Inspiration and disillusionment – A tale of two cyclists

“I’m afraid your flight has already left Sir” are words you really don’t want to hear at the airport. A travel agent error meant I had another 24 hours in Nairobi;so, what to do having exhausted most of the interesting tourist options?

Then I read the article on Chris Froome in the Guardian on Saturday, which portrayed a focussed man, beating the odds to get into professional cycling but then being disappointed by heros who had cheated to win. The article mentions his inspirational mentor, a dreadlocked Kenyan cyclist called David Kinjah. I googled Kinja and found a very impressive ex-pro cyclist, also that he gave guided cycling tours in Kikuyu, near Nairobi.

I rang that morning not expecting to be able to arrange anything at such short notice, but he said he’d pick me up later that day. He arrived with a contagious smile in a taxi crammed full of young cyclists and bike gear.

He explained what he was doing with The Safari Simbaz Trust,&nbsp: realising talent in underprivileged children living in disadvantaged communities around Nairobi and spoke with real pride about the boys and a girl racers in the taxi.

When asked he talked about his past in the Commonwealth Games and as a pro- cyclist in the early 2000’s, but was keener to talk about the project. We arrived down an unpaved road to his house in Kikuyu. What became immediately obvious was that his house was not just his house, it was also a hostel to his ‘boys’ many of whom had very challenging home lives; the rooms were also packed with cycling kit.

boy bike

At this point the comparison with Lance Armstrong kicked in. Whatever the debate on Armstrong, certain things are undeniable: he raised the profile of cycling unbelievably, made huge amounts of money for charity, inspired many people and also personally benefited hugely with the fortune and the mansion to prove it.

He inspired people with a lie and lawsuits will inevitably follow to dent his fortune, but the greatest punishment of all is that one that can crush: his 13 year old son will never feel the same about him and that is a lifetime sentence.

David doesn’t condemn Armstrong, but the contrast could not be greater, Davids’ life is no more privileged than that of the young people he supports, he doesn’t seek fame and fortune, but simply to make a difference to his community. He wants his riders to be intelligent, not just fast. I work for the Institute of Physics and teach science through extreme sports as part of my role, so taught them some science to understand forces. Their original shyness gone, they become a normal boisterous class of boys. I then relate what they have learned to cycling and they are rapt, impressive in their understanding and application of the ideas.

helium stick 2

We then go for a ride, you can go as gently or as fast as you want. You are left with no idea how fast David can go as he simply stays with you but he certainly didn’t break into a sweat keeping up with me. I have 30 years experience as a mountain biker, although that really is one year of experience repeated thirty times! What becomes apparent as we reach the first hill is how fast these boys are, they simply fly up them.

mtb 1

We pass people working the fields, collecting wood, donkeys with carts and children playing. We see the beauty of Africa as it really is. The route can be as challenging or as easy as you want.

Not content with changing the lives of his cyclists, David also runs three football teams, so we stop on a dusty pitch and lads appear from all directions. The cyclists take on the footballers and I join them. What is clear is there are some very talented players, many of these boys have very difficult home lives and this provides a structure to their day . David laments their inability to play as a team and wants them to become better thinkers, but is most concerned about keeping them on the straight and narrow.

A few of the boys have boots that David bought for them , but even worn boots fetch a premium price on the markets and he simply cannot afford them for all, none have shin pads.

foot 5

We play until the sun goes down, David keeping order and being a strong role model. The sun goes down and we reluctantly stop. “Bring Rooney next time” one of the boys shouts.

We cycle back lit by a full moon.

Unforgettable, magical and truly inspirational!

What can we do to help this project? Can twitter/social media be used? David is possibly the most inspirational man I have ever met.

I’d like to arrange something to get football boots/kit etc out there.

I also want funding for a set of mountain bikes for tourists to ride that would bring in a source of income for David and his boys. I am a Mountain Bike Leader and would like to help set up a few routes and ensure safety procedures etc are in place; also get the boys trained up in this.

This model could be replicated as an eco friendly sustainable project but these are all out of the realms of my expertise – I’m just a science teacher. Has anyone out there got any ideas?

Neil Atkin

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iPads – The silver bullet that will kill all other technology and lead to an educational nirvana?

Are iPads the latest big thing that will transform education, or yet another over-hyped technology that will be misused until the next big thing comes along.

Computers in the late 80s were going to change everything, but then we realised they couldn’t do very much that was really different. In the 90s CDs with encyclopedias such as Encarta appeared which were going to kill the textbook, but that never really happened.

Encarta 95

Microsoft put out the Where do you want to go today? adverts in the 90s, but we didn’t really seem to go anywhere.

Interactive whiteboards were the next big thing, with England in particular very keen too adopt, used well they can be highly effective, (see the courses by @Dragonfly_Edu Dragonfly’s Peter Dawes link) but the majority are used as little more than a white blackboard.

Headteachers would proudly show prospective parents their gleaming
computer rooms and point out that every classroom had an interactive whiteboard with no one seeming to ask the question ‘How has this impacted on learning?’ Now the clamour for iPads is the next big thing.

