STEM in Vietnam

Vietnam: An amazing week with passionate, professional educators. A pleasure beyond words.

Best advice: Cross the road carefully.

They weren’t kidding. The eyes in the back of my head (it’s a teacher thing) came in pretty handy when visiting Hanoi this February. I spent the week working with lecturers in education at the Hanoi Pedagogical University, developing their understanding of STEM and how learning outcomes can be approved when adopting the practical approaches of these subjects. Lecturers were mainly Vietnamese speakers, with a range of experiences both as lecturers and as teachers. They shared a passion for learning and teaching and were keen to adopt new ideas. The week was a joint venture between UK-based Dragonfly Training and Educe Solutions in Vietnam, a versatile and innovative company offering training and development for the education sector.

Hanoi is a long way from home but the hospitality I received was exceptional and a there was a warm welcome from University staff and the lecturers on the course. I was fortunate to have a couple of days either side of the course to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi. It’s such a bustling place with something happening on every street. The buzz of motorcycles and honking taxis and cars is literally in your face for most of the day. There’s an onslaught for all senses, stimulated by smells, sights, sounds, the thick air in your lungs and street food stalls, tempting with doughnuts, skewered sizzling chicken or a waft of garlic, chilli and ginger as you pass another noodle bar. Locals perched uncomfortably on little seats (little from my perspective anyway), hunched over a bowl of Pho’, fiddling with chopsticks, supping the soup or spooning rice noodles into their mouths. The Sunday morning streets around Hoàn Kiēm Lake are pedestrianised and fill up rapidly from about nine o’clock as families gather to chat over coffee, play games, walk, dance, stretch, exercise, paint, build towers, take photos or just hang out with friends. Early arrivals are big groups of kids with load speakers practising their dance moves as if they were getting ready for the next big talent show. There were also a group of locals, picking up litter with tongs – it just seemed to be the ‘thing’ to do.

Hanoi: Sunday morning

I was not the only visitor to Hanoi that week. Much was made of the heralded arrival of two key players in world peace. At least that’s how many people see it. The flags were out, the blooms ready, the pavements swept and the security forces prepped. Trump and Kim t-shirts alongside hats, flags, badges, scarves, models and postcards decked out every souvenir shop along the way. Hanoi touts itself quite proudly as the ‘City of Peace’ and was keen to see it all end successfully. Never mind. We live in hope.

With a few recommendations #asktwitter and a knowledgeable local source I had some idea of things to try on the menu. Noodles was a must. Rice and egg. Both done in a broth with pork slices. The meat is not what you might find in the UK. It’s fatty, chewy and full of bits but it goes with the territory. The flavour is good. Chilli, salt, garlic, lime and ginger dominate with a hint of parsley, coriander and red and green perilla. We had sushi, spring rolls, rice: the usual. Throw in lunch at a buffalo restaurant, with blood, stomach lining and sliced steak and a local treat of seafood hotpot (with a central boiling pot where all the seafood is cooked along with noodles, herbs and vegetables) and you get the idea that food is major part of their life. Top of the list has to be the egg coffee. A whipped crème style custard floating on a viciously strong, thick black coffee. Didn’t think I’d like it. I was so wrong.

The most part of the week was spent an hour north of Hanoi, working at the University and residing at a beautiful lakeside resort. An empty resort. Quiet, peaceful and serene until the Friday night birthday party, accompanied by lots of ‘three cheers’ in Vietnamese and three hours of painful karaoke.

Five days of training meant building good relationships with delegates. Lots of laughs even through translation from Vietnamese to English and vice versa. Lots of practical activities, mainly sourced from Practical Action, to build STEM competencies and confidence. We looked at floating gardens, water filters and tomato carrying cable systems. All the resources for these are on the Practical Action website. Free and high quality (what’s not to like?) We also made balloon racing cars (they got very excited about these), spaghetti and marshmallow towers, vertical marble runs on a wall and egg-carrying parachutes dropped from the tenth floor of the huge central hall. We discussed key tenets of good teaching and learning, we discussed assessment, measuring progress, listening, questioning and promoting diversity and understanding. We worked hard to overcome the need to add labels to types of teaching or methodologies and through exhaustive post-training Q&A sessions we thrashed out the nuts and bolts of STEM for a 21st Century Vietnam. Through a sophisticated online academy, Educe Solutions have also been able to set assignments, quizzes, check progress of delegates and open forums for discussion over key issues evolving from training. Huge thanks go to all the staff at Educe (especially Thanh and Tuan), working on translations, site development and purchasing my extraordinarily long list of resources for the practical training sessions including sand, gravel, tomatoes and lots and lots of tape.

parachutes: couldn’t resist!

