If you aim for nothing you will hit it!

It’s amazing what sticks in your head from school, I remember a poster in our music department that had a picture of a flying arrow with the caption “If you aim at nothing you will hit it” on it and this message has remained with me ever since.


I’ve been thinking about goals and target setting recently and thought I’d put some thoughts down on paper, so here goes… The way I’ve always worked is to have one big vision of what I want my little world to be and how I’d like the world to be in general. By having this fixed vision in my head I am able to start my journey towards the overall goal and make steps towards it.

Creating your overall vision/goal does not need to be completely specific, many people would find this far too difficult and probably overwhelming, but consider the type of lifestyle you’d like to have; the type of people you want to be associated with, the types of activities you’d like to be doing, what you want in terms of family life etc and then work backwards from there.

Who remembers back in school when at the age of around 13/14 you had to make subject choices that would potentially affect the rest of your life?  Most 13 year olds have no idea what jobs/careers are available – in fact neither do many 30 year olds! – so how could we expect them to make the 100% right call unless we were doing their dreaming for them? This is a difficult time and one way of assessing the best options is to think of the overall dream and then make selections that would help best to get you there.

They may not know that they want to be a bank clerc, a builder or a baker but they might know that they would ultimately like to work for themselves, live in a nice house with a family and be free to pursue their love of photography/fishing/painting/addyourpassionhere, and by working backwards from this point they can make conscious and subconscious decisions to make it happen.

My wife talks about manifesting what you want and making it happen – check out http://www.thetahealingedinburgh.com for more info on how to do this. This is very true and very achievable. I believe you need to know what you want first, I mean really know, and then believe that it can be done.

It’s all well and good saying we need to dream and have our ‘big goals’ but how practical is that in the real world that we’re living in today? Whether we believe it is doable or not might be the difference in making it happen. If you don’t know where you are going how can you possibly know if you ever get there?

One analogy I thought of recently while driving was that it always seems to take longer when you’re driving to a new place but then it seems to go quicker on the way back, or even the second or third time you visit there. I believe that this is because we know where we are going and have become more familiar with the idea and this makes it eaiser for the brain to process and make real.

An idea that has stuck with me since I was around 14 was something that a basketball coach said to me. He told me that everyday we either take a step forward or a step backwards, we never stay in the same place. I really liked this, it made sense to me and is something I have tried to live by (not always taking a step forwards by any means!).

I feel that if we can couple this practical action with our overall ‘big dream’ it can become the path we need to meet our goals. One thing is missing though, assessment/reflection/objective evaluation. If we are to truly understand whether or not we have taken a forward step we must spend a small amount of time each day, preferably at the end, reflecting on what we have done, what we felt we did well and what we will try to do better tomorrow. This could be anything; how we performed at work, how we dealt with people, how well we exercised patience, how much encouragement we gave to others. Doing this and actively thinking about it not only makes us better people (reflective practitioners) but this will help us take that precious step towards our major goal.

ImageOne practical example for me is my fitness routine. I have to set my myself a specific target of what I want to achieve (a big goal that helps to meet my overall goal of being healthy and happy) and then write down a realistic programme (smaller steps) that I can follow and tick off (very satisfying – think ‘to do list’) as I complete each session. This helps to motivate me whilst preventing me from becoming overwhelmed by thinking of how far I am from the big goal because the sessions are seen as mini challenges – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. DISCLAIMER: Please do not eat elephants!

ImageIf I complete a session this area of my life is a step forward, however if I have an off day (which we all do!) and end up eating something unhealthy or skipping a session I might consider this a step back on the road to that specific goal. This does not necessarily mean that it is a step back on the road to my overall goal, merely in this part of my life. I may well have taken steps forward in my relationships with others, with tasks achieved at work etc. and as such do not need to beat myself up or give up! Assess-Plan-Do-Asess-Plan-Do.

When I am teaching pupils to design, develop and manufacture products/solutions we start off by assessing what we need it to do/achieve, what the key features need to be, who is likely to use it and what their needs would be. From here we can then break the concept down and then build it back up one piece at a time.

