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Shaping our Global Future

Young people worry about the future: including their own personal, family and economic futures. So why don’t we evolve a curriculum that amounts to a structured conversation with them about these futures? If we could do this, we might shape a dialogue that allowed them more ownership of the lives they might lead and the people they might become. We might help yah people to imagine themselves and feel excited about the future and the challenges it presents.

But, we also need to make them more aware of the legacy being created for future generations in the early twenty first century. My book, Shaping our Global Future, A Guide for Young People seeks to inform young people about the world their children and grandchildren will inhabit. So the book focuses on seven global wonders and seven future challenges.

The book is part of the Postcards from Scotland series, commissioned by the Centre for Confridence and Wellbeing. It takes is available from the centre here. All money’s derived from this project go to the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, a registered charity.

I hope that young people read it and reflect. I hope that teachers read it and use it in classrooms. Mostly, I hope that it helps young people, educators and parents to have a structured conversation about our human future and the world we are building.

What science knows vs what education does

What is the longest period of time you can focus your attention without your mind beginning to wander and your concentration plummeting off a cliff?

Wikipedia states that the maximum attention span for the average human is 5 minutes.  The longest time for healthy teenagers and adults is 20 minutes.

However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.

Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show8 seconds to a maximum of 20 minutes is a startling difference, and worrying if you are an educator, but there are two key types of attention.  The 8 second attention span is known as ‘transient attention’ which is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts or distracts attention.

Where educators need to focus their energy for learning is on selective sustained attention, also known as ‘focused attention’.  It is the level of attention that produces results on a task over time.  But if we only have a maximum of 20 minutes, why are most school lessons constructed around a 50 – 70 minute lesson structure, four to five times a day?  That means in the average school day there are around 20, twenty minute learning opportunities before breaks are considered.  If that seems like a lot, once you add in classroom transient distractions it’s possible that those opportunities for sustained concentration significantly decrease.

How do educators and schools address these lack of opportune moments for learning?  Shorter school days, more frequent lessons or breaks, the options are vast, but this is where we must focus our thought back on what science knows to be true.

Studies into the investigation of physical activity for learning reveal that:

“… breaks throughout the day can improve both student behaviour and learning (Trost, 2007)” (Reilly, Buskist, and Gross, 2012).


Science also reveals that sustained movement-aided learning significantly improves learning rather than purely mental learning activities:

“Movement is an exterior stimulus, and as long as the learner is engaged in his or her learning task the movement indicates that the learner’s attention is directed toward what is being learned. When attention is purely mental (interior) the activity becomes very difficult to sustain, because the nerve and muscle systems are inactive” (Shoval, 2011).

If frequent breaks and connecting the mind and body for learning have been proven to work, why does our education system not evolve based on what science knows?

On episode 35 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Rae Pica, host of Studentcentricity and founder of BAM Radio Network, discusses how connecting the mind and body is crucial for learning.  She reveals the ideal mind and body classroom for learning:

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share it with your community! 



The Elephant in the Classroom #FabEduBooks

My favourite edubook is The Elephant in the Classroom by Jo Boaler. In the book Boaler talks about the mathematical progress of thousands of students from the UK and USA whom she followed over a number of years from school into their adult life. She also gives some great suggestions of ways in which maths can be taught better in schools.

I remember being skeptical as I didn’t want to read a book which gave you lots of data about what was working in schools and what wasn’t: I didn’t want to read a textbook. However, The Elephant in the Classroom managed to give you the information needed to understand the theory and ways to put this into practice whilst being captivating and informative. I had the book finished within a few days and I read it again this time annotating parts and taking notes for things I wanted to do in the classroom.

Back in 2010 two chapters stood out for me. In “A vision for a better future” Boaler sets out two different ways we can make maths more engaging and meaningful for pupils: a project based approach and a communicative one. As someone who had just finished a PGDE where the approach was to introduce the topic, explain the rules and have students practice them multiple times, I was intrigued to try out something different.

The other chapter was “Making ‘low ability’ children” which in no uncertain terms told me the system “tell(s) children from a very young age, that they are no good at maths”. I was shocked by the bluntness but after thinking about how we ‘set’ pupils from S1 by ability I couldn’t disagree. This started a love/hate relationship with me around setting – something I still think about.

Having picked up the book again to write this post I rediscovered another chapter which I’m going to re-read: “Paying the price for sugar and spice: how girls and women are kept out of maths and science”. I’ve recently spent a bit of time researching the social constructs of gender and how we use these in schools as ways to control behaviour and sort young people into groups. I’m interested to find out what Boaler said…back soon *opens chapter*

#FabEduBooks is supported by Crown House Publishing

Everyone who shares a post on their favourite edubook this September on Pedagoo.org will be entered into a draw at the start of October. The lucky winner will receive a Big Bag of Books from Crown House Publishing.

