Spiral to success

Teaching and learning are all about engagement. If you can find the right way to ‘hook’ learners then the ‘reeling in’ is much easier. In my role as a teacher and trainer, I have used a wide variety of tools to switch people on; tone of voice, body language, volume, music, video, quizzes, pupil leaders, active tasks, readers, visual stimuli (‘fascinators’ my art teacher friend calls them) and more recently digital tools.

I am running a new course for Dragonfly Training called ‘Current Best Practice in Digital Pedagogy’ as I believe there is a real lack of clarity about what really works in the post-big-digital-spend wave that has passed through so many schools. Ultimately schools are looking for tools that improve outcomes for learners, don’t require huge training and engage pupils and staff alike. It doesn’t matter if the next tool is all singing and all dancing because if teachers have to spend hours getting to grips with the mechanics and preloading data it just won’t work.

I’m using three highly efficient and simple to use tools for my teaching, training and business use. Spiral.ac, Google Apps for Education and Kahoot. I have written about Kahoot and Google Apps already, so here’s some info about Spiral.

Spiral.ac  is a suite of four apps that provide engagement, collaboration and live feedback. They are simple to use, efficient and reliable and really work. The first one is

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The first one is Quickfire. A quiz app that allows preloaded questions or shoot from the hip kind of teaching where pupils answer through devices and the teacher can tick, send back, comment or present to the class. Answers can be anonymised and names revealed at a later date. Responses can be collated by individual or by class and archived for use at parents evenings or review sessions to reflect on progress. You can also search for other public quizzes and edit those to save time. A new feature within Quickfire called ‘Step’ means you can pull out particular questions and responses for expansion.

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Next up is Discuss. Import a slide show from PowerPoint or Google Slides and the app creates images of each slide which can then be populated with questions or just responses from learners from open-ended questions. This is really useful for Assessment for Learning at key points in the lesson (start, middle and end). Again, all feedback can be archived and shared with learners in a review session. You can also create slides in a variety of formats from scratch which provides flexibility in presentation styles.

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The third in the suite is Team Up. This is a great tool for differentiation in lessons. Divide up students into random or pre-arranged groups, allocate roles, objectives and outcomes and they work collaboratively to create presentations through instantly linked devices and present them as a team. Evidence is collected and it’s easy to see who has contributed (or not!). It provides for creativity, collaboration and teamwork – essential employability skills.

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Last but definitely not least is Clip. This is a game changer and means you can take any YouTube clip and add questions at key points to check understanding and learning. The progress indicators are obvious. Play the video without questions, then repeat with questions, open up for discussion with open-ended questions and then check responses. The Chrome Webstore (apps for the Chrome browser) provides a Spiral add-on that makes adding questions to video clips seamless. There’s also the ability to set viewing for home time and independent study, where pupils can watch as many times as they like – flipped learning at it’s best.

As a trainer, these apps work really well. Presentations become highly engaging, interactive and fun. There’s minimal setup time because I can import directly from Google Slides, YouTube and PowerPoint or just have open-ended discussions in workshops. Being able to demonstrate the features of Spiral whilst delivering a training session is great and all the apps are applicable to a classroom, training room or board room equally well.

The best news is Spiral is free. There are some premium ‘dashboard’ style features available to account managers that provide a detailed analysis of usage and progress reports but the basic suite of apps is free and is likely to remain so. So what do you need to get started? Sign up for a teacher account at www.spiral.ac, check out their Twitter account for news, tips and tricks and updates.

For more information on the Dragonfly Course ‘Current Best Practice in Digital Pedagogy’ get in touch with them here http://www.dragonfly-training.co.uk/

 

 

 

Need a good idea? Ask a child!

Pupils gather to share STEM solutions to major world issues in UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference for young people.

Over one hundred 9-12 year-olds from 11 East Sussex schools across Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford took part in the UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference. They had been working on a range of projects to create imaginative and sustainable solutions to major issues facing many populations around the world including sanitation, clean air and renewable energy sources. The projects were inspired by the work of the charity Practical Action (www.practicalaction.org) who work globally to tackle major issues in developing countries. Their projects include the Squashed Tomato Challenge, Floating Garden Challenge and Beat the Flood. They provide high-quality free resources for schools through their website.