Few 14-18 year olds have much practical experience of engineering, woodwork etc so to expect them to know exactly how a product would be made is not realistic and to start with them requiring these details is a non-starter. So the approach is for them to understand the overall aims of the project and then once they have a range of developed concepts we can work together to break down the best solution in real detail and look at the practical steps that need to be taken in order to realise it – appropriate materials, how it would be shaped/joined, what processes are currently available to us, the most appropriate finish for it  – we can then walk the path together, teaching and learning as we go and never forgetting about the bigger picture of what we want the outcome to be.

So, once you are lucky enough to figure out what it is that you want, for goodness sake aim for it… I guarantee that if you are willing to build your own path there you will hit it!

MAKE have a new (log) home in the Borders!

MAKE Summer Shool is proud to be at St. Mary’s, Melrose in July 2014. It is a wonderful school that works really hard to develop their  pupil’s creativity and skills through Design & Technology. I have been down several times to see the department and the exhibition showcasing the pupil work and am always really impressed!

Mechanical toy

Mechanical toy

Lion mask

Lion mask

Stationary holder

Stationary holder


With an exciting new venue in the Borders for MAKE Summer Shool 2014, it makes sense to tap into some of the amazing creativity the region has to offer.

Caledonia Log Homes are a relatively new Borders company who specialise in building traditional and Post & Beam Log Homes using handcrafted techniques. Chris Houston is the head builder who originally comes from Hawick. After Uni Chris moved to Canada where he learned the traditional techniques involved in building log cabins. He returned home with ten years experience and now runs the company with his brother John, of Edinburgh Rugby and Scotland 7’s fame.

Chris Houston in action!

Chris Houston in action!

John Houston

John Houston






The company employs an experienced log builder from France called Julien, and are also training a local builder called Graeme. So far they have built four log cabins, two house and a football shelter.

Log studio

Log studio

MAKE Summer School are big fans of Caledonia Log Home’s work and are considering adding a day trip to their yard in the Scottish Borders to learn about the art of log building. The day would include a discussion on how to source logs from Scottish forests, a shot at hand peeling a 12m log and a demonstration of how the intricate notches are carved into the log to make it all stick together. If any of our young Apprentices would like to see this happen please let us know!

Check out Caledonia Log Homes website at www.caledonialoghomes.co.uk

and like them on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CaledoniaLogHomes

There are exciting times ahead and the run up to Summer 2014 has already begun!

The Best possible you

On the 30th October 2012 I was fortunate enough to be invited to Cargilfield prep school in Edinburgh to teach a Design & Technology lesson and to address the congregation at their chapel service. I took three of my senior pupils, who ran the lesson on structures, and the Cargilfield kids were fantastic!

Before I spoke at the service, Andrew Hunter, Headmaster at Merchiston, told the congregation about the story of the ‘Three Trees’, a link to which you can find here: http://www.word4life.com/threetrees.html

I then followed with this short talk:

“Thank you very much Mr Hunter for your wonderful story about ‘the three trees’. Our Chaplain, Mr Blair often talks of the ‘Father who knows how to give good gifts’, and while it is often difficult to see it at the time, this is what your parents, family and teachers will always try to do for you. They have a broader vision of what you could be and take steps to help you achieve this.
Faith and trust in them is vital, and knowing that they want what is best for you can help you make it through the difficult times, for example, when they ask you to do something that is tricky or that stretches you.
As a Design & Technology teacher, I am particularly interested in the story Mr Hunter told us. While the trees saw themselves as what they wanted to be, someone else had a much more special vision of what they could and would become.
A few years ago I made a rustic bench out of two big chunky oak planks as a memorial to a colleague who past away. I tried to maintain the look of the timber by keeping its form quite natural and, while I was outside sanding the finished product down, our Head Groundsman at the time came over to chat about it.
He very graciously complimented the bench and commented on the amount of skill it would have taken to make it. I most humbly thanked him and without any forethought or hesitation I also replied to him that I felt the real skill did not lie in making the bench, but in seeing what the rough material could be.
Of course it still had to be made and hard work had to go into it, but without visualising that the two rough cut planks I started with could become a fitting memorial to a good friend, nothing special would have become of them.


