Categories
Personal Teaching & Learning

Dual programming

One of the hallmarks of this COVID-19 adventure has been the unchanging change. Every week has seemed to throw up something new. In the early days this was simply switching to online learning, then it was adding in the live lessons on Zoom. All this with changing location each week in hunt to find a home from home where we could live, work and parent.

I’ve already written about my ideas for online teaching during this early time here and gave a fairly detailed account of our personal challenges here. In this post I want to update the account.

We returned to the UK on March 25th as outlined previously and spent two weeks in isolation at a flat in London, before moving ourselves up to the east midlands, into the grandparents house. This move has given our two little ones a little bit more stability as finally as they are in a familiar environment with adults able to give them their full attention.

Others have written about the experiences of returning to school in China and I don’t want to write that here not least because I haven’t seen it first hand but I do want to provide an account of what it has been like to be one of the stranded teachers, in the last few weeks.

The hardest part in the beginning was keeping up with the constant changes. Every week seemed to bring something new, that required a new adjustment

Soon after returning, we got the announcement that our campus would be opening up again starting with year 13 and year 11. For this change we moved to synchronous live sessions from asynchronous and were asked to increase the number of live sessions we were running. This was initially refereed to as “blended learning” but seeing as it isn’t blended in the true sense of the word, it is probably best referred to as a “dual programme”

Initially this was a change that now required, in our case, being up in the early hours of the morning. And with kids at home too, its hard to catch up on that lost sleep.

Later, as more year groups came back this amount of lost sleep increased requiring more discussion and change of teaching schedules.

We were then told that the school day was extended and we all needed to do an extra lesson after school. In of itself this isn’t really a problem but taken in the wider weekly change it was another thing that needed to be adjusted to. In the end I was actually quite thankful for this as I got more time with my Y12 students work through the HL biochemistry we were doing.

And then came the announcement of redundancy. Never have I been more reminded of the line in Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as
effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
never crossed your worried mind

the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

This has left us with weeks of negotiating, angst, anxiety and worry and a whole host of problems to sort out as not only have we lost our income, but also our home, potentially our possessions and also schools for our daughters. But slowly as the weeks pass we are finding solutions.

The hardest part of the last few weeks has been being one of the few who can’t get back to campus. With continued border closures we are still unable return and continue to live this half life, being home but not home.

While colleagues lives have returned to some normality back in China, we continue to juggle parenting at home while working from home while under lockdown. This can make the daily interactions a little bit more difficult as colleagues forget that your four year old might start screaming just outside the door when you are on a call. You may still be finding that your kids can’t understand why their parents are in a room working all day when, of course you should be playing and they will keep coming to interrupt you, even during the graduation ceremony to request this.

Parents whose children are back on campus also now expect that the number of live zoom classes be increased, because isn’t this over for everybody? What do you mean you can’t provide an online class at 3am everyday?

Somedays you feel like you have just been forgotten, and this is compounded by the knowledge that you are out the door. To the folks back on campus, you’ve already left, I guess, despite the fact that we continue to the best of our ability to mark, plan, teach.

Roll on the summer.

Categories
Resources University

The future-you festival

Originally posted on August 6, 2017 @ 9:00 am

In my first year at my current school I was one of the grade 10 homeroom teachers. At the time, the grade 10’s were the eldest grade, the school having only opened the previous year with all grades up to grade nine.

That year our Head of School organised for some parents to come in on an afternoon to speak to our grade nine and ten students about their various professions.

The session lasted a couple of hours while different parents rotated in front of our small cohort of 18 students to tell them they needed a passion.

The next morning the feedback in homeroom was less than excellent. The major theme that came across was that the kids would have liked some choice about what they saw and who they listened to.

Later that year I was given the chance to set up the university counselling program and part of that required me to organise careers day.

In the first year I was responsible for it (my second year at the school) my main aim was to introduce choice for students.

That year we held it in May and the event ran from after lunch until 7pm. From 2pm until 4pm we had a series of career focussed workshops. These were bookended by a keynote and plenary session. The latter were compulsory for all students, but, during the time in-between, students rotated through workshops that they had previously signed up for.

After the plenary from 4pm to 5pm we held a short university fair, hosting universities from Switzerland plus a few others.

Following this we hosted an author who spoke about her book and work that supports international students making transitions to study at international universities.

In my second year, the academic year just finished, we moved the date back to March. Unfortunately, with the extra classroom hours I was working, I simply didn’t have the time to organise a university fair – the amount of time that goes into simply emailing contacts is extraordinary. However, we did run an evening event again this year. This was organised by my colleague in the schools marketing department and took the form of two guest speakers, with dinner and wine for attendees. Next year we have decided to call this part of the evening “future-you conversations”.

This year I am hoping to expand what we do slightly with morning skills based workshops on top of the afternoon career focussed workshops. These will be run in conjunction with inspiring futures who offer two days of their advisor time to members. We bought membership for next academic year.

