Lots to look forward to in the Autumn term 2021

After the challenges of the last year were all hoping that the coming term will be a return to something like normality for UK schools. Whatever the future holds, here’s my roundup of things to look forward to this autumn.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. Although we didn’t get the best of summers this year, we should still have a few weeks of warmer days before the nights draw in. Let’s make the most of them while we can.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember that feeling when you wrote your name on a new exercise book and opened the first fresh page full of possibilities. While we may have concerns about the return to school, children will have that same feeling of open possibility. This is an opportunity to help them capture that feeling and go on to achieve great things!
  3. Keats famously described autumn as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ And we can all take delight from the many natural signs that summer is turning into autumn. Keep an eye out for which plants are flowering now, which fruits are ripening and which leaves changing colour. Which changes in the behaviour of birds and other animals do you notice? You’ll soon find that no two days are alike. You can find out more, and a range of nature-based activities on the Wildlife Trusts’ Looking After Yourself and Nature webpage.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning, this year on 24 September, is now a firm fundraising fixture in many schools. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: Macmillan Coffee Morning 2021.
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. Why not make BHM 2021 a focus for an inclusive and diverse curriculum, not only for a month, but all year round. You can find out more about events and activities throughout the year, and order a school resource pack, from blackhistorymonth.org.uk. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you. Friday 22 October is Wear Red Day when we are encouraged to wear something red to show unity against racism. You can find out more on the Show Racism the Red Card website.
  6. This Autumn sees a range of other national awareness events. The links here will take you to information and resources for schools. This year’s Big Draw Festival has the theme ‘Make the Change’, exploring ways to live in balance with the world around us, to reconnect with each other and create a better world for future generations. Jeans for Genes Day lasts a week this year, with schools able to hold their day at any time in the week beginning Monday 13 September. We are all encouraged to #ShareAPoem on the theme of ‘Choice’ on National Poetry Day 2021, which is 7 October. You can download free resources from the education pages of the website. Another event featuring in the calendar of many schools is Anti-Bullying Week, which this year takes place between Monday 15 and Friday 19 November with the theme of ‘One Kind World’. 19 November is also the date of this year’s annual BBC Children in Need appeal which has become a regular fundraising focus for many schools.
  7. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, humans have responded by making lights and loud noises for as long as history records. In the UK, our excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks is now Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November; well worth a reminder about firework safety.
  8. Some of the best school traditions happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it. So, check your Christmas jumper for moth holes, change the battery in your LED-lit elf hat, try to recall where you put that box of decorations, and start planning the Nativity Play now!
  9. At the end of this term, the Christmas Holiday beckons. This year, because it and Boxing Day fall on the weekend, the UK Bank Holidays are on Monday 28 & Tuesday 29 December.
  10. There are many other key dates, holidays and festivals you may wish to mark during the Autumn term:
  • Tuesday 7 September Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year celebration
  • Thursday 16 September Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement
  • Tuesday 22 September Autumn Equinox
  • Sunday 31 October is Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, and this year it is also the end of British summer time, so clocks go back one hour
  • Monday 1 November is the Christian feast of All Saints’ Day
  • Tuesday 2 November is the Christian feast of All Souls’ Day
  • Thursday 4 November Diwali / Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights
  • Thursday 11 November Armistice Day, with Remembrance Sunday following on 14 November
  • Sunday 28 November marks the start of Advent in the Christian Calendar
  • Monday 29 November is the First Day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, with the Last Day falling on Monday 6 December
  • Tuesday 30 November St Andrew’s Day, a Bank Holiday in Scotland
  • Tuesday 21 December is the Winter Solstice, with the shortest day length of the year.

What do you most look forward to in Autumn? Let me know if there are any dates or events that I’ve missed here.

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation. 

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Pixabay / Peggy Choucair

Decolonization in exhibition trails: first steps

Increasingly museums and galleries are addressing the colonial nature of their collections with audiences. My work as an Education Officer involves producing resources to help school groups explore the themes of exhibitions and displays. Roots to Seeds is an exhibition exploring 400 years of plant science in Oxford, currently open at the Bodleian Libraries.

The curator, Professor Stephen Harris, and the team at the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford Botanic Garden who are behind the exhibition, have acknowledged the colonial nature of some of the material on display with statements at the centre of the exhibition space.

