Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

Filtering by Tag: frames

Taxonomy of Frames for Innovation

Here you have it folks, in a 4 minute timelapsed writing + voice narration video. 

Having published a few weeks ago my confidence is growing that this baby is a keeper. It's actually the toolkit of a generalist innovator. "Generalist" sound dull to you? Not me - I am one, proud of it. Study widely different domains and then mash them up.. We can transform education by playing anthropologist, and seeking insights outside the domain. Anyways have a watch - you'll know within seconds if you want to keep going: Read more here, contribute here.

Make Room

Make Room

I have a riddle:

What can you create by taking something away?

- remove tables and chairs...
- remove old displays from walls and windows
- remove the lesson plan
- remove established conventions
- remove the personal histories, and assumptions
- remove goals and expectations
- remove all storage and stored items

Let the clutter fall and a lightness take its place.

You've created a blank slate.

In the clutter, who owned the space? It wasn't the teacher! It sure wasn't the learners.


The space was its own creature, self-perpetuating. The clutter took up the room, vetoing unforeseen discoveries and unrecognised passions.

Now there is room.

Anything could happen. It's a fresh day. It's a new page.

Everything in our field of vision is heavily analysed and processed by our visual cortex and 'adaptive unconscious' - our executive functions are not aware of this, it just gets dished up on a platter... a very full platter.

Those old posters still on the wall are invoking a myriad of tired neural networks, and further, a cascade of associations. It's the weight of the past. The mind uses reference lookup as a default mode, and the process has a hair trigger.

Now you've taken the posters down, and made room. Your visual cortex scans and sees a blank canvas. Subtly the blood flow in your brain shifts to support higher functions; creating the future rather than referencing the past.

An ember-sense of capacity and enlargement grows. The learner feels more receptive and expansive. 

We add back in a few items: liquid chalk for writing on the windows, ordinary chalk for the floor, butcher's paper for the walls.

And we ask: what next? what's on your heart? where shall we go?


Post-Script Vignettes: 

Notes from Frames Taxonomy

Frames are discrete, identifiable, manipulable components of our physical, virtual, mental and cultural contexts. If we don't shape them, they shape us.

- items of furniture are o-frames
- habits, lesson plans, are s-frames
- goals and agendas are n-frames
- our personal histories and sense of established roles are also n-frames

We can create these frames deliberately, but mostly they are just 'spawned' or inherited from the past, and are very often artefacts of our collective neuroses, perpetuating anxiety.

Frames get coded in our the basal ganglia (unquestioned routine) and resisting them can activate the amygdala (fear of social transgression).


Make Room, by Rachel Collis

The notion of 'making space' or 'making room' has become for me a core value in every domain, every situation.

Though your heart's a flickering no-vacancy sign,
Though your heart's forever working overtime,
Though your heart's a suitcase fully packed,
Though your heart's a disregarded artefact -

Love is spacious, love is kind,
So make room. 
Make room.

Though your heart's the city crowds on New Year's Eve,
Though your heart's been struggling for years with no reprieve,
Though your heart's economy class,
Though your heart's perpetually half-mast -

Love is spacious, love is kind,
So make room. 
Make room.

Though the bus is standing room only,
Love's not leaving anyone behind,
So make room.

Though my heart's an insensitive practical joke,
Though you fear I'll strangle you with my yoke,
Though I fight and kick and scratch and scream,

And though I need -

Love is spacious, love is kind,
So make room.

Make room.


For Me at Home 

I try to make room at home, especially room to think/write/draw. 

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Today I'm going to order 'aqua notes' that I've been aware of for ages - creating room to write in the shower! Ironically on their website they also have the opposite... pure clutter, in the form of a crossword to do in the shower.  

My love affair with GTD workflow is about finding mental space to be reflective and receptive in the midst of the insane complexity of school life.

In particular, I want to feel like when there is an interruption and someone needs my help or input, I can genuinely make room for them - have a sense of generous, abundant space for them rather than the scarcity of throwaway scraps.

