Assembly: Value

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Take a look at the two coins above. They look so different! One, minted in 1988, is tarnished and dull. It’s marked around the edges with the impacts of thousands of other coins in hundreds of pockets, tills, machines and moneyboxes. The 2010 coin is shiny and bright, and the Queen’s profile looks markedly different. Yet both coins have the same value – they are worth exactly the same. The age, condition, and the year they were made makes no difference to what they are worth.

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These two coins look similar to the pennies. One is old and tarnished, the other shiny and new. But they do not have the same value. Despite the fact that they have the words “one pound” written on the front, the coin on the left is worthless, no longer legal tender, and only the coin on the right is worth £1 now.

Looking at these coins causes me to reflect on how we assign value to things. It seems clear that things are only worth what we agree together they are worth. If we agree, as a society, that one object is worth £1 and another is worthless, then that is the value that these objects have.

In the case of the coins, the condition of the object has no bearing on its value. However, with some other objects this is not the case.

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In the case of the two guitars above, we have an unusual situation. The brand new guitar on the left is worth much less than the one on the right, despite the fact that the one on the right has been on fire, has a melted scratchplate, and had a broken neck which had to be replaced. That’s because the guitar on the right was set on fire and smashed up by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; it’s appalling condition is a testament to its place in the history of rock’n’roll.

This is not normally the case. As shown above, the value of the £120,000 Ferrari is not increased after it has been driven into a lamppost. In fact, more usually, we need to care for and look after the things we value so that they remain in good condition for us to enjoy.

Over the two years of my Headship to date, I have written three times to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to argue that the students of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form deserve a better learning environment. Twice the ESFA have agreed with the arguments we have presented – we are waiting to hear about the third! – and that is why we have the Alan Turing Building, complete with brand new IT facilities, and the new Science and Technology building under construction. That is why we are renovating and refurbishing classroom and improving the computer equipment across the site. These project all have a significant value – not just the financial resource required to put them in place, but the value they add to the learning experience for our students.

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We are lucky to learn and work in a beautiful, rural school site, with excellent and improving facilities. It is essential that we all work together to look after this place, ensuring that it is litter-free and kept in an excellent condition.

 

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Our values at Churchill determine all of our actions, and there have been many great examples of students demonstrating those values since we launched them in September. Maintaining those excellent habits will ensure that we all continue to contribute positively to the community we are building together.

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Year 7 Learning Groups: Humanities Heroes

There’s a long tradition of naming our Key Stage 3 Learning Groups at Churchill around a particular theme. The current Year 8 groups are named after endangered or at-risk species: Panda, Turtle, Lion, Jaguar, Leopard, Tiger, Gorilla, Rhino, and Polar Bear. There’s a great display in the ground floor Science corridor giving more details about these animals, and the work of the World Wildlife Fund to help protect them.

It’s the turn of the Humanities Faculty this year, so the learning groups in Year 7 have been named after British heroes from the fields of History, Geography, and Philosophy and Ethics. Hence we have 7Brunel, 7Seacole, 7Anscombe, 7Attenborough, 7Fiennes, 7Kingsley, 7Davison, 7Locke and 7Hume being taught right across the Academy! This week Mrs Amer, Director of Humanities, has been telling the students more about these Humanities heroes in assemblies. So here’s a run-down of who the learning groups are named after…

Brunel

IKBrunelChains

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was named as one of the greatest Britons in a BBC poll. A famous engineer, he spent much of his life in Bristol where he designed the Great Western Railway, Temple Meads Station, the SS Great Britain, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge amongst many more achievements.

Hume

Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopher

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian, best known for developing the system known as empiricism. He argued that all human knowledge is based on experiences; he also investigated the concept of miracles and put forward opposing scientific arguments.

Kingsley

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Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was an explorer. At a time when it was unheard of for women travel alone, Kingsley explored central and west Africa. Her work was vital in helping Europeans understand African cultures and the effects of the British Empire. Kingsley also took an important stand against slavery.