The event was organised by Pevensey and Westham CE Primary School to raise awareness of global issues and to raise the profile of practical STEM subjects. Richard Thomas, Headteacher, said, “We have made practical science a priority at our school. Primary School is not just about Maths and English. We want to equip our pupils with a range of skills and enthusiasm for learning. It is through engaging science that we have been able to raise standards across the whole school. Ofsted inspectors confirmed this last month. This Conference has allowed us to share this enthusiasm with other local schools.” The schools involved were Pevensey and Westham CE Primary, The Haven Voluntary Aided Primary School, Stafford Junior School, Langney Primary, St. John’s Meads Primary School, Grovelands County Primary, Oakwood Primary, Willingdon Primary, Seaford Head School (Secondary), Hailsham Community College (Secondary) and Gildredge House (Secondary).

Pupils from Years 5, 6 and 7 brought along their ideas in the form of working models, presentations, videos and posters. The emphasis of the Conference was very much about the ideas rather than the presentation but the level of expertise in presenting to a packed auditorium of peers and teachers was commendable. Pupils also developed a range of employability skills, a focus of STEM Learning UK, including teamwork, collaboration, brainstorming, leadership and persistence. Pupils were also delighted with Conference ‘goodie bags’ and a variety of prizes drawn through the afternoon.

Conference coordinator, Marcus Cherrill was delighted with the level of support from local businesses and educational companies alike. He said, “These kinds of events don’t really happen without support and people working together. We would like to thank Eastbourne College for hosting the event in The Birley Centre and to TEVA Pharmaceuticals Ltd for sponsoring the staff training event. David Lloyd Eastbourne, The Beach Deck, Deliciously Gorgeous and Games Workshop also provided vouchers for the event. Twig World, Music4Learning and Twinkl Resources also supplied prizes and vouchers for educational resources. We are very grateful to our supporters.” Attending the event, Sarah Jerkins from TEVA Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said, “We were impressed by the enthusiasm all of the teams showed. It was clear that they had put a lot of effort and research into putting their ideas together to make a working model and were able to present their findings to the audience. We look forward to welcoming the voucher winning team to visit our distribution centre in Eastbourne.” The Conference was also supported by the ASE (Association for Science Education), The Science Museum and STEM Sussex and their team of STEM Ambassadors. Marcus Cherrill added, “We believe that with the right support and good planning, this kind of Conference for young people with Science leadership roles in schools, can work without imposing great burdens on teachers or pupils. It really works.”

Two year 7 pupils from Hailsham Community College commented afterwards, “That was great fun! We were really nervous as we had to wait until the very end but we were pleased with our water filtration system. We think it will solve clean water issues in a number of countries around the world. We are already thinking of ideas for next year!”

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Group photo courtesy: India Pocock – Eastbourne College

All other photos: Sarah Carmody https://www.sarahcarmody.uk/

Sound Matters

As a lifelong fan of decent music and in my new role as a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce), I attended my first RSA event at the Sallis Benney Theatre in Brighton: The Future of Urban Sound Planning on Wednesday 22 February.

With an eclectic mix of seasoned speakers, University academics, and engineers of soundscapes, I was instantly engaged in the content of the evening. Sound really does matter and how we respond to the multitude of sounds around us is complex, innate and fascinating.

Julian Treasure, he of acclaimed TED talks on sound and founder of The Sound Agency, branding machine for international corporations, spoke at length with crystal clear audio accompaniment on how sound affects us. Sound in the workplace, open plan office spaces, distracting sounds, painful sounds and calming bird song with rhythmic pulses of ocean waves filled the auditorium and carefully contextualized the importance of the evening. Julian highlighted the importance of protecting our wellbeing through careful choices and through ‘sound’ design and not just volumes but rhythms and types of sound. He explained how we are designed to respond to our ears much faster than our vision. Hearing is 360 degrees he explained, yet our world is dominated by the visual signals we are subjected to on a constant basis. Sound affects our behaviour – the deepest bin in the world clip demonstrates this. Sound affects our mood – melancholy or magical tones can lift us or bury us. Music too has its own place in our world. We are born with a natural response to rhythm and we just know how certain combinations of notes can make us feel. I believe that music has a significant and profound effect on our emotions, that’s why I founded Music4Learning. That’s why I was interested in hearing more about soundscapes and how people are working to achieve better sound balances in our lives.

