GROW 2.0 – Being Human in an AI World

On Saturday 21st September we host our second Grow Pastoral Festival. The theme for this year is an examination of what it is to be human in a machine age. What questions should we be asking about the way technology affects our lives and what are our hopes for the future? More specifically, how will our young people develop and grow in a fast-paced, algorithmically driven society and what might education look like in the future?

 
In the morning session Professor Rose Luckin and Professor Robert Plomin will be giving keynote addresses, and then talk with our Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, Rachel Evans.
Prof Luckin specialises in how AI might change education; Prof Plomin has recently published Blueprint, a fascinating read about genetics and education. We can’t wait to talk about how education might get personalised, and how that change might affect our experience of learning.

In the afternoon we’ll dive into some provocative debate with Natasha Devon, Hannah Lownsbrough and Andrew Doyle, addressing questions of identity, wellbeing and community in an online age with our own Assistant Head Pastoral, Ben Turner.

So what kind of questions are in our minds as we approach this intellectually stimulating event? Ben Turner brings a philosophical approach to the topic.


Is our ever-increasing reliance on machines and subscription to the ‘universal principles of technology’[1] eroding our sense of empathy, compassion, truth-telling and responsibility?



Our smartphones give us a constant connection to an echo-system that reflects, and continuously reinforces, our individual beliefs and values. Technology has created a world of correlation without causation, where we understand what happened and how it happened but never stop to ask why it happened. Teenagers are understandably susceptible to an eco-system of continuous connection, urgency and instant gratification. It is these values that they now use to access their world and that inform them what is important in it.

Are tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook creating a monoculture that lacks an empathy for its surroundings? If we all become ‘insiders’ within a technology dominated society, pushing instant buttons for everything from batteries to toilet roll, are we losing the ability to see things from a fresh perspective? By raising children in a world of instant access and metropolitan monism are we creating only insiders; young people who will never gain the ability to step back and view what has been created in a detached way. How as parents, schools and communities do we keep what is unique, while embracing the virtues of technological innovation?

Is social media destroying our free will?

If you are not a determinist, you might agree that free will has to involve some degree of creativity and unpredictability in how you respond to the world. That your future might be more than your past. That you might grow, you might change, you might discover. The antithesis to that is when your reactions to the world are locked into a pattern that, by design, make you more predictable – for the benefit of someone or something else. Behaviourism, developed in the 19th Century, believes in collecting data on every action of a subject in order to change something about their experience, often using punishment or reward to enact the change. Is social media, through its algorithms, gratification systems and FOMO, manipulating our actions and eroding our free will?

Social media is pervasive in its influence on the beliefs, desires and temperaments of our teenagers and you do not have to be a determinist to know that that will lead to a disproportionate level of control over their actions. Does social media leave our young people with no alternative possibilities; locked in a room, not wanting to leave but ignorant to the fact that they cannot?

Is social media the new opium of the masses?

Social media has changed the meaning of life for the next generation. The change in human contact from physical interactions to those, arguably superficial, exchanges online is having not only a well-documented detrimental effect on individual young people but also on the very fabric and makeup of our communities.

In addition to the ongoing concerns about privacy, electoral influence and online abuse, it is becoming increasingly obvious that social media has all the qualities of an addictive drug. Psychologists Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths wrote a paper finding that the “negative correlates of (social media) usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”[2]

That is not to say that everyone who uses social media is addicted. However, the implications of the ‘heavy’ usage of social media by young people are increasingly painting an unpleasant picture. The UK Millennium Cohort Study, from the University of Glasgow, found that 28% of girls between 13 and 15 surveyed spent five hours or more on social media, double the number of boys survey who admitted the same level of usage. Moreover the NHS Digital’s survey of the Mental Health of children and young people in England[3], which found that 11 to 19 year olds with a “mental disorder” were more likely to use social media every day (87.3%) than those without a disorder (77%) and were more likely to be on social media for longer. Rates of daily usage also varied by type of disorder; 90.4% of those with emotional disorders, for example, used social media daily.

Panel Discussion

However, there is more to this than just the causal link between the use and abuse of social media and poor mental health. With the march of technology in an increasingly secular world, are we losing our sense of something greater than ourselves? Anthony Seldon calls this the “Fourth Education Revolution”, but as we embrace the advances and wonders of a technologically advanced world do we need to be more mindful of what we leave behind? Da Vinci, Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters, not only worked alongside religion but also were inspired by it. Conversely, Marx believed Religion to be the opium of the people. If social media is not to be the new opium, we must find a place for spirituality in our secular age. Even if we are not convinced by a faith, embracing the virtues of a religious upbringing seems pertinent in these turbulent times. Namely inclusivity, compassion and community, because if we do not, then very quickly the narcissistic immediacy and addictive nature of social media will fill the void left in our young peoples’ lives, becoming the addictive drug that Marx forewarned against.


References:

[1] Michael Bugeja, Living Media Ethics: Across Platforms, 2nd Ed. 2018

[2] Online Social Networking and Addiction – A review of Psychological Literature, Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths, US National Library of Medicine, 2011

[3] November 2018

Should the periodic table be turned upside down?