Davison

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Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) was a suffragette who campaigned for votes for women. She was arrested nine times for her protests, went on hunger strike seven times, and was force-fed in prison forty-five times. She died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she walked onto the track during the race to protest for votes for women. Women were finally given the vote in 1918.

Locke

JohnLocke

John Locke (1632-1704) was a philosopher who is known as the “Father of Liberalism.” One of the earliest empiricists, he was one of the first thinkers to define the self as a continuity of consciousness. He was also a believer in the importance of proof: for Locke, ideas had to be capable of being tested repeatedly, and nothing was exempt from being disproven. Locke was also born in Wrington!

Fiennes

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes (1944- ) is an explorer and writer. He was the first person to visit the North and South Poles by surface means, and the first to cross the continent of Antarctica on foot. In 2009, at the age of 65, he became the oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Seacole

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Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was born in Jamaica. She was born mixed race, to a Scottish father and a free Jamaican mother. She overcame Victorian racial prejudice to serve as an outstanding nurse during the Crimean War and was named as the greatest black Briton in a 2004 BBC poll.

Anscombe

anscombe

Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) was Professor of Philosophy at both Oxford and Cambridge. Her greatest work focused on the ideas of intention, action, and practical reason. Well known for being outspoken and opinionated, when accosted by a mugger in the street she told her attacker that it was ‘no way to treat a stranger’ – they stopped and talked instead.

Attenborough

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Sir David Attenborough (1926- ), the well-known broadcaster and naturalist, has done more perhaps than any living person to raise awareness of animal, plant and marine life on Earth, and the impact of human activity on the environment. Attenborough’s appetite for discovery demonstrated our core value of curiosity; he famously said:

“I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was still unexplored.”

His most recent project, Blue Planet II, is currently being shown on BBC1.

We hope that naming our learning groups after such significant individuals will help raise awareness of their contribution to History, Geography, and Philosophy and Ethics and broaden our students’ understanding of these figures. What will we name our groups next year? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Assembly: Kindness

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A lovely thing happened the other weekend. I was working in my office at home, when a paper aeroplane came soaring through the air to land nearby. Written on one wing were the words “open this”. Intrigued, I unfolded the aeroplane to find a lovely message from my six-year-old son.

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“Dear Daddy I love you love from Joseph”

I asked what I had done to deserve this wonderful gift, but there was no reason. My son had just decided to do something kind – and it made my day. It got me thinking about kindness, and what motivates us to do something nice for somebody else.

Of course, there might be selfish motivations. People might do nice things because they think there’s something in it for them. It might help their reputation and social standing, or there might be a financial reward in it for them. Or there might be a sudden emergency and instinct could kick in to help someone in danger…

All of these are completely understandable motives for doing something kind and nice for other people. But what we see in the video clip was that, as one person came to help, so did more and more, until everyone on the train and platform was united in trying to help the single passenger in distress. This domino effect is powerful, and it can happen more slowly and subtly than in the emergency situation we saw on the station platform in Australia.

There are global movements like Random Acts of Kindness and Pay It Forward which are founded on the idea that if each of us acts kindly towards another person for no other reason than that it’s a nice thing – the right thing – to do, it has the cumulative effect of making the world better for all of us. And this is not a new idea!

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Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and a renowned philosopher in the Stoic school. In his book Meditations, he lays out his guide to self-improvement, including in the twelfth book this simple advice:

If it’s not right, don’t do it

If it’s not true, don’t say it.

This is a great maxim to live by; indeed, if we all stuck to that rule, our world would certainly be a better one. The only thing I take issue with in Marcus Aurelius’ advice is the note of prohibition, of telling us what not to do. I would revise it to:

If it’s right, do it.

If it’s true, say it.

But of course, truth always needs to be tempered with kindness. And, before we act or speak, we need to think carefully about our actions and words.

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This came through to me most powerfully this year when I heard the tragic story of Megan Evans. 14-year-old Megan, from Milford Haven was found dead on February 7. She had been the victim of online bullying, which her mother Nicola Harteveld believes drove her to take her own life.