A team from Brighton and Hove City Council are working on a number of projects to create better urban spaces through a more creative use of architecture and sound. In one of their pilot projects, they took a busy seafront location, full of traffic, people and noise and used focused sound to create a calm zone. The results were spectacular. Another part of the research took them to use cameras and music in a dingy subterranean tunnel from the main road to beach and promenade. With the sugar plum fairy music from The Nutcracker Suite playing,  skulking changed to waltzing and introvert switched to extrovert in a matter of seconds.

Andy Knowles from Anderson Acoustics described brilliantly the passion that some architects have for creating better soundscapes, responsive to our needs and promoting our well-being. Sadly, planning blocks, intransigence and bloody-mindedness get in the way. It’s a frustrating business to be in by all accounts. Generating ideas is only half the battle.

One of the last presentations was on how the study of sound from an academic point of view can ‘open our eyes and ears’ to more thoughtful approaches to urban design and public health. In one part, Dr. Emmanuel Spinelli described how he had studied the designs and subsequent noise output of a wide range of hand dryers. Interesting – particularly when you consider the noise output from a child’s point of view. They are tested to within an inch of their life in sterile sound-proof booths but not necessarily in a fully tiled echo chamber that exists in most restrooms and can leave a sensitive 4-year-old requiring another visit to the bathroom.

I found the explanations of how sound design can be better incorporated into our world entirely fascinating. My role as founder of Music4Learning is to help teachers change the atmosphere in their classrooms through careful choices of music. Sound really matters.

The event was supported by The Noise Abatement SocietyAnderson Acoustics, and The RSA. Our Twitter feed commented on the evening @music4learning #rsasoundscapes

Sir John Jones: magic weaving

June 2016 – University of Sussex

Some key ideas from the talk given by Sir John Jones to a large group of trainee teachers at Sussex University this summer. It was remarkably inspiring.

“Magic weaving”

The three most important words to an educator should be ‘children, children, children’, nothing else too catchy or well-thought out just tell it like it is straight from the heart. Most educators would say they join the profession to ‘make a difference’ and Sir John Jones would generally agree that this matters. However, bigger factors influence the success of our endeavours as educators. Babies are born (fairly frequently apparently) into a ‘demographic’ (a family, a postcode and an income level) and life begins. For some, this is a happy journey but for others, it’s a daily struggle against the odds. It’s not fair. One in four children in the UK lives in poverty. One and a half million children live in a house where no adult has worked. Sir John described four battlegrounds that these children face over the next few years:

  • Cognitive – in a professional family a four-year-old will have been exposed to over 40 million words. Adults will hold conversations over the dinner table and read books together. In a deprived area, the likelihood is only 10 million words and lower levels of literacy. Society wrongly confuses this gap with ability. Not fair.
  • Emotional – in a professional family, children will get on average twelve encouragements to every one discouragement. A huge impact on self-esteem. At the other end of the spectrum in benefit street, one encouragement is met with two discouragements. Not fair.
  • Aspiration – society distinguishes the aspirations of children from wealthier backgrounds as ‘high’ and those from poorer backgrounds as ‘low’. Sir John suggests we use the words ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ instead.
  • Expectation – most wealthier children would expect to attend university. Those from poorer backgrounds have never heard of a university. He reveled in the fact that at a Bolton Academy, where he is a governor, 15 students went on to University last year. The first members of their families ever to have attended University. Boy did they party.

He went on to quote Nelson Mandela:

“It is only through learning that the son of a miner can become the manager of the mine and it is only through learning that the daughter of a cleaner can become a doctor and it is only through learning that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a proud nation.”

The future of the planet lies in the palms of the hands of those adults that have dedicated their lives to young people – the magic weavers.

Sir John skillfully and passionately described the context in which teachers are required to perform. It was not a political statement. It clarified the importance of the role of the teacher as a route to social justice.