I will save my rant about Thai Airways, delayed flights, missed connections, broken promises and a disappearing suitcase for another time and place. It did little to spoil the incredible experience of a week working with highly educated, hard working and passionate educators. Hanoi has a great deal to offer. The down-to-earth, rapidly developing country with incredible people will stay long in the memory and will always be a place I would like to return to.

Southern Rocks 2019 #srocks19

It was all set to go. Pastries, chairs, coffees, rooms, projectors, lights, cameras. But no ‘action’. The snow couldn’t be beaten. Basingstoke was under a white mountain of snow and organisers Kristian Still and David Rogers took the difficult decision to postpone the event to secure the safety of over 250 visitors and presenters. A tough choice given the sheer amount of planning that had taken place.

I had offered to present a session to support science teaching in primary schools. I created a series of short practical science ideas to help remove misconceptions, stimulate scientific questioning and give teachers some simple, cost-effective and practical ideas to use in their classrooms on Monday.

Given that we didn’t get to try these out, I made some short videos once I was back home to demonstrate these ideas. See below. Feel free to add questions or comments.

On Friday evening, speakers and sponsors were invited to attend the Devil’s Punchbowl Hotel for dinner and drinks – a chance to get together, to connect and meet like-minded educators. With heavy snow coming in at pace, colleagues struggled to make it with any ease. Some got stuck and turned back, some ploughed on and some found nearby watering holes and stuck in for the night. Tales of great journeys, akin to the voyage of the protagonist through the snow in The Day After Tomorrow, filled the room as more people arrived with even better stories and more snow on their boots.

It was a great chance to connect with the real people of Twitter (the event was predominantly developed through the educators of Twitter) and hear their stories. But most of all it reminded me that although teaching can sometimes be a lonely profession (a class full of kids that aren’t always interested in how you are feeling), it is heartwarming to know that there are other, interested and interesting connections to be made, to reassure you that there is much right with the world of education and it is filled with many charismatic, generous and genuine people. I very much look forward to connecting with all of these people and more at the rescheduled #srocks19

I also got a chance to see (very briefly), the stunning view of The Devil’s Punchbowl in the snow. Stunning.

time lapse M&Ms in water
Alka Seltzer tablets in water in a 35mm film canister – stand well back
very fine steel wool with a 9V battery

Brilliant Bogotà

Dropping into any big city for a few days means it can be difficult to gauge what real life might be like if you were actually living there. Bogotà, Colombia comes with a plethora of health warnings for personal safety and most people think of drug cartels, violence and political chaos when you mention either Bogotà or Colombia. I read the FCO advice before I travel anywhere for work or holiday. It means I have covered the ‘disclaimer’ issue should anything ever happen. However, I always work on seeing things first hand, meeting people who actually live and work there – taking things on face value. It works for me.

This trip was working with teachers at the prestigious Colegio Anglo Colombiano, a forward-thinking, hard-working school with dedicated staff, high-quality leadership and wonderful facilities for children from nursery to late teens. I was privileged to be representing Dragonfly Training again and able to deliver a range of courses to different groups of teachers over three days.

Day One was working with 25 middle leaders from the senior school. We explored the idea of the importance of a ‘vision’, to bring people on board, inspire them and provide a focus. Staff also considered how to observe, collect data and evaluate its importance, carefully planning the next steps in line with their vision. We also looked at managing change and planning for the future.

Day Two was with 120 teachers from across the senior school. We looked at a whole range of ideas for differentiation and how to challenge all students to reach their potential. One of the interesting aspects of this was that a large proportion of teaching staff was Spanish speaking and so, with a professional translation outfit, primed in their little booth and me, miked up, it was great to see how they translated some of the ‘teacher-speak’. They did very well apparently!

