The advent of educational genomics?

One of the first overseas school trips I accompanied was to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. Looking back, I feel immensely privileged to have been able to work in a school that supported giving students in year 12 the opportunity to visit a world leading scientific conference.

Most of the material was way above the heads of even these academic high achievers, however I could see the value for them in pure inspiration. For many kids the days contained many lightbulb moments. Kids would be super charged with ideas that, while they may not have understood all the details, they could see how they connected to what they were learning in school. These were certainly intellectually high challenge events for a 17yo.

I remember, as an accompanying teacher, feeling like I was undergoing solid subject specific CPD and many of the workshops that I attended as a Masters-degree holding biologist were concerned with a topic known a pharmacogenomics. This was 2009, the Human Genome Project had concluded four years earlier and there was much discussion about the applications of this research.

Pharmacogenomics holds, crudely, the promise that essentially, one day, we will be able to have our individual DNA sequence read quickly, in a GPs surgery, and drugs tailored to our particular genome. That medicine can be tailored to us so that we all get treatments that are most effective for each of us individually.

There is no doubt that this is the way that medicine is moving, albeit slowly and it is likely that if the light’s don’t go out on civilisation we will see some version of this in the next 100 years.

Reading Robert Plomin’s Blueprint it was striking to read a psychologist begin to explain how 50% of the variance of intelligence within a population can be explained by genetics. This means that the biggest, stable, correlation of educational outcomes is with the DNA within an individuals genome. Plomin goes on to explain that the shared environmental influence of children attending the same school and growing up in the same family accounts for only 20% of the variance in school achievement (and only 10% at university).

This claim begs the question as to what are the implications for education if genetics is the best predictor of educational success?

As  Plomin is keen to stress these predictions are probabilistic and not fatalistic. Just because genetics is accounts for 50% of the variance of educational outcomes, this does not mean that kids with the “right” genetic mix are pre-determined to do well, just that, on average, they will. He argues for going with the grain of genetics, and, in the case of parenting, working in a way that exposes children to opportunity but develops children alongside what they appear to be interested in.

I found many of these ideas fascinating and I am left with the question – will we soon be in the time of educational genomics? Will we be able to sequence our DNA and from the information have an insight into our psychology in such a way that we can tailor instruction to be optimal for us?

I suspect that the differences in the DNA and psychological make up in the 1st and 2nd standard deviations of the population will be so small as to make tailoring of instruction as effectively meaningless. The fact is, that children need, for a host of reasons, to be educated communally, and this creates a whole host of issues with regards to the personalisation of education.

Still it is an interesting idea..

My Favourite Quotes

Over the last few years I have been collecting quotes that I help me reflect and think about my thoughts, emotions and judgements in particular situations.

Acknowledging uncertainty

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken” Oliver Cromwell

I first came across this quote in the Ascent of Man – quite possibly one of the best television series ever made – and again recently while reading. Not only does this quote help me temper some of my own thinking about situations I encounter but it also helps me to evaluate my own claims about things I think I know.

I now think about knowledge in terms of certainty and uncertainty – for everything I claim to know I like to ask myself how certain I am that this is true, with the maximum being 95% – even the claims we think are completely true, could, ultimately turn out to be false.

The power of curiosity

“Be curious, not judgmental” Walt Whitman

I first encountered this quote as the desktop image for a colleague. I think it is safe to say that this colleague is one of two educators that have had a profound and lasting impact on my engagement with and thinking about teaching as a profession.

For me this quote challenges me to ask questions and hold back from arriving at conclusions. When we reach a conclusion about anything, we tend to close a door on that something and therefore lose some of the potential it may hold. For example, an idea I meet a lot when talking to families goes something along the lines of “the only universities worth attending are the Russell Group or the Ivy League” This is a value judgement but is this really true? How do we know this?

Killing my paranoia

“Never assume malice, when stupidity will suffice” Hanlon’s Razor

This is a new one for me and I came across it in Julian Baggini’s “How the World Thinks”. It went straight up on the IBDP common room wall (although I changed stupidity to ignorance). A great way to check one’s paranoia and emotional response to stressful situations life throws your way!

Confidence check

“The less someone knows, the more they think they know, and the more someone knows, the less they think they know” The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Are you over confident?

A a senior colleague once attended a conference on university admissions and guidance with me. They had said prior to going that this was an area they knew they wanted to improve in because they knew so little about it. A fine thing to admit. Admitting to gaps in our knowledge opens us up to new learning.

After our first meeting with parents where we discussed the generation of predicted grades, this colleague turned to me and remarked how much more confident they felt in dealing with parents about these issues.

Classic Dunning-Kruger.