To find out how to submit your post, click on the following link: Pedagoo.org/newpost


Cross-curricular success


“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” ~ Kofi Annan

Too often curriculum content is not liberating! Instead it can stifle creativity, limit progress and in some cases it is simply out of date!

Placing children at the centre of our curriculum models and asking BIG philosophical questions of them helps to liberate the learner. It provides them with the opportunity to autonomously seek knowledge, articulate, understand and then model it through their own journey of learning. Philosophical learning is not just for the high achievers. Debra Kidd, Education Consultant and former teacher, developed a cross-curricular model that placed the child at the centre of the learning, and discovered that it significantly added value to learners with low attainment levels in English.

On episode 34 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Debra discusses how to develop cross-curricular assessment models that helps children with philosophical learning. She reveals her lessons learnt and ideas for curriculum and assessment improvements.

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share it with your community! If you’d like to share your ideas or contribute to the discussion on curriculum models, please connect via @Inspiration4T

PedaWooWoo – professional development

Pedagooers, here’s a spicy little mix of podcast workshops bursting with tried and tested pedagogical concepts that will add value to your professional toolkit this year!

Unlocking creativity in the classroom




In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • The problems associated with creating activities that challenge learners to think creatively
  • Ideas on developing problem solving activities in the classroom
  • How to improve what we already know and unlock the creativity that exists within our classrooms

Enhancing your teaching toolkit to boost learning



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • What is Mind Mapping and its power to aid learning
  • How to create a basic Mind Map
  • Using Mind Maps to enhance learning, improve revision and exam technique, improve feedback, assessment and classroom planning


Developing cross curricular lessons; snatching inspiration from other subjects



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • A practical model for cross curricular lesson planning
  • Ideas on developing differentiated cross curricular learning pathways
  • Overcoming the challenges of cross curricular lesson integration
  • Extending cross curricular learning beyond the classroom


FedEx your Professional Development



In this podcast workshop you’ll learn:

  • How autonomy based motivation models can drive professional learning sessions
  • How to launch your own FedEx professional development model
  • How to maximise the feedback delivery of your school’s professional development FedEx day to add value to the whole school

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share it with your community!

Poetry By Heart Scotland: calling S4-S6 teachers and students

Poetry By Heart Scotland is a competition from the Scottish Poetry Library that gives students in S4-6 opportunities to learn by heart and perform poems from our specially curated database. Students compete at school, regional and national level, culminating in a final event in Edinburgh where they have the chance to perform in front of high profile poets such as Liz Lochhead, Rachel MCrum, Diana Hendry and Tom Pow.

Schools that participated in the pilot have told us that through the competition students improved their self-confidence and went on to engage with poetry on a deeper, more meaningful level in the classroom. It’s a great chance for the teachers too – an opportunity to run the school competitions and regional heats in a personalised way that responds to the needs and interests of their students. Registrations are currently open till the end of September and we’d love for as many schools as possible to participate this year, following our successful pilot in 2014-15. To date, schools have registered from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Aberdeen, Dunblane, Perth and Kinross; there is capacity for more schools in these regions and others throughout Scotland to join us.

The competition is completely free for all participants and the Scottish Poetry Library funds all related travel costs and prizes.

You can find out more about Poetry By Heart Scotland on the SPL website at http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry-heart-scotland or email me at georgi.gill@spl.org.uk – I’d be delighted to explain more, answer any questions or engage in general poetry chat!


EAL Keywords

Inspired by a post by @mrshumanities showing keyword cards, and in a bit of a dilemma as to how best support my EAL pupils, today I spent a double period, whilst expertly covering an Administration class creating these handy cards, with some of the keywords we use in humanities in S1.

I am hoping they will be there as an easier alternative to constantly looking up a dictionary although I am heavily relying on Google translate. I am looking for other new ways to help support these pupils and will try and test some other strategies. It did take a wee bit of a wrestle with a laminator, something I am famous in the school for breaking, notoriously going through three in one day.

Tomorrow I am excited to use my new revision station resources I’ve made.

Originally posted on my blog https://misscwoodrmps.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/eal-keywords/

Bloom’s Taxonomy
Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 19.11.54

It’s safe to say, I love Blooms!

