Could digital learning be the key to a truly inclusive curriculum?

Mrs Rebecca Brown, GDST Maths Trust Consultant Teacher and Teacher of Maths at WHS, looks at how effective use of digital learning could have the potential to give all students personalised learning experiences.

The use of online video tutorials for learning, especially in Maths, can, if used carefully, provide an individualised learning experience where students study concepts at their own pace, allowing them to review, reflect, pause or accelerate. This in turn enables learners to learn in their own way, giving them more confidence to delve deeper into the subject, embed knowledge and solve problems. Suggestions like this evoke a range of strong emotions and opinions among teachers. Is digital learning the future of education? Or does it mean the de-skilling of teachers and students alike?

How do you learn something new?

If I asked you to learn how to make magic milk, how would you begin?  My own first step would be to Google it and watch a top-rated video. Then I would have a go myself. If a student can watch a carefully selected video at their own pace, pause, rewind, replay until they have good understanding of a concept, then surely this is potentially a beneficial personalised learning experience that can be inclusive of the needs of all learners. Moreover, it can help students to overcome anxieties they may face in the classroom.

Video tutorials also give the opportunity for recap, review and consolidation after a lesson or topic has been taught. During the pandemic we saw an increase in online learning and use of video tutorials that supported student and teacher absences and gaps in learning. Now back in the classroom, instead of reverting to what we have always done, what if we considered a different future? How can crisis turn into opportunity, as we use technology in different ways?

Why use digital learning?

Evidence shows that many digital learning resources can be used to develop students’ mathematical capabilities, especially when they are integrated into a rich teaching environment. In a nutshell, the students pre-learn the new content mostly independently, often as homework, and then most of the precious classroom time is spent practicing, asking questions and doing activities with the teacher there to support and guide them.

After watching appropriate, rigorous, considered tutorials, students can engage in richer in-class discussions that help them develop deeper conceptual understanding of Mathematics. This releases lesson time for social interaction, which Vygotsky’s theory of learning as a social process places so much emphasis on.It can also create more time for one-to-one support and direction from teachers. This is a good example of flipped learning, which can be a very powerful pedagogical process.

Fluency gives students the capability to be confident in their calculations and the cognitive capacity to focus on more complex, problem-solving aspects of the curriculum (Foster, 2019).

What could possibly go wrong?

This does all come with an important warning. We need to select the resources that we direct students to use very carefully. I am sure that you know the pitfalls of a YouTube search! This is where selecting and inserting videos into One Note lessons, Google Classroom, Firefly or using resources such as Ed Puzzle can be helpful. Ed Puzzle is an online video editor tool. Your students watch a video, selected by you, at their own pace. You hold every student accountable, observing who is watching and who answers the questions. They are not able to skip ahead or open other tabs. The process is simple – find a video, add questions, and assign it to your class. Watch as they progress, and hold them accountable on their learning journey.

Wimbledon High School Maths Lesson

Another drawback is relying solely on digital resources as a method of instruction for students to learn. While flipped learning does give you the opportunity to dive into applying the content rapidly, the teacher must assess learning quickly and be able to rectify misunderstandings. This method also centralises the role of homework. Students need recreation time for holistic development, so it could also become detrimental when only used outside of lessons, as the commitments of learners beyond the classroom could limit the time available, hindering progress. For it to work properly, parents also need to be fully informed and engaged to support this method.

To conclude

We want to empower our learners to become critical thinkers, curious problem solvers and resilient creatives. Perhaps a flipped learning approach, if rigorously thought out and planned, could help address anxieties, give more opportunities to accommodate different learning styles and needs, and give more time for complex, deeper thinking in the classroom. Developed in this way, it could become the future of a truly inclusive education.

You can learn more about Flipped Learning at the GDST EdTech25 event on 25th May – hosted by Trust Consultant Teachers Fiona Kempton and Rebecca Brown. Sign up here

How Classical Western Architecture has inspired the world

Agnes P. in Year 9 takes us on a lively whistle-stop tour of key features and sights in the history of Classical Western Architecture, looking at the three main styles – Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine – that underpin the architecture we see around us today

Architecture governs our lives. We live in a metropolis and everywhere we turn there is a new street with buildings from a variety of eras that give us the ability to eat, sleep and to live. In the Palaeolithic period, roughly 2.5 million years ago, when humans lived in huts and hunted wildlife for food, the key purpose of architecture was to provide shelter, but now, we have many uses for it, due to the wealth, wisdom and resources amassed by humanity over 2.5 million years. But we can still trace the roots of much modern architecture back to ancient times.

