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Slide 1 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
What problem in
education would you
pay £1,000,000 to solve?
How the Millennium Prize problems could save us all
If there was a prize on the table of one
million pounds to solve an education
problem – what would be worth
solving?
I ask the question not because there is
a million pounds available (if only!)
but because there is something about
the focus and challenge that comes
from high profile valuable (and
difficult) challenges….
Slide 2 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the Millennium Prize problems could save us all
The best example of this is David
Hilbert [he of the monocle].
In 1900 Hilbert took to the stage in
Paris and gave a lecture in which he
outlined 11 problems that
mathematicians needed to answer if
their subject was to drive forward.
It is easy to believe that maths has
always been one simple subject – but
at this time it was quite fractured.
After the lecture Hilbert published 23
problems and these became a
motivator and focus for
mathematicians who began to work
purposefully toward solutions.
In terms of problems Hilbert described
one of the first ever set in the 17th
century. There a mathematician asked,
if a bead is threaded onto a wire at
one end and is dropped to move to
the other end, what shape of wire will
help get the bead from one end to the
other most quickly? (Laymans answer:
a bit of a curve).
Slide 3 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
What are education’s
touchpaper problems?
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
Hence, problems are situations in
which we are trying to figure
something out – they are not just
simply questions. And in schools we
face such problems all the time “How
do I…..?”
I therefore thought about creating a
list of ‘McInerney’s’ problems but
given no-one can say my name, that
seemed a bit daft.
So instead I’ve used the phrase
“touchpaper problems” – touchpaper
being the thing you light to set off a
firework.
Touchpaper suggests something that
burns the path towards an explosion
of activity.
So throughout the session, and into
the future, the question is: What are
education’s touchpaper problems?
I.e., What problems could we solve
that would “light the way”?
Slide 4 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
Ok – what led me to be standing in
front of you saying all this?
I was a teacher, in secondary schools
in East London.
I left a year ago to….
Slide 5 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Go and live in Missouri, where I am
starting a PhD
[And if you want to know what
Missouri is like it involves cockroach
racing, cow milking and rodeos – as
you would expect]
Slide 6
•Learning
•Social
Development
•Principles/Rules
•Justifications
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
As a teacher, I wanted to certain things
from research:
I wanted it to be about learning or a
child’s social development – so I either
wanted to know “how do I teach this
child this thing” OR “how do I help this
child develop a certain social skill –
confidence, etc”
Ideally I wanted principles/rules.
Something equivalent to fire, fuel,
oxygen for starting cars. Or ABC in
respiration.
Maslow & Bloom give some of this,
but we are discovering issues around
the edges with them, however until
other principles rise up they will
continue to be used.
Not only do I want principles because I
think they give a place to start (a sort
of “do this first” it usually works)….
But I also want them because of the
conversations about our ‘justifications’
that those principles can create.
Intuition is important and acceptable,
but as professionals if all we can say is:
“I only taught this way because I felt it
in my waters” then we close down the
potential for better conversations. If I
say “I think you should have done x”
and you respond with “well I feel it in
my gut that my way was correct” and
you don’t have any way to justify or
explain the principle on which you
based your decision then we are no
longer able to have a conversation in
which we could learn more.
To me: that is not professional.
Slide 7
•Timings
•Locations
•Methods
•Data
•Priorities
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
Unfortunately, as a researcher I tend
not to think about those things
I think about what sort of research I
can do that will work around school
timings, locations, and what sort of
methods or data will be accepted in
academic journals.
These priorities tend to push
researchers towards institutional level
research, or issues that are not about
learning and social development.
The ‘micro’ stuff that I wanted to
know as a teacher, vanishes.
Slide 8
How do we bridge the
Gap of Needs?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
So how do we bridge the gap between
researchers and teachers?
Slide 9 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
With cool and interesting problems
that can bring both sides today!