Here I have a chair designed and made by one of our A-Level pupils last year.
Do you like it? Does it look interesting? Does it look special?
What if I told you this chair used to be something else before it was a chair, would you be able to guess what it was?


It used to be an old pallet! The pupil had the vision to see that an old, broken pallet, the lowliest of all products, used as a way of holding and transporting the ‘better’ products could be given a second chance, a new life, and after a lot of hard work, he was proved correct.

This is how your teachers and parents see you. Not just how you are now, but also what you could be. Like the Designer with the vision, they see your great value and put the hard work in to help you become the best possible you.
I would invite you to look beyond the obvious, think differently and develop your creativity through visualising and imagining. In Design and Technology we would always encourage our pupils to ‘have a go’ without the fear of failure. If they don’t succeed, they analyse why not, they dust themselves down and they have another go.
So please know that there are always people there to guide you, and if you put your trust and faith in them, they will give you all they have to help ‘design and make’ the best possible you.
Thank you.”

An ‘eggcellent’ end to a cracking week!

I can’t quite believe just how quickly this week has gone by… they do say that time flies when you’re having fun!

On the final day of MAKE Summer School the Apprentices showed real teamwork to complete a series of Engineering Challenges set by the group leaders.

One of the tasks was to build the tallest self-supporting structure using Stixx (tightly rolled up and pasted newspaper) and cable ties. This is a great task and really made the Apprentices think about what would and would not be successful. They had time to plan out how they would manage their teams (who would do what) and to prepare newspaper to make into extra Stixx.

Each team only had 10 minutes on the Stixx roller to make additional material to help them win.

While three of the groups did the Stixx Challenge, the rest took on the ‘Eggcellent Egg Drop’ Challenge, where they had to devise a product that would prevent a raw egg from smashing on the ground as it is dropped from a height. They had to do this using limited resources so their creativity and ingenuity would be tested to the max!

The Apprentices then headed off to the sportshall for a football tournament before returning to the workshop to take on the other challenge.


While the Apprentices were enjoying their lunch, a special surprise guest turned up… none other than Edinburgh Rugby Captain and Scotland Stand Off Greig Laidlaw!

Greig, who is an incredibly creative player on the pitch, is also a joiner to trade and very creative off it! He offered to come in and run some ‘Chippy Challenges’ for the youngsters. He started off by showing them how to knock a nail into a piece of wood in one strike (not an easy task!!!) and the young Apprentices all had a good go at it; Matthew T managed to smash his in in one go!


Then it was time for a sawing challenge; Greig set the time of 3.68 to saw through the baton with Mr Main managing the task in 4 seconds! The fastest Apprentice time was 11 seconds by Cameron S and he managed to keep this time twice, showing real consistency.

Tom shows us how it’s done!

After the excitement of meeting the Scotland Star it was back to the engineering challenges and then on to the testing. Some of the structures were very tall, but some were a bit dodgy in terms of stability! The egg drop challenge products were eggcellent and really protected the raw eggs well. Two groups managed to tie this competition with breakages only occurring at around 3 metres; not bad for an hour’s work!

Getting ready for the big drop!

With all the testing done and the winners announced it was the end of MAKE Summer School for 2012 :O( . Parents and friends came in at the end of the day to see the Apprentices work and to take them home with all their new products.

It was a real pleasure to run MAKE Summer School and the Apprentices made it a real success. I am very grateful to all MAKE Staff for their hard work, care of the Apprentices and support throughout the week and I believe that they are due a well-earned weekend!

Please keep an eye out for future events and please do spread the word about MAKE! There are rumours about a potential Christmas Club, so keep an ear out for that!!!

Fantastic elastic!

On our second last day of MAKE Summer School, we made a project that was the stand out in terms of popularity when we polled opinions throughout the year… the Elastic Band Crossbow!

What young Apprentice would not want to make something that projects a paper ball through the air?!! With a really interesting product ahead and three days of new skills behind them, the youngsters rattled through the work and by the end of the first morning session many had nearly completed much of the construction.