Archaic architecture from as early as the 6th century BC has influenced many architects over the past two millennia. If you have ever been to the British Museum, a building designed to mimic the Greek style, and looked up at the columns just before the entrance, you will have noticed the ornate capitals, decorated with scrolls and Acanthus leaves. They are derived from the two principal orders in Archaic architecture: Doric and Ionic. The Doric order occurred more often on the Greek mainland where Greek colonies were founded. The Ionic order was more common among Greeks in Asia Minor and the Islands of Greece. These orders were crucial if you were an architect living in 600 BC. Temples were buildings that defined Greek architecture. They were oblong with rows of columns along all sides. The pediment (the triangular bit at the top) often showed friezes of famous scenes in the bible or victories achieved by the Greeks. The wealth that was accumulated by Athens after the Persian Wars enabled extensive building programs. The Parthenon in Athens shows the balance of symmetry, harmony, and culture within Greek architecture; it was the centre of religious life and was built especially for the Gods to show the strength in their beliefs. Greek architecture is very logical and organised. Many basic theories were founded by Greeks and they were able to develop interesting supportive structures. They also had a good grasp of the importance of foundation and were able to use physics to build stable housing.

Image from Pexels

The Romans were innovators. They developed new construction techniques and materials with complex and creative designs. They were skilled mathematicians, designers and rulers who continued the legacy left by Greek architects. Or as the Greeks might put it: pretentious copycats who stole their ideas and claimed them as their own. We sometimes forget that the origins of Roman Architecture lay within Greek history. Nonetheless, brand new architectural structures were produced, such as the triumphal arch, the aqueduct, and the amphitheatre. The Pantheon is the best-preserved building from Ancient Rome, with a magnificent concrete dome. The purpose of the pantheon is unclear but the decoration on the pediment shows that it must have been a temple. Like many monuments, it has a chequered past. In 1207 a bell tower was added to the porch roof and then removed. In the Middle Ages, the left side of the porch was damaged and three columns were replaced. But despite further changes, the Pantheon still remains one of the most famous buildings and the best preserved ancient monument in the world. It even contains the tombs of the Italian monarchy and the tomb of Raphael, an Italian renaissance painter. Roman architecture is known for being flamboyant, and many features reflect the great pride of this culture, such as the great pediments, columns, and statues of Romans doing impressive things. These all show off their understanding of mathematics, physics, art, and architecture. Many American designs have been inspired by this legacy, including the White House and the Jefferson Memorial, which couldn’t look more Roman if it tried.

Byzantine architecture was the style that emerged in Constantinople. Buildings included soaring spaces, marble columns and inlay, mosaics, and gold-coffered ceilings. The architecture spread from Constantinople throughout the Christian East and in Russia. Hagia Sophia is a basilica with a 32-metre main dome, dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. The original church was built during the reign of Constantine I in 325 AD. His son then consecrated it in 360 AD and it was damaged by a fire during a riot in 404 AD. In 558 AD an earthquake nearly destroyed the entire dome and so it was rebuilt on a smaller scale. It was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders until after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Mehmed II converted it into a mosque but in 1935 it was made a museum. But then it was converted back into a mosque in 2020. The history of the Pantheon looks paltry compared to the history of Hagia Sophia!

Byzantine architecture remains as a reminder of the spiritual and cultural life of people who lived in the Byzantine era. The use of mosaic during the Byzantine era has inspired modern architects to create themed works using gold mosaic to evoke beauty, religiosity, and purity.


Sources:
Encyclopædia Britannica
The London Library
MetMuseum – The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website

Healthy, happy relationships really begin in Early Years

Children’s learning about relationships, personal agency and emotional wellbeing is the responsibility of the whole community from infancy onwards, writes the Head of Junior School, Claire Boyd

It has been eighteen months since the Department of Education made the teaching of RSHE (relationships, sex and health education) statutory in all primary schools. Informed by a recognition that “today’s children and young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and living their lives seamlessly on and offline”[1], it is now expected that, by the end of Year 6, children will be able to recognise diversity of family set-ups, appreciate the tenets of caring, respectful relationships and understand how to navigate life online safely. 

