School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 17/01/2020
Last Saturday, I attended the annual Diverse Leaders Conference, which happened to be hosted by Upton Grammar School in Slough.
The event is in its third year and is organised by a close friend of mine, Hannah Wilson, who is currently Head of Secondary School Teacher Training at the University of Buckingham. It brings together leaders and educators from all areas and phases of education who are passionate about supporting professionals and pupils within the education system who are underrepresented but with particular reference to educational leadership in our schools.
There was representation from the BAMEedNetwork (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic Educators), the LGBT network, Disabled leaders, WomenED (women in education) and the HeforShe movement.
The opening keynote speaker, Diana Osagie, who stands at 6ft 2, inspired the delegates by asking us this question: ‘Are you fulfilling the expectations of your life?’ Can I? Will I? Am I? Her call to arms for us to fulfil expectations in life was a powerful reminder to find and serve our purpose.
Several leaders that day reflected on the struggles they have had in their careers and on the resilience and courage that it took, for many reasons, to climb the ladder and be recognised for their contributions. Sadly there were devastating stories of leaders who had been pushed out of their schools: James Pope, who last year featured on the BBC2 documentary ‘School,' spoke eloquently but emotionally about his experiences and how he now supports other Heads who may find themselves in this very vulnerable and stressful situation (I have linked the moment in the documentary where James had to tell his staff he was leaving).
Ofsted (the regulatory body which inspects maintained schools) can make or break a dedicated Head’s career and I am somewhat grateful that as an ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) inspector, the approach that the Independent Schools Inspectorate takes is to celebrate the achievements and outcomes of schools and support them in areas where improvement may be required - not to push dedicated Heads from their schools.
One inspirational Head, Jo Lawrence, whom I have known on social media for several years, shared her courageous journey through being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer just 18 months into her Headship and how she coped with handing over the reins to an interim Head but keeping in touch with her staff and school community throughout her treatment (I have linked Jo’s blog prior to her cancer diagnosis). She stood proud on Saturday, although still suffering from severe bone pain, and with a fantastic new look cropped hair do. It was my first time actually meeting Jo in person despite our many communications on social media - the warm embrace we gave each other spoke volumes and I only hope that not many of us have to endure what she has been going through.
Mark Pritchard, the Head of Upton Grammar, reflected on how we need schools to be diverse; complex problems needs people who think differently and collective intelligence is determined by our cognitive diversity. He reminded us of the detriment of homophily amongst leadership teams and the HIPPO style of leadership (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion!). Thankfully over my years in education I have only experienced this type of leadership on two occasions and stayed strong to my moral compass and moved to pastures new where colliding perspectives and risk taking was welcomed and staff and leaders were developed and nurtured.
I could continue sharing my reflections of the many other inspiring leaders I heard from on Saturday but I will end with Karen Giles, who has been Headteacher of a co-educational primary school in Brent for 16 years. Karen spoke about the learning behaviours of boys versus girls in her school and how she has worked with her staff to ensure that they are inspiring girls to become strong, confident leaders for the future - they tackle stereotypes and support equality of education. Karen has 960 children in her four form entry school, pupils are from the immediate local area and the school is incredibly diverse in culture, faith and languages.
Karen highlighted the charity and the film ‘Girl Rising’ and shared the ‘Nepal Chapter’ with us. I urge you all to take the time to watch (12 minutes) - this is a simple reminder of how far equality of education for girls has come, but also of how much there still is to do in this area.
As we left the conference, we were asked to make a pledge to ourselves as we return to our own schools on Monday. The first couple of weeks back at school have been incredibly positive and Mr. McLaughlin has been handed the baton by Mrs. Stark and has stepped up to his new leadership role as Deputy Head with commitment, confidence and energy. With a new Deputy Head in place I am excited for the future - I pledge to continue giving my best to lead St. Helen’s College with the staff team, the pupils and parents to give the children the best possible education and to prepare them for life in the 21st century (whatever this future will look like). I will work my hardest with the amazing staff at St. Helen’s College to fulfil the expectations of the parent body, Principals and Governing Body and will be honest, resilient and courageous but will lead with grace, love and compassion.
Posted on: 10/01/2020
Start with HeartHappy New Year to all of our St. Helen’s College families.