And how much more important is this aspiration when it comes to young learners!

Alice Leung Does Stochastic Tinkering

I noticed Alice Leung tweeting about tinkering with the configuration of her classroom:


There developed a lovely conversation between her and @sarahjohanna :


Now I really resonated with what was going on here  and what I often notice in Alice's tweets: a constant energetic questioning and tinkering, and then reflecting on the results. Apart from anything else, I just want to shout a hearty 'hear hear!' and celebrate the moment.

The exchange also sparked some associations and I've thrown them here below: 

"Stochastic Tinkering"

I picked this lovely phrase up from Nassim Taleb in his books "The Black Swan" and "Antifragile". By stochastic he means random. For me, the word has connotations of deliberate intent to shake things up... staccato stabs at innovation. 

Stochastic tinkering isn't far off notions of edu-hacking. 


Taxonomy of Frames

In my 'frames' taxonomy for innovation, Alice is tinkering with "o-frames" - organisational frames. In this case, they are the physical frames in her learning space, consisting of furniture, empty space, etc, within the broader o-frame of the classroom building itself.

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Alice observes that "HS teachers don't really think about learning space layout".  

My aspiration for the 'frames' taxonomy is to expose these arbitrary elements and make them more susceptible to innovation. Alice, of course, does this instinctively.

Frames are for edu-hacking, stochastic tinkering.


Design Thinking  vs Hacking

I've noticed Design Thinking is getting more and more traction in educational circles. Indeed I myself have become rather besotted by it.  I suspect that within a year or two it will have the same horrible simplistic buzz word status as flipped learning, PBL, gamification. 

All these models wander in and out of the edu-zeitgeist.

As much as I love Design Thinking, I wouldn't want it to become a dogma to replace "fly by the seat of your pants" hacking/tinkering.

So much of life, experience, and nature, and everything is composed of ad-hoc tinkering.

Hacking is immediate, contextual, empowered, and subversive! It provides its own research data, because it either works immediately & sticks or it doesn't and doesn't.

A blog post contrasting Design Thinking with hacking is here, with lots of further links.


Whiteboard + Table Legs = Revolution

Whiteboard Table

Whiteboard Table

A couple of years ago my colleague Mitch Layland bolted an old whiteboard to some old table legs: 

The idea went viral - lots of teachers started asking for them:

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Consider what a revolution 90° makes. It's a political revolution!

A vertical whiteboard is for broadcasting. It is a one-to-many delivery system.

In contrast a horizontal whiteboard table is space to be claimed. It allows many-to-many collaboration via line-of-sight.

Vertical is tyranny, horizontal is  power to the people! 

Here are the tables in action, including a video:

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When we have visits by teachers from other schools, the whiteboard table is always remarked on. As soon as you seen one, the idea seems simple, powerful and obvious. 

But until you see one, the idea does not occur. 

Which begs a question: what else aren't we seeing? 

Or more broadly: How can we develop the ability to see the bleeding obvious?   

Some people are gifted it in this, but not me, and I want a method for acquiring the skill.

I label and describe physical objects as 'frames' in an attempt to uncover the obvious. 

I label and describe physical objects as 'frames' in an attempt to uncover the obvious. 

 In my last post I introduced 'frames theory' whose very purpose it is to develop this skill, exposing blind spots and challenging the tyranny of the familiar

 So I shall conclude by recasting the whiteboard table in the terms of frames theory.

Younglings reconfigure space without thinking about it.

Younglings reconfigure space without thinking about it.

The physical classroom itself is an 'organisational frame'.

An 'organisational frame' is matter organised in a particular way.

e.g. a classroom might be: four walls, a door, and some windows. 

Organisational frames are nested. Within a classroom we find lots of other frames: a vertical surface with legs, called a 'table', and another called a 'chair'. 

In frames theory we try to see these objects like lego bricks, and approach them with the attitude of a toddler who smashes things into other things, turns things upside down stacks things on things, and so on, with no end goal at all. 

The point is to be playful, and you can't be playful if you think space is immutable.

Obvious to young learners.

