Sunday, 28 June 2015

Why the i-Scout brand has got it wrong

I'm a Scout, and I'm proud of it.  

In fact, I was delivering Module 1 of the Scout Adult Training Scheme this morning to ten new volunteers in my District.  I like Module 1 - Essential Information.  It's a huge amount of information for new Leaders to take in, but it covers vital stuff - safety, safeguarding, the structure of The Scout Association and... the fundamentals that underpin everything that Scouting stands for.  So as I was driving to this meeting I started to wonder about some of the branding that The Scout Association in the UK has opted for in the last decade.  Most of the branding is fine - there's this one:

and then there are brands for the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Explorers and Network (which have just been updated, so make sure you're using the correct ones), and then there's this one:

and this is the one I think they've got wrong.  I can see what it's about - it's on-trend, it's snappy, it's great for marketing (you see i-kayak, i-camp etc so it's really selling the adventurous opportunities you get in Scouting), but it's too... well... it's too much "i".  It sends the message, to our young people and to everybody else, that we're about "what Scouting can do for me", and I think that misses a huge chunk of what Scouting is about.

Scouting is about reaching out, and as the World Scout Bureau strap-line has it, creating a better world:

In a world where pupils stab one another in classrooms because of gang rivalry, where kids throw bricks at fire-engines on the street just for a laugh, where a rogue gunman can walk on to a beach and shoot down random strangers because of ideological hatred, and where teenagers blow themselves up in crowded market places to make a point, then there's more need than ever for Scouts to reach out and build bridges in their communities.

"Doing a good turn every day" isn't about the past, it's a relevant part of an everyday attitude where Scouts are a central part of their community, forging links and promoting understanding and tolerance.

The Scout Association knows that.  This year sees the launch of the "Million Hands" initiative, calling on the half-million members of UK Scouting to work on community impact projects.  For several years now the Scout Community Week project has seen young people carrying out projects in their local communities.  Every week around the country Scouts are visiting fire stations, old people's homes and places of worship, are learning about poverty, homelessness and fair trade, and are carrying out litter-picks and pond-clearances and planting community gardens.

Scouting isn't all about "i".  Scouting is about looking outside, holding out our hands and trying to make the world we live in a better place.  So I guess ... if that's what Scouting is all about... then i-Scout.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Developing Children's Creative Writing

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is difficult to define.  It is the art of making things up; illuminating truths about the world and the people in it in an interesting and attractive way.  Creative writing is original and self- expressive.  Genres of creative writing include poetry, movie or play scripts, song lyrics and novels.

Why is Creative Writing important?

Creative writing develops thinking in children which extends far beyond their writing.  Being able to think creatively means being able to think outside the box and use imagination, which is essential for all types of problem solving.  

Creative writing is also a useful outlet for self-expression – sometimes it’s hard to work your way through a problem, express your feelings, or work out your own morals, but writing it down as a problem for a character to face, or in poetry or song lyrics helps to work it through and get it out.  

Thinking about characters, their motivations and feelings helps to develop empathy.  

Being able to express yourself clearly will lead to a lifetime of clear communication.

How to develop Creative Writing in children.

Most of these activities are for Primary School children, and can be done in class or workshop situations, but there’s nothing to stop them from being adapted and used at home or with younger or older children or even adults.
  • ·       The most important thing to do to develop creativity is to get lots of experience.  It’s difficult to write about a beach on a far-off planet, or a treasure island, if you’ve never been to the seaside or seen the ocean.  It’s difficult to write convincingly about something happening at a football match if you’ve never been to one.  While extensive reading, and watching television and films, can begin to bridge this gap, it’s no substitute for real first-hand experience.  While it’s true that if you lead a cloistered life, you can still write beautiful creative fiction or poetry simply by sticking to what you do know, or by creating something entirely from the realm of fantasy, wide experience gives you a lot more to draw from.
  • ·         Role play helps children to think through how characters might react to different situations, and how dialogue works.  Extended role play helps them to think about what makes a good story – a role play game of mums and dads where they get up, go to work and make dinner is all well and good for a while, but children soon work out that things get a lot more interesting if there is conflict or a problem to solve.
  • ·         Encourage children to describe using all of their senses.  A walk in the woods – what can you hear?  What do you see?  What colours are all around you?  What do you smell?  What does the air taste of?  What do the tree trunks feel like?  What does this peach smell like, taste like, feel like, look like and sound like?
  • ·         Pick any object or phenomenon and come up with as many similes and metaphors as you can.  For example, “this daffodil… is like a patch of summer… is like a beam of sun… is like a smiling face… is a fresh faced child on a spring morning…”  “The wind… is like a toddler tantrum, fierce and loud… is like a rollercoaster ride… is like a bully in the playground…”
  • ·         Start creative journaling.  Regularly open the journal to a new page and write something.  It might be a description of the view outside, a story opening, a descriptive passage about an imaginary character, or a poem.  Anything you like, as long as it’s unique and expressive.
  • ·         Create a character together.  Pick a name at random from the phone book.  How old do you think this person might be?  What’s their ethnic background?  What’s their family situation?  What kind of person are they? What do they look like?
  • ·         Take the previous suggestion to the next level.  Either using a character from a known story, or an invented character – start to think about how they would behave in different situations.  Is their bedroom tidy?  How would they behave at a football match?  Would they make a good friend?  If you lived next door, what would their garden be like?  Would they feed your fish while you were away?
  • ·         Once they can describe a person, an object or a situation using all their senses and some wonderful descriptive adjectives and similes, it’s time to introduce them to ”show, don’t tell”.  Think about their character eating a peach.  We could tell: “He ate a juicy peach”, or we could show: “He bit into the peach, and hurriedly wiped away the sticky juice that dribbled down his chin” which also gives information about the character and how he might be feeling.
  • ·         When you’re reading stories and poems together, stop and think about what description the author or poet has used.  How do they describe the character?  How have they begun the story?  How have they brought it to an end?  Is their dialogue long and descriptive or short and punchy?  How do we know how the character is feeling in this situation?

