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

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.

 

TeachMeet Brighton 2015

TeachMeet Brighton 2015 #TMBTON, admirably hosted by Brighton University on a sunny evening, brought together a great bunch of teachers looking to share ideas. David Rogers (@daviderogers), Peps McCrea (@pepsmcrea) and Leah Sharp (@leah_moo) facilitated and shared ideas too.

Darren Arbon (@Dr_Arbon) presented simple ways to use technology in the classroom. No gimmicks just good learning techniques and lots of fun. Lesley Munro (@LesleyMunro4) took us through the contents of a Revision Goodie Bag for Year 11 students and Rachel Ramaker (@rjramaker) told us about Little Free Libraries and how they work to build communities of readers. Laura Braun (@Braunteaches) gave us a run through of ‘Prove It’ sheets, an excellent and well used assessment for learning tool and John McKee (@jmckee) described his school’s ambition to change the language of behaviour to ‘grit and self-management’ and how to monitor its impact. David Rogers (@daviderogers) described his links between a Year 9 class and a Year 6 class, testing each others knowledge on common themes of study and Ben Rouse (@mr_brouse) showed how a ‘draftback’ review of revision history in Google Docs could be an awesome feedback tool. Leah Sharp (@leah_moo) had a quick-fire set of ideas to use in the classroom, including the use of Twitter and emojis to improve literacy. Helen Pengelly (@hdiamondcoach) brought a sense of calm and purpose with a look at ‘mindfulness’ in schools and there was a quick look at Crumbles too.

My presentation was called ‘Music4Learning Meets Kahoot’, a mash up of two great ideas. I have used Kahoot a great deal in my classroom with real success. Disengaged becomes motivated and purposeful, disinterested becomes collaborative and cheerful and it’s a piece of cake to make it work.

Kahooters will know that look of engagement you get when the pin code arrives on the screen. At TeachMeet Brighton we had 30 teachers ready to answer the questions. The prize, a pair of T-Shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Teacher of #Awesome’ and ‘Kahoot Champion’ and some great stickers with top tips for Kahooting: Top prize! Not to be put off by the slight lag in connection, I described how I used Kahoot in my classroom: revision lesson, fun starter, plenary, afternoon reward slot, tutor activity, student-generated games and plenty more. You can also use Global Kahoots, sharing across several screens or ‘Ghost Mode’. I used each question in this Kahoot to highlight the different types of music that can be used in the classroom. That might be calming music or wake-up and tidy up music or even thought-provoking music to improve creativity and productivity. I Can Teach has provided music for the classroom for over 8 years and has been used around the world in over 160 different countries. My Kahoot is here if you’d like to take a look.

The Kahoot was a success. Great participation, engagement, fun and healthy competition. No swearing, no tears, just a few sad faces on those further down the leaderboard. Using it for CPD and staff training is also a great way to engage people. This was my first TeachMeet. I felt very comfortable showing people how I use such a great tool for the classroom. Any nerves I had quickly disappeared once I pressed the ‘Play’ button.

Kahoot is free and very easy to set up. There are similar ideas in Socrative and Plickers but I prefer Kahoot purely because of the simplicity, reliability and engagement. Sign up here. Do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about using Kahoot or I Can Teach.

Marcus Cherrill (@ICanTeach_Uk and ideas@icanteach.co.uk)