Following closely behind these changes to RSHE, Ofsted also published its Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges in June last year. A sobering read, the report found not only significant failings in the robustness of safeguarding frameworks in many schools, but also suggested that the teaching of Personal, Social & Health education frequently fell short of its intended purpose. The findings for girls were particularly concerning, with high numbers stating that they “do not want to talk about sexual abuse…even where their school encourages them to”, due to a fear of not being believed or being ostracised by their peers. Others worry about how adults will react and feel concerned that they will lose control of the situation in which they find themselves. Although most of the testimonies collected by the review focused on children of secondary age, children aged 11 and under were referenced as victims of sexual abuse and harassment in schools, often describing similar preoccupations as older girls about the implications of speaking up about their experiences.

Rising to the challenges

With these changes and recommendations from the DfE and Ofsted fresh in our minds, in the Junior School we have begun to evaluate the impact and efficacy of our approach to helping students navigate relationships. We are attempting to measure our success against broad and subjective statements, including whether a child is able “to recognise who to trust and who not to trust”, can “judge when a friendship is making them feel unhappy or uncomfortable”, and can “manage conflict [and] seek help or advice from others, if needed”[2].

Whilst there can be no doubt that high quality, systematic teaching of RSHE is imperative for twenty-first century schools, at WHS our reflections have led us to believe that real progress relies on much more than the rewriting of curricula and the upskilling of teachers on their safeguarding responsibilities.  Certainly, a nuanced, proactive approach – evident, for example, in the innovative Wimbledon Charter (the WHS-led response to Everyone’s Invited) – is urgently needed, and ultimately, sustainable and far-reaching change must start with the earliest childhood experiences.

A wholesale and deliberate realignment of how we – teachers, parents, families and communities – nurture our children from the Early Years onwards is essential. If the gold standard we want our young people to attain is self-knowledge that can be communicated with confidence and agency, then we must ensure we embed these skills in their everyday contexts from infancy. We must ensure that we place the principles of character development, emotional resilience and autonomous decision-making in the foreground of everything our children experience both at home and at school. This requires parents and teachers to fight the inevitable urge to smooth over and fix difficult situations for the children in our care. It means we must resist speaking on behalf of our young people, and must consciously fight against the gender biases related to the stereotypical behaviours of ‘troublesome boys and compliant girls’.

Schools as leaders and allies

Our ambition to release future generations from power imbalances such as those reported on by Ofsted depends on schools leading the way. Schools must support parents and families to engage, wholeheartedly, in giving agency to our girls to become comfortable with quiet assertiveness from a young age. We must prioritise opportunities to develop the skills which allow them to resolve conflict for themselves, even if this runs the risk of them experiencing some discomfort along the way. If our young children have not developed the voice to say no, to set their own boundaries and resolve the conflicts they have experienced during early childhood, how can we expect them to do so as teenagers and adults?

What our young people – and our girls in particular – require from us is the bravery to lead a step change; one that sees teachers and parents walking alongside them, coaching and empowering them to develop the resilience and character to be happy, successful and productive members of society.


[1] N.Zahawi, Department of Education, 2021, Statutory Guidance by the Secretary of State, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/relationships-education-relationships-and-sex-education-rse-and-health-education/foreword-by-the-secretary-of-state

[2] Department for Education, Relationships, Sex & Health Education (RSE), Statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers, 2019, p20 –p22, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1019542/Relationships_Education__Relationships_and_Sex_Education__RSE__and_Health_Education.pdf

Why WHS students value the Model United Nations

Wimbledon High School’s six Haileybury delegates reflect on their experiences of taking part in Model United Nations (MUN), and what they learned from the weekend-long conference in March 2022.