A Matter of Justice

A matter of justice acknowledges the marginalisation of people involved in the collection and exploitation of their knowledge.

Supporting Decolonization

Supporting decolonisation explains the current frameworks under which botanists operate and the work to address centuries of inequality.

I wanted to address the issue in an exhibition trail I created for Roots to Seeds. The aim of the trail is to help children and young people explore themes of the exhibition. The content touches on themes within the exhibition, rather than providing comprehensive coverage. Open questions encourage exploration of the texts and objects on display.

Trails can be used by visiting school groups making a self-led visit and the Education Team may also use them as a starting point for a taught session; we also make them available for use by visiting families.

A trail is usually two A4 sides and includes text, questions, illustrations and, in the case of Roots to Seeds, some space for responses.

I decided to include a version of the A Matter of Justice statement in the section about plant collecting called ‘A World of Plants’:

As European botanists began to explore the world, they found many plants they had not seen before. Local people explained which plants were useful as foods or medicines. We often don’t know the names of these people because the explorers didn’t record them.

I was aiming the language level at Key Stage 3. In a later Art Trail, I changed ‘local people’ to ‘local experts’ because I thought this phrase better emphasised indigenous understanding of local flora rather than simply the knowledge of where to find particular plants.

I’m interested to know readers’ views on the approach I took. Is this enough? Should I have included something about current practice? Could I have taken a different approach? I’m interested to hear your views.

Roots to Seeds is open at the Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, until 24 October 2021. Admission is free.

Things to look forward to in Summer Term 2021

I’ve been writing these ‘start of term’ posts for a while now. This time, more than ever before, it feels like we’ll all be looking forward to making the most of what summer has to offer as we emerge not just from winter, but from over a year of tackling Covid.

Times remain difficult and much that would normally happen this term must be postponed, or happen in a different way. Nevertheless, I hope that there is still a lot to look forward to.

The clocks have gone forward and each day is a little longer than the one before. One thing to enjoy is more waking up and coming home from work in daylight. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so it’s a good idea to try to make some time to get outside each day; even if it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good.

For 2021, The Big Pedal, organised by the charity Sustrans, runs from Monday 19 April to the end of the month. This annual event challenges primary and secondary school pupils to cycle, scoot and wheelchair as many miles as they can. You can find out more, register and pick up free resources from the Big Pedal website.

If you prefer two feet to two wheels, Walk to School Week is back to it’s usual time in the calendar, spring, running from 17-21 May. You can order a classroom pack now from the Living Streets Website.

While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the many changes in the natural world as spring turns into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which berries and fruits are starting to form? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use an app such as iRecord to add your nature sightings to the National database. If your pupils are feeling inspired by nature, the might want to submit a poem for the Into the Green Poetry Project that I’m involved with, run by The Bodleian Libraries and Oxford Botanic Garden to celebrate 400 years of plant science in Oxford. You can download a project pack from the Bodleian’s website. The deadline for submissions is 1 July 2021.

Connecting with nature is one way to look after our mental health and ‘nature’ is the theme of UK Mental Health Awareness Week which, this year, runs from 10-17 May. You can find out more from the Mental Health Foundation who are asking us to share images, videos and sounds of nature on social media using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature.

Lockdown and travel restrictions have highlighted adverse effects of fossil fuel use including air pollution and the climate emergency. The UN World Environment Day is on Saturday 5 June and this year marks the start of the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. This could provide a focus for learning activities about human impact and the environment. You can find out more at worldenvironmentday.global #GenerationRestoration

THERE ARE MANY FESTIVALS, HOLIDAYS AND EVENTS THIS TERM:

  • Ramadan has already started and is observed by Muslims until Eid ul-Fitr on, or near 13 May
  • Stephen Lawrence Day is on Thursday 22 April
  • St George’s Day is on Friday 23 April and this is also Shakespeare Day
  • May is topped and tailed by bank holidays, with the Early May Bank Holiday on Monday 3 May and the Spring Bank Holiday on Monday 31 May
  • Friday 7 May is the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot
  • The Christian feast of Pentecost is on Sunday 23 May
  • In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on Sunday 20 June
  • Monday 21 June marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year
  • Tuesday 22 June is Windrush Day which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community
  • Tuesday 20 July is Eid ul-Adha, or greater Eid

Many of the most memorable aspects of school life usually happen during the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, enrichment weeks, proms and end of year awards.

