School Life outside the Curriculum, is it important?

Ms Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships considers ‘School life outside the curriculum, is it important?’

“I need 3 A*’s to get to where I want to be. That means more focus on work less time on other things.”

I’m sure we have all heard this or possibly said this at some time in our lives, particularly when we feel under pressure. I’m pleased to say that Wimbledon High bucks the trend with the approach that promotes work, work, and more work, as being the key to success. We see the drive to achievement as a more rounded and fulfilling experience. However, is everyone convinced of this?

Anxiety, self-confidence, motivation and concentration can play a huge role in our mind during day-to-day life. How we choose to deal with these can affect our well-being and our ability to function effectively. Cognitive anxiety can exhibit itself as Fuzzy Head Anxiety, sometimes also known as Brain fog anxiety, which can occur when a person feels so anxious, they have difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. At times, high somatic anxiety can lead to sickness, upset and a lack of appetite. Whilst it is normal to experience occasional cognitive and somatic anxiety, especially during times of high stress, it important to have strategies to help us lift ourselves out of this, as the worries about grades, about covid and about not being good enough, are all very real concerns as we ease ourselves back into ‘normal’ life.

Look beyond yourself

It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a pleasant feeling known, as a “warm glow.”

In the Medical News Today, Maria Cohut (2017) wrote an article on how ‘Generosity makes you happier’. She reported on a study of forty-eight people, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for four weeks. In short, one group were asked to spend the money and the other group asked to make public pledges and all participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The results found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity – no matter how small – viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment. It is studies like this, alongside others, that convince us that our partnership and charities work, so heavily and generously invested in by our students, is vital to maintaining a sense of perspective and our sense of well-being.

Students performing music at Friday Jammin

Work hard and play hard

In 2020, 98% of the top ten highest achievers in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Wimbledon High took part in at least five sessions of co-curricular activities per week; is this a coincidence? Previous research has also revealed positive and significant relationships between higher physical activity and greater academic achievement (Chih and Chen 2011; Bailey 2006; Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, and Hacker, 2009). There are a multitude of benefits to taking part in a balanced programme of co-curricular activities. Whether they are in school or externally organised, both appear to be hugely beneficial.  

All the feelings of immersing yourself in the activities you love will again enhance feelings of well-being and start to reduce levels of stress, should they be high. The well documented moments of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, Harper and Row, 1990) refer to those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. These moments maybe found on the hockey pitch, in orchestra, chess club, debating, GeogOn, Femigineers, whatever is your passion. Investigations have revealed that what makes the experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness; a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of wholeness. This can be controlled, and not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters our consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.

Life outside the curriculum, is it important?

Evidence seems to point in the direction that a well-planned and attainable life outside the curriculum will enhance academic studies, promote feelings of well-being, and give a sense of perspective on day-to-day anxieties.  Having said this, we have decided to research this ourselves. Look out for the opportunity to be part of a piece of research later this year, conducted by Ms Coutts-Wood and I, where we shall dig deeper into life at Wimbledon High. Specifically, we will be investigating the impact of our co-curricular and partnership programmes on academic progress and well-being.


References:

  • Csikzentmihaly, M. 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, Harper & Row
  • Bailey, R. 2006. Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8.
  • Chih, C.H. and Chen, J. 2011. The Relationship between Physical Education Performance, Fitness Tests and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. The International Journal of Sport and Society, Vol. 2, No.1.
  • Chomitz, V.R., Slining, M.M., McGowan, R.J., Mitchell, S.E., Dawson, G.F., Hacker, K.A. 2009. Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the Northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, Vol. 79 Issue 1, P30.
  • Cohut, Maria. 2017. Medical News Today ‘Generosity makes you happier’

Sport Matters

Miss Coutts-Wood, Director of Sport at WHS, reflects upon the impact of the pandemic on the provision of sport during Guided Home Learning and looks at the mental health benefits that can be gained from participating in exercise.