Chemistry beakers

Isabel, Y10, explores the comprehensibility of Dmitri Mendeleev’s traditional periodic table and whether it would be more accessible for younger children and enhance learning methods if it were flipped around by 180˚.

The Periodic Table is an important symbol in Chemistry and since Dmitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the Periodic system in 1869, it has remained the same for 150 years; but could turning it 180˚ make important concepts easier to understand, especially in teaching younger children?

This year has been announced the Year of (Mendeleev’s) Periodic Table which has become the generic way of arranging the elements. However, some scientists like Martyn Poliakoff and his team have started to question the comprehensibility of it. After extensive research, they decided to flip the traditional arrangement upside down, so that the information is more understandable and intuitively ordered.

The research team argues that this presentation is more helpful and has many benefits. Firstly, when the table is flipped the properties of the elements such as atomic mass and proton number now increase from bottom to top therefore making more numerical sense. Secondly, it represents the Aufbau principal more accurately, which states that electrons fill up ‘shells’ from low to high energy. Finally, when young children are trying to learn from the table, the more relevant elements to them are located towards the bottom of the table, making its use quicker and more accessible. Therefore, in lessons, students will not have to look all the way to the top of the table to be able to find the right information.

Above: Inverted Periodic Table. Source: University of Nottingham
Above: Traditional Periodic Table

However, when I compared the two versions of the periodic table myself, I found that the traditional form of the table made more sense to me for many reasons. For example, in both situations I found my eyes drawn to the top row of elements, so it did not matter that the elements that I use the most were on the bottom row. However, this could be put down to a force of habit, so I also asked my 10-year-old brother to look at the two perspectives of the table and see where he looked. He immediately pointed to the top of both and when I asked him the reason he said that from top to bottom ‘is the way you read’ so the properties make more sense going down from top to bottom. He also seemed to prefer the traditional table, commenting that it was like a ‘pyramid’ in the way the numbers were arranged and was a much clearer way to display the elements.

Whilst some may argue that the arrangement of the table is more effective if it were upside down, for me the traditional version of the periodic table works just as well. Testing this principle to a larger group will allow different models to be tried to see if it makes understanding the periodic table easier for younger learners.


References:

Martyn Poliakoff et al, Nat. Chem., 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41557-019-0253-6

 

How do Independent-State School Partnerships (ISSPs) improve education for all?

ISSPS partnership

Nicola Kersley, co-ordinator of Charities and Partnerships at WHS, celebrates the government’s recent push for more ISSPs and looks at their value to all of the schools involved, and looks at how Wimbledon High is embracing partnerships.

ISSPs on the political agenda

Hard to remember though it may be, there was a time that the government talked about things other than Brexit; back in those halcyon days, Theresa May had her focus well and truly on education [1]. Her plans were intended to provide the backbone for her social mobility agenda, and included: the expansion of selective education in the form of grammar schools, the removal of barriers to good schools (for example selection based on faith), and universities and schools in the private sector giving more back to the state sector [2]. Acting swiftly on her ‘education, education, education’ moment, it took May’s government only two months to publish a green paper outlining its plans for the last of these, the partnerships strand to the strategy [3].

Partnerships between state and private schools were first formally given government backing in 1998 [4] when there was funding provided, and they have gone in and out of vogue ever since. May’s new initiative is in the process of renewing their position in the political limelight, and more power to her. Partnerships between schools should be a key feature of our education system, benefiting not only schools as institutions, but also the children they have a duty of care to, and even the wider community as a whole. This article addresses the arguments in favour of these partnerships and cites examples from Wimbledon High to demonstrate the successes that our reasonably young Teach Together partnership program is already having.

Benefits to Schools

The benefits of general collaboration have been explored in depth by Alex Farrer in November 2018’s WimTeach article [5] so I will avoid rehashing the details and rather stick to the more niche scenario of inter-school collaboration. Most obviously, collaboration provides opportunities for economies of scale [6]; if Wimbledon High hosts an Explore lecture and opens it up to attendees from its partner schools the cost per capita is reduced. The same applies for training days for staff and trips to visit universities.

Schools benefit from partnerships because staff benefit from partnerships [4]. It is through the breadth of experience that teaching practice flourishes, and working with pupils and staff from different schools, and indeed different socio-economic backgrounds, epitomises this. Working in ISSPs ensures that we do not become complacent in our own bubbles and that we are aware of other educational landscapes, often to mutual benefit [7]. For example, an ISSP can enable significant sharing of experiences and strategies regarding pastoral policies. Whilst independent schools are more susceptible to some issues pastorally and state schools are more susceptible to others, neither are immune to anything; the larger the knowledge base the better [6].

Figure 1: Local Primary teachers come together to test out new Science resources in our STEAM space

Partnerships also allow for resource sharing; it is undeniable that we in the independent sector are able to access resources and facilities closed off to many state schools. One prong of our partnership work at Wimbledon High is in the provision of access to facilities like our swimming pool, our music facilities (including the secondment of staff), and our Latin teachers allowing for immeasurable benefit to state school pupils, staff and departments. In the Physics department, our highly experienced lab technician is providing support to non-specialist technicians at some of our partner schools, the impact of which is hugely beneficial to those Physics departments and their ability to provide experience in practical work for pupils.