“The keeper of dreams”

Everyone should have one of those teachers. The ones that made school better or even bearable. I remember mine, Mrs Yorke. A maths teacher from the old school. She taught we learnt. We practised and we got really good at it. We would do anything for her. Sir John described a conversation with a teacher who was inspired by one of her teachers. A teacher who was there on a wet and windy November afternoon to see her one and only netball hattrick. The teacher who said I’ll look after your self-belief until you’re ready to take it back. She was the one person who a year after her mum’s death, whilst she was still at school, came up to her and whispered in her ear “Are you okay? I’m here if you need me.”

Working in a school is a supreme act of faith he went on to say. Never quite knowing what children have become. Sir John then described four gifts that teachers provide to young people:

  • opportunity – skills and expertise that teachers talk about in interviews should be brought into schools and used whether it’s embroidery, cooking, golf or playing the piano. Plant a seed.
  • passion – create passionate children by putting passionate adults in front of them. Passion gives you a desire to do more. A desire to do more gives you an appetite for discovery. Be enthralled by learning.
  • time – given unselfishly – teachers are good at this!
  • world class teaching – plant the seeds and allow children to fly.

“You’re hired!”

Sir John revealed key elements of his interview process. Before saying a word, he would look deep into the candidate’s eyes and look for passion. He knew when it was absent too. The look of a ‘velociraptor’ who doesn’t like children. Not good. The next thing he looks for is warmth. A warm heart of someone who cares.Not someone who brings fear and trepidation to a class. Next on the list, it was ‘fire in the belly’. Stand up for what you believe, push the boundaries and tell people what gets up your nose. Then, an unconditional positive regard. Liking all children is key even the ones who are tough. He described a school where some of the children were definitely unloved. An OfSTED inspector arrived for a visit but somehow ended up coming through one of the back doors only to be nearly knocked over by a group of teenagers leaving the school building. He asked one of the girls at the back, “What’s going on here?” She replied, “There’s a big inspection going on today so they’re sending all the dickheads home!” Out of the mouths of babes. The final attribute Sir John was looking for was a relentless pursuit of excellence. Doing small things brilliantly and relentlessly. There’s always a better way.

“We would like our teachers to …..”

A plea from children to their teachers. Sir John described some fundamental needs from a child’s perspective.

  1. Have a great relationship with us. We’ve got to spend lots of time with you. It’s no good for our self-esteem if you don’t really like being with us. It has long-lasting effects on our cognitive and emotional status.
  2. Ask me brilliant questions, abstract questions to which there is no right or wrong answer. About 80-90% of questions asked in a classroom are answered correctly first time.
  3. Let me learn independently.
  4. Don’t tell us how to do it.
  5. Let me learn with my friends.
  6. Tell me how I’m doing. John Hattie says this is important!
  7. Have high expectations of me. Believe in me!
  8. Give me challenging work.

Sir John ended with a reminder about telling good stories because all good teachers are good storytellers. Make it RING. Relevant, Interesting, Naughty and a Giggle. He described the American teacher who was asked out of the blue by one her more persistent students, “Mrs Johnson! How many times did you have sex with your husband last week?” He defied anyone not to see a ‘win-lose’ situation but being the true professional she ignored the question and carried on with the lesson, choosing to act not react. The boy asked again. He said, “Mrs Johnson, are you ignoring me?” She replied, “No! I’m still counting.” One-nil to the teacher. Humour is very powerful in the right context. The poor boy is still in therapy.

This was a heartwarming, stimulating and insightful talk. If you get a chance to see Sir John Jones talk then make a date. You will not be disappointed. Thanks to Jo Tregenza, Head of ITT at University of Sussex, for organizing and my invitation. @sirjohnfjones 

Training in Ethiopia

August 2016 Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa

A long flight from London Gatwick to Addis Ababa via Dubai brought me to Bingham Academy, a mission school in the heart of the bustling city. It was rainy season. Proper rain. Can’t see the roads kind of rain. For three months of the year, the quality of road surface gradually deteriorates and large holes are commonplace. The journey to the school was bumpy, slightly concerning but nevertheless eye-opening and entertaining.

The school is set within a busy market district of the city within a walled compound. A guarded gate provides entry. The buildings were a mixture of concrete and corrugated iron roofing with polished wooden floors and spaces in the walls for a select group of rodents, and newer buildings with offices and well-lit classrooms. The vultures flying overhead were interested in the local abattoir located just round the corner. The heavy humidity meant a variety of new smells were hanging in the air.