By lunchtime most had completed it and those who had not wanted to continue grafting through their lunch break – keen beans!

The quality of the work has been excellent and this is down to the pride the Apprentices are taking in their own work. The main aim of MAKE is for them to have fun, and the develpoment of their skills and confidence is a really positive by-product of the project based tasks.

After lunch we decided to do the main tidy up, as all of the fabrication work was done and all that was left was to paint/wax/add stickers to personalise the EBC’s. While the paint and wax dried everyone headed to the sportshall for another epic game of dodgeball!

On their return there were touch ups on the Crossbows, then it was back to the sportshall where Lewis had set up a series of target challenges for the budding Arbalists. This was great fun and the  accuracy of some of the crossbows was very impressive.


Some of the teachers were also challenged to a wee game of basketball!


All in all, a great day was had by all and everybody achieved great results with their projects. Tomorrow the Apprentices will be undertaking a series of Engineering teamwork challenges and will also be visited by a special guest! Someone very creative in their own trade!

Friends and Ladders!

 The Apprentices who came in at 8:30am this morning were a great help and learned how to make newspaper stixx that will be used during Friday’s engineering challenges. They did this by rolling up sheets of newspaper, coating in it the special goo and then rolling it progressively harder in the Stixx machine to achieve a solid stick that can be used to build strong structures. 

Alex and James making Stixx

When everyone else arrived by 10am we headed to the bus stop to catch the number 45, which would take us all the way to the museum. Unfortunately it was only a single decker bus (which MAKE Summer School ended up taking over!) and due to a lack of seats, the teachers rode most of the way standing up!

Once at the National Museum of Scotland the Apprentices enjoyed all of the interactive activitities, with the F1 racing car simulator being the most popular.














Other popular activities were the rope pull, where you had to pull your own weight using differing numbers of pulleys (we learned that the more pulleys were used the easier it was to pull yourself up) and the robot that would spell out your name (pictured above spelling MAKE).

 The space and wildlife exhibitions were also very popular and one apprentice learned that they were the equivalent weight to a chimpanzee, which was quite apt! ;OP

We had lunch downstairs in the museum before taking the bus back to the workshop at Merchiston, where the Apprentices began work on their Jacob’s Ladder toys.

Sanding was the first job (the Apprentices are pretty good at this now after the first two days!) and then it was on to painting. The teachers did a recap on how to paint and how less could be more!

While the paint dried work continued on the Treasure boxes for some and they were either painted or waxed.

What has been most impressive from the teacher’s perspective is how well the Apprentices have got on with each other and how they have all just got stuck in and mixed with each other.

New chums!

I feel that peer learning is one the best ways to attain skill and understanding, and with the confidence really growing in the youngsters it is great to see them wanting to help each other out. I often use it as a teaching technique in its own right and my pupils always respond positively to it and have fed back to me that they really enjoy teaching each other and being taught by one another. If you teach something that you have just learned you are 90% more liklely to retain the knowledge/skill, so for us it just makes sense!

Ben helping Paul

With the paint dry on most of the Jacob’s Ladder toys the Apprentices learned how to assemble them; quite a tricky business to start with but after the first one it becomes quite easy.

Tomorrow we will be making elastic band crossbows; which proved very popular when we carried out our project research! So it’s onwards and upwards to the penultimate day of MAKE Summer School.

Something to treasure forever…


Day 2 of MAKE Summer School started with an introduction on how to glue up the front, back and ends of the Treasure Box. The Apprentices were then soon underway and working hard to ensure they glued theirs up square using the vices, engineer’s squares and, if it needed a little bit more persuasion, a mallet!

All glued up!

tap tap TAP!!!!!












While their glue dried the Apprentices set about cutting out templates of a fold up dice before sticking it to a piece of card and cutting it out. They then scored along the fold lines and then designed their own personal die.


Shaping up nicely!









With two major jobs under their belts it was time for a break! By the end of break the glued up boxes were dry and ready to have the tops and bottoms attached. Once these were done the Apprentices learned how to play Beetle using the die they had made earlier.