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Megan Evans

“Megan was bright, vivacious, happy, hugely popular, sporty, confident, outgoing, fiercely independent, just a normal, happy go lucky teenager,” Ms Harteveld told Phillip Schofield and This Morning co-host Holly Willoughby, when she appeared on the show in February.

When Megan started to be inundated with bullying messages on Snapchat, she kept it to herself. Her mother said: “We’re all distraught, and angry because no one noticed anything different with her.”

The final message she received read “Why don’t you kill yourself?”

Megan replied saying: “Ok.”

The fact that somebody in Megan’s life chose to express cruelty and unkindness had the most tragic and devastating consequences. Her family and her friends – and the young person who sent that final message – will be living with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2007, Jonny Benjamin, aged just 20, was diagnosed with a mental illness, schizophrenia, and hospitalised. Desperate, and unable to understand his condition or see any way out, on January 14th 2008 he walked out of hospital in London and on to Waterloo Bridge, intending to throw himself off into the icy waters below. Hundreds of Londoners were walking across the bridge on their way to work. How many of them saw what was happening? How many walked on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man stopped and spoke to Jonny. He offered to buy him a cup of coffee, and he said words which changed Jonny’s life. He said: “you can get through this. You can get better.”  Up until that moment, nobody had told Jonny that getting better was a possibility. And, in that moment, Jonny himself stepped back from the brink. After twenty five minutes of talking, he came down. The police took him away. And the stranger went on his way to work.

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Jonny Benjamin

Jonny went on to control his condition with medication and treatment, and became a campaigner for mental health, raising awareness of the condition so that other sufferers have people to tell them “you can get through this; you can get better.” In 2014 he ran a campaign to find the stranger on the bridge who stopped and helped him six years earlier, using social media to track him down. He found him. He is a man called Neil Laybourn, who said this:

“In truth, it could have been anyone who stopped that day. It could have been the person behind me, but this time it was me.”

Neil’s kindness saved Jonny’s life, and Jonny’s life has gone on to save countless others through his campaigning work. He couldn’t have known that at the moment he chose to stop and help; in that moment, he was just doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.

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When we do something nice for no reason, everybody benefits. We feel better; we make somebody else’s life better too. At school this week – and from now on – make sure that you choose kindness. Do something nice for somebody else. Help one another. Not because there’s anything in it for you, but because when you do something kind, you’ve made school a nicer place for someone else to be. And if it’s a nicer place for someone else, it’ll be nicer for you too. So when you choose kindness, everybody benefits.

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You can take a “Be Kind” pledge on the This Morning website here, and view some more “kindness” videos below:

 

Assembly: Grit and Flow

As the students came into the hall for my assembly this week, they were treated to a video of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman performing Antonio Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins (the dance of the goblins). He makes this fiendishly difficult piece of music, full of extended passages of rapid double stops, artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicati seem easy! This astonishing performance establishes the concept of “flow” at pretty much its zenith.

Flow

Flow is being able to do something well. So well, it seems almost effortless. Perlman manages to make this most challenging of pieces in the classical violin repertoire seem like a breeze, remaining seated, flourishing his bow, enjoying the performance.

My second illustration of "flow"

An illustration of “flow”

How, then, should we go about achieving this state of flow? Counter-intuitively, to achieve this apparently frictionless and smooth process, we first need to apply “grit” to give us traction.

Grit

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has spent her career studying the quality of “grit” and how it contributes to higher achievement. She says:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

“Grit” is perseverance; hard work and effort sustained over time. This grit will give the learner purchase on the slippery surface of the learning in just the same way as we grit an icy road to allow traffic to flow freely.

Grit means putting the hours in. Putting in the time. Putting in the effort. Repeating something until you know you can do it well. Itzhak Perlman says (here) that repetition is the key to successful practice – again and again and again. Slowly. He does give a warning though – there is such a thing as too much practice. I’m sure the students will breathe a sigh of relief, until they hear that his idea of “too much” is anything more than five hours of the same thing in one sitting. Now that is grit.

