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.

163579A0-2CEC-44A0-BB88-999621BD70CF-774-00000078808138D7
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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

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

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.08.16

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.08.34

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.08.47

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.09.04

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/

 

 

 

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.

Music4Learning #6

“You wake up tomorrow and there’s no music. It’s all gone. Not even a note. “

How crazy and unimaginable would that be. Our brains respond so powerfully to music that there has to be a strong connection. The Sync Project is trying to gather individuals to verify the effects of music with tangible, hardcore research and evidence. There are many experts out there willing to throw their hand in to help pull a few strings. By invitation only, a group gathered to thrash out and explore some ideas at McGill University last month – the link is here. Take a look at what they are trying to achieve….

At I Can Teach, we believe that certain types of music are real Brain Food – the connection with the soul is undoubted but to help the brain’s engine room really kick into gear, there are beats that work. Using music at 50-80 beats per minute, often classical music, can generate an increase in alpha waves in the brain. This dramatically improves brain function and can increase memory capacity and retention. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D major is an ideal piece of music and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major is also highly influential. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is a delight to improve creative writing.

“Several of my Year 4 and Year 3 teachers are now regularly using I Can Teach music in their classrooms. There has been a significant impact on pupil concentration when listening to the brain food music while writing”. Rob Evans – Headteacher

The music is calming, reassuring and purposeful. The atmosphere is noticeably different and I know my students value the opportunity to pause, reflect and improve even if they wouldn’t confess to being a fan of classical music.