Figure 2: Physics teachers from WHS’s state school secondary partners share CPD and teaching ideas

Benefits to students

At Wimbledon High, one of our most wide-reaching expressions of partnership work is in our Teach Together program. This sees our pupils deliver well-prepared lessons and support to younger partner school pupils, supported by experienced teachers to ensure that benefit is maximised. The WHS girls involved are knowledgeable and respectable sixth formers and year 11s who the younger state school pupils can look up to, not only as ambassadors for their subject but also as aspirational role models. An excellent example of this is the work that WHS girls do every week mentoring Year 8s at Tolworth Girls’ School, a hugely successful project that sees our girls use their peer-counselling training to help Tolworth pupils think through their problems logically and level-headedly. For the state schoolchildren involved there can be only good done by attending extra sessions in a subject in which they need more support, be that academic or pastoral.

Figure 3: WHS sixth formers help Ricards Lodge KS3 students with Maths extension activities in an after school club

The benefits to the independent school participants are less obvious but certainly no less meaningful. Teachers know better than most that you do not really understand something until you have taught it, and it is in this assertion that the greatest benefit to the pupils lies. By preparing and delivering sessions for younger learners, the pupils are not only reinforcing their understanding of a topic [8] but also enhancing their ability to express their knowledge clearly, an undeniably important skill not least for university and job interviews. At Wimbledon High, we have a vast range of projects that allow our girls to inspire younger pupils with their chosen subjects, such as teaching Science to local primary schools at St Boniface and St Matthews. The girls are able to really develop their academic rigour when preparing the sessions, then hone their communication skills as they deliver them. When we work with other cohorts more similar in age, the abilities to collaborate and compromise are necessities. These skills are essential in projects like our science scheme with Ark Putney Academy (APA) in which our Year 11s, 12s and 13s are working with Year 10s from APA to collect real data about melting ice caps for scientists at the centre for polar observation and modelling [9]. Work like this is an invaluable practice in confidence building and teamwork.

Figure 4: APA and WHS students work together to collect data for the Institute of Research in the School’s MELT initiative

Measuring impact

The question for us working in partnerships is not whether or not there is a mutual benefit provided by partnership work because we know it to be fact. Rather, the question is how to demonstrate quantifiably this benefit. As an independent school, not only are we interested in measuring the value of each of our projects for the sake of growth and improvement, we are also required to report to the Independent Schools Council about the impact that they are having [10]. Evidence gathered is often qualitative and anecdotal making the impact difficult to quantify [11], but by using questionnaires issued to both staff and pupils, we have been able to track certain success measures such as interest in the subject and confidence. We are also able to look at tracking data of those pupils that we are working with and hope to see progress by using baseline data and tracing attainment over the course of the year, albeit a method made problematic due to significant external variables.

Conclusion

The government’s renewed push for ISSPs is a truly welcome initiative that we are embracing at Wimbledon High. By sharing resources and widening our circles of communication, staff and schools are already benefitting. Partnerships allow cohesion between the two sectors, and a breaking down of barriers and negative preconceptions. They enable teachers and support staff to benefit from high-quality professional development and the sharing of expertise [4].

Partnerships are also great for pupils involved, providing opportunities for learners from widely differing backgrounds to interact with each other in a positive and often innovative learning context. Those activities relating to academics are beneficial to all parties involved, providing support to the younger pupil being taught, and a revision opportunity and confidence builder for the pupil delivering the lesson. They foster imaginative, creative and exciting classroom and extracurricular provision. Mentoring projects give our girls excellent experience in peer counselling and provide positive role models for the state schoolchildren.

The challenge that we face moving forward is how to measure the impact that we instinctively know that we are having. We will be working over the next year on formulating meaningful measurement tools to provide quantifiable data, whilst we continue to expand the program to ensure that it is as wide-reaching and impactful as possible.


References

[1] T. May, “Why I’m giving education a huge boost,” The Telegraph, 7 March 2017.
[2] Lexington Communications, “Theresa May’s education education education moment,” 19 January 2019. [Online]. Available: http://lexcomm.co.uk/theresa-mays-education-education-education-moment.
[3] Department for Education, “Schools that work for everyone,” Department for Education, London, 2016.
[4] Ofsted, “Independent/State School Partnerships,” Ofsted, London, 2005.
[5] A. Farrer, “The Importance of Collaborative Learning,” Wimbledon High School, London, 2018.
[6] D. P. Armstrong, “Effective school partnerships and collaboration for school improvement: a review of the evidence,” Department for Education, London, 2015.
[7] J. Turner, “Building bridges: A study of independent-state school parterships,” National College for School Leadership, Nottingham, 2004.
[8] K. Kobayashi, “Interactivity: A Potential Determinant of Learning by Preparing to Teach and Teaching,” Frontiers in Psychology, Shizuoka, 2019.
[9] P. B. Parker, “IRIS MELT – Introducing the Challenge,” IRIS, [Online]. Available: http://www.researchinschools.org/projects/melt.html. [Accessed 02 03 2019].
[10] Department for Education, “Schools that Work for Everyone, Government consulation response,” Department for Education, London, 2018.
[11] M. Bourne, “Independent State School Partnerships – impact of and lessons learnt,” Department for Education, London, 2017.

 

 

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

 

 

What are the links between romance languages and music?