Now, I get that Maths is quite different
to education BUT there are some
surprising similarities:
For example, Hilbert argued that there
was a difference between the
operations that mathematicians
perform when working in the 23rd
dimension compared to the 5th
dimension. For that reason it would be
easy to argue that each person should
stick to their own dimension, however
Hilbert strongly believed that if maths
was to be pushed forward it needed to
be done systematically and
collectively.
As in education – we can argue that
this or the other context is different
and special and needs unique
solutions – but if we look carefully
there are likely to be unifying
problems too
Slide 10
Millennium Prize Problems
The Prizes were conceived to record some of the most difficult problems
with which mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second
millennium;
to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in
mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved
problems;
to emphasize the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest,
most difficult problems;
and to recognize achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude.
7 £1 million 1 – 7/2013
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
Also problems have added benefits.
In 2000, mathematicians came up with
a new set of problems – 7 of them –
only one of which has yet been solved.
They did so because:
- It showed that maths is hard
- It got public interest
- It showed that the frontiers of
maths were still open
- It highlighted the important of
working towards a solution
- And it honours the importance of
research and what an achievement
it is to solve things
Wouldn’t it be nice if we thought like
this in education too!
Slide 11
What other edge-of-
practice questions do
we have?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
BUT – I was still aware that maths
involves universal rules and laws, and
maybe education is not quite the
same….
So had other sectors used these types
of problems? And if so, what made
them successful?
Slide 12
v
Problems…..
In 1959 Richard Feyneman challenged
scientists to put the Encyclopedia
Brittanica on the head of a pin, with a
substantial reward for the person who
did it.
It took almost 30 years, but it focused
people on nanotechnology and drove
people to look at a topic previously
considered quite unsexy (people were
much more nterested in looking at the
stars, than pins).
Learning: Needs to be specific.
Slide 13
Challenges….
In Australia the Great Cane Toad was
originally released to eat another
species but there were soon too many
of them.
A competition with cash was
eventually stumped up and a trap was
eventually generated.
Learning: We have to look at the
general principle rather than just
intervention. The prize winner worked
out the weaknesses of the frog first
and then created the trap, whereas
the government had previously just
tried whatever they could using the
resources to hand.
We see this too much in education –
some ‘invention’ given to us – but
actually we need the principle so that
even if we can’t buy the invention we
can still use the knowledge.
Slide 14
Challenges….
TedMed is being spearheaded by
medical leaders across the world. They
have created “20 challenges” and are
carrying out events and forums to
discuss a variety of problems.
They are not looking for solutions
[see: even in medicine things are not
cut and dry].
This sounds great but this approach is
unlikely to help the teacher in the
classroom in need of principles.
Learning: Problems in our list need to
have a defined end-point, this may
mean some problems don’t fit, but a
‘nice chat’ won’t cut it.
Slide 15
What should education’s
touchpaper problems
look like?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
So what should our touchpaper
problems look like?
Slide 16
1. Specifically focused on cognitive
&/or social development
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
2. Principle not invention
3. A defined end-point
Slide 17
What are education’s
#touchpaper problems?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
[At this point people had a think of
their own problems that met the 3
principles – specifically focused on
cognitive/social development, gets to
the heart of a principle over an
invention, and has a defined end-
point]
Slide 18
What is the shortest period
of a time in which a person
with dyslexia can be taught
to spell the 1000 most
common words in English?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
This was my first attempt
Slide 19
If a child needs to remember
20 chunks of knowledge
from one lesson to the next,
what is the most effective
homework to set?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
This was my second attempt
Slide 20
Conclusion:
What are education’s
#touchpaper problems?
Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney)
How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all
At the end of the session people asked
if the questions had to focus on
cognitive/social development, or could
it broaden to institutional or more
philosophical questions?
In my view, the questions should not
do this. Researchers are already pulled
towards these questions and they do
not help the classroom teacher on a
day-to-day basis.
Even if we discover that single-sex
schools on top of a mountain are the
best, knowing that is not going to help
me if I teach both genders in a valley
school.
