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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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

 

 

 

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 #2

A gruesome eye dissection in class always grabs most students attention. Even the ones that are covering their own are fascinated and can’t resist a peak. Give a class a set of scalpels and one beady sheep eyeball between two would be opticians and let them go for it. Now the music: I Can See Clearly Now by Jonny Nash.

“I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…..”

I sometimes go for the blindingly obvious. This is an example. Another might beSpeed of Sound by Coldplay during part of a lesson on sound. I used Around the World by Daft Punk with an animation on the Carbon Cycle. Jaws by John Williamscould be used for all sorts of things but I used it whilst studying classification of sharks with an Arkive resource. There’s always a chance to play Celebration by Kool and the Gang, even it’s just for 10 seconds. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynard Skynard at the end of a day is always a good note to leave on. All these pieces of music are powerful and instantly recognisable to most. These are all in the ‘Enjoy‘ section of I Can Teach. They are there to enjoy and have some fun with.

So what’s the link with teaching and learning? Learning is a multi-sensory, cognitive and emotional process – a journey. Memories linked to music are generally more powerful and more detailed. Given the neuroplasticity of the brain and the fact that emotions are tagged in our most primitive limbic system, we naturally learn better when we are engaged, happy and motivated. So if learning is considerably enhanced by the use of music, then teaching using it must be fun too. It draws teachers into creative and collaborative planning (use Google Apps to do this too!) and allows engagement with students on a much more multicellular and organic level.

Two observations here:

  • The choice of music can be down to students or teachers. Choice often brings devolved trust and confidence. If it’s innocuous background then it may not matter.
  • This music is designed to enhance the learning process. There is strong evidence to show that during recall, silence is better.

All our music is licensed. You stream it and use it as you wish. In Music4Learning #3 I will give you some ideas about using powerful and emotive music from the ‘Think‘ section of I Can Teach.

Enjoy!

Games in learning

A look at how Kahoot might help you engage your students.

I have spent most of my years teaching trying to engage students. Some tactics have been more successful than others. The element of surprise has always been lurking and is often a winner, particularly as a science teacher. Expect the unexpected! So, best to be prepared then. Crafting a lesson plan is one thing but introducing the flexibility to divert and go with the flow is a tough ask and demands a little more resilience and adaptability. A significant part of my planning would be on assessing progress and demonstrating skills or knowledge that they didn’t have when they came in that day.

Using Kahoot https://getkahoot.com/ , the game-based classroom response system, which allows students to engage on a completely different level has changed the way I view assessment for learning. On a simple level, it’s a quiz. Everybody loves a quiz. Especially when you know the answers. The questions go up on the board and the students answer. Easy. What makes Kahoot so good is the technology. It’s nothing revolutionary but it makes the application of ‘checking progress’ look like child’s play. You need WiFi and you need a reasonable number of devices, preferably but not essentially handheld. You need to display the option choices. The key part of the game is that students can make their choices without putting their hand up or without shouting out. It’s ok to make a mistake. In fact, they will declare it quite vehemently under the guise of ‘pressing the wrong button….’. The risk of public humiliation is dramatically reduced. That is until the scores are revealed. The quicker the correct response, the more points awarded. The top five scores are displayed but every player knows their position and they know how far behind the next player they are. The teacher can control the pace of the questions, both in setting a time limit for response and manually between questions. This can create a furious-paced five or ten minute plenary or a slightly slower examination of right and wrong answers.

You can easily introduce literacy and numeracy. A key requirement is that students read the question. It’s easy to make the answers phonetically similar or group words of similar spellings. You can also involve students in creating the quizzes. They become researcher, collator, writer and developer in one part of the lesson and quiz master in the next. The metacognition involved in this process and the access to higher order thinking skills is tangible. Kahoot is as versatile as you would want it to be. You can add video clips and images to stimulate responses at the beginning of the quiz or in each question. You can also draw on other users’ quizzes. You might be able to copy and adapt these but also share yours with others either in your school or more widely. Have a look for quizzes on ‘Frozen’ or Logos or chemical symbols. What is undeniable is the sustained interest that is generated in the students. The elements of competition, pace and challenge combine to make this a real winner.

Some top tips for using Kahoot:

  • Keep it relatively short – 20 questions maximum and 10-15 minutes
  • Stick to real names on set up – it avoids subtle name calling
  • Involve students in setting their own quizzes
  • Take some time to add images or a video at the start
  • Make yours public and add some good tags
  • Use a flipped model of learning – set a video to watch first
  • Try with staff – it will transform briefing sessions
  • Use it across all subjects
  • Have fun with it