Headteacher Talk: What Can Finland Teach Us About Education?

As we approach the end of the month, it’s time to hear from our Headteacher Gemma. She has been thinking about what we at Spark can learn about education from others. That could be schools, other professionals, and even other countries…

 

What makes Finland’s education system different?

 

Finland’s educational system underwent reforms about 40 years ago. Since then, they have consistently come at the top end of the world rankings for education. It is only recently, however, that they have been making waves in the world of education. With comparisons being made to our own educational system in the UK, are there lessons to be learned?

In Finland, a child starts school in the year that they turn 7 and remain in compulsory education for 9 years. This basic education is provided within a single structure, there is no divide between primary and secondary education. It is only in the last 3 years of their education that students are taught by subject specialists. There are no National tests for students in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for all assessment. There is just one exam at the end of the 9 years of study that will be the same for all students.  This is in stark contrast to our own system in the UK. Here, students as young as 6 will be entered for testing. There results measure the progress of the students throughout the whole of their academic journey.

 

 

So what about the ethos?

 

One task of education in Finland is to develop a student’s ability to self-assess, to support the growth of self-knowledge and study skills and to help make student’s aware of their own progress.  This is something very close to our hearts at Spark.  We commit to supporting our students, not only in their study and learning of specific content, but also in developing their independence and resilience in learning.

It is not only the students that are the focus of education in Finland, teachers have a very different experience than many in the UK. Teachers in Finland are held in the same esteem as lawyers and doctors. They are seen as the keys to quality education. As a result, they spend 2 hours a week on their own professional development. As you are probably aware, teachers in the UK are also currently in the news, but for very different reasons. More teachers are leaving the profession than are joining, with much of this down to workload and pressures from league tables (something which is absent in Finland).

 

 

Why is the Finnish system important to us?

 

At Spark, we too, believe that our teachers are the key to a student’s success. They are responsible for producing our bespoke resources and assessments. This allows them to concentrate on how they deliver the lesson in the best possible way for their students to learn. It is also important for us to allow for professional development. Our teachers continually look at teaching strategies and research other areas in education.

Looking at the Finnish system has drawn comparisons with our own ethos here at Spark. However, only time will tell if our schools will follow a similar path…

 

The Spark: November’s Newest Sparkie

 

Tuesday is news-day at Spark Academy. This week’s article introduces Spark Academy’s newest member, Barbara Herbert.

November’s Newest Sparkie

The Growing Team

 

In October 2017, it became apparent that the usual influx of new students at the beginning of a new term was still going strong. Founder Mital Thanki and the rest of the team were thrilled by the interest of so many students. However, the demand on Spark Academy’s administration team continued to increase. It quickly became clear that the admin team needed to grow at the same rate as Spark’s student base.

Mital decided to hire another admin assistant. Therefore, in November Spark welcomed a new member of the team. Barbara Herbert joined Spark Academy from a school-based background.

 

Barbara (top left) in her first outing with the Spark Academy team before starting officially a few weeks later.

 

Background in Education

 

Barbara has worked in education for over ten years in various roles. Her roles began in the science department, where she worked as a Senior Science Technician for six years. More recently, Barbara also worked as an Inclusion Officer for four years. This involved running an alternative classroom for students with various emotional, physical and behavioural needs.

Barbara has previously worked closely with pupil premium students and vulnerable students. She supported these students with struggles in their school and home lives. Barbara told The Spark that her role as an Inclusion Officer included

 

raising students’ confidence by working closely with each individual.

 

What can Spark Academy offer Barbara?

 

Barbara chose to join Spark Academy to focus on education in a different way. She hopes to support students in their educational journey and in moving to the next chapter of their lives.

 

I enjoy working with the Spark team. Everyone is very friendly and they made me feel welcome. I am looking forward to my journey with Spark and to watch it grow and develop into something very special.

Student Thought: Different and Varied Learning

This week’s Student Thoughts are from members of the Oadby Year 5 class. Their ideas and comments help us to shape our lessons and develop the way we teach Maths and English.

 

What do you like about Spark?

 

We always ask our students what they enjoy about lessons at Spark Academy. Without student enjoyment, Spark would be the same as all other tuition providers.

Rohan Upple told us that his favourite part of both Maths and English is

 

that it is fun

 

Rohan (right) and fellow student Ariyan (left) working together.

