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!

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

Running: a British School in Nanjing

I have always been an advocate of running. Good for the soul and good for the heart. Not so good for the knees. It clears my mind and gives me breathing space away from 4G, Wifi, browsers and emails. It’s always been a key to a better work-life balance.

As part of my work with Dragonfly Training, I was invited to run two training days at The British School in Nanjing. My two year visa and an excellent track record, meant I was a good fit. We had lots of time to find out exactly what the school’s needs were, so we formulated a toolbox of practical ideas to improve, regenerate and revitalise teaching and learning. After a long journey, my first priority was to explore the school, share resources and connect with senior staff. I was able to spend time listening to the Head of Senior School, Heidi Witt-Williams and the Headteacher, Matthew Shephard, describe the unique context of their school. It was time well spent.

I just want to say how much of a pleasure it was to host Marcus here in Nanjing. I think it’s often overlooked how important it is that training is enjoyable and that trainers need to be engaging. Marcus was excellent; I only got to sit in a couple of hours of the two days but I felt inspired. – Matthew Shephard, Head, BSN

The two days were filled with practical suggestions for differentiation, assessment for learning, stretch and challenge and ways to create independent learners. The final session looked at how to use projects (particularly STEM projects from www.practicalaction.org/schools) to bring classrooms alive. Staff completed the Squashed Tomato Challenge, starting with a scavenger hunt for various items and then constructing a working model to show how to bring small amounts of tomatoes down a Nepalese hillside to markets in the valleys. Great fun, highly engaging and a fantastic way to finish the two days.

Day one started with a ‘Keynote’ presentation to the whole staff. It was called ‘Brilliant Brains’ and was really a way to get people thinking about how connections, brain development and memories are key factors in learning. I have learnt a great deal from a fellow trainer at Dragonfly, Dave Taylor and been lucky enough to share ideas about how kids learn best and what makes us better teachers. I was able to use some of these during the first session.

Making connections with real teachers really matters to me. I invest a huge amount of time and effort in creating a tailored course to suit the needs of individual schools. I want people to enjoy it, but most of all I want it to impact on their professional lives, making work more rewarding, fulfilling and ultimately more enjoyable. I want children to be engaged and nurtured, stretched and challenged rather than become passengers in a classroom full of uninspiring content and knowledge. I was inspired by the passion of the educators at the British School in Nanjing, their flexibility and willingness to adapt to new situations, new buildings and new challenges. I have a follow up chat with the Head in the next few days to see how things are progressing.

The Head, Matthew Shephard, has a calm and uncomplicated approach to school leadership. He promotes quality first teaching, supporting and encouraging his staff. He is surrounded by a highly experienced team of educators who promote and model excellent teaching and learning from Nursery up to Year 13. We discussed leadership styles, teaching and learning……. and running. I suggested a simple program to build up to 10k over the next few months. Good for the soul. Good for the heart. I look forward to joining him on a run in Nanjing the next time I visit.

For details on Dragonfly Training courses, give Mary Chapman a call on +44 (0)2920 711787 or email mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk

 

Return to Ethiopia – finding your ‘ikigai’

Whilst not quite the eye-opening experience of last summer, my return to Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, was none the less inspirational and uplifting. I was delighted to be asked back to work with an amazing group of teachers, many of whom were present last year. Retention of staff in International Schools is always an issue especially when they don’t get paid. That’s right. No pay. Teachers raise money through friends, family and their church groups in order to fund a year at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa. The funds cover food, some of the travel costs and general living. Many teachers bring their families. Lock, stock and barrel. They often commit themselves to at least two years with many staying longer or returning at a later date.

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This is where staff are: right in the middle.

There is an undeniable feeling of warmth and welcome in the campus. It’s not the weather – it was rainy season again and just about scraped into the twenties (seventies Fahrenheit) – but the people who work there. From the drivers, security staff, cleaners and cooks to the teaching assistants and teachers, everyone plays their part and very much contributes to the unique atmosphere at Bingham Academy. Their Faith is key. They come here to help spread the word of God. It’s not overt and ‘for the sake of it’ but it is interwoven in everything they do. They are fully committed to what they do. A husband of one of the teachers works in a recording studio, translating the bible stories into many of the 80 different local languages in order to improve literacy rates. Fascinating and inspiring.

Dragonfly Training delivers an extensive range of courses for teachers. This is my third year and they have sent me to all sorts of places to deliver training. It’s a real privilege to be part of a team committed to improving standards in education and supporting teachers with practical strategies to engage and inspire young people. Bingham Academy identified some key issues that were hindering their rate of progress. Children come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and educational systems. They often dip in and out and their starting points can vary widely. Add to this the fact that ‘results’ count and teachers are under pressure to make every lesson count. Dragonfly Training approached this with some teaching and learning fundamentals: Assessment for Learning strategies and good old fashioned differentiation. Teachers explored how to assess learning in a number of practical ways. Great responses and engagement from teachers meant each of the ideas generated even more suggestions for success within this unique context. A series of differentiation ideas and some Project Based Learning followed in the last two sessions with positive outcomes for all staff.

I will apply ‘digital’ strategies to learning wherever possible but the internet in Ethiopia often hangs quite literally by a thread. I offered some use of Spiral (www.spiral.ac) which with strong internet will be a potent tool for learning and assessment. We also had a play with Kahoot and Quizlet. The Ethiopian Government often disconnects the Internet (it’s a big red switch) at the first sign of political unrest or for days on end when there is exam season. Last year, exam papers were released online (unofficially) from which widespread cheating ensued. This year, WiFi went offline for 3 weeks in June which negated the (online) cheating somewhat. The school has to cope with regular outages and it just becomes part of life. I found it rather refreshing.

I had three evenings on campus; A chance to socialise and get to know a little more about what makes Bingham Academy such a great place to be. The first night was pizza night with board games. I haven’t really played board games for decades (apart from a family game of Scrabble which I ended up winning because I was the only player left!) and it was great not to be reliant on devices electrical or otherwise for entertainment. It was social networking in its truest form. New staff joined in and I became one of the family for the evening. I loved it. The second night was dinner in a family home with friends, stories, good food and the usual warmth of welcome. Thirdly, was dinner out with twenty teachers and a bit of local grub. Njeera is the must-have and requires a good palate, a taste for spices and plenty of antibacterial hand gel. A sense of adventure helps too.

I am looking forward to another return to Addis Ababa. The people are fascinating, charming and passionate about what they do. There is a great deal of commitment to improving things in every classroom from Kindergarten right through to Year 12. I have set them some ‘Project Based Learning’ ideas – sown a few seeds – and I hope that these have created enough of a spark in each teacher to take them through the year. I am keen to develop science teaching in the elementary and junior school and thinking of ideas that fit with their unique context. You can find out more about their work here http://binghamacademy.net/ 

With best wishes for the next year and thanks to all the staff at the school.

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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

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.