I think Blooms is a brilliant way for teachers to ensure they are helping pupils progress as well as students can identify their skills easily. I love blooms so much, one of the first things I did when I got my new classroom was paint a massive triangle on the wall, and get pupils to add “I can” statements on it when they can do something new.
I think the issue I have with blooms is and don’t think I am alone is, we are good at creating wonderful Schemes of Work and Units, but actually sign-posting our skills and how that links into Higher Order Thinking is our downfall. Also I know i have been guilty of focusing on the task and not the skills being used.

I have given myself 2 new term resolutions this year.

  1. Use less PowerPoint and look at other teaching and presentation methods.
  2. Highlight skills progression to the pupils.

My first task has been to create these posters.IMAG0592

These break down the skills, the types of activities and question stems that can be used – an amalgamation of several posters I could find on Pintrest. Here’s the file to download the posters yourself: blooms posters.

So now my aim is to get pupils to be able to self evaluate their own learning and skills at the end of a task/ unit/ lesson. I also made up cover sheets for my junior classes that will be stuck into their jotters with the intended skill progression of the current unit we are on- encouraging them to color in the triangle as they move up the thinking skills.

I think Blooms can be used in many different ways and it is important that we share resources and ideas in order to encourage pupils to be using their thinking skills in a variety of ways.

Originally posted on my own blog bxarmps.wordpress.com


We’ve tried flipping lessons and we thought it didn’t work. There’s a bunch of research in favour of the idea, but also lots against it.

Essentially, as I understand it, a ‘flipped lesson’ is one where the students do the preparation by learning low order concepts (like basic knowledge) at home and come to the class ready and raring to discuss the higher order concepts (explaining, linking, ranking, coming to conclusions etc). Research suggests that students should do the difficult learning in school and the simple stuff can be done at home- in other words flipped from the traditional approach where a teacher might lecture in class and then set an essay to be done for homework.

The problem is that there is also plenty of research that in school settings rather than in universities ‘flipped learning’ may not work so well. In my school asking students to do regular homework is a challenge, and it doesn’t take many students who’ve not done their preparation to make the subsequent class go less well. Another problem is that for many students the ‘low order’ concepts are not really distinguishable from the higher order ones- lots of the knowledge for example requires explanation and support to understand.

However we have been trialling over the years in social subjects a variation on the ‘flipped lesson’ which we think  might have made a really significant difference to our exam results. Students were given lectures and knowledge questions in class, but what they did at home was the revision exercise- in this case planning for an essay. We then did the weekly essay homework in class. The students were allowed to use their revision plan sheet when they wrote their essay, but nothing else. This gave them a significant incentive to do their homework. This flipped approach to homework was done in one topic in both History and Geography Higher classes here- and the results in those papers were significantly higher than in the other papers where we didn’t do this.

Might this mean that flipping can work after all? Or is it more the sheer regularity of practice? What do people think?

Bringing life into biology lessons: using the fruit fly Drosophila as a powerful modern teaching tool
August 20, 2015


LogoIn biomedical research, small model organisms such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are important pillars in the process of scientific discovery. I have been using Drosophila as my organism of choice and my essential discovery tool to study fundamental principles of the nervous system (LINK1, LINK2) for 26 years.

Together with my colleague Sanjai Patel and other colleagues from the Manchester Fly Facility, I have been actively engaging in science communication for 5 years now, aiming to raise public awareness of the importance of fly research with a strong focus on school activities. From this, we realised the enormous potential that Drosophila has beyond research also for biology teaching. It is a powerful modern teaching tool not only for classical Genetics but for many curriculum-relevant areas of biology, providing unique access to informative, inspiring and memorable classroom experiments. To capitalise on this opportunity, we now collaborate with teachers and schools on the droso4schools project (see 1st movie below), developing freely available sample lessons with adjunct materials (e.g. teacher notes, risk assessments, homework tasks, exercises, experiment instructions), and a dedicated website (Resource 1) providing many helpful online resources.

Why is Drosophila so important for biomedical research?

Naturally, students want to know why flies are used to learn biology. The explanation is made easy with our two “Small fly, big impact” movies (see the two movies below), which were tested in schools with great success. Furthermore, there is a dedicated tab on our droso4schools website which provides further background information (Resource 1b). In a nutshell, the films and website explain…

  1. …that it was serendipity which brought flies into genetic research a hundred years ago,
  2. …that it were the many practical advantages and cost-effectiveness of Drosophila which made it so popular for studying the function and biology behind genes, and
  3. …that it is the astonishingly high degree of evolutionary conservation from flies to humans that makes understanding of biology in flies so relevant for biomedical research even into human disease, having led to five Nobel prizes in Physiology and Medicine so far.