 

At Spark, we strongly believe that making our lessons fun is key to helping our students learn. This is especially important as we are very aware that our students have spent all day learning, so by ensuring our lessons are enjoyable we can help our students stay focused.

Another student, Amelia Suleman, told us that

 

I enjoy learning different things in maths such as percentages. I enjoy learning different things in English such as spellings and comprehension.

 

The varied nature of our lessons and our coverage of the whole curriculum means that every week at Spark is different. This is obviously something our students also enjoy!

 

Amelia working hard to create sentences using the progressive tense.

Why did you choose Spark?

 

Amelia told us that she

 

looked at Kumon before Spark and I picked Spark because they follow the school curriculum

 

We strongly feel that following the national curriculum is the best way to support our students at school. It is clear that our students feel the same way!

Teacher Talk: Curiosity and Creative Physics

Today’s Teacher Talk focuses on one of Spark Academy’s newest subjects: A-Level Physics. Nic Hey, Head of Science, has introduced the subject this year so she can share her passion with the next generation of scientists.

‘Physics: the science frontier. These are the voyages of the students at Spark, and their continuing mission to explore strange new concepts and to boldly go where no Sparkie has gone before…’

Some of you will be familiar with the influence for the above statement and where it has come from: Star Trek. However, you don’t have to be a science fiction buff or fit into a nerdy stereotype to study A-Level physics.

 

Why should you study physics?

 

The world of physics is more open and diverse than ever. If you can think outside the box, collaborate with your peers and work tirelessly to solve problems then A-Level Physics can lead to exciting opportunities at University and in the world of work.

As Head of Science, I teach all three sciences but I am especially passionate about all things physics. I studied at the University Of Leicester and received an Honours Degree in Physics with Astrophysics so I like to share my knowledge and experiences. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I’ve visited Space Exploration Mission Controls (in Houston & Moscow) and been to the Large Hadron Collider (CERN) in Switzerland.

I have seven years of teaching and personal experience in the world of physics. It is this experience that I draw on. I provide students with opportunities to learn, build their confidence and broaden their horizons. I also like to encourage students to study physics further. We will always need new ideas and new scientists!

 

Where can I find you and what’s involved?

 

Here at Spark we offer A-Level Physics tuition at our Oadby site (Manor High School) for both years 12 and 13, but it’s not your standard tuition.

Our experiments so far have included making ripple tanks to demonstrate the interference patterns of waves;

 

and using jelly beans and rainbow laces to show Feynman diagrams and the interaction of subatomic particles.

 

 

Student creativity and imagination can flourish in our lessons. We explore creativity as a way of solving problems and used to visualise concepts in three dimensions. These are some of the important skills we develop in our tuition sessions.

Students are encouraged to actively take part in lessons. This could be through practical experiences, asking questions or solving problems together on the board. The most important trait needed for any physics course is curiosity. Spark students are encouraged to want to know more and more!

If you are studying physics as one of your A-levels, come along and try us out. Our aim is to build confidence and help you master the subject. Book in for a free trial to see if Spark is right for you.

Surviving Sixth Form

As we approach the final weeks before Christmas, some of you will look back and feel your first term at Sixth Form hasn’t been plain sailing. We spoke to Mital to get some advice for Year 12s. If her advice is as good as her A-level classes, you know you’re in good hands!

Sixth form. Sure, in essence it’s just the same as school –studying subjects and gaining qualifications. But as you are probably aware by now, it is a whole different environment. Free periods, no uniform, independent study, less subjects, more freedom – sounds great, right? Yeah sure, it is for a while, but the procrastination between lessons has led to your workload piling up. Crying might seem like the only option… And you no longer get excited about wearing your own clothes. If only you could wear pyjamas rather than make an effort!

The difficulty of the modules, the amount of deadlines and lack of structure can be an overwhelming adjustment. However, there are ways to overcome the stress of sixth form:

Time Management

 

You might not have a student planner anymore but this does not mean you don’t need one. It will become crucial to record your lessons, deadlines, targets and to-do-lists.

With the glorious introduction of free lessons, it feels like you have won the lottery, but this free time is an opportunity for you to get lots of work and deadlines done within school hours so you are able to use your time at home to get a head-start on reviewing your lessons and making revision notes. Wait? What? Revision notes already? Yes, now is the time to make revision notes but it will bail you out later on. The depth of the GCSE subjects you took pales into comparison to A-Level courses and so it will become important to revise as you go along rather than leaving it to the last minute.