Just a little extra knowledge (how much can someone glean from a day and a half professional conference) lead this colleague to immediately over estimate their own knowledge of the issues.

Beware your own confidence – if you think you are an expert on something or just think you know a lot about something, it is probably an indication that you don’t know that much at all and you need to keep learning!

Note to school leaders: you don’t need to know everything – in-fact admit what you don’t know – you will gain more respect and open yourself up to the possibility of learning.

What are the quotes that got you thinking?

I survived 18-19

This is my last post for the school year 2018-19. I will be back in August/September with some new material.

What have I done this year?

I certainly don’t do things by halves. In the space of one year I have moved house, country, and continent with my family, engaging with a whole new culture, paradigm and language.  This involved huge adjustments in life (just going to the supermarket was one!) and parenting routines as well as overcoming significant cultural adjustments. It’s been a hard year to be a parent and husband.

At the same time I have changed schools and jobs, taking on a new senior role involving acting as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, HS Diploma Coordinator and the University Guidance Officer. My new school had recently moved from A Levels to the IBDP and this year was to be the final year for the first cohort. It was exciting to be a first time DPC, working with a new program: lots of potential for positive change and influence where necessary.

I have also moved back to teaching IGCSE biology for the first time in six years and picked up a year 13 class which resulted in me having to adapt my normal teaching SOW to fit their needs. It has been quite a challenge; having taught the IB Middle Years Program for four years where I had to adapt the biology curriculum on an ongoing basis, I had to start over in planning and prepping the IGCSE biology course.

I wrote my reflections on my first term in this role up in this post, and throughout this year, as I wrote about previously, I have led training on academic integrity, leading to a new policy, coordinated the IB Extended Essay (which was a unexpected surprise) and implemented a development plan to embed TOK in the whole secondary Yr7-13 curriculum.

On top of all of this I have continued to work as a university guidance officer and managed kids applications to universities in Hong Kong, China and South Korea for the first time, alongside apps to Canada and the US. Korean University applications are far from simple!

Finally, I have undertaken significant professional development, through the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership via UCL’s Leadership Colab’s cluster group at Harrow International in Beijing attending five Saturday sessions. I am now looking to write up my 5000 word project based on my role as IB DPC and implementing change in the Key Stage 5 curriculum. Added to this I have attended the CIS-EARCOS institute on higher education  in Bangkok and the IBO’s global conference in Hong Kong as well as fitted in university visits to four universities in Hong Kong.

Reflections on classroom practice

The teaching has been enjoyable but frustrating when I haven’t been able to deliver a much loved course in the way that I would like, particularly after I have spent so much time reading, thinking and writing about my ideas regarding life science instruction over the last few years. I am looking forward to beginning a new course with year 12 in August, and further developing my ideas surrounding using stimuli material to help link the course to other subject areas and generate big inquiry questions, linked to real world issues. I have enjoyed the IGCSE teaching, mainly because this has been an opportunity to take a course from the start and really think about how my ideas for the IB biology curriculum translate over to the IGCSE curriculum. I am looking forward to continuing the course with a fantastic group of year 10s soon to be year 11s.

The major problem I have been consumed with recently, both for my own classroom practice and from a whole curriculum perspective, is how to make the learning authentic and meaningful for students. By this I mean is how can we help to students to see how what they are learning links to the real world, and real world, current issues – to help them understand the global narrative that they are their curriculum is part of. I also mean how can we inject more meaning into the their performances and the artefacts that they are producing. I summarised my ideas in this post.

Reflections on leadership

As I wrote previously, this was my first year in senior leadership and this year has been a steep learning curve in that regard. Leadership is a proper marathon. You can’t afford to slacken off – there are always relationships to be built, and the wrong smile or word can undo weeks of hard labour on this front. This has come home a lot for me as we wind into the last three weeks of a very long year. Teachers are tired, I am tired, the leadership team is tired…..what is  the learning from this?

One thing I have noticed is that my sleeping thoughts, those just as I am going to sleep and when I wake up are much more preoccuppied with work. Aside from the occasionally sunday night worries, or worries the night before a new term start, this has never happened to me on this scale that I can remember. This year it has been a constant feature of life. Several nights a week, for most weeks of the year I have found myself thinking about things that I am responsible for and have no direct control over. I wish my waking thoughts were preoccupied with my own kids but no mostly these are do with the administration of the Extended Essay or something to do with Academic Honesty.

