Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spring Up School

I've been teaching this week with King's College London's King's Scholars programme, a widening participation initiative working with pupils in Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster. King's Scholars explore what university is like through a variety of fun activities. #SpringUp17 was a weeklong 'day camp' for students in Year 8. They spent most of their time at King's with PhD students getting to know different subject streams at university. 90-minute 'taster sessions' gave them a feel for Dentistry, Geography, History & Politics, Languages & Literature, Law, Medicine, and Science.

The course I teach with The Brilliant Club, "Does the Telly Lie? Media and the Middle East", gets used in K+ Summer Spotlight. K+ is a similiar programme for older students, who choose one subject area and dive deeper instead of surveying all of them. For K+, "Does the Telly Lie?" is grouped into the Languages & Literature stream, so I was asked by the Widening Participation Team to create another Lang & Lit class for use in the Spring Up School.

You have ninety minutes to teach a class full of Year 8 (13-year-olds):
  1. what universities research under the theme 'Languages and Literature',
  2. what it's like to be an L&L student at King's College London,
  3. which careers you might pursue after studying L&L,
  4. a high-level exercise exploring a particular issue in L&L, and
  5. how to complete an independent learning project taking that issue further.

What do you do?

Use Disney, of course!!

I thought a good bit about what it is that brings Languages and Literature together as an area of study, and decided on the idea of translation. Most obviously, we translate languages: Portuguese into Mandarin, Dutch into Arabic. But all of L&L is, in a way, about translating - transforming one form of communication into a context more easily understood and/or enjoyed by people. We translate Chaucer's Old English into its modern form. We translate archaic plays into fun new blockbuster films. We translate across cultures and time periods. We translate ideas and emotions into stories. You get the idea.

So we talked about famous alumni of King's College London who studied Languages & Literature, and what they did with their careers. (They include the lyricist Sir W. S. Gilbert of the famed Gilbert & Sullivan operas, renowned poet John Keats, bass guitarist John Deacon of Queen - who wrote 'Another One Bites the Dust', sci-fi 'godfather' Arthur C. Clarke, and modernist writer Virginia Woolfe.) We then talked about what translation is, and how many kinds of things we need to translate to understand each other and communication.

And then I gave them each a poem, a short French glossary, and two sentences' worth of grammar rules - and made them try to translate poetry. Shockingly, it didn't work well. "Is this masculine or feminine?" "You haven't given me the right verb tense!" "But miss, it doesn't RHYME!" "This has no rhythym."

After discussing the massive problems they were facing with direct translation ('plug-and-play words'), we took a look at a piece of multi-lingual poetry done very well. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: "Let It Go". (With apologies to the poor Year 8s whose little brothers and sisters watch this movie every. single. day.)

Groups then discussed why this worked so well when their attempts did not and debated whether Google Translate will ever be able to replace human interpreters. Presentations to the class got everyone up front - and for some of the students, this was the first time they'd ever spoken formally to a large group of people they didn't know.

For our last activity, we turned again to Disney...this time having some fun with how badly relying solely on Google Translate can go.

Meanwhile next door, I had drafted my colleague Dan to teach the Geography stream. I wouldn't go so far as to say his session was COOLER than mine...though he did bring in far more toys! He had students evaluating the ecological status of different sites along the Thames based on real bugs in sampling trays. Indicator species of insects can tell us a lot about the general nutrient levels, average temperature, and overall health of an ecosystem.

In other classes, the Year 8s considered the legality of 'stop and search' policies, questioned the factors that led to Donald Trump's election, examined the interdisciplinarity of science, and identified shark teeth. They've now been sent back to school with a quite massive task: deciding which of the streams was their favourite, and writing an essay about the topic they explored in that subject area. Good luck to all of them!

As a fun surprise, pupils were there from City Heights...a school where I've previously taught with The Brilliant Club! Some of my mentees from a course on mathematical astrophysics (asking whether the stars would be able to float in the bath) got quite confused as we suddenly debated translation theory instead of calculating density measurements. It was great to have a mini reunion with them.

