When I was studying for my first degree at university, the hardest essay I was ever set in the whole three years was “Explain the competing theories about capital in no more than 500 words.” To give you an idea of what that means, 500 words is approximately a handwritten side of A4 or two typewritten pages of A4 – not exactly loads of space to summarise what has taken scores of economists and thousands of trees. In this article, I explore how you might use this “less is more” approach in school.
The clock is ticking...As Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. I'd just like to suggest a few uses for it in school, including the staffroom.
Talking to colleagues
In my opinion, it’s crucial to be able to explain how technology could benefit them, either personally or in their teaching. But not just explain, but do so in a couple of minutes – and certainly no more than five.
I was impressed recently, for example, when Joanna Bersin, Director of Education at Kano, constructed a computer* in around 4 minutes. This challenge was set by Filippo Jacob (whose Primo Toys won an award, by the way). This was good because it's all very well saying that you can build a computer in three minutes, but actually doing it while talking to an audience about something else takes some doing.
What I’m saying is that it’s good to develop an elevator speech for ed tech. Actually, several elevator speeches, to cover a number of contingencies:
- “I already get great grades for my kids, so why do I need to bother with this stuff?”
- “I haven’t got time to learn this stuff because I have to spend too much time marking books”
- “How can technology help me teach X better?”
- “Go on, show me something I can do with technology that is going to knock me off my seat, and that I can apply in my next lesson!”
5 minute instruction
I sometimes think we give students too much material rather than too little. In my days of teaching Economics, I decided to summarise the key macro-economic theories for my students in the form of blues songs. It worked, because they remembered them months later.
So that was another example of where less is more. I do think that it ought to be possible to explain something very succinctly, eg in a blues song, 140 characters, or while standing on one leg.
Over to the kids
Setting a 5 minute limit is great for use with students:
- What is Computing about? What is it in a nutshell?” (See the video below in this regard.)
- Make a 5 minute video explaining how you can keep safe online.
- Answer 20 questions in 5 minutes on the subject of X.
- Create a set of instructions for clearing a printer jam/creating a flyer/etc etc. (See also Freedman’s 5 Minute Rule in 7 rules for ICT teachers, co-ordinators and leaders.)
The “5 minute test” (which doesn’t have to be a test!) can be really useful, very informative and quite fun. It’s easy to implement, and all you have to do really is think of some more uses for it. If that’s a bit challenging, why not ask the kids to come up with some ideas of using the 5 minute test? Giving them a limit of 5 minutes, of course!
I think you may find the video below quite enjoyable. It dates from the late 70s.
This is an amended version of an article first published here in 2012.
In a forthcoming issue of Digital Education we'll be featuring an article on the ideal conditions for innovation.
* Amazon affiliate link to the Kano computer kit.