There is so much to include in this topic, that we’ve only really covered description of place and character, and haven’t even got started on plot development or poem structure, which is going to have to form the basis of a future blog post.  Children are innately creative and imaginative, so developing creative writing is simply about harnessing that, getting them to use what they see around them, and find the words to put it on paper as written art.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Nuclear energy vs wind turbines

What do you think about global sources of energy?  Do you believe that the burning of fossil fuels creates Global Warming, a world environmental and ecological catastrophe in the making?  Do you believe that we are running out of fossil fuels, and if so, what should we be using instead?

There's a general consensus that electricity is a good thing.  We all like to have the lights on, put the kettle on and be able to see where we're going.  In addition, as many people are shunning gas guzzling cars and turning to the new generation of electric vehicles, we'll need to be plugging them in somewhere every night.
image from

There's also a general, though not unanimous, consensus that burning fossil fuels is pretty bad for the planet, and that we ought not to do so much of it, and that we might be running out of oil and coal.  Estimates vary widely, with the possibility that there might be as yet undiscovered stores of fossil fuels under Canada and Siberia, but it's possible that coal might run out in just twenty-five years and oil in as little as fifty years.

There is no consensus at all on what we should do instead.  Even in our current UK parliament there is no agreement: The Conservatives have pushed through a deal to build twelve new nuclear reactors across five sites, Labour think that Nuclear is an important part of the power generation mix, and the Liberal Democrats are staunch supporters of wind technology.  

Hydroelectric power is probably the most efficient renewable power, but building huge dams, creating enormous lakes and blocking rivers from their natural flow relies on having the necessary geographical terrain, and can cause massive ecological problems too.

Solar energy relies on having sun, and is very inefficient.  Even in a sunny state like Texas, a solar array the size of Texas would be required to provide the power used by... Texas!

So, with a few small and mostly insignificant exceptions, that leaves us with Nuclear Power or Wind Power.  They both have their drawbacks, and when they are planned, they both create uproar with local people protesting that they don't want them.  Here's a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each.

Nuclear Power
image from Sellafield

+ We already have the technology
+ With increased investment, technology will be improved to develop ever more efficient and safer technologies with less waste.
+ Nuclear waste is solid and can be transported and stored well away from human populations.
+ there aren't any greenhouse gas emissions.
+ while there are huge costs involved with building and running nuclear power, it's actually a cheaper way to produce electricity than any other.

- Poor reputation for safety
- Technology for nuclear power and nuclear weaponry is the same - do we really want more potential for nuclear weapons in our fragile planet?
- Historically, there has been a lot of secrecy around nuclear development and power.
- Nuclear waste is dangerous.  It remains dangerous for thousands of years.  It needs to be stored somewhere away from water, populations and tectonic activity.
- Building and decommissioning reactors is extremely expensive.
- The fuel for running nuclear power is also finite.  Turning exclusively to nuclear will shift power to the countries where it can be found, and it too will eventually run out.

Wind Power
image from

+ safe
+ green - no pollution
+ enormous potential
+ completely renewable, will never run out.
+ efficiency and technology are improving
+ operational costs are low

- fluctuates according to the wind, so to meet base demand would need to be stored by pumped hydro or batteries.
- space inefficient - you'd need to build 30,000 new wind turbines, over an area of 1200 sq km, to produce the same amount of electricity as one nuclear power plant taking up only 1.7 sq km.
- unsightly
- damaging to scenery, and unknown wildlife impact at this time.