Grade 12 will have a session on interview skills to support students who will have interviews as part of their university applications but also as many of them will be interviewing for jobs in the next 12 months.

Grade 11 will have a session on persuasive writing for their personal statement. This will hopefully provide them with some raw material with which to begin their personal statement drafts later in the year.

Grade 10 will have a session on cv writing as they will be looking for work experience this year as they have a work experience week in June.

Grade 9 will use the inspiring futures career investigator.

Categories
University

Going Dutch: An overview of Dutch HE

Originally posted on July 30, 2017 @ 9:00 am

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to take part on a week long tour of Dutch universities. All in all, we visited nine universities across the country from The Hague to Groningen taking in Leiden, Utrecht, Maastricht and Middleburg amongst others.

The week was fairly intense with two campus visits a day, but we (the 14 other guidance counselors and myself) were all very well looked after as we were whisked from one city in the Netherlands to another. This was some of the very best CPD I have done. As the Netherlands is such a small country it is relatively easy to get a good overview of the different options for students who wish to study their degree in English in this country, in a short space of time. To get the same feeling within the US, for example, would probably require many years and many visits for a counselor living internationally.

A Different System and a Different Philosophy

The Dutch Higher Education system differs from the UK and runs on a binary system. There are Research Universities which are primarily concerned with research and teaching of more traditional theoretical subjects; their degrees are three years in length. There are also Universities of Applied Sciences. Their programs are four years in length and are concerned with practically orientated subjects e.g. Physiotherapy, Nursing, Education, Accounting and Finance etc.

Alongside this, the vast majority of courses in both types of institution do not select students based on academic grades. The Dutch government’s philosophy, as it was explained to me, is that any student who completes secondary education successfully should be given a chance to study at university. What this means in practice is that IB students need only pass the IB Diploma with 24 points and they will be admitted. For A level candidates this means passing three A Levels.

A major difference here, however, is that students are selected post-entry. The Dutch operate what is known as “binding study advice”. This means that any student who does not pass their first year is unable to continue with their course.

A relatively small number of courses are selective, however. In the past the Dutch government has specified quotas for certain courses and also selected students for those course centrally (this was termed “numerus fixus”). This year the government has moved away from doing the selection centrally and begun to allow universities to do their own selection.

An International Outlook

One of the first things to become really obvious when visiting campuses and meeting students was the diversity of the places we saw. Many of the English language taught programs were composed of up to 50% non-Dutch students and these non-native students didn’t appear to be coming from one single country of continent. Instead, on paper, there appears to be a real variety to the languages, experiences and cultures that a student can expect to meet and interact with on a Dutch campus. The official statistics we were quoted felt as if they matched the picture that was painted by the students we met and quizzed.

A Range of Options

There is a huge variation in the types of institutions on offer along with the types of courses on offer. Dutch universities are certainly not one size fits all. For such a small country there is an excellent range in the type and style of universities. University College Utrecht is built around the campus model, where all students live and study together for the full four years of study. Groningen and Maastricht offer a university life that is much more integrated into the life of the city that houses them – different faculties and university building spread out amongst the city.

For students looking to escape the big city environment, Leiden and UCR in Middleburg couldn’t be better placed. Both Leiden and Middleburg as towns have widely different vibes, yet both are small, picturesque and undeniably pretty but the courses on offer and living arrangements at the universities over the course of their degrees are different.

One thing that the Netherlands has specialised in, it seems, is the creation of liberal arts and sciences programs. These programs are selective (unlike most Dutch courses – see above) but not numerus fixus and run out of University Colleges, termed the “Honors Colleges” or “University Colleges”. Different University Colleges operate in different ways and they structure their courses differently, but they all allow some degree of flexibility to students who want to tailor make their own degree by studying a range of different modules and subjects. There is also one Natural Sciences program at Maastricht called the Maastricht Science Program; a good choice for students who would be opting for Natural Sciences in the UK.

Education at a price

The cost of studying in the Netherlands is extremely competitive. EU and EEA students can expect to pay at little as €2,004 for tuition fees (Liberal Arts programs are a little more at €4,000) while those students without such a passport will find courses costing anything between €6,000-€16,000. With a cheaper cost of living in general compared to the UK it makes a competitive alternative to studying in the UK.

Conclusion

Britain and North America have always been destinations of choice for international students. Not only do they boast some of the world’s highest ranked universities, but they offer degrees in English. In a globalised world the ability to communicate in English is highly prized skill the world over.