The third day was more bespoke to the needs of the College. We worked with a group of Teaching and Learning Champions; those that showed ambition, talent and potential (and were also willing to come in on a Saturday!). It was based around a ‘Stretch and Challenge’ theme and included a number of resources from Practical Action. Using STEM as a driver of progress has been a passion of mine for a very long time. Teachers and students are inspired and engaged. It is easy to bring an immediate and real-world context to each of the tasks. And it’s fun. We looked at the ‘Why’ for each of these teachers and considered how the world was going to change over the next few years for our students. Really thought-provoking discussions.

It was an immensely rewarding trip. Working with teachers and leaders who want to ensure that young people who are potential champions and sergeants of the future country are equipped with skills of compassion, empathy, purpose and determination to do better, was humbling, heartwarming and inspiring. I look forward to returning.

Also got a chance to sample some incredible Colombian coffee in a Coffee Laboratory. Just brilliant.

Karachi at its best

Arriving at a bustling, sweltering airport with immaculately dressed pilgrims returning from the Hajj, my first visit to Pakistan was full of anticipation and nervous excitement. My usual browse through medical requirements and ‘sensible people’s’ FCO do’s and don’ts suggested plenty of caution but I have learnt to take each place I visit on face value and spend time listening to the people who live and work there. It makes sense.

I was asked by the British Overseas School Karachi to deliver three days of training on behalf on Dragonfly Training. CPD in Pakistan is almost non-existent. There are hundreds of schools with passionate, hardworking and intelligent teachers but very little investment in their professional development. So, day one was an invitation to local schools to participate in a day of training entitled ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’ – a course designed to cover essential strategies for effective differentiation, assessment for learning, better questioning and feedback. Teachers came from a wide variety of schools and phases, bringing a range of professional expertise to the day. It was a great day with time to chat with colleagues about the challenges they faced and what things they were looking forward to trying out. The intention is now to create a centre of excellence for CPD both in Karachi and the wider region

Day two and three were spent with staff from the hosting school, British Overseas School Karachi, with the usual mix of new teachers and experienced staff with a good smattering of well-travelled expat staff. Again, the focus was on effective strategies to use in a 21st Century Classroom including the use of some digital apps including Kahoot, Quizlet and Plickers.

Alongside the chance to inspire and ignite a little passion in teachers, I was able to sample local food, chat with other colleagues from the school about future plans and meet the exceptionally talented trainer, Pam Mundy, with vast experience in the Early Years and Primary phase. It is always professionally rewarding to connect with people on different levels. The warmth of welcome from the staff, the depth of passion and commitment from the senior leadership team, the exceptional knowledge of the Headteacher, Andrew Williams, of local and international context and the extraordinary efficiency of administration staff all contributed to an overwhelming feeling that Karachi is a great place to work. If you are looking for an exciting challenge in a fast moving city in a school that thinks of the past, present and future in equal measures then get in touch with the school directly.

My lasting memory, however, will be of the view of Karachi from the rooftop of the excellent Avari Towers Hotel, where I watched hundreds and hundreds of black kites circling high above looking for their next meal or maybe just enjoying the sights of downtown Karachi. Watching a kite close up, as it perched on my balcony, tucking into a small rodent was quite extraordinary.

Next stop, Nicosia, Cyprus, then Bogota, Columbia. Always excited to travel and make teachers lives more professionally rewarding and fulfilled with better outcomes for young people. Get in touch if you would like to find out more about some of the courses on offer.

 

Bluedot Festival First

Finding your first festival feet is always a little exciting and daunting but having braved a few nights in a tent with every element of humanity breathing and swarming around you, I think I have decided I would do it all again.

IMG_2186I was invited by Practical Action to deliver two days of workshops to support their education, enrichment and outreach programme. The Bluedot festival has been running for many years and next year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landings in 1969. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre and surrounding area is a fantastic venue and brings the very best of scientific thinking together with a most eclectic range of music, theatre, poetry and fun activities. I decided to take my 8 and 10-year-old daughters and there was plenty to keep them busy and plenty of things to spend hard earned cash on!

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The workshops were sold out and fully attended and provided a great platform for exploring real issues that affect people’s lives in some of the poorest regions of the world. Practical Action provides support to these vast numbers of people through the integration of technology, community partnerships and engineering expertise that makes a sustainable difference to the lives of people in places as far apart as Lima, Kathmandu, Khartoum and Dacca. The first workshop was called The Floating Garden Challenge and allows people to design, build and test a floating platform that could rise with flood waters and keep crops out of flood waters. They might even be able to house chickens. The designs were built and then tested using 100g masses to examine buoyancy and stability. You can download the high-quality free resources here. 

