Honestly, right now, I’m exhausted. Lab work is intense, my list of jobs to complete keeps growing, my first year seminar is less than a month away and I spent all of last weekend at a training event for the Brilliant Club (post about why here). I’m really excited about the Brilliant Club, although a little terrified about actually teaching year 12 students, but I do keep having moments of panic where I wonder if I’ve bitten off (a lot) more then I can currently chew. Beginning the Brilliant Club with year 12 summer placements probably wasn’t my smartest idea as it’s possibly my busiest time – but I want to do it and I’m allowed to have interests outside my PhD (although some might argue otherwise…). I think I can achieve it all but the next few months are definitely going to be demanding.
So I thought I would post about what the training weekend actually involved. On the first day the Midlands tutors headed to the University of Warwick, we started at 10am and got a lot more information about the Brilliant Club, how to use resources such as their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and admin details like how to complete expenses claims (the Brilliant Club reimburse tutors for expenses like travelling to their allocated school). Once all that was out of the way we were joined by some returning tutors and were split into our subject streams – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – for the afternoon, to get some advice more tailored to our individual fields. This was really useful, we had a chance to look at some previous Brilliant Club assignments and also share the mark schemes we’d devised and get feedback from each other. I managed to get lucky and have a returning tutor look at my mark scheme and she gave me some really helpful advice that allowed me to make some good changes, for me and for the students. We leant about teaching techniques and the appropriate use of assessments to improve the course we give the students by being flexible. We didn’t spend much time actually working on our course design and, having printed out copies of everything, I regretted taking my laptop with me (and have decided I will definitely be investing in a more lightweight one as mine’s 1. heavy and 2. at deaths door – no longer portable as it needs to be plugged in 100% of the time or it doesn’t function and showing me the blue screen of death on a weekly basis). Possibly the most exciting part of day 1 was being given the name of my school! The day finished at about 17:30 and, armed with the phone numbers of those I was travelling with the next day, I headed home. It was an intense day filled with a lot of thinking and by the end I was worried about how to structure my course, however day 2 was there to ease my fears.
Day 2 was a very early start for a Sunday, it was held in West London and I volunteered to drive down taking 3 other Leicester tutors with me. So I set off from home at 7am to collect them from the University and head down, and other than one small scuffle with a roundabout on the North Circular we arrived without any drama. We signed in and then headed off to grab tea/coffee (and biscuits, thank you Brilliant Club for the biscuits I needed those so badly after the drive) and we were shocked by the number of people there! The previous day there had been 14 of us, for day 2 all the tutors had been gathered together and there were ~150 of us! Big change. We all decided we’d really appreciated the chance to spend day 1 in a much smaller group. In the morning we had talks and presentations, and in the opening talk I was a bit shocked to see my face (via my twitter profile picture) up on the screen in front of everyone, as along with some other tutors I had tweeted about day 1 of training. After this we were divided into subject specific groups (life science for me) and allowed time to work on whatever aspects of our course design we wanted to. We had a Brilliant Club member of staff available to answer questions and give us feedback on ideas that we had.
After our lunch break we moved onto our electives, last week I was asked to select from a list of about 8, 2 topics I wanted to cover in more detail. I chose to do “Don’t Waste a Minute” which was filled with loads of activities to get and keep students engaged right from the start of a session. It gave me so many ideas that I now feel a lot more confident in structuring my tutorials. My second elective was “What are they really thinking?” and this was led by a teacher (Harry Fletcher-Wood @HFletcherWood, improvingteaching.co.uk for anyone interested in teaching tips). It was based around Hinge Questions, the kind of questions you ask to assess students’ understanding of a topic before moving on. They allow you to address common misconceptions and adjust your teaching depending our how students have coped with a topic. In the session we actually developed our own hinge questions and I now have one addressing the common misconceptions relating to the use of DNA for my first tutorial. We finished in London about 16:30 and by the time I got home it about was ~19:30, so a long day, but so unbelievably worthwhile.
After the training weekend it was really nice to get an email from Michael Slavinsky, one of the Brilliant Club’s directors, thanking me for driving. The personal interaction that the Brilliant Club provides its tutors is amazing, from thank you’s and retweets to dedicated placement officers for each region, I’m really feeling taken care of. I learnt so much last weekend and now feel prepared to finish my course design, so thank you Brilliant Club! Despite my occassional to do list induced panic I will be doing my best to provide the best quality tutorial programme I’m capable of and I’ll update you all as I go along.