Help! I need ideas quick!

Over the course of the BT Work Ready Program, Teams had to produce prototype applications around ideas generated in the space of a few minutes. This involved being ruthless and quick-minded. Here are a few of the techniques we used to generate an idea.
The first step in the journey was naming our team. With no knowledge on what was going to be created, we approached naming our team to be as vague as possible. Three things that seemed to lead to good progress:

Foreign Languages

Pulling words or directly translating words into a foreign language acted as a way to create a sense of mystery and a quick way to generate a varied list. My team used a variant of the german translation of magic - "Zauber" to create the name of our app "Zaubra".


Our team name was copied from the Maple Tree. This was from a route of approaching varying names and then leading down the route of plants, then trees. It allowed us to have a general name before we had pinned down our app idea.

Random Thoughts

To start the process, the team spouted random words. The function did not bare fruit of a name, however, it did kick start us down multiple paths such as Plants and Foreign translations. It did also act as an ice breaker as we had not worked together before.

Three Post-it Note Method

Besides trying to name a product, the first problem is actually generating the initial starting point. The quick method we used to create our app prototype:
  • Have three categories: Existing Technologies, Human Needs, Existing Frameworks/Applications
  • Set a specific time limit and generate a pile in each category
  • Then collect one Post-it from each category together and come up with a new concept based on the three individual ideas.
For example:

Lazer Guns,  Fun, Lime (Electric Scooter Firm)

The resulting idea was a Lazer fighting matchup app, it made no sense, but it was a good example of how quick it was.

Being ruthless and the specifics later

An overarching observation from the process. When it came to generating a lot of ideas, you had to be critical and quick when eliminating. You did need to have good reason to remove, however, the speed at which you went from keeping to elimination had to be robust.

When it came the specifics, some things were better left for later. When it came to developing the website portion of the project, decisions around the colour pallet and font choice needed to be relegated to the lowest priority, This was part of rapidly creating a piece of content and ensuring the substance was there, well before the style.

If anything came from this process:

Being quick was good, but being ruthless about quality was the most important.

Scrap GCSEs/A-Levels and start again

GCSEs are the main entry and foundation set of tests for the next steps in a student's career. Whether they plan to undertake an immediate apprenticeship, A-Levels to then go on to work or attend university, they are a stepping stone, however, are they still fit for purpose?

The History

With schools mainly functioning as private institutions until 1870, Government introduced legislation giving councils the ability to part-fund/ run schools. This led to the idea of mandatory, free education for 5 to 13-year-olds.

 1918 saw the first "examination" as we would know today. The School Certificate (SC) was for up to the age of 16 and those who stayed till 18 were awarded the higher equivalent. Based on credits across varying subjects with a pass needed in 6 (including English and Maths).

1951 introduced the replacement to the SC via CSEs and O-Levels with A-Levels being the further progression. CSEs were based on a number system and O-Levels on a letter.

1988 saw the replacement of CSEs and O-Levels into the GCSE. A-Levels were not replaced. The aim was to allow a broader range of study in a more rigorous way. It borrowed the letter naming scheme of A-Levels and O-Levels. Tweaks to the GCSE were adding of the A* in 1994 and reduction/tightening of rules around coursework in the 2000s.

Under the 2010 Coalition, then education secretary Micheal Gove moved to remove coursework in most subjects, moved back to a number based system as seen in CSEs, reworked the curriculum with a focus on longer style essay questions, making AS Levels not part of the main A-Level system, linearisation of courses (removal of the modular system) and many other major changes.

The New System

A new focus

Reforming the GCSE system meant re-writing the aims and drive of each subject. English Literature introduced a focus on older texts and a more British Theme.
Sourced from the DFE

Mathematics was reformed with the aim of providing a better foundation for students to step up and pursue a mathematics-based career. This was in line with extra funding schools can receive for encouraging students to take STEM subjects

9-1 Grading

A* to U was replaced with a 9-1 system (emulative of the old 1-5 system for CSEs) as a way to differentiate it from the previous GCSE system. The equivalence is not a straight comparison. The official equivalence made the lower grades equivalent to more grades (3-1 being the same as D - G), stretched the higher boundaries and offered a form of A**.