Organisation

 

Sixth form may mean that you no longer use exercise books in lessons. It’s really important that you have a system in place for keeping track or your notes. You might want to buy folders for each of your subjects. Have sections so you can divide your class notes, revision notes, homeworks and past papers.

Balance

 

Organisation, time management and proactivity – mega important. But also making sure you have a good work life balance is just as necessary. Don’t forget to hang out with your friends, for a much needed break Remember the importance of regular exercise and a balanced diet– these help maintain a healthy state of mind for working. There is a lot that needs to be done but don’t burn yourself out!

Sixth form can be a daunting and an overwhelming adjustment, but it takes time to master the level of independence and increasing difficulty and depth of the work. We’ve discussed how to make the transition easier but also remember that this change is preparing you well for university. University lacks a lot of structure, more free lessons, less discipline and less guidance. This is all a process of growing up and becoming independent characters and your sixth form college is providing the first steps in this transformation. So take the bull by the horns and take control of your sixth form learning experience.

Student Thoughts: Organise; Revise; Survive!

As you know, at Spark we are always looking for ways to share the successes of our students. What better way is there to do that than to ask our students to write about their successes themselves? This week’s Student Thoughts post with advise on how to organise and revise in Year 11 comes to you from one of our AS Level students. 

Hi, my name is Kiran and I am currently studying AS Chemistry and Biology at Spark Academy. I have been a part of the tuition centre since Year 8. I truly feel that Spark has not only helped me with my school work but has also allowed me to develop as a person and provided me with support throughout the years.

 

What I like most about Spark:

 

One of my favourite things about Spark Academy has to be the teachers. Their enthusiasm towards teaching their subjects is amazing; you can see and feel the passion that they have which encourages you to stretch your potential and work hard. Every lesson is unique and enjoyable which makes you look forward to next week.

 

Getting the balance right

 

I am here to talk to you about how I revised for my GCSEs and how I balanced my studies with extra-curricular activities. Over the course of a few blog posts I will be sharing ideas that I used to help me revise as well as manage my time!

If I had to narrow the key points down they would be:

 

Know What You Need to Do and When Your Deadlines Are

 

 

Whether this is having a to-do list on post it notes or a diary that you check regularly, having work written down will prevent you from forgetting to do it. For example each piece of work I have I write on individual post its and stick them on my study wall so I remember. This can be used for reminding you about homework you need to be do or when and what to revise for an exam.

 

Stay Organised

 

 

Try to have each subject’s notes or books kept separately instead of all mixed up. When it comes to revision you need to know where everything is and not waste time looking for your notes! You could use plastic wallets or folders with dividers to organise yourself.

 

Look After Yourself!

 

Make sure you have regular breaks. Revision in large chunks is not effective. For example, I used to revise for 30 minutes followed by a 5 minute break or even 45 minutes of work with 10 minute breaks. Whatever suits you best! Also don’t forget to leave time for you to relax and do things that you enjoy.

See you next time where I will talk about revision techniques that I use! Remember – if you organise, you can revise and you will survive your GCSEs!

Teacher Talk: Calculus – Super or Scary?

This week’s Teacher Talk comes from Spark’s KS5 Maths lead Chris, who is determined to show us that calculus is not as terrifying as you might believe…

 

What’s involved in A-Level Maths?

Since the start to term in August, our Year 12 students have been revising and improving on the knowledge of several topics. These include Completing the Square, Surds, Coordinate Geometry, and Factorising Quadratics.

Now that this introductory period is over, we will now begin to look at the first really new topic in KS5. This is the first topic to break away from the regular GCSE curriculum: Calculus.

Calculus is an umbrella term for two key topics: Differentiation and Integration.

 

The History of Calculus

 

One popular topic in KS3 and 4 was to determine the gradient of a straight line. This would be rather easy considering that the gradient would be constant throughout all values of x on the graph.

What do you think would happen if you tried to find the gradient of a curve instead?

From the animation below, you can see that the value of the gradient (sometimes called a derivative) will alter, depending on the x-value on the graph.

 

So instead of a constant value, we need to find a general equation for this gradient. How is this done?