Matilda, Year 13, investigates the links between romance languages and music to discover whether the learning of one can help in the understanding of the other.

Music and language

It is often said that music is the ‘universal language of mankind’, due to its great expressive powers which have the ability to convey sentiments and emotions.

But what are the connections between music and languages?

A romance language is a language derived from Latin and this group of languages has many similarities in both grammar and vocabulary. The 5 most widely spoken romance languages are Spanish (with 470 million speakers), Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.

There are 3 main connections between languages and music:

 

The first of these is the role of melody in recall:

There is a link between languages and music in remembering words. This is shown in a study where words were better recalled when learned as a song rather than a speech. This is because melody and rhythm give the memory cues to help recall information.[1]

Language, music, and emotion:

The British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist who specialises in primate behaviour, Robin Dunbar, says that music and language help to knit people together in social groups. This is because musicians process music as a language in their heads. Studies have shown the planum temporal in the brain is active in all people whilst listening to music.

However, in non-musicians, the right-hand side was the most active, meanwhile, in musicians, the left side dominated, this is the side believed to control language processing. This shows that musicians understand music as a language in their brain.

In another study, scientists analysed the Broca’s area, which is crucial in language and music comprehension. It is also responsible for our ability to use syntax. Research has shown the in the Broca’s area of the brain, musicians have a greater volume of grey matter, suggesting that it is responsible for both speech and music comprehension.

The relationship between music and languages:

Brain and Languages Both music and languages share the same building blocks as they are compositional. By this, I mean that they are both made of small parts that are meaningless alone but when combined can create something larger and meaningful.

For example, the words ‘I’, ‘love’ and ‘you,’ do not mean much individually, however, when they are constructed in a sentence, carry a deep sentimental value. This goes the same for music notes, which when combined can create a beautiful, purposeful meaning.

Musical training has been shown to improve language skills.[2] In a study carried out in 2011, developmental psychologists in Germany conducted a study to examine the relationship between development of music and language skills. In the experiment, they separated children aged 4 into 2 groups, 1 of these groups receiving musical training, and one did not.

Later on, they measured their phonological ability (the ability to use and manipulate language) and they discovered the children who had received music lessons were better at this. Therefore, this shows that learning and understanding language can go hand in hand with musical learning and ability.

References: 

[1] See https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/mar/14/sound-how-listening-music-hinders-learning-lessons-research
[2] See https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-athletes-way/201806/how-does-musical-training-improve-language-skills

Kagan structures: creating an engaging environment to promote effective learning

Beth Ashton, teacher of Year 5 and 6 English in WHS Junior School, investigates Kagan structures and how this methodology helps to create an engaging classroom atmosphere focused on promoting effective learning.

“When teachers use Kagan structures they dramatically increase both the amount of active engagement and the equality of active engagement among students.”

Kagan, S. Structures Optimize Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005

There is no doubt that creating a climate of active learning in the classroom contributes directly to the success and lasting impact on children’s development educationally.

As children progress through the key stages, the curriculum shifts in balance from skills to a more content-based approach. This can result in diminishing opportunities for lessons to be delivered with practical content. As a result, ensuring an active learning climate can be challenging.

Passive learning places focus on the teacher to dictate the learning environment, acting as the locus of control and knowledge within the classroom. Research has demonstrated that this approach results in poor knowledge retention and lasting issues for students in terms of taking ownership over their learning.

In terms of personal growth and the development of a lasting relationship with learning, this can result in pupils lacking the autonomy and independence to sustain their own studies.

With a whole-class ‘hands-up’ approach, pupils’ perception of their own ability can also be damaged.

“If the teacher has students raise their hands and calls on the students one at a time, students learn to compete for teacher’s attention. They are happy if a classmate misses, because it increases their own opportunity to receive recognition and approval”

Kagan, S. Kagan Structures for Emotional Intelligence

However, when time is of the essence and teachers are required to deliver a dense and complex curriculum, finding practical solutions to avoiding passive learning and ensuring active engagement in lessons can be difficult.

“The first critical question we ask is if the task we have set before our students results in a positive correlation among outcomes. Does the success of one benefit others?”

Kagan, S. Structures Optimize Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005

In order to combat passive learning in the classroom, Years 5 and 6 in WHS Juniors have been using Kagan interactive learning structures in English lessons to promote inclusive and engaged dialogue when engaging with texts. Over the course of the year, girls have demonstrated an improved ability to move between social groups easily within lessons. Focussing on social awareness and the ability to converse with their peer group effectively has meant that teachers have been able to reward a multitude of different skills, rather than just praising those girls who put their hand up.

Kagan is a system of cooperative learning structures, based on using peer support to engage pupils. Using a series of variety of different interactive structures, pupils are placed in mixed ability groups of four. Constructing these groups with an awareness of social dynamics and learning styles is vitally important.

Kagan structures require every student to participate frequently and approximately equally https://www.kaganonline.com/about_us.php

By encouraging students to work as a team, teachers are able to remove the elements of competition and insecurity within the classroom, replacing them with a culture of collaboration and mutual support. The ‘hands-up’, whole-class approach to lessons is removed and replaced with pupils learning and discussing questions as a group, and feeding back to other groups around the classroom. This is achieved by swapping different numbers and using strategies such as ‘round robin’ and ‘numbered heads together’.

