The Network Curriculum

It has taken me 12 years of teaching to return to some of the educational theories that I was supposed to learn at college. Twelve years of being very busy, very earnest, doing lots of good stuff, but sometimes completely missing the point. When I did return to those theories I found there was a new one that hadn’t existed when I was first at college.


What educational theories sit behind ‘networks’ and the act of ‘networking’? Behaviourism? Cognitivism? Constuctivism? – Answer: all of the above.


Connectivism is what you’re doing right now if you’re reading this. You’ll find yourself on the third and fourth bullet point of George Siemens’ blog about what connectivism is. I’m glad I found it.

George Siemens’ paper
helped describe the kind of teacher I am becoming when I was searching for some material to help me present at a conference a few weeks ago. It helped me connect the inspiration I had received from Ewan McIntosh to be a ‘literate’ teacher with the networks I had begun through Creative Partnerships’ Bright Space and their agent Marcus Belben alongside the BXL technology tree project and partners Frankley CLC and Stan’s Cafe to be first primary school to do Scalextric4Schools. Apologies for the number of ‘ands‘ in that sentence.


There are two things that stand out to me from the aformentioned paper:


The first is: Karen Stephenson’s“Quantum Theory of Trust”. This is essentially that networks can only work successfully when everyone can trust each other. Trust between the partners I have worked with has been essential this year.


I have found that there is a trust too between the participants of the Google Teacher Academy – we trust that we want the same thing – to improve our knowledge and understanding and therefore our impact on young learners. As a recent convert to twitter (about 10 days old…) it has been amazing to slot into a network of people, to learn from them and to (hopefully) contribute a little of my own understanding. It is just as George Siemens says: ” A learner can exponentially improve their own learning by plugging into an existing network.”


The second is that ‘the pipes are more important than the contents of the pipe‘ – or in Marcus Belben speak – ‘the network is more important than the framework


What is really interesting to me is that our curriculum this year has worked because of who has been involved, not because of what it is or where or whenit happened. It worked because of the network. Yet we live in an educational climate where the framework has been all important.


The framework is a set of rules, processes and policies by which people should act.


Frameworks are very efficient when communication is poor because they are a set of standards that are written down. They describe success and failure. The national curriculum has been such a framework. Further frameworks have been added on such as the national numeracy and literacy strategies, QCA units, APP.


These frameworks have not only de-skilled teachers from the ability to network but they have taken away the desire to network. Teaching in the UK for some has become about ‘delivery’ rather than the marvellously creative act of teaching – making learning fun, relevant, challenging and aspirational. The frameworks began with those goals at their heart, but in some schools the teacher has been cut out and stopped from thinking for themselves and making connections between the frameroks and the real people. Teachers have been encouraged to stop trusting and instead to fear Ofsted, SATs, league tables, the media, parents, children – in fact pretty much everybody.


This comes back to Dr Stephenson’s Quantum Theory of Trust. If we can only start trusting each other the effects will be ‘quantum’. The network is more important than the framework. At least that’s true in almost every sector of employment outside of education.


I was reflecting on the ‘tone’ of twitter interactions since I started a few days ago and wondering what judgements people make of them and therefore of me and conversely what judgements, fair or unfair, I am making of others. There’s a real skill in that (and I’m not sure I’ve cracked it yet…) – a skill that children have to be taught. I wondered if my curriculum really prepares children for that challenge when they hit secondary school and beyond.


The network curriculum is one in which:

  • the child learns to cherish their networks, acting to protect them, to learn from them and to contribute them.
  • The teacher writes ‘who’ on their planning before anythiong else – thinking through who their children will meet each day, week and term and planning different types of interaction for each child – 1:1 peer and with adult, group, whole class, online, performance, guided, un-guided, etc. Also the teacher values themself and teaches from their own strengths and passions.
  • The manager nurtures and develops the day-to-day interactions between people.
  • The leader holds the bucket upside down (see my old blog from 2008 about ‘building capacity‘) .

In saying all this, I still think the national curriculum is a good thing. It has good standards (which, incidentally, are being undermined by APP – but that is another story that will be told another day), it is broad(ish) and provides a common basis for all children. It’s just that I want to see the national curriculum as a servant to my network of teachers, not as their master.


And to be fair to all of us that have worked under the national curriculum for so long now, we didn’t know there was another educational theory out there until recently. It is by the network I discovered this and to the network I will return.


As a footnote I would love to know if any teachers who have recently come out of college, such as Oliver Quinlan, who’s recent blog posting on Problems with timetabled learning inspired me to put these thoughts together have had any input on ‘connectivism’ and could fill me in on my considerable gaps in my knowledge.

Technology Tree Conference

It was my second year at the technology tree conference and I got to present my thoughts about how it links in with the primary curriculum. Marcus has already written a blog entry on his views, so for a different perspective, look here.



I mainly went there to show off our Paganel Scalextric project. 3 children came with me and were able to talk about the process of making their own car, racing the cars and commentating on the races. It was great to see the children commentate on the adult delegates as they raced the cars the children had built. It was also great to have at least 3 schools sign up for the project next year – we can now have a primary school scalextric competition – how FAB will that be?



In my presentation I wanted to say how the national curriculum has been a rigid framework for education over the last 15 years just as the rest of the world has been discovering that the network is more important than the framework.



I started with a slide full of words that Michael Gove had recently spoken. I know it’s bad form to use loads of text on a Powerpoint but I wanted to make the point that the curriculum change wanted by the new government are just words at the moment. I highlighted words like ‘prune’, simplify’ and ‘over-prescitpive.’


I followed with this picture:


It shows a rigid framework – some scaffolding. It’s my picture for the national curriculum of recent years – something that has helped build an educational structure of standards and rigour, but something that has also deskilled teachers from thinking for themselves. You can tell this by the use of the word ‘delivery’. Teacher’s ‘deliver’ the national curriculum. That verb really devalues the word ‘teach’.




Next I showed this picture. It shows a network – rather a large one. Ewan McIntosh showed a very similar picture at a talk he gave a few months ago – thetalk that got me blogging again. I said how teacher’s had been deskilled not only from thinking for themselves, but also valuing networks just at the time when we need to be teaching our children how to network effectively.




Then I showed these pipes. I had been reading some stuff about educational theories and how all our education system is based essentially on two theories – behaviourism and constructivism. But a new theory has been developed in recent years called connectionism. This is summed up by the statement “the pipe is more important than the contents of the pipe“. I held up my phone and pointed out how easy it is to access information through it and so we need to be teaching children how to use networks accurately and safely.


I then showed pictures of 2 different kinds of coffee cup.


Professer Anne Bamford had used similar images at the Creative Partnerships Conference back in February to illustrate the value of design. One coffee can cost£1.00, the other could cost£5.00. Design makes a 500% mark up – it’s worth something.


Just as the processes learned in technology tree through working with business on designing and making somethingare also worth something.


I finished by pointing out the links inherent in technology tree – inspiring witing and maths, developing speaking and listening and also linking between teachers – all things that make more teaching more effective and efficient.

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