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A Message from our 225 Academy Alumni

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Dear Future Participants,

The Academy is going to be an amazing experience, but like any opportunity, it’s your job to get the most out of it and as a past Participant of the Academy, here’s some advice on how you can do that.

  1. The first day is the most important day. Here you’ll discuss what you’re going to be doing for the next week and essentially plan what you want to do. The Mentors have a vast variety of skills and have so much life experience so it’s important to make sure you communicate what you are seeking to achieve so that they can help guide you on how to do so. I’d recommend thinking about this perhaps two days before you go and compile a list of ideas that you can share with them.
  2. Always participate! Regardless of the subject area you are partaking in, it’s vital that you participate. This way Mentors will clearly be able to recognize your strengths and weakness and help address them.
  3. Never be afraid to communicate. Whether it’s during breaks or in sessions always talk to the Mentors if you aren’t sure about something or need clarification. I learnt so much from just simple conversations with the Mentors.

And most of all have fun! My time at 225 Academy was an unforgettable one and I met people who will undoubtedly support me in my future as I’m sure they will support you.

 

225 Academy Participant, Dubai 2015

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Post-Academy updates and reflections: Tom

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After two incredible Academies in Dubai and Singapore, we caught up with some of our Mentors.

Tom England shares some of his thoughts and reflections after the Academy, as well as a few exciting projects that he’s been involved in.


 

After finishing the Academy I returned to England to rest, recuperate and recharge my batteries. Working in busy, bubbling cities mentoring I was left with an unstoppable urge to get out into the countryside. As such, in the first couple of days after returning I went for a series of long walks around the English Midlands. It was good to put into practice something that we had been teaching throughout the Academy, namely, the importance of reflection. I had just been on an incredible adventure; I had met some wonderful people and learnt an incredible amount as I did so. It would have been such a shame not to allow those lessons and learnings to seep into me with a bit of time and space.

 

When I was walking I came across a bench perched atop a beautiful landscape. Upon the bench lay a plaque which read ‘Most of us die with much of our beautiful music still in us. Unsung, unplayed’. It seemed to reflect the sentiment that I had spoken of at the very opening of the academy and reminded me of the importance to work tirelessly to live a life that reflects your heart, a life that is an outward reflection of your inner yearnings.

 

Since those ramblings upon my return, I have also been away to Amsterdam to celebrate a family birthday, visiting the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums in the process. I had never been to museums dedicated to providing insights into individual personalities before and I found it fascinating. Both Anne Frank and Van Gogh had their own way of seeing the world, a unique way of looking that would come to influence and irrevocably shape the way other humans thought of life, art and innocence. Both died before they had any awareness of their impact. Both wrote, created and dreamt without reward. Both created not because they sought fame or fortune, but because they had to, because everything within them yearned to. I admired that.

 

Aside from walking and holidaying, I have been learning lines for a low budget feature film I am acting in called COSMOS. It would take an awful lot of time to explain all of the thrills and spills of the plot here but you can follow the progress of the process here: https://reeldealfilmschool.wordpress.com/cosmos/

 

In terms of actual ‘work’, if you can call something this wonderful that, I have been delivering sessions in the North of England with the Imperial War Museum, concerned with encouraging intergenerational learning between war veterans and young people, the last of which took place on the 8th May. I then moved on to begin rehearsals for a show with the ‘Wardrobe Ensemble’ that we will be taking to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Latitude Festival, and Bestival Festival this year.

 

I hope you’ve all been keeping busy too!

 

Love,

Tom

[image credit: Gulliver Academy, Wikimedia Commons]

How do kids envision the future of learning?

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We recently posted about Sugata Mitra’s research and philosophy behind ‘child-driven learning’, and in the same spirit, the TED blog also shared some interesting insight into what children want from their learning experiences in the future. They asked four inspiring kids the following question: How do you envision the future of learning?

Here’s what Kid President had to say on the matter:

“My older brother and I believe kids and grown ups can change the world. We’re on a mission with our web series, Kid President, to do just that. If every classroom in the world could be full of grownups and kids working together, we’d live in a happier world. Kids want to know about the world and about how they can make an impact. Kids also have ideas. It’d be awesome if teachers and students could work together and put these ideas into action. There should be lessons in things like compassion and creativity. If those two things were taught more in schools we’d see some really cool things happen.”