The pandemic really has been a leveler. Impacting all schools, regardless of their sporting prowess or previous victories; Covid-19 has not discriminated. State or private, boarding or day, acres of immaculately manicured playing fields or no onsite facilities to your name, all PE Departments have had to suspend fixtures, modify training and see their staff take on the role as Wicks impersonators. An obviously practical subject, PE was cast under an intense spotlight as the importance of the physical and emotional benefits of Sport were once again well versed by the press.

As a department, we knew we needed to keep up fitness, maintain skill level and preserve morale, all from across Teams. We found new ways to motivate, to inspire and to keep the WHS community active during GHL. The Rowers baked (competitively of course), drew shapes with their Strava runs and took up yoga, the Junior Swimmers taught their teddies to dive in the bath and the Netballers spent most of their season on the floor of their living room honing their core strength for when they return to court! Whatever the exercise, we all know sport plays an important role contributing to personal growth, helping foster friendships and allowing a much-needed break away from the inevitable increased screen time that GHL created. As staff, we really focused our energy during Strong Body Strong Mind week, to reinforce the message that exercise comes in all shapes and sizes; physical activity can be bespoke and tailored to suit individuals, time frames, fitness levels, space and motivations. We really hope that this message has been taken on board by all pupils, staff and parents, regardless of sporting background.

Despite the challenges we all faced, we must reflect on the time that we had to focus on different aspects of our usual sports provision; we collaborated with schools outside of our weekly fixture programme (King’s in the Battle of Wimbledon, NHEHS with our Hockey and Netball workshops), we joined together for the Community Morning Energizers (reminding ourselves how much joy can be gained from dancing along to Cha-Cha Slide at 8am), and we had time to pick and choose which aspects of getting physically active we enjoy the most.

Despite the time to reflect and the greater appreciation of in–person sport, as Physical Educationalists and Coaches, being back in person with the girls and having the ‘buzz’ of in-person sport return to Nursery Road cannot be underestimated. Risk Assessment and equipment cleaning has been crucial to a safe return to sport and with this necessity aside, being back together has reinforced the absolute joy that each one of us takes in our job! Mrs Salt was particularly thrilled that her online dance choreography was translated into a very competent performance by her Year 7 class once we returned in March. This was a good reminder of what a success GHL provision had been but also of the joy of being back in person. If we needed further reminders, we all like to think we’re marginally savvier with digital technology than we were this time last year too.

It’s important that we remind ourselves that Sport really does matter. The positive physical impact of exercise has been well documented, but we must not forget the emotional and mental health benefits that can be gained from participating too – a reminder of some of these benefits are summarised below:

Emotional and Mental Benefits of Physical Activity

Manage Anxiety and Stress – in these uncertain times, what could be better than embarking on an activity known to decreases tension and help relaxation? Whether jumping on a trampoline or going for a cycle ride, activity can be an excellent distraction and means of escapism. Physical activity can also help to relax muscles, particularly in neck which is so important while we spend so many hours in front of screens.

Boosting Resilience – we have certainly all had to be resilient, responding to uncertainty and change over the last year. Exercise and physical activity can be a proactive way to help us develop our grit, determination and mental fortitude. Why not challenge your whole family to see who can hold a plank for the longest?

Enhance self-confidence – physical activity can be a great way to enhance your self-belief by accomplishment during exercise.Perhaps set yourself a summer term goal – you’ll feel so satisfied after you have achieved it.

Improve Mood, Concentration and Memory – the endorphin boost we get from the additional hormones released as a result of exercise such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine can make us feel amazing! So, I urge you to get out into the fresh air after school this week and find out for yourself!

Belonging – the feeling of connection by dog walking with family members, sharing a common goal of half-marathon training with your friend, or the camaraderie you get from hitting a tennis ball with some friends in a local park. Another one of the joys of exercise.

There is no right or wrong way to exercise. Relish the enjoyment of the face-to-face interaction and the community that sporting opportunities can create, or value the challenge and perseverance from overcoming a personal goal or reap the rewards from competition against others. Just ensure that whatever form the exercise takes, you carve out time for yourself to find movement that you love and that makes you happy. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been back on the tennis court, had a very chilly swim at my local lido and paddle boarded in the sea, all of which have been wonderful and make a refreshing change from running and online yoga sessions.