We have had a very successful start to the new term and I thought that it would interesting for parents and pupils to hear about what the staff did during our two training days on Monday and Tuesday this week.
At the first staff training day of 2020 I showed staff the image below, replacing the word ‘teacher’ with ‘staff’:
In every work place I am sure that people wear many hats and this is particularly the case in schools, where staff members wear multiple hats throughout the day and often at the same time! Working in a school means spending your days in the most rewarding, stimulating and busy environment and after 30 years as an educator I cannot even imagine doing anything else! However, it is so important that, regardless of the job we do in society, we are kind to ourselves. We must notice how we are feeling and look after ourselves.
I then shared this short video with everyone, which I urge you to find time to watch.
Kindness has many benefits, including increased happiness and a healthy heart. It slows down the ageing process and improves relationships and connections, which indirectly boosts your health.
It is our job to ensure that your children are safe and happy at school and of course learning each and every day. To keep them safe at school we need to keep up to date with regulatory training, so we then had our annual asthma and anaphylaxis training from Rebecca, a member of the Hillingdon Asthma team. First aid training was also on the agenda and 34 members of staff completed Paediatric First Aid training - the trainers made this very serious training fun and I am sure that children would have loved to have seen Mr. Dyson putting me into the recovery position as an unconscious breathing casualty or critiquing my bandaging of Mr. Lewis’s hand following the amputation of two fingers!
Having the children back on Wednesday was a breath of fresh air and although I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday I most certainly welcomed having routine back and the joy of the children around us again.
It is not only the staff who have been 'upskilling' themselves in first aid this week, as our children from Reception to Year 6 have commenced the ‘Heartstart’ programme. For many years Miss Walker has arranged for all of the children to take part in this most valuable course; the children’s knowledge and skills of how to react in an emergency are built upon year on year. Some of the skills which the children learn over their time with us are:
What to do in an emergency situation
Knowing how to make a 999 call
Putting someone in the recovery position
Dealing with serious bleeds
Recognising signs of heart attack and stroke
How to utilise an automated external defibrillator (AED)
Yesterday, the Year 6 pupils went through exactly the same training as we did as they used the Annie dolls to practise their CPR technique.
At lunch on Tuesday we were discussing the fact that the children learn these life skills but with the hope that they may never have to use them in a real life situation. However, one member of staff whose children both attended St. Helen’s College still recalls the day when her daughter had a seizure at home and it was her 5 year old son (now a teenager) who took control and told his dad what to do! It was a very helpful, calm voice of reason from a child who recalled his ‘Heartstart’ training skills.
Do speak to your children over the next couple of weeks as they learn these life skills from Mrs. Hunt, Miss Ward, Miss Walker and Mrs. Wilcock. I am sure that you will be so impressed by what they know and can share with you!
So, as we start the new term, we do start with ‘Heart’.
Here’s to a super 2020 for us all at St. Helen’s College!
Posted on: 6/12/2019
Bonjour by Mr. McLaughlinLast week’s blog - ‘Au Revoir’ by Mrs. Stark - was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster! I felt a great deal of happiness for a cherished colleague, knowing that she is heading into a thoroughly deserved (semi) retirement, surrounded by loved ones. We are all delighted that Mrs. Stark will remain with us as our French teacher, such is the positive impact that she makes in the school on a daily basis. Her consistency, commitment to the school and care for the children are inspirational for any young teacher.
Reading about her many accomplishments over her time spent at St. Helen’s College, I began to think about the very exciting new chapter that lies ahead for me in January. It also prompted me to reflect on my journey so far and to look to the future. How will I be remembered by the children, parents and colleagues I have worked with when I retire? I hope that it will be with the fondness that I am sure will be lavished upon Mrs Stark in the coming weeks!
We have worked together very closely during the transition period to ensure that there is a seamless handover in the new year and I cannot wait to get started. For those of you who do not know me yet, here is a brief history of my background in education. My first step came whilst studying English literature at university. I taught a creative writing course to a Year 8 class in Winchester and it was a fantastic experience. Who knew that children were so creative and fun to work with! I went on to do some cover teaching in several challenging Hampshire secondary schools. At 21, this was certainly a character building exercise, but my curiosity around becoming a teacher remained unabashed!
