On BBC Micro:bit being for everyone, connecting the unconnected, talk by world famous inventor and why we spell STEM with an A.

Are you concerned about education? I am, but first my credentials. I’m just a dad. Not a clever academic backed up by reams of evidence or a particularly gifted artist with work on show in top galleries. Just a dad.

My elevator pitch: I have a Masters in Electronics, Grade A A-level design and a big mouth so I sort of get technology, am creatively aware and love selling a good story and in creativity, community and education I think there might be a good story.

But I don’t remember my education, well primary or secondary, having any influence over any of this.

I learned electronics as a teenager out of hobby electronics magazines and had more electric shocks than I care to remember building sound systems for a punk rock band called ‘The Exhumed’ and sound to light controllers for mobile Northern Soul DJ’s with electronic components bought from Maplin Electronic Supplies, then just a mail order warehouse in Southend.

I do remember a school report glossing over my dismal academic achievements, scraping the barrel to say that I was ‘quite creative. I think we had to look the word up in a dictionary.

Any creativity I had/have was kindled by a big box of Lego, but my mum is adamant it was all because of the fact that we didn’t have a TV until I was about 7 (no, I didn’t grown up in a trendy Steiner household, they simply hadn’t invented affordable tellys then).

And my blagging skills were acquired working before and after school and on Saturdays in a butchers shop making pork pies and skinning sheep’s heads.


So I think it was with a wide open mouth as, while humping laser disc players and IBM PC’s the size of small fridges into BETT in the Barbican in 1989, I came across a stand selling Lego Technics – with motors and light sensors and  micro switches. I marvelled at how far it had come while I had been in in an alcohol induced haze for my university years (where I ran a DJ sound system using a mixer I’d built with a circuit diagram I’d found in a skip and components I’d ‘liberated’ Steve Wozniak style on my industrial placement).

My next encounter with BETT was when I was doing all the presentations, design and content for Microsoft in 2000 or so. I was reminded of this when I saw ‘Phonics Guru’ Jaz Ampar-Farr speaking at a literacy conference with ReadingWise whose ground breaking literacy intervention I am helping launch to help struggling readers (Well, Sir Ken did say ‘Creativity is as important as literacy” in his TED talk so it felt like a good fit).

Jaz pointed out that I had given her one of her first jobs, co-presenting with me on Microsoft’s stand. Yes, it’s a small world. And I knew I’d seen her somewhere since as she’s apparently one of Sir Alan Sugar’s favourite Apprentice candidates and she blew everyone away with her talk and masterful MC’ing at STEAM Co.’s launch event in Liverpool. (See her simply epic keynote at TeachMeet London at QK above).


It’s lovely when it all comes together so I was delighted when the organisers of BETT asked me if STEAM Co. could help them put some creativity icing on BETT’s cake so to speak.

‘MY DAD’S A BIRD MAN - WILL YOU DO A SELFIE WITH ME?’    Photo credit:  Graham Brown-Martin - Reimagining Education


Photo credit: Graham Brown-Martin - Reimagining Education

As one of 25,000 or  so STEM Ambassadors in the UK, it’s been good to see STEM well represented at BETT but even more to see them now spell STEM with an ‘A’ and build on ‘Creative Schools’, the inspirational talk of the book of the same name last year by Sir Ken Robinson, considered by many to be the ‘Grand Master of creativity in education’ though not all commentators are quite so complimentary applying that very British Marmite filter to everything he and others like him say and do.

In his talk at the STEAM Co. regional launch event at the LifeSciences UTC and Studio School in Liverpool, Sir Ken generously said “I absolutely commend every attempt to broaden the curriculum. STEAM Co. are doing fantastic work, putting the A back in, for the arts”. 

So what does this mean? Is there more to STEAM than just being this year’s thing, a way of selling more whiteboard and tin boxes. What about the grey matter?


Back in 1995, I launched Arawak, a digital agency and our first brief was to help launch MSN in the UK by producing their live event content from Edinburgh Festival and the London Marathon. 

Wired magazine had just launched in the UK for the first time, published by The Guardian, and was so new they could barely even give advertising away. We bit their hand off and published a full page ad bearing an image of a red rose for no reason other than that it was the only usable photo in a suitcase full of CD ROM’s of clip art Corel had given us.