Likewise, we all have personal values
and philosophies, and we debate
them constantly – but time we spend
on that is time now spent solving the
solvable. There are things we could
find out if we decided to invest the
time in it, and I think we at least need
to retilt the balance towards these
solvable problems.

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Research ed presentation notes handout

  • 1. Slide 1 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) What problem in education would you pay £1,000,000 to solve? How the Millennium Prize problems could save us all If there was a prize on the table of one million pounds to solve an education problem – what would be worth solving? I ask the question not because there is a million pounds available (if only!) but because there is something about the focus and challenge that comes from high profile valuable (and difficult) challenges…. Slide 2 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the Millennium Prize problems could save us all The best example of this is David Hilbert [he of the monocle]. In 1900 Hilbert took to the stage in Paris and gave a lecture in which he outlined 11 problems that mathematicians needed to answer if their subject was to drive forward. It is easy to believe that maths has always been one simple subject – but at this time it was quite fractured. After the lecture Hilbert published 23 problems and these became a motivator and focus for mathematicians who began to work purposefully toward solutions. In terms of problems Hilbert described one of the first ever set in the 17th century. There a mathematician asked, if a bead is threaded onto a wire at one end and is dropped to move to the other end, what shape of wire will help get the bead from one end to the other most quickly? (Laymans answer: a bit of a curve).
  • 2. Slide 3 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) What are education’s touchpaper problems? How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Hence, problems are situations in which we are trying to figure something out – they are not just simply questions. And in schools we face such problems all the time “How do I…..?” I therefore thought about creating a list of ‘McInerney’s’ problems but given no-one can say my name, that seemed a bit daft. So instead I’ve used the phrase “touchpaper problems” – touchpaper being the thing you light to set off a firework. Touchpaper suggests something that burns the path towards an explosion of activity. So throughout the session, and into the future, the question is: What are education’s touchpaper problems? I.e., What problems could we solve that would “light the way”? Slide 4 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Ok – what led me to be standing in front of you saying all this? I was a teacher, in secondary schools in East London. I left a year ago to….
  • 3. Slide 5 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Go and live in Missouri, where I am starting a PhD [And if you want to know what Missouri is like it involves cockroach racing, cow milking and rodeos – as you would expect] Slide 6 •Learning •Social Development •Principles/Rules •Justifications Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all As a teacher, I wanted to certain things from research: I wanted it to be about learning or a child’s social development – so I either wanted to know “how do I teach this child this thing” OR “how do I help this child develop a certain social skill – confidence, etc” Ideally I wanted principles/rules. Something equivalent to fire, fuel, oxygen for starting cars. Or ABC in respiration. Maslow & Bloom give some of this, but we are discovering issues around the edges with them, however until other principles rise up they will continue to be used. Not only do I want principles because I think they give a place to start (a sort of “do this first” it usually works)…. But I also want them because of the conversations about our ‘justifications’ that those principles can create. Intuition is important and acceptable, but as professionals if all we can say is: “I only taught this way because I felt it in my waters” then we close down the
  • 4. potential for better conversations. If I say “I think you should have done x” and you respond with “well I feel it in my gut that my way was correct” and you don’t have any way to justify or explain the principle on which you based your decision then we are no longer able to have a conversation in which we could learn more. To me: that is not professional. Slide 7 •Timings •Locations •Methods •Data •Priorities Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Unfortunately, as a researcher I tend not to think about those things I think about what sort of research I can do that will work around school timings, locations, and what sort of methods or data will be accepted in academic journals. These priorities tend to push researchers towards institutional level research, or issues that are not about learning and social development. The ‘micro’ stuff that I wanted to know as a teacher, vanishes.
