How Technology is advancing in Learning environments

Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK,  our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.

Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.

On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.

This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?

Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.

An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.

To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.

In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.

So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.

Avoid classroom distractions

Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.

One-to-one time

The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.

Go at their pace

Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.

No school run

This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.

Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.

Too often we are inundated with stories of successful people’s morning routines, such as getting up at 5am to practice yoga, replying to emails and ticking off half a to-do list before even starting the working day. However, while this idea of always creating a productive morning may be inspiring to some, it may not sound remotely achievable – or appealing – to you and many others.

Oxford academic Dr Paul Kelley believes that our body’s natural rhythms are not set for such early morning starts. He called for a shift in the standard 9-to-5 work pattern of employees, claiming that the natural body clock is not accustomed to it: workers end up sleep deprived, affecting performance and output levels. Dr Kelley proposes that a more efficient starting time of 10am would suit us better during our working years, leading to lower levels of exhaustion and better gene function.

Similarly, Dr Kelley believes that children should not be expected to start school until 10am either. It is an idea that has been put to the test by a groundbreaking Oxford University experiment, and its results appear to support him. Grades increased significantly and rates of illness more than halved over a two-year period, illustrating the positive impact that better sleeping hours can have on teenagers’ performance in school. According to Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder of The Sleep School, schoolchildren in Britain take sixth position as the most sleep-deprived in the world. Losing 10 hours of sleep a week is a direct result of students being forced to get up too early since the adolescent biological rhythm is ready for sleep at midnight, as Dr Kelley points out.

As these findings and beliefs demonstrate, it is absolutely fine to not follow the standard daily work pattern imposed on us by society when it comes to our own study time. Some of us naturally work better in the evenings and into the night, meaning our mornings start off a little later than those of early-risers; others prefer to sacrifice a few hours of sleep in the morning for an earlier bedtime. Part of the journey through Higher Education is finding out what study rhythm works best for us individually and utilising it accordingly. There’s no sense in starting  weekend study sessions at the crack of dawn if you know your brain won’t be buzzing with motivation until a few hours later. Likewise, if the thought of staying in the library past dinner time fills you with dread, adjust your routine to suit when your mind feels most active.

One of the things to battle with is the guilt resulting from later starts to the day, with longer hours spent in bed synonymous with attributes of laziness and lack of direction. However, as science shows, biological factors have a lot to do with how our bodies respond to traditional work patterns. It’s time for a societal change and a better understanding of our natural body rhythms.

Sources:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/school-start-tim-10am-student-illness-health-academic-performance-study-a8072231.html
https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/does-getting-up-at-5am-early-make-you-more-successful-we-tried-it-a7716086.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11148930/Teenagers-to-start-school-at-10am-in-Oxford-University-sleep-experiment.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/staff-should-start-work-at-10am-to-avoid-torture-of-sleep-depriv/

I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…

In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!

So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?

  • Reading reduces stress

I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day.  Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

  • You will learn new things

I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.

  • Your memory will improve

One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia 

  • It can fuel your creativity

Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.

  • You’ll find your focus improving

Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!

The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!

 

 

On October 23rd, 1642, on fields between the town of Kineton and the village of Radway, Warwickshire, the first battle of the English Civil War was fought. As the fighting took place in the shadow of the Edgehill escarpment, it became known as the Battle of Edgehill.

Although this was the first battle of the war, the Crown had been in a state of war against Parliament since the 22nd of August that year. King Charles was in conflict with his Parliament because he believed in the Divine Right of Kings; that the monarch should be able to rule however he liked. Charles was particularly insistent that he should be able to raise money for foreign wars as often, and in whatever way, he saw fit. Conversely, Parliament believed they were entitled to a say in the rule of England, and that they had the right to approve or deny funds to the crown without consulting the king.

It was when, in October 1642, as the king’s army headed for London, they met with Parliament’s forces coming in the opposite direction (from Worcester) and blocked the Royalists route to the capital, that physical battle became inevitable. The Parliamentarian force, of approximately 12,500 men, was led by Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex (known as the Captain General). King Charles was represented by Patrick Ruthven, the Earl of Forth, from Scotland. He had 13,500 men to his company. Beginning with an exchange of cannon fire at two o’clock in the afternoon, the battle entered into its first active combat situation at three o’clock. As the light faded, only three hours later, the fighting broke off, only to resume again in occasional bouts over the next two days. It ended on the Tuesday, when the Earl of Forth’s men attacked the Parliamentarian baggage train in Kineton.

The battle, which had involved both cavalry and infantry engagements, ended in a stalemate, with between 1,000 and 1500 men dead and over 3000 injured; many of whom later died from their wounds. Although neither side had gained the upper hand, King Charles declared Edgehill a victory for his side, as his troops had opened the road to London, which the Parliamentarians had previously been barring.