Since Christmas a huge amount of my time has been taken up with thinking about exams! First it was the mock exams and then the May exams. The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into running an exam session is truly extraordinary. There is the exam secure storage to sort out, so that it meets new and ever changing standards. There is the exam timetable to put together so IB and IGCSE exams are in one calendar, there is the invigilation schedule to plan and organise, and find creative ways to make this easily understood by teachers. In our case there was a re-rooming schedule to organise. Added to this there is making sure that all the correct exam stationary is present and accounted for, that we have received the correct exams, that the examination rooms are set up correctly and in line with regulations, that the invigilators are briefed and know what they can and can’t do, that the students and parents are briefed. This aspect of the job is highly administrative but still requires learning of new procedure and reflection on how to improve the processes that we put in place last year.

The approach to exams this year reminded me of prior learning. Some of the conversations I have had this year with colleagues have surrounded accountability and quality assurance. I refused to make personalised exam timetables for my students in year 12 and 13 this year. Not only is this a MASSIVE opportunity cost for me, but it means that potentially kids miss out on a massive formative opportunity for development. The argument that we should was basically to ensure that they didn’t miss any exams, but so what if they miss a mock exam? Surely that is going to teach that student something valuable. I know it did when it happened to me at university. Secondary leaders and teachers have got to remember that we are in the business of raising adults, we shouldn’t be taking away opportunities for kids to learn, no matter the cost, because better learn it now, the stakes are only going to get higher.

Aside from exams, I have had to guide the teaching team through their first set of IBDP eCoursework procedures. Making sure that teachers knew which items they were uploading and which of these were meant to graded and annotated and which weren’t. We also had to think, as a team, about good marking and moderation procedures and practices as well as what were consistent annotations on student work. Again I think that there is still room for improvement here.

Because the IBDP has such a large volume of coursework that is both externally assessed and internally assessed, externally moderated, student and teacher understandings of academic integrity issues is paramount. Next year, there is still work to be done in this area, particularly in terms of improving our students understandings, but we have made steps in the right direction this year in developing a shared understanding of the policy and procedures surrounding this.

Another aspect of the IBDP curriculum we have been beginning to look at this year is the narrative and coherence of the curriculum both horizontally, within year 12 and 13 and vertically with the rest of the secondary school. The first step in this was to look at how TOK brings the curriculum areas together. This involves developing subject specialists understanding of TOK and what it brings to their subjects and exploring links between the TOK and subject areas. We have begun this process this year with some training on TOK and P4C and will continue with training in this area next year. I have been much inspired by Mary Myatt and Martin Robinson in this area.

I have continued to be mindful of building positive relationships and a positive atmosphere, as I identified this as an area of development for me coming into the role. Teacher issues and resolving them, has been the real stumbling block here. How do you build trusting, respectful and positive relationships but still hold colleagues to account for the actions or lack thereof. Managing challenging personalities remains an area for development for me, as well as maintaining my own positivity and proactive outlook when stress, tiredness, and difficult attitudes can make it even harder to be empathetic and understanding of others at times. How do you be an inspiring leader and get people on board with your vision when, at times, you have to call others out? How do you do this without allowing others to take advantage of your attempts to be understanding and to empathise?

Even if I don’t pass the assessment, the NPQSL course has been really quite valuable to me. I wanted to take this course because I recognised that I had a lack of leadership training, if you will. I wanted some exposure to the theory behind leadership for learning.  I have taken away something from each of the five face to face session and blogged about four of those sessions; here, here, here and here.

Finally, At the start of this year I expressed some frustration to my boss about my lack of line managing anyone. I was new to SLT in my school and with the new leadership position I had expected to be formally part of the appraisal process for staff. I felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of coaching colleagues etc. I have come to learn over this year that leadership isn’t about being anyones boss. Instead it is about relationships. I am pleased to reflect on the fact that several HoDs have sought me out on regular occasions for advice and support. I am pleased to give it to them and pleased that after 8 months in a school I am at a position where despite the lack of official “line management” in the org chart, colleagues have felt that they could approach me with questions and that I am able to support them. Leadership and management is far more than box ticking appraisal and I now reflect that I am happy being an unofficial coach and mentor than having direct reports.

No wonder I have not always felt the best on an emotional and psychological level this year, it has been a ride. Time for a much needed holiday . Looking forward to celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary in Otterburn, Northumberland with all my siblings and their families. Oh, and I better get writing that NPQSL project up….

Parental engagement with learning

Notes from pre sessional reading of NPQSL session 4, leading affective partnerships. The pre-reading was the report Engaging parents in raising achievement Do parents know they matter?”

Underpining this policy is the central tennet that parental engagement makes a significant difference to the educational outcomes of you people and that parents have a key role to play in raising educational standards.