For example, when analysing a poem in English, girls would work in mixed ability groups, trying to identify the use of symbolism and looking at its effect. After thinking time, each number would be given an allocated time to share their thinking. This could be organised with the most able student sharing last, so that they don’t automatically lead the conversation. In order to ensure the lower ability pupil remains engaged, they could be pre-warned that their number would be responsible for reporting the outcome of the group discussion to the rest of the class.

The round robin structure described above ensures that each pupil:

  • has a role
  • is given allocated and structured time to share their views
  • is listened to by their peers

Importantly, the conversation is not dominated by one particular student. The option to opt out is also managed effectively by the teacher, by ensuring that pupils are aware of the high expectations around their engagement and contribution to class discussion.

“Group work usually produces very unequal participation and often does not include individual accountability, a dimension proven to be essential for producing consistent achievement gains for all students.”

Kagan, S. Structures Optimize Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005

By using the Kagan interactive models, unstructured group discussions are removed from the classroom environment. Strategies such as ‘Timed Pair Share’ give discussion a scaffold. This means that pupils who usually demonstrate a dominant approach and tend to speak first, are able to develop the capacity to listen. Equally, students who tend to take a back-seat are guided through the process of sharing their thinking more readily.

The teacher is also able to allocate roles within groups with ease and adaptability according to the pupil’s number within the group. This ensures that dominant pupils are not able to control team discussions and feedback time, and less engaged pupils are drawn into participation through interaction with peers.

“If students in small groups discuss a topic with no ‘interaction rules’, in an unstructured way, often one or two students dominate the interaction. If, however, students are told they must take turns as they speak, more equal participation is ensured”

Kagan, S. A Brief History of Kagan structures.

As well as academic participation, Kagan can be a vital tool in improving social awareness and skills. The format of structured discussion time within class, results in clear social strategies being delivered to pupils through lesson content. Providing discussion in class with a framework also increases confidence and promotes risk-taking. These skills translate to the playground and, ultimately, the students’ life outside school and into the world of work.

Research shows that there is a strong correlation between social interaction and exchange of information. Generally, higher achieving students tend to form sub-groups within a cohort, creating enclaves where information is rapidly exchanged, and excluding those students they perceive as ‘lower ability’. This can result in those students who struggle feeling isolated and excluded, and ultimately disengaging from their studies. By using Kagan to scaffold and structure the sharing of information between children of different abilities, we can ensure that pupils of all abilities are gaining access to the social interactions which will ensure they make excellent progress.

A whole-class approach to questioning is proven to disengage a significant proportion of the class, whilst placing strain on the teacher. By passing ownership of the lesson to the students, through posing questions and allowing them to answer collaboratively, the teacher is able to take a step back and observe the learning process, taking feedback from each child through listening to their discussion.

By providing the teacher with the time and mental space to observe the lesson as it progresses, changes are able to be made over the course of the lesson, adapting to pupils needs. By using Kagan structures when tackling new learning, students are guided through the stages of learning through peer support. In the first stage of learning, pupils are able to work as a larger group, obtaining a significant amount of team support. Following this, pupils are then able to take on the problem in pairs, and finally, individually.

Using this format provides the more able pupils with the challenge of articulating their thinking to support their peers and provides those with barriers to learning with support of multiple different kinds within a lesson. Using established interactive structures means that the structures themselves are transferable across subjects, allowing them to be applied to all lessons. Having a readily available, student-led body of cooperative learning strategies embedded in the curriculum means that differentiation through discussion and peer support avoids a system of creating worksheets and allows pupils to ensure they are constantly being challenged, stretched and supported.

Follow @Juniors_WHS on Twitter

Should standardised exams be exchanged for another form of assessment?

wimbledon logo

Jasmine (Year 11) explores the merits and weaknesses of exams as the formal assessment of intelligence, discussing whether an alternative should be introduced that suits all students.

Exams – the bane of existence for some but an excellent opportunity to excel for others. Thought to have been founded in China, with the use of the standardised “imperial exam” in 605 AD, they are the education system’s way of assessing the mental ability and knowledge of students whilst also creating a practical method of comparison to others in the country. They are therefore an important factor and indicator for employers. But does this strict, tight method really work for assessing intelligence or is it just a memory game that is only achievable for a select few?

I asked 80 students in a survey if they think that exams should be exchanged for another form of assessment and the results concluded that 78% agree that they should. However, when asked about their reasoning, it was mostly due to stereotypical dislike for the stressful period. Some who agreed with the statement also mentioned the unrealistic exam conditions that would not occur in daily life. An example was set forth that during a language oral exam a great amount of pressure is put on the students causing them to become nervous and not perform to their best ability. However, in a real-life conversational situation they would not have to recite pre-prepared answers and the pressure would be taken off so the conversation would flow more naturally. This shows that although someone may have real fluency and talent for the language, their expertise will not be notified and rewarded accordingly

Among many students, examinations are accused of being memory tests that only suit a certain learning style; and the slow abolishment of coursework at GCSE level is contributing to this. This could be shown by the fact that many people in the country have learning difficulties such as dyslexia. These students may be particularly bright and diligent workers however, their brains do not function in the way exams rely on them to. Nonetheless, if they are put in front of a practical task that they have learned to do through experience, they are deemed to be far more knowledgeable and perceptive. Studies show that by learning something consistently for a long period of time it stays in our memory but though it is important to ingrain essential facts into our brains, especially at GCSE level, GCSEs are mostly comprised of learning facts over a period of around 2-3 years and then a final exam at the end; which does not particularly show consistent learning and is more just an overflow of information.

