process they go out onto the campus with a camera and film. I don’t see any way that this type of exciting project can be done without opening the classroom doors from the inside. The trick though is in how you do this, and this is where I am still learning. Last week I “wandered” out onto the bridge over our school’s central street during the lesson to observe students filming a scene from Harry Potter using a huge chess board borrowed from a member of staff. It was a great picture to see the kids so engaged in what they were doing, except for one who was pulling faces at children in another classroom.

I have to say this is a pretty typical picture. The mistake we made was in not training the students in how to use the corridors and spaces. It is true that the majority do not need this training but for some they simply cannot handle the freedom or responsibility unaided.

I had a great conversation with a colleague who has loaned me some footage that he had shot clandestinely of a similar scenario, which he is now showing to his students before they go out to film. The effect he says is magical, as students are able to identify straight away what is right and wrong with the picture as it speaks for itself.

So, where does this time in the curriculum to train students come from? We must surely be losing valuable minutes that could be devoted to packing in knowledge and factual content rather than these soft skills. Well for us it comes from an inherent culture in the school that allows us to experiment, take risks and innovate.

Indeed, the scenario of kids wandering round the corridors unsupervised is entirely unacceptable, but the only word I would quarrel with is wandering. We must open our classroom doors from the inside and in turn let the outside in. We must allow our students to use our buildings on the proviso that it is purposeful.

If I may return to San Diego and High Tech High for a moment where children adorn the corridors and common spaces equally as much as their beautiful work. At the end of the first day I was really struggling to get my head around how they achieve such incredible outcomes. My problem was that I had observed lots of lessons, but saw very little actual teaching or pedagogy, in fact almost none.  It was not until days later that I was able to figure out that here was an inherent culture also, one of trust between adults and children, to the point where students were so independent that teachers were able to teach less. Now there is a beautiful paradox!

May 4, 2011 at 9:21 am 1 comment

The World’s Most Innovative Schools: Digital Study Hall, India

by Alec Patton

India’s “Digital Study Hall“, founded by a former headteacher, records teachers’ lectures and distributes them to schools in rural areas and slums, using what they call the “Postmanet” (in other words, they send DVDs by post). Every participating school is given a TV and a DVD player. I like this because of the way they’re working with the grain of existing technology. DVDs and TVs are readily available (often as a single unit), so they use them. The internet isn’t, as of yet, so they just use the post.

Once the DVDs arrive, students watch itwith a “mediator” in the room with them, who leads discussions and activities. The “mediator” may be a trained teacher, a local resident, or a student. At one Digital Study Hall, the Kannar afternoon school, one group of students attends the morning school for free in return for teaching others in the afternoon school.

Read More

Digital Study Hall website

May 4, 2011 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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