How does your garden grow?

Careers related learning in primary schools – some thoughts and ideas.

Any good gardener would tell you that if you don’t look after the soil, not much is going to grow and the quality of your crop will be limited. There is growing evidence that providing the right kinds of interactions with employers and the world of work at an early age can make a real difference to the future decisions of young children.

Careers related learning is not limited to talks from parents about their unusual career paths or a trip to a local museum, it is the language that we use, the curriculum that we provide in primary schools and the attitudes and aspirations that we try to foster in early education. Children are exposed to many influences as they develop, most significantly by their parents, other family members and their school friends. Between the ages of 6 and 8, they will have already assigned many jobs to a particular gender, through behaviours and attitudes, therefore limiting much of their early thoughts on a job because of their own gender. Furthermore, between the ages of 9 and 13, they will have placed a social value based on perceptions of social class or intelligence and therefore abandoned ‘fantasy careers’ and placed significant further constraints on career choices. It is therefore incumbent on teachers and school leaders to provide very early intervention to promote better language in Early Years education, to broaden horizons and create opportunities to raise aspirations for young children and their families. This is even more important with families where no one has attended university or has significant qualifications or training. It is also short-sighted to think that any careers related learning in primary school education will wash over children’s heads or be too early for them. It is not about gearing them up for college, interview practice or choosing exam subjects, it’s all about opportunity and enrichment.

Primary schools in the UK currently provide an exceptionally rich diet of a curriculum with hundreds of opportunities for children. What might need to happen more often is a strategic approach to considering the impact on children and their families in terms of exposure to employability skills, the workplace, types of work and pathways. This can be done with a simple data collection tool such as a Google Form, designed for schools to complete a quick subjective assessment of the impact of each of the activities or events each week. Simple. Here’s an example form. This is designed to reduce workload, improve productivity and collect essential information to support and measure impact. We can also use this idea to share good practice amongst schools.

There is a great deal of work out there to demonstrate good practice. Most notably through the research activities of the Careers and Enterprise Company and Education and Employers. What Works? Careers Related Learning in Primary is excellent in creating a clear landscape of advice and ideas with impact.

So what works for you? Are you an employer, looking to find ways to ensure a good record on corporate social responsibility or looking to create a seedbed for your future workforce? How could you help? Primary Futures is a network of thousands of employers offering their time to ensure relevant and timely connections with schools, for children as young as five to meet employers, hear their stories and see what they do. Why not have a look. Drawing The Future is also a fascinating research and review article looking at stereotypes and aspirations of young children. If you are a school leader, consider how to embed careers related learning in every aspect of your curriculum. Bring parents in to support and talk about their unusual career paths, but do it with a purpose and a plan. Group your parents together, get them to share ideas. Most importantly, find out what your children think. Work to broaden their horizons and remove limitations of gender, race, disability or social position. Let’s open a few more doors.

Four key themes run through all of the research:

  • High-quality interactions with employers and local businesses
  • Sustained involvement and engagement of parents and developing a shared role
  • Exposing children to careers related learning and employability skills in the curriculum
  • Inspiration STEM events both in and out of school

Keeping these themes in mind when developing a curriculum that offers more than literacy and numeracy will be essential in broadening horizons for the next generation.

Why not share your thoughts and ideas below in the comments section. It would be good to hear what else works or what the barriers are to this approach being successful.

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!

IMG_2146

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