Phil Morgan is Director of Creativity and Head of Human Technologies at ICHK
The thing I appreciate most about working at ICHK is the uncommon attitude to risk-taking, experimentation, and the very real possibility of failure in the pursuit of learning. If you don’t work in education you might not realise how genuinely unusual this is, especially within a culture which constantly reinforces the pre-eminence of academic success. (Ph.D Pizza delivery is an especially bizarre example of this).
If you work in design, you will know that ‘failing fast’ and ‘failing forwards’ are vital to progress. I like to use Deep Learning as an opportunity to take students through design processes, prototyping, creative problem solving and get them hands-on with tools and materials. As a card-carrying creative thinker and maker, I feel an exciting tension between the possibility of making something really cool, and the potential for it all to turn into an embarrassing train-wreck. It hasn’t yet…but it might! Not many schools make room for the possibility of things going awry, and this. I feel, is a huge mistake.
In preparation for this unit I became an unrepentant ‘dumpster diver’ assembling a pile of building site trash, a mound of unseemly objects:PVC and aluminium tubing, a broken classical guitar (Jackpot!!) pots and pans, bamboo offcuts, any thing that sounds nice when struck, with a view to building one-of-a kind musical instruments.
I like going into these units with a half-way decent idea, rather than a concrete, moment-by-moment plan, because there’s always going to be more than one way of going about a build, and I want to hear how the students think we should proceed. When done with a certain tolerance for uncertainty, deep learning always throws up surprises for the teacher. I set out with a product in mind and arrive somewhere similar, but also end up with a lot of unanticipated by-products. ‘Bamboo creativity’ began as materials and skills. We made a jungle gym, but the real learning was about teamwork, leadership, inclusion, and personal responsibility. With one day still to go, ‘The Neverheard Beforchestra’ is turning into a unit on autonomy and focus.
Deep learning continues to teach me as a teacher. I’ve been thinking a lot about what Aaron Eden refers to as ‘Gandalfing’. You might remember the scene in Lord of the Rings when the Hobbits are lost in the mines of Moria. Gandalf speaks to Frodo, points him in the right direction and then steps back to let the adventure continue. Knowing when to ‘Gandalf’ is a fine art, and I am learning to reign in the temptation to intervene, interfere and instruct, when I could instead be watching students grapple with problems for themselves – up to a point. Stepping back is not an easy thing to do.
The process of making from our imaginations, be it junk instruments or bamboo towers, is a potent metaphor for life. It usually goes quite well, but we also break things. We could have planned for contingencies, but we didn’t. We make mistakes. It didn’t turn out quite the way we thought it was going to, so we rethink and we do it over. In the end, we might achieve something, and there’s nothing more satisfying that an original thought made real.
You can enjoy the work of the Neverheard Beforechestra here.