Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Understanding the creative JuxtaLearn process

First, I’ll outline the JuxtaLearn performance process

Juxta-Learn context
Step #
Who (actors)
1: diagnosis & feedback
Identify the tricky topic (TT)
Identify the stumbling blocks (SB) of the TT
Create the example teaching activity (ETA)
2: creative juxta-positioning
Choose a SB to work with
Find the characters of the ETA
These two steps of finding character & setting can be in either order
Find the settings(s) of the ETA
Choose a stumbling block
Explore the storyline of the stumbling block
Create juxtaposing characters
These two steps of creating character & setting can be in either order
Create juxtaposing settings
Create a storyline that relates the juxtaposing characters & settings

Juxtaposed performance
Juxtaposed characters
Juxtaposed setting
Juxtaposed storyline

For example,
Juxtaposed performance
Molecular values of water and carbon dioxide
Juxtaposed characters
Mrs Mole and her blobby friends in  green plasticine
Laboratory containers
Juxtaposed setting
Bell jars
Process of titration or calculation of moles depending on stumbling block
Juxtaposed storyline
Narrative comparison of molecular size and weights

Now the students can plan the story scenes on their storyboard

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Public engagement

Although this blog is called Storyboards and Tricky Topics, it started because we are interested in exploring public engagement with the JuxtaLearn research that uses storyboards to learn tricky topics through performance.  Hence, the blogging team's occasional foray into definitions and literature about engagement.  As Andrew made clear here, our interest in engagement is not students engaged with learning, not customers engaged with a product, but is particular to public engagement with research.  Nick Mahoney has written a paper relevant to public engagement available at
Mahoney explores the work needed to engage the public in current research - he calls it 'contemporary'. From the work arise three perspectives on publics:
  1. "emergence-oriented" that attends to mediated and reflexive qualities of publics. He cites work of "art and performance theorist Shannon Jackson", which I find interesting in the context of JuxtaLearn's performance aspect.  Is a community based theatre the sort of thing he means, like
  2. a perspective that is more philosophical & normative in approach and emphasis
  3. a perspective that takes the public as a real and pre-existing entity - I see that as a difficulty - define the public (see earlier discussion on public), but if you know who you are targeting then you can quantify, calculate and survey.
All three bodies of work linked to these perspectives offer resources to use to explore public engagement and therefore Mahoney's paper and related research are relevant. 

MAHONEY, N. (2013) The work of public engagement. Comunicazioni sociali, 3, 349-358.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Stories from settings and characters

Being as it's Christmas, I've been thinking about the Christmas story.  Like most stories, you can construct it from its setting and its characters.  I analysed the Christmas carols we sing at services:

Once in Royal David’s City
A town, with a cattle shed, stable
Mother, baby,
Nowadays, you are unlikely to find any cattle in a city, but until the beginning of the 20th century, people provided fresh milk in towns and cities by keeping cows in the town. You can find old pictures of cattle grazing on the open spaces.
Stables were needed everywhere because of the use of horses for transport.
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night
Night time,
Shepherds, angels, baby, manger (stable)
The First Nowell
Fields, cold winter’s night
Angel, shepherds, sheep
Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent morning, stars, dark street,
Angels present, and sleeping mortals, but interesting absence of people but with reference mortals sleeping, and God, Christ and Mary.
Silent Night
Bright, silent night, near dawn
Mother, child, shepherds, contrasting noise from a singing ‘heavenly host’
Three Kings
Star, Bethlehem plain
Kings, 3 from the orient, and a fourth born, referred to but otherwise not active.
Notice the use of props (boundary objects) in this carol.  Each gift has a meaning.
Little Donkey
A road, town in sight, star above, cattle shed
Mary, donkey, wise men,
Good King Wenceslas
Deep crisp even snow, bright moon lit night, forest,
King (old man) and page boy, poor man carry fuel (pine logs)
Little Drummer Boy
The setting isn’t stated
Ox, lamb, drummer boy, Mary, baby, “They”
Note the need for the prop (the drum). The “they” refers to people who told the boy to bring gifts.

