Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Caffeine, Confidence and Careless Planning: A Personal Guide to Revision

Advice on how to get the most out of your revision, from information on visual aids to what foods you should be eating, is available everywhere.   As someone who is prone to stress, I often feel overwhelmed with everything that I am told I “should” be doing whilst revising.  After years of trial and error, I have found a few things that really work for me:

1.       Mathematics can be intense and overwhelming so I find it incredibly useful to take a few hours to remind myself why I’m doing the degree.  If I’m finding a module particularly wearing I’ll find an article, book or video loosely based on the subject to spark my interest again.  For example, after reading through my probability notes for a few hours yesterday and very almost losing the will to live, I decided to watch a video by Vsauce about the maths behind shuffling a deck of cards (which, by the way, is mind blowing).

2.       Finding a suitable place to revise was actually a bit issue for me.  At home I get too easily distracted but I can’t deal with the silence in the library.  Coffee shops were my saviour.   When I’m struggling to revise, I walk to a local coffee shop, order myself a drink and set out all my revision on a little table.  I enjoy working within a lightly bustling area; I can concentrate well but also when I need a break I can get some fresh air and take a stroll.  Obviously, the big upside to working in a café is the possibility of a constant supply of caffeine which is extremely alluring. 

3.       One major issue I used to have whilst studying for exams was confidence.  I would always compare my work and results to my friends’ and subsequently be far too hard on myself.  During exam season, I find it useful to remember that people work at different paces and revise in diverse ways.  It is for this reason I tend to steer clear of ‘group revision’ as I know I am more comfortable going through things at my own speed.

4.       Finally, I find it most useful to be ridiculously organised during exam season.  Revision timetables are my strength, however I must remind myself to be realistic.  If I had followed the first timetable I had made for myself this year I’d be clocking a solid ten hours of revision a day, and subsequently, probably would have died after about a week.  Setting myself unattainable goals is a bad habit; I am never going to be doing ten hours a day and that is completely fine.  I find it important to set myself reachable goals at the end of each week and if I was unable to finish everything one week I go back and assess what the issues are. 

There is roughly twenty-two days, one hour and 35 minutes until my first exam.  I am soon to be completely submerged in scrap notes, past papers and post-it notes.  My hands are decorated with black ink smudges.  I am simultaneously completely exhausted and also experiencing a caffeine-induced spark of motivation.  My brain seems to be completely incapable of completing any tasks that aren’t maths related; for instance, after making a cup of tea, I proceeded to put the milk in the cupboard, tea bags in the fridge and spoon in the bin. 

Revision sucks.  There is no point in sugar coating it.  However now that I have found my own little preferences, it sucks just a little bit less.

A Delicious Slice of Pie. Wait – I Meant π!

Happy belated π day! To start up, here are some amazing facts about and around π that you definitely need to know RIGHT NOW:

  • Chinese man Chao Lu memorised 67,890 digits of π in 2005. Seems like somebody’s got so much time in life!
  • Calculating π is used as a stress test in computers – I’d say it’s a stress test for all beings in the world don’t you agree with me?
  • “Wolf in the Fold”, the Star Trek episode, Spock spoils the evil computer by commanding it to, compute the last digit of π value. The geekiest way to defeat a bot.
  • π is defined as the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter.
  • You can type π (like me!) in a Macintosh simply by pressing the alt button simultaneously (yes, simultaneously because…maths.) with p. Now let the πππππ roll in!
  • π is considered to be the most significant and intriguing constant, as mentioned by numerous scholars.

However, why do we even care about the existence of pi, then? In simple words, not everything in this world, both stationary or moving, are geometrically straight. Any form of curvature, to be measured more accurately, needs this irrational number π. Even if we are unable to get the true value of anything that is related to π as it is an irrational number, we are able to get the closest value and calculation of things almost perfectly despite this inexact constant.

I personally found Archimedes’ way of calculating π as the most interesting of them all as it invokes to me so many thoughts. He calculated π but drawing a hexagon inside of a unit circle, and calculated the ratio of the perimeter of the hexagon to the diameter of the unit circle. Then, he did this until he got up to 96 sides – meaning that the number of sides for the polygons he used were the numbers in the sequence an= 2an-1 where a0 is 6, and 0 ≤ n ≤ ∞. This makes me think – is a circle really a shape with no sides, or perhaps a shape with infinite number of sides?

π is delicious useful in our daily lives even though it may seem totally irrelevant in such a capitalistic society. Nevertheless, underestimate not the power of such a simple constant and the beauty it brings to the world! Once again, have a belated happy pie π day everyone! *stomach grumbles*

Women and Space

“Science” is the term encompassing the study of our natural and physical world; its structures and behaviours.  A “scientist” is an intellectual with expert knowledge of a particular branch of science.  From the intense study of the human body we gain knowledge of disease and are then able to construct medicines.  By observing the nature of the stars in the sky we are able to assemble a broader perception of the universe in which we live.   Science is the foundation of our society; the knowledge, health, sources of entertainment and standard of living we have today has been built upon centuries of scientific study and discovery.  It is for this reason, I find it incredibly perplexing that science and scientists have not been immune to discrimination.   