The recovery of sport across the country is not likely to be smooth and no doubt there will be many more adaptations to training schedules and fixture programmes in the future to help accommodate social distancing guidelines, however, what we can be certain of is that the love and passion that the community of WHS has for sport is stronger than ever. Sport matters.

References

Heisz J, Clark I, Bonin K, et al. The effects of physical exercise and cognitive training on memory and neurotrophic factors. J Cogn Neurosci. 2017;29(11):1895-1907.

Ratey, J. J. and Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark. London, Quercus.

Roman-Mata, S S. Putertas-molero, P. Ubago-Jimenez, J L. and Gonzalez-Valero, G. (2020). Benefits of Physical Activity and Its Associations with Resilience, Emotional Intelligence, and Psychological Distress in University Students from Southern Spain. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 17(12), 4474. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/12/4474/htm

Is authentic research, where young scientists have complete free rein, really possible at school?

Dr Clare Roper, Director of Science, Technology and Engineering at WHS, looks at how advances in information technology have removed the barriers that often limit the scope for school students to embark on their own innovative authentic scientific research.

I was sitting in a lecture at Oxford University about 18 months ago when it suddenly became clear to me that the factor most often restricting school students from undertaking their own authentic research had evaporated and was no longer an issue.

Classroom science experiments commonly involve replicating known scientific phenomena to backup discoveries that are well documented in the scientific literature. Unfortunately, quite often we cannot even so much as replicate the data from a science textbook in a school laboratory because the data collection is too complex. Instead, we might explore the scientific process taken by a research group as we unpack a beautiful classic experiment and marvel at their discovery and how it has shaped our understanding of scientific concepts . A personal favourite is the magically simple experiment of Meselson and Stahl which elucidated how exact copies of DNA are created each time a new cell is formed [1]. At the end of a lesson exploring their experiment, it is customary to have a look at photographs of the scientists and perhaps consider how they may have come up with their experimental design.

Meselson in lab
Above: Meselson in his lab, 1958

I often ponder whilst looking at a black and white photograph of a scientist with his unrecognisable equipment, how this person might be perceived by the students sitting in front of me in our shiny new STEAM tower. Is this what being a scientist entails? Even after removing the stereotype of the person themselves, there is the barrier of the often sophisticated machinery and the hours of patient work required to collect sufficient data to make meaningful conclusions. I have no doubt that although we can enjoy the simplicity of their experiments in class, it surely reinforces the notion that novel scientific research is something inaccessible and unattractive to many school students.

In sport, there are countless role models of young athletes competing on the world stage, with celebrated successes at their local schools. The same can be said of talented young actors, artists, musicians and even activists and politicians. But try to think of a brilliant young scientist who has gone on to become a world leader having had the opportunity to hone their skills and find their path whilst at school. The fantastic news that two leading female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, have just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on genome editing [2] will certainly go a long way to inspiring more female scientists to dream big. However, like most leading scientists, their first taste of authentic research came after entering university and most are often only recognised much later in life.

The good news is that a growing number of passionate science teachers have teamed up with academics and a variety of institutions to provide opportunities for young scientists. Most research projects require access to expensive machinery or software that is beyond the reach of a school science department budget, and even those projects that are possible often tend to focus more on one or two aspects of the scientific process and cannot give the students carte blanche to explore their own curiosities because of time or cost constraints. Nevertheless at WHS we jumped on board and our students have benefitted hugely from projects including ORBYTS, and IRIS.

While I was in that lecture at Oxford that I suddenly realised that the missing ingredient that has recently evaporated was the need for the sophisticated machinery, and along with it, the prohibitive costs, and lengthy time required to collect data. The lecture was given by Prof Stephen Roberts, who specialises in machine learning and data analysis. Talking to him after his presentation about how ‘big data’ has shifted the emphasis in many university research labs from classic experimental design and data collection, towards a notion of data mining confirmed for me that the vast array of publicly available big datasets means that this modern approach to the scientific method makes novel research a feasible venture for all school students.

