Teacher Talk: Curiosity and Creative Physics

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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;

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

 

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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

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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!image001 - Spark Academy

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!

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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

 

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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

 

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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!

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The Spark: Top Sparkie’s Super Award Nomination

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Student Thought: ‘Great Experiences with Spark’ A-Level

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science 1 - Spark Academy  We value all of our students and we love to know what they think about us. For this Student Thought post, we spoke to some of our A-Level Biology students.

Of course, at Spark most of our A-level students study more than one subject with us! Shivam Jiven studies Biology and Chemistry, and Bhupinder Walia studies Biology, Chemistry and Maths. It’s great to see how manybio dna - Spark Academy of our A-level students choose to come to use across our range of A-level subjects.

We asked our A-level students what they most enjoyed about Spark…

 

The style of teaching – how’s its broken down into parts with teaching and past paper questions

Shivam Jiven

We know how important exam practice and learning to tackle exam questions is for our A-level students. It’s great to see they appreciate the effort our teachers put in to balance their lessons between learning and exam practice!

The teachers are supportive and the work extends past school work

Bhupinder Walia

Studying a topic at Spark before looking at it in college can often give our students a big boost of confidence. They have their basis for the topic before the rest of their class and can work to further their understanding.

What did they have to say about teaching during lessons?

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The teaching is clear, well detailed and allows for a fun experience instead of us being confused. The teachers are nice and extremely friendly which makes asking questions fine.

Shivam

Our Biology specialist Gemma is always happy to create an environment where students feel they can question their teachers – it all goes towards our greater understanding.

You get a greater understanding and the teachers help identify strengths and weaknesses so you know where to improve.

Bhupinder

Being able to assess your own strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important at A-level. When you are freer than ever before to direct your own learning, it’s important to be able to pick out what you really need to work on. Mital, Gemma and Chris are very happy to find they’re supporting their A-level students in this self-assessment!

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Anything else to add?

 

Keep up the good teaching!

Shivam

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Thanks Shivam! Your participation and willingness to learn is just as important when it comes to our successful lessons.

 

Teacher Talk: What’s up with Fireworks?

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This week’s Teacher Talk comes from our headteacher Gemma in the Science Department. With Bonfire Night just around the corner, Gemma wanted to teach us all a little about what’s really going on in fireworks…

fireworks 2 - Spark AcademyWhat exactly are fireworks?

 

WHIZZ! WOOSH! BANG! It’s all we’re hearing at the moment, as it’s the time of year that we have fireworks to celebrate many different occasions. But have you ever wondered how fireworks actually work? How do they explode into different colours? And who thought it would be a good idea to have fireworks anyway?

Well it is widely believed that the essence of fireworks was discovered, by accident, by a Chinese cook over 2000 years ago. The black powder, which is now known as gunpowder, was stuffed inside bamboo tubes and thrown onto the fire. The gasses produced would build up in pressure and then explode. Hey presto! We have the first firecracker.

It wasn’t until the 13th century that gunpowder was first recorded in Europe by an English scholar and monk called Roger Bacon who investigated the composition of the chemicals in gunpowder.  The most famous account of the use of gunpowder comes from the 17th Century, of course it was the ‘Gunpowder Plot’! This plot to kill King James I of England is the entire reason we have Bonfire night and fireworks on the 5th November.

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Left: Guy Fawkes arranging barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament. Right: fireworks celebrating modern day Bonfire Night above Big Ben

So what are in fireworks?

 

The base for any firework will be the part that makes it explode. This is known as Potassium Nitrate. This reacts with sulfur and carbon to form potassium sulphide, nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide. By lighting the fuse on a firework, we add enough energy to kick-start the chemical reaction and BANG! you have the explosion.  But fireworks are not just all about the explosion, they make pretty colours too. These are all due to the metal compounds that are packed inside. So sodium compounds give yellow and orange, copper give green or blue and calcium and strontium give red.

That’s the chemistry, but then there’s the physics… A basic law of physics, the conservation of energy, states that the total chemical energy packed into the firework before it ignites must be the same as the total remaining in it after it explodes, plus the energy released as light, heat, sound and movement. Physics can also explain why fireworks always make symmetrical explosions. Another basic law of physics, the conservation of momentum, states that the momentum of a firework must be the same before and after an explosion, so explosions to the left must be exactly balanced by explosions to then right.fireworks 1 - Spark Academy

Is it only physics that’s involved?

