Are there any other #LinkyBrains here?

I am just back from my first ever #LinkyBrains event held at the Bradfield Centre in Cambridge a delightful building in Cambridge Science Park which communicates a positive vibe that cool and exciting things are happening. The invitation for the first @camlinkybrains event came from Allister Frost a CTO and Startup Advisor/Mentor and many things besides.

#LinkyBrains is a new phenomena which started via social media. The first siting of the Twitter hashtag seems to have come from Alex Dunsdon on the 17th March. As a regular Twitter user when I spotted the hashtag I was intrigued by the idea of #LinkyBrains as my prevailing mantra as some of you will know is #OnlyConnect.

I have recently discovered two other people for whom #OnlyConnect is also their mantra and I am thrilled to know both of them. The first is Kenneth Tharp CBE Freelance Arts Professional and  simply brilliant  keynote speaker! We are both part of the STEAMCo collective co founded by @nickcorston #ArtConnects. The second is Leora Cruddas formally Director of Policy at ASCL and now CEO of FASNA .  I am keen to learn more about FASNA as I have really enjoyed reading Leora’s Blue Print for a Self Improving System,   The landscape of education in our country is in transformation, making the brilliant sapphire butterfly on the Blueprint cover seem particularly apt.

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Doug Scott was I believe one of the originators of the #LinkyBrains idea. He says,

“We believe that society, business and science make giant leaps forward because of certain people who connect unrelated dots and create entirely new ways we live our lives – we call these people Linky Brains.”

The Spinney is an Ashoka Changemaker School and I am an EduChangeleader so the idea of making connections is a familiar one. I love connecting dots and working with others, (such as the brilliant @SuzieYoung project lead for all sorts of exciting things at The Kite Teaching School Alliance) in order to make new things happen that will improve the outcomes and opportunities for teachers, communities and young people.

Some of our activities include @MyCambs a Cultural Education Partnership for Cambridge, the @bigreadandwrite  which is an annual Literary Event for young people which takes place at Lady Mitchell Hall but is live streamed to thousands of children across Cambridgeshire and beyond and this year was in partnership not only with Cambridge Literary Festival but also @EmpathyLabUk (Read Stories, Build Empathy, Make a Better World) and the brilliant author Jo Cotterill @jocotterillbook.  We also co-construct the annual Cambridgeshire Festival of Education.

“The most optimistic education festival in the world, probably!” 

The idea for @CambsEdFest came about as a result of seeing so much negativity in the press about teaching and the teaching profession. Children need teachers, Schools need teachers, Society needs teachers and we need to work positively and optimistically together to celebrate teaching as the brilliant, creative, noble (and yes demanding) profession that it is and rather than being lemmings of doom, we must be #flamingoesofhope.

Our next #Flamingle18 takes place on the 9th June at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education  in partnership and thanks to many others including Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board ( I am the Chair of @CambsSib )  Teach in Cambs, Long Road 6th Form College, Linton Village College, Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council and others, and this year we are particularly excited about our new partnership with Cambridge Regional College


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All of these projects and other serendipitous and positive additions to our Spinney Primary School curriculum and pedagogy have come about through making connections and partnerships with individuals and organisations.  The @kitetsa’s annual Family STEAM Festival is an excellent example of what can be achieved when we bring partners together such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (and hopefully these partnerships create positive ripples into the future!)

Last year over 900 visitors came along to our Family STEAM festival from schools and communities from all across Cambridgeshire to learn about all things STEAM.

(We see this Festival as an asset in the landscape for Cambridgeshire and are keen to see it grow and develop so any help with investment and other ideas would be much appreciated) 

The Family STEAM Festival is a free day out for all the family to come and learn together.  A wonderful celebration of all things STEM plus ARTS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths).Plans are already underway for 2018 so if you would like to be involved please get in touch.

The beautiful VIDEO about the STEAM Festival from last October is well worth viewing.

As a Cambridgeshire school, projects such @MyCambs and @FamilySteamFestival are important to us as they aim to fix the wobbly bridge between education and the innovation, tech, creative and science industries that we are so famous for in Cambridge.  By promoting STEM skills alongside the Arts we hope to ensure that our young people have the knowledge, competencies and qualities to successfully navigate the future and to make the world an even better place.

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With its high ceilings and open airy setting next to a verdant green and a small lake the Bradfield Centre was the perfect place to meet with other #LinkyBrains although, being lunchtime and the cafe all a-buzz it was rather difficult to spot the others when I first arrived this afternoon.  I therefore had to resort to a loud call into the space:

“Are there any other #LinkyBrains in here?” 

Fortunately this crazy shout out was received with a friendly “Yes” and a wave of hands shot up so I knew I had come to the right place.