These enrich the curriculum and help build communities. This year these events will be very different, and some may not be possible at all, but schools will find ways to celebrate their own unique community and the landmark transitions for years 6, 11, and 13.

Hopefully, by the end of the summer term, teachers and pupils alike will be able to enjoy a well-earned summer break after an extraordinary school year.

Looking for a little inspiration?

I have collected educational quotes for several years. I originally put up one each Monday morning in the staffroom of the school I worked. They proved popular, so I started sharing them online as well.

In this first gallery, I have combined the quotes with my own photographs. I hope they inspire you. Please feel free to use and share them freely, but within the terms of the Creative Commons licence under which I have made them available: please attribute the images to me and do not use them for commercial purposes. Thank you.

The images used in the gallery below are all in the public domain. I have simply added the quotes.

You can find many more education quotes in my series of posts on Motivation for Mondays.

A safer internet: four steps to check reliability

I wrote this post for Safer Internet Day 2021, but the advice applies at any time. The theme was ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in an online world’. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups, on the Safer Internet Centre website.

At a time when both teachers and children are working remotely over the internet, it is more crucial than ever that we can rely on the information, and sources of that information, that we encounter online.

In my role within the Education Team at the Bodleian Libraries, I deliver sessions on academic study skills, including evaluating online sources. You can find resources for this (and other course topics) on the OxLibris website. The guidance is aimed at students researching for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and other coursework, but it applies to any online research.

1. What is the purpose of this site?

Ask yourself why the information has been put online. What is the intention of those who created the site, or posted the information? Is it to inform or educate? To entertain? Perhaps it’s to persuade or promote a particular opinion or point of view? Maybe the aim is marketing: to sell a product.

While information about the site can be useful in deciding this, it is also useful to look at any adverts on the site. While many sites will carry adverts that are unconnected with the information, ask yourself if the advertisers could be influencing the site content. This could be directly by paying for the content, or indirectly because the site avoids publishing anything that they think advertisers will not like.

2. Who has provided this information?

There are several ways we can find out who is behind a website and the information it contains. A well-run website should make it easy for users to find this out.

  • An ‘About’, ‘About Us’ or ‘Who We Are’ tab in the menu or navigation bar is a good place to start. This should provide information about who is behind the site and their reasons for creating it.
  • Contact details can often be found on a ‘Contact Us’ page or link. Ideally, this should provide as much contact information as possible, not just a web form or email address. Look for a registered telephone number and a postal address.
  • Organisational information. If the site is a business or charity this should be obvious. In the UK, companies, including non-profit companies, should be registered. Their company number will allow you to look up details of the company and its directors. Charities should be registered with the Charities Commission. Their registration number should be present and can be checked to verify their charitable status.
  • If the website collects information about you, perhaps through a sign-up form for news updates, it should include a Privacy Notice saying how they will use any personal information they collect, the legal basis for processing your information, how you can opt out, and who you can contact if you have any questions about this.
This homepage has an ‘About us’ tab, contact details, charity and company registrations, and a link to a privacy notice. Image credit: fullfact.org

If you can’t find this information, ask why this might be. While it may just be poor web design, it could be because the creators want to remain obscure.

3. Are there references for primary sources?

A primary source of information is written by the person who first produced the data, information, idea or opinion. Websites often summarise this information. This may be to disseminate it more widely, or to make it more accessible for non-specialists. It may also be to support the author’s own ideas, or to place a particular slant on the original information. In extreme cases, it can be used to create ‘fake news’ by surrounding a kernel of fact with misinformation.

You should be able to trace the original source of information by looking for references. These should detail where to find the source, which could be a book, published article, news item, or online publication. Wherever possible a link to the source should be included.

It’s important to check sources, especially for controversial topics. This enables us to verify not only whether the information is accurate but also whether it has been interpreted in an accurate and unbiased way. It’s particularly important to check sources for claims made on social media.

4. Has the information been fact checked?

Following up references enables us to check facts, but this isn’t always possible, particularly for fast-developing news stories, or information communicated over social media platforms. Fortunately, information may already have been fact-checked. A number of organisations have arisen in recent years to meet the need for objective fact-checking of claims that are made online and in the news.

When using such sites, we need to be as careful as we would with any site over who is running it and why, because some sites which claim to be objective in fact promote a particular viewpoint. Two sites which are both independent and reliable are fullfact.org and fact-check.org.