In school, we discuss Newton, Einstein and Pythagoras.  At university, I have considered Fermat, Euler and Euclid.  With this education, it wouldn’t be outrageous to believe that female scientists accomplished very little.  However, this is definitely not the case.  The list of influential women within science is, actually, a rather extensive one; but I would like to focus on one in particular. 

Katherine Johnson, an African American physicist and mathematician, made substantial contributions to the US’ aeronautics and space programmes at NASA in the 1950s and 60s.  From a young age, Katherine was a gifted mathematician with a passion to succeed.  Her early career consisted of teaching jobs; as work within mathematics for an African American woman were few and far between.  In 1953, Katherine was offered a job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which she accepted and so started her career within the early NASA team. 

For five years, Katherine worked in an office labelled “Coloured Computers”.   The women who worked within that office were required to do all of their daily activities completely segregated from the white men.  Regardless of how important their work was, these women were unable to put their names on reports they had contributed to.  Katherine herself said that women needed to be “assertive and aggressive” in order to be recognised; which, she was.

When NASA disbanded the “computing pool” in 1958, Katherine worked as an Aerospace Technologist until her retirement.  A women, who was once unable to use the same bathroom as her scientist colleagues, was now a vital part of an important team.  She calculated the trajectory for the first American man in space, she calculated the launch window for the 1961 Mercury Mission, she plotted back up navigational charts and was asked personally to verify the numbers for John Glen’s orbit around the Earth.  Katherine helped calculate trajectories for the 1969 Apollo mission; as well as helping to establish confidence in new technologies with her work with digital computers.

Katherine Johnson is just one example of many under-appreciated women working in NASA at the time; and is just one of thousands of under-appreciated women contributors to science.  Despite increasing rates of women studying mathematics and science at universities; the percentage of women within STEM careers is still extremely low.  It is vital to celebrate and learn about women who were not only major contributors to science; but had to overcome all kinds of social barriers to do so.  

From London to Jeju: a trip to South Korea

My name is Annabelle Wilkins and I’m a final-year PhD student here in the School of Geography. In September, I was invited to participate in the first academic conference to be held at North London Collegiate School on the island of Jeju, South Korea. Jeju is located off the southern coast of the mainland, around an hour’s flight from the capital, Seoul. The island is incredibly diverse, with volcanic peaks, idyllic beach resorts, hiking trails and a rapidly developing urban centre, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.


NLCS Jeju was established in 2011, and is one of a growing number of international schools on the island. The school offers a British curriculum including the IGCSE, A-Level and the International Baccalaureate. In addition to NLCS, the island has also supported schools affiliated with institutions in Canada and the US, all of which are located in the recently developed Global Education City. The majority of pupils at these schools are Korean students, many of whom are planning to study at some of the world’s leading universities.


Contrasting architecture in Seoul, where visitors can stay in restored traditional houses looking out over the modern city.


I was one of seven visiting academics invited to take part in the conference, participating alongside a mathematician, a classicist, a composer and a poet. The theme of the conference was based around improving subject knowledge. We were encouraged to introduce the teachers to our research interests and to suggest ideas for how they might develop and enhance their lessons and teaching methods. Before the conference itself, I also spent two days working with Year 12 and 13 students who study Geography as part of the IB syllabus. I introduced them to geographies of home and my research on Vietnamese migrants in East London, as well as talking to them about globalisation, migration and identity.

jeju photo

Presenting my research to Year 12 and 13 geography students in one of the school boarding houses.


During the three days of the conference, each academic gave a lecture about their research to an audience of teachers from different subjects. I gave talks to staff from Maths, Chemistry, Languages and PE departments, among others, which made for some fascinating question and discussion sessions as people contributed ideas from their own backgrounds. Once they discovered that the focus of my research is on home and migration, many teachers were keen to share their personal experiences of being an expatriate teacher living in South Korea, and the objects and practices that helped them to create a sense of home.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.


In addition to presenting my research, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Geography teachers and share some ideas as to how they might be able to enhance their teaching on globalisation and migration. I introduced them to critical geographies of home and other research by academics here at QMUL, and they were keen to incorporate these perspectives into the syllabus. By the end of the three days, we were discussing how to devise projects about students’ bedrooms and their material culture, possible interviews with the school’s cleaners, who used to work on the land around the school building, and inter-generational interviews between students and older people on the island. I had a brilliant experience at NLCS and also had time for trips to some of the island’s amazing beaches, temples and museums.