You see how, knowing characters and settings you can construct a story.  If you have a Christian background, you probably know the story is about the same in most of these carols - they all refer to night time, a clear night and a special star, and they are all about a special baby.  Some of them make this an opportunity to express another sentiment or meaning.  For instance, the "Three Kings" uses the gift of myrrh to forecast the baby's death.  "Once in Royal David's City" admonishes children to be as obedient and good as the baby. "While Shepherds Watched" offers glory to God. 
For the JuxtaLearn project, students need similarly identify settings and characters that unfold a story that expresses a deeper meaning about the STEM subject of interest. 
Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Engaging and disengaging

"I am writing to inform you that we as a Faculty have discussed the idea further and are not able to contribute to the project."
thus emailed a school contact, disengaging from our project.  I didn't get the marketing right, not for this public for our research.  The gatekeepers are school teachers, the people that would have to orchestrate the classrooms and timetables while the students juxtapose their learning with their own performed ideas. And my targeting email got it wrong. 

However, my colleague, Gill has been working on this and written a one page hand-out that starts:
JuxtaLearn is a large EU-­funded project that aims to help students overcome the barriers presented by Tricky Topics which often cause students to give up a subject. During initial trials, 74% of students showed progression in their quiz results over the course of the day. The JuxtaLearn Workshops can be run as a series of sessions. All sessions and supporting tools are free to schools. The first session is with researchers and teacher(s) and takes place before the student sessions. Student sessions are flexible; they can run over a full school day, or split into smaller sessions with activities taking place pre-­‐workshop following the flipped classroom approach.
Then she outlines the preparatory session for teacher training and professional development.  I particularly like how she shows the radar charts that reveal gaps in student understanding, indicating that teachers will learn to write effective quiz questions that will result in such useful charts.

Links to our videos are
So we'll try sharing this information with other schools.  Will they engage?

Monday, 1 December 2014

"Publics" or an amorphous mass?

If you want to get people to engage you need to differentiate between them and that's what Andrew's done in his previous posting on draft questions, referring frequently to "publics".  "Publics" is a new term to me.  In ordinary life, I'm used to hearing phrases like "in public" or "the public" but not the plural form "publics". Yet in his posting, Andrew talked about engaging with publics.  For example,
"the publics can be engaged...", "the publics we need to focus on...",  "how do the publics ...understand...?"  and "how do members of these publics communicate...?"
Yet, the term is not in Holliman's dimensions of engagement, despite it being another 'P'. (Holliman's dimensions are: people, purposes, processes, participation, performance and politics). I found a relevant paper by Nick Mahoney, "The work of public engagement". Nick highlights three different ways of viewing of the public, and in doing that perhaps his paper gives the reader a better understanding of what academic social scientists mean by "publics", because that's what I think the term is - a specialist one for academic social scientists.
The three perspectives that he introduces are:
  1. "emergence-oriented" - the public comes out, shows itself through talking (discourse and reflection)
  2. philosophical and normative in its approach - how the public should be and should act (democratically)
  3. calculative - a real and pre-existing entity that allows researchers "to investigate, quantify and represent"
So if you're an academic engager (!) taking these different perspectives into account might be useful when you want to engage with the publics.
I don't think the publics would appreciate these academic perspectives. Dr Alice Bell, when asked for her top tips for public engagement,  had a more cynical view on the term 'public', analysing both 'public' and the term 'engagement'.  ON publics, she said, simply,
"People who work in public engagement sometimes prefer to talk about publics, to emphasise that it isn’t one big lump."
That I understand.   People can't be lumped together.

And that's what Andrew's done in his posting on draft questions.  He's identified:
  • students
  • teachers
  • researchers
with different perspectives on each of them. People are not one big amorphous mass.