Obvious to young learners.

So we ask, what if we used the tables as chairs? or the chairs as tables? Or we turned them on their sides? Or added legs, or put them on wheels?

Then we notice the whiteboard up the front and we ask: what if we put it at the other end? Or put it on the floor? Or dangled it from the roof? What if we cut it in two?

Back to kindergarten for me to see the obvious.

Back to kindergarten for me to see the obvious.

What if we put it on a table? 

The language of 'frames' forces us to step back and label the bleeding obvious, which is a step toward transforming the familiar.  

Go into a space, and take an inventory of the frames, and define them like you're an alien from Mars.

 What is right before your eyes, that you're just not seeing?


 POST-SCRIPT: an excerpt from "Antifragile" by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, p188

"We keep being reminded that the Mesoamericans did not invent the wheel. They did. They had wheels. But the wheels were on small toys for children. [] They used vast quantities of human labor, corn maize, and lactic acid to move gigantic slabs of stone in the flat spaces ideal for pushcarts and chariots where they built their pyramids. They even rolled them on logs of wood. Meanwhile, their small children were rolling their toys on the stucco floors"  



Introducing 'Frames Theory' for Innovating in Schools

To change something you first need to perceive it is changeable.

To change something you first need to perceive it is changeable.

Introducing 'Frames Theory' for Innovating in Schools

'To make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.'

How to innovate… step back from the familiar, recognise it as arbitrary artifice, and tinker with it.

In that spirit I offer my fellow educators a toolkit I have been working on for a couple of years now.

I call it 'frames theory', and its purpose is to open pathways for innovation by identifying existing components of practice - both physical and psychological - thereby making them ripe for change.

Let the crowd be hushed… Ladies and Gentleman, Steve Collis is delighted to unveil ‘Frames Theory’ and invite collaboration!

It's simple: there are just four 'frames'.

You can use the four frames to notice distinct components operating at school, and so consider tinkering with them. The components deliberately span domains: physical, mental, social, tech/information. 

With a hat tip to Occam and his razor, here they are:

1. Organisation frames (O-Frames) are groups of objects or ideas.

An O-Frame is a cluster of elements (physical objects, ideas) with a discernible set of relationships. Every physical object is an o-frame.

For instance, rows of desks facing the front of a classroom (note that the words 'rows' and 'front' set up organisational relationships).

Beyond School: an atom is as equally an O-Frame as a company's organisational hierarchy!

2. Sequence frames (S-Frames) are action steps. 

An S-Frame is a series of actions taken in sequence over a time period.

For instance, a school routine of lining up outside a classroom, greeting the teacher, then coming in, sitting down, and eyes out the front. Equally, the timetable is an S-Frame, as are social scripts played out unknowingly by teachers and students.

Beyond School: algorithms are S-Frames. 

Objects or concepts organised in a particular way,

Objects or concepts organised in a particular way,

A sequence of actions.

A sequence of actions.

3. Narrative frames (N-Frames) refer to story-telling.

An N-Frame is specific to psychology. Our minds interpret the world through the filter of story.

A narrative frame contains goodies, baddies, archetypes, goals, pitfalls, & more.

A narrative frame contains goodies, baddies, archetypes, goals, pitfalls, & more.

For instance: good guys, bad guys, allies, enemies, a range of archetypes, notions of progress, quests, pitfalls, and more. In school, teachers broadcast N-Frames at learners in phrases that frame 'where we are' and 'where we're heading'.

You can use 'N-Frame' to refer to any of these elements. 

Beyond School : ingroup/outgroup thinking, the 'other', and goal seeking behaviour, are all manifestations of N-Frames. 

4. Explanatory frames (E-Frames) refer to explanations.

Explanatory frames are our explanations that connect the past to the present and future.

Explanatory frames are our explanations that connect the past to the present and future.

An E-Frame is a theory of cause and effect, such as ‘if I flatter this person they will like me’, ‘that person is angry at me because I forgot their name’ or ‘the climate is warming due to carbon released by human activity’.