After graduation, I worked as a teaching assistant in a small school for children with autism in Southampton. It was a delightful place to be; our class of five was like a little family in itself. Here, I learned so much about the importance of togetherness and treating every child as an individual with their own ways and needs, a tenet that will always remain a cornerstone of high quality teaching. This confirmed my desire to teach, and my alternative path as a sports journalist at BBC South took a back seat.
After a successful PGCE year in London, I took up my first post as a Year 3 class teacher. It was in my first ever interview lesson that I met a young lady named Miss Vig (you may know her as Mrs. McLaughlin – it must have been fate!). In this post, I became history and geography subject leader and I also taught in Year 5. One day, the mother of one of my pupils informed me that she would be moving on to a ‘St. Helen’s College’. A quick Google search later and I was very intrigued…
Since I first stepped foot through the door, I was struck by the confidence and friendliness of the pupils and the family atmosphere of the school. I was given a tour by Mrs. Crehan and throughout that first conversation, I knew that my ideas around education were firmly aligned with those of the school. A few weeks later, I was called in for an interview and the rest, as they say, is history. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first three years of working here and I am looking forward to many more.
All of the aforementioned experiences have led me to this opportunity, and I will grasp it with both hands. One thing that stands out to me throughout my time in education is the crucial role of strong relationships for building successful partnerships in the school environment. We have an open door policy at our school, and I will be dedicating a lot of time to building those all-important relationships, to help ensure that everybody in the St. Helen’s College community feels valued and supported at the school. So, whilst the name on the door will have changed, and I will forge my own path in this fantastic role, the passion, professionalism, sincerity and warmth that Mrs. Stark has brought to you all in abundance for so many years will certainly remain.
Finally, to our dear friend and colleague Mrs. Stark: ‘Merci beaucoup et à bientôt.’
Posted on: 29/11/2019
Au Revoir by Mrs. StarkAs I read Mrs. Drummond’s blog last week with its ‘retirement wish list’, my thoughts turned to my own imminent retirement. At the end of this term I will be retiring from my position as Deputy Head after a long and happy association with the school.
I joined St. Helen’s College over 20 years ago as a part-time French teacher and it is true to say that things were very different here back then. For one thing, French was the only language taught in the school and it was taught only during timetabled lessons. I am very proud that I have been able, during my time at the school, to introduce Spanish and Latin to the curriculum, to help with establishing co-curricular language clubs and to introduce the Eurotalk competition (now called uTalk) which gives Upper School children a chance to learn even more languages and compete online against other language learners from across the United Kingdom.
Language teaching is most certainly not the only area of change I have seen during my time at St. Helen’s. The buildings and facilities at the school have developed apace over the last 20 years; the Upper School building’s first floor has been extended to add an extra classroom and enlarge those already there, libraries have been established at both Lower and Upper School, Ducklings Kindergarten has opened, an Art Studio has been built, a Business Office has been established and the kitchen and refectory have been added so that children may have meals cooked for them at school. The dining experience now is a far cry from how it was back then, when the children each had to unfold an embroidered napkin (often embroidered during their sewing lessons), then lay out their packed lunches at their desks and eat in silence! Recorder cases were also stitched, and some classes had home-sewn ‘chair bags’ in which pupils kept their belongings.
In my early days, some year groups only had one class and there was just one teacher per class from Year 3 onwards. The pupil roll has increased to two classes per year group and we are so lucky, now, that the staff body has grown to include more specialist teachers and such a big team of teaching and learning assistants. Having more staff means that we can offer more opportunities to the pupils and one opportunity which I am particularly proud to have introduced is the annual Year 6 trip to the Chateau de la Baudonniere in Normandy, France. About 15 years ago, Mr. Crehan and I travelled to France for a ‘recce’ and, having enjoyed the French culture (and cuisine!) so much ourselves, we were determined that St. Helen’s College pupils should benefit from an immersive language experience in such a beautiful setting. The trip was established, and I have accompanied the Year 6 children on their trip every year since then. I am delighted that this is always a highlight for the children and that we have fostered close relationships with the local community and the local primary school there.
