Where do great teachers get their inspiration?

We often speak to educators who are leading the way in how technology can be used for the benefit of education. Indeed, our network of Intel® Education Visionaries aims to bring together forward-thinking educators to share and promote good practices in the field.

We recently spoke to Ian Phillips, Assistant Head and Director of ICT at The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Hertfordshire, about a project-based learning course he ran with a group of year 10 students which aims to teach them not the subject itself, but how to learn.

Projects like that don’t just spring up out of thin air, and we were keen to find out where Ian gets the inspiration and support to put them together. He shared with us some of the networks that he’s involved with, and some of the background behind his teaching and learning philosophy.

Ian cites Mitch Resnicks’s 4 Ps (projects, peers, passion and play) as a key influence. Resnick is head of the Lifelong Kindergaten group at MIT, where he helped develop Scratch – the online community to help children learn to program. 

Here are Resnick’s four P’s in more detail, and in his own words:

  • Projects. People learn best when they are actively working on meaningful projects – generating new ideas, designing prototypes, refining iteratively.
  • Peers. Learning flourishes as a social activity, with people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and building on one another’s work.
  • Passion. When people work on projects they care about, they work longer and harder, persist in the face of challenges, and learn more in the process.
  • Play. Learning involves playful experimentation – trying new things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, iterating again and again.

Relating this to Ian’s project, the students were given a problem to solve (of their choosing) using a Genuino 101 board, with a specific set of goals. They collaborated with peers to achieve this, and knew they had to present their findings to a group of younger pupils within three weeks. By giving them the option to set their own problem, Ian let the students’ imagination and passion guide their work. And the playful nature of the work, which involved thinking, testing, failing, building, and iterating encouraged the students to explore the topic in a low-stakes environment, free from the pressure of imminent exams.



As well as having been a member of the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (Naace) for 20 years, Ian’s an early member of Computing at School. This is a network of educators who want to help each other become better teachers of computational thinking. CAS was founded in the wake of Michael Gove withdrawing the ICT program of Study January 2012 and led to the introduction of the Computing Curriculum September 2014.

“I remember when CAS was formed at Birmingham University in June 2012 1,200 people joined up with a goal of establishing a computing curriculum that would work for this country, and by the following February the curriculum had been shared and debated. Now it has more than 20,000 members.”

His work as an Intel Education Visionary led him to enlist the help of some Intel engineers for an independent learning day in June 2016. “That day was one of our first explorations into the idea of large scale problem-based learning,” Ian says. “It was quite astounding how students responded to being given the autonomy to work together to get the devices working, with the teachers just providing the scaffolding to facilitate this. I think that helped us build the confidence to take this step and roll out these ideas to our GCSE students.”

Like so many peers, Ian has found a world of progressive educators out there on social media who are eager to share stories of their successes – and failures.

“The desire to change the way we learn and teach has been around for a long time, but it was always stymied by the pressures of examinations. We were always under pressure to prepare students for the end of the year, and didn’t have the freedom to work outside those confines. Then around 2008 there was a big movement towards project-based learning in New Zealand, which got really good results and pushed things forward.”

Ian’s approach to teaching and learning hasn’t gone unnoticed and his efforts have contributed to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys School being named as The Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Year for 2017.

You can meet Ian on the Intel Education stand at Bett 2017 (25 – 28 January) to find out more about his approach to Project-based learning. 

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