Stress levels caused by the lead-up, doing, and waiting period for results that subsequently follows are also a major factor in the argument that traditional standardised tests should be augmented. According to the NSPCC, from 2015-2016 there was a 21% increase in the likelihood of counselling sessions being for 15-18 year olds affected by exam stress many of whom would be doing GCSEs and A Levels. Some say that the stress these tests cause is necessary for success and mimics the stresses of the real world; but how essential are some of these exams like non-calculator Maths papers when nowadays most people of have calculators on their phones? Exams are also said to create healthy competition that prepares people for the struggles and competitive nature of the modern working world and also motivates students, but can’t this be done with another form of assessment that is more suited to the individual student?

However, the use of different approaches to examination may, in fact, lead to the risk of the test being corrupted. This would mean that grading would be mainly subjective and there would be more scope for unfair advantage for some rather than others. The restrictive nature of our exams today with a set time, set paper and set rules does ensure that fairness is a priority but is the actual exam really the most equal way to test so many different students?

Standardised exams are not the best way of determining the knowledge and intelligence of students around the world. This is due to the stress and pressure they cause, the fact that they are only appropriate for certain learning styles and their ill comparison to real life events in the working world. Changing the form of these assessments may, however, cause grades to be unreliable. My suggestion would be smaller and more practical examinations throughout the course that all contribute to the final grade as this puts less pressure on the students and helps those who rely on different learning strategies to excel and demonstrate their full potential.

Using images to inspire and engage our future scientists.

Alex Farrer, one of our Scientists in Residence, looks at ways images can be used both inside and outside the classroom.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation that supports scientists and researchers to work on challenges such as the development of Ebola vaccines and training health workers in ways to reduce the risk of infection when working on the front line. What you might not realise about the Wellcome Trust is that they also invest over £5million each year in education research, professional development opportunities and resources and activities for teachers and students. A key part of their science education priority area is primary science and they have a commitment to improving the teaching of science in primary schools through compiling research and evidence for decision making, campaigning for policy change and making recommendations for teachers and governors. Their aim is to transform primary science through increasing teaching time, sharing expertise and high quality resources, and supporting professional development opportunities such as the National STEM Learning Centre.

One of the excellent resources that the Wellcome Trust provides is Explorify, a free digital resource, developed with help from teachers and partners such as BBC Learning and the Institution of Engineering and Technology that is “focused on inquiry and curiosity, designed to appeal to children but also ignite or reinvigorate teachers’ passion for science”.

The resource can be found here https://explorify.wellcome.ac.uk

It consists of fun and simple science activities that utilise teaching and learning techniques that give pupils and teachers rich opportunities to question, think, talk and explore STEAM subjects inside and outside the classroom. Confidence and passion is harnessed as links are made and pupils and teachers can see that STEAM knowledge and skills connect us all. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and Explorify uses images to great effect with videos, photographs and close ups, as well as hands on activities and what if discussion questions.

Explorify is an excellent tool to use in science lessons, especially in primary settings, but many outstanding lessons use different images in a variety of ways to promote talking and thinking in all subject areas, with all age groups. When images are used higher order questioning can be developed and there are also many opportunities to

  • use subject specific vocabulary
  • explain and justify
  • work together
  • ask questions
  • think about different possible answers
  • identify misconceptions
  • look for connections
  • generate further lesson ideas
  • model thinking
  • listen to each other

Common examples of questions to ask when using images might include

  • odd one outs
  • true/falses
  • similarities and differences
  • sequencing
  • what happened next…

All of which involve reflection and asking pupils to justify their answers and persuade others using evidence and examples.

Some less usual examples for you to ponder on include the following:

What is this?

 

 

Come up with a question that can only be answered yes or no to help work out what it is. Once 8 questions have been answered it is time to decide your answer using the evidence you have gathered. Which question was most useful in finding out the answer?

 

 

 

What is this?

 

 

Be specific! Are you sure of your answer? Come up with a 5 convincing bullet points to persuade everyone you are correct. Do you change your mind when you hear the ideas of others?

 

 

 

This is the answer:

 

 

What is the question? What do you already know about what is happening here?

 

 

 

 

Scientific words?

 

 

Which 5 keys words would you choose inspired by this image? Have you chosen the same words as others have? Where was this photograph taken?

 

 

 

 

What should the title be for this lesson?

 

 

Return at the end of the lesson to your title. Was it the correct title? Do you now need to alter it?

 

 

 

 

Are polar bears good swimmers?

 

 

Are polar bears good enough swimmers for 2018? What time of year was this photograph taken?

As well as in lessons images and questions can be used around the school to promote talking and thinking with all members of the school community.

 

 

How many metres per minute does a fly move?

 

 

Is it possible to check your estimate?