Reference to Every Parent Matters (DofE 2007)

In demonstrating that families have a major influence on their children’s achievement in school and through life. When schools, families and community work together to support learning, children often do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more.

Parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school – parental involvement rather than parental engagement. Activities not directly connected to learning have little impact on pupil achievement.

Schools that offer bespoke forms of support to these parents (i.e. literacy classess, parenting skill support) are more likely to engage them in their child’s learning. Schools should constantly reinforce the fact that parents matter. (For the DP it is important to make the parents feel included).

There are barriers to engaging parents such as lack of time, language barriers, child care issues and practical skills such as literacy issues and the ability to understand and negotiate the school system.

How can the DP program engage parents to help students learn? Parental engagement and personalising provision for them as learners could be NPQH project! 🙂 We need parent and student voice.

The empirical evidence shows that parental involvement in learning is one of the key factors in securing higher student achievement and sustained school performance (Harris and Chrispeels 2006).

Longitudinal studies such as those conducted by Sylvia et al (1999) and Meluish et al (2001) provide the most recent research evidence about parental involvement. These studies reinforce the impact of parental involvement in learning activities in the home with better cognitive achievement, particularly in the early years. In contrast parental involvement acted out in the school confers little or no real benefit on the individual child, though it is valuavle for the schools and parents in terms of community relations.

Parental involvement takes many forms including good parenting in the home, including the provision of a secure and stable environment, intellectual stimulation, parent-child discussion, good models of constructive social and educational values and high aspiration relating to personal fulfillment and good citizenship; contact with schools to share information, participation in school events, participation in the work of the school, and participation in school governance.

This is because parental involvement inititative presuppose that schools, aprents and student are relatively homogenous and equaly willing and capable of developing parental involvement schemes, which is not always the case. We need to be mindfull of the differences between parents.

Mothers feel more involved than fathers. Primary more than secondary. Whilst many paretns wanted to increase their involvement to include for example supporting extra-curricular initiative, they felt that the main barriers to further involvement were limitations on their own time.

Individuals with positional ambition increased their education further in order to maintain a relative advantage. As Lupton (2006) points out ‘most working class parents think education is important but they see it as something that happens in the school and not the home’.

Across all groups, students did better if their parents helped them see the importance of taking advanced science and maths courses and took them to exhibitions, science fairs and the like. Parents who are more involved with their adolescents schooling, regardless of parents gender or educational level have offspring who do better in schools irrespective of the child’s gender, ethnicity and family structure.

Parental involvement, especially in the form of parental values and aspirations modelling in the home is a major positive force shaping students achievement and adjustment.

Working class parents face certain institutional barreiers as schools are middle class institutions with their own values. If the IB is western organization to what extent does the IB philosophy act as a barrier to parental involvement?

Schools that succeed in engaging families from very diverse background share certain key practices. They focus on building trusting collborative relationships among teachers, families, and community members; they recongnise, respect and address families needs as well as class and cultural differences. There needs to be strategic planning which embeds parental involvement schemes in whole school development planning.

Help parents understand elements of the curriculum, advice about revision techniques at KS3 and 4 as well as more divers activities designed to stimulate parental engagement with schools and raise parents aspirations for their children.

How can we get DP parents into school?. Dads and lads maths events, centering on cars and football. family learning events and helping parents understand the contemporary curriculum and homework/coursework. Parents attending parent and child learning events. or attend help your child learn courses. Booklets for parents on the same subject and allowing parents to shadow a year group during a school day to experience contemporary schooling for themselves.

Courses on parenting, on family issues, these events provided not only expert advice from teachers or other agencies (Parent Line) but allowed parents to discuss family and learning related issues with peers. Their focus was on the parent-child relationship. The provision of parent handbooks was also successful; parents reported satisfaction with the availability of information and the ease of finding the information needed. Schools engaged mentors for students and supported both students and their parents about issues of attendance and punctuaity. A number of schools targeted year six pupils and parents offering support and pastoral care around transition for both groups. Other schools responded to parental requests for support in specific areas.

Some schools did institute a cycle of “you said, we did”, and found that increased parental engagement with the school. Other schools made it clear in their reports that their conception of intelligent reporting was still a front ended one, originating with the school and ending with the parent. Schools have reduced and simplified their reports to parents, on the basis of parental preference; language used in reports has been made consistent and staff workload reduced, as reports are shorter and more to the point, staff have agreed that the new systems instituted are a different way of working, rather than more work. Parents can now access online, real time data for their own children, leading to family conversations with have had a beneficial effect on behaviour.

Parental engagement is not about engaging with the school but with the learning of the child. We could give a weekly coordinators learner profile award, voted for on Friday. Awarded on Monday.