Well, with differentiation of course!

We can date the first evidence of gradient dates back to Euclid (c. 300 BC) and Archimedes (c. 287 – 212 BC). However, we credit the modern development of calculus to two mathematicians. These are Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) and Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716).

Historically, it has been long debated over whether Newton or Leibniz was actually the first to “invent” calculus.

 

Newton vs. Leibniz

 

Newton had begun working on his investigations into physics and geometry in 1665 – 1666. He used calculus as the scientific description of the generation of motion as time changes. He had called these “fluxions”, rather than derivatives.

However, he did not publish his work officially.

In 1684, Leibniz had published a book explaining the concepts of calculus for differentiation, and another in 1686 for integration.

One year later, Newton had published his book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (or: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). This is widely considered as one of the greatest science books of all time. The book contained Newton’s three laws of motion and Newton’s law of universal gravitation. These both help to form the foundation of classical mechanics (but this is a story for another day!).

Throughout the book, Newton uses mathematical methods included in modern-day calculus. However, the notation that we use in the 21st century was largely absent in Newton’s book.

It is actually Leibniz’s notation such as

 for differentiation

or

for integration

 

that we continue to use in classrooms and lecture theatres to A-level and undergraduates throughout the world to this day.

Newton began to discredit Leibniz’s reputation. He used his newly found status and influence from his latest book. This came to a head in 1715.The Royal British society decided to settle the infamous argument once and for all.

The President of the society in 1703 was Newton. He appointed an impartial committee to decide the issue. The committee concluded in its official report that Newton was sole inventor of calculus. Newton was the anonymous author of the report.

What a coincidence, you might say!

Parent Perspectives: Learning is ‘made fun’

This week it’s time for another parent perspective post. The support and feedback from our parents is invaluable, so we like to showcase you wherever we can. We have caught up with Mrs Upple, whose son Rohan is in Year 5, to find out how she feels about Spark Academy and the fun Rohan is having in our lessons.

Rohan started studying English and Maths at Spark in September of this year. He joined a Year 5 group which was small at first, but is now growing to include a variety of students. All of the students in his class are individuals growing in confidence with the support of our teachers and each other. It’s a pleasure to teach a group that are so willing to help each other in every way they can! As teachers, we strive to create learning environments which are collaborative and friendly, so it is great to see that Rohan experiences this in his class.

 

Mrs Upple told us that she looked for tuition for Rohan as she felt he

 

needed support

 

in his literacy and numeracy. For his teachers, it is clear that the extra support he receives at Spark is developing Rohan’s confidence and his ability. He is growing keen to answer questions in lesson and is often correct when he does.

 

Why Spark?

 

 

It’s often helpful for us to know why our students and parents chose Spark Academy to be their tuition provider, and Mrs Upple’s reasons were similar to those of many of our other parents. She told us that her cousin recommended Spark to her. After Rohan’s trial she felt she didn’t need to look anywhere else. Recommendations like this are just one way that our parents show their support for Spark and we feel very honoured to say that Mrs Upple would recommend us herself. We’re glad that the hard work and effort our teachers put in to every lesson does not go unnoticed!

 

What does Rohan like most about Spark?

 

Rohan

 

enjoys English as it is made fun

 

Our students come to us after a full school day and we understand that they are often tired. That’s why we try to make our lessons fun wherever possible. We find that the more our students enjoy coming to Spark, the more they learn. It’s fantastic to hear that Rohan enjoys learning from us as much as we enjoy teaching him!

Mrs Upple told us that she is very happy with the

 

good teachers

 

who work at Spark. As a tuition service, we value our teachers very highly. It’s good to know that the quality teaching provided in both Maths and English is valued by our parents just as highly.

We’d like to offer a big thank you to Mrs Upple for all of her kind words. We also hope Rohan continues to find Spark useful, educational and enjoyable.

Teacher Talk: Finding Fun in Finding Information

This week’s Teacher Talk comes from one of our English teachers, Charlotte. Her ideas for teaching a lesson on finding information in a text led to some fantastic experiences in our Year 7 lessons last week.

At Spark, we understand the importance of the national curriculum. However, we also see the benefit in steering away from typical teaching methods. This is why teaching information retrieval to Year 7 is important, but can also be made into an interesting and exciting activity.

