Sunday, 18 September 2016

Psychology: A Report from Prague

by Amanda Wood

During the final days of the Easter holidays, I was lucky enough to attend the biannual EFTPA conference in beautiful city of Prague. For non-members, that’s the European Federation of Psychology Teachers Associations – you can see why we stick to the acronym, it’s not exactly catchy! Travelling with friend and former colleague, Helen Gibb, from Blandford School, we decided that we would travel overland and take in a few other European countries ‘en route’. My journey started at around 5 am, on a National Express coach to Victoria, before taking the Eurostar to Brussels. Our next leg comprised a wonderful journey on the ICE train to Cologne, where we spent the night, after visiting the magnificent cathedral, dating from 1248. Next morning, saw another early start and another train, this time to Frankfurt, and then onto Nuremburg. At this point, we thought we were about to board our final train to Prague, however it transpired that the last leg was, in fact, by bus! Several hours later we arrived at our breath-taking destination.

One of my motivations to attend the conference was the dual opportunity to meet up with fellow psychologist, John Crane, who has been a senior examiner and workshop leader for IB Psychology for many years and has worked at the International School of Prague since 1988. I first met New Yorker, John in Berlin, six years ago when we originally started teaching IB at PGS. He was the course leader and gave us an outstanding weekend of tutelage, which undoubtedly laid the ground for our excellent success over the years. John has lived in Prague for 28 years, bearing witness to the revolution of 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is an expert in cross-cultural differences relating to peace and conflict and an avid historian and traveller. This made him the best possible tour guide and we were delighted that he was able to show us around the city he loves and sharing many fascinating and personal tales, that we would not have heard on a more formal tour. As we stood in the centre of Wenceslas Square, he told us about the general strike and how he was one of the tens of thousands who waved and jingled his keys in the air, an action which today, still symbolises the Velvet Revolution and the end of Communism in what was to become the Czech Republic.

John also took us to Municipal House, a stunning monument to the golden age of Art Nouveau. Here, he treated us to a local herbal liqueur known as Becherovka, served in a beautiful frozen crystal glass, in what was supposedly the oldest bar in Prague, amusingly known as The American Bar. We also visited the beautiful gothic Powder Tower and the fabulous astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, said to date from 1410. John also took us out to a wonderful traditional Czech restaurent where we caught up with everything new in the world of IB Psychology, accompained by another IB examiner friend, Judith Silver, who I had met on our very first IB training in Athens.

Having said our goodbyes to John, who in true IB style was off to China the next morning, we met up with other delegates for the EFPTA conference including friends from Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The conference was opened by EFPTA president, Hannele Puolakka and the key note was delivered by Dr. Iva Stuchlíková and Alena Nohavová from the University of South Bohemia, who introduced us to some of the challenges of teaching Psychology in the Czech Republic. Following this, all delegates took part in a series of interactive “Active Learning” sessions. Our group was led by led by two lovely ATP members, Jackie Moody from The International School of Luxembourg and Harpa Hafsteinsdóttir, from MH College in Reykjavík. During this session, we made several new friends from Iceland and Denmark. A ‘carousel’ of group activities ensued, requiring little to no teacher direction and we dutifully perambulated in a clockwise direction, experiencing a veritable smorgasbord of psychological teasers, including story boarding, quizzes, jigsaws, labelling and model-making games. Interestingly, our favourite activity involving matching stereotypes held about various EU nations, which has of course a slightly more poignant feel to it now. It was fascinating to find out whether our EU friends shared the same of different stereotypes of other nations. These fun tasks allowed us to think about cultural differences and potential classroom activities to support the learning of research methods and statistical analysis.

We were also lucky enough to get an excellent update from another old friend Dr Guy Sutton, neuroscientist extraordinaire and regular visitor to PGS. His key note addressed many issues including the function of sleep with regard to improving cognitive function. I also attended two other workshops over the weekend including one on “twinning your classroom” where we discussed collaborative student projects, student blogs and Erasmus funding for student and teacher exchanges, chaired by Jonathan Firth from Scotland and Hannele. Again, with uncertain times ahead it will be interesting to see whether we are still able to make use of this funding, it strikes me that this is unlikely. My second elective workshop was entitled EUROPLAT: Psychological Literacy in Action where we discussed a research project being jointly run by Dr Jacqui Taylor at Bournemouth University and Dr Julie Hulme at Keele. This project aims to help teachers to embed psychological literacy into their schemes of work, meaning structured activities aimed at helping pupils to apply psychological thinking, content and skills, to their everyday lives in the workplace, within their own families and within the wider community. This was a great session and I found that my recent project idea entitled “Tales of the City”, where I have tried to encourage pupils to explain events occurring within our local community using psychological principles was immediately relevant. 

The twinning workshop that I attended galvanised my desire to work on a collaborative project with our European counterparts and I decided to ask our Year 12s to design a survey to investigate cross-cultural attitudes towards ageing and the elderly, following a recent Age UK report that cited the UK as amongst the worst in Europe with regard to ageism. We created a survey which I then shared with EFPTA colleagues and acquaintances across the IB Community and we ended up sampling 188 pupils from Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, UK, Sweden, UAE and Vietnam. I am currently marking the pupils’ projects and have been truly delighted by the quality of their work and their sense of engagement with fundamental issues, which could not be more meaningful. If, what we read is to be believed and I say this with some irony, of course, post referendum the chasm between various sectors of our society, appears to be deepening yet further, including the older and younger generations. Therefore, this project could not have come at a more poignant time, and this really was, completely serendipitous.

This week, I am departing for the ATP UK annual conference, held this year at the University of Sussex, where the international theme continues. I will be delivering a workshop on exam technique in IB Psychology, and given the relatively low number of delegates who teach IB, I decided to open the conference up, for the first time, to an international, virtual audience through webinars.resourcd, a collective of like-minded psychology teacher-trainers, offering a forum for online training and discussion. I currently have 31 delegates in countries from every continent including Egypt, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Colombia, not to mention several from the States and Australia and of course many from across Europe. I am greatly looking forward to this auspicious occasion and would like to thank the Headmaster, the Bursar and the Governors for their role in supporting me in broadening my horizons, which I hope will further inspire our pupils to take an international perspective and enjoy the sense of connection and belonging that “being part of something bigger” engenders. The opportunity to meet people, with similar passions and mind-sets, but who operate in very different cultural niches, has been both thought-provoking and inspiring and I look forward to continuing to pursue my interest in the role of psychology as a vehicle for dynamic, critical thinking and social change, on the world-stage.

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