I have been doing MUN for a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed it. We get to debate and discuss multilateral issues from different perspectives. I have learnt so many valuable skills, such as how to formulate arguments on the spot and how to address controversial ideas diplomatically. The highlight of the year for me was the national Haileybury MUN conference. Not only was the debating really fun, it was also great to meet so many students from over a hundred different schools, including US schools. In my committee, Special Political (SPECPOL), we debated numerous issues such as the question of foreign aid to war torn countries, which is especially relevant given the ongoing Ukraine crisis. A favourite debate of mine was the question of offsetting the legacy of colonisation and slavery, a subject which I am already very passionate about. I enjoyed working as a team in the General Assembly, and the fact that our WHS delegation won one of only three ‘Distinguished Delegation’ awards was amazing!

Sharanya (Year 10)

It was my sister who initially piqued my interest in MUN by persuading me to attend my first session at the club when I was in Year 10. Once I had learnt the formalities of MUN debates, I became increasingly engrossed and ended up signing up for my first conference at Alleyn’s School. Fast forward a few years and I was lucky enough to be attending one of the biggest MUN conferences in the UK, held at Haileybury. I was representing South Sudan in the Human Rights Council, which for those of you familiar with their political situation, will recognise this to be quite a challenge! In MUN you are required to uphold the values and policies of the country you are representing which meant I was tasked with preventing members of the LGBTQ+ community from being allowed to serve in the military, denying sex workers protective rights, ensuring whistle-blowers were not granted protection by international law and encouraging other countries to absorb around 2.3 million displaced South Sudanese people (whilst conveniently leaving out that they were fleeing genocide). The weekend did not come without its challenges but it was an invaluable experience that not only gave me greater insight into the inner workings of the UN but also encouraged me to see things through an opposing lens – although I must clarify that I do not and will not hold any of the views I had to represent over the weekend.

Chloe (Year 13)

Although the real UN can seem somewhat powerless with its inefficiencies and bureaucracy, the values it promotes – of peace, development, and human rights – are indispensable. Through the medium of MUN, we learn hands-on about these values and the actions needed to achieve them. Of course, MUN is great fun as well (I volunteered to give up my weekend for a conference). Memorable moments from the Haileybury conference included: everyone referring to themselves as “the delegate” – even when not in debate; disputes over the etymology of “cryptocurrency”; and my desperate attempts to argue that South Sudan, often deemed the most corrupt country in the world, is in fact, not at all corrupt. Additionally, my committee’s topics, including terrorism and outer space, were fascinating to debate. I was lucky enough to have my illicit arms resolution debated and passed in the General Assembly – a moment I will never forget!

Lara (Year 10)

I applied for this Model United Nations conference because I enjoy a challenge, although in the moment, when I feel under pressure, I do regret embarking on such an adventure. But afterwards, unscathed and evolved, I thank myself for it. This conference taught me that my trait of searching for intellectual stimulation is a gift. I now fervently recommend Jordan Peterson’s advice that “If you are not willing to be a fool, you cannot become a master”. Putting myself in the hot seat to be grilled by delegates who were more experienced than me developed my public-speaking skills and, most interestingly, taught me about myself. I was in the Special Committee which had the theme of ‘Health & Youth’. The four topics we discussed were: the right to healthcare for migrants, addressing mental health disorders in young people, equitable vaccine distribution and sexual education for all teenagers in school. These topics are all extremely complex and relevant to our lives today. Responding to points of order was exhilarating because I was encouraged to think quickly whilst remaining eloquent about the arguments I had. It is also something I value greatly because, when you listen to points of order, you are putting yourself in a new position by trying to understand other delegates’ perspectives to help you present your own.

Tawana (Year 13)

Having only done one MUN conference before, I was surprised to be invited to Haileybury – a very prestigious event. Despite being worried initially, I was very glad I went; it was the most incredible experience. My committee was Environment and Ecology and we discussed many topics including multinational corporations, desertification, sustainable fishing and GMOs. After COP26, these subjects felt particularly important to discuss and we had lots of fruitful debate as a committee. I feel like I learnt so much over the weekend – about the inner workings of the UN, resolutions, and procedure. Fun fact: resolutions from the UN are not legally binding. Overall, I had a wonderful time and made lots of friends!