Thanks so much to the King's Widening Participation Team, and great job to all the attendees of the Spring Up School - you were brilliant! Here's to making space at university for everyone who wants to come explore. :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Conservation Optimism continued!

Next in the series from my Moroccan research team's visit to the UK: filming at the zoo for children's education!! This post was written by Salma, another of our amazing Environmental Youth Ambassadors. Check out more:

Most of the conservation conversation is unfortunately available only in English, limiting access to its content for non-English speakers. Our Water School project’s main goal is to introduce the children of rural Southwest Morocco to global environmental issues. The curriculum, which we've published open source in Arabic and English, is delivered by our amazing teacher Fatiha in the main language spoken by local children, Tachelhit. We believe this is critical in making local communities feel as though they have a stake in environmental issues, valorising indigenous languages and cultural diversity, and engaging children in learning.

After attending the Conservation Optimism Summit in London, Dar Si Hmad’s Environmental Youth Ambassadors visited the ZSL London Zoo on the 23rd of April to create additional visual content about conservation work. The team spent a full day interviewing zoo employees, filming various animals in their habitats, and presenting the Society's conservation efforts. These films are being edited by the EYA Team now and will be published in Tachelit and Arabic - bringing the great work of the ZSL London Zoo's conservation and education to local Moroccan communities so they can be a part of the ongoing effort.

I got the chance to interview Andy and Ana, members of the Zoo's presentation and education teams.

First, Ana walked us through a typical day of her work in the zoo. As a part of the ZSL Education Team, Ana is in charge of coordinating visits with local schools and serving as a tour guide for  children. The Zoo offers a variety of educational workshops that include nursing and feeding interactions with animals, conservation education, and animal biology. Then, Ana introduced us to her favourite animal in the zoo - the seahorse - and talked about its natural habitat and where it can be found around the world.

Next, Abdelhaq accompanied Ana to the Zoo's indoor rainforest, a recreation of the sloth's home. Anna welcome the Water School kids to the Amazon in her native language, Portuguese, and then Abdelhaq asked Anna in Tachelhit to talk about the special features of this 'lazy' animal who has evolved to sleep nearly twenty hours a day. The two sloths slept through their 'interview' with the EYAs, but one of them did wake up later that afternoon for feeding time - so we captured some of his verrryyyy sllooooowwwww movement on film. Our camera was also visited by a curious colleague of the sloth (a golden-headed lion tamarin), who wanted her turn in the spotlight!


In the Zoo's Aquarium - the first ever in the world - our partner Hamad from the Kuwait Dive Team spoke with Ana about coral reefs, the bleaching of these amazing habitats caused by climate change, and how we can help protect our ocean. Our trip there made national news in Kuwait.
Moving across the world to Asia, we met Andy. Andy’s job at the zoo is to give live educational presentations to visitors. After I interviewed him about Asiatic lions - a close cousin to Morocco's national animal - Andy changed into his ranger clothes and pretended to be an employee of Sasan Gir, a forest in India where lions live. Using a unique animatronic model, Andy and his team gave a live simulation of rescuing a lion found injured in the park. Children visiting the Zoo to learn about lion conservation got to help perform first aid on the full-sized 'lion' and heard about how he would be cared for.

South of the Equator, we visited Penguin Beach, where Andy talked about the amazing birds that swim and don't fly. His talk gave us a lot of great ideas about how to teach adaptation and evolution to our Water School classes - and of course it was great fun to watch the penguins dive for food! At least, our youngest research partner Rafael certainly thought so.

