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

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.

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    

Strong Silences

wimbledon logo

Suzanne East, mindfulness lead at Wimbledon High considers the benefits and the challenges of delivering strong silences to students.

At the start of the Autumn term this year we introduced Strong Silences across the school as a positive and calming way to start the school day.  There was, and continues to be, a mixed reaction from both staff and students as to the benefits of this exercise. I suspect that at the start of a busy day it is one activity that often gets forgotten or postponed.  However, I would like to take this opportunity to speak out in favour of trying a little harder, both for ourselves and for our students and give strong silences another go.

Lack of time is the most frequent reason I hear given as to why people get out the habit of practising any mindful meditations. In such busy times we have to prioritise our to-do lists and time spent seemingly doing nothing can be hard to justify.  So what exactly is the intention of a strong silence and what benefits can it offer?

During a short mindfulness practice, such as a strong silence, we exercise a level of self-discipline in stopping our usual busyness and directing our attention elsewhere.  Rather than emptying the mind the aim is to focus on our actual lived reality, perhaps on the movement of the breath, the noises of our surroundings or the physical sensations of the floor and the chair beneath us.  This is difficult to achieve, but we know that we can train the brain in such behaviours and, like any exercise, focussing the mind becomes easier with practice.  As teachers we know that being able to maintain focus on the task in hand is a vital skill that all children need to learn if they are to work and perform to their maximum.  We are frequently warned that modern technologies provide constant interruptions and the brain is always attracted to novelty.  Any practice that can help our students to maintain focus in this sparkly and noisy world must be a vital life skill.

Being able to step back from difficult and demanding tasks can also improve over-all performance on these tasks.  It is often when we allow our mind to focus on a totally different task that creative solutions seem to appear to us.  What we are actually doing here is allowing our brain to look at the bigger picture and see what may elude us when we are too deeply engrossed in a task.  It is often in the shower, or when we are happily drifting off to sleep that our best ideas arise. There are many studies that suggest successful individuals build in renewal phases to their working strategies and that this can build cognitive abilities1.  Encouraging and reminding our students that they need to stop regularly when revising or writing essays can help them to avoid the frustration and burn out that can occur when they try to force themselves to work too long.

There is also a lot to be said for the simple power of silence itself.  In our lives we are constantly under pressure to perform, our opinions are sought and questions are asked; we feel ourselves as being judged by friends, families and those who have authority over us.  With age, most of us are able to build an inner confidence and ability to trust our own values and instincts, but this is a difficult skill for teenagers whose prefrontally cortex-challenged brains and hyper-sensitive amagdala’s are all too quick to tell them that they are social failures.  A strong silence is a time to sit quietly with yourself, time-in as author Daniel Siegel2 put it in his book Brainstorm, the power and purpose of the teenage brain. To stop telling, showing, explaining, reacting and to just be.

So strong silences have a lot to offer and teach our students about how they can take control of their lives and responses to the challenges that they may encounter.  They do not need to take long, they do not need cushions, blankets and uncomfortable postures and could be slotted into our daily routines as an example of how we balance the activities of our day and cater for all of our needs, physical, spiritual and mental. However, one real concern that I do still have is that strong silences delivered without real engagement from teachers could leave students dwelling on negative thoughts, worrying and feeling isolated.  We cannot teach these techniques without developing our own practice and understanding the different experiences that can result.  Ideally students need to follow a course such as the MiSP’s .b or paws b3 that gives the students the context and framework of mindfulness from which they can then develop their own practice.  A strong silence is a powerful tool to add to a day’s routine, but it needs to be nurtured and cared for if it is to really offer these benefits.

1) Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities?  A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical psychology review, 31 (3), 449-464.

2) Siegel , D.J (2011) Mindsight Practice A: Time-In.  In: Brainstorm, the power and purpose of the teenage brain p282-3. Scribe Publications.

3) Mindfulness in Schools Project various articles on the benefits of their mindful curricula

Twitter: @DH_Pastoral

Computer Science at Wimbledon High

Veerman Sajadah, Head of Computer Science, investigates how a change in governmental policy in 2012 impacted the teaching of ICT and Computer Science to current pupils.

2012 marked a major change in secondary education. The education secretary announced that the Information Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum must be scrapped in favour of computer science. While this change was seen as a step forward by many, the debate is still on as to whether our students are missing out on the previously skill based ICT curriculum. Consequently, GCSEs in ICT have now disappeared to make way for new Computer Science (CS) GCSE courses from all major exam boards and all schools have had to adapt. At WHS, students were introduced to CS in Year 7 in 2013. These students were the first cohort to study CS instead of ICT.

The differences between the two subjects have been more contrasting than I anticipated, given that some of the CS content was already being brought into the ICT curriculum. CS offers more challenging topics and the subject content is more specific compared to ICT. ICT topics were seen as more relevant by students not aspiring to pursue a career in technology. If a student wanted to be a historian or lawyer, they could still relate to ICT but when being taught CS topics and programming, they have found it less relevant to what they aim to do in the future.

With all exam boards offering courses in Computer Science rather than ICT, it was important to look closely at their respective specifications. As of date, different exam boards expect different topics to be covered in different depths at GCSE and at A Level. This has major implications on how to structure the KS3 curriculum so that students are ready to cope with the GCSE contents by the end of Year 9.

When we started teaching CS to Year 7 back in September 2013, our students were excited to learn a subject different from what the previous groups had studied. Indeed, CS was a much welcomed change for our girls. This group of students are now in Year 12. Four girls are currently studying the subject at A Level and are keen to study it at University. They are our most senior girls in the subject and the only group from WHS who have a GCSE in CS. Last year’s year 11 result in CS saw all 11 girls score a grade A or A*, (100% A*/A, 46% A*).

Unfortunately, like in many schools, after the first wave of keen Computer Scientist, the numbers of students opting for the subject has fallen. Several studies have been conducted both nationally and internationally to investigate why it has been hard to attract students to study CS. At WHS, we have taken on board these researches and have worked on a plan to address the challenges that we face. We have restructured our KS3 curriculum by introducing key challenging topics early with the aim of making students feel more comfortable and confident with the subject by the time they decide whether to continue studying CS at GCSE. I believe that one of the reasons ICT uptake at GCSE was higher than CS was because students were confident and comfortable with the ICT curriculum. The introduction of programming in early years is also very important to achieve this aim. However, it is not simple to teach complex concepts to children who are too young to learn them. Fortunately, the emergence of several pieces of “children friendly” software that allow students to learn programming through “blockly” has aided teachers incredibly. We are now able to introduce coding to students as early as Year 4. This will produce a generation of students keen and enthusiastic in CS.

On the other hand, there can be a risk of bringing challenging topics to the KS3 curriculum. Students can be put off the subject if they find it too hard. Hence, it is paramount to strike the right balance between “fun” lessons and relevant CS concepts. At WHS, we have brought various new fun activities into our KS3 curriculum. Girls are now able to use the micro:bit to program ringtones and LED strips in Year 7 (see image 1 below). They can create websites and web apps in Year 8 (see image 2 below) and they can use Minecraft and robots to enhance their programming skills in Year 9 (see image 3 below). The department also offers various extra-curricular clubs to engage the students. We are also working with our Scientists in Residence every week to reinforce knowledge learnt in the classroom.

Image 1: Year 7 have been using the micro:bit to program LED lights.

Image 2: Year 8 have been using appshed to create web apps.

Image 3: Year 9 learn how to program the picaxe 20X2 robot.

Our efforts towards promoting this new subject at WHS remain as strong as ever. We are continuously thinking of new ways to promote CS amongst the girls with a view to preparing them for their technological future. We also reach out to Universities such as Imperial College and work with them on projects that allow female students to come in and inspire our pupils. Being a Microsoft Showcase school, we are lucky to participate in events run by Microsoft and we are also looking at inviting experts to deliver talks on latest technologies and innovations in the world of CS. The future of the subject at WHS is bright and we are all ready to embrace it.

Research articles:

1.Computing or ICT: which would serve our pupils better?

2.Encouraging Girls to Participate in Computer Science

3.School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme

4.Women in Computer Science: Getting Involved in STEM


Twitter: @CS_IT_WHS

Chaucerian Challenges: Studying The Merchant’s Tale at English A Level

Studying Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale from The Canterbury Tales as part of A Level English is, undoubtedly, a daunting prospect for any Year 12 or 13 student. It is intimidating reading unfamiliar Middle English aloud in class (e.g. ‘fetisly’ – elegantly; ‘chidestere’ – nagging woman). However, despite initially seeming inaccessible, Chaucer is anything but elitist. In fact, the challenges of studying his work is what makes it continually surprising and rewarding. Stephanie Gartrell, Second in English KS4 at Wimbledon High School, explores the challenges and delights of studying Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ in Sixth Form…

English students face the challenge of identifying a clear moral from the competing narrative voices throughout The Canterbury Tales. The frame narrative establishes the central plot: a socially diverse group of pilgrims travelling from Southwark to the tomb of Thomas Becket. En route, they initiate a rather profane tale-telling competition to liven up what is, ostensibly, a journey of spiritual reflection and penitence. The prize for the best story? A free meal at the Tabard Inn, Southwark, on their return. Thus, from the outset, a conservative framework of Catholic ritual is subverted by a much more anarchic series of interrupted tales. Many tales are replete with ribald vulgarity typical of the fabliau genre; others use Estates Satire to expose institutional corruption; several puncture courtly pretensions of more high-status literary genres or forms (fin amor, chanson de geste, sermons…).

Our text falls in the so-called ‘Marriage Group’ in which the Wife of Bath, Clerk, Merchant and Franklin share tales that directly rebut and challenge one another’s views on marriage. This further destabilises a clear moral message about what constitutes the ideal marriage or marital partner. Some critics, such as George Lyman Kittredge, perceive the Franklin’s final message of mutual love and respect to be closest to Chaucer’s own views (‘We need not hesitate, therefore, to accept the solution that the Franklin offers as that which Geoffrey Chaucer the man accepted for his own part…’). However, there is a residual sense of irresolution on the matter. There is no authorial intrusion or omniscient narrator to clarify our ‘take-away’ message before the Tales move on.

Chaucer also builds a tantalising pattern of parallels and contradictions within The Merchant’s Tale itself. For instance, the Merchant’s Prologue reveals the Merchant to be unhappily married for ‘Thise monthes two’, describing marriage as ‘the snare’ and yearning to be ‘unbounden’. Nevertheless, his tale begins with a disconcerting eulogy lasting 135 lines in praise of marriage. This eulogy is generally perceived as a ‘mock encomium’, satirising the foolish naivety of the aged knight January whose idealised and blinkered view of matrimony as a ‘hooly boond’, echoes the Merchant’s earlier image of wedlock as a binding ‘snare’ or trap, transforming it into a sacred tie. Similarly, January’s vision of a wife as his ‘paradis terrestre’ (earthly paradise) ironically subverts the Merchant’s description of his ‘wyves cursednesse!’ The fact that large sections of the mock encomium are neither direct nor reported speech further blurs to what extent we are reading a filtered version of January’s beliefs, or whether the ironically inappropriate Old Testament examples of female virtue (Eve, Judith, Abigail…) are supposed to express the Merchant’s misogyny to the reader.

To summarise the plot of The Merchant’s Tale very roughly: after 60 years as a promiscuous bachelor, January finally decides to marry a teenage bride named May. Whilst his concerns are partly economic (to beget an heir), his primary motive is to legitimise his lustful desires and protect himself from sin. January is comically specific in his ideal bride: ‘She shal nat passe twenty yeer’ and he refuses to marry any ‘woman thritty [thirty] yeer of age’, who he dismisses as ‘bene-straw’ [dried bean-stalks]. Chaucer swiftly debunks any notion of January embodying chivalric values of spiritual refinement, repeatedly applying the ironic epithets ‘gentil’ [refined] and ‘noble’ to his protagonist, highlighting the absence of these stereotypical knightly qualities. Might this partly reflect some of the Merchant’s own social anxiety – a nameless member of the trading classes aggrandising his fictional self to the status of a knight? Or is the Merchant attempting to expose the fiction of aristocratic nobility to comfort his own wounded pride? Again, it could be neither or both!

In any case, January’s young bride May quickly establishes an affair with their servant Damyan. When January is unexpectedly struck blind, they capitalise on this opportunity to consummate their affair in a pear-tree in January’s private garden, at which point January miraculously regains his sight. With a bit of female ingenuity, May explains that his sight is still impaired and not to be trusted. The gullible knight accepts her explanation and continues to live in a state of prelapsarian Edenic bliss with his ‘paradis terrestre’ – remaining blind figuratively, if not literally…

One of the main pleasures of teaching and studying The Merchant’s Tale is because it is difficult. Ambiguities abound. For instance, who is in the ‘snare’ of marriage by the end of The Merchant’s Tale: May, who is largely voiceless and objectified, or January, the architect of his own trap, likely to raise an illegitimate son as his heir? Why would the Merchant present January as such a contemptible lecher if his main moral were to vilify wives? And are we imposing 21st values onto a 14th century text by casting May as a proto-feminist figure struggling for sexual autonomy?

And if that weren’t enough of a challenge, students compare The Merchant’s Tale to Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband – a divergent text in form and context. An Ideal Husband was first performed on stage in 1895 for the Victorian elite at the Haymarket Theatre, whilst The Canterbury Tales is a narrative poem from the 1390s. However, despite the 500 year gap, both texts share a prescient (and hopefully timeless) interest in exposing individual folly and abuses of institutional power – whether religious or political. They mock moral hypocrisy and the false ideals perpetuated by those guilty of self-deception or duped by sentimental dogma.

Since all of these concerns are as pertinent today as they were for Chaucer and Wilde, it seems vital that students continue to engage with the delightful, troubling complexities of Chaucer’s work.

Follow @English_WHS on Twitter

The importance of belonging

Jane Lunnon

By Head, Jane Lunnon.

Earlier this year, research published by the Girl Guides suggested that girls as young as 8 years old are feeling the pressure of gender stereotyping. Amidst much commentary around the ‘mental health crisis’ besetting our young people, girls in particular, alarming headlines accompanied the publication of The Millennium Cohort Study (research by Liverpool University). As a Head teacher, I am often asked why there is such a worrying decline in the mental health of young people and I do my best to answer. I talk about the impact of commercialised childhoods, of exam pressure enhanced by league tables and economic gloom and the perceived impossibility of ever being able to realise adult aspirations, of the omnipresent digital landscape with its relentless messaging about various forms of unattainable perfection, of crazily late nights and reduced sleep poring over snapchat and of the over-protective adult generation which has worked so hard to contain the recklessness of youth that it has unwittingly taught children to be fearful and timid rather than independent and self-assured.

All of these things and probably a whole lot more feed into the problem and there are many people much better qualified than me to speculate on them. What I can do though, is talk with great certainty and with my whole heart, about the things we can (and do) do, in our schools, to enhance wellbeing and to keep our girls engaged and truly grounded in their work and play. And things which don’t necessarily cost a penny.

There are two key ideas which seem to matter most in helping to develop the happiness and confident achievement of our young people.  Firstly, it’s about belonging. And I don’t mean this as a weak sentimental cliché. More than ever perhaps, our teens need to feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves and their social media echo chambers. They need to feel that they are part of something that matters and has a sense of continuity, value and resonance far beyond the latest baby that Kim Kardashian is paying someone to have for her. In the past, that need might have been filled by the Church or by the local community, by the family, or even by an accepted collective sense of nationhood. And I know that many young people of whatever faith are lucky enough to still find solace and identity through some or all of these things. But this is not invariably or universally the case now. And that is where schools come in. They can fill a vacuum where and if there is one. No matter what or where the school, every child in it belongs to something larger than themselves. They are part of a joint, collective enterprise full of the energy, industry, imagination, beliefs and expertise of large numbers of people who broadly care about stuff that really matters: learning, their subjects, the development and wellbeing of other people.  And that is hugely powerful and inspiring. Their school connects children to the past – to the generations who have come through the school gates before them – and to the future – all those who will follow after them. And every school has its own story, which it will be telling in its own way. This matters and is one important ingredient in our bid to help our children make sense of the world and their part in it. They will find themselves by looking beyond themselves. And that’s an important skill for teenagers to learn.

The second key thing is about wonder. One of our school aims (perhaps the one that resonates most strongly with me), is our bid to nurture scholarship, curiosity and a sense of wonder in our girls. That idea – which is about the delight and satisfaction and joy that can come from the process of questioning, exploring, discovering…feels absolutely central. Of course, the wonder can be in many forms. It may be from finally unpicking a torturously challenging maths question, or from suddenly spotting something beautiful in a line of poetry, or from asking something crazy in a science lesson and finding out the astonishing answer. It could be from playing your violin in the third row of the school orchestra and finding that collectively you are making an incredible sound. Or from finally nailing a move on the football pitch. Or from finding that you had a powerful voice in a debate or as an actor or as a stand-up comedian. It could even be from simply looking afresh at the playground with your mates and being glad that the sun is shining briefly on your school! It doesn’t much matter what it is but it does matter that we work hard to develop it. Not least because that is what makes working in schools such enormous fun for us all. So, schools as a place full of collective wondering…that’s what we need to be offering, that’s where power is. As Edgar Allen Poe pointed out: ‘it is a happiness to wonder; — it is a happiness to dream’.

Perhaps that’s as good a response as any to the malaise of our times.


This article first appeared in TES on 26th January 2018.

An environmental education: more than ‘saving the world’?


Nicola Higgs, Head of Geography, investigates the importance of an environmental education and challenges us to think about the concept in a more complex way.

Environmental education is not simply about ‘saving the whale’ or indeed ‘saving the world’. It is equally about the development of an appreciation of the wonders and beauty of the world, and a sense of wanting to save it – in short, the development of ecological thinking or of an environmental ethic (Palmer, 1998, p. 267).

Environmental education as described by Joy Palmer above is a relatively young, but increasingly significant, area of study. The importance of developing means to live more sustainably, conserving natural resources, and preserving the Earth for its future inhabitants are at the heart of environmental education. However, it does not always hold the priority in education systems that this urgency advocates, and it seems to constantly be battling for its position against the “intricacies and demands of education in general rather than be a core element of it” (Palmer, 1998, p. ix).

The 1968 UNESCO Conference called for all education systems at all levels to provide space and resources in the curriculum to learn about the environment and to create a global awareness of environmental problems. The definition of environmental education was agreed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/UNESCO in 1970:

…the process of recognising values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture, his biophysical surroundings. Environmental education also entails practice in decision-making and self-formulation of a code of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality (IUCN, 1970).

And in 1975 the UN founded the International Environmental Education Programme, which had 3 clear objectives:

  1. Foster clear awareness of and concern about economic, social, political, and ecological inter-dependence in urban and rural areas
  2. Provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment
  3. Create new patterns of behaviour of individual, groups and society as a whole towards the environment

This strong international focus on environmental issues and environmental education reflected increasing public interest on the environment. Fast-forward to 2018 and environmental education has, in many ways, been deprioritised within national and international school curriculums across the world, due to competing tensions between the significance of the environment compared to economic and social development (Tippins, Mueller, van Eijck, & Adams, 2010).

The folly in this is that in order that people and societies can continue to function and develop we must look to find balance in the human-environment relationship. As educators we have a duty to ensure that students are equipped to handle the 21st century world which they will inherit. Understanding the way in which space-place-environment operates as a conceptual and procedural nexus, each inseparable from the other, will be crucial in achieving the sustainable development ideal. Teaching ‘about the environment’ is no longer enough, teaching ‘for sustainability’ has the potential to engage and reinforce the tools with which our girls will enter the world and lead the change we need to see (Corney & Middleton, 1996).

An approach that we have adopted in the Geography Department at Wimbledon High School is to ensure schemes of learning at all key stages build on the concept of sustainable development, that is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Report, 1987). We expose our students to a variety of real-world scenarios in which they could have an impact in the future.

For example, Year 8 have recently debated the construction of a wind energy farm having first designed and built a prototype wind turbine in the STEAM room, Year 9 will evaluate options for development of the low-income country Zambia in the face of an increasingly interconnected world. Year 10 and 11 explore the tensions between our quickly urbanising global population and the growing size of ecological footprints beyond the boundary of the city, whilst proposing sustainable solutions to issues of water stress and water scarcity in the UK, which, as Londoners, will be critically important to them.

As a Geographer I feel a sense of duty to ensure that my students have as full an appreciation and understanding of environmental issues as I am able to help them discover. The complexity of environmental problems, opinions and solutions is vast, and our programmes of education at WHS aim to inform, empower and inspire:

Our task as environmental educators in the 21st century is to recognise this complexity of experience, and to assist the overall process – by striving to implement programmes of education that inform our students about the complexities of the environment in which they are growing up; empower them to address environment and development issues in their own lives; and provide them with opportunities to be inspired by the joys, wonder and mysteries of the natural world and human achievement (Palmer, 1998, p. 277).

Environmental education is vital for our future, it could well be the most important thing we teach our young people. Subjects and disciplines change and evolve, as societies and politics and belief systems and ideologies change and evolve, and priorities for people and countries change.  The future belongs to these young people; they have a right to be able to fully engage in it, and above all to be well informed about it.

Follow @Geography_WHS on Twitter.

References and further reading:

Corney, G., & Middleton, N. (1996). Teaching environmental issues in schools and higher education. In E. Rawling & R. Daugherty (Eds.), Geography into the twenty-first century (pp. 323–338). Chichester: Wiley.

Palmer, J. A. (1998). Environmental education in the 21st century: theory, practice, progress and promise. London: Routledge.

Tippins, D. J., Mueller, M. P., van Eijck, M., & Adams, J. D. (Eds.). (2010). Cultural studies and Environmentalism. The Confluence of EcoJustic, Place-based (Science) Education, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. New York: Springer.

Ted Talk – ‘Let the Environment Guide our Development (Johan Rockstrom)

Where academic and pastoral meet: why we should value what we remember and will remember what we value.

wimbledon logo

Fionnuala Kennedy, Deputy Head (Pastoral), looks at research in to memory and how this can be used to aid revision for examinations.

As with most of my thoughts about education, this one was provoked by a conversation over supper and a glass of wine with someone not involved in the educational field. Unlike most of my thoughts about education, it is based on the work of a Dutch psychologist and Chess Master born in 1914, whose initial thesis, “Het denken van den schaker”, was published in 1946 (the English translation, “Thought and Choice in Chess”, appeared in 1965).
During the 40s, 50s and 60s, Adriaan de Groot conducted a series of cognitive chess experiments which ultimately formed the basis for ‘chunking’ theory and allowed for the development of chess computers. Testing all levels of chess player, from rank beginners through to Grand Masters, de Groot’s goal was to explain how the very best chess players could visually absorb a full chess board, assess the positions of pieces, process the different numbers of moves they could make next and rank them in order of preference, and all within seconds. This process was divided into four key phases, occurring rapidly in sequence:

  1. The orientation phase – assessing the position and coming up with general ideas of what to do
  2. The exploration phase – analysing concrete variations
  3. The investigation phase – deciding on the best move
  4. The proof phase –confirming the validity of the choice reached in phase three.

This in itself is an incredibly useful model of thought and study, particularly for the examination student under pressure of time. It is, however, not this which really piqued my interest in de Groot’s study, but rather the next phases of his thinking which have since been built upon by psychologists in the US.

Having determined the role of visual perception and thought processes of Grand Masters that lead to their success, de Groot went on to consider how they would memorise and what it was about that method of memory which made them so particularly successful. And the findings were – and are – fascinating.

In de Groot’s most famous demonstration, he showed several players images of chess positions for a few seconds and asked the players to reconstruct the positions from memory.  The experts – as we might predict – made relatively few mistakes even though they had seen the position only briefly.  So far, so impressive. But, years later, Chase and Simon replicated de Groot’s finding with another expert (a master-level player) as well as an amateur and a novice.  They also added a critical control: the players viewed both real chess positions and scrambled chess positions (that included pieces not only in random positions, but also in implausible and even impossible locations). The expert excelled with the real positions – again, as might have been predicted – but performed no better than the amateur and even the novice for the scrambled positions. In essence, then, the expert advantage seems only to come from familiarity with actual chess positions, something that allows more efficient encoding or retrieval of the positions. The grand master’s memory, the test suggests, will only have absorbed the positions on the board which matter to them, which have meaning and purpose; it is not that their memories are simply ‘better’, or better-trained, but that they have become more efficient in storing meaningful patterns. Without that meaning, the expert and the novice will both struggle equally.

And this amazed me, and got me thinking. As educators, we know that theories about the ways in which we think and remember come and go, that pupils may learn in different ways, at different ages, in varying degrees of success and failure, and thus we shouldn’t jump on too many bandwagons pedagogically. I know for example that I am almost certainly more reliant on audio and visual modes of learning than kinesthetic, but then I suspect that’s because the latter didn’t really exist when I was at school; and I also tend to believe that I remember letters and words better than numbers, but this I now recognise to be because I grew up with parents who listened to music and read literature. It is not that our brains can or cannot remember aspects of learning; it is not necessarily that we have different ways of thinking and remembering and learning, or indeed brains which ‘absorb’ certain information better or worse than others. Rather:

We will remember that to which we ascribe value; we will memorise where there is pattern and meaning.

Which only goes to add more grist to the mill to Mrs Lunnon’s message delivered in our opening assembly this term: ‘What I do is me: for that I came’ (Manley-Hopkins). If we approach learning as a task which must be achieved simply to obtain an end-goal, we simply will not learn as well. Rather, if each task is ascribed a meaning and value for and within itself, it will become much easier to remember and store away. Thinking ‘I want to get 10/10 in my Spanish vocab test because I want to be top of the class’ will only make your task more difficult. Looking at each word you are learning and putting it into a context where you might use it one day, or including it in a joke in Spanish, or making a connection between the words, will save you time and maximise the chances of your brain storing that information away for you for longer.

What’s more – and this is where the pastoral side really kicks in – such an approach takes away the slog and grind of learning. Instead, meaning will surround us and be ascribed in all we do. And, of course, more excitingly than that: if we are on the look-out for meaning, it will help us to find the area which feels the most meaningful for us, in which we can readily spot and identify patterns of meaning and which fills us with joy and satisfaction. And it is this, and not simply a desire to do well or know more, which will lead to true mastery as we negotiate the chess board of our own learning and lives.

Follow @DHPastoralWHS and @Head_WHS on Twitter.

Engineering – Take a closer look

Alex Farrer, one of our Scientists in Residence, looks at the value of science capital and the potential that this can have on future careers in the sciences.

Engineering 2018

2018 is the Year of Engineering – a government campaign to support the engineering profession in recruiting tomorrow’s engineers. Over the last 30 years efforts to attract girls and women into engineering have been unsuccessful. Currently less than 1 in 8 of the engineering workforce is female; boys are 3.5 times more likely to study A level Physics than girls; and boys are five times more likely to gain an engineering and technology degree (Engineering UK 2017).

Our STEAM focus at Wimbledon High provides insights into a variety of opportunities in engineering and in related areas such as design, sports, medicine and computer science. Through STEAM we strive to broaden what counts as science and help build the skills that future employers will value highly such as communication, problem solving and adaptability. We aim to encourage all pupils from Reception to Year 13 to think that STEAM is relevant and important to their lives, both now and in the future, and aim to build their science capital.

A national survey of young people aged between 11 and 15 found that 5% had a high level of science capital (ASPIRES projects).

Professor Louise Archer from UCL Institute of Education, directs the ASPIRES projects and has developed the concept of science capital which refers to someone’s science related qualifications, understanding, knowledge, interests, attitudes and contacts.

The Science Capital Teaching Approach aims to build on the existing science capital of pupils, encourage engagement with science and promote social justice.

If you have a high science capital you might:

  • watch scientific TV programmes
  • have science qualifications
  • enjoy reading popular science books
  • have friends and relatives that work in science and engineering professions
  • visit science museums and fairs
  • engage in science related hobbies or activities
  • talk about science and engineering news topics with people you know

The evidence from this research project shows that the more science capital a pupil has the more they will aspire to continue with sciences post-16 and see science and engineering as fulfilling roles.

Below are some suggestions that schools could consider to build the science capital of pupils and adults in their communities so that everyone sees science and engineering as something of value.

  1. Host a family STEAM challenge event. This will help to encourage science talk with family members and show that STEAM is for everyone in the school community.
  2. Encourage science and engineering activities to “pop up” in the playground. Pupils, parents or staff could run the activities and the high visibility will encourage all members of the school community to get involved.
  3. Celebrate interest in scientific TV programmes and films. For example show a screening of a film like Hidden Figures with scientists or historians on hand to answer any questions, or encourage staff and pupils to talk about the science on TV they have seen.
  4. Signpost STEAM books, magazines and events to staff and pupils. An example is Itch by Simon Mayo, which contains a great deal of chemistry, and there are also some excellent science magazines such as Whizz Pop Bang and BBC Focus that can be linked to lesson content.
  5. Think about ways to get families talking about STEAM homework that is set. Linking tasks to science or technology in the news will encourage talk as will setting tasks where help from adults is very much encouraged such as making a marble run, growing a mystery seed or taking a STEAM photograph.
  6. Find out the sorts of science interests, hobbies, and expertise pupils and their families have so that lessons and assemblies can be personalised. Setting a “Science and me” homework will heWHS Gymnasticlp to discover how many parents and pupils you have in your class with scientific interests and skills.
  7. Elicit and value the wider links that pupils have to science and engineering and draw upon them in lessons. For example using the experience of a gymnast in your class in a physics lesson will enable pupils to broaden what they thinks counts as science in their life.
  8.  Invite scientists and engineers that pupils will relate to into lessons and encourage them to talk about the skills and attributes they use. This could be a parent who uses STEAM skills in their job, a STEM Ambassador or someone who has relevant interest and knowledge. Even better if the scientist or engineer visits a lesson other than science! @STEMAmbassadors

Science lesson Wimbledon

If you are a primary teacher and would like to find out more about how you can build science capital in your school we will be hosting a Science Capital Workshop on February 7th 1.30-3.30pm. Please contact if you would like to come along.

If any parents with STEAM expertise would enjoy sharing some of their knowledge, skills and insights with our pupils please do let know and we will be in touch.

We look forward to enriching the science capital of our community in this exciting Year of Engineering as our STEAM journey continues.

Follow @STEAM_WHS on Twitter – #YoE

Mindful revision: how to make the best of the revision period

wimbledon logo

As mock exams start, Suzanne East, our Mindfulness Lead, looks at how we can manage the pressures of examination revision to achieve our best and stay healthy.

As the Christmas holidays approached and the festivities were beginning to get into full swing, I wished my Y11 tutor group Merry Christmas and asked how they were planning on spending the holiday period; “revision”, they groaned in reply. In their eyes was written the despair at the prospect of sitting alone in garret-like bedrooms struggling with never-ending lists of dates whilst the sounds of forbidden parties drifted up to torment them.

Faced with this, I sought ways to encourage them, and found that mindful practise offered some practical suggestions. So here are my top five tips on how to survive revision, especially revision during the holiday period, in a most mindful way!

  1. Acceptance

At the end of the day, it is what it is and you will not feel any happier by constantly thinking of other things you could be doing. Being constantly updated on the fun that others are having will not help, so put the device away and get on with it!

  1. Focus

Mindful practice encourages you to bring the focus of your attention back to a chosen point, perhaps the breath. We all get distracted but we can improve our attention with regular practice – a vital skill in completing any task! Remember to be kind (you will not be able to focus all the time) but notice the drifting away of attention and gently bring it back to the job in hand.

  1. Self-awareness

Away from the routines of school this is a time when students may be alone for long periods and need to take responsibility for their own care. Mindful practice encourages paying attention to yourself, how are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. By getting to know yourself you can make sure you stop and eat when hungry, get some exercise when sluggish and meet up with friends when feeling lonely.

  1. Savouring the good

It is easy to let revision seep into all aspects of the day. Even when not actually doing revision it can hijack your thoughts; regretting not doing more or dreading going back.  Mindfulness practice teaches how to be fully in the moment, so if you are doing some revision, pay attention and do it, but equally when you are having a break really have a break. Immerse yourself in a long soak in the bath, enjoy chatting with your friends when you meet up for coffee, savour that chocolate and get out and be in the world that is buzzing away with life all around you.

  1. Kindness

Remember mocks are a practice run. Things will not always go to plan, and this is almost certainly true of revision plans. Mindful practice encourages students to explore areas of difficulty and to accept that life can make you feel sad, angry and frustrated. No one likes to feel like this, but these are feelings we cannot escape from. Get to know them and learn how you can move forward, being as kind and supportive to yourself as you would to a good friend.

Of course, none of the above come easily.  Regular practice is essential in building mindful habits, but the rewards can be quite life changing, especially when the going gets tough.

Follow @DHPastoralWHS for regular Pastoral updates at Wimbledon High.

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”.
( ) 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.