Full Fact is a UK-based charity and non-profit company that provides a fact-checking service for topical news items.

Fact Check is based in the United States and focuses on US politics, although there is some coverage of international topics.

A particular favourite of mine is politifact.com. While its scope is largely restricted to US politics, I do enjoy the six-point ‘truth-o-meter’ ratings it gives to statements, which range from ‘True’ for verified facts, to ‘Pants on Fire’ to outright fabrications!

When attempting to navigate the myriad of information available online, taking a little time to go through these four steps will go a long way to ensuring that the sources of information you use are reliable.

If you are interested in online safety, you might like my post on Lessons from a Ransomeware Attack.

We make the weather

This is one of my favourite educational quotes. I think it applies as much to remote teaching as when We are in the classroom.

Sometimes we feel a loss of connection during remote lessons, especially if students are on mute with cameras off, but it’s important to remember that we can still ‘set the climate’. In this situation, I think it’s really important to use the same interpersonal skills we would in class. Use tone, expression, and humour. Smile and look directly to camera as you would to a student. We may be looking at a little webcam lens, but our class will feel the connection we are making with them. It will still be our mood that makes the weather.

You can find more inspiring education quotes in my posts on Motivation for Mondays.

Image: Rodger Caseby

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January. It’s an occasion many schools mark each year and build into their teaching.

On the day, people all over the world remember the victims of the holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe during WW2, and victims of genocides that have taken place since then, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness. It explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness of genocide to be the light before, during and after horrific events. You can find more information and resources for schools on the HMDT website. For HMD2021, the Trust asked young people to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition to be launched on 27 January.

A couple of years ago, I ran a similar in-school competition that drew on the work of Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch. The aim was to encourage young people to think about the part they could play in countering the ten stages of genocide, including the denial of historical events.

The ten stages of genocide

  1. Classification: all cultures have categories that distinguish different groups of people, but these can become the basis of discrimination. A first step can be the denial of citizenship to a group. We can prevent classification by celebrating our shared humanity.
  2. Symbolisation: different groups are distinguished by symbols or colours, for example the yellow star worn by Jews under Nazi rule before and during WWII. We can prevent symbolisation by rejecting racist and derogatory language and attitudes.
  3. Discrimination: A dominant group, driven by an exclusionary ideology, uses custom, political power and the law to curtail the rights of other groups. We can counter discrimination by ensuring full citizenship rights, political engagement, and legal redress for all groups.
  4. Dehumanisation: the humanity of members of a group is denied by equating them with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. They may be vilified through hate propaganda in print, on radio & TV, and in social media. This subverts the normal human revulsion against murder. We can prevent dehumanisation by challenging such speech across all media platforms, and in everyday interactions.
  5. Organisation: genocide is organised by a state either directly or through militias or decentralised terrorist groups which allow deniability. This can be countered by national and international scrutiny, sanctions, and prosecution.
  6. Polarisation: extremists drive groups apart and target moderates who speak and work against genocide. Polarisation can be prevented by supporting the work of human rights groups and the legal challenge of extremist actions.
  7. Preparation: Leaders of the perpetrator group plan for genocide, perhaps using euphemisms for mass killing such as ‘Final Solution’ or ‘purification’. This may only be prevented by international action such as arms embargoes.
  8. Persecution: victims are separated because of ethnicity, religion or other factor. They may be confined to ghettos or concentration camps and subject to extrajudicial killing. Perpetrators watch for international reaction and accelerate their actions if it is ineffective.
  9. Extermination: the mass killing that defines genocide occurs. It is referred to as ‘extermination’ by the perpetrators because they do not regard the victims as fully human. This can only be halted by rapid international intervention to protect victims.
  10. Denial: this occurs during or after genocide. It includes attempts to cover up or discredit evidence, denial that genocide occurred, or even attempts to blame the victims. Denial can be countered by prosecution of perpetrators, and continued school and public education.

Where we can all most readily play a role in countering genocide is in the early stages, and in working against the denial that occurs following genocide. That’s why I believe that it is so important for educators to embrace events such as Holocaust Memorial Day. Steps like commemorating past victims of genocide, challenging the use of language to describe those who are ‘other’ today, and standing up for human rights, all help to guard against any future genocide.