Some of the other themes that emerged from this conversation were the following:

  • collaboration
  • online tools
  • critical thinking
  • future technology, e.g. programming
  • peer-to-peer learning
  • empowerment

And we at 225 Academy feel exactly the same. In fact, our brilliant Mentors will be holding sessions that incorporate most, if not all, of the points above. We are currently preparing for our Academy in Dubai and Singapore, where our team of outstanding young Mentors will be coming from around the world to inspire students – and these Mentors include people such as Derek Razo, a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur, and Gavin Illsley, a world champion Oxford debater! There are still a few places available – just click here to apply. Places are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, so hurry!

Here’s just a taster of some of the exciting sessions that we’ll be holding in Dubai and Singapore:
  • Re-wiring your brain for success
  • How to transform the lives of 100 million people, and
  • Master technology; master the future!

What do you think about the kids’ ideas? How do you envision the future of learning, and what can we do to continue to support and facilitate this? Join the conversation!

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Sugata Mitra: Child-driven Learning

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One lucky member of the 225 Academy team recently shared breakfast with the educational researcher and TED Prize Winner Sugata Mitra at a conference in Guatemala.

Sugata’s ground-breaking ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments have led him to reveal some very interesting insights into education and peer-shared knowledge. In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

The implications for this are truly exciting; his research has revolutionalised the way in which we think about teaching and education. Most importantly, it demonstrates that the most effective and empowering learning must place children at the very centre of it.

Check out his winning TED talk below:

 

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Success and ‘un-learning’ after Cambridge University

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One of our inspiring 225 Academy Mentors, Phoebe Tickell, talks about her experiences and attitudes to success, life and learning. 

Hello! I’m Phoebe, and by formal training, I’m a Natural Scientist. This means that I decided to spend my time at university studying the intricacies, systems and patterns in the world around me. It was difficult to choose one science, as I see all of the world around us as connected, and found beauty and meaning in subjects as different as neuroscience, plant biochemistry and the language of DNA. The life sciences gripped me, as life continues to amaze me, whether at the level of a tiny molecule binding to our DNA, or the big biogeochemical cycles in the ocean. Cracking the code that connects all of these things will never get old.

 

The moment I decided to study the science of the world around me was during this life-changing trip I managed to get onto, when I was 17. I went to the Amazon rainforest in Peru with a youth charity that organised scientific expeditions for young people. For 5 weeks, we learned to live in harmony with nature in the rainforest, with no contact with the outside world and rudimentary conditions to live in. We learned to survive. I will never forget the nights with the howler monkeys gurgling, a thousand stars overhead, and the splashes of river dolphins not far from our boat at night. Living closely with nature is still important to me, and I think is important for everyone. We spend so much time inside our heads completely submerged in our minuscule lives and problems, and sometimes all it takes is to have the sun shine on your face, or feel the grass between your toes to remember, we are part of something bigger. And we are all going to die! I seek out time with nature during travelling, getting my dose for another round in busy London!

 

By informal training, I am an artist, an activist, a mentor, and I hope always at whatever scale, a change-maker. Every day is a call to arms to open the eyes of the people around me to what is going on around them, where the world is going, and what we can do. After graduating from Cambridge University in 2013, I decided to spend time ‘unlearning’ some of what had stuck from years in an education system that prepares us to fit into a society which isn’t doing too well at the moment. I travelled for seven months around South East Asia, where I took up Thai boxing, yoga, meditation, commenced an animal-free diet and started speaking to strangers. I’ve maintained most of these habits even today. Even though the oceans, beaches, and forests are no longer part of daily life, we can always make do with what we have! Instead of climbing on a rock face in Vietnam, I settle for the climbing gym situated on the side of a motorway.