Gluing up the top and bottom


After lunch James led a dodgeball session with help from Lewis and Harvey in the sportshall, which everyone enjoyed. The teachers started off with the dodgeballs but the real fireworks started when sureshot Niles K took charge of one the balls and swiftly eliminated three players in a row, including Harvey!

Good bowling fromJames!







Two dangerous Apprentices worth dodging! ;OP










The next job was to plane and sand down the outside of the boxes (quite a tough and time consuming job) and then have the lids cut off by the teachers. With a bit more sanding done on the inside of the box it was then time to attach the hinges and catches, a real skill that involves measuring, bradawling (poking a wee hole!) and driving in the screws.

Attaching the hinges

Plane and simple!

                  Some Apprentices opted to apply wax to maintain the natural wood effect of their treasure box with others opting to paint theirs and apply stickers to personalise them. Not quite everybody managed to complete the task today but there is time tomorrow to add the finishing touches and with so much effort going into the projects it is worth finishing them well!   

  The Apprentices and Staff at MAKE Summer School had earned a rest by the end of Day2 and look forward to visiting the interactive exhibitions at the National Museum tomorrow morning before returning to the workshop where they will make Jacob’s Ladder toys and complete their Treasure Boxes.

The sky’s the limit!

Day one of the inaugural MAKE Summer School went superbly well and all the Apprentices worked brilliantly to complete their paper plane launchers and a variety of paper aeroplane designs.

It was such a fun day and all the teachers were very impressed with the positive attitudes of the youngsters and hard work they put in throughout the day.


On arrival the Apprentices received their t-shirts, pencils and name tags and promptly began designing them,  helping everyone get to know each other.

Before we had even started the first session a few had undertaken a task set by teaching assistant Lewis, who set a 10 minute challenge to create a vehicle using K’nex – We were mightily impressed with the results!

10 minute challenge!



Once we got stuck into the project work time just flew by and even the fire drill didn’t put the keen Apprentices off their stride! Before we knew it it was break time and the progress made was very promising, especially considering many of the Apprentices had not had any experience of making before. New skills learned in the morning session included: marking out, sawing, sanding, drilling and planing. Planing in particular can be quite tricky yet everyone managed to master this very well.

One of our youngest Apprentices learning how to use the coping saw

Mastered already!


A great new skill


Plane and simple!


After the morning session and a well-earned lunch, it was time to start adding personal touches of creativity to the plane launchers. Painting is a fine skill that takes care and patience and one that certainly takes practise. In this project we intentionally let the Apprentices learn from their mistakes (we obviously taught them the basics and suggested they paint a base coat, let it dry then add details later and not to put too much on but we did not over-stress the point) so that when it comes to the other projects they will have more of an appreciation of what we want from them and they can build on their previous experiences.

Great scope for creativity

The painting table



Mixing up some purple


Letting kids ‘have a go’ is a vital skill for any teacher (adult) and trusting them to do so is key. We must be prepared to allow them to fail if need be (but always be there with a safety net for them!)  so that they genuinely learn;  more importantly they just want to try it themselves and learn by doing! This is not easy to do as a teacher, and we often feel that we must be saying something or doing something to justify our existence in the class, but often less is more and just letting them take the reins can be more effective.

We intentionally kept all demonstrations to a minimum to allow maximum practical work time and then had a group leader for no more than five Apprentices to ensure that help was always there when required. As you can see the results are pretty good!




























While the paint was drying we saw many fantastic paper plane designs (some more successful than others!) and with a few miner alterations to ensure they could be launched effectively the testing was about to begin using the sample launcher. Paper plane making is a serious business and great pride is taken in creating an efficient and effective craft; Alex R did not want to give up the top secret plans to his plane and Lewis M was distraught when Jen tested his and it looped the loop backwards to land on the workshop roof!

iFold (paper plane making by apple! ;OP)

Tomorrow we’re making Treasure Boxes and are very much looking forward to it already. If today is anything to go by, we will see even more fantastic creativity from our aspiring young Apprentices as well as the development of more new skills.

