Altus Monthly Update – No. 3

Dear Bamford Academy, Edgar Wood, Kingsway Park, and RSFC student, parent/carer, and staff member.

I hope that you are well, and enjoying the start of the Easter holidays. This time of year always seems to fly by for me; all of a sudden we are approaching exams season.

This month’s update contains information on: remembering and forgetting (and remembering), a 140 yearslong experiment, a couple of recommendations, and the usual quizzes.


Remembering, forgetting, remembering, forgetting, and remembering and then remembering

Exam season is approaching and I know that colleagues at KPHS and RSFC are putting on a number of revision sessions over the holidays, so if you are sitting exams this summer, please take advantage of these opportunities if you can.

Whether you can, or can’t attend the sessions, and whether or not you’re sitting exams this summer, here are a few tips that have worked for me when approaching work or trying to learn/remember something. They are not hard and fast rules, so please feel free to use all/some/none.

1. Thinking about it? Worrying about it? Get on with it – you’ll feel better! I used to spend a lot of time worrying about what I had to do or learn. Over the years I just got tired; tired of the constant cycle of worry and tired of the anxiety – it spoilt my day and it spoilt my mental health. How I dealt with, and am I still dealing with this? Well, in a few ways…

Working in the morning works better for me than later in the evening. The reason? I find I’ve more energy in the morning and it’s easier to focus – I recognise that this isn’t where everyone’s at though, but the biggest benefit I always find is that it gets work out of the way/out of my brain and hanging over me so that I can enjoy the rest of the day. It does also make me feel rather smug and virtuous…

An extreme example of this was something that happened quite recently. I’d been dealing with quite a big issue and I woke up at around 3am with my brain buzzing and worrying about the problem. In the end I decided that the best thing to do was to get up, get it out of my head and write it all down. And this I did (albeit after an hour of rumination). The work took a couple of hours and I finished at 6am. I then went back to bed, fell fast asleep and slept till 9am. I revisited what I’d written later in the day, tweaked it a bit and was just about there. It meant that I was able to focus on other things, rather than have a constant nagging in my brain over the day.

I suppose that this is a version of something called expressive writing that I first came across in the podcast 'Just one thing' (BBC link here, Spotify link here), presented by the doctor Michael Mosley. If you find yourself mulling things over and over and never coming to a resolution (often in the middle of the night), then give it a listen, you may find it helpful – I suspect I wouldn’t have been up so early doing that work if I’d known about it… Anyhows, here’s the blurb:

Michael Mosley investigates a technique called “expressive writing”, a simple tip which can have surprising benefits for your health. The idea is to set aside 15 minutes to write about any worries that keep you up at night, showing many benefits - from improving lung function in people with asthma, to improving scores on exams and cognitive tests. In this episode, Michael Mosley speaks to the man who kick-started it all, Professor James Pennebaker from the University of Texas, Austin. He tells Michael about his original findings in the 1980s and the astonishing link between expressive writing, reduced doctor’s visits, your immune system and how quickly your body heals wounds…


2. Talking things over. Our brains are funny old things (sorry if I’m over-complicating this, psychologists). Knowledge and information doesn’t just lodge itself in our heads in a consistent and accurate fashion - our context and experiences mean that we see and remember it in different ways; one person’s ‘sticky knowledge’ can be immediately forgotten by another. One trick that’s worked for me is to try to express the ideas or knowledge I’m trying to learn in different ways, for example – writing (not copying), speaking (out-loud on my own, or discussing it with someone, or listening and repeating), thinking (mulling over ideas – my kids say ‘you’re daydreaming’, I say ‘I’m working’) , and even drawing (yes – can you sketch what you’re thinking? Sounds a bit left-field doesn’t it, but it can work – I can draw ‘society’ in five or six different ways for example

3. Forgetting or being wrong can be good. Sorry if this is starting to sound a bit like growth mindset, but I genuinely do believe that one of the most useful parts of revision is where you get stuff wrong, or forget it. These messages are telling you where to focus your energies and what you need to learn or remember. So, next time you stumble, instead of thinking:

a. I got that wrong therefore I’m not very good at this.

  1. Think:

b. I got that wrong. That’s useful, I now know more about what I know and what I don’t know.

It’s not always easy, but flipping the way you think can sometimes be very helpful!



One of the World’s Longest-Running Experiments Sends Up Sprouts

One of my favourite experiments ever is where every 20 years under the cover of darkness (and with a secret map), scientists dig up seeds that were stashed 142 years ago beneath a college campus. It’s one of the oldest scientific experiments going and investigates how long seeds can retain their ability to germinate. As you can see from the picture below, it’s not very high-tech…

Last I heard, eleven seeds from that original stash have now germinated – here’s a picture of one of them. Take a moment, you are looking at something that, at very the same time, is both 142 years old and only a few days years old:

I have to confess that I find this quite remarkable and inspiring. There’s some wider message here, perhaps about hope and resilience, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe one of you can help? You can read the latest on the experiment here.



A few recommendations

Regular readers of the RSFC update know that from time to time I’d drop in a few recommendations of enjoyable or interesting programmes/podcasts. So here are the first couple…

The show I probably recommended most in my RSFC updates was the BBC TV series Ghosts, made by the team behind Horrible Histories by the same channel. Funny, clever, heartwarming – just the thing for an Easter break. There’s even an American version of the show you might want to try – it’s a bit decaffeinated for me, but there are one or two great moments.

Or, how about The man who cycled from India to Sweden for love?  In 1975 a 20 year old Swedish woman called Lotta von Schedvin drove to India with some friends for a few weeks' holiday. While she was there, she met a man in his mid-twenties, called PK Mahanandia, an impoverished art student, who made a bit of cash in the evenings by sketching tourists. When Lotta returned to Sweden, PK decided to cycle all the way to see her… By the way, the episode is taken from BBC World Service programme 'Outlook' which hosts interviews with remarkable people (or self-confessedly unremarkable people experience remarkable events). There’s an enormous archive here.



A few quizzes

Click on these links for the BBC and Guardian news quizzes. And click here for some maths puzzles.



Please take care of yourselves and one another. And always feel free to email me or just say hello next time I’m at your academy.

With very best wishes and great pride,



Richard Ronksley

Chief Executive Officer

Altus Education Partnership | College Road | Rochdale | OL12 6HY
Tel: 01706 769800

Twitter: @AltusEducation


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