My challenge to the students is to aspire to “flow” in all their learning by applying “grit” in their lessons and at home. I spoke to them about the importance of deliberate practice – not just “doing work” but thinking about the knowledge and skills they are applying to the task and how they will use the process to improve.

I started the assembly with Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins – the dance of the goblins. I finish with another example of La Ronde, this time from the masters of “flow” FC Barcelona:

This training ground exercise is the perfect mesh of grit and flow – deliberate practice demonstrated by those who demonstrate mastery. And enjoy it.

You can view my assembly Prezi here.

 

Assembly: The 1960s

This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Churchill Academy, which opened its doors as Churchill Community School in January 1957. To mark this anniversary, we are having an assembly in each term looking back on the decades that the school has existed. This term, it’s been my job to look back on the 1960s.

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The Sixties: what a decade

When looking at this amazing decade, I could have chosen from such a wide range of events, movements, and people – I was spoilt for choice! But for me, the iconic image of the 1960s comes from the end of the decade.

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Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon in 1969 (Source: NASA)

The moon landings still represent the zenith of human scientific achievement. I have written before about the so-called “moonshot thinking” of President Kennedy who, in September 1962, gave a speech at Rice Stadium where he said that America would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

We have a lot to learn from Kennedy’s ambition, from his choice to take on the difficult task because it is worth it, and because trying to achieve it will make us better.

However, my assembly does not  focus on John F. Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, or Buzz Aldrin, but another hero of the space programme – and one you may not have heard as much about. That hero is Katherine Johnson.

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Katherine G. Johnson at NASA in 1966 (source)

Johnson was born in 1918, in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. She showed an early interest in mathematics:

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

However, Greenbrier County did not offer schooling for black students past the eighth grade, the equivalent of our Year 9. Johnson, however, knew that she was going to be a mathematician, so her family split their time between Greenbrier County and Kanawha County, where Katherine could attend High School. In 1938, Johnson became the first African American woman to attend the graduate school at West Virginia University, following the United States Supreme Court ruling which  allowed for the integration of different races in American education.

Joined NASA in 1953 when it was still called NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. At first she worked in a pool of technical women performing math calculations, known as “computors”. Katherine has referred to the women in the pool as virtual “computers who wore skirts.” But her skill with analytic geometry meant that she was soon working  on the all-male flight team. While the racial and gender barriers were always there, Katherine says she ignored them.

What was it that made her so successful? She remembers quite clearly her experience at the time. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

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Original profile of the 1959 Mercury Mission to put the first American in space (source)

She calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1959. She also calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission. In 1962, when NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, officials called on her to verify the computer’s numbers because Glenn asked for her personally and refused to fly unless Katherine verified the calculations. She calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, and worked out how to get the astronauts on Apollo 13 safely back to Earth when they called back to say “Houston, we have a problem.” She went on to work on the space shuttle programme, and she did preliminary work on the trajectory for a manned mission to Mars before her retirement in 1986. Last November, at the age of 98, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for her contribution to space flight, civil rights and gender equality.

Katherine Johnson is a truly inspirational figure, undaunted by the fact that she was born into a world which was prejudiced against both her gender and her skin colour. She new that she had something to offer, and she was assertive enough to make sure she was heard. We can all benefit from her advice: “I was always around people who were learning something. I liked to learn. You learn if you want to. So you’ve got to want to learn.”

Finally, now, they’re making a film about her:

Remembrance

Mr Hildrew’s blog for Remembrance Day.

Teaching: Leading Learning

Remembrance Day in school is one of those moments which make you realise what an important job we do, and what a privileged position teachers are in. It’s always the day of the year when Iwantto be teaching period 3; I’m disappointed if I have a non-contact session. It’a an honour to share the silence with young people as we reflect, separately but together, on our individual and collective experience of loss and sacrifice. There are few other occasions where I’m so intensely aware of what Graham Nuthall calls the different worlds of the classroom. On the surface we all experience an identical minutebetween the bells, but in our private inner worlds each person has an unknown and unique journey.