As my own children grew older, I moved from part time teacher of French to full time class teacher, spending many years as a Year 5 class teacher and a few years as a Year 6 teacher and becoming Deputy Head over 10 years ago. My roles have meant working closely with the staff across the whole school, and at Upper School in particular, and I have enjoyed close working relationships and friendships with so many talented and enthusiastic colleagues over the years – including, at various times, my own children! My daughter Laura is a teacher herself and has done some supply teaching here, and my son Chris worked in Funtasia and Holiday Club during his sixth form and university years. I must say that it has been a privilege to work alongside such a diverse, positive and friendly group of people. There have been so many meals out, holiday meet-ups, drinks receptions and Christmas parties and I have memories to cherish of wonderful times with colleagues and friends. There have been sad times, too, with the loss of colleagues to cancer in particular. I am proud to have been able to establish the school’s relationship with and ongoing commitment to Cancer Research UK’s Relay for Life. In the years we have been taking part in this event, the school has raised tens of thousands of pounds for Cancer Research. I am enormously thankful to all of the staff, parents, pupils and friends who have been involved with this over the years, and I am hopeful that this association will continue into the future as we continue to fight cancer together.
The work that we have undertaken together in support of Relay for Life is just one expression of the St. Helen’s College spirit. Certainly much has changed over the past 20 years, but it is true to say that much has also remained the same. The heart of St. Helen’s College still beats strong; the school’s family ethos and traditional values still underpin all that goes on here. The well-being and personal development of the pupils is still given the highest priority by both staff and parents; love, kindness and tolerance remain the most important of the values that we teach. This is why I have remained with the school for so many years - it has been genuinely inspiring to work in a school with such a strong heart and virtuous purpose.
Over the years I have taught thousands of pupils from hundreds of families; some of my earliest pupils are, in fact, now parents themselves. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of the parents who have chosen St. Helen’s College over the course of my time here and showed me such trust and such kindness. To the pupils, I would like to say thank you for making my working life such a joy. I have seen so many children grow and develop into fine young people and I am pleased to be able to retire feeling confident that the future is bright!
We all become teachers because we want to make a difference, and I am happy and proud to be retiring as Deputy Head feeling that I have been able to do that. I am handing over the Deputy Head baton to Mr. McLaughlin in the certain knowledge that he will use the role to drive forward change, to uphold the traditional St. Helen’s College values and to make a positive difference too.
This is not goodbye, as I will be returning to St. Helen’s College in January for one day per week as a part-time French teacher, ending my journey here just as I began it all those years ago. So, for now, I shall simply say ‘Au revoir’.
Posted on: 22/11/2019
The Simple Things In Life - Head's Blog
Visiting new places
Painting/learning a new craft
You may think that this list looks somewhat like the ‘Top 7 things to do when you retire’, but actually this is a list of some of the activities which we see your children do or hear your children talking about on a regular basis - just the simple things in life!
How fortunate your children are that, at St. Helen’s College, they have opportunities to participate in so many 'simple things' during their time with us. Our curriculum and co-curricular programme are extraordinarily rich and diverse. On Wednesday, our Cookery Club children were so excited at the prospect of cooking their chicken pie after school and I am sure that several families enjoyed tucking into delicious cuisine at home! Our Gardening Club pupils have harvested so many vegetables this year and await the arrival of the next season. Each term the children visit a new place to extend their learning and bring to life what they have been learning in the classroom with exciting visits to Bletchley Park, the Heath Robinson Museum, the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery and so many more places. Our Year 6 pupils give their time to visit local care homes, entertaining the residents and sharing their youthful voices. The reward for them is seeing the older generation smile, laugh, and sing along, remembering their own youth.
This week I was discussing some of these activities with Mr. Lewis and Ms Gilham and talking about how, as adults, we often neglect some of the simple things in life as the demands of life take over and we forget the joy which they can bring. I am almost envious of our current parents as you still have those wonderful opportunities with your dearest children to participate in these simple things together as a family. With my own daughter now at university, I relish her visits and look forward to spending time with her - she may not be as eager to help out in the garden or to get all the paints out on a Sunday afternoon (fond memories!), but we do cherish our time together as a family, enjoying each other’s company - simple!