IMG_2214The second activity on Sunday was called Ditch The Dirt and involved understanding how precious water is as a resource. Clean water is essential for good health and millions of people just don’t have access to it. In fact, they might have to walk miles to dig for, retrieve and collect water with a return journey carrying up to 20 kg of potentially unclean water. The Ditch The Dirt challenge requires people to design a simple water filtration system that could be used in the field. Investigating which materials work best and how they affect the water cleanliness and rate of flow is all part of the challenge. You can download the excellent free resources here.

Both of these challenges form part of a suite of STEM activities that are highly engaging, stimulating and challenging for all ages from 6-18, with appropriate differentiation. Each challenge is designed by teachers and is accompanied by excellent PowerPoint presentations, posters, teacher notes, certificates and additional resources such as video and photos. Over the last three years, one of the primary schools I have worked extensively with has created the UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference which allowed Year 5, 6 and 7 pupils to work on these challenges over days and weeks and then present their projects in short presentations to the rest of the conference. With over 20 schools and more than 200 pupils involved, it has been nominated for a STEM Learning Inspiration Award. You can find out more here and here.

Running these incredibly successful workshops also gave me a chance to talk to parents and engage them in discussions about the challenges and the wider global context. With the United Nations global goal Number 6 – to provide clean water and sanitation to all people by 2030 – it is clear we have some way to go, yet with every action that Practical Action takes we are potentially getting closer.

Practical Action is a registered charity and can only carry out its work through generous donations from everyday people. If you’d like to find out more about what they do just visit their website.

If you are interested in running workshops that bring engagement, challenge and a global perspective then just get in touch through twitter @ICanTeach_UK or via email at ideas@icanteach.co.uk and I can help you get started.

Also, check out the Bluedot festival. A fascinating journey into the unknown world of festival life for me, which has left me scientifically curious to see what it might be like next year!

Bottle of nuts to go!

Training in Lagos. What an incredible experience with memories to treasure.

A quick look at TripAdvisor or the FCO website and Lagos, Nigeria would probably not be top of anyone’s list. However, with a bit of research, some reassurance from fellow trainers at Dragonfly Training and a visit to Boots pharmacy, I packed my bags and set off for St Saviours School Ikoyi in Lagos.

As part of a structured professional development programme and a continuing relationship between the school and Dragonfly Training, I was invited to deliver a three-day programme for all staff entitled ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’. Day one was with a group of teaching assistants, full of enthusiasm, looking at effective deployment in classrooms. We examined a range of evidence of best practice and explored the essence of good working relationships. Day two and three were for teaching staff but many of the teaching assistants joined in (even on their days off). We worked on a range of practical activities that allowed staff to access a range of strategies to support differentiation, better feedback, stretch and challenge and assessment. There was also plenty of time for reflection, discussion and a bit of dancing.

The school is an oversubscribed independent prep school for just over 300 children from Reception to Year 6. Staff are mainly Nigerian, with UK teacher qualifications and a selection of experienced ex-pat staff mainly from the UK but also from France and the Czech Republic. The school is overseen by a highly committed and passionate board of trustees who make regular visits to support the school. The Headteacher is Craig Heaton, a charismatic, well-travelled, sharp-dressed leader with a knack for getting the best out of his staff. He quickly builds trust with all stakeholders and his staff enjoy working with him. His vision for the school, a place of the highest quality learning and teaching is rapidly becoming a reality. He is ably assisted by Deputy Head, Chinwe Ibekwe, who is a testament to the development opportunities available to all staff. She started at St Saviours over 20 years ago as a teaching assistant and has seen much progress. She is committed to providing a rich, challenging and professionally stimulating place to work and her enthusiasm is infectious.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Lagos via Amsterdam with Craig and his family for the last leg of the trip. On arrival, we were met by our security team and escorted through Yellow Fever checks, immigration and customs. Craig’s advice on being asked for ‘tips’ by customs and baggage checks is simple. His response is always ‘With four daughters do you think I have anything spare?!’ He tips where he needs to for his security staff and we swiftly move through to our car where an armed guard is ready to follow us into town. This is not an alarmist response just a sensible precaution and very much part of the way of life for many with significant roles in the city. We chat on the way in and arrive at the hotel about an hour later. Further security briefings included advice on leaving the hotel, chatting to ‘single ladies’ in the bar and contact numbers of half a dozen staff in case of emergency. I felt I had been fully briefed!