 

Now that I am back, I am spending my 9-to-5 at Imperial College London, where I’m trying to engineer a solution to our world’s energy problem. I play with bacteria and try to get them to make biofuels, so we can stop destroying the Earth in order to sustain our way of living. The other way I help this is through a campaign I recently set up at my university called Fossil Free. We are campaigning for our institution to pull out its investments from coal, oil and gas, as part of a bigger movement to fight the climate chaos that is greeting us at its door. The climate change problem for me is not one that is environmental, it is one of injustice, and at its core, a symptom of the capitalist, consumerist, unaware and ideologically broken way society is running today. 2015 is set to be a huge year for the climate change fight, culminating with huge policy decisions to be made in Paris in 2015. It is an honour to be at the forefront of this fight, and gathering support every day for the movement.

 

Related to all of the above, the other major thing I do with my life is mentoring and education. I believe young people are the key to future change, and my relationship with my mentees brings me joy on a personal level. I am a sub warden for a halls of residence at Imperial, where I mentor 160 students, imparting the knowledge I wish I that I could have had at 18! We have a lot of fun together, and I learn as much from them as I think they do from me. I am a firm believer that to change the world, we must start with ourselves. This week, I will be teaching them my first yoga class, having already given them a workshop on tie dying – which obviously too is essential knowledge!

 

An inspiring friend of mine recently got me involved in 225 Academy, a project which is particularly in line with my beliefs and who I am, and in many ways is part of a bigger picture of where I am moving to next. This journey of discovery is proving to be a lot of fun. It is coming together with a lot of mind bubbling and exuberant idea forming, which I seem to attack anyone who listens (or doesn’t) with!

 

In my spare time, I can be found practising yoga, cooking delicious food, or if it all gets too much, dancing to some great music (often while cooking). I am usually reading, writing, thinking and talking about all of the above however. It feeds my soul, and my spare time.

 

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Know Your Brain – Think Better! (Part 2)

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How often do you forget something?

Most memories are fleeting –  I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday! Even the memories we do manage to keep hold of aren’t always reliable. It’s not uncommon to see people bickering over past events; arguing about what happened with both parties being convinced that they are right. So what do we know about memory and how can that help us make better use of our own?

False Memories – While the sciences of the brain are still in their infancy, decades of research on memory has shown explicitly that our memories can be altered by various methods of suggestion. Our past memories can be skewed so we see them differently, changing the way we view our lives. Just by asking questions in different ways we can illicit responses of an event that are inconsistent with each other.

Whole false memories can also be created. Researchers have been able to, by suggestion, implant events into people minds that never happened. People quickly become confident of these distortions and describe them in great detail. And the trouble is we have no way of telling whether a memory is a false one (without being able to check from an external source). This has caused trouble in legal cases where witnesses claim to be sure of things that never actually happened.

Clearly we need to be aware of this, to be aware that occasionally our own memories aren’t perfect and be aware the same can be true for others. Perhaps you’ll be able to catch yourself out next time!

With all of the flaws, however, memory is still an amazing thing; people who are good are memorising can perform some incredible feats. What can we learn from them and the way our memories work to improve our own memory and memorising?

Words are new to brains. Routes through space, however, are not. Long numbers are tricky to deal with but colourful images can be easy. Because of the way our brains evolved they are far better suited to remembering images and routes than words and numbers. So one way memory champions (these people really do exist) take advantage of this is to, instead of trying to remember a list of words in a raw way, will pin words to images on a route they already know well.

For any information you want to hold on to it is important to process it and link it to the knowledge you already have, improving the connections in your brain. The way you organise information is also important, well structured information can be much easier to recall.

If you needed any more excuses to be healthy and happy, regular exercise, healthy diet and reduced stress have been shown to improve memory too!

    This is just a starting point. Why not have a look at these:

  • The Complexity of Memory – A series of TED talks related to memory
  • In Search of Memory – A cross between an informative book on science and a memoir of an interesting man

By Marko Mizdrak

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The Future of Humans

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As the technologies humans possess continue to improve, particularly in areas like bioengineering, what possibilities will we have to change the human body and brain of the future?

Sequencing the human genome has been a massive breakthrough. The first sequencing of the human genome cost around four billion dollars and took several years. Currently it costs around 10 thousand dollars and is set to keep getting cheaper in the coming years. We already know some of the functions of several genes, and today we have the power to screen for several genetic diseases and know that some genes can increase the likelihood of diseases like diabetes and leukaemia and the more we learn about the of genes the more power we will have, using techniques like IVF to produce selective offspring.