 

 

 

 

For more details and examples please see a copy of the presentation entitled Using images to inspire and engage our future scientists that I delivered at the Primary Science Teaching Trust Conference in Belfast.

https://pstt.org.uk/what-we-do/international-primary-science-conference

We are now working on exciting new resource for PSTT utilising images to inspire and engage pupils in conjunction with schools in SW London and with Paul Tyler @glazgow and schools in Scotland. If you have any inspiring images and questions please do send them in!

We look forward to continuing to inspire and engage the scientists of the future as our STEAM journey at Wimbledon High continues.

Follow us on @STEAM_WHS    

“Why are German Kindergartens so successful?”

Germany

Sofia Justham Bello, Year 12, tells us more about a recent work experience trip to a Kindergarten in Germany, focusing on the differences in educational practice from her own education.

This blog is based on my work experience in a German Kindergarten in Schwäbisch Hall, Southern Germany, which was arranged by the Goethe Institut. The Goethe Institut promotes the study of German abroad and encourages international cultural exchange, through language lessons, lectures, courses and libraries.

I entered a logo-designing competition in September for the Friends Of The Goethe Institut London, and won, along with 9 other 16 year olds in the UK, a work-shadowing trip to Germany. I worked at a Kindergarten which had children from ages three to six (it involved a lot of singing, going for walks in the forest, and even carpentry!) I really liked how the children there had the freedom to play and the multi-cultural aspect of the Kindergarten was uplifting, given events that are happening in the world today. I also might want to work in education so it was a useful experience.

The system of the German Kindergarten is important to understand why my work experience there was so inspiring. It is commonplace knowledge that the actual word “Kindergarten” in German, literally denotes as a “children’s garden”. Kindergartens were established as a pre-school educational approach based on social interaction through singing, playing and more practical activities such as painting, and arts and crafts.

Arts and crafts: “Basteln” are very important to German Children and integral to German culture; when I worked at the Kindergarten the children were preparing “Laterne”, lanterns, for the traditional festival for children- ‘St. Martin’s Day”; whereon the 11th of November Kindergarten children walk the streets holding their lanterns that they made.

These creative teaching methods ensure that children interact with others and thus transition successfully from home to school.

Historically, such “institutions” for young children originated from Bavaria in Germany and arose in the late 18th Century in order to help families support their children whilst both parents worked. Nonetheless they were not called “Kindergartens” at this point. In fact the term was later coined by Friedrich Fröbel who created a “play and activity” institute in 1837. He renamed his institute Kindergarten in 1840, reflecting his belief that children should be nurtured and nourished “like plants in a garden”.

This idea of children flourishing “like plants in a garden”, and the independence connoted with this image, was evident in the Kindergarten that I worked in in Schwäbisch Hall. On arrival I noticed the immediate differences between my nursery experience, and the “Kindergarten” experience the children were receiving in Germany. The teachers working there were shocked that I began school at the age of four, whereas in Germany, Kindergarten is a process that goes from ages three all the way up to six year olds. The site also had a “Kinderkrippe” upstairs, which is a crèche, so essentially up to six years of your life could take place there, which is a huge part of your childhood. Hence the responsibility the teachers have to shape their childhood is huge.

The teaching approach there encourages the young children to think and act independently. Moreover there is a huge focus on nature, and everyday the children would go on a walk and thus connect with nature. The first day was “Waldtag”, day of the forest, which is a national scheme run by the government to encourage children to explore German forests. We spent a long day walking, running, and feeding animals, like goats and sheep. In the afternoon we stopped to have a break and the children were able to play. One child approached me repeatedly saying the word “Säge” which means a “Saw”; I thought that this had got lost in translation, but to my surprise the children began to saw at the forest ground, constructing small houses out of branches, with minimal supervision from the teachers.

It was evident, from just one such example that the children there have more freedom to play, no pressure to read or write (which naturally comes later on) and thus their childhood is extended and their collaborative skills are improved. The older children took care of the younger ones, and overall it was an extremely inspiring experience

Here is a link to the Goethe Institut Website: https://www.goethe.de/en/index.html

@German_WHS

Why being bad at Maths just doesn’t add up

By Helena Rees, Head of Maths.

Many still see people who are good at maths as slightly weird, geeky, uncool. Why is this? Why should we study maths?

A couple of years ago Professor Brian Cox hosted ‘A Night with the Stars’ on the BBC. From the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution, he undertook to explain among other things how diamonds are made up of nothingness and how things can be in an infinite number of places at once. He took the audience, made up of famous faces, celebrities and scientists, through some of the most challenging concepts in physics, using maths and science experiments as he went along. It was a truly fascinating programme and if nothing else demonstrated the power of numbers and the speed with which they can make a grown man cry. Jonathan Ross (43 mins approx) was invited to assist Brian Cox in a maths calculation using standard form. The look of sheer panic on Ross’s face, followed by him saying, “This is the worst thing that’s happened to me as an adult” and “I’m sweating”, just about sums up many people’s attitude towards maths.

Mrs Duncan spoke to the whole school this week and used this example. Imagine going out for dinner with six friends and the bill comes. When the time comes to split the bill between seven, the bill is shuffled to the maths teacher or accountant with a slightly shame-faced look saying, “I am rubbish at maths” or “I couldn’t do maths at school”. Imagine, however, that same group of people sitting down to order and someone asking for the menu to be read out because they can’t read it. Few will admit that they can’t read as the stigma of this would be hugely embarrassing. Yet no such reservations exist for maths with individuals almost boasting about their lack of maths ability. Why is this?