Only a few weeks later however, the Earl of Essex had taken control of London, and the Civil War began in earnest. The Battle of Edgehill was the beginning of a war which would see mass disruption to the whole of England, and would not end until King Charles I was captured in 1646. Charles was then executed, sending England into the status of republic for the next 11 years as a under the rule of the victorious Oliver Cromwell.

Millions of blood transfusions are performed in hospitals across the world every year. However, the origins of this now familiar and vital life saving procedure were, as with other medical developments through history, controversial.

Experimentation in blood exchange began in both England and France 350 years ago, but such was the outcry at the ‘ungodly’ acts taking place that the French parliament banned the research, and all medical exploration in the subject ground to a halt. It wasn’t until 25th September 1818 that English surgeon and obstetrician James Blundell, after years of working on dogs, was finally able to conduct the first human to human blood transfusion, at St Guy’s Hospital in London. This was a radical procedure at a time when the majority of medical professionals still tried to cure most complaints by draining blood from a patient rather than replacing it. That same year, Blundell published Experiments on the Transfusion of Blood by the Syringe in the journal Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. This paper discussed his experiences conducting whole blood transfusions in dogs and humans using a syringe. It opened his work to scrutiny and further experimentation across the medical world.

Blundell’s choice of career was influenced by his uncle, John Haighton, a leading medic at Guy’s Hospital. Blundell studied with his uncle in the field of obstetrics. While they studied all aspects of childbirth, he and his uncle designed many of the instruments we associate with delivering babies today. As he was working with women in labour, he saw a large number of birth time related blood haemorrhages. It was so common in fact, that Blundell, desperate to save more women during the childbirth procedure, took to transfusing four ounces of blood extracted from the woman’s husband, and injecting it into her with a syringe in the hope it would cleanse her blood should she be losing the battle to live during labour. The Science Museum reports that Blundell “… performed a further ten transfusions between 1825 and 1830 and published details of them. Half were successful. Blundell limited the use of his transfusion apparatus to women on the verge of death due to uterine haemorrhage, the heavy bleeding that can result from a difficult labour. Blundell believed blood had a nutritive property and was infused with vitalism – a living force.”

Blundell’s work was a major breakthrough in medical science, but it still wasn’t until 1900, when Karl Landsteiner discovered blood groups, and worked out why certain bloods were incompatible with each other, that transfusions could start to become the successful cure they are today.

Blundell and the many scientists that followed in his wake continuing to develop transfusion techniques, are unlikely to have imagined what a massive impact their work has had on the modern world. Thanks to their dedication, by the twentieth century scientists in New York were developing the first blood banks. They were to become vital in keeping many injured soldiers alive during the two world wars, as well as other conflicts.

Even though it is two hundred years since James Blundell first ran blood from one human to another, the equipment he designed is still recognisable in operating theatres and transfusion kits used across the world today.

The year 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first worldwide influenza pandemic. Known as Spanish Flu, this major outbreak claimed the lives of between 50 and 100 million people across the globe in 1918. The Guardian newspaper records that, “By the time the pandemic finally ended, it had killed around 25 times more people than any other flu outbreak in history. It killed possibly more people than the first and second world wars put together.”

Unlike the flu strains we recognise today, Spanish Flu was not claiming the lives of young children and the elderly as we’d expect, but was at its most virulent in healthy young adults. At a time when the First World War was  already claiming millions of men’s lives, it must have felt like the end of the world, and at its height, panic was rife.

Many myths and misconceptions have grown up around Spanish Flu. The biggest of all being that it had begun in Spain. This was not the case. As the epidemic raged against the backdrop of the First World War, the countries involved, Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S, did not want morale worsened by either side believing that their own nation was the source of the flu. Consequently, and much to its annoyance, the neutral country of Spain was chosen to have the virus named after it and create the false impression they were bearing the brunt of the disease. In reality, the geographical starting point of the pandemic is still debated, with both East Asia and other parts of Europe more likely hosts.

As the virus spread very quickly, killing 25 million people in the first six months, it is understandable that many came to believe that Spanish Flu was a uniquely lethal strain. However, recent studies have suggested that it was only so virulent because of the conditions of the time. War meant that there was severe overcrowding and poor sanitation in many environments such as military camps. Poor living conditions led to bacterial pneumonia in the lungs being a relatively common condition amongst soldiers during the war years; once this has been contracted, the flu could get hold much faster. If the flu hadn’t had each an easy path to contagion, then it may have caused no more deaths than other epidemics.

As Richard Gunderman, the Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy at Indiana University, explained to The Conversation newsletter, “During the first half of 1918, new studies reveal that the death rate was relatively low. It was in late October and November of 1918 and early 1919 that higher death rates occurred, when people with flu symptoms began to crowd into hospitals in panic, and thus spread the disease further.”