Elspie (Year 10)

I developed an interest MUN when I was in Year 7, as the idea of discussing world issues and learning more about diplomacy appealed to me. At Haileybury MUN, my council touched on the issues of world hunger and discrimination against marginalised groups. Speaking from the perspective of South Sudan, reaching a compromise on these issues proved difficult as more developed countries failed to recognise the complexity of the problems faced by developing countries, or the religious barriers causing discrimination. Such experiences in Model UN always remind me of the great challenges faced by diplomats: MUN only really begins to skim the surface of the difficulties and complexities of compromise between countries. The experience imbued me with greater appreciation of the workings of the UN and has encouraged me to consider taking on the challenge of different careers within the field of international relations.

Nooriya (Year 12)

Training for peace with the Model United Nations

Ms Lucinda Gilchrist (Head of English) and Ms Judith Parker (Head of Spanish), Model United Nations Advisors at Wimbledon High School, explore the value for students in taking part in MUN conferences, and the important collaborative and peacemaking skills they build

What is Model United Nations about?

Image from Pixabay

At Haileybury Model United Nations conference in March 2022, delegates and advisors heard about this passage of the Bible from Isaiah Chapter 2, during a chapel service:

He will judge between the nations

    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares

    and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

    nor will they train for war anymore.

Established in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations aims to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and ‘promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’[1]. The image of taking instruments of death and destruction and transforming them into tools for productivity and growth inspired the statue pictured here[2], which stands in the UN garden in New York, and was a gift from the USSR in 1956.

The UN’s focus on finding solutions to conflict or global issues without recourse to military means makes the style of debating which Model United Nations (MUN) fosters quite different from parliamentary debating or other forms of school debating. Rather than being combative, MUN debates are collaborative, with delegates working together to draft and ideally pass resolutions which represent a commonly-agreed plan for future action.

What do pupils learn from Model United Nations?

The formality of the language used in MUN debates, and the typical forms of address (‘esteemed delegate’ or ‘the delegate of France’), avoiding the use of direct personal pronouns, takes personal elements out of debates. Delegates never represent themselves, but rather the views or policies of the country they are representing. The purpose is to engender debate that is civil, polite, and impersonal – although, admittedly, sometimes the heat of the moment can get too much for some delegates. They may well have to express views and ideologies which are entirely different from their own.

The removal of the personal does not preclude opportunities for individuals to shine: at Haileybury MUN, several WHS delegates were awarded for impressive contributions within their committees.  As with any form of debating, crafting one’s language and artfully applying knowledge to create impact are key, and our articulate, energetic pupils put their skills to the test, presenting powerfully on a range of issues. MUN is also distinctive in that those who speak most often, or most loudly, are not necessarily the most successful or admired delegates. Instead, it is powerful to witness younger or more reticent pupils quietly and calmly making their points in a fluent, cogent way. In our mini-MUN conference with Kings College School (KCS), we were delighted to see Year 9 pupils holding their own against Sixth Formers.

Some pupils can be intimidated by the formalised and highly-structured language required in MUN debate, but this is actually one of the benefits of taking part. Listening to a few debates in a relaxed context such as our weekly co-curricular club helps students acclimatise. This style is particularly effective for those who are nervous about public speaking. Formalised language provides participants with a script and a safe formula to speak from; it is striking how pupils who find social interactions more challenging open up when it comes to MUN debates.

The collaborative element of MUN goes far beyond the debating. We were particularly impressed by how our Haileybury delegates actively engaged with peers from other schools, persuading them to add signatures to their draft resolutions during lobbying sessions, or collaborating with them to submit co-authored resolutions. The most skilful chairs supportively encourage the less experienced delegates to contribute and coach them in the language of the debate, something our chairs at the KCS mini-conference exemplified.

Final thoughts

Ms Parker participated in MUN conferences as a school and university student, which led her to a human rights internship at the UN in Geneva where she witnessed diplomacy first-hand. And while Ms Gilchrist was new to MUN on joining Wimbledon High, she has always been intrigued by the relationship between language and power. The increasingly divisive nature of public discourse, not only on social media but also in the political sphere – often characterised by one-upmanship more akin to the swords than the ploughshares of Isaiah – is well-documented. Given current political contexts, with war in Ukraine, the rise of the far right in Europe and beyond, and the combative, highly performative format of UK parliamentary debates, the collaborative style of MUN debating is more valuable than ever. Diplomatic skills should be prized as part of a twenty-first century education.


