Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 3

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 3

* John "Dabbs" D'Abbro

This week:
* Alastair Campbell, Politics Teacher
* Alvin Hall, Maths Teacher
* Jane Poynter, Science (Enviroment) Teacher

Alastair Campbell, Politics Teacher

Alastair Campbell is speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival (which Jamie Oliver on voice-over calls the Cheltenham LITERARY Festival), and he brings along two of his students - Harlem and Nana-Kwame. In one way this is a continuation of Campbell's previous classes where he sticks to what he is good at, but in another way it's just him off on a junket and he's taken some kids along to make it seem like it's part of the Dream School project.

Harlem is very pleased to be at the Festival and thinks Campbell is "a lovely man".

Campbell is on stage discussing cutting benefits to people without jobs, and introduces the students to the audience, and asks the students if they have any questions. Harlem says that if benefits are cut and there are no jobs, it will lead to a war between the rich and the poor, and the poor will rob from the rich, so what is he going to do about it?

An audience member thought that Harlem's directness was refreshing.

What worked:
Playing to his strengths as a teacher, taking students out of the classroom

What didn't work:
Not really much of a teaching and learning experience

Alvin Hall, Maths Teacher

Alvin Hall is a very interesting choice for Maths Teacher, he has a degree in English, and a Masters in American Literature, and lectured in literature before moving into finance. His ability to understand complex financial instruments, and explain them simply, led him to becoming the director of course development at a company selling training materials for Wall Street examinations. This in turn lead him write articles and books on financial matters. From these articles and books he became a media personality who has presented television and radio shows. Jamie selects lots of people for the school who are TV presenters, this is a good idea TV presenters know how to sell a concept, are quick-thinking on their feet, and know how to communicate.

Jamie meets Alvin before class and says that "the traditional academic classes" aren't succeeding for many students and "where the young people are given things to solve, they have been great". Alvin says that his view is that they "need to know the basics now".

First Lesson

Jamie says on voice-over that Maths is the subject that the students hate, and ten minutes into Alvin's class none of the students have shown up, Dabbs has to round them up, and get them into class. Twenty minutes into class and only half the kids have arrived.

Nana-Kwame has his laptop at a desk, but Jenny sits down at that chair facing that desk, so Nana-Kwame pulls the chair from under her and she pushes him into the wall. A group of students and Alvin have to step in and calm the situation down before it escalates into a very serious fight. Nana-Kwame calms down, Jenny runs out of class in tears.

Alvin then begins the lesson, there's a bit of chat, so Alvin says "Shhh, OK, class let's stop" and then "OK, let's get started". Some students are fiddling with their cameras from Rankin's class, so Alvin says "Put all cameras down on the desk...where I can see them". Some students obey, others don't so he says "If you don't put the camera down I'm going to have to get the principal to take it away from you". He reinforces this message with "And I will do it, don't think I won't". And finally he says "I don't like to have to tell you things twice".

Alvin has very little time for teaching because all the students were so late, and after the fight that occurred immediately after class started, the students were too giddy to do anything in that first class.

Second Lesson

In the voice-over to Alvin's next class Jamie says Alvin will use his "tough, deep south discipline" to get the students to behave.

Alvin makes the lesson personal by telling the students his family story, he says his mother worked as a maid in Florida for 25 dollars a day, 5 days a week, 51 weeks a year, and she had seven children. He says they were very poor going up, in fact so much he says "we weren't POOR, we were PO, we couldn't afford the O and R". This kind of humour is gentle, lighthearted and a nice way to get the students in a positive frame-of-mind.

Conor asks Alvin his name and wonders should they call him 'Alvin' or 'Mr. Hall', Alvin is very clear on this point: "Call me, Mr. Hall!" insisting that they respect his authority.

Alvin tells them that the thing that transformed his life was one phrase "Self-discipline" and that for him to be a success he "learned basic maths skills"

On voice-over Jamie says that Alvin is getting them to do "a shopping exercise to get them to Add and Subtract" - I know I shouldn't say this, but seriously, what sort of dopes are these students that they need help adding and subtracting, most of them are Leaving Cert. age for Heaven's sake, in Ireland they would have finished getting help adding and subtracting in primary school. Still tying the lesson into practical things like shopping is a great idea.

After class Jourdelle stays behind to learn more maths skills, he wants to be successful and rich, Alvin is very supportive and friendly, he tells Jourdelle that he has enough control and discipline to succeed.

Third Lesson

In Alvin's next class he has to teach fractions and percentages using only the board and a pen. Alvin spent all night worrying about how he was going to teach fractions to students who are afraid of Division. He called a couple of friends, a Child Development Psychologist, and a Mathematician, and based on their advice at 4:40am in the morning he figured out how to teach fractions and percentages. We have to applaud Alvin's dedication.