For instance: at school, a veritable plethora of invisible E-Frames play puppet-master, sitting behind classroom management – ‘I need order so I can teach’, standard testing – ‘data leads to better learning’ or opposite 'testing wrecks learning', and relational dynamics - ‘the teacher hates me’ or ‘that student sabotages my classes’.

 E-Frames are our interpretative apparatus, and they guide our future goal-seeking strategies.

They also happen to be fallible and unreliable to an extreme degree in all matters other than the most concrete propositions. Much damage is caused due to misplaced confidence in E-Frames. 

Cognitive biases render most E-Frames useless or harmful, for instance the ‘fundamental attribution error’, whereby we attribute our own behaviour to context, but others’ behaviour to personality. 

Beyond School: scientific  theories. 


all memes are frames but not all frames are memes

all memes are frames but not all frames are memes

Frames vs Memes

Some might equate ‘frames’ with ‘memes’ but they are not the same beast. I'm pretty sure that all memes are frames but I am certain that not all frames are memes.





Using Frames to Innovate

Together, the four frames provide language for identifying changeable components of a situation, from policies, to physical spaces, to teaching philosophies, habits, inventions... just about anything. It's a universal toolkit.

The point is, once we identify an arbitrary frame, we can change it.

That's the whole point! 

We can ask, ‘what if we changed that O-Frame to this other one?’ or ‘this E-Frame to this other one?’.

Wondrously, we can dissect and recombine frames with blind impunity, with no master plan for why the new combination will be better. You don't need a plan or a justification! It's called hacking, innovating, reinventing, and it doesn't need a reason.



Just mash up some new frames, and see what happens! While you do it you can say "I'm mashing up frames!" like a crazy chef.

A physical example: replace the classroom chairs (O-Frames) with lounges (a different O-Frame) . Do nothing else. See what happens.

A psychological example: as a teacher I might realise take the E-Frame that ‘student X is setting out to sabotage the class’ and replace it with ‘student X is hungry and therefore grumpy’. Whether or not the student is hungry or not is irrelevant – the point is to manipulate the E-Frame (our interpretative theory) and then observe the results. 

Similarly you can identify and tinker randomly with S-Frames, N-Frames, or bundles of them.

We don't have to have a master plan to innovate, just the courage to take what we see and tinker with it.

Frames are Everywhere

There is so much more I want to say about my little frames theory. I have been chewing on it quietly for years.

School is only one context - once familiar with the terms, you see frames everywhere! 

Piano playing consists of O-Frames and  S-Frames. Computer programs are S-Frames and computer memory consists of O-Frames. DNA and proteins are O-Frames. In cells, S-Frames emerge from Brownian motion as O-Frames bump into each other in a molecular storm.

The cat is an O-Frame, and so is the QWERTY keyboard. Together they make a new O-Frame I would like to re-invent such that I can type!

The cat is an O-Frame, and so is the QWERTY keyboard. Together they make a new O-Frame I would like to re-invent such that I can type!

A baseball or cricket field is an O-Frame, but the rules are O-Frames. Listen to the commentary and you’ll hear E-Frames and N-Frames.

Ingredients in a cake are O-Frames, and the cake is an O-Frame, but the recipe is an S-Frame.  

Frames provide a vehicle for seeking insights in exotic fields, since they appear in multiple domains, and at multiple scales.  Heck, our galaxy is an O-Frame, but so is my cat.

Frames nest within other frames, thereby spanning scales as well as domains. 

In coming blog posts I intend to present some case studies on the frames in action, and perhaps get more up close and personal with each of the four frames in turn.

An Invitation to Collaborate

Have I caught your attention? Has a light-bulb plopped on – some intrigue – some sense of potential? Please join me and let’s explore frames together.

First step, leave a comment, won’t you? I need to gauge how accessible I have made the frames. 

Second step, I've created a wiki for frames - head over and add something, anything - add just one example of a frame!

Third step, you could post your own blog post where you grapple with frames… I’d love to hear your thoughts and see where you take the ideas.