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This is a guest blog from Amy O'Toole, an A Level student at Kingsbridge Community Academy in Devon. In 2010 she became one of the world's youngest published scientists for her work on the Blackawton Bee Project. The 'Blackawton Bees' paper is now the second most read paper of the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters. Amy is one of the youngest people to speak at a TEDGlobal event, has hosted her own TEDx event and recently spoke at the ISTE 2015 conference in Philadelphia.

Amy spoke recently at the Reimagining Education for Human Creativity event in Dartington in April. This is what she said: 

Lots of you attending today are teachers, which means some of you would have been asked by a student before an exam “Why am I not allowed my mobile phone in my exam?”  As teachers, that must seem a ridiculous question since it means that students are no longer required to “learn” in the standard fashion. Learning is most commonly seen as a student being taught a fact, memorising that fact and then recalling and writing that same fact down in an exam. But is this still relevant to modern day learning? Having access to the internet is vital in most aspects of the modern day student’s life, so why, on the one day we most need our mobile phones, are we denied them? For the rest of my life, there is a high probability that I will have my phone with me at all times, but I’m not allowed it when it could be of real use and it actually could help to define my future. 

Education changes constantly, as we all know. Planning is a nightmare for teachers who are working within the constraints of the latest White Paper. So how about we go off piste sometimes? How about we think outside the box, outside those constraints sometimes?

Let’s look at learning now as, say, baking a cake. As a student, if I was given a recipe by a teacher and asked to make a cake, then I could easily do it without even thinking about it. I’d just follow the instructions. However, if the recipe were to be taken away and replaced with a picture then I now have to think ‘OK. What ingredients do I need? Well, obviously, I need flour, cocoa powder, eggs, sugar and butter. But how much do I need of each ingredient?’ I have to start thinking about what I need to do in order to make this cake. Taking each individual component, combining them together and making a new substance. Isn’t that chemistry and mathematics in action? This type of hands on learning engages a student and makes them look at a subject in a completely new way. As Einstein said

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”

And isn’t this how we should be taught? To think for ourselves, to look at a problem and create our own method to finding the solution?

This forward thinking is exactly how a class of seven year-old students became the world’s youngest published scientists.  When I was in primary school I took part in a project called the Blackawton Bee Project to establish whether bees could ever possibly think like humans. We were very lucky that our then Headmaster, Dave Strudwick, who just happens to be here tonight, was forward thinking enough to see the amazing potential in this experiment. We were also very lucky to have Beau Lotto, an inspirational neuroscientist as our mentor. Our project used hands on learning to inspire us and made us realise that not all learning has to be done from behind a desk in a classroom. In fact very little of our project was carried out in the classroom – some of it was done in the pub!  We are extremely lucky to have so much space, so many resources in our world that we can, given the opportunity, create opportunity and excitement anywhere.

Maybe we could look at bringing more creativity, more free thinking, into our lessons and in particular science. New research shows that more than half (60 per cent) of 12-year-old girls in the UK think STEM subjects are 'too difficult to learn'. Whilst I can’t say for certain why very few girls pursue a career in science, what I can say is that the current teaching methods do not seem to be inspiring or attracting girls into science. So I ask the question “what might happen if we introduced more creativity into our science lessons? Would this be more appealing to girls”? If we are allowed to find our own rules, make mistakes, hopefully put them right, are we not training our minds to think? After all, the bee project had no rules, no predicted outcome, we basically made it up as we went along. It was fun. Let’s make science fun for everyone. Let’s making learning more creative. Let’s be more creative.


Georgina Chatfield, RSA Academies also spoke at the Reimagining Education for Human Creativity event and had this to say


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