Author Archives: brett

‘Do It. Post It.’ A calendar for artists in need of a little inspiration.

Last year, my mother (who is and has always been an artist, primarily a painter) was enrolled in a TAFE course that had her doing everything from painting and drawing to ceramics and printing. While the material was very basic, it gave her the nudge needed to get her out of the house (or garden) on a regular basis and into her studio to actually ‘do some art’.

In their infinite wisdom, the government decided to axe the course as it was apparently not one that would lead to viable workplace prospects. Leaving my mum (and other students) without a source of inspiration, support, challenge and structure that had become over the year an important part of their artistic process.

For Christmas I wanted to try and at least give a little of that back, provide some impetus over the coming year to get her back in the studio. The result was ‘Do It. Post It.’, a calendar where every month presents an artistic challenge – something to do over the course of the month and then post on Faceboo0k. I also created a Facebook community so that she could potentially share it with others and they could collectively upload and share their efforts.

She seemed to like it, so I thought I would put the calendar up here in case anyone else felt the need for a little inspiration. Download it, print it, do it, post it. Join the community. Share it with your friends. Make your own version. Whatever helps bring a little more art into the world.

ADEC Conference and Parents in the Classroom

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the ADEC (Australiasian Democratic Education Community) annual conference. It was hosted in the delightful Pine Community School in Brisbane, and included a range of great speakers and experiences.

As part of the conference I had the opportunity to run a session on the role of parents in the classroom (download a summary of the session outputs). With a mix of educators and parents in the room it was a insightful workshop that will be particularly useful in my ongoing work on a parent education program.


‘Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action’, (Massey and Snyder, 2012)

It’s always nice to be cited by other authors, particularly when they are writing interesting work. This is definitely the case with a fascinating analysis of Occupy Wall Street on Design Observer.

Check out ‘Occupy Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action‘ by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder (who tip the hat to my paper on digital repertoires of contention in their discussion of the online elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement).

Some Assembly Required – Teaching in a Constructivist Context

This morning, my son Jem walked – arguably for the first time. By this I mean that he confidently took several steps in succession without our intervention. It won’t go down in his baby blog however, because it didn’t meet the exacting standards of ‘first steps’ that stipulate no supporting devices – he pushed his little block cart which provided enough resistance to allow him to walk.

Watching this reminded me that walking is not something we do by ourselves (and I owe a debt here to Andy Clark amongst others). When Jem walked this morning, it was actually an ‘assemblage’ that did the walking;

  • the particularly cute little boy
  • the shoes his grandmother gave him yesterday that have nice, large, flat soles
  • the cart with its handle at just the right height, and
  • the rough, uneven stones in the backyard. Only within the balance of this whole system could ‘walking’ occur.

This was emphasized when we came back inside and the kitchen floor was too smooth, allowing the cart to roll away from him. I took a screwdriver and tightened the wheels until they would not turn, and once again he was able to ‘walk’.

This broader perspective of walking is not only relevant to those of us learning to walk. We all believe we can walk, but how many of us can walk in ice skates, or on top of a moving train. It’s easy to forget that everything we do, we do as part of a larger assemblage of parts that include not only ‘ourselves’, but other objects and other people.

Taking this perspective raises questions about how we should teach. If we (as pure individuals) never do anything, except in association with other elements, how does this change what we should do ‘in the classroom’. Some of the answers are obvious – there are certain partial assemblages that are socially important, such as using a pen or pencil, and we spend time building those connections through rehearsal.

Beyond the purely physical, the idea of assemblage can be extended into social and academic spheres – and here we arrive at something very close to constructivism (which progressive educators since Dewey have been espousing). Our notion of the lone scholar, independent of any external resources, may be exactly what our ‘exam culture’ focuses on – but it is a completely unrealistic depiction of any reality!

The work we do in life – from physical to social to intellectual – is always done as part of an transitory assemblage of heterogenous parts. Just as important as building any ‘internal’ skills within the individual is nurturing our ability to engage and articulate with other people and things in order to create and maintain productive assemblages. This should be a focus for our teaching.

Two simple examples of this are optional resources and project based group work. The former involves setting tasks (often in mathematics) and providing various aids (from physical blocks to drawing apparatus to calculators, as is appropriate) that students are encouraged to access if they wish to. By placing the onus on the student (rather than dictating what tools must be used) students learn to create assemblages that are most suited to arriving at a solution.

The second example involves bringing together small groups (about four students in the case of primary aged students) for defined projects. By doing this repeatedly, students build their understanding of assemblages that include other people. They learn about the kind of people they work well with, and what types of productive output will be created by engaging with different people in different ways.

While these are only two very simple examples, they point to a type of fluid, student-focused classroom that spends less time putting knowledge into kids’ heads, and more time letting them discover, experience and learn from new ways of coming together with other students, tools, and bodies of knowledge. In this process of forming, maintaining and dissolving assemblages, they will be developing critical competencies for existing in our complex, heterogeneous and interdependent world.

Why don’t we need to teach kids creative thinking skills?

Recently I spent some time pondering what interesting units I could develop for teaching in an upper primary classrooom. I wanted to do cool, engaging stuff that challenged the class and gave them some skills that they wouldn’t typically be exposed to. One possibility that sprung to mind was creative thinking. I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to teach creativity professionally now and then, and it’s one of my favourite things to teach. This weekend I’m travelling to Japan with a colleague to run a two day workshop on creative ideation for executives at Japanese ad agency Dentsu. We teach techniques for lateral thinking, generating truly innovative ideas, and creating cultures and spaces where that kind of thinking can occur. I figured that surely this kind of stuff would be interesting for kids.