[1] https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter/full-text

[2] https://www.un.org/ungifts/content/let-us-beat-swords-ploughshares#:~:text=Bronze%20statue%20representing%20the%20figure,the%20benefit%20of%20all%20mankind.

Clare Green, Music teacher at WHS, reviews Susan Yarney’s book ‘Can I tell you about ADHD?’

Author Susan Yarney is a Neurodevelopmental Paediatrician, specialising in ADHD, who works for the National Health Service.

When we hear of students with a diagnosis of ’ADHD’ how do we react?

‘Can I tell you about ADHD?’ is a very helpful read as we endeavour to understand and accept all WHS students, in whatever way they present themselves.

Having never heard of ADHD from my own school days and teaching training, I was immediately struck by the date of a poem printed at the start of the book (1845) written by Heinrich Hoffman.[1]

Looking into this poem more I was shocked to read on a storynory page – “Fidgety Philip is another horrid creature from the poem Shock-Headed Peter by Heinrich Hoffmann”..[2] With such an attitude how can a professional nurture young people of all dispositions? I know my colleagues would never think of a student in that way – but how can we understand ADHD better?

An article in the British Medical Journal[3] asks, ‘Could Fidgety Philipp be proof that ADHD is not a modern phenomenon?’ “According to a new study, Zappel-Philipp,  a character in the 1846 children’s book Struwwelpeter, is probably the first written mention of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by a psychiatrist.”[4]

Fidgety Philipp upsets his chair in an illustration from the 1846 children’s book Struwwelpeter

Susan Yarney has written ‘Can I tell you about ADHD?’ for pupils themselves to read so they can understand themselves and the world better and find their voice in a world that may just be keen to label them as difficult – but it’s such a succinct and helpful guide for teachers and parents as well.

Being only 55 pages, it’s a very easy read and invaluable for gaining a better understanding. The book certainly encourages all to accept and know our students, and understand what activities they thrive on most, before we think about the label and indeed give further unspoken labels.

The book ends with 10 pages of very helpful ways friends, parents and teachers can help.

I hope you enjoy the book and gain a better insight into some of the students you teach.

Finally… see what you make of Heinrich Hoffman’s poem!

“Let me see if Philip can
Be a little gentleman;
Let me see if he is able
To sit still for once at table:”
Thus Papa bade Phil behave;
And Mamma looked very grave.
But fidgety Phil,
He won’t sit still;
He wriggles,
And giggles,
And then, I declare,
Swings backwards and forwards,
And tilts up his chair,
Just like any rocking-horse-
“Philip! I am getting cross!”
See the naughty, restless child
Growing still more rude and wild,
Till his chair falls over quite.
Philip screams with all his might,
Catches at the cloth, but then
That makes matters worse again.
Down upon the ground they fall,
Glasses, plates, knives, forks, and all.
How Mamma did fret and frown,
When she saw them tumbling down!
And Papa made such a face!
Philip is in sad disgrace.
Where is Philip, where is he?
Fairly covered up you see!
Cloth and all are lying on him;
He has pulled down all upon him.
What a terrible to-do!
Dishes, glasses, snapped in two!
Here a knife, and there a fork!
Philip, this is cruel work.
Table all so bare, and ah!
Poor Papa, and poor Mamma
Look quire cross, and wonder how
They shall have their dinner now.”

By Heinrich Hoffmann


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Hoffmann_(author)

[2] https://www.storynory.com/fidgety-philip/

[3] 2004 Sep 18; 329(7467): 643. By Roger Dobson

[4] The book, written for his son by Dr Heinrich Hoffmann contains a series of short stories about a boy called Zappel-Philipp, which translates as Fidgety Philipp. In a study in European Psychiatry Dr Johannes Thome, professor of psychiatry at the University of Wales School of Medicine, Swansea, and co-author Kerri Jacobs say the character has all the symptoms of ADHD.

Teaching and Learning Gem #48 – Action Research: student attention span/focus

This is the third of our special Friday Gems reporting on recent Action Research. Today is Tyler’s Action Research about students’ ability to focus in lessons.