In 2008, researchers announced that they had successfully determined the gene sequence of Spanish Flu. This was possible because one of the flu’s original victims, British diplomat Mark Sykes, was disinterred from his lead-lined coffin so that researchers could study his remains. The Guardian reports that, “The purpose was to enable researchers to take samples, from his remains, of the H1N1 virus strain that caused the Spanish flu. Such samples, now under high-security lock and key in Atlanta, have been examined for clues as to why this strain was so potent and how a future pandemic might be contained.”

Every few decades a new flu epidemic occurs. Scientists believe that the next pandemic will happen sooner rather than later, and that the more we can learn from the 1918 outbreak, the more prepared we will be.

On 1st July 1838 British scientist Charles Darwin, biologist and explorer, presented a paper to the esteemed Linnean Society in London, on his theory of the evolution of both mankind and animal life. He followed this in 1859, after years of controversy from fellow scientists and the Church, with his book, On the Origin of Species. The fact that Darwin was claiming, with fossil and bone evidence to back him up, that life had evolved rather than been created by God, was highly controversial in the nineteenth century. Even with the catalogue of physical material supporting his theory of evolution and natural selection (often known as the survival of the fittest), it was still refuted by many. Today it is accepted as fact by most of us, but there do still remain those who will debate the truth of evolution and the way it challenges the story of creation found in the Bible.

For such religious reasons, despite the majority of the population believing that Darwin’s theory is fact, the subject of whether or not evolution should be taught in schools remains an emotive one for some. The struggle to teach evolution is at its most desperate in the USA, where in places even Biology teachers can be afraid to teach it. Indeed, A Penn State news report from 2014 even stated that, “despite 40 years of court cases ruling against teaching creationism in American public schools, the majority of high school Biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary Biology.”

In Science (2011), political scientist M. Berkman said, “Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms… Only 28 percent of those teachers consistently introduce evidence that evolution occurred, and 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism.”

The situation in America in 2018 is no more enlightened. Some states of America, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, have passed laws that permit public school teachers to teach alternatives to evolution. Yet this desire to teach Creationism rather than Evolution comes just as scientists are concreting Darwin’s theory more solidly year after year. An article in Live Science for example, says that, “Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including palaeontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology.” Preeminent scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky goes further: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

While evolution is facing a lack of teaching in parts of the USA, it is taught in the vast majority of schools across the UK. In fact, in 2008, the Church of England issued an unexpected apology to Darwin himself. Reverend Dr. Malcolm Brown wrote, “Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still… But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet…”

The answer to this debate, which is clearly unlikely to be one hundred per cent agreed on in the near future, would surely be to teach both the theory of evolution and the story of creation to all school children across the world, no matter their religion or background. Only by laying out the evidence can people make up their own minds, rather than have their minds made up for them by the educational, religious or political situation in which they live.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

The word “hibernation” comes from the Latin word hibernare, which means, “to pass the winter.” Linked to the changing of the seasons, from the warmth of summer and early autumn to the onset of the chill of winter, hibernation is a physical state that many animals adopt to converse energy. By remaining inactive in burrows, buried nests, and hollows, hibernators’ inactivity slows their metabolism and reduces their body temperature for days, weeks or even months at a time, helping them to survive when food supplies are low. Hibernation is therefore an almost sleep-state that many animal species have evolved to help them to weather long stretches of time without needing to drink, eat or urinate.

Although some fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles are known to lie dormant during cold winter months, according to Don Wilson, a curator emeritus of vertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in America, “hibernation is generally associated with (warm blooded) mammals… During times of the year when that energy source is missing — especially in northern climates — one coping mechanism is to just shut down. They’ll feed heavily during the few months when food is plentiful and build up fat, then go to sleep and live off their fat reserves.”

The fat which hibernating mammals accumulate is known as “brown fat.” Mammals store this fat on their backs and around their shoulder blades as well as in their stomachs over the summer. As the animals hibernate, the dormant body can live off this brown fat, therefore ensuring that they stay alive during the harshest conditions. Female polar bears not only survive off this brown fat themselves, but often go into hibernation while pregnant, and use their reserves to feed not just themselves, but any cubs that may be born whilst they are in their annual sleep-state.

While many creatures hibernate, many others migrate. Whereas hibernation prevents animals from having to forage for food and be able to have more comfortable living conditions in winter, migration sends others on a long journey to find food, often in a much warmer climate. Migration can also be triggered by an animal’s need to breed. Humpback whales for example, travel as much as 5,000 miles to breed, while a shorebird called the bar-tailed godwit holds the record for the longest nonstop flight. It will fly an incredible 6,835 miles in eight days to find both food and a mate ( the route is shown above ). In Africa, zebras and wildebeest travel on a 300 mile round-trip to stay ahead of the rain and keep dry and have plenty of food.

Although migration and hibernation are both very different animal lifestyles and lifecycles, they are driven by the same force; the instinct to survive. The need for food, for safe warm, dry places to live, and the need to ensure the continuation of their species.

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