Brad Adams, Director of Bingham Academy showed me around. I had a little apartment within the main school building. Brad described how the teachers were sponsored by their local churches to teach children of missionaries working in the country. Most would raise tens of thousands of pounds to fulfil their calling to work in this fascinating country. Many teachers came with their families, with a long term commitment. Some were young Christians, wanting to start a lifelong career of service.   I got settled and then went to my first hosts for dinner. We chatted over spaghetti about faith and service, teaching and commitment and the Olympics.

Monday was the first of two training days for over fifty staff. We looked at differentiation and assessment for learning. Techniques for personalising learning and getting the best out of individuals. A great deal of engagement from participants helped along with some chocolate and some Haribo love. Dinner was hosted by an English couple, one a GP responsible for looking after the teachers, the other staff and the missionaries. Bizarrely, he was also my late cousin’s GP back in St.Albans in another life. Small world. Shepherd’s Pie, apple crumble and a bottle of local beer to wet the whistle was welcomed heartily. We talked about drones and how small the world was.

Tuesday was a day for Active Learning. We danced, sang and played. Lots of ideas for engaging learners. Maximum participation and excellent feedback on the day. We had a debate, we had trust games, team building skills, science experiments and lots of discussion about effective teaching. A good day.

My last evening was hosted by Shane and Naomi. An Australian couple. Both teachers, who had brought their four children with them for the long game. Strong in faith and full of hope and optimism yet painfully realistic about the challenges facing the people of the local area. Naomi had provided outreach to groups and families, supporting them to overcome poverty, prostitution, and lack of hope. A chance to refit a steel roof for a family of eight brought tears of joy to everyone and fortified links with the local community.

We sampled local food that evening washed down with local beer and the best coffee I have ever had. We were joined by three of Shane’s children who all delved into the ‘njeera’. They loved their days at school and were passionate about wanting to stay there and finish with good qualifications. We chatted that night about life, kids, fishing and the lemons that come our way occasionally. Lovely lovely people.

My route home was via an ancient monument on Entoto and a flying visit to see Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis to her friends) which was a real treat. I was fascinated by the culture, the people, the history, and how they make their living. It is undoubtedly tough out there but people seem genuinely happy even when it’s raining. The flight home was filled with Ethiopian girls looking for work in the bright lights of Dubai. Housemaids, cleaners, domestics perhaps. Very few of them had been on a plane before. They struggled to familiarise themselves with airline toilets, food and drink choices and general etiquette on a plane but who could blame them.

On reflection, I would love to work with Bingham Academy again, if only to be in a place where character, commitment and faith are valued above all else. It was a collection of motivated teachers wanting to give their very best. I was inspired.

The building and surrounding walls have taken a battering in the last week as a result of torrential downpours. The school is funded by charity donations. If you have read this far and would like to help they can be found on Facebook (here) and a link to a fundraising page is here https://rceinternational.webconnex.com/43000

Training was provided by Dragonfly Training Ltd who bring hands-on practical courses to schools across the planet.

 

Blended Learning Approaches in Science

I was delighted to be invited to present at the Education Show this month in Birmingham in the Maths and Science Theatre. I based my presentation around the use of IntoScience in my classroom and how it enhances practical elements of science teaching. IntoScience is fairly new on the science noticeboard but I have been fortunate enough to run a few trials with my year 7 and 8 students over the last 6 months.

I have found IntoScience to be easy to use, intuitive and most certainly engaging on many different levels. I explained in my presentation that ‘blended learning approaches’ are important in the modern classroom because that’s where students are at. It is where they will be in two, five and ten years time. Allowing them to manipulate technology and use it to enhance their learning is crucial.

The ‘virtual world’ that IntoScience provides brings a natural safety net for students to make mistakes and take risks. How else could you run car crash tests at 100 km/h or create your own planets in a goldilocks zone? IntoScience provides a range of virtual investigations that just can’t be done in most classrooms. The other major advantage is that students can work with IntoScience at home on their own devices in their own time. This ‘flipped’ model means students return to the classroom and develop a deeper understanding having reviewed the content in their own time. Persisting with this model has brought great rewards to students in my classroom. They are used to working on projects at home and they come to lessons well prepared (training essential!).