Tyler wanted to explore the impact of different sorts of breaks in double lessons. Would an ‘active break’ (e.g. chair yoga) in the middle of a double lesson enhance student focus in the final 5 minutes of the lesson?

To read more about his findings, please see Tyler’s write-up of his Action Research below:


Visit to the Francis Crick Institute

Grace S, Year 13 Student, writes about the recent Biology trip to visit the Francis Crick Institute.

WARNING This article will include mentions in a biomedical sense to some topics which some readers may find disturbing, including death, cancer and animal testing.

Last Friday some of the Biology A-level students were privileged enough to go on a trip to the Francis Crick Institute. All sorts of biomedical research goes on inside the Institute, but we went with a focus on looking at the studies into cancer. During our day, we visited the ‘Outwitting Cancer’ exhibition to find out more about the research projects and clinical trials that the Crick Institute is running; we had a backstage tour of the Swanton Laboratory to learn about the genetic codes of tumours and find out more about immunotherapy and I attended a discussion on the impact pollution can have on the lungs.

We started our trip by visiting the public exhibition ‘Outwitting Cancer’, with Dr Swanton as our tour guide. We first walked through a film showing how tumours divide and spread using representations from the natural and man-made world. This film also showed that tumours are made up of cancer cells and T-cells (cells involved in the immune response) trying to regulate the growth of the cancer cells. We then moved through to an area where several clips were playing outlining the different projects underway at the Crick Institute in regards to cancer. There were many different projects on display about different clinical trials and research projects looking into understanding and fighting cancer, but the one which fascinated me the most involved growing organoids (otherwise known as mini-organs) from stem cells. The stem cells would be extracted from the patient and used to grow these organoids, which would then be used to see how they respond to different drugs. This would allow each treatment to be highly specified to the patient, and so perhaps lead to higher survival rates among these patients. In this same section of the exhibition there was a rainbow semi-circle of ribbons with stories clipped to these ribbons written by visitors to the exhibit of their experiences with cancer, ranging from those who have a lived experience, to those who are simply curious to learn more. It was a fantastic exhibit and I recommend you give it a visit yourself, it’s free!

As interesting as this exhibit was, for us the highlight was a backstage tour of the Swanton Laboratory followed by talks from members of the team working there. We learnt that they have found that there is homogeneity within tumours, a fact that was not known just a few years ago. What this means is that different sections of tumours have completely different genetic codes. This could significantly change the way which tumours are analysed and treatments are prescribed. Previously, one tumour sample was thought to be representative of the whole tumour, it is now known that this is not the case and multiple samples from different sections of the tumour should be taken to get a comprehensive view of its structure and how best it could be treated. Linked to this, one member of the team, a final year PhD student, showed us graphics which they had been able to take and colour of the different cells present in a tumour. One of the main reasons cancer develops to the point where treatment is needed is because the body’s immune system has failed to neutralise the cancer cells, they were working to find out why this may be. In one of the graphics shown to us, a different type of immune cell had actually formed a wall around the T-cells, preventing them from reaching the cancer cells in order to eliminate them.  This would be important knowledge when considering immunotherapy treatments, which encourage the body’s own immune system to fight back against the cancer. In this case there would be little benefit to injecting or strengthening T-cells, as they would not be able to reach the cancer cells. Immunotherapy itself is still a relatively recent invention, and it is still considered only after treatments such as chemotherapy have not been effective. By this stage the cancer is more advanced and much harder to treat with immunotherapy, so it is hoped that in the future immunotherapy will be considered before more generalised treatments such as chemotherapy.

Work is also being done to understand late-stage cancer. We were allowed into one of the stations where practical work is done (wearing red lab coats to indicate that we were visitors) and shown a series of slides showing where biopsies (a biopsy is the removal of a tissue sample) might be taken from a tumour. It was explained to us that TRACERx (the name of the project being undertaken in the Swanton Laboratory) had set up a programme where people living with late-stage cancer can consent to their tumours being used for post-mortem research. Often these individuals had also signed up for earlier programmes, so information on their cancer at earlier stages was available and it was possible to see how the cancer had progressed. It was also explained to us several of the methods used to store samples, including the use of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and liquid nitrogen.

