The best way to learn about advertising

This post is a celebration of a project that I found out about through Twitter and one of the guys I met there (@logbennett).

Logan is a student at Portland State University.  As part of his course, he and some of his colleagues have opened up an advertising agency – Fir Advertising (under the tutelage of their professor).

As I mentioned to the team, I think this is a great venture that can support the local community and a great ADventure (get it?!?) for them as students.

I think something like this should be part of virtually all courses because students get to apply it rather than just study it and take it as gospel.  They will get to find out the reality of any industry and it will enable them to properly analyse what the studybooks tell them – is it all right or all BS?

The other great thing for the industry as a whole is talent can be identified earlier on, the students get into the industry with greater knowledge and experience and less likely to make mistakes because they will have got them out of the way during the course (not that I wish them ill but because that is the best way to learn – I certainly did).

So, good luck FIR.  The Portland business community should be forever thankful to you and those that pass through your doors! 

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School’s out

So Dream School has finished.  The experience is over and the kids now have to go back to their old lives.  But how many have been changed?  How many have grabbed the opportunity presented to them?

From the show it appears quite a few have been inspired to do something with their lives, which is great for them and hopefully that will continue (though a ‘visit’ in 12 months’ time would be interesting).  But really what is the legacy of the programme?

From watching the series I got very little that I wouldn’t have done before:

  • teachers have the power to make lessons great or crap
  • teachers need to make sessions more interactive and relevant to today’s youth and not be handed down strict curriculums
  • disruptive kids ruin it for everyone
  • there is no sense of discipline or respect between students and from students to teachers
  • the kids are expecting to be spoon-fed everything

However the one lasting memory I will have is not a positive one. I feel the programme failed to teach these kids about responsibility & consequence – twice the teachers had the opportunity to make examples out of student who didn’t follow the rules and twice they went back on the rules they had set.  Lesson: do as you please and all will be forgiven. No consequences.

The overall problem with Dream School is that it is a bubble and didn’t tackle the issues of why they were disenchanted in the first place.  Whilst it was an extremely noble cause, we cannot build 4000 Dream School and hire ‘celebrities’ to teach at every single one.

I would’ve loved to have seen experiments as to how to make schools more effective at teaching and facilitating learning – much more along the lines of The Classroom Experiment which the BBC ran last year.  That showed how to teaching standards and traditional classroom dynamics have an effect on what kids get out of it.

Below is the final episode and also some of the Twitter chatter/buzz around the programme – good and bad.

I think the cause was great, but the execution was a bit superficial.

https://twitter.com/#!/jennitonic80/status/58279686123429888

https://twitter.com/#!/GemmaCasey/status/58287795684380672

The opportunity of a lifetime

It was the penultimate week of Jamie’s Dream School and therefore the penultimate post about this thoughtful project.

This week saw some more bitching; fighting; bad behaviour and some ill-fated attempts to instill a sense of responsibility into these kids.

As Jamie rightly points out, Dream School is a self-contained bubble.  When it shuts down, the kids are still going to have the same life that they had before.  What DS did was (hopefully) arm them with a belief that they can go beyond that life.  How many do remains to be seen.

To drive this message home Jamie brought in the parents and encouraged the students to create a portfolio of what they have done.  It was quite disappointing that having been given this opportunity many couldn’t think of anything.  It didn’t even seem as though it was a case of being overwhelmed and unsure how to structure it – it seemed pure apathy.

Bringing in the parents was a good strategy, but only if the parents take that responsibility on.  For far too long these kids have been pampered and allowed to do as they please. And it’s time for them to get a dose of reality.

It will be interesting to see how their trip to Downing Street goes.  Whilst I don’t doubt they have the passion to make their point, will they give themselves the structure to make their points eloquently & more importantly calmly and without talking over each other.  Again, these kids have a great opportunity to voice the concerns of their generation. Do they grasp the importance of that opportunity?  Or are they just seeing it as a fun day out?  For their sake and that of those after them, let’s hope it is the former.

Respect is earned not commanded.

Just show me how it works

So Jamie’s Dream School is into Week 5.  And what did we learn this week?  That theoretical classes are dull and that practical lessons actually get kids engaged.  That if you give them parameters and tasks they will seek to do them.  If you become too prescriptive they’ll switch off.

Now I’ve been fairly disparaging about students in previous weeks. Like Charlie Sheen, the reason I wrote those things is because I care.  I care about how education and educators will work when my children have to go through it and I see certain holes and need filling.

And the hole I picked up on this week is that the GNVQ, vocational and apprenticeship programmes have an image problem.  They are seen as inferior, but that is not the case.  The previous government was all about ensuring everyone went to university.  What happened was that a lot of people did, some did well some didn’t and the end result is that the value of a degree has (to an extent) decreased.  It also meant that the government spent a fair amount of money on people who only went because they were unsure of what they wanted to do.  And that’s not a bad thing, but it had consequences. I went to Uni with a view to do a degree around business and marketing but not knowing specifically what element.