These are a few screenshots from the Crash Test Dummies activity in the Familiar Forces Topic. I can’t replicate this in the classroom (safely!). What I can do is introduce familiar forces in a practical way using film canister ‘rockets’ and balloons with some ideas about balanced and unbalanced forces, then students use IntoScience to explore. They can collect data, interpret results, analyse them using graphs, make predictions and suggest further investigations. They can do this either in the classroom on a set of tablets or they can do it at home. The best bit is that I can see their answers, suggest improvements and track their progress through a reporting tool. I can also compare with other classes to see where they are up to.

These activities are principally aimed at KS3 but the coverage of these activities against KS2 National Curriculum outcomes is excellent. They also support revision and consolidation at KS4. Each set of activities contains a ‘mid’ and ‘end challenge which tests their understanding as they go. Again, I can track their progress and identify areas of strength and weakness.

There is also a range of ‘locations’ within the application that take students (in the form of their personalised avatar) around an Asian woodland, exploring biodiversity, an Observatory, exploring the solar system and a Monorail, where they fix things to get the station up and running again. The wow factor is in the final ‘location’ which is a true-to-life replica of the Jenolan Caves (a must-see, field trip staple in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales). In the caves, students can explore and collect ‘inquiry points’ as they investigate humidity, temperature and oxygen levels inside the caves. The opportunities for students to explore new environments are numerous.

My presentation also referred to ‘The 3rd Degree’. This is an absolute winner with the students. They can play each other in real time as they try to score points with their science knowledge. There are four levels of difficulty: easy, medium, hard and extreme. Answering questions correctly unlocks higher point questions. Students have 90 seconds to do their best and beat any opponent that might be in the same game. They could end up playing a live game with students from another school too!

In summary, IntoScience is an essential part of my Year 8 planning. This year group require careful planning – they are just at that age – and I have two groups with a majority of activity thirsty boys. These activities and the level of competition and engagement they offer are crucial to successful outcomes.

Raising boys achievement

There are many barriers to learning for young lads. I have been digging a little deeper only to satisfy my own curiosity and remind myself that a classroom teacher has often got the odds stacked against them if they want achievement for all. Gary Wilson is a heavily-cited educationalist, known for his work on boys achievement. He reckons there are at least 30 different barriers to success for boys. These include early experiences, role models (or lack of strong male role models), poor emotional intelligence, reading without talking first, choice of teacher language and the way teachers interact with boys as opposed to girls. There is no quick fix. Boy-girl seating plans are a short term remedy often inappropriately deployed with little explanation. Single gender work has limited impact mainly because it is not sustainable. Gary Wilson talks about improving chances and preparedness for boys at the earliest opportunity. The work must begin in primary schools and a cross-phase approach is essential.

This sentiment was echoed when I spoke with a Primary Headteacher recently. He suggested something which he described as a little controversial. Put the best teachers with the most difficult boys. Outstanding teachers will ensure the gender gap does not widen. Once they reach secondary school, any gap can’t be closed. The damage has already been done. He then suggested greater sustainable links between primary and secondary schools. Not just taster days or special events but something that is regular, significant and appropriate.

“Boys need challenge; they need structure. They like to solve problems and need tasks to be active and engaging. Create opportunities to talk before writing, create time for reflection and make the work relevant.” – Gary Wilson – Oxford University Press – Project X

In my classroom, I have been using IntoScience (www.intoscience.com). I have noticed increased motivation and engagement from the boys in my Year 8 group (a tough boy-dominated group). This is not just the ‘lads’ but the quieter boys who respond well to working in pairs on some of the challenges and activities. Each task is clearly defined. There are ‘inquiry points’ on offer at each stage and plenty of challenge. They are also keen to follow up at home. The girls love it too!

My work with Primary schools has also meant I have been able to see Empiribox (www.empiribox.org) in action. This is great for boys achievement. Hands-on practical science with plenty of pops, whizzes, bubbles and smells. They get to use scientific language, ask questions and investigate their own ideas. It’s the perfect mix of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Useful starting point with some good ideas. Happy to hear more!