Today was the best possible launch for MAKE Summer School and for this group of creative youngsters, the sky really is the limit!

Olympic promise!

Like many other people, I’m wondering what life after the Olympics will be like. How will I possibly survive without having 24 BBC Olympic channels to choose from so that I can watch sports I would never normally look twice at? I never thought I would enjoy it half as much as I did and I am just delighted that it went so well, and that Team GB secured Bronze in the medal table made it even sweeter!

Anything that unifies people like that can only be a great thing and I have been so impressed with how everyone I have seen and spoken to has really got behind the idea and had nothing but positive comments to say about it.

With all other sports tournaments there is always some kind of divide in the UK (and no doubt throughout the world). Whether it’s the Six Nations (rugby), the World Cup (rugby/football) or anything else, there is always division in terms of home nationality or mere interest. London 2012 was different and when the likes of Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah secured their Gold medals on that memorable Saturday night they did it with the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (sporty or not) shouting them on and living every moment with them: I was exhausted after Mo’s 10k run!!!

Mo Farah winning the 10k

I feel that it really was the best of Britain and the creativity in the opening and closing ceremonies blew everyone away! The co-ordination, the choreography, the visual arts, the music, the teamwork…. I could go on, were all amazing and really does show what is achievable if we pull together.

I am now excited and looking forward to the Paralympics starting in a couple of weeks and will be supporting Team GB all the way through to the end.

So, what will I do in the meantime? Well, MAKE Summer School kicks off on Monday (20th August) and I am very excited and can’t wait to welcome the new Apprentices. We have fantastic staff whose expertise and enthusiasm will only help to inspire the creativity of the next generation.

Please keep an eye on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/MAKE-Summer-School/354561317899424)  and follow us on Twitter @makesummerscool to see what the Apprentices create throughout the week.

If we can find more things in life that unify us like the Olympics has and get us all pulling in the same direction it will be a happier world. We’ve all pitched in and created something special that will last and will truly inspire a generation and if we trust in our youth and encourage them and give them the best possible chances, who knows what they will go on to achieve?

I believe it takes something like this to kick start us and get us back on a positive path; one that is full of hope, promise and unity. Roll on Rio 2016!

Sir Chris Hoy, Olympic Legend and true role model

Jess Ennis, the face of London 2012 and a great example to young girls

See a penny…

I was walking home from the bus stop last night after going to a friend’s gig (it was awesome by the way and I highly recommend going to see ‘Thirsty Dog’ http://www.facebook.com/ThirstyDogBand and ‘Fury and the Ambassadors’ if you’re ever in Edinburgh!) and although it was dark I noticed a penny on the ground. Almost without thinking I went to pick it up. Typical tight Scotsman you might think!

[They do say that copper wire was invented by two Scotsmen fighting over a penny!]

Scottish bears!

Hey Presto! Copper wire!

At that point I did actually say to myself “See a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck!” but then paused to think, “Where has this come from and how can picking up a penny actually bring you luck?”.

For the rest of the short stroll home I thought about where this came from and what it really meant… Having looked it up I saw that it was probably derived from another saying ” See a pin, pick it up…”

I remember seeing my Science teacher’s no nonsense take on this on his board at school: “See a pin, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have a pin”. No such thing as luck, just facts!

My take on it is that the penny represents opportunity and that we can either choose to take it or leave it where it is.

Every day is full of little opportunities and every now and again some big ones if you’re lucky enough. We have to decide if we want to act on them though. Who knows what might happen if we keep taking these little opportunities that life throws at us? One thing could lead to another and we could eventually find ourselves faced with a big one – ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’. But if we don’t stoop down to pick up that penny or take an opportunity that we are presented with then we cannot expect things to just happen and the status quo will be maintained.

So if you see a penny, pick it up and promise yourself to take the next positive opportunity that comes your way – I’m reminded of the Jim Carey film ‘Yes man’ at this point and while the essence of this movie is to have a go and try things out I don’t recommend saying yes to everything!

The more pennies you pick up the more pennies you will see, and no matter how dark it may be, that penny will always catch your eye.