We spent two evenings out visiting the local Lagos Yacht Club for dinner, watching the tankers and newly built oil rigs saunter up and down the lagoon, trying peppered snails, and a high-class Thai-fusion restaurant overlooking a beach and nearby islands, with a stunning menu and an interior to match. Lunch at school was a decent helping of Jolof rice, spicy and tasty, with a chunk of chicken on the side.

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I was very aware of the significant contrast between rich and poor in Lagos. There is no hiding from the exceptional poverty and hardship that many people face. However, the industry, the willingness to work hard and the endeavour that people show every day is incredible. People travel from miles away to work in the city and then spend hours travelling back to their families in cramped, overcrowded, battered, yellow VW sardine cans. They hold their heads high, literally, with straight backs and find any way they can to make a living. For some, this means a suit and a briefcase, for others, it’s a large round tray of bottles of peanuts, or grapes or soft drinks or photocopied bestsellers or chewing gum often carried on their head in the middle of three or four dusty lanes of hooting, tooting, passive-aggressive car and lorry drivers. Note: road markings seem to be largely an optional extra and are often regarded as perfunctory. Quality of road surface is pretty variable too as the heat rapidly degrades the tarmac leaving cave size potholes.

I would encourage any teacher looking for an adventure in a developing country, working with passionate, committed professionals to consider St Saviours school in Ikoyi, Lagos. If I was many years younger and looking for a challenge, for memories to last forever and a professionally rewarding job, this school would be the place. The course was a great success with some great takeaways for staff (see below). If you would like the course ’21st Century Teaching and Learning’ in your school then get in touch with Mary Chapman, International Director of Dragonfly Training mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk  or call +44 (0)2920 711787.

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I’ll leave the last word to Craig Heaton, Headteacher at St Saviours School.

“I hope that our values, our teaching and our school will mean that one day a child will return to Nigeria as an inspirational leader and change the country for the good of all Nigerians.”

 

Want a better world?

Nearly 50 pupils from across Eastbourne and Seaford gathered to discuss and debate ideas on global issues such as clean water, renewable energy and sustainable technologies. They presented their ideas to the conference of pupils and teachers and then shared their ideas with other pupils in true science conference style. Eastbourne College again hosted the second STEM Leaders’ Conference on Thursday 26 April at the prestigious Birley Centre in Eastbourne and it was a great success for all involved.

The schools attending included Seaford Head School, Willingdon Primary School, St John’s Meads CE Primary School, Parkmead CE Primary School, Pevensey and Westham CE Primary School and The Haven VA CE Primary School. Pupils had been working on a variety of projects over the last few weeks inspired by a wide range of resources created by the global STEM charity Practical Action. These projects included The Squashed Tomato Challenge (where pupils find a way to transport tomatoes down a Nepalese mountainside to take them to market without squashing them), The Floating Garden Challenge (where pupils design, build and test different forms of floating garden so that people in Bangladesh can still grow crops even in flood waters) and Ditch The Dirt (where pupils create a water filtration system to clean dirty water).

Conference Organiser, Marcus Cherrill of I Can Teach Ltd, who created the conference on behalf of Pevensey and Westham School said, “The STEM Leaders’ Conference is all about sharing ideas and allowing pupils from local schools to work on engaging and stimulating projects. They can then develop their leadership, teamwork and presentation skills through the Conference. It is a very supportive and non-competitive environment which allows pupils to really develop their confidence. We also had support from a number of local and national companies who provided prizes for the pupils, their teachers and their schools.”

St John’s Meads CE Primary School won a VIP Tour of local pharmaceutical company TEVA, where they dress up in overalls, face masks and hair nets and see how engineering and science skills are put into practice.

Richard Thomas, Headteacher of Pevensey and Westham School said, “We were delighted to run this event again this year. The response from the schools that attended was excellent and it is clear that these kinds of events have a lasting impact on the profile of STEM in local schools.” Aoife Cherrill, acting as a reporter for Ocklynge Junior School, was “impressed with the quality of presentations and the range of ideas presented by the schools. It was great fun and really interesting.”

For more info on the charity Practical Action’s free STEM resources for schools go to www.practicalaction.org/schools