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

browneyesblueeyes

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