The Problems

A* to U being transformed to 9-1

As a method to distinguish the two exam systems, to ensure old students of the former systems are not disadvantaged by the introduction of an extra grade (either an A** or a C* - as is currently the case in Northern Ireland), to allow employers some comparison across the previous generation of tests and as a method to sum up general understanding in a single number; it stands up as a good system. However, the problem lies in its use as a general summation of understanding.

A more modular approach with in-depth scoring for each sub-topic would give a better to understand the strengths and weakness of where a potential employee/student lies.


With the chance to reform, a system similar to the formerly modularised system of the A-Levels could have been introduced. Students should have been scored on a similar A-E or 1-5 system as O-Levels or CSEs but in specific units such as data handling, statistical analysis and algebra. Trying to convey meaningful information about many different types of information that are very different in one number is not useful in the long run so why should GCSE grades be treated the same? A modular break-down could allow people to specialize earlier and allow students to tackle "harder" modules.

The idea of modularisation could be taken further. Collapsing A-Levels and GCSEs into a single exam type that could be picked up at any point during the 4-year school career currently of GCSE to A-Level. All who wanted to sit a subject would have to sit a mandatory base test and then could progress in any fashion. The Former - and to some extent - the current A-Level Further Mathematics system offers foundation units, such as Mechanics 1 with further modules (Mechanics 2) if students want to go further, but this is not usually a decision Students get to make as the teachers have to plan and decide with fairly small class sizes. How to tackle this is something I cannot answer.

When Exams are taken

Why are exams taken ONLY at the end of the year? Why are they not placed regularly throughout the calendar? The current set up of a single block of exams means preparation all year and the final weight being put on the result. Spread exams over the year, with re-takes only happening the next year for the same unit. The A-Level Mechanics Exam could have happened in the second quarter of Year 12 for A-Level students. GCSE students could sit a specific set of topics in a similar fashion.

A downside for this is that it removes the property of the current exam system that boards use to their advantage. There is too much content to put in all exams, so they have to pick and choose. Students have to be versed well on all content and be prepared to tackle any topic that may or may not come up. Making exams where the choice of topics is smaller could mean that less is asked, and hence there is still the "turn up an see what is asked" mentality, but then there comes a point where there is too little content to exam to have this.

Content Reform

With a focus on preparing a future generation for a more technical vocation study, Mathematics and STEM subjects could have gone further with pulling content from the old A-Levels before reform. This would have given even more stretch to the top bands, however, could give the chance for further progression elsewhere.

If this was paired with a modular system, some units could be core and mandatory to preserve a basis across all students and then unit exams are held for a wider variety of subtopics. This could allow more focused mathematics.

If not paired with the idea of modularisation, then at least the exam could be said to be more challenging and offer a better foundation for students who want to go into more technical apprenticeships/ jobs straight after GCSEs.

Why do any of this?

Why exam in the first place? The skills testing encourages have no applicable use in the working environment. As much as exam boards want us to show that they can ask questions that test problem-solving skills, lateral thinking and other demands of a workplace, a test will always prescribe a specific way of thinking and is not conducive to encouraging a certain way of working.

There does need to be some standard for people to be measured against, however, a wider and more dramatic approach would be needed. How do you measure people without testing? That is a question that I cannot answer currently, but maybe someone else might be able to.

Concepts English Needs

As part of a recent trip to Marseille, France I had to stumble across the fact my lack-lustre French GCSE would barely allow me to scrape by for rudimentary communication. I do not assume that wherever I go that I will be able to communicate in my language of choice, however over the last few years I have taken for granted the fact that all one has to do to communicate in most modern fields is to talk English. This often leads to the "I cannot be bothered to learn another language aside from English because I can get by with only it" mentality, that is often discussed, but has led to another serious defect. We become culturally unaware and less exposed to fresh, sometimes brilliant perspectives that are only present in other languages.


