My Voice-My School is returning

my voice my school

Digital Explorer’s My Voice-My School is returning for the 2016/17 academic year. The project connects Palestine Refugee students from Syria with students in Europe to debate and advocate for a quality education for all. We are looking for classes at secondary schools in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden to take part in this year’s programme.

My Voice-My School is a joint response by Digital Explorer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Skype in the classroom to the degradation of education caused by the Syria crisis.

For more information, watch the CNN report on the project below and visit the My Voice-My School website.

To get your school involved in the My Voice-My School 2016/17 project, register your interest now by emailing

Personal experience can be a useful context

personal experience why it works education
An important aspect of global citizenship education is supporting students to link their personal experience to more abstract global issues, such as the UN Global Goals. This blog post describes some teaching strategies that can be used to support students in this process.

The strategies described are based on developing the curriculum for the My Voice-My School project. Download the lesson pack for Lesson 1 to see how the strategies below can be incorporated into classroom resources.

Strategy 1 – start with the personal experience of your students

My Voice-My School worked with classes in the UK and Syria to explore the UN Global Goal 4 on quality education. Over the course of eight weeks, students developed a youth advocacy project on improving education and started with an overview of the topic.

In the first lesson, the key enquiry question is personal ‘What does a quality education mean to you?’ and the first activity starts with a whole class discussion ‘Why is education important?’ which can be rephrased as ‘Why is your education important?’.

Why it works

  • Students find it easier to start with the personal (existing knowledge) before moving to the global (new knowledge).
  • Students can construct their own interpretations without being influenced by other agenda.
  • Anchors the learning in the reality of personal context rather than as something happening in other places or to other people.

Strategy 2 – introduce voices of young people from other places

A common feature of global citizenship education is the use of images, videos and stories as a way of encouraging young people to consider other perceptions of global issues. In this example lesson, students watched videos about students in other countries.

Why it works

  • Scaffolds students thinking from the personal to other perspectives before generalising.
  • Introduces a global dimension through individual stories.
  • Opens learning through enquiry and challenges assumptions, leading to critical thinking.
  • Enables realisation that there may not be one right answer.

Strategy 3 – introduce the ‘theory’ of global issues

The next stage in supporting students to understand global issues and how they relate to them, is to introduce students to the thinking and theory behind topics such as human rights and United Nations programmes and international agreements. In this stage, we introduced the background to the idea of ‘quality education’ through references to Child Rights and the Global Goals.

Why it works

    • Introduces students to ideas of social justice and human rights.
    • Universal concepts are introduced at an appropriate time in the lesson.
    • Students can apply global agreements to both their own experience and peers in other places.

Strategy 4 – give students ownership over global issues

Rather than just presenting students with global agreements such as the UN Global Goals, allow students to evaluate and rank the elements of the agreement. In this lesson, students looked at the different elements, using a ‘Diamond 9’ ranking activity to consider how important they think each one is. Students could also be asked to reassess their ranking from the point of view of a student in another country (see Strategy 2 above) and from a global point of view.

Why it works

      • Students examine and take ownership of global agreements.
      • Evaluation leads to higher order thinking.
      • Multiple perspectives can be applied to this exercise.

Strategy 5 – explicit links between personal experience and global issues

The final element in this process is to link the personal views expressed at the start of the lesson to the subsequent learning steps. Use a plenary activity that explicitly links personal experience to global issues. In the example lesson, students were prompted to ‘Think about what we have discussed today and make four notes as to how the issue of a quality education links to your own personal experience.’

Why it works

      • The links between personal experience and global issues are made explicit.
      • These links are only made at the end of the lesson.
      • When students are asked to make these links they have gone through appropriate scaffolding, taking them from the personal to another perspective and then to the general, reinforcing this with a ranking activity.

Climate change education debate

Below is the transcript of a conversation I had with my incredibly precocious seven year old nephew. We were gathered for Easter lunch and he asked me about the debate surrounding the proposals for a slimmed down mention of climate change in the curriculum.

Peter: So, Uncle Jamie, tell me what all the fuss about this climate change education thing is.