A woman diver selling her catch of seafood – women divers are famous within Jeju’s island heritage.


Hyopjae, one of Jeju’s beautiful beaches.


Sunset in Moseulpo, a fishing village close to the school on Jeju.

Spreading the Love for Geography

If you’re someone that has a real love for geography and an urge to enthuse other students, then the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Ambassador Scheme could be just the thing for you to get involved with!

Celebration Day 2014 (jazz hands)

Geography Ambassadors at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) headquarters in Kensington, London


Undergraduates, postgraduates and graduates can all apply to become an ambassador and once you have attended a training session you are free to go and spread the love for geography in classrooms and beyond. Throughout all of your visits there is amazing support provided to you and any resources that you need are sent to you though the post, including your I LOVE GEOGRAPHY pencils… that yes, it is true, both students and teachers go crazy for!

I Love Geography Pencils to give out t0 the students

You can get in touch with teachers yourself or check  on the Facebook page where potential visits are added daily. Schools may ask for a wide range of visit topics for example:

  • I love geography sessions
  • Careers in geography
  • What is geography like at university?

…or maybe they would like you to come up with a fun entertaining geographical activity that will enthuse their students. Lets face it, we’ve all heard the phrase ‘isn’t geography just colouring in?’…as an RGS-IBG Ambassador it is your chance to erase that stereotype!

I got involved as an RGS-IBG Ambassador during my first year at Queen Mary University of London. I saw it as great opportunity as I hope to become a Secondary School Geography Teacher. However, even if you are not interested in becoming a teacher it doesn’t matter as along with the social aspect, this scheme provides you with lots more invaluable skills that would look great on any C.V.  My first session was a children’s lecture at the Royal Geographical Society at its headquarters in Kensington – just down the District Line from Queen Mary – it was a great way to kick start being an Ambassador. I got to meet fellow geographers from both QMUL and other universities and I received my Ambassador t-shirt!

Following on from this I attended three events at schools in London that I arranged myself. First up was a lunchtime session for a group of sixth formers who wanted to know what geography was like at university. Secondly I attended an Open Evening at Addey and Stanhope School to encourage students and their parents that taking geography as a GCSE option is a really great way to widen future horizons. The RGS-IBG Ambassador scheme provided me with loads of great resources to give to the school, the students and the parents. I later returned to Addey and Stanhope School and had the chance to do an after school session based entirely on my own ideas. So despite others opinions, I decided to take a laboratory  into the classroom and do soil analysis, even though my flat mates joked ‘so… your just going to talk to them about dirt?!’ it went down really well, the students loved it and I got amazing feedback. Soil analysis was something that I had been studying in my first year, I provided the equipment and soil samples with the help of the geography laboratory staff at QMUL, and in groups the students tested soil texture, soil pH and soil colour.

Testing the pH of the soil

Testing the pH of the soil

Concentrating on getting that pH value just right

Concentrating on getting that pH value just right

Analysing the soil texture

Analysing the soil texture

Not wanting to get their fingers dirty didn't last long!

Not wanting to get their fingers dirty didn’t last long!

Using the Munsell colour charts

Using the Munsell colour charts

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From the short talk that I gave the students even managed to make some university style notes

The students made some university style notes from the short talk that I gave

Becoming an RGS-IBG Ambassador is really simple, you can download the application form from the Geography Ambassador Scheme website and a training session is happening at QMUL on the 13th February 2015. The scheme is really flexible and allows you to do something different around all of your university studies. For me this scheme has provided me with so much confidence, I really enjoy every moment of it and I cannot wait to do another session and eventually become a geography  teacher! Whether in London or your home city, there are lots of students out there waiting for you to come to their school and spread the love for geography… so what are you waiting for?

RGS throwing


Summer Reading Challenge Ambassadors!

Summer Reading Challenge Ambassadors!

reading agency logo

The summer is always a great time for new experiences and opportunities, especially in London! During the summer of 2012, I worked voluntarily as a Summer Reading Challenge Ambassador at my local library for 2-3 days a week, as part of the annual national programme with the Reading Agency to help children and young people (4-11 years old) to actively continue reading over the summer holidays. The kids are awarded prizes and stickers along the way for their achievements in reading a designated number of books within the 6/7-week span. Those who complete the challenge, which has a new theme every year (this year, the “Mythical Maze”), are awarded a badge and certificate and I can surely say that it was great to see the immense pride children had once they had completed the challenge. The role of the ambassador was simply to encourage children to read and engage with the sorts of stories associated with the theme in question through play and discussion. If anything, I gained invaluable and beneficial experience working with children, administrative and customer service skills and most importantly, the role really enhanced my interpersonal/communication skills.

Additional info on the job description!

Additional info on the job description!