A concept I was introduced to via a German Friend is the idea of Anstandsstück. The idea of not taking the last bit of food without being offered. This is a fairly normal social idea, however, to express it requires far many more words than the simplicity of the german Anstandsstück.

It is not an unusual concept of loaning words into English from others, such as the many French loan words that have not morphed. Laizzez-Faire, Carte Blanche and many others are simply great concepts that would require many more words in English if not for the loan words.

The various forms of We

This point was directly stolen form an amazing Tom Scott video around features that English is missing more generally, and not words in particular.

English lacks clarity on the inclusivity or exclusivity on who is being included in a group. Telling someone "We are going on holiday" to your children could imply that they are going on holiday with them, or that we is inclusive with another group who are also present in the conversation. The ability to specify who is included in we would massively help in resolving confusion and not lead to the same conversation every time about whether or not the listener is included.

A good feature of English

This is point was lifted from the sketch by Yuriko Kotani on Russel Howard's Comedy Central Show a few years back.

Yuriko expresses her joy and then lack of that she cannot express the term "-ish" in Japanese. When I am told "6-ish" I know that being punctual is important however a few minutes either side is to be expected. It is not a fine deadline to be followed. It is also similar to the idea of adding "-y" to the end of nouns to term them into adjectives. Instead of staying something has the consistency/likeness of cake, you can say that the object is cakey. The concept can be applied to other terms and be used to inspire meaning in several other ways


This piece might have not been the most business-focused, however, was just a small insight into interesting features of other languages that could be interesting to have expressed in English. Change to a language is slow, yet they could work their way into common tongue if they had more perceived usage

Algebra: Maths most useful topic for modern life

Of all the mathematics taught at school at GCSE level, a lot can seemingly be disregarded. I am often asked: "What use of trigonometry will I find in the future", "Where on earth will I need to use the quadratic equation". They are all valid questions. If you are going to studying a technical vocation, then a fair chunk of what you are shown can be set aside, but having a good understanding of basic mathematics, rapid mental arithmetic and a general knack for problem-solving.

Algebra of all topics covers the problem-solving aspect that most modern roles ask for. The concepts at the foundation of algebra: balancing equations, solving for unknowns, substitution methods, inspection via examining equations, quadratics; these may not have direct application to a shopping list or how to prepare a recipe, but there are techniques embedded in the teaching of algebra that are universally useful.


The technique of abstraction - the ability to remove information from a question to have only the most useful and relevant content to solve a question.

How you go about selecting what is relevant information is a skill of its own. New specification GCSE Exams call for more worded questions in the name of problem-solving. Quite a few students do struggle to digest these denser questions and putting into practice the idea of abstracting away useless information.
Maths tutor explaining meaning of question
Take this question. Irrelevant information that can be removed:
  • The manufactures name
  • What they are manufacturing (Unless the question is about the context)
  • Other information about reasoning and things that add things grammatical structure
Maths tutor explaining how algebra is a useful topic in mathematics
Taking those points- highlighted in yellow is actually what is relevant to completing the question.

Abstraction is not a technique in mathematics that is purely restricted to algebra - as is seen with this probability question, however, I find that algebra offers the best and most direct way of teaching. For example, via Simultaneous equations and taking the costs of teas and coffees in different combinations and then reducing it into some simple algebraic expressions. Once this has been mastered, it can be applied in several other situations.

Clear layout and presentation

Solving equations involves an understanding of how to reverse operations and how equations are affected by applying operations. I have found many students take time to adapt to the idea that if you apply the reserve operation, it cancels out. To solve an equation you also have to be happy with the idea of collecting like terms, simplifying fractions and what many key terms and symbols mean.

One thing this all requires (mainly to insure markers can credit work properly) is a clear layout and good presentation of steps.  Take the solving of this equation:
Maths Tutor looking at clear layout in algebra
There may be some redundant steps such as listing that you are subtracting by 3, yet the general presentation is clear and concise.

The skill of being able to clearly show an idea in a condensed and simple form is - again- not only applicable to algebra,  but I believe it is the best form to promote and show this idea at an early age and in a very easy and applicable form.