 

I wouldn’t like to leave out the biology side of fireworks, but what could biology possibly have to do with fireworks?! Well our Science Sparkies will be well aware of the safety procedures in a science lab when handling explosives. It is exactly the same when handling fireworks. Fireworks should be kept in a box with a lid. Instructions should be read using a torch, not a flame. A safe distance should be kept between yourself and the firework and you should never put them in your pockets! Sparklers should be held at arms length and when finished should be placed in a bucket of water or sand. Finally, never return to a firework that has not gone off… it may decide to do just that once you are right next to it!

Headteacher Talk – October’s Principle Focus

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Here at Spark we’re very proud of our new Headteacher, Gemma. In fact, we’re making it a principle that we focus on our ‘principal’ each month. We’re dedicating one Teacher Talk each month to Gemma to let us know how everything looks from her point of view.

Well. First let me start by saying, ‘WOW’ – what a busy start to the new academic year we have had! We have welcomed new staff (including myself), a brand-new staff uniform and in the not too distant future, a new and improved Spark Academy Headquarters at our Belgrave site.

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Who am I?

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to you. My name is Gemma and I have joined Spark Academy as Headteacher.

I have come from a Science teaching background and am continuing to teach Science at Spark. My specialism is Biology, so along with teaching KS3 & KS4 Science I am taking the Year 12 & 13 students for their A-level Biology lessons.

I taught for over 10 years in state-run Leicestershire Secondary Schools before coming to Spark. Because of this, I have been fortunate to have had many proud teacher moments, from seeing former students continue their learning at university and the pursuit of alternative avenues of education to reach their desired goals and careers.

Why I came to Spark

 

I have developed a passion for teaching and learning. Enjoyment of your work is an important principle for me, and a key reason I pursued a position at Spark. In particular, I have a keen interest in making the current curriculum accessible to all students. Very few people are naturally gifted at academic subjects. For most of us it is something we have to work hard at. It is important to develop resilience as part of your learning, because we often learn better from making mistakes. Many people are afraid to make mistakes, even from a young age,

For some reason from a young age we are afraid to make these mistakes. It is my goal to create a supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable making mistakes and, ultimately, where they can learn from these mistakes. Whatever the background, or ability of students, my desire is that they are able to reach their full potential.

It is important to me that all students have the confidence to discuss their ideas and question the world around them. It is not only independent learning we wish to encourage but also a self-assurance to ask questions and to be inquisitive. We believe at Spark that it is this element to learning that is key to becoming a successful learner.

In addition to the development of our students at Spark, I also have an interest in continual development of our amazing staff. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was mentoring a bright ambitious young lady and having exciting discussions of what teaching and learning meant to her. I’m proud to say she is now our CEO and founder of Spark, Mital Thanki!

 

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Some of the amazing science Gemma has already taught included making volcanos!

Looking to the future

I believe that teaching is a vocation rather than just a job. We expect students to develop and improve their learning. In the same way, we as teachers also need to continually develop and improve our own practice. This ensures our learners are getting the very best experience during our lessons.

I aim to keep you updated on the teaching and learning strategies we are researching and implementing here at Spark Academy.

The Spark: Terrific Team Building

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   Welcome to this week’s edition of The Spark. Tuesday is News-day and this week’s article ‘Terrific Team Building’ details the entertaining tales of Spark Academy’s team-building trip to Escape Asylum…

Terrific Team Building

Diwali was a day off teaching, but the fun never stops at Spark Academy.

 

Thursday 19th October was Diwali Day. Many in Leicester gathered to celebrate a new year. For Spark Academy, this meant an unusual day without teaching. Instead the team gathered to celebrate together.

The academic year began with the introduction of four new members of the team, and due to Spark Academy’s busy start this term not much time had been available for team building. Diwali Day offered a perfect opportunity for the team to get together and strengthen their bonds further.escape room - Spark Academy

Mital Thanki said

The aim of the day was to enhance relationships within the team as well as to work effectively together on something completely non-work related. This helps us feel more connected, form tighter bonds and work in a unified manner. This is exactly what we’re about at Spark Academy – team work definitely makes dreamwork!

 

The Team-Building Activity

 

The decision was made to go to Escape Asylum in Leicester, where groups are placed in a room and given 60 minutes to escape. The rooms are full of puzzles, mazes and ask the group to work together as a team to escape. Firstly, Spark Academy team split into two groups and headed into two different escape rooms: Asylum and the Cabin.