If any of you guys are really interested in working with children and young people, love reading and have a passion for helping others, you can apply for the post this summer at your local library which runs from 12th July – 14th September 2014 – it would look great on your CV. Simply enquire, they’ll give you an application form and then, your form is left with the staff there for review! Alternatively, apply online at Check out the websites below for more details:




Moving back to London after a few years spent in rural Scotland, locked up in a boarding school was something I was looking most forward to when writing the last words on my last exam in May. June went by faster than ever and before I knew it I was back! Standing on a smelly Euston platform, inhaling the odor of big city. Oh London, how I missed you. It was an amazing feeling to experience different smells rather than the steady ‘countryside/sheep’ one. I was so glad to be back, and funny thing here, instead of putting my holiday party hat on I literally could not wait for uni to start, and for the first time in my life picked studying over holidaying.

Euston sq tube

Summer went past at a speed of light, maybe because I really wanted uni to start. And before I realized it, the 16th September was here. First day at Queen Mary was beyond terrifying. Interesting fact here: people are divided into two groups: those who are scared of first days and being a fresher and big liars. It was a nightmare trying to find where what was but I was determined not to use the little map we were given at introduction. I wanted to keep my cool on and seem relaxed, even though I was shaking inside. Before I knew it I was sitting in a lecture theatre with other 300 people who seemed just as stressed as I was, being welcomed to QM. I was a bit disappointed when I found out that tutorials won’t start until next week (NERD !!!) but this was actually something good. It gave me the opportunity to stand outside lecture theatre chatting to people and not having to worry about being on time to class.


The first week of lectures was amazing. You know that song ‘born to be wild’ by Steppenwolf? Well my version would be ‘born to be a lawyer’. Strange thing, but for the first time in my life I was a million percent sure that I was in the right place. I was a bit surprised, but nevertheless excited, that we got straight to work. I listened carefully, with my mouth open to every single word the lecturers were saying, trying to write notes and focus on the topic at the same time (a skill that I have now fully mastered #pro). At the end of first week, I had no less than 30 pages of notes and around 300 pages to read for next week’s tutorials. But nevertheless I was excited to get to work. Turns out that law was even more interesting that I thought it would be, and I found the beginning quite easy. Soon enough though, I would find out that law was absolutely everything but easy. But to be honest I was expecting that from the start.


One more nice surprise from the very beginning was that before the tutorials started I stumbled across a group J Facebook page (oh Mark Zuckerberg, I am forever in your debt). I started chatting to other people in my group so it was really nice and not awkward when we actually met in person, because we knew a bit about each other and broke the ice (virtually, but still). First tutorial of the year was contract law, and as I was walking through the door into our 303 seminar room I opened a new exciting chapter of my life, and could not wait for what was in store. And off we went and took a one way trip to Legalville.

Reach Out -Mentoring charity

When I first arrived at Queen Mary in my first year I attended a volunteering event organised by QMSU Volunteering Service.  I thought it would be interesting to hear what opportunities there were so I went along and among all these charities and opportunities I found Reach Out. It is a mentoring charity where you can help children with Maths and English, but most often the children in my school need a role model and help to increase their confidence. There is ReachOutAcademy for older children and Reach Out Club, where the children are mainly around 11 years old.

Like so many other mentors I arrived at my primary school on the first day very nervous and thought that I would never be good enough to teach the children anything. After the first session I was a bit calmer, a few sessions more and things were going ok and now in my second year of Reach Out I am a project leader in the same school I started at!

Today we are skipping the academic activities and are making pancakes together; last week we did a maths work sheet and played basketball; and in the future we have plans to visit a farm.

Interestingly, Reach Out not only helps the children.  Next week I get to go on a Teach First training event. On my presentation today my heart wasn’t racing at double speed any more – I have actually grown more confident in addressing big crowds of people!

For more information go to:

Reach Out mentoring

When I first arrived at Queen Mary in my first year I was handed a leaflet about a QMUL Volunteering Service event.  I thought it would be interesting to hear what opportunities there were so I went along and among all these charities and opportunities I found Reach Out. It is a mentoring charity where you can help children with Maths and English, but most often the children need a role model and help to increase their confidence. There is a ReachOut Academy for older children and Reach Out Club, where the children are mainly around 11 years old.

Like so many other mentors I arrived at my primary school on the first day very nervous and thought that I would never be good enough to teach the children anything. After the first session I was a bit calmer, a few sessions more and things were going ok and now in my second year of Reach Out I am a project leader in the same school as I started!

Today we are skipping the academic activities and are making pancakes together; last week we did a maths work sheet and played basketball and in the future we have plans to visit a farm.

Interestingly Reach Out not only helps the children. Next week I get to go on a Teach First training event and in my presentation today my heart was no longer racing at double speed  – I have actually grown more confident in addressing big crowds of people!  For more info see:

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