The other #LinkyBrains were a very inspiring group of people from different walks of life with backgrounds and interest in engineering, technology, logistics, design and entrepreneurialism to name just a few.

Despite the variety of interests, the group were very welcoming and happy to discuss education. We talked broadly about the “problems of education in this country” and whether it sufficiently promotes the type of problem solving, creativity, risk taking, resilience and collaboration that are useful in the types of work that the rest of the group are involved in.  This gave me a positive opportunity to explain why I found it so rewarding to be part of the Ashoka Changemaker Network of schools. which promote Empathy, Teamwork, Creativity and Social Entrepreneurialism. I also talked about my experiences as a member of the DFE’s Primary Headteachers Reference Group and my contribution to the Flip The System UK book.

We talked about many other subjects not directed related to the day job including imposter syndrome (and found that many of us all know Kate Atkin), transport, drones, logistics, coding. And the interdisciplinary nature of the discussions made it particularly rewarding with everyone having different perspectives and experiences to add in to the equation. My mentor Professor Pam Burnard often talks about the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking and practice and researches in this area. From today’s experience I can certainly see the value of it!

One thing that we seemed to have in common as #LinkyBrains was Innovation. All of us were engaged in some exisitng project or staring a new project. As I am working on setting up Innovation Trust and am the CEO Designate, I found it extremely useful to learn from what Alistair was saying as to why some start-ups succeed and others end up in the start-up grave yard.

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One of the reasons Allister  gave was that some people simply give up, or try 10 approaches instead of trying 100, or they too closely relate the potential failure of the project with their own perception of themselves as a failure such that they might not take the risk. I can see that his insights are very valuable and I look forward to re-connecting and learning from him in the future.

Towards the end of the two hours Chris Jordan  threw in a very interesting provocation and said that he was interested to know what cities would look like if we re-designed them starting from the sand-box. We then talked about whether we would still think in terms of Grid designs for Cities, whether we would resort to platonic shapes for buildings or whether it would be something different. Donald Forbes explained that in Zambia many villages were formed as intricate fractal patterns and that Ran Eglash first noticed this phenomena in the 1980s when he noticed the striking fractal patterns in aerial photos of African settlements. This TED Talk explain more and includes this marvelous sentence: “A widely shared design practice does not necessarily give you a unity of culture.”

The #LinkyBrains then talked about how if we were to design a city from first principles that the values in the foundations would be important as they would define the shape, purpose and the design elements within. We agreed that communal places such as Temples, Community Centres, and even Shopping Centres would be important as they fulfill fundamental human needs of connectedness and purpose.

I then described the visit my family and I had taken to Westfield Shopping Centre last week, the biggest shopping centre I have even been to in my life. Specifically I talked about the rather marvelous immersive Star Wars Void experience, which was very entertaining and out of this world.

This then sparked further conversation about Star Wars, VR experiences, The Cambridge Escape Rooms and more #LinkyBrain ideas.

Here’s the Linkedin post from Allister Frost

“I really enjoyed our first #LinkyBrains event at The Bradfield Centre. Such a great mix of people talking about their ideas and projects. We covered a variety of topics from logistics Chris Jordan (Carryr), Drone legislation from Graham Butcher (currently launching his new business), Graeme Douglas (Biomechanics), Rae Snape (Ashoka, Cambridge Festival of Education), Simon Bragg on Content Strategy for Websites, Donald Forbes (42 Signals) Compilers, Design Language for hardware (IoT). We ended on VR experiences (James Jensen The VOID) as Rae is also Star Wars fan. Let’s see what happens next time! Our thanks to James Parton, Maria-Grace Smith (Central Working) Cambridge Science Park for hosting us. Thanks to Alex Dunsdon (LinkyBrain), Chris Tottman Doug Scott and LinkyBrains for your stories, support and inspiration.”


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What I have reflected on was that the group was very inclusive, keen to connect and identify common ground, to spot new ideas and there was excellent psychological safety between us which meant that each one of us seemed to feel safe enough to say anything that we wanted without fear of being judged by anyone else. This is crucial. I also referred to the research of Amy C Edmondson and her book Teaming  How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy  which points out the importance of Psychological Safety.

I came away from the afternoon feeling very mentally stimulated and happy! It is unusual for me to meet and connect with people from such diverse occupations and interests and perhaps this is the JOY of #LinkyBrains.

I look forward to the next meeting and to see what emerges.


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Rae Snape – Headteacher of  The Spinney Primary School, Cambridge

National Leader of Education – The Kite Teaching School Alliance

Chair of Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board

CEO Designate – Innovation Trust 



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