Bell, A. (2014). Public Engagement with Science: Top Tips. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2014].
Mahoney, N. (2013) 'The Work of Public Engagement', Comunicazioni sociali, Vol 3, No 349-358.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Draft questions

question As I wrote in Collecting data about engagement - quick questionnaires, quickconversations publics can be engaged at a range of  levels from
  1. engagement  with a research project's (prototype) products
  2. engagement  with the research process that are generating and modifying  a research project's (prototype) products.
Juxtalearn will collect lots of data of type A before, during and immediately after the scheduled interventions. Our purpose within the 'Evaluating ways of capturing engagement processes' project should focus on collecting data about level B, and data about level A over a longer time period than for Juxatalearn. In the following paragraphs I describe some initial versions of questions that could be asked of people to help us understand engagement with Juxtalearn research. These are initial drafts, and will be developed further, ready for the first sessions which will occur in a week or twos time.

The Publics we will need to focus on include the  teachers and students of the classes within which the Juxtalearn tools and practices are tried. In addition, we need to consider the  representatives of schol management who will influence how the Juxtalearn interventions occur, and any future devlopments within the school resulting from the interventions.

Purposes: What are the aims and objectives of this engaged research? 
The purposes identified in my post entitled Collecting data about engagement - quick questionnaires, quick conversations can be rewritten to yield 3  research questions. Here are those reserach questions, along with some suggestions of questions for teachers and students.

  1. How  do the publics we have identified understand  the purposes of the Juxtalearn research?
    Questions  for students & teachers
    Why do you think the researchers are running the Juxtalearn  sessions at your school?
    (Don’t be afraid to tell us you don’t know as that is a perfectly valid answer.)
    The above  question could be asked immediately after a Juxtalearn session.
  2. How do members of these publics communicate with each other about Juxtalearn's research goals?
    for students

    Have you discussed the Juxtalearn sessions with your friends or class mates?
    If so, what sort of things have you discussed?
    Questions  for teachers
    Have you discussed the Juxtalearn sessions with your colleagues?
    If so, what sort of things have you discussed?

    The above  questions could be asked sometime after a Juxtalearn session, and more than once, e.g. a week after, then a week later.
  3. How do  members of these publics communicate with the research team about Juxtalearn's research goals?
    This can be answered by the Research Team.

Processes: (1) How does the research involve relevant publics in meaningful ways?  (2) When, and (3) how often, are publics be involved? (4) Where are these interventions likely to take place, and (5) through what mechanisms?
The meaning of the Juxtalearn interventions  to the publics immediately before, during and after the Juxtalearn sessions will be assessed by the Juxtalearn project itself, as part of the project's  evaluation workpackage. A description of the processes will also be recorded by the Juxtalearn researchers, e.g. in terms of both (i) the planned Juxtalearn interventions, and (ii) a record of how the interventions playedout in practice. 
To complement this, we will prompt for reposnses over a longer time frame, e.g. at monthly  intervals after the initial Juxtalearn workshop.  The following are draaft questions intended to find out if the teachers and studnets have made use of the Juxalearn approach outside of the Juxtalearn sessions, and outside of the topic areas used to  introduced to it in the Juxtalearn sessions.

Questions  for students
Have you used video creation to help you learn since attending the Juxtalern session on insert-date-here?
If so, how, and what topics have you used it in connection with?

Questions  for teachers
Have you used video creation to help you teach since attending the Juxtalern session on insert-date-here?
If so, how, and what topics have you used it in connection with?

Participation: measures of how the publics and  researchers participated?
The Juxtalearn project will collect data related to planned Juxtalearn events. We aim to complement this by enquiring about unscripted and unplanned interactions with researchers about the research, initiated by members of the publics, and interactions about the research between members of the publics  not involving Juxtalearn researchers. Data relate to both of these the themes will be collected in reponse to questions listed  under purposes.

To conclude, the previous paragraphs outline some draft questions intended to generate  data from students, teachers and school managers about their views of the engagement with Juxtalearn research. The maechanisms that these questions will be put to these publics is  likely to be through twitter and online surveys, though which will be used iss likely to depend on the preferences of memebers of these  publics themselves.