The Environmental Youth Ambassadors also filmed videos talking about their favorite animals. Mahdi visited the BUGS Building to pay homage to one of the world's most crucial species: bees. Mahdi talked about pollination and how important bees are to in plants' reproduction - and our own survival! Meanwhile, Hamad and I explained how the radar technology submarines and satellites use is inspired by the incredible adaptation of nocturnal bats. Just like our fog-harvesting project is inspired by an insect's clever wings, the natural world has informed so many of today's greatest innovations. Copying animal adaptations and environmental systems in engineering is called biomimicry, and it can be seen transportation and agriculture, swimming suits and children's games. Nature is our greatest teacher - and that's what the ZSL Education Team and Dar Si Hmad's Water School are all about.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Conservation Optimism

Here's what I've been up my Moroccan research partners for the past two weeks! This is just Part 1 of the rather epic multi-city journey. ;)

See the original on Dar Si Hmad's blog:

In Agadir and London, we are #ConservationOptimism

This post was written by Project Coordinator Mahdi Lafram, just days after returning to our Agadir office from a trip to the United Kingdom. While our new RISE Participants were celebrating Earth Day with a Field Day at the beach, three of our first Environmental Youth Ambassadors shared our Water School at the Conservation Optimism Summit.

“I am conservation optimist because my Moroccan team of youth are AMAZING”

As we were walking throughout the premises of Dulwich College in London, we saw this sentence written on a post-it and stuck to a wall. We were delighted. Salma, Abdelhaq and myself flew to the United Kingdom to take part in the inaugural Conservation Optimism Summit, invited and supported by Dar Si Hmad’s research partner, dedicated volunteer and EYA program mentor Rebecca L. Farnum - you certainly guessed who wrote the sentence above!

Organized by the University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the three-day event in London gathered hundreds of attendees from around the world to share success stories from the field. Both of my teammates got on an airplane for their first time to come share their environmental activism experience. We were excited to take part in this global meeting, learn about other conservation initiatives and, above all, tell the story of youth in conservation in the Middle East and North Africa.

As environmental activists, we often think that to engage people effectively in protecting the natural world, we need to make them feel guilty and aware about the consequences of their daily life activities on the environment. The Summit aimed to communicate another discourse. A discourse of optimism, positivity, and hope.

Conservation is too often seen as a crisis discipline, one in which bad news predominates. Although nature is facing huge challenges, we feel there are many positive stories out there where conservation has made a difference to people’s lives and to the status of wild nature. Progress, at the moment, tends to be overshadowed by negativity. It may well be happening, but it can be slow-burning, local and less immediately obvious than the sometimes overwhelming challenges faced.
We believe this is counter-productive.

Budding and perennial conservationists need to feel inspired and continue in the profession, not put off by pessimism. The public, businesses and government need to know that their actions can make a difference. With this summit, we aim to reframe the conservation movement by celebrating positive thinking in conservation, and putting forward a road map for change towards an optimistic and forward-thinking future. (

That’s why we need to rethink our communications. In regards to that, we participated in a workshop titled Selling Success: Marketing a better world with Conservation Optimism. It was all about developing a positive communication campaign framework. The workshop was led by marketing and behavior change professionals from Ogilvy Change and PHD Worldwide and took the form of an interactive ‘speed marketing challenge’. In addition to various workshops, the summit included different plenaries by conservation researchers, professionals and activists. It was compelling to see how the optimism movement has gone far into spreading a positive outlook on conservation locally and abroad. Moreover, we had the opportunity to share the Middle East’s perspective on youth-led conservation through a joint workshop with our partner organisation Kuwait Dive Team represented by Hamad Bouresli, and chaired by our research partner Becca Farnum.

At Dar Si Hmad, we believe strongly in a positive hope about Earth’s future. Our award-winning fog collection project gives people a future of prosperity, progress and optimism in Southwest Morocco, which was among the key messages we’ve disseminated at a special seminar held at Stanford House, University of Oxford as part of our research visit. We presented DSH projects and their social impact on the local communities. The team felt especially lucky to meet Dr. Michael J. Willis, the King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies at St Antony's College, and Dr. Michael Gilmont, Research Fellow at the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute, and get their perspectives on our work.

Many thanks to Rebecca L. Farnum and King’s College London for their generous support of our trip.

Join the #ConservationOptimism conversation on social media and tell us why you’re optimistic and how you’re making a change. Let’s celebrate our success and be positive about our Earth and its critters. After all, as our newest research partner Rafael knows: "little creatures like me are born every day!" We believe that, working together, we can make a great future - for him and for us.