Student don’t seek parental engagement with school activities but engagement and participation in their learning. Parental engagement policy? Homework policy in the DP?

Students were very clear that parental interest in their education had a direct and positive effect on in-school behaviour. Good behaviour was not reinforced and bad behaviour was not punished.

Homework – either in terms of monitoring it or helping with it – came from far down the list of activities valued by students and yet it is often the way that parental engagement is understood.

The data suggests that while involvement in homework is of value, in and of itself it doesn’t fulfll the prescriptions of students needs. Rather it is the beginning of the process that should lead to deeper discussions.

When parents feel that they have the opportunities, skills and knowledge required to help their children, they are more likely to be engaged. Such reluctance or reticence on the part of parents is a powerful signal to their children that education is not valued or indeed valuable.

Philosophy 4 Children

This week on Sunday and Monday I took part in Philosophy 4 Children training at our campus. One of our curriculum objectives in Secondary is embed the concepts of Theory of Knowledge (a core component in the IB Diploma Programme) horiztonally and vertically through the Secondary Curriculum. The TOK course is concerned with developing students conceptual understanding of how knowledge is produced and utilized across the subject areas. It challenges kids to think about how knowledge claims can be justified and supported.

At the same time, our primary colleagues have been exploring how Philosophy for Children (P4C) can be used to improve children’s abilities to reason, justify and explain their ideas about broad topics.

One of the benefits of working in a K-12 school is that we can combine PD between Primary and Secondary which allows for some eye opening sharing of teacher classroom practice. This training provided a good opportunity for me as a curriculum leader to not only learn about P4C as a concept and teaching tool, but also to see how it might enable Secondary teachers to get a better grip of managing dialogue and understanding of abstract concepts in the TOK course.

During the training we encountered a variety of warm up activities that can be used to get thinking and discussion going, as well as a full P4C inquiry which is a structured 11 step process for generating a conversation about an abstract question. I am not going to write up all the activities that we did in this post as I tweeted an ongoing thread throughout the training detailing all of the tasks we used.

The first observation I had was that the P4C model of inquiry is highly structured, providing a scaffold for all learners (teachers included) to work through their thinking about a topic. Following the 11 steps from a real stimulus to a discussion about an abstract concept allows even someone who is relatively unconfident in this area to succeed in generating thinking and discussion.

Commentators who were following my thread were quick to point out that int there experience, P4C training was some of the best training for TOK teaching that was available.

Indeed, it became immediately apparent to me that the 11 step full inquiry is a perfect model for generating knowledge questions, one of the key, and most difficult steps for TOK learners to get. Here is a method that can be directly applied in TOK classrooms to help students unpack knowledge questions from a stimulus or real life situation. With practice, I am confident that many teachers would be able to use this model to help them develop TOK thinking.

In other secondary subjects, this model can also help teachers and students to unpack TOK concepts related to their subject area. For example in natural sciences, some of the key TOK concepts relate to models, uncertainty, inductive and deductive reasoning, falsifiability among others. Using the NoS statements from the subject guides with specific real life examples like models used to predict climate change as a stimulus, this model could be directly applied in the IB Biology classroom to help teachers and their students generate knowledge questions from examples in their syllabus.

Recently, I have been thinking about how I can get my IB biology students more engaged with real world issues or deeper conceptual questions like “what is life?”. I have lots of ideas for stimuli but beyond creating a DART or questionnaire linked to the podcast, video or reading I was at a loss as to how to generate deep thinking and discussion.

This tool, I believe, has given me the key to help my students, think about and generate questions in response to stimuli, and provide a basis for fruitful discussion about the topic of interest.

For example, I am thinking about how I can really engage my students with the issue of climate change, so that as well as learning about it from the biology syllabus, the learning develops real meaning and significance for them so that they are inspired to run a CAS project around the issue etc. I had an idea of using some of the recent planet earth documentary as a stimulus but was unsure how to use it. Now, myself, the Lang B teachers and the geography teacher are collaboratively planning to address this topic in sequence and we will think about how we can bring the 11 steps inquiry into our planning.

I am convinced that P4C is an excellent foundation for TOK, both of which are programs that can help student think and question more deeply as well as become more engaged with big ideas and questions.

P4C is broad, it is concerned with thinking about any of a range of concepts that could be thought of as philosophical. TOK is narrower in focus, and, in a Venn diagram, would sit inside the concepts of P4C. P4C can be focussed on knowledge, TOK is concerned only with inquiry about the nature of knowledge. Both programs are concerned with linking the real world stimulus to the abstract theoretical concept. The P4C 11 step scaffold provides an excellent ladder to allow learners to move between the real and the abstract.