Vocational programmes play a useful role in that they give kids practical work experience, skills, reduce unemployment figures and increase the longevity of certain more manual jobs – such as electricians, car mechanics, plumbers, etc.  Again, these play a really important role to society as a whole, but get miscast as a lower status profession and therefore numbers are going down.  Yet they pay well and scarcity will only lead prices up.

So we need to get kids to stop seeing a future after schools of college/uni or benefits.  There are options, valid options that will give them a sense of pride and worth.

Here is the latest episode for your perusal

Are we surprised kids dislike reading?

The education secretary believes children should be reading up to 50 books a year. I thought back to how I viewed reading and books when I was learning and what kind of education I see my kids having.

The way I see it there are a few issues with this ‘hope’.

Firstly, it is unrealistic and insensitive (or just plain crazy) to expect already overworked children with way too much homework to then read. I feel the homework is compensating for the lack of meaningful exams until kids are 16. So, kids don’t really have the time, nor the mind capacity or attention span to do all this.  I only manage to read about 3-4 books a year, so how will they when they have so much more to do?

Secondly, the books in the curriculum are bloody boring.  Looking at the list, it seems that within a generation is only about 5-10% of titles have changes.  The problem with this is that the books don’t reflect society and the kids’ lives today so they do not feel any affinity for it. The ‘classics’ are still the same and they are as dull as they were in my time.

Thirdly, what are we actually trying to teach them? Is the aim to teach them whether they understand context, plot, character traits or morals and can articulate it?  Or is the aim to teach them what someone’s interpretation of a specific book is?  The former is more appealing, more personal and more relevant.  The latter is more egotistical and does not allow kids to develop their thought processing skills.

Lastly, it’s making it work, not fun… I never enjoyed books (of any kind) until I did it because I wanted to and not because I was forced to. Especially when they have consoles, mobile phones and social networking as alternatives.

So what is the solution?

I think there should be an element of self-selection – i.e. kids choose the books they wish to read (teachers / parents agree as to the suitability of the title).  They then perform the same task (for example, writing an essay on the moral of the story) irrespective of the book they are reading. They are marked on their ability to articulate and write their arguments not how well they regurgitate what their teacher told them.

I think this will deal with most of the points I made above; the books they select reflect their world (at least in their eyes); they will find them more appealing (and therefore not work – or not as much work) and we are teaching them to think for themselves and valuing their thoughts and perspective.

Whilst I don’t believe 50 books a year will ever happen, I think the idea above might just get kids reading a little bit more. And then we’re making progress.

Treat them like the kids they are

So, it is week 4 of Jamie’s Dream School, and that means it’s time for another point of view from me on education – sorry!

This week the class tackled some of the more classical subjects of poetry and Latin.  Now, I did neither of these at school (at least not as individual subjects – poetry was part of English) and am not entirely sure of how engaged I would’ve been.  I’m missing that foundational knowledge that tells me why these subjects are worth knowing; how are they relevant to the world I live in or the future I’ll have?

The good thing is that some of these kids show potential, or at least a willingness to learn and that’s more than half the battle.  The teachers are understanding that making the subjects relevant and connecting them to today’s life is critical in getting the kids’ interest and understanding.

The teachers are also realising that they have to follow the same process you are told about parenting young kids – i.e. they need rules and they need those to be consistently applied.  If they are not, then they will not see them as rules.  As one of the teachers says – give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.  You can see that in action with the headteacher who  hasn’t really got a grip on the pupils – he threatens them but then doesn’t follow it up with action.

The programme is a view of not just how pupils act, but also how teachers can get the best out of them.  It seems that learnings are being made – what will be interesting to follow is how this will impact the teaching profession (I’d like there to be learnings, but am skeptical) but also the kids there (will they go back to education, seek to find a job, etc).

Anyway, here is Episode 4.

Time to take the Portuguese approach?

It’s that time of the week again!

The 3rd episode of Jamie’s Dream School aired and it brought up a couple of issues. Some I’ve already discussed, like discipline.  But, it got me thinking about something else.

Is the current testing system right? Should the UK consider changing its current system to one that resembles the Portuguese?

In Portugal you get tested every year, and if you fail more than 3 disciplines then you have to repeat that year until you pass enough subjects.  This works quite well for a couple of reasons; (a) it provides regular progress so people are aware of where they are in terms of development and knowledge, and (b) teaches students that there are consequences to not studying or paying attention.  So there is an incentive to pay attention or at least try enough to pass – i.e. the embarrassment of being left behind.

It’s not without its downsides though – too much testing and the demotivating factor of not doing well in certain subjects can push people away from those subjects.

However, it does ensure that people know the basics in maths and languages (Portuguese/English).  I am astounded that at 16/17/18 people still struggle with basic maths – that is the level of knowledge I would expect at 7 or 8.

Kids are stopping their education without an understanding of the basics making them less attractive in what is already a crappy job market.

Clearly a lot needs to be done, but we should be taking steps to ensure that if they choose to leave education after 16 then they have employable skills.

On a separate note, one of the incidents in the show displays one of the key issues with kids (and a lot of society nowadays) – they want to enjoy their rights from society without having carrying out their responsibilities towards it.

You can watch the full episode here.