Why is Drosophila so useful in biology classes?

As will become clear from the sample lessons explained in the next section, there are two important advantages for using Drosophila in classrooms, in particular (1) the breadth and depth of conceptual understanding of biology in the fly, and (2) the fact that flies are uniquely suited for live experiments in schools.

  1. Conceptual understanding: A century of cutting edge research has turned Drosophila into the conceptually best understood animal model organism that we have to date. It has not only taught us about how genes are organised on chromosomes and the rules of inheritance, but also fundamental concepts of development, nervous system function, the immune system, our biological clock and jet lag, evolution and population genetics, the genetics of learning, principles of stem cells, and even mechanisms of disease including cancer and neurodegeneration (see Resource 2b “Why the fly?”). But how does this help in classrooms?
    1. The breadth of biology topics investigated in flies provides potential teaching materials for a wide range of curriculum-relevant biology specifications, ranging from classical genetics to gene technology, gene expression, enzymes, neurobiology and even evolution and behaviour.
    2. The sheer volume of knowledge in each of those areas provides a plethora of examples, experiments, anecdotes and facts that can be used to illustrate and make lessons more engaging and entertaining.
    3. The depth and detail of conceptual understanding in flies facilitates teaching, based on the simple rationale that teaching is the easier the better the contents are understood.
  2. Live experiments: It is straightforward, cheap and ethically unproblematic to use and breed flies in schools, and there are many simple experiments that can be performed (see our sample lessons in the next section). This brings living animals into classrooms which, combined with experiments that reflect relevant contemporary research, tends to leave long-lasting experiences. I frequently talk to people who were taught classical genetics with flies decades ago and still hold positive memories.


Examples of biology contents that can be taught with flies

There are many ways in which flies can be used as teaching tools in schools. Here we will give some examples for which resources are either provided online already or can be made available upon request.

(1) Life cycle

Teaching the life cycle in primary schools is often done using metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs or of caterpillars into butterflies, but experiencing these examples in real time can only be done during a certain period of the year and takes many weeks. With flies this can be done in one day since all life forms are available at any time, and the whole life cycle can be experienced in real time during less than two weeks (see image below and Resource 2c).


Click on this image to see its animation.

(2) Drosophila and ICT

In ICT classes, the Scratch program has become a sensible and powerful way to introduce students to the logic of computer programming, and Scratch tempts to be taken on as a hobby at home. To engage on this path, we have published a computer video game (see below and LINK) which uses the funny cartoons of the Drosophila life cycle as the basis, and where fly stocks need to be maintained against the odds of parasite infestation and infections. Since all programming code in Scratch is open, this game can be modified or further levels added and, for this, all the used figures (“sprites”) have been made available for download (LINK). Beyond this, we envisage that easy behavioural experiments in Drosophila offer ways to generate biological data that could be analysed using more advanced and well supported programming languages like Python and the cheap computing power made available through Raspberry Pis (LINK).

A Scratch video game based on the Drosophila life cycle.

A Scratch video game based on the Drosophila life cycle.

(3) Principal functions of our organs

The physiological requirements for life are so fundamental that most of our organs have common evolutionary roots. An active and effective way to learn about our organs is therefore through exploring their commonalities with organs of other organisms. This strategy can capitalise on the vast knowledge that we have about the tissues and organs of Drosophila. To facilitate this, we provide a dedicated webpage describing the structures and fundamental functions of our organs in direct comparison to those of the fruit fly (Resource 1c).


(4) The genetics of alcohol metabolism


Click on this image to see its animation: A simple staining reaction for alcoholdehydrogenase activity, lasting 5-15 mins and easy to perform in the classroom.

This lesson is fully developed, was tested with eighty Year 13 students (one high achievers class, two mixed ability classes, one support class), a PowerPoint file with adjoint materials is available online (Resource 1a, e, 3b) and a dedicated webpage is available to support revision and homework tasks (Resource 1e). It is an excellent synoptic, end-of-year lesson which establishes conceptual links between at least seven curriculum-relevant biology specifications. These include fermentation, the gene to protein concept, enzyme function, pharmacology and associative learning, genetic variation, and principles of evolution. Students dissect normal and alcohol dehydrogenase deficient fly maggots and use a colour reaction to assess the maggots’ ability to metabolise alcohol. They observe the effects of alcohol consumption on normal and mutant flies, and they compare different alleles of the Adh gene by translating their DNA code into RNA and protein. This lesson offers excellent opportunities to achieve differentiation and to discuss the social relevance of alcohol and alcohol abuse.