Many still see people who are good at maths as slightly weird, geeky, uncool. A PhD in Maths or Physics at the end of a name tends to conjure up images of social awkwardness — people more to be pitied. On the whole surveys of attitudes over the past 50 years have shown that the cultural stereotype surrounding ‘scientist and mathematician’ has been largely consistent — and negative. However, things are changing, in November 2012, President Obama held a news conference to announce a new national science fair. “Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House, we’re going to lead by example,” he said. “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.” The idea that scientists, mathematicians and engineers could attain iconic status is exciting.

The popularity of television shows such as ‘Think of a Number, ‘Countdown’ and more recently the use of numbers in ‘Numb3rs’, and ‘How Do They Do That?’ have boosted the public’s perception of Maths. CSI has done more for boosting number of students of forensic science than any careers fair. The Telegraph recently reported that students who had a Maths A Level earned on average £10,000 more than a student without. Perhaps statistics like these would encourage more students to take the subject seriously. A report by think-tank Reform estimates that the cost to the UK economy between 1990 and 2008 of not producing enough home-grown mathematicians was £9 billion, such is the value of maths expertise to business.

Marcus du Sautoy, second holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford says he can’t understand the pride there is in being bad at Maths. “It’s bizarre why people are prepared to admit that because it’s an admission that you can’t think logically. Maths is more than just arithmetic. I would rather do business with someone who admits they’re good at Maths. You don’t get that in the Far East. In Korea or China they’re really proud of being good at Maths because they know the future of their economies depend on it, their finances depend on it. Mobile phones, the internet, Playstations and Google all depend on Maths,” he says. “If people realised that, then they wouldn’t poke fun at it so easily. In today’s information age, Mathematics is needed more than it ever was before – we need Maths. Problem solving skills are highly prized by employers today. There is an increasing need for Maths and the first step needed is a change in our attitudes and beliefs about Maths.”

It is true that many of us will not do another quadratic equation or use trigonometry in our daily lives. However, Mathematics is more than just the sum of subject knowledge. The training to become a scientist or an engineer comes with a long list of transferable skills that are of enormous value in the ‘outside world’. Communication skills, analytical skills, independence, problem-solving skills, learning ability — these are all valuable and at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. But scientists, mathematicians and engineers tend to discount these assets because they are basic requirements of their profession. They tend to think of themselves as subject-matter experts rather than as adaptable problem solvers.

We have all heard of Pythagoras and his famous theorem. The theorem states that the sum of the squares on the two shorter sides of a right angle triangle sum to the square on the hypotenuse, more commonly shortened to a2 + b2 = c2. In 1637 Pierre de Fermat postulated that no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2. For example to a3 + b3 = c3 After his death, his Fermat’s son found a note in a book that claimed Fermat had a proof that was too large to fit in the margin. It was among the most notable theorems in the history of mathematics and prior to its proof, it was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most difficult mathematical problem”.
(https://plus.maths.org/content/fermats-last-theorem-and-andrew-wiles ) However, in 1994 Andrew Wiles, published a proof after 358 years of effort by Mathematicians. The proof was described as a ‘stunning advance’ in the citation for his Abel Prize award in 2016. You can watch an interview with Andrew Wiles by Hannah Fry where he was interviewed this week in the London Public Lecture Series organised by Oxford University.

In a recent article Wiles commented “What you have to handle when you start doing Mathematics as an older child or as an adult is accepting the state of being stuck. People don’t get used to that. They find it very stressful.” He used another word, too: “afraid”. Even people who are very good at Mathematics sometimes find this hard to get used to. They feel they’re failing. “But being stuck, isn’t failure. It’s part of the process. It’s not something to be frightened of. Then you have to stop. Let your mind relax a bit…. Your subconscious is making connections. And you start again—the next afternoon, the next day, the next week.”

Patience, perseverance, acceptance—this is what defines a Mathematician.

Hilary Mantel, novelist and writer of Wolf Hall writes “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient” Perhaps Mathematicians and novelists are so different after all?

When it comes to Mathematics people tend to believe that this is something you’re born with, and either you have it or you don’t and this is the common refrain at parents evenings. But that’s not really the experience of Mathematicians. We all find it difficult. It’s not that we’re any different from someone who struggles with Mathematics problems in junior school…. We’re just prepared to handle that struggle on a much larger scale. We’ve built up resistance to those setbacks. A common comment on parents evening is to delegate the Maths homework to dad as that is ‘his thing’. What message does this give our girls of today? That this is a subject that boys are good at.

Luckily for us here at Wimbledon High School we have a strong culture of doing well in Maths. We have excellent results at iGCSE and there are over 50 girls this year in year 12 alone studying some form of post 16 Mathematics qualification with a view to a STEM career. The new Steam room is an exciting initiative to be part of. A recent article in the National Centre for the Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics journal, asked how can we get more girls to study A Level Maths. The answer at WHS? Keep doing what we are doing well and continue to be excited and positive about the beauty and the magic of numbers.