We are very keen to jump onto a new technology platform with many seeing it as the silver bullet that will transform and improve education and this blind faith has certainly appeared with many for the iPad. We constantly seem to try to solve complex problems with over simple solutions, I think iPads are stunning as they are fast, reliable, intuitive and don’t give the barriers to learning that slow unreliable laptops often present.

The iPad is a phenomenal tool, but it is only a tool. If used well it can turn students from consumers of information into creators, collaborating and communicating in ways that were not possible or even imaginable a few years ago.  But you cannot just give these devices to a class without seriously considering what value it adds to a lesson. In some schools teachers have found they are being forced to integrate iPads with little training and no real understanding of the capabilities. Apple provide free training, but this shows how to use the device, but not how to use it effectively in the classroom.

One major problem is that teachers have a tendency to carry on teaching as they always have done and to simply add on the technology to enhance their delivery. With technology that kept the teacher at the centre of the learning experience as the  deliverer of knowledge, this could be quite effective. iPads and other mobile devices put the student at the centre of the learning, removing restrictions on progress and offering for the first time a truly personalised learning experience often in conflict with the traditional approach.

As in all things a balanced approach is needed. Students may be very motivated to create a video showing their understanding, but if they do this in every lesson the novelty will soon wear off. Direct instruction still has a place and a carefully crafted tech-free  lesson will always be more effective than a poorly thought out one using the latest tech. A simple rule of thumb I use is ‘if it can be done as effectively without the technology, then do not use the technology’.

Consider this lesson I taught using iPads on Forces to a year 9 group

Learning Objectives : To be create a video performing your understanding of forces (to show me any misconceptions that can be discussed)

Task: How many ways can you think of to make a tea bag fly  (A divergent thinking task) – Use popplet to show your ideas.

Questions delivered with Socrative (AfL so I can  demonstrate progress):

What are forces? What are they measured in? How might you know a force is acting?, How confident are you with your knowledge of forces?

Show them how to make a teabag  fly without touching it (You need to come on my course to find out!) they video the demonstration, then create a quick film explaining their ideas using iMovie

Demonstrate the teabag flying again, but this time I explain it to them. They film it , but then have to delete my voice and create their own voiceover (some students repeatedly played the clip before they were ready to do this.)

Insert the image from popplet, then upload their films that have their original ideas and final thinking to a school youtube account.

Questions again delivered with Socrative.

So for this lesson I had a simple set of questions that allowed me to know what they knew when they came into my lesson that could be directly compared to what they knew when they left my lesson.

The film gave them the opportunity to explain their views orally and again was able to see if progress had been made. It also included their popplet so I had an indication of their divergent thinking.

Outstanding progress was clearly shown from the results in a lesson where I actively taught for less than five minutes. The iPads were used to do what would be nearly impossible without them

The iPad and other mobile technology will be a game changer in that control of learning can be given to the learner. In order for this to happen the learner has to know what to do with this control.  A superb read is Future Minds which outlines the dangers of digital  learning and why we should not just embrace technology without wariness. A great deal of thought needs to be given to what our classrooms should look like. The pedagogy must come first, not the technology.

Training In Kenya – Creating a connected World on a level playing field

It was fascinating returning to Kenya after 24 years away. Much has changed, but the stunning warm smiling people and chaotic transport system remain the same.

The computer revolution largely bypassed Kenya in schools, but with the massive adoption of mobile technology there is a chance for real revolution. It is not that unusual to see a Masai in full tribal dress, pull out a mobile phone to check his Facebook status. The Wi-Fi in the Pride Inn, Westland’s, Nairobi was as good as most British Hotels and coverage in Coffee Shops etc is free and effective. Tablets are very expensive at the moment and this will be an issue.

Teaching some Masai about impulse (and how to win bets) using bottles and a note.

How to win money!

The delegates who came along were very strong leaders and teachers (One of the issues of hotel training is you don’t really see the ones who really need it) There was a very good grasp of current pedagogical practiceand the ideas on the courses were received with enthusiasm.

Assessment for Learning, Nairobi. Pinned on the @teachertoolkit #5minplan map


Much of Kenyan teaching is still very much about the delivery of knowledge rather than skills and it will take a long time to change this focus. Digital devices provide instant sources of knowledge for free, so the challenge is how to make sense of the information and to be able to manipulate it in a useful way. People who can do that can compete on equal terms with anyone in the world. For the first time ever we are heading for a connected world that is a level playing field and curiosity, questioning and creativity are going to be the skills the students need.

It was interesting talking to a Kikuyu woman, who said that the culture at home and school was based around respect for elders and that the idea of questioning things came in direct conflict with their upbringing, so she felt that these deeply embedded beliefs would oppose change. I left confident that the education of the students who were in the hands of the delegates on my courses would be excellent.

A reminder of why Africa has such a draw was the ten minutes it took to say goodbye to all of the staff who I had worked with that week and smiles such as the one below.

The Smile of Nairobi

kenyan smile