Uncle Jamie: Well, Peter, there are plans afoot to give schools more flexibility to teach climate change in a way that suits them, and to reduce the explicit mention of how carbon dioxide affects the Earth system.

P: Hold on. Tell me more about this climate change malarkey.

UJ: Well, there is overwhelming evidence from a lot of scientists who say that by burning fossil fuels and various other things, that we are altering the behaviour of the climate system and that these changes could have catastrophic impacts on all life on the planet including humans.

P: Sounds bad. So what steps are being taken?

UJ: At the moment, we have decided to make the problem worse through basing our exit from this recession (we’ll have to leave that topic for another conversation) on greater growth and further exploitation of natural resources.

P: Are you telling me that, you are going to teach me that the world is completely up the creek in a few years’ time and adults have decided to make the problem worse and you want to tell seven year olds about this? That’s a bit of a downer.

UJ: I know, I know. There are a lot of people who feel that the best way of dealing with this issue is to tell you how bad it is and do nothing about it. Makes complete sense, no?

P: But I read all these articles in the newspaper. It reminds me of the Christmas pantomime. “Humans are causing irreversible climate change.” “Oh no they’re not!” “Oh yes they are!” I thought you were supposed to be the adults in this situation.

UJ: Yes. I can see how this might be confusing. There is an issue of natural variability and various other trends to take into consideration, but seeing as you’re seven, we think that the best thing to do is to teach you the “Oh yes they are” bit, and leave out the reasoning and the reasons why the “Oh no they’re not!” people aren’t right.

P: Still, it’s a bit of a downer, putting all this responsibility for saving the world on the shoulders of a seven year old.

UJ: I see. You may have a point there. What would your ideas for this be?

P: I think you have to consider three areas: rigour, agency and stewardship [I did say he was precocious]. I think that the best place to start would be stewardship, then agency and finally rigour.

UJ: Can you go into these three areas in a bit more depth?

P: Certainly. By stewardship, I mean the values and skills needed to look after the natural environment. This could be anything from planting and caring for a tree in the school grounds; monitoring a rock pool and cleaning up litter; or being a junior warden for a local park or wild place. I imagine that you’ve read the 2009 ‘Report by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change’, that shows a clear correlation between developing a local and personal relationship with nature and engaging in broader environmental and climate issues later in life.

UJ: Gotcha.

P: Love not loss, Uncle Jamie. Love not loss. You have read the IUCN work on this haven’t you? I know it relates more to the protection of charismatic megafauna and their supporting habitats, but the psychology’s the same.

UJ: And agency?

P: Agency is important. As it stands, you people are advocating teaching about something without the ability to take action on what we have learnt. If there is something that makes complete sense to change, because it would be better for people and planet, and especially for future generations, then maybe we should start with small steps. I would like to work on a project when I am about 9 years old, investigating the use of resources in school. Pupils should be able to learn about the consequences of their actions. I am undecided whether this should include impacts on the Earth system yet. Maybe we could look at the Greek root of the word economy, i.e. to manage one’s household. Fossil fuels are unsustainable, waste costs money. These things are fairly obvious to anyone who can get their head round the fact we live on a finite planet.

UJ: And rigour?

P: I need a bit more time on this, but I would want some intelligent people to come up with a way to introduce me to the difference between short-term variability and long-term trends, the interconnectedness of the Earth system, how scientists predict, model and test theories, gather data, and the moral imperative of acting on science.

UJ: Morality and science?

P: It’s odd, isn’t it? What we are really arguing about here is using education as a tool to show young people that in the midst of doing sweet nothing about climate change, that action needs to be taken to mitigate an unholy, global balls-up in fifty years’ time.

UJ: Oops. Any suggestions?

P: In terms of engagement with current changes, there are a few questions you’ll need to answer:

  1. Will the current proposals weaken or remove opportunities for young people to develop a personal relationship with nature?
  2. Will the current proposals remove or weaken the opportunity for schools to offer agency to young people to act on what they learn?
  3. Are there sufficient opportunities for schools to teach with appropriate rigour the science (including geographical science) I need to understand to grow my appreciation of my local environment to the Earth system?

UJ: You’ve put this to schools, does government not have a role to play?