Genes encode enzymes which catalyse specific chemical reaction that can be assayed with simple staining reactions

(5) Applying statistics to performance tests of young versus ageing flies

A simple climbing test comparing young versus old flies

A simple climbing test comparing young versus old flies

This lesson is also available as a resource online accompanied by 5 dedicated webpages (Resource 1a, d, 3a). It was tested on sixty Year 9 pupils. It uses a low-cost, easy to set-up experiment known as the “climbing test”: two groups of flies (one week old teenagers versus five week old seniors) are tapped down in two parallel vials and are given 15 seconds to climb back up, at which point a picture is taken. Students then determine how far the ten individual flies in each vial have climbed on a scale of 0 to 10, usually finding that the young flies show much better motor-performance. This is then used to draw graphs, understand the importance of sample numbers and learn to apply statistics. To illustrate relevance, concepts of ageing and neurodegeneration are introduced accompanied by activity sheets, and examples are provided on how the climbing assay is used during ageing and neurodegeneration research on flies.

(6) Classical genetics

This lesson is not yet available online, but will be sent out upon request. During this lesson, students learn about classical genetics and the practical uses of marker mutations as they are applied in contemporary research laboratories (including Punnett squares). For this, excellent low cost dissection microscopes can be used (see Resource 2c “Outreach Resources”), and we developed simple activities where student success in identifying markers is easy to monitor. Furthermore, the lesson provides an insight into the process of scientific discovery (how it was found that genes lie on chromosomes), and how this helps understanding biological phenomena in humans, such as male predisposition to colour blindness. Where transgenic flies are permitted on school grounds, modern genetic markers can also be used, in particular fly strains containing green fluorescent proteins. Using a simple hand-held fluorescent lamp with integrated camera (see Resource 2c “Outreach Resources”), gleaming organs can be observed live in these maggots.

A simple activity in which students identify genetic marker mutations

A simple activity in which students identify genetic marker mutations

(7) Fundamental principles of the nervous system

A simple illustration of wiring principles in the brain

Click on this image to see its animation: A simple illustration of wiring principles in the brain

This lesson introduces to the wiring principles of the nervous system, action potentials, and the working of synapses, illustrated by shaking epileptic flies into seizure or paralysing flies through warming them to body temperature. Where transgenic flies are permitted on school grounds, we have a set of simple experiments demonstrating the use of state-of-the-art opto- or thermo-genetics (using light or temperature to manipulate nerve cells and fly behaviours; see this TED talk).

Further ideas or requests?

Many more curriculum-relevant topics can be taught using Drosophila as a modern teaching tool, and we are curious to hear which ones would be of interest to you, and we will collaborate with you to implement such lessons. Feel free to contact us: Andreas.Prokop@manchester.ac.uk and Sanjai.Patel@manchester.ac.uk.

Helpful resources

  1. The droso4schools website provides relevant information:
    1. an overview of the project and of available sample lessons;
    2. the “Why fly?” page explains the advantages of Drosophila in research;
    3. the “Organs” page compares tissues and organs of flies and humans with helpful overview images.
    4. the “L1-Climbing Assay” tab provides 5 pages of information supporting the motorskills experiment: (1) a description of the experiment, (2) background information on neurodegenerative diseases and ageing, (3) information of how flies are used to study these conditions, (4) a glossary of relevant terms, and (5) explanations of relevant statistics;
    5. the “L2-Alcohol” provides background information for the lesson on alcohol, covering fermentation, principles of enzymes, drug treatment of alcohol addiction, natural variation of alcohol tolerance and their genetic basis, the geographical distribution of variations and their evolutionary basis
  2. The “For the Public” area of the Manchester Fly Facility website
    1. the “Why the fly?” page complements the information on droso4schools through listing simple facts and over 80 lay articles about fly research;
    2. the “Teachers & Schools” page explains the rationale for our school work and lists the services we provide for schools to support fly lessons, as well as our past/future school events;
    3. the “Outreach Resources” page lists about 100 links to information and resources that can be useful for outreach work and teaching at school and university levels.
  3. The figshare.com resource site for download of sample lessons and adjoined resource materials
    1. zip file containing the L1-Climbing Test lesson
    2. zip file containing the L2-Alcohol lesson
  4. Manchester Fly Facility YouTube channel
    1. two educational “Small fly, big impact” movies describing the origins and importance of fly research (part 1 – “Why the fly?”) and how research in flies can help to understand disease and find potential treatments (part 2 – “Making research fly”)
    2. a film explaining the droso4school project through interviews with all involved
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