At St. Helen's College, we pride ourselves on striving for excellence and our pupils fill us with pride with their academic achievements on a daily basis. I had the pleasure of being read to this week by some Year 4 pupils who impressed me with beautifully written myths, in which they used complex language and literary devices. But what we do so well here is balancing the pursuit of academic excellence with the appreciation of the non-material aspects of life - the awe and wonder of the simple aspects of life.
I have previously blogged about the top 50 things to do before you are 11 and 3/4rs.
How many can your children tick off? Lots, I am sure!
Thankfully I am way off retirement or even thinking about what I will do - but I did have to chuckle when I searched!
We certainly are giving your children the best of a ‘simple life’ - they are well prepared for their futures!
Posted on: 15/11/2019
Growing Initiative - Head's BlogThis week I have to admit that I jumped for joy, literally, when I heard the news that we have been shortlisted for the prestigious TES Independent School Awards in two categories: Student Initiative and Sport. We are incredibly modest about our achievements at St. Helen’s College and every week I pick up an educational journal only to read about what ‘initiatives’ other schools are discussing when often we have been doing many of these things for several years - e.g. P4C, Flipped Learning or Mindfulness. But this week I want to focus on the impact of what we do here at school with our pupils which enables them to show ‘initiative’.
Initiative is a self-management skill, and self-management is one of five key life and work skills for young people entering the workforce. Your children are nowhere near the age of entering the workforce but they are certainly proving that they are going to be an incredible workforce for the future!
‘Initiative’ is defined as 'the ability to assess and initiate things independently'.
There has been a plethora of activities recently in which we have seen our pupils stepping up to the mark, conceiving of and leading on some wonderful projects. The confidence, self belief and leadership qualities which the children possess are admirable and most definitely worthy celebrating. Our JRSO team and our Sports Leaders have been recognised by being shortlisted for the TES Awards, but it is true to say that pupils across the school are incredibly resourceful and enthusiastic in their self-led endeavours.
Examples of some of these activities are:
A Year 6 pupil designing an 'inside out sound box'. This is a very intricate project, which is worth a future blog in itself. The design and planning process is now complete and the build is in hand, so watch this space!
Year 6 boys setting up a ‘Times Tables Rockstars’ club. Inspired to improve their mental maths skills, this group of boys are eager to encourage other pupils form Year 4-6 to challenge and improve their mental agility too.
Year 5 girls running ‘Nature Club’, which has involved organising and sourcing resources and activities to bring joy to their peers through the exploration of nature.
Year 6 pupils holding maths clinics in the library at lunch and break times for younger pupils to have some peer tutoring in maths topics
Numerous charity fundraisers throughout the school; every class becomes involved in charity fundraising and all ideas are led by the pupils.
Another definition of ‘initiative’ is the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do. Yet again we witness this on a daily basis at St. Helen’s College. Only yesterday at lunch, a Year 3 pupil told me that he would be applying for the position of Head Boy when he was in Year 6 as he has so many good ideas for me for the school and children! I shall not reveal his innovative ideas but I am sure this proactive young man will go places in the future. Even our youngest Ducklings were innovative in their thinking today as we discussed what to do with the toy cars in the garage which had missing wheels!
So, how can you support your young children at home to develop skills such as innovative thinking, problem solving and entrepreneurship? Below is a list of some tips recommended for toddlers and preschool children. If we can encourage our youngest pupils in this way, this will provide a great start to developing their confidence, self-belief and leadership qualities.
Praise your child’s efforts, not the result. “I know you worked hard to put the napkins on the table. Thank you.” “It took a lot of time to put all your toys away.”
When your child asks a question, if appropriate, respond with a question. “What do you think?”
When your child says, “I can’t do it,” instead of immediately helping, suggest other options depending upon the task. “Can you try doing it a different way?” “Tell me what you need to make it work.”
Allow your child to make decisions so he/she becomes comfortable doing so. Even a toddler can choose which clothes to wear when given options or between a cheese or ham sandwich. (This helps decrease frustration, too.)
Allow a little extra time so that your child can do things themselves, like putting on their shoes or coat, packing their bag or picking out a book to read in the car before you leave the house.
Provide opportunities for your child to have creative play – playing outdoors, playing with groups of other children in structured time, drawing, painting, making things or baking.