However, the Netherlands, either through choice or coincidence, has positioned itself extremely well to compete for international students and disrupt the UK, US and Canada’s market share.. The universities in the Netherlands are highly regarded and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them become more as time progresses. Typically these students are studying outside their home country. But, more than this, they offer undergraduate study in what is potentially a much more diverse student setting. Studying in English yes, but socialising in Dutch, and, with such variegated cohorts of students, potentially a mix of other languages as well. This on its own will certainly attract certain students. On top of this, the fees are much, much more competitive than either North America or UK and students don’t run the risk of graduating with tens of thousands of euros in debt as they surely do elsewhere. Finally, students know that so long as they are able to successfully finish high school then they are guaranteed a place, which takes the pressure off somewhat when you consider that UK universities will demand a specific point score with, perhaps, very specific conditions in individual subjects. All these factors combine to create a very attractive proposition. I think we can only expect Dutch universities to grow in their popularity.

Categories
Resources Teaching & Learning

New DP Biology site launched (but still under construction!)

Originally posted on July 28, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

So I have moved over my DP biology resources to a new google site designed for delivering the course. You can view it here: 

In my first school I worked with a colleague who made workbooks for her students, that were tailored to the 2009 syllabus. The kids loved them. At this time I was still working on a paper basis with large lever arch folders, and photocopying the exercises that I wanted to give to my students. To simplify my planning and preparation I thought it would be easier to copy my colleagues idea and collate all of my exercises into workbooks for each subtopic that I could simply print and hand out to my students. It took me a few years to develop these workbooks and then the syllabus changed.

For the first two years of the 2016 syllabus I worked on updating my existing workbooks to bring them in line with the new syllabus. By this point, I had moved school’s twice and had been exposed to quite a few different pedagogical approaches and philosophies, as well as different levels of technological tools with which to teach. It seemed the time had come to convert totally from paper to digital.

I share this website as a resource for other educators and their students but please be aware that, while I certainly welcome discussion, critique and comments, I have designed this website with the following purposes in mind:

    • To consolidate my existing resources and methodology into one digital space.
    • To structure the course that I currently teach to my own students into one place for my own students to access.
    • To provide a structure to the exercises that I use in class. It is NOT intended to be another content heavy IB site

There are plenty of IB Biology content-driven resources out on the web, some of which are truly excellent. This is not intended to be such. Instead the aim is to provide structure and exercises to query and engage with content-driven resources, like website, video and textbooks.

If you wish to feedback please remember that in addition to creating this website I am:

    • A full time teacher with other responsibilities in my professional life and a young family.
    • Preparing this work, primarily for my own personal professional use.
    • Making no claims that their are no mistakes in this website, please check carefully and if you feel so inclined drop me an email to let me know.
    • Making no claims that the exercises, ideas and resources are entirely my own original work. Please see my acknowledgements page for details.

 I am intending to follow this up with a google site dedicated to MYP Biology and another for guidance counseling. I will keep this blog purely for noting down my thoughts when and if they occur!

Categories
Resources University

Out with the old…in with the new

Originally posted on July 23, 2017 @ 9:00 am

I started this website and blog in April 2016. Partly, this was to allow me to play around and learn how to set up a website and partly to enable me to share resources for IB Biology that I had created, in the hope that I would find more interaction with other Biology teachers online.

The last academic year has probably been the hardest of my teaching career for a number of reasons. Having a young family with two daughters under the age of two has certainly been a factor but my guidance role very much absorbed my time throughout the year; certainly more than the official 20% time I was contractually obliged to spend on it.

My DP classes have been fairly successful but I just haven’t had the time to devote to my lower grade teaching simply because I was still teaching a new subject – TOK – and becuase I was still setting up the guidance program – working with my first grade 12s in this regard and improving the process for the grade 11s and 10s (2nd year for those cohorts).

As such the website hasn’t developed in the direction I originally planned. I have been finding WordPress a little too clunky with which to build a website dedicated to IB biology. While it is obviously possible to do so I simply haven’t had the time to invest in this project this year between teaching, guidance and family life.

Time constraints considered, I now find that much of my thinking is lately taken up with my guidance program and naturally this means that most of what I want to write about is to do with the issues I face in this area. Writing my blog is primarily a way for me to get my thoughts straight with the added bonus of inviting comment and further discussion from colleagues.

So going forward I plan to:

1) Continue a blog at this website, writing about guidance and education issues as they crop up and time dependent.

2) Stop adding biology teaching resources, plans and ideas to this website, but build a new platform that I can also use for teaching based on google sites.

New google sites was created last year and I first tried using the platform as a wiki for a biology teachers workshop I led. It is super simple to use, although it does have a raft of limitations that I am hoping will gradually be removed over the next few years.

With inspiration from a colleague I began creating workbooks tailored to the IB Biology course for my students in 2012/13. This year I massively overhauled them to bring them in line with the new IB syllabus but also Ron Ritchhardts thinking routines (still a work in progress).

The development of a website feels like a natural extension of this work – the exercises in the workbooks need to be transposed to website form and no doubt this will take time, but I feel that I am getting some clarity on the direction my digital presence needs to take.