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

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/