Avoid screen time! Time spent watching movies and playing video games decreases the need to be creative and take initiative.
And for us adults in the workplace! We all need to inspire the younger generation so here are a few tips for our further future success:
Never stand still.
Do more than is required of you.
Think as a team member, not an employee.
Speak up and share your ideas.
Consider every opportunity.
Always be prepared.
Regardless of the outcome at the TES Awards Ceremony in February next year, it is a huge testament to our school that we have been shortlisted for our achievements in the two categories. We need to remember that it is our staff and parents coming together to support the children in a safe and nurturing environment which enables our pupils to develop these most crucial skills which will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
Posted on: 8/11/2019
Artificial Intelligence In The Classroom - Head's BlogI am writing my blog today (Sunday) in advance of returning to school after a wonderful half term break. Hopefully everyone is feeling as energised and as rested as I feel as we enter another busy and fruitful half term. I am on a school inspection this week, thus not in school Tuesday - Thursday, so taking the opportunity now to write the Friday blog! I would be most interested to hear parental views on this week’s topic.
I am sure that everyone is very aware of the momentum that AI is having in our society as systems become more automated in our daily lives. AI is something which we cannot ignore; we must embrace it and move with it as appropriate for our lifestyles. I am not convinced yet about the prospect of cashierless supermarkets (Tesco’s have already trialled this in one of their 'Express' stores), but I will watch with interest as Amazon Go plans and opens its first store in Oxford Circus.
So, how should we move with Artificial Intelligence in education? Could the teaching profession be threatened by AI - might we find robots in the classroom 30 years from now? Personally I do not think that this is a reality, but the benefit of using AI in education is that the technology can be used to personalise children’s learning as the work set is adapted according to data collected as the child moves through a task. This is known as adaptive learning.
The official definition of this is as follows: 'Adaptive learning is a technology-based or online educational system that analyses a student's performance in real time and modifies teaching methods based on that data. Think AI meets dedicated math tutor meets personalised engagement.'
Adaptive learning, also known as adaptive teaching, is an educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate interaction with the learner and deliver customised resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner.
There are many adaptive software learning apps available not only for children but also for adults. Mr. Crehan is already an avid user of a language app to assist him in his acquisition of Mandarin. This also inspired my use of Bussu to help me with my Spanish and there are numerous others on the market such as Duolingo or Babbel which are widely used by children and adults alike.
The UK unfortunately does seem to be quite behind in embedding AI as an integral part of a pupil’s learning in school. The US, India and China are way ahead of where we are and it will be very interesting to monitor the growth of AI in these countries and its impact. Whilst attending the IAPS Heads' Conference in September, I heard from the founder of CenturyTech - Priya Lakhani OBE. Priya’s company has established a successful adaptive learning platform for pupils in Key Stage 2 upwards in English, Maths and Science. Her presentation was inspiring and many UK based schools are now looking at how we may embrace AI further to enhance teaching and learning. At St. Helen’s College, our pupils use technology exceptionally well. They have excellent digital literacy and technology is used across the school in many curriculum areas. However, what more could we be doing?
Mr. Lewis and I are meeting with a CenturyTech representative for a demonstration of their learning platform tomorrow (Monday) and I am looking forward to hearing from their representative as to how this product may enhance the experiences and opportunities we offer your children.
If any parents have further insight or experience of AI in education - please do share! It is a very exciting and fast moving industry but should be approached with caution and with an awareness of who is developing the products and why. We do not wish to remove teachers from the classroom - adults still need to work with children to develop their soft skills and assist them in becoming creative independent individuals.
We need to prepare our children for the future but be well informed and confident that what we do offer them is right for them and us as a school.
You may enjoy reading this for further depth:
Posted on: 18/10/2019
Powerful Learning - Head's BlogThis week we have had the privilege of showcasing our pupils' learning to numerous prospective parents during our weekly individual tours but also at our Open Morning on Wednesday when the visitors were guided around the school by our current Year 6 pupils.
The feedback we had from our visitors this year was quite overwhelming and the sense of pride which we have in your children is immeasurable. The last port of call on the tours was to the Upper School Hall as the guides introduced their visitors to myself, Mr and Mrs Crehan and Mrs Smith. Every visitor paid our students the highest of compliments remarking on their confidence, communication skills, passion for their school and their learning and how they managed to answer all the questions but also enticed questions from their visitors.