SourceSource I always preface the silence with my classes with a little about why Remembrance Day is particularly important to me. I tell them about my Grandfather, an…

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Assembly: Think Before You Speak

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Over the half term, I got a new book: Fun Science by Charlie McDonnell. I’d been looking forward to this book for ages as I’ve watched Charlie on YouTube for a long time and really enjoyed his Fun Science videos. The book is great and highly recommended! I was reminded of this video Charlie made back in 2011 explaining the science of sound:

Charlie’s song discusses speech, and begins with the line “it starts with an idea, or an impulse to make a sound.” It is the gap between the idea and the sound that I want to concentrate on – when the idea to say something has formed, there is a choice about whether we should give that idea voice. There’s a useful mnemonic to help us make that decision:
thinkbeforeyouspeak

In my view, if what you are about to say does not pass one of those five tests, you should think twice before saying it. Once something is said, it is possible to apologise and try to make amends, but it is never possible to take it back.

To demonstrate this principle in assembly, we did a little Fun Science of our own. A willing volunteer from the audience donned the important safety equipment, before attempting to squirt all the toothpaste out of a tube as quickly as possible (Hanover were the best at this, with a time of 9.08 seconds). The second part of the experiment saw the volunteers try to put the toothpaste back into the tube. This proved much more difficult.

The experiment was designed to show that squeezing the toothpaste is like blurting something out without thinking about it. It’s easy to do – the work of a moment – and actually feels pretty good in that moment! But once it’s out, there’s no putting it back, and any attempt to do so actually creates a worse mess than you started with.

It’s also important to think about the way we “speak” online. Mrs McKay has already spoken to students this year about the importance of e-safety, but we often see how people “say” things online they would never say in person.

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The difference between speech and posting online, of course, is that there is a permanent record of what you have “said.” Even on services like Snapchat, where the message expires, screencaps can still be taken – and the impact of the communication is permanent. When confronted with the things they’ve put on social media, for example, people will often say “I didn’t think…” If what you’re about to say – whether in person or online – doesn’t pass the THINK test, then think twice.

Of course if we have the opportunity to say something that is true, that is helpful, that is inspiring, that is necessary, that is kind, we should take that opportunity. Because, although our words can cause damage, they can also make someone’s day immeasurably better. And by choosing to say that truthful, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind thing, we add to the sum of positives in our community, and make everyone that little bit better.

Our words make a difference. Let’s make a positive difference.

COULD mortal lip divine
The undeveloped freight
Of a delivered syllable,
’T would crumble with the weight.

Emily Dickinson

Lessons from the Olympics

Welcome back everyone to a new year at Churchill! I hope you all had a great summer. I certainly did, enjoying several trips away with the family and lots of rest and relaxation time. I even got a fair bit of reading done!

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Some of my summer reading! 

I also spent a lot of my summer glued to the coverage of the Rio Olympics, tracking Team GB’s incredible success and binge-watching track cycling, diving and gymnastics amongst many others! It was hugely inspiring, and in this week’s blog I want to share a few of my highlights which I think captured the values we hold to at Churchill.

Care

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Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand comes to Team USA’s Abbey D’Agostino’s aid in the 5,000 metres heats

Athletes train for years for the Olympics, and it can all be over in a heartbeat. In the women’s 5,000 metres heats, New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin stumbled and fell, taking out the athlete immediately behind her – Abbey D’Agostino from the USA. In the fall, D’Agostino tore her cruciate knee ligament, and in that instant, through no fault of her own, her Olympics was over. Hamblin was distraught at the injury caused to her fellow athlete and stopped to help her up and aid her, limping, around the remaining mile so that they both finished the race. Olympic organisers reinstated both runners to the final, but D’Agostino’s injury meant that she could not take part. However, their sportsmanship and care was recognised in the award of the Pierre de Coubertin medal to both athletes – an honour that has only been handed out 17 times in the history of the games. I found the story really moving: even in the heat of competition, and in the moment that all their hopes were evaporating, their first reaction was not anger or recrimination but care and support for another human being.