‘RESPONSIBLE MARKETING’  : Nick Corston presents at Ad Conference in Shoreditch with adman legend Dave Trott on the front row

‘RESPONSIBLE MARKETING’ : Nick Corston presents at Ad Conference in Shoreditch with adman legend Dave Trott on the front row

The headline on the ad, written by our Creative Director, Alex Nisbett who in turn had been inspired by an anti-gun message he’d seen on a car bumper sticker in LA, ran ‘COMPUTERS SUCK. PEOPLE ARE COOL’.

And it’s never been truer.

BETT isn’t and should never be about technology for technology’s sake, but what it can do to help people, teachers and children – to inspire and support teaching and learning.


In one of the most inspiring talks on the web, marketing guru and self-declared ‘ruckus maker’ Seth Godin says “It’s all about connections” and describes the move from yesterday’s industrial economy to today’s connected economy, a world where it which it never been easier to have and make ideas happen.

He also describes in his manifesto and TED talk ‘Stop stealing dreams’ how the world’s education systems have to evolve too. This is echoed by BETT keynote speaker and STEAM Co. adviser, Prof. Sugata Mitra who describes how the education system we have, has its roots in a Victorian system designed to teach people to sit still in factories and offices as the British Empire was rolled out.

In his talk Seth Godin spells out why we spell STEM with an ‘A’ at STEAM Co. He says ‘Art is what we call it when what we do might connect people’.

And that’s what we’re doing with STEAM Co. – connecting people or, as Dame Julia Cleverdon of Business in the community said in a talk at Warwick University, “connecting the unconnected”.


I’ve just had one of the most inspiring and humbling 24 hours for a while. I type this taking stock on the train back from a weekend in Sunderland.

Yesterday afternoon, Nissan’s head of education and training, Ian Green, took me round one of three global training centres that Nissan run to not only train their own people, but also to inspire and nurture tomorrow’s talent for the North East. Each year they send coaches to bring 5,000 primary children in for a day of STEAM activities from panel beating, building and racing Lego cars to Logo design and collaborative problem solving tasks.

Alongside Nissan’s own trainees learning how to operate fork lift trucks and programme assembly line robots, secondary children are able to use 3D printers, CNC controlled machine tools and wind tunnels to build and perfect their entries into the mind blowingly educational and exciting F1 in Schools programme.

In the evening I was accosted by a hugely over excited bank manager from Barclays. But this is a bank manager like no other. Dave Gowans helps manage Barclays Digital Eagles, 25,000 people in the bank who get involved in a range of community projects.

Some help teach children to code in their Code Playground Initiative while others supervise free use of 3D printers and laser cutters by the public in a national network of Eagle Labs they are rolling out in unused bank premises across the UK.

See the film above of STEAM Co. helping out at the launch of their Brighton Eagle Lab and Dave Shepherd who heads up the Eagle Labs programme who said (unprompted) "In this digital world, it's all really still about people".


Dave’s almost unbridled enthusiasm had been triggered by an evening at the opening of INVENTORS! an exhibition showcasing a 3 month long project run by Sunderland born and now world famous inventor Dominic Wilcox which has seen him running ideas workshops with children in the challenged Cultural Spring wards of his home city.

As a STEAM Co. Inspirator his mission: to inspire tomorrow's inventors innovators and creatives.

Over 500 ideas were developed, many of which have been brought to life for the exhibition by local crafts people, artists, technologists and 3D designers.

One of the ideas ‘A Ladybird Umbrella’ captures the project perfectly.

The idea, created by Sophia Carr (5) has been brought to life by Norman, an expert glass craftsman who came out of retirement to make it at the National Glass Centre.

Sunderland is the UK's capital of stained glass - the National Glass Centre is currently displaying Dominic’s Stained Glass Driverless Sleeper Car as seen on a UKTI CREATIVITY IS GREAT Britain campaign.

Sophia and all the other ideas on display at the exhibition are the embodiment of Picasso’s famous quote; “we are all born artists”


On Friday, January 29th Monkwearmouth Academy in Sunderland will host the INVENTORS! STEAM Co. day. 