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(Left to right) Nic Hey, Chris Nelson, Mital Thanki, Barb Herbert and Charlotte Perrott celebrating their win in Aslyum

The Asylum team needed to solve a murder in order to escape, facing terrifying ordeals (including crazed clowns) along their way. The Cabin team worked tirelessly to escape from Eyeball Bill, piecing together clue after clue to try and make it out on time.

Nic Hey (Aslyum) told The Spark that she learnt

the perils of blocking our success, and the challenge of overcoming your own weaknesses in order to succeed. These are valuable lessons I think we can apply to our working lives at Spark

 

Those who faced the Asylum escaped with five minutes to spare. The Cabin team, however, were not as lucky. Their last moments in the room were filled with desperation, trying to work out the last clue to escape. Unfortunately, escape was not on the cards for them that day.

Gemma Kirby (the Cabin) argues that

despite being unable to escape, we really pulled together as a team to make it as far as we did – just a few seconds longer and we’d make it!

 

The Aftermath

 

Although one team was riddled with disappointment, they did learn the value of working together. In both groups it was clear that they would not have been able to complete as much

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(Left to right) Rebecca Rowland, Katherine Young, Gemma Kirby, Nidhi Rana and Vikz Chauhan commiserating after being caught by Eyeball Bill in the Cabin.

as they did without the contribution of every team member.

Charlotte Perrott (Aslyum) said

having to discover solutions for ourselves was invaluable. Developing the skills to do this in Asylum has helped me learn how to approach and overcome challenges in my working life

 

The outing was like a microcosm of Spark Academy itself – without the valuable contributions of each staff member, Spark Academy would not be able to provide the incredible service it does. Now that Diwali is over, and all celebrations have been had, it is time for teaching at Spark Academy to resume as normal. The positive outcomes of the team building exercise will surely be seen as the term continues.

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The whole team at the end of the trip

 

 

CSI Spark: Creative Science Investigations

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This week we have turned to our resident physicist and Head of Science, Nic, to learn all about CSI Spark. It might not be quite what you’re thinking – let’s dive in and see exactly what our Year 7s and 8s have been investigating.

What does CSI stand for?

 

Something exciting has been happening in the Science department here at Spark Academy.  Over the past 7 weeks, we have been doing science a little differently for Years 7 & 8.

As many of you may be familiar with, CSI – that is, Crime Scene Investigation – is a long-standing television show that shows us just how important science can be in fighting crime. CSI at Spark, however, stands for Creative Science Investigation. 

 

The Structure of the Earth

 

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In our first topic, students investigated how the Earth was formed, how earthquakes affect buildings, and how Earth has changed over time. Volcanic activities and tectonic plates have changed the very make up of the Earth, as well as its atmosphere. Students have modelled their own construction ideas by building structures from sweets and jelly. Their ‘buildings’ were tested to see if they could withstand earthquakes (simple shaking), which allowed our students to discuss the idea of stability and mobility of buildings in earthquake prone zones.

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Iceland’s volcanic eruption in 2010 at the Eyjafjallajökull volcano became the focus for two of our lessons. Students gathered information about the eruption, the issues it generated for the people of Iceland and the wider global impact on air travel and tourism. In true ‘Blue Peter’ style we made our very own model volcanoes – and erupted them. Students used a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar (along with colouring for effect). We discussed the premise of a preliminary investigation and the students investigated the quantities of substances to be used (to maximise effect) before erupting their own volcano.

When looking at the atmosphere students tried a simple electrolysis experiment. By passing a small potential difference and current through graphite pencils in a solution, they generated hydrogen and oxygen gas. We then used the gas test to see if the gases collected were indeed the ones we had suggested. Hydrogen gives a squeaky pop when a flame is held to it and oxygen will re-light a glowing splint.

 

What makes CSI different?

 

The students have really taken to the more practical element of their lessons and enjoy asking questions. They are always keen to find out what practical or investigation they may be doing next! Teaching theory hand in hand with practical demonstrations is making our CSI lessons both fun and educational.

 

Giving our students an edge…

 

The emphasis is on learning through the enjoyment of creativity and hands-on activities. The ability to write scientifically about any investigations they carry out is an essential part of the new Science GCSE. However, students will need the practical skills base to be able to write about their investigations successfully.

The UK is struggling to recruit the engineers of the future, and the wholly academic GCSEs may not provide important practical skills. We hope to build vital practical and investigative skills our students will need to give them to have a competitive edge in a highly skilled jobs market. CSI is science for the engineers, scientists and researchers of the future – and it all starts at Spark.

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