Nikki Hamblin And Abbey D'Agostino Portrait Session

Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino have been commended for their sportsmanship after they helped each other up to finish the race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Inspire

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Ruby Harrold representing Team GB in Gymnastics

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be working at Churchill when Ruby Harrold was a student here, but I felt the rush of support for her from the community through our posts on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.  By the time the Artistic Gymnastics Team Final came round I was bouncing with excitement! To see an ex-Churchill student, who walked our grounds and sat in our classrooms, on the biggest sporting stage of all was a true inspiration. It shows that, with enough hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything.

Ruby is now heading off to the NCAA in America to compete with Louisiana State – we wish her well!

Challenge

There were many amazing moments which showed athletes overcoming huge challenges. There was this moment from the track cycling:

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Laurine van Riessen (Netherlands) rides up the advertising hoardings to avoid a crash in the women’s keirin qualifying

There was the moment Mo Farah fell over in his qualifying race, then got up to win both his heat and double gold medals:

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Mo Farah: overcoming any challenge!

But for me, the story that encapsulated “challenge” the most was Nick Skelton.

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Nick Skelton: gold medallist at 58 years old

Nick Skelton broke his neck in 2000. He had a hip replacement in 2011. His horse, Big Star, tore his lower suspensory in 2014. Careful, meticulous rehabilitation for both horse and rider saw them come back to win showjumping gold in a tense six-way medal jump-off. The tears in his eyes as he stood on the podium told the story of the challenges he and Big Star had overcome to get there: nobody deserved it more.

Achieve

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Team GB medal tally: 27 gold, 23 silver, 17 bronze

I didn’t think anything could match London 2012, but in Rio Team GB won medal after medal after medal. It soon became clear that the team had got their careful preparations absolutely right: attention to detail, team unity, and investment of lottery funding was paying off. I got completely caught up in a spirit of national euphoria! And, after the games, I reflected on the lessons we could learn as an Academy from the incredible success of Team GB in Rio.

  1. Small changes can make a big difference

The so-called “marginal gains” philosophy has long underpinned British Cycling’s success, and seems to have spread! We should all look for the small changes we can make to help us improve and do better every day.

2. Working together maximises the chance of success

When Laura Trott won her Omnium gold medal, she thanked her nutritionist, her power data analyst, her coach, and the “people at home, the people that you don’t see.” There was a massive team behind her, helping her be the best that she could be. Each of our students should be a Laura Trott, with all the staff at school, family and friends supporting them to achieve their very best.

3. There is no success without effort

The hours, days, weeks, months and years of dedicated training that elite athletes put in to achieve their medals shows us what it takes to be successful on the biggest stage. We may not all be the best in the world at what we do, but we need to dedicate ourselves to hard work, perseverance and determination  if we are to achieve success on our own terms. And, at Churchill, we have plenty of examples of just that approach:

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We are celebrating the great achievements of our students in their A-level and GCSE exams this year – achievements that are only possible because of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of dedicated hard work and effort that the students have put in to deserve them. Well done to all of you!

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Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 – and it’s as true today as it was then!

I wish all of our Academy community every success this year!

 

 

Assembly: Different

My assembly this week explores the idea that our school is a rich, diverse community, full of unique individuals. We are all different – but our shared values and aims bring us all together. To do this I’ve attempted an acrostic assembly using the word “DIFFERENT” but I’ve played fast and loose with spelling and pronunciation to make it work. Bear with me!

D is for DNA

dna

What makes us different from one another? We all have our own uniqueness coded into our DNA. Our 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs govern our physical appearance, our predispositions to certain conditions, and our raw abilities. These tiny strands packed into the nuclei of every cell in our body make us different.

I is for Eye colour (sort of!)