Local parents, artists, engineers, businesses and teachers will gather for a program of short talks on creativity, education and community.

Sir Peter Bazalgette Chairman of the Arts Council and Chi Onwurah, local MP and shadow culture and digital economy minister will give keynote speeches alongside inspiring talks by local artists, teachers and parents. 

At the same time children from local primary schools will come in to try a STEAM Co. day for themselves where they will get to choose from a range of creative thinking and doing activities from across the critical spectrum of STEAM skills, that's science, technology, engineering, art and maths.

These activities are being staged by parents and teachers working with local artists like Mick Stephenson whose Litre of Light installation with UAL St Martin’s Art School is currently a central part of the Lumiere festival in London and North East artist Paul Merrick who has developed an activity inspired by Alexander Calder, subject of a major exhibition at Tate Modern, the co-curator of which is also contributing a talk to our day.

In another, activity every child will be taught to code a brand-new stamp size BBC Microbit computer by a team of Barclays Digital Eagles. In the process we want to show that Microbit is for everybody not just secondary, echoing the sentiment of Sir Tim Berners Lee when he literally invented the internet. 
Nissan, will also be running a design activity. Dulux will be helping children understand the importance of creative design applied to learning and working environments.
This is all part of the project to keep the spirit of Dominic Wilcox project alive, to inspire tomorrow's inventors, innovators and creatives in Sunderland, South Tyneside and the whole of the North East.

Ultimately we want to STEAM Power the whole of the North East.

STEAM Co. at BETT 2016

So yes, we’re delighted to be working with the organisers of BETT to STEAM power their event, to help them spell STEM with an A. To bring people – children and teachers in.

We’re involved in 6.5 talks, panels and events at BETT 2016.

1: STEAM powering our children’s futures

STEAM Co. Co-founder Nick Corston and special guest teachers, parents and business leaders discuss the STEAM movement.
TEAM Village : 15:30 - 16:00 : Thurs 21 Jan 2016 : More info…

2: How and why every creative can inspire tomorrow’s innovators with creativity

STEAM Co. present Inventor and Inspirator Dominic Wilcox
Bett Futures Theatre : 11:15 - 12:00 : Sat 23 Jan 2016 : More info… 

3: Expert panel session: The skills shortage: Resolving a global challenge

STEAM Co. Co-founder Nick Corston chairs a panel to look at skills for tomorrow’s world of work
STEAM Village : 11:00 - 12:00 :  Thurs 21 Jan 2016 : More info…

4: From STEM To STEAM: Combining STEM And The Arts World To Drive Innovation

STEAM Co. Co-founder Nick Corston joins a panel to discuss more than spelling words correctly.
BETT Futures Theatre : 13:30 - 14:15 :  Weds 20 Jan 2016 : More info…

5: Tapping into Games Culture to Inspire Creativity and Jump-Start Literacy

Geek dad Nick Corston on the application of gamification to inspire coding and reading.
Stand B160 : 16:30 - 17:00 :  Thurs 21 Jan 2016 : More info…

6: Teachmeet – It takes whole village to inspire a child

BETT Arena : 18:00 – 22:00 : Fri 22 Jan 2016 (50:50 on as its down to spin a bottle - which as you can see below spun our way!) :

7: Would you like a STEAM Co. Day in your school?

Kidsmeet : 13:00 – 14:00 : Sat 23 Jan 2016 : More info…

Nick Corston – Co-founder STEAM Co. – More info… 

Hopefully see you at one of the above.

We spell STEM with an ‘A’ because #artconnects

If you’ve read this far. Thank you for your interest. I do hope we can count on your support as we start to roll STEAM Co. out to every community and primary school across the UK, by providing the Inspiration and Resources to Inspire their children with creativity.

We want to see more schools run STEAM Co. Days – like the schools below.

St Saviours C of E Primary – Paddington

Spinney School - Cambridge

Willow Bank Primary - Bexley

Yes. It’s #YOURturn

Because it takes a whole village to inspire a child. 

If the above films show one thing, it’s not just STEAM power, but the power of community and collaboration, and why we were short listed for the TES Community and Collaboration award.