He teaches them fractions by using a pie chart, so he asks them "How many hours do you think I spend sleeping? (6 hours), and "How many hours do you think I spend working?" (11 hours). Then he says "I have one hour I spend on a dirty little secret" - a wonderful way of creating a bit of mystery and humour. It turns out Alvin's dirty secret is "either going to the gym or taking a nap". Alvin also spends 6 hours on personal time. He gets them to calculate the percentages that correspond to the amount of time he spends on each activity as a fraction of a 24 hour day.

Next he says "I want you to create a pie chart of your day" making the activity personal to them which they love.

He reinforces the idea the "if you can master the basics when the right opportunity comes knocking at your door, you can answer and grab it" appealing to their greed and ego, Alvin made it, so they can too.

When the students are leaving class one of them says "you make it fun, you make it enjoyable".

After class Nana-Kwame is shown working through the maths book on his own time, a clear sign that Alvin's approach is working.

Also after class Alvin says "I'm very skeptical when people say they are bright...bright isn't the word I would first use", it's interesting to hear an American perspective on things. Americans are usually more literal and honest about things, and typically when Americans talk about "bright children" they mean students who enjoy class and and interested and attentive; which is not something these students could be accused of. In contrast when Jamie is saying they are "bright children" that is code for "they aren't as thick as they seem". British people tend to be much less blunt about things, and tend to talk things up a little bit.

Jamie and Alvin

In voice-over Jamie says "Alvin seems to have a clear way of making maths relevant and he's really tuned into their kind of psyche, which is the clever bit".

Jamie meets Alvin after class, impressed by the interest that has been generated in Maths, he asks Alvin the secrets of his success, to which Alvin says that "given that the children are money-focused, and self-focused" he shows how his success story can be their story. Also he says that "immediate feedback" is the main goal of his teaching, that's why he set the classroom up in a U-shape to be able to reach all of the students as quickly as possible. 'Immediate feedback' is a brilliant goal, and we can't help but think of John Hattie in that context.

Jamie asks Alvin how would these students be treated in America, Alvin says that in America they would have to get Childhood Therapy to deal with their anger management issues.

Alvin is a brilliant teacher.

What worked:
Setting disciplinary boundaries and reinforcing them, making it personal by telling a story about his own history, appealing to the student's greed, appealing to the student's ego, using humour, "Call me, Mr. Hall!", tying the lesson into practical things like shopping and his daily timetable, being supportive and friendly, asking other people for advice, create a bit of mystery, being a role model that the students can replicate, giving immediate feedback.

What didn't work:
The students were very late - maybe he should have canceled class after 15 minutes. After the two students had gotten into a fight in the class he should have canceled class - it was obvious that the other students were too giddy after this incident

Dabbs and the Extraordinary Head Teachers Assembly

After speaking to Jenny about her altercation in Alvin's first class, Dabbs decides to hold an Extraordinary Head Teachers Assembly, getting all the students together and as many teachers as he has on hand. He feels discipline is slipping and he needs to draw a line.

Dabbs says "I've had enough", he is unhappy with their behaviour, he is dismayed that he has to ask them: "Have you had a drink before you came to school?". When Connor tries to interrupt him, he says "Not now please". He then says "You think because I'm reasonable, I'm soft, but I ain't" (shades of Simon Callow last week).

He asks for the students to raise their hands to comment, Connor raises his hand, so Dabbs says "Connor first" then one of the students, Harlem, says "I'm second" without raising her hand, this irks Dabbs, and he says he'll decide the order of comments. This sets Harlem off, first she just starts saying nice things about the other students, but then gets very angry and accuses Dabbs of thinking he is better than everyone else. Another student, Jenny, points out that Dabbs is the Headmaster and is above everyone else, which drives Harlem crazy, she threatens to batter Jenny, and makes aggressive moves towards her until some students step in between the pair and Harlem is asked to leave the room. Harlem's level of anger is way off the charts, she clearly has anger management and self-sabotage issues.

Shockingly it is David Starkey who makes a joke to diffuse the situation, he says that Harlem could be an opera singer, this lightens the mood a little.

Alvin is not impressed by Dabbs' behaviour, he feels that Dabbs drew a line but then let it expand.

In voice-over Jamie mentions that Dabbs himself was kicked out of school three times and has great sympathy for troubled students. Dabbs decides he needs to phone Harlem's mother, so he first writes out a script of what he wants to communicate to her, he tells her that he is thinking of expelling Harlem, but will sleep on and and talk to Jamie.