What we do at St Helen’s is truly unique and it is through the dedication of the staff working so closely together to lay strong foundations for your children that they go on to be very successful young adults.
Our teaching and classroom environment empowers the children to be adventurous in their learning journey; strengthening their determination and imagination to become critical thinkers with the ability to reflect and collaborate to deal with difficulty and uncertainty to enable them to become more independent and resourceful learners.
One such example of powerful learning this week was in the Year 6 science lessons . The children have been studying microorganisms; they designed and planned an investigation to find out the various factors that affect respiration in yeast. A preliminary experiment was suggested by one of the children and from there, the whole year group was challenged to think of a ‘bigger’ experiment.
The result of the independent planning was that 5 main factors were to be investigated: temperature of water, acidity of substances, natural vs artificial sugar, amount of sugar, and various sources of sugar including vodka! (This was under lock and key but the children were definitely resourceful in their planning!) The children worked collaboratively and had to figure out and allocate certain jobs and responsibilities within each group. All resources were provided for the children which they had to organise and use effectively. They all worked out timings and the recording and collection of data. The children relied on the efficiency and cooperation of each group member to complete their experiment; some giving up their playtime to continue with the work.
The children achieved success in many ways. They all learned an important scientific concept in yeast respiration and mastered investigative skills by performing a full scientific enquiry in a fun and enjoyable way. It is also equally important to note that through hands-on experiences and activities in science such as this, collaborative learning took place and continues to be encouraged.
During lunchtime on Wednesday the Science monitors were discussing their learning with me in the Science lab and Shaina has kindly written up this wonderful report to share with you. I will leave you with Shaina’s words - it sums up the power of learning at St Helen’s!
In science this week, Year 6 did an experiment to see how yeast respires with liquids of different pH values.
Firstly, we had to plan what we wanted to include in the experiment. In our plan we had to include our prediction, our fair test (what we keep the same, what we change and what we are measuring), all the equipment we would need from the ingredients to the labels and bags and also our method in a way that we could then follow the steps in class making the experiment easier.
After this was completed, we gathered into groups and labelled the bags (lemon juice A and B, milk A and B…), got the sugar and yeast and beakers in case they leaked. We were all ready for the next day when we would conduct the experiment. Everyone was allocated a job. In my group we had some pairs and some people working alone as they chose to do so. Conducting the experiment along with me were Laura, Esha, Malaika and Ridhima were one pair and Catherine and Lily were another pair. Each person/pair was allocated two liquids to test; there were five liquids to test and ten beakers as we had A and B of every liquid to increase accuracy in our results.
The following day, we gathered our materials with speed because of our thorough planning. To each bag we added five millilitres of the given substance to ninety-five millilitres of water. When everyone was ready we added in our teaspoons of yeast and sugar at the same time and sealed the bag immediately afterwards. Every five minutes over a forty minute period, we took measuring tapes and measured the width of the bag. We did this because just as we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide so does yeast. This life process is called respiring. When the yeast breathes out carbon dioxide the bag inflates and therefore causes the width to expand. Having already created a rough table to record data findings, we simply wrote down the width of the bag every five minutes for each person’s/pair's findings.
In conclusion, we found out that substances with a pH of 7/8 (neutral or slightly on the alkaline side) worked best. Extremely surprisingly, we found that lemon juice, which is pH 3 and very acidic, also helped yeast respire, whereas vinegar of the same pH value did not help yeast respire at all. I don’t think this was a fair test because our bags kept opening, allowing carbon dioxide to escape and some yeast bubbled up into a froth, leaving the bag to have not expanded at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this experiment because of the new things I have discovered. I did not know that yeast respires in the same way we do or that it grows but not in the same way we do - instead it multiplies many times. I also did not know that different temperatures or pH values can affect the way that yeast respires.
I think this experiment can be improved by not putting the liquids in the bags but instead in the tubes because they have lids and are leak proof, whereas in our experiment some of the bags leaked and/or opened. In the tubes we can measure the amount of froth as that is also carbon dioxide building up.
By Shaina A