Scientific research using a data mining approach is exciting in that the data already exists, replacing the need for laborious experimental testing. The phenomenal progress in the field of artificial intelligence has meant that individual lab-bench experimental datasets are being replaced with enormous datasets which bring with them greater authenticity to the results, and also the ability to explore an expansive array of research questions that were never possible before. Data is amassing quicker than tertiary-level scientists can analyse it, and so the potential for school students to pose innovative research questions of these big datasets is not only boundless, but also a welcome and untapped asset in the quest to answer the world’s most pressing scientific questions.

Scientific method graph
Above: The Scientific Method

Novel research already on the go at WHS

We have already embarked on this exciting journey. Our first venture has been a collaboration with AELTC and IBM, who have kindly provided us with access to a huge dataset from the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Like all great research groups, and in true STEAM+ style, we bring together different skills. The creative powers of the unclouded vision of the young scientists, supported by our Director of Sport Ms Coutts-Wood’s expertise in sport science and my experience of data analysis, has meant than we are in the final stages of publishing our first scientific paper on the impact of serve speed on winning the point. How apt!

Two more groups started during lockdown. One group under the supervision of Ms McGovern (Head of Chemistry) in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has recently received a special award for their research on Air Pollution. The other group are drawing on the expertise at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus outside Cambridge. Their research questions range from discovering the differences in proteins associated with immune function in red and grey squirrels, to determining which mammalian species do not have attachment sites for the coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) spike protein. These bioinformatics projects will be launched on the EBI website soon to allow other schools to join in as well. Watch this space!

Just as the new STEAM tower is about to open, so too are new exciting possibilities for our young imaginative scientists at WHS.

Racket Research Club
Above: Discussing exciting new findings in the STEAM tower

 


References

[1] https://magazine.caltech.edu/post/the-most-beautiful-experiment

[2] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2020/press-release/

Does taking part in co-curricular activities really improve academic outcomes?

Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships at Wimbledon High, looks at the links between co-curricular activities and the impact these can have on academic outcomes in the classroom.

There has been much research over the years investigating the link between Sport and its benefits – not only to a healthy lifestyle – but to the academic progress of students in schools and universities.  Research has shown that regular physical activity leads to improvements in a range of cognitive functions, including information processing, attention and executive function (Chaddock et al. 2011). However, does involvement in any co-curricular club facilitate academic outcomes?

‘Flow’

Can you think of a time when you have ever been so absorbed in an activity that you have completely lost track of time? That whatever you were doing was challenging, totally captivating, was extending your skills and you were virtually operating in the subconscious? If you can, it’s likely that you were experiencing a phenomenon known as ‘flow’. Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi writing in the 1960s researched this initially with it really coming to the forefront of sports psychology in the 1990s.

He described it as:

“A deeply rewarding and optimal experience characterised

by intense focus on a specific activity

to the point of becoming totally absorbed in it”

Csikszentmihalyi suggested that experiencing ‘flow’ makes us happier and more successful, which in turn leads to increased performance. To get to this point, he pointed out that tasks have to be constantly challenging which in turn results in personal growth and development. This doesn’t mean that we always have to be in a state of optimal performance, but more that we are fully immersed in the process of the task in hand, as shown in the diagram below:

Activities & Flow diagram by Csikszentmihalyi

‘Flow’ experiences can happen as part of everyday life, and Csikszentmihalyi suggested overlearning a concept or a skill can help people experience flow. Within a sporting context, it is sometimes referred to a “being in the zone”, experiencing a loss of self-consciousness and feeling a sense of complete mastery.

Motivation

In addition to overlearning, another key component of finding ‘flow’ is doing activities that we are intrinsically motivated to take part in. This means work and activities that we feel real meaning behind and enjoy doing for the sake of doing. Financial gain, awards and praise can be by-products of the ‘flow’ activities you do, but they cannot be the core motivation behind what you’re doing. Csikszentmihalyi even goes further, saying the feeling should be “such that often the end goal is just an excuse for the process.”

Academic success

So why is this relevant to our school co-curricular programme and can it be linked to academic success?  The links here are two-fold.