We do not only have the potential to choose the best genes from our own DNA but also to transplant genes from other creatures. There are several creatures in the deep sea which have evolved to emit light. Now scientists have managed to take the genes from deep sea jellyfish, and transplant them into mammals, making them too glow in the dark. They have done it with mice, kittens, pigs, puppies and even monkeys. Within a few years it is very likely the same will be possible for humans. Although being able to glow in the dark may not be the most desired trait humans will want to adopt from other creatures, there will surely be genes people will want to adopt. With the increasing ability to choose, transplant and even perhaps create genes we will be increasingly able to alter our DNA, changing the way we work, look and behave.

For many years have been creating many inventions that replace body parts and their functions: 68% of people in the UK wear glasses or contact lenses, 73 million people worldwide have pacemakers. Our recent improvements in prosthetic limbs have meant lots of people who have lost legs are now able to walk, skip and jump. These augmentations are quickly becoming as good as their natural counterparts and will soon be better. Imagine buying a new body part to improve your abilities!

Brain-computer interfaces can be used to control robots. Scientists have given paralysed stroke victims the ability to move a robotic arm. With a 4-millimeter-wide, brain-implanted chip, the system conducts signals from motion-controlling neurons to a computer that decodes the signals and turns them into commands that then move the robot. It may be possible for humans to one day replace their entire bodies.

We may, in the not too distant future, be able to upgrade our brains with computer technology too. Recently an experiment has been done with rats which had damage to parts of the hippocampus leading them to have reduced memory capabilities. Through studying the way that part of the brain worked, scientists were able to make a computer chip that replaced the function of this part of the brain and when implanted could restore the rats ability to memorise things. More interestingly, however, is that a fully able rat implanted with the same chip would benefit from even greater memory than usual – a memory upgrade! Although the human brain is more complex than one of a rat there is no theoretical reason the technology couldn’t be scaled up and used on humans in the not too distant future. Memory upgrades might well be the first augmentations we make to our brains but improvements and replacements of other parts of the brain are sure to follow, maybe even one day even to the point where our entire brain can be replaced by a digital system, essentially uploading our consciousness; immortalising ourselves…

There will always be ethical issues when moving forward with these technologies and we will have to, as a species, decide where to go. Whatever we decide, nature’s role in changing us from generation to generation will diminish and we will take control of our own evolution.

By Marko Mizdrak

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Know Your Brain – Think Better! (Part 1)

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We rely on our brains for everything we do – they are our most powerful tool. But, whether due to our brain’s in-built biases or mistakes in reasoning, at times our brains can let us down; make bad judgements and reach false conclusions. But by being aware of the ways in which our grey matter can trick us, we can better examine our thinking, notice our errors and avoid some unnecessary mistakes.

Brains have evolved over hundreds of millions of years; slowly adapting to survive in the natural world. Human brains have barely changed in the last hundred-thousand years. The same mass of interconnected neurons that would have been responsible for deciding to run from predators and inventing stone tools is now developing spacecraft that can be travel four-billion miles into space and land on a comet to examine its composition in order to try and answer questions about the formation of our solar system. Amazing, right?

Despite the fantastic power of our skull-centred computers to learn and solve new problems, we can’t rid our minds completely of their evolutionary pasts. Imagine for a moment you are a stone-age person, you hear a rustling in the bushes. If you assume its a predator, and run away when actually its just the wind, there are no adverse consequences. If you assume that its nothing, and it is in fact a lion, you’re quickly taken out of the gene pool and into the stomach of a happy cat.

This is why evolutionary psychologists believe humans exhibit Apophenia – the tendency to notice patterns where there are none. Apophenia is part of the human condition and usually it’s harmless; we see animals, faces and figures in rock formations and clouds, and ask people what they’ve just said when really they’ve been silent. It also means we are great at noticing patterns when they do exist. But apophenia also causes things such as incorrect interpretations of causation from correlation, Confirmation Bias, and Hindsight Bias – these can cloud judgement and lead to bad decisions.

So… what am I supposed to do with this information? I think we have to accept that occasionally apophenia will lead us to think things that aren’t true. But if we examine our reasons for thinking things and frequently ask ourselves could it be apophenia? Then we can catch our brain’s mistakes and reap the rewards of better thinking!