Jamie invites Harlem and her mother in to meet with him, he shows them a video of Harlem's behaviour, who is blaming everyone but herself. Her mother is plainly shocked and disappointed at Harlem's behaviour, and tries to reasons with Harlem, and explains to her that she needs to look at herself. This approach to parenting seems a bit weak to me.

Jamie says "that was ugly", he says "that sort of aggression will end up ... in blood". He paints a grim picture of Harlem's future, he says he would love to hire her in a year's time, but if she behaved like that, he would have to fire her immediately. It is interesting that Jamie frames the situation in terms of employment, when at the start of this episode Harlem expressed her concern about getting at job when at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Jamie has the right approach, explain the problem in terms of things that matter to her.

What worked:
Dabbs setting disciplinary boundaries, Dabbs writing a script to speak to Harlem's mother, Dabbs sleeping on a decision, Jamie explaining the problem in terms of things that matter to the students.

What didn't work:
Dabbs going into the meeting angry.

Jane Poynter, Science (Enviroment) Teacher

Robert Winston, Science Teacher has selected four students (Conor, Henry, Danielle and Chole) who have shown a lot of interest in science to accompany Jane Poynter into an artificial biosphere for 3 days. Jamie says "I'll try anything" to get the students interested in science, another lame excuse on Jamie's behalf to explain away the highly unrealistic nature of this part of the School, there is no way a regular school could afford to build an artificial biosphere, so any outcome of this part of the process is unfair.

In voiceover Jamie calls Jane Poynter "a great scientist" which is an interesting assessment of her - between 1993 and 1995 Jane Poynter with seven other people stayed in a sealed environment "Biosphere 2" for two years. What is interesting about Jane Poynter is that it is very difficult to find out any information about her before that point, based on comments she has made in interviews and her conversations with the students it appears she comes from a very wealthy family, she didn't go to college but instead traveled the world trying to find a career that suited her, and decided to live in the "Biosphere 2" as a challenge. Since then she has written books about her experiences, and married Taber MacCallum, a fellow "Biosphere 2" crew member.

Before going into the artificial biosphere Connor thanks Robert Winston for choosing him as one of the four participants, it means a lot to him.

When the students enter the artificial biosphere Poynter explains rules of the confinement, and explains to the students that they will have to monitor their oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and that they will have to manually empty the toilets, which causes the students to complain loudly.

When the students complain they want to smoke, Poynter says that "everybody fails if anybody tries to leave", a rule which she doesn't stick to.

The next morning Poynter wakes the students up at 6:30am, and within a short few hours they are complaining about their inability to smoke. A few hours later a student from the outside burns a small hole in the plastic of the biosphere to give one of the students a drag of a cigarette inside. This strikes me as woefully bad behaviour, it's not simply damaging property that isn't theirs, I see it as an attack on the experiment, the point of which is that it is a sealed environment, so to puncture it is an attempt to destroy the whole experiment, a really selfish act. It could be the case the students on the outside were jealous of those who got picked to go in, but whatever the case the students really let themselves down.

In a few hours Chole makes a break for it and leaves the biosphere to get a smoke, and Conor and Henry soon follow. Thus breaking the one rule Poynter set. Danielle stays in, explaining that in her old school everyone else was messing so she couldn't pay attention, so eventually she just gave up and joined the messers, so she isn't going to make the same mistake twice. Danielle continues to monitor the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and Poynter gets her to write up her experiences in the form of research questions.

After the three days are over the students and staff celebrate when Poynter and Danielle come out, Jamie asks "is everyone really proud of her?" to which everyone cheers. As a reward Jamie presents Danielle with a plane ticket to fly her to Arizona to go visit "Biosphere 2". This is definitely a good idea, rewarding good behaviour.

What worked:
Practical experiment, teaching about research questions, rewarding good behaviour

What didn't work:
Poynter doesn't stick to her rules, Jamie fails to punish the students who vandalized the biosphere.

David Starkey, History Teacher

David Starkey says "for me the thing that was transformative was one-to-one tutorials". He feels that "group teaching with people like this brings out the worst in them rather than the best in them" and that "those who want to learn are hindered by those who do not". He feels some of the students suffer from "emotional incontinence".

Starkey meets with Jordel, and asks with "Are you happy with reading and writing?".

Starkey meets with Jamal and challenges him by saying "You have to do a bit of thinking".

Starkey speaks to Danielle over video-chat to the biosphere and is very supportive, saying "I got the impression you were enjoying the class" and "you were saying sharp and sensible things"

What worked:
Teaching to his strengths (one-to-one tutorials), being positive and encouraging.

What didn't work:

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