When I thought about it a little more, I was surprised to realise that these were probably skills of little use to a primary school student. Understanding the work that they do day-to-day, I decided that creative thinking skills were clearly something that would be needed later – not in the primary classroom. We ask students to write imaginative stories, to solve challenging maths problems, to research topics, and to make arguments – but rarely if ever do we put them in a position where they are required to think creatively, to develop original and innovative solutions.

It was only later that I started to wonder whether this was not perhaps the symptom of a greater problem. Dentsu are flying us to Japan for the weekend because, like so many companies, they believe that creative thinking is critical to their future success. Business leaders consistently bemoan the difficulty of hiring creative thinkers and stress the importance of creativity as a business differentiator. Given this, should we perhaps be concerned that – even in the early years of schooling – we are not creating opportunities for students to engage with these kind of challenges, and build skills in an area that appears to be a powerful asset in contemporary society?

Skills for the 21st Century

If you’ve been wondering just what we should be teaching kids to prepare them for a future of jet-packs and hover-boards, the folk at the Buck Institute for Education have the answer. Back in 2008 they audited more than ten separate academic and policy educational frameworks to identify important ’21st Century Skills’. You can check out the result here (including downloading their notes on where in each of the contributing sources they are drawing from).

Cutting to he chase, the skill domains and sub-components they propose are…

ICT Literacy

  • Information Media Literacy
  • Technological Literacy

Cognitive Skills

  • Critical Thinking / Problem Solving Skills
  • Creative Thinking Skills

Inter-Personal Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Social Skills

Self- and Task-Management Skills

  • Self-Monitoring / Self-Direction Skills
  • Project Management Skills

Personal Characteristics

  • Ethics / Civil Resposibility
  • Accountability (for High Standards)

Why I’m still pro KONY2012

I don’t know enough about African politics to know how great an evil Joseph Kony is.
I don’t know enough about charity financials to critique Invisible Children’s accounts.
But I do believe the KONY2012 campaign was an important moment, and indeed a force for good.

We are supposed to live in a democracy, for the most part. That doesn’t just mean we get to put a ballot in a box once every few years. It means that we, as the people, get to contribute to the way our society operates. And an important part of any democracy is the people understanding the mechanism through which they can exercise that power, and believing that power is real.

Once, we believed that we truly exercised that power through voting. In its purest form democracy is driven by the popular vote and our elected officials. And that still plays an important role. But last century many lost faith in government and we saw the emergence of protest movements. A new generation found power through new means – the march, the sit-in, the hunger strike… the tools of the protest generation.

The anti-war protests during the Howard years were a clear demonstration that the protest era – the time of ‘people power’ in that sense – was past. Social movements that wished to contest the actions of their government had to find new ways to do so. When groups of citizens decide to act on their beliefs and try and change things for the better, they draw on a ‘repertoire of contention’ – a set of tools and techniques for bringing about change. This repertoire is constantly evolving – we see new types of organisations, and new ways of contesting power. The protest march was an 19th century European innovation in response to particular situations that then diffused around the world to be deployed by many groups in many contexts.

I believe the KONY2012 campaign is significant not because of the impact it had around a particular issue, but because of the way it expanded the repertoire of contention. It showed us how affordable, accessible skills can be more successfully deployed to engage people and work toward change. It pulled aside the arcane black curtain of marketing a little, to democratise some of the techniques and strategy previously reserved for corporate advertisers.

The largest impact of KONY2012 will not be the swelling of Invisible Children’s coffers. It won’t be the additional international pressure on Joseph Kony. It won’t even be the dramatic increase in engaged popular discourse around Uganda, and Africa more broadly. The largest impact of the campaign will be the way it influences the next Amnesty campaign. The elements that find their way into the next World Vision campaign. The communications thinking that starts to inform the work of local action groups and special interest lobbies.

You might not agree with what all these groups are working to achieve, but their ability to draw on tools that provide access to power is what breathes life into democracy. In a time when people are increasingly disaffected with party politics, as we explore new ways of shaping tomorrow, we are best served the broadest repertoire of contention possible .

Who knows, you may need it one day too.

The shape of Exemplar Learning

So I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about Exemplar Learning recently, trying to get down on paper as simply as possible what it is I actually want to do, and what the key principles underlying it are. This de-waffling is critical obviously as I try to move toward actually starting to build the organisation and engage others with the vision – they need to actually know what the vision is!

While the graphics are a bit cludgy, this shows how I see the organisation functioning – the creation of experiences at the core and then the amplification of that through a range of channels and activities to engage key audiences, from policy makers to parents.

In terms of how the experiences are innovative and progressive, this diagram outlines the core tenets of the philosophy of Exemplar. On the basis of these ideas, the experiences will then be shaped.

TEDxYouth@Sydney videos up on the site!

I was delighted to notice that the lovely folk at TED have found a handful of the TEDxYouth@Sydney videos that we shot and linked to them from the site. It’s awesome to see our fantastic young speakers and performers up there, in the midst of all the other great TEDx content. Congratulations guys!

Check them out at