I have only covered a small section in the topic of cognitive biases here. I will return to the topic and cover other areas of cognitive biases, logical fallacies and flaws in reasoning in future blogs posts. And if you cant wait until then, check these things out:

By Marko Mizdrak

E-learning

Be Part Of The E-learning Revolution!

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I have been a consumer of online educational content for several years, just this week I started my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The breadth and versatility of E-­learning is unparalleled and I believe everyone has something to gain from taking part in this method of learning that will, no doubt, change the world.

E­-learning has exploded over the last decade. Individuals and organisations who see gaps are able to quickly and cheaply make online learning content. People across the world are sharing their knowledge: producing videos, articles and lessons. Several universities have made entire courses, complete with hundreds of hours of lectures free for you to access and complete online. YouTube is rammed full of a variety of factual channels spanning all sorts of areas from make-­up and fashion to engineering and mathematics. Websites like Instructables have created huge online communities that teach and show each other how to make and do new things. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

E-­learning, while already vast and powerful, is still in its infancy. The more people that get involved the better it will become; there will be more data, more examples of what works well and what doesn’t. With that, materials will evolve and improve. Everyone who takes part is helping to shape the education of the future.

Millions who live in areas where they cannot receive a traditional schooling are finally able to receive an education. But it doesn’t stop there. If you haven’t had the time before, you can now learn at your own pace and fit studies around other commitments. Inspired children can go above and beyond their curriculum and delve deep into the most niche subjects, following their passions and becoming the geniuses, inventors and entrepreneurs of the future. An inspirational example is Battushig Myanganbayar.

There was once a time when accessing information was a laborious process involving visiting libraries, searching shelves and sifting though pages. Today, thousands of years of human intelligence is available at your fingertips. You can learn anything, and with that, achieve anything!

Could you take advantage of any online learning materials?

Could you help others by making content of your own?

What’s stopping you?

Here are some great places to start:

  • YouTube – Our favourite channels include: Crash Course, Sixty Symbols, Computerphile,
  • Numberphile, CGP Grey
  • Instructables – People upload guides on how they have made things from bracelets to quad-
  • copters. A lot of discussions and advice on help and improvements.
  • Coursera – Take free online courses from over 80 top universities.
  • Khan Academy – A vast amount of videos and exercises and a progress tracker.
  • TED – Inspiring talks from the world’s leading thinkers and doers.
  • Udemy – A great platform for learning, and teaching, online.

By Marko Mizdrak

india mars

From Mumbai to Mars

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India recently launched a satellite into orbit around Mars on its first attempt.

It was a landmark moment in the ‘Space Renaissance’ and suggests that the world is now getting ever closer to achieving the audacious goal of sending humans to Mars, which we like to keep a close eye on ;) Indeed, with the additional efforts of Elon Musk’s SpaceX to help humans colonise other planets, we may not be far away at all.

As you can see from the photo above, it was also a landmark moment for women in technology, another issue close to our hearts.

Our Director of Partnerships, Ash Sangha, was in India when the news was announced and encountered a range of opinions on the ground. While some would claim that money would be better spent on electricity and sanitation, figures in the Indian government have maintained that the country must “dare to dream big” instead of “just living on the fringes of high technology.”

We believe in the importance of setting what Google describes as ‘moonshots‘: big goals which involve a healthy disregard for the impossible. You may not reach these big, crazy goals. But you’ll certainly get closer than you would have otherwise. And who knows, your audacity may just inspire enough of those around you to help you achieve it.

This mindset is common to anyone who has achieved great things, and is remarkably prevalent amongst the people and projects based in the San Francisco and Bay Area, where our Director of Learning, Sunny Sangha, is currently based. Sunny is there to draw inspiration from the world’s most pioneering, ‘moonshot’ thinkers who are totally reinventing the world as we know it, in order to share these insights with the global 225 Academy Community of young people around the world.

Sunny has been particularly impressed by the team at Planet Labs who are themselves part of the same global ‘Space Renaissance’. They launch satellites, which they call ‘doves’, into orbit to achieve their own ‘moonshot’ mission of taking images of the whole world, every day and providing universal access to it.

Now that’s a mission to be proud of :)