The final presentation I attended (we were on a carousel in small groups) discussed the influence of pollution on lung cancer. It had previously been found that as we age, the number of mutations we have grows, so clearly mutations are not the sole cause of cancer as not everyone develops cancer. It has now been theorised that carcinogens, such as particle matter found in air pollution, activate these pre-existing mutations. Currently non-smokers comprise 14% of all lung cancer cases in the UK, as the number of smokers drops as people become more aware of the dangers of smoking, the proportion of people with lung cancer who are non-smokers will increase, making research as to what may cause this lung cancer even more important. Lung cancer in non-smokers is currently the 8th largest cause of death to cancer in the UK. Two on-going experiments are studying the effect of exposure to pollution on mutations in the lungs. One is being run within the Institute, exposing mice to pollution, and another in Canada, where human volunteers are exposed to the level of pollution average in Beijing for two hours. Whilst it is unlikely that this exposure will lead to new mutations, it may cause changes in those already present. All of the research projects presented to us are ongoing, and it really was a privilege to see what sort of work is going on behind the scenes.

All of us were incredibly lucky to be able to go on this trip and meet some of the scientists working on such fascinating projects within the Francis Crick Institute. Most of us were biologically-minded anyway, but were we not, this trip certainly would have swayed us.

John Gunn, RS Teacher at WHS, reviews Fintan O’Regan’s article about ADHD learners. O’Regan is a leading author and behaviour and learning specialist in the UK

O’Regan’s article ‘DEAR MR O’REGAN…PLEASE FIND MY LAUNDRY ENCLOSED’ focuses on children with ASD and ADHD during Coronavirus lockdown when schools were closed. He notes that, “for many families, weekends and holidays supporting children with conditions such as ASD or ADHD can be very stressful so this unexpected and unplanned extended period of time [Covid lockdown] may appear extremely daunting.”

He recollects a previous experience of a mother helping her son with ADHD complete some science homework, which took four hours to complete rather than the expected 20 minutes. She attached a note to her child’s teacher saying she was “enclosing her laundry” – presumably in recompense for the time she took helping with the Science homework! O’Regan states that, “…no amount of positive reinforcement or consequences for non-completion appeared to have any effect [for the boy].” Knowing that the child in question was “fine in class”, but “had major difficulties with organisation”, it is surprising that it took time for O’Regan to make the connection between the positives of structured learning and the negatives of unstructured learning for certain pupils.

The tips he suggests for parents read clearly, though whether they are practical is another matter. With regards to T&L for ADHD students at WHS, the article helps as a useful reminder of setting manageable tasks, allowing for breaks in between tasks, but most importantly the need for clear instructions and time allowance which all too often we may not specify clearly. There are obvious cases where pupils can manage their time well, especially with clear guidance from parents. What is possibly lacking is where such guidance is not forthcoming from staff setting work with such broad parameters.

At KS3, I’ve stopped saying ‘use your device to research’. Instead, I spend time looking at one or two websites or online documents which are not only suitable for the age group, but are easily accessible as well as useful. With clear guidance as to where to look (and indeed how to look on a particular website), how long to spend (set yourself a timer), and the limit of how much to note down and what to note down (set clear tasks and limit the space or word count), will not only help pupils with ADHD, but also pupils who do not have learning, behaviour or socialisation issues.

Teaching and learning Gem #47 – Action Research: Pedagogies to Account for Racial Diversity in English

This is the second in of our special Friday Gems focussed on Action Research. Today’s is about Lucia’s brilliant Action Research over the last two terms, which links closely to our EDI priority.

Lucia was interested in exploring Year 9 students’ perceptions of the everyday language of the diverse speaker, and how we can change our teaching to redress any value judgements students might make. The expectations of exam boards for students to use ‘standard English’ means that judgements might unconsciously be perpetuated about the way individuals speak. By using pedagogies to allow students to be able to analyse AAV (African American Vernacular), she wanted to see whether our students were able to move beyond seeing ‘non-standard’ English as ‘slang’ or as ‘less rich’. In short, Lucia’s Action Research is all about anti-racist pedagogies.

To read more about her findings, please see attached Lucia’s brilliant write-up of her Action Research below: