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My TED Talk… and a favour!

July 10, 2012

A few months ago I was invited to take part in a global audition to speak at the TED 2013. TED Talks are an international series of presentations on, ‘ideas worth spreading’. I hope you find my talk interesting.

Now for the favour! Obviously to stand any chance of being chosen to speak at TED 2013, I need people to rate my talk on content and delivery. To do this you have to click HERE, then register with TED. This does take a couple of minutes, but I hope you’re willing to make the effort as a little ‘thank you’ for the effort I’ve made with this blog!

By the way, look out for an up-coming post, in which we’ll be showcasing our very own TED event, which we have held at Blackfen School – TEDxYouth@Blackfen.


Choice & Change!

July 2, 2012

I’ve always argued that the best Citizenship education starts with CHOICE, and ends with CHANGE!

Give students some choice about what or how they learn, and then help them use this learning to change the world.

Last week we organised a Community Safety Event for all our Year 7 students. In the weeks leading up to the event, they had spent hours investigating safety out in the local community – what were the real problems, and what were the realistic solutions? Each class then chose a couple of students to represent their views. These students made powerful presentations at the event to a panel of ‘power players’ – our Head, a local councillor and our local police officer.

This is similar to an event we organised last year, so I won’t repeat the details. You can download the resources we used from HERE.

It may be worth sharing a few thoughts about running an event like this:

  • don’t be put off by the ‘hurdle’ of taking your students out of school to investigate the community. Our students simply walked around the roads immediately surrounding our school with clipboards taking down notes. It’s easy to manage, and you can do it within a lesson… or even just for homework.
  • leave plenty of time to practice the students’ presentations – we spend at least 3 hours on this, and insist students do not use any notes.
  • get in contact with key local ‘power players’ – local police, councillors, MPs etc, are almost always happy to come in and visit. But remember, they are not there to talk at students, but to listen to them!
  • try to establish what might be possible to change (e.g. installing new street lights, increasing police patrols in a local area etc) before the event – that way students will get a real sense they have had an impact. We failed to do this, and our students had to put up with the panel telling them about their responsibilities to behave well, rather than telling the students what they would do to take on board what our students had said, and work to make our community safer.
Here’s a short video of our students doing their investigations outside school, and some photos from the event.

Flip Your Classroom!

June 23, 2012

There’s a growing educational movement in America called, ‘Flipped Classrooms’. The idea behind this is that lesson ‘content’ is no longer delivered in the lesson, but in homework. How? Record the content on video, and ask students to watch it for homework. What’s the benefit? Well, I think there are many, but the main one for me is that it frees up lesson time to do more interactive learning.

We’ve tried it recently with our Citizenship GCSE students. We asked them to watch our short video tutorial (or vodcast) on the topic of ¬†globalisation. This covered basic definitions, explained what free trade was and explained the strengths and weaknesses of the World Trade Organisation. This then freed up time in the lesson to play a simulation game on the World Trade Organisation. The video above is just a short extract from it.

I don’t think this something we’ll do all the time, but as an occasional strategy, I think it’s definitely worth trying. Here’s a video of an American teacher explaining his thinking behind the approach.

We’ve also tried another experiment – ask your students’ parents to mark their work. It’s a simple idea, but a powerful one. First, it gets your parents more involved in their students’ learning, and second it motivates students to produce their best work. Below is a cover letter I sent home with the students to explain what I was asking their parents to do. Later, when I asked my students for feedback on this approach, some liked it, others didn’t. Why didn’t they like it? Apparently their parents marked too strictly!

Elect Ed Case! A resource for teaching about elections

June 15, 2012

Jonathan Gullis, who will be joining the teaching team at Blackfen in September, has put together a clever lesson about the London Mayoral elections. He created a persona, Edward Case (aka ‘ed case), who wants to become the Mayor of London, and then asked students to come up with policies and slogans to help Edward Case get elected.

Now it’s obviously a little late to use this exact lesson, but I think the format would work very well with any election, or even any problem you want your students to set about solving. Jonathan’s resources are attached below.

Lesson Plan – Blackfen Interview- Mayor of London Election 2012

How does a Mayoral Candidate get elected – Blackfen School for Girls Interview – PPT

A – Information Handout for Groups – Blackfen School for Girls Interview

B – 30 Second TV Advert Storyboard

C – Instruction Cards – Blackfen School for Girls Interview – Mayor of London Elections

Rate Yourself – Blackfen School for Girls Interview

How Schools Un-educate Children

June 3, 2012

Schools un-educate children.

By all but the most narrow definition of what constitutes learning, schools un-educate children.

When a child enters secondary school, by and large, she is curious, determined to succeed, resilient, confident in speaking in public, willing to give it a go, independent as a learner, willing to work with others who are not her friends, and willing to ask and answer questions.

She already possesses many of the character traits we hope our students will have when they leave school. And yet five years later, these are not the character traits you find in a typical Year 11 student. They have lost most of them, and (arguably) replaced them with just one; they know how to answer exam questions.

A few months ago we ran a project with our Year 7 students to investigate what’s going on in Syria. The project basically involved 3 steps:

  1. find out what’s happening in Syria by asking good questions;
  2. learn about the role of the United Nations through a mock UN debate on Syria;
  3. write to William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, with your views on Syria.

Over the past few weeks I’ve repeated the project with my most able Year 10 students. Have a look at the students’ work below, and try to guess which pieces were done by Year 7 students, and which by Year 10. The results are revealed below.

STEP 1 – Find out what’s happening in Syria by asking good questions:

This involves students writing down questions in response to stimulus pictures from Syria. Before they do this, I teach them about the difference between basic questions (what, where, when), and advanced questions (why, what happens next, who’s better of worse etc.). Click on the image to enlarge it.

STEP 2 – Learn about the role of the United Nations through a mock UN debate on Syria:

You can see some of the Year 7 debate in a previous blog post, but I didn’t video the Year 10 debate, partly because they were shy about being filmed, and partly because it was no contest. The Year 7s were more impressive debaters, hands down.

STEP 3 – Write to William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, with your views on Syria:

Below are four of the best letters – two from Year 7 students, and two from Year 10. Can you tell which are which?


In Step 1, the first photo was the sheet completed by Year 10 students, and the second was completed by Year 7 students.

Here are what I think are the three best Year 7 questions:

  • what must they be thinking?
  • how could the situation improve?
  • why aren’t they doing anything about it?
Here are what I think are the three best Year 10 questions:
  • what does the world think about this?
  • are they on the side of the government?
  • why is it allowed to happen?
Now these are all good questions, but the Year 10 students are not asking questions that are any more advanced or nuanced than the Year 7 students. In fact, you could argue it’s the Year 7s who have asked the better questions. I’ll call this round a tie.
STEP 3 -Write to William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, with your views on Syria:
The first and fourth letter were written by Year 7 students, and the second and third by Year 10 students. You may have guessed by the hand-writing, but if you based it purely on content, are the Year 10 letters significantly better? I don’t think so. Note, the Houla massacre had not happened when the Year 7 wrote their letters. I think overall, you might say that the Year 10 letters are slightly more nuanced, and have a broader understanding of the conflict, but also slightly less optimistic and idealistic. Overall I don’t think there is a significant difference between them.
Which takes me back to my original point. Schools un-educate children. How can it be that in the three years between year 7 and 10, students only show a marginal improvement in a writing task, no improvement in a thinking task and clear regression in a speaking task?
Now I’ll happily admit that this is not a scientifically-controlled experiment. There are so many variables at play, such as:
  • the Year 10s are involved in a number of GCSEs exams this term and may be distracted by that
  • the impact of adolescence may be a factor – particularly in their willingness to speak in a debate
  • I may have not taught the lessons to the Year 10s as well – was I unconsciously hoping they wouldn’t do so well to prove my point?
  • perhaps if I had stretched the Year 10s more, they would have demonstrated higher abilities
BUT, these are my most able Year 10 students, and I have a good relationship with them. So, why are they not achieving significantly more than the Year 7s?
I believe the answer is this. The relentless focus in schools on academic achievement in its most narrow sense, that is exams, means that the development of vital skills for learning and life are being squeezed out. Over their time in school, most students will show some improvement in their ability to answer exam questions, while at the same time demonstrate an absolute failure to show progress in thinking, questioning, team working, public speaking, debating, learning independently and so on. This is how schools un-eduate children.
The tragedy is that this exam-driven model of learning also squeezes out the creativity and joy of learning for both teachers and students. I firmly believe that children love learning – it’s their default status – and if they are not loving what you are doing with them in the classroom, something needs to change.
I’ll finish with another piece of work from some Year 7s representing China at the United Nations. This document is something they put together to prepare for their debate, without prompting from me. This is what I mean by loving learning.

Real Life Refugees

May 25, 2012

Over the spring holidays I visited Burma to make some short films about the changes happening there. There’s a lot to be positive about, but in the far north of the country, a vicious war has broken out between the Burmese army and an ethnic minority group called the Kachin. The conflict has forced over 50,000 Kachin villagers to flee their homes to escape gross human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese soldiers.

This short film tells the story, and we’ve used it with our students, alongside a lesson we created on refugees last year. You can download the lesson resources below, and I’ve uploaded the film to YouTube to make it easier to play in school. Watch it before you show it to your students, as some of the images are quite strong.

The lesson alone is a very powerful learning experience for students, but when you show them the film afterwards it really hits home. This is not just another lesson, it’s a tiny taste of what real people are experiencing right now.

This will be one of the resources Ben Hammond is using as part of his project to educate students in Britain about Burma. Find out more, and sponsor him to dance the length of Britain HERE.

Refugees Lesson Plan

Refugee Lesson

Images for Suitcase envelopes

Suitcase image

Everyone an Entrepreneur!

May 19, 2012

A number of years ago an organisation called Make Your Mark launched a project called Make Your Mark with a Tenner. Make Your Mark lent ¬£10 to thousands of students all over the country and challenged to make as much profit as possible with their tenner within a month. Both Make Your Mark, and the Tenner project no longer exist, but we like the project so much we’ve carried it on regardless – we’ve just borrowed the tenners from our school budget instead!

Below I have attached lesson plans and resources for the project, which I hope are self-explanatory, but it’s probably worth sharing a few simple rules we’ve developed from running the project twice.

Students must:

  • sign a declaration that they will repay the loan within a fixed period of time
  • not sell sweets, crisps or fizzy drinks
  • not use the loan for gambling
  • agree how they will split any profits among their group before they start their business

… and it’s fun to keep a leader board of the most profitable businesses!

Lesson Plans

Lesson 1


Lesson 2

The Business Tycoon Game

Business Tycoon Game

Business Tycoon Game Templates

Lesson 4

Student Pack Front Page

Business Brainstorm

Business Budget

Planning sheets

Progress Update1

Progress Update2

Final Progress Report

Success criteria – Tenner Tycoon