Information retrieval involves being able to find information in a text. This allows students to form an understanding of the information a student is reading. Rebecca, our Head of English, explained how we used this concept but altered it to make it an activity that caters for all abilities:

Here at spark we wanted to maintain using the national curriculum, but we wanted to avoid teaching by the book. This meant that students worked as part of a group to make sure everyone was involved.

Finding and compiling the information, ready to decide who was guilty.

Retrieving the information

 

The information retrieval mystery involves using witness statements to decide which suspect stole from a school. The witness statements were chosen from a variety of witnesses, ranging from 7-year old Maximus Marlo to the suspicious Caretaker, Argus Filch.

The pupils had to note key information from these statements, including appearance, description of events and timings. They then had to cross-check these statements with the description of the suspects and come to a group decision in response to the big question: Who committed the crime?

The suspects and everything we knew about them.

Year 7 student, Saimon stated

 

The information part was easy but then putting the suspects into an order was the hard part.

 

Presenting the findings

 

The second part of the lesson included a group presentation to the rest of the class. Presentations are sometimes a daunting experience for most students.

 

It’s best to focus the presentations on something fun. This means the students are less focused on presenting but genuinely want to explain what they have figured out as a group.

 

When presenting, students had to order their suspects in terms of most to least likely to have committed the crime. They received marks for how well they presented, and whether they placed the suspects in the right order.

Year 7 English student, Tanisha explained

 

It was really fun but I found it unfair that the boys won.

 

The group with the most points won, and received valuable Dojo points as their prize.

 

A summary of the lesson

 

Here at Spark, the students are at the heart of every activity we create. This activity required students to think critically and analytically. It also that they exercised both reading and summarising skills. The students also had to work as part of a group, and this not only ‘sparked’ debate between groups but also allowed the less confident pupils of the class to voice their opinions. We also had great fun finding out who did it!

The Spark: Top Sparkie’s Super Award Nomination

Tuesday is News-day and this edition of the Spark reports on another fantastic award nomination for Spark’s founder Mital Thanki.

Top Sparkie’s Super Award Nomination

Spark Academy’s owner and founder Mital Thanki has been nominated for Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year at the Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2017.

The Awards

 

The Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2017 is a national business award. These awards have been running for five years and recently expanded to hosting ceremonies in five cities: Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and London.

The Awards

 

acknowledge[] the hard work and inspiring stories of British entrepreneurs and businesses in Great Britain.

 

A regional award won by Mital Thanki

There are many categories, including Small Business Entrepreneur, Start-Up Entrepreneur and Young Entrepreneur of the Year among many others. A panel of experts choose the winner for each category from thousands of worthy applicants.

 

The Nomination

 

Mital has been nominated for Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year. This is a category that celebrates businesses that Natwest describes as

 

key mobilisers

 

due to the influence that these businesses can have on the industry they belong to. The Natwest Awards class a small business as one with fewer than fifty employees. The Awards also want to reward and celebrate those who dedicate their lives to the success of their business.

Another award received Mital and Spark Academy in 2017

Mital expertly manages Spark Academy’s ten employees. Furthermore, she oversees all areas of the company and is part of everything that Spark does. Her dedication to the company and its management is one of the reasons she has been nominated for this award. There are six nominees in total, which means that Mital has some fierce competition for the award.

 

Who are the other nominees?

 

The other nominees include: Adam Chapman, from Allvalves Online Limited; Amy Cunningham, from The Strings Club Limited; Emma Adams, from the Brit Pop Shop; Kasim Choudhary, from ThinkFest; and Matthew Innis, from Fitnniss. All of these nominees work incredibly hard since they have been able to build their businesses to be so successful.

These nominees come from a wide variety of small businesses. The Awards have over one thousand entries for each category, so it is clear that every nominee truly deserves to be in the running for this award. Moreover, it is infamously difficult to run a small business and each nominee is doing fantastic work.

A regional award won by Mital Thanki.

When are the Awards?

 

The Awards ceremony in Birmingham will take place on Thursday 16th November. Mital will be travelling there to enjoy the evening, as well as the nail-biting wait to discover whether she has won her category. In addition, the Spark Academy team will be waiting anxiously to hear the news all evening.

Mital said

I feel honoured to be a shortlist amongst so many brilliant entrepreneurs. I wish everyone the best for the night!