  • 5. Slide 8 How do we bridge the Gap of Needs? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all So how do we bridge the gap between researchers and teachers? Slide 9 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all With cool and interesting problems that can bring both sides today! Now, I get that Maths is quite different to education BUT there are some surprising similarities: For example, Hilbert argued that there was a difference between the operations that mathematicians perform when working in the 23rd dimension compared to the 5th dimension. For that reason it would be easy to argue that each person should stick to their own dimension, however Hilbert strongly believed that if maths was to be pushed forward it needed to be done systematically and collectively. As in education – we can argue that this or the other context is different and special and needs unique solutions – but if we look carefully there are likely to be unifying problems too
  • 6. Slide 10 Millennium Prize Problems The Prizes were conceived to record some of the most difficult problems with which mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second millennium; to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems; to emphasize the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest, most difficult problems; and to recognize achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude. 7 £1 million 1 – 7/2013 Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all Also problems have added benefits. In 2000, mathematicians came up with a new set of problems – 7 of them – only one of which has yet been solved. They did so because: - It showed that maths is hard - It got public interest - It showed that the frontiers of maths were still open - It highlighted the important of working towards a solution - And it honours the importance of research and what an achievement it is to solve things Wouldn’t it be nice if we thought like this in education too! Slide 11 What other edge-of- practice questions do we have? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all BUT – I was still aware that maths involves universal rules and laws, and maybe education is not quite the same…. So had other sectors used these types of problems? And if so, what made them successful?
  • 7. Slide 12 v Problems….. In 1959 Richard Feyneman challenged scientists to put the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the head of a pin, with a substantial reward for the person who did it. It took almost 30 years, but it focused people on nanotechnology and drove people to look at a topic previously considered quite unsexy (people were much more nterested in looking at the stars, than pins). Learning: Needs to be specific. Slide 13 Challenges…. In Australia the Great Cane Toad was originally released to eat another species but there were soon too many of them. A competition with cash was eventually stumped up and a trap was eventually generated. Learning: We have to look at the general principle rather than just intervention. The prize winner worked out the weaknesses of the frog first and then created the trap, whereas the government had previously just tried whatever they could using the resources to hand. We see this too much in education – some ‘invention’ given to us – but actually we need the principle so that even if we can’t buy the invention we can still use the knowledge.
  • 8. Slide 14 Challenges…. TedMed is being spearheaded by medical leaders across the world. They have created “20 challenges” and are carrying out events and forums to discuss a variety of problems. They are not looking for solutions [see: even in medicine things are not cut and dry]. This sounds great but this approach is unlikely to help the teacher in the classroom in need of principles. Learning: Problems in our list need to have a defined end-point, this may mean some problems don’t fit, but a ‘nice chat’ won’t cut it. Slide 15 What should education’s touchpaper problems look like? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all So what should our touchpaper problems look like?
  • 9. Slide 16 1. Specifically focused on cognitive &/or social development Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all 2. Principle not invention 3. A defined end-point Slide 17 What are education’s #touchpaper problems? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all [At this point people had a think of their own problems that met the 3 principles – specifically focused on cognitive/social development, gets to the heart of a principle over an invention, and has a defined end- point] Slide 18 What is the shortest period of a time in which a person with dyslexia can be taught to spell the 1000 most common words in English? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all This was my first attempt
  • 10. Slide 19 If a child needs to remember 20 chunks of knowledge from one lesson to the next, what is the most effective homework to set? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all This was my second attempt Slide 20 Conclusion: What are education’s #touchpaper problems? Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) How the TouchPaper Problems could save us all At the end of the session people asked if the questions had to focus on cognitive/social development, or could it broaden to institutional or more philosophical questions? In my view, the questions should not do this. Researchers are already pulled towards these questions and they do not help the classroom teacher on a day-to-day basis. Even if we discover that single-sex schools on top of a mountain are the best, knowing that is not going to help me if I teach both genders in a valley school. Likewise, we all have personal values and philosophies, and we debate them constantly – but time we spend on that is time now spent solving the solvable. There are things we could find out if we decided to invest the time in it, and I think we at least need to retilt the balance towards these solvable problems.