 

Change-your-Eye-Color

Our eye colour is one of the features coded into our DNA. Retinal patterns at the back of our eyes are as unique as fingerprints, and on the surface our irises are also unique. Some have brown eyes, some have blue.

FF and E are for a FFamous Experiment

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Jane Elliott, a famous educational researcher and teacher from the USA, conducted the Brown Eyes Blue Eyes experiment . She told a class of primary aged children that research had shown that brown-eyed children were cognitively superior and that they would have extra free time, self-directed learning and more privileges than the other children. Blue-eyed children, she told them, had been found to be inferior and would have no play-time; they would have intensive tuition to catch them up. Elliott’s aim was to simulate the prejudices that had endured in the United States around skin colour; she was prompted to conduct the exercise following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The exercise saw the children react in a variety of ways, and showed that it is not difficult to create division and prejudice if you focus attention on our differences.

R is for civil Rights and anti-Racism

segregation

Segregation by arbitrary differences is a very real part of our history, and we must learn the lessons of past mistakes

Of course, Elliott’s model in simulating this kind of division based on arbitrary physical characteristics was very real. Elliott herself had been inspired by the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in his struggle against the oppression of black Americans in the Civil Rights movement, and by the oppression of the Jews in Nazi Germany through the Holocaust. Being told that, because someone was different, they were somehow less than you, led to extreme prejudice, hatred and violence which took generations to overcome. Our purpose in working with young people is to  learn to work together with others, no matter how diverse our backgrounds, and to reaffirm the human truth that we are all of equal value.

E is for Equality

equals

Let’s look carefully at the equals sign. Why was this sign chosen to represent “equality” – the notion that what comes before is of the same value as what comes afterwards? Both the bars are the same shape and length, but they are not identical. One is higher than the other. The are similar, but different – they are equal. Equality is not about being the same as everyone else, it is about having the same opportunities and being treated fairly by others.

N is for Now the science bit…

In this Physics experiment, the scientist sets off five metronomes at different tempos and at different times. They tick along in cacophonous chaos, independent of one another. But, when he lifts the plank onto two drinks cans, their momentum is transferred through the base and they synchronise. This shows that we don’t all have to be the same. We can tick along in our own rhythms but, if the circumstances and conditions are right, we can all beat as one. In my assembly I may have used the phrase “if we can balance the plank of our school on the coke cans of equality, we can all tick along together”. It’s important that we work together to make our community inclusive. We don’t want to make everybody the same – we value the differences between us – but we want to make sure that the conditions are right at Churchill so that difference is respected, accepted, and celebrated.

T is for To conclude…

Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote a beautifully touching letter to President Barack Obama in November 2012 as he stood for re-election.  As the daughter of a gay couple, she thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. She then asked for advice on how to respond to those who saw such a thing as “gross and weird.”

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Obama’s tear-jerkingly brilliant reply is worth reproducing here:

Dear Sophia,

Thank you for writing me such a thoughtful letter about your family. Reading it made me proud to be your president and even more hopeful about the future of our nation.

In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.

Our differences unite us. You and I are blessed to live in a country where we are born equal no matter what we look like on the outside, where we grow up, or who our parents are. A good rule is to treat others the way you hope they will treat you. Remind your friends at school about this rule if they say something that hurts your feelings.

Thanks again for taking the time to write to me. I’m honored to have your support and inspired by your compassion. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to dinner, but I’ll be sure to tell Sasha and Malia you say hello.

You can get the text of both letters from the fabulous Letters of Note blog.

I finish on Obama’s wonderful phrase: “even though we are all different, we all have the right to be treated equally. Far from separating us, our differences unite us.”

Get the Prezi here.

Assembly: Concentration

This assembly owes much to a presentation on the brain given by Bradley from Inner Drive (@Inner_Drive) at #GrowEx last year, and this excellent TED talk by Peter Doolittle (@pdoopdoo) on working memory shared by Huntington Learning Hub (@HuntingtonLHub). It’s well worth a watch:

The PowerPoint slides are shared at the bottom of this post.