Firstly, the co-curricular programme is designed to inspire and enhance the general learning of new skills and concepts. It gives us more time to focus on over-learning a skill or concept because there is no pressure of being examined, therefore no exact specification or course content to get through. We have the luxury of taking our time, over-rehearsing, over practising to a point of taking part in an activity with a loss of sub-consciousness. We may repeat skills so frequently because we revisit them two, three, four, seven, eight times a week, (think of rowing, drama, and music to name just three activities that have repeat weekly sessions), that the feeling of knowing a skill, a sequence, a technique really well and performing is sub-consciously really does happen.

Secondly, with this feeling of ‘flow’ comes those ‘magic moments’ we can all benefit from at any point during the day. The mere fact we are immersed in activity we enjoy could result in us being ‘in the zone’. We are busy immersed in something which is likely to mean we are automatically not thinking about an essay, a grade, a piece of coursework, a friendship or relationship issue at that time and so as a consequence that time contributes enormously to our state of well-being and happiness. This, in turn, is highly likely to lead to a more productive ‘head space’ for work when we return to it, less procrastinating, greater focus and possibly better outcomes.

So can we draw a link between participation in co-curricular activities and academic outcomes? There is research to indicate we can….. happy reading!

References

  • Chaddock, L., C. H. Hillman, S. M. Buck, and N. J. Cohen. 2011. “Aerobic Fitness and Executive Control of Relational Memory in Preadolescent Children.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43 (2): 344–349.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row
  • Bailey R. (2016): Sport, physical activity and educational achievement – towards an explanatory model, Sport in Society

 

 

Being a Music Scholar at WHS

Clara and Lara, the WHS Year 7 Music Scholars, describe how their first term as scholars has gone and the opportunities that being a scholar has given them so far.

Lara (Year 7)

The thing I love most about being a music scholar (in addition to the great refreshments at concerts) is the opportunities it presents. From various concerts – to writing this article! I think all of these opportunities have helped me grow as a musician.

First, the Autumn Scholars’ concert. I had watched a scholars’ concert before, whilst in the junior school, and I remember thinking how amazing they were and how they made no mistakes. So, when the Scholars’ concert came around this term, I was absolutely petrified from a week before the concert. Half hyperventilating, I managed to get through the concert – and did well. I really enjoyed hearing the other music scholars play; they are all incredible musicians playing challenging music.

Another experience the music scholarship has given me is attending school concerts. When I initially heard we had to go to a series of these concerts, I must admit, I was slightly sceptical. So, when the piano competition came, Clara and I arranged to come together so we didn’t get bored. However, I didn’t get bored at all! I’m really glad I went to the competition and it was great listening to all the pianists; there were many points where my jaw physically dropped. If I had known how much I would enjoy it I would’ve done it in my spare-time anyway, and would encourage everyone to have the same attitude. I really enjoy being a music scholar, despite the occasional pre-concert nerves. The extra-curricular prospects it presents are wide and varied.

Clara (Year 7)

I sat with Lara to watch the piano competition, and am very excited to see her in the brass competition early next year. I really enjoy the support that the other music scholars give me. For example, when I had just finished performing my piece in the Scholars’ recital, and, as usual, I thought I had made mistakes (which I am sure they noticed too, as they are such good musicians), they still all cheered and clapped, which made me feel very special. I never feel being a music scholar is a burden, but I had fretted that my audience would expect me to play faultlessly at all times. Mr Bristow and the Music Department staff don’t, the other scholars and music teachers don’t, my friends don’t. Instead, all support us to play our best and acknowledge that the best musical performances are not necessarily the ones that are note perfect. We all just try to have fun playing different styles of music in different ways.

I have found even more opportunities to participate in different groups musically than I imagined, having fun, and without fear of making a fool of myself.  I really like the opportunity to be in ensembles with girls in different year groups – including Baroque Ensemble, which has girls from Year 7 to Year 13 in. I’m really excited about performing in Cadogan Hall in March 2019. I am loving doing so much music, but I am also finding time to do other things I enjoy, one of which is sport.  I have managed to sort out any clashes between sport and music, so I can fulfil the requirements of being a music scholar, but still do the sports I really enjoy.

The instruments you may hear us on are – cello, double bass, piano, trumpet and voice – the rest, one of the other scholars or orchestra members should have covered!