P: To a degree, but I’ve found that governments come and go. As long as they don’t prevent the appropriate teaching of these issues, it is up to wider society (schools, teachers, education experts, academics, child psychologists, naturalists, environmentalist, industry and commerce) to work out how best to teach young people about climate change. Words in the curriculum are perhaps the least of our worries.

Mobiles ‘yes’, Mosques ‘no’

A digest of recent polls in The Week revealed that

52% of Britons believe the nation is deeply divided along religious lines. 46% say religious diversity has had a negative impact on the country. 55% would be troubled if a large mosque were built in their neighbourhood. Only 15% would feel the same about a church.
Manchester University social attitudes survey/ Daily Mail

Half of British children aged five to nine own a mobile phone, despite Government advice that no one under 16 should have one. 75% of children aged seven to 15 have one. The average age for a child to get his first mobile phone is eights and the average child’s bills is £10.50 a month.
PhonePay Plus/News of the World


View of the Middle East from the BBC

Wordle: BBC Middle East News Feed 3 May 2009

This is a wordle based on a the Middle East news feed from the BBC. Fair or not?

There is a discussion page available for pupils.

Expedition site wins award

The website for the Offscreen Student Expedition 2008 site won the Y Design Award for Best Community site. Congratulations to the team – Chris, Ciara, Colin and John – and it’s great to see their hard work pay off.

It also shows how important good design is in breaking down barriers between different cultures.

The Offscreen Student Expedition 2008 was a collaboration between Digital Explorer and the Offscreen Education Programme and was supported by HSBC, the British Council, the Said Foundation and Gulf Air.

New School Environment Project video

It was very exciting to run a pilot School Grounds Project at Eastbury Comprehensive School. We used many of the same techniques that we have employed on overseas expeditions – digital media, blogging, geo-tools (Google Earth and Google Maps) – to investigate the School Grounds and then take action to make a difference to the school environment.

This pilot wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Google UK and especially Kate Hammond and Liz Ericson. Also many thanks go to the pupils and staff at Eastbury Comprehensive School, who were amazing, enthusiastic and talented. Special thanks to Tracy Knight and Ruth Owen for their help and support.

This amazing film was made by the wonderful Jonny Madderson of Just So Films. Thank you for all your hard work.

Continuing thanks to Mark Thackara at Olympus for the great pupil-proof TOUGH digital cameras, that we used for photography and video during the pilot.

As always thank you to Marjan who makes sure that everything just happens, somehow, though still not quite sure how.

LIVE! HSBC Offscreen Student Expedition


The HSBC Offscreen Student Expedition 2008 is now live. Please visit the site and see the great films and artwork that the students from the Middle East have been making, including an interview with Alan Duncan MP, which you can see above.

The HSBC Offscreen Student Expedition is a project run by the Offscreen Education Programme in partnership with Digital Explorer and seeks to create greater understanding between the Middle East and the UK. Currently, 8 young Middle Eastern artists are travelling across the UK, creating an authentic portrait of the country to share with their peers in Lebanon, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE.

Give the kids the skills they need…

I was interviewed by Brit Hammer a couple of weeks ago and have been meaning to link to it.

Why are schools so afraid of web 2.0?

Something that has been bugging me for a long time is the inability of forming any educational programme that involves social networking tools such as YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, blogging tools or most other web 2.0 tools and sites in a formal educational context.

Young people are using these outside of school and then have to “power down” as soon as they enter the school gates. This experience is well described in a Guardian article ‘In class, I have to power down’.

Who are the blockers? Who is holding back young people accessing the social web for positive means in schools?

Services such as replicate MySpace or Bebo type communities in a better moderated environment, thus allaying some child protection concerns. The Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre is doing good work, especially with the Thinkuknow campaign for young people.

The real losers are going to be young people. Organisations looking to create positive educational materials and projects for pupils will be held back as the most attractive and cheapest web communications methods are banned from the classroom, leaving fashion, music, gaming and trends to dominate pupils’ online time.

Wouldn’t it be great, if teachers could create meaningful multimedia blogs about projects and educational visits in the UK and overseas and use the open source and free web technologies available to engage young people in creating a better world?

Any answers or suggestion greatfully received!

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