We start with a test of working memory (see the video for this test). I am going to ask you to remember five words just by holding them in your mind. Here are the five words:

  1. Tree
  2. Motorway
  3. Mirror
  4. Saturn
  5. Electrode

Whilst you are remembering those five words, I am going to set you three challenges.

  1. What is 23 x 8?
  2. On your left hand, use your thumb to count your fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, then back again 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
  3. Now in your head recite the last five letters of the English alphabet backwards.

How many of the five words that I asked you to remember do you still have in your memory? Does anyone still have all five?

The reason why many of you will have forgotten some of the words that I told you only a minute or so ago, is that the capacity of our working memory is limited. It can only hold so much information at any one time. Daniel Willingham provides a simplified model of the brain here:

A simple diagram of the mind (source)

A simple diagram of the mind (source)

In our test, the Environment (me) provided some information which was fed into your working memory. You didn’t do much with that information, and immediately afterwards I distracted you with three more activities which demanded space in your working memory. Little wonder, then, that when I asked you to return to the original information (the five words I asked you to remember), some or all of it had been pushed out of your mind without ever having made it into your long-term memory.

focus-and-concentration

There are some more demonstrations that will help us understand why sustained concentration on the task in hand is important. The first is to do with focus, and multitasking. You might think that you are really good at multitasking, and that you can easily do two, three or more things at once. Where some of those things are automatic – walking and talking, for example – that is probably true. However, your working memory can only focus on one cognitively demanding task at a time. In that way, it’s like focusing a lens – you can only focus on one thing at a time.

You can only focus on one thing at a time

You can only focus on one thing at a time (when in doubt, reach for the cat gifs)

Let’s take this optical illusion as an example. In the picture, the man’s face can be seen looking to the right, or looking straight ahead. See if you can see both!

Looking to the right, or looking straight ahead? Both - but not at the same time.

Looking to the right, or looking straight ahead? Both – but not at the same time.

Now try to see both at the same time. Your brain switches from one to the other – it will only let you hold one interpretation of the picture in your head at one time. This is what happens when you try to multi-task. Your working memory actually switches from one task to the other. This is called context switching, and you may be able to do this quickly (there is some evidence that women are better at it than men), but you are not multitasking. You can’t.

Finally, here’s a demonstration of context switching in action. I need a volunteer from the audience to take this box of multicoloured balls, and arrange them in rows of four in the order of the colours of the rainbow. At the same time, they will be solving some Mental Maths Questions from the KS2 Maths SAT Buster book.

I know this challenge well, because Bradley used me as his volunteer at #GrowEx when conducting the same experiment. Essentially, your brain can either focus on arranging the balls, or on doing the maths – but not both. As I was trying to arrange the balls, I got simple questions wrong. When I thought about the maths, my hands stopped moving. My working memory would not allow me to do both things at the same time. I felt embarrassed, but I shouldn’t have; I was simply demonstrating a human characteristic. Our brains cannot do two cognitively demanding things simultaneously.

Let’s think about how we can apply what we’ve seen today to the classroom. The first thing is that it only takes is a small distraction for information that you have just learned to evaporate. If you are getting to grips with a new concept in your lessons and you then think about the piece of gossip you meant to tell your neighbour, your chances of transferring the new concept to your long term memory are dramatically reduced. Distractions are compelling – it’s very easy to be like Dug from Up: 

Distractions can take your mind off the task at hand

Distractions can take your mind off the task at hand

And don’t kid yourself that you can do two things at once; you can’t. Once you’re distracted, the damage is done.

Put simply:

  1. Concentrate on the task at hand
  2. Focus on the learning
  3. Apply and use what you have learned straight away if you want to stand any chance of remembering it.

And, by the way, 23 x 8 = 184.

Good luck!

Here is the PowerPoint, though the gifs don’t work in this slideshare version. Click on this link for the full version: Concentration.

Concentration phoster