Brain Day with Dr Guy Sutton

By Lily Brough, 6.2

On Thursday, A Level Psychology and Biology students were joined by Dr Guy Sutton for ‘Brain Day’. It was an inspiring day full of talks, ranging from the effects of drugs on the brain, criminality, brain trauma and the future of the brain. We even got to witness a live dissection of a sheep brain, exploring the different areas of the brain. The day showcased the far-reaching impacts of psychology and neuroscience and its relevance to many unsuspecting aspects of life.

The morning saw a detailed introduction to the structure of the brain, as well as the concepts of neuroplasticity and imaging techniques. This included contemporary studies on the effects of COVID-19 and the Abracadabra project, which studied the long term effects of cognitive stimulation in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. This was followed up by an informative look at the effects of drugs such as cannabis and ketamine on the brain. It was especially interesting to learn of the vastly different effects various forms of cannabis can have – THC causes cognitive impairment, while CBD can be used as a treatment for epilepsy, for example. Just before lunch, we had a look at various neuroimaging techniques. Students particularly enjoyed the vivid images produced by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), as well as the extremely complex connectomes being created.

After lunch, Dr Sutton explored possible explanations of schizophrenia before giving a powerful talk on the ‘criminal brain’. Looking at different case studies, we were able to explore the complexity of the causes behind crime and the debate of free will. This revealed the philosophical questions that underpin both psychological and neuroscientific research. After this, we had the exciting brain dissection, which gave us a chance to see the structures discussed during the day. Everyone was intrigued by the strange texture of the brain and enjoyed inspecting the hippocampus and cerebellum.

To end the day, there was a talk on the future of the brain, with the discussion of neuro-bionics and the impending fusion of the brain and technology. This sparked much debate about the ethics and morals of advancing research and left us thinking about the future of neuroscience.

By Pip Stamp, Teacher of Psychology

I was extremely proud of our students on Brain Day. To quote Dr Guy Sutton: “I always enjoy visiting Bedales. I was particularly impressed this year, given what has happened over the past 18 months, of how attentive and receptive the students were. They engaged fully, asked some great questions and equally, answered my questions with intelligent and thoughtful responses. Generally, a really delightful, attentive and polite audience and I very much look forward to visiting again.”

Exploring John Keats’ Winchester

By Eloise Cooper, 6.2

On a sunny Wednesday, the remainder of the 6.2 English students ventured to Winchester, accompanied by David, Julia and Magnus, to explore the area that influenced so much of Keats’s later poetry, and to follow the walk he took along the River Itchen that inspired him to write his ‘Ode to Autumn’, often described by critics as the perfect poem.

We began in the Winchester College Fellows’ Library where Dr Richard Foster, curator of the college’s collection, showed us a first edition of Keats’s 1820 Poems which included the ‘Ode to Autumn’. We also saw a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. The we had a talk by Dr Gary Farnell from the University of Winchester about Keats’s stay in Winchester in 1820.

We then retraced Keats’s route from the Hospital of St Cross to the cathedral close, and then to Colebrook Street, where Magnus’s friend Amelia Ashton hosted us in her garden for a picnic lunch and another talk by Gary, this time focussing on The Eve of St Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and Ode to Autumn.  We ended the afternoon with a sonnet writing competition.

Not only did this allow us a fresh set of eyes on the texts we had been studying for months, but allowed us to build up a greater picture of the surrounding world of Keats’s poetry. Thank you so much to the English department and Magnus for a wonderful day.

The 1820 Poems in which ‘Ode to Autumn’ first appeared
First folio edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works
Walking along the River Itchen

Writing and producing ‘The Definition of Charisma’

By Nay Murphy, 6.2

With the support of Bedales, through the New Views Playwriting and Student Directed enrichments, I’ve written my own script – The Definition of Charisma – and I am being given a space to put it on on Wednesday 16 June in the Drama Studio (performances at 3pm and 7.30pm – book tickets here). This is an incredible way to end my time at Bedales – being supported with producing my own work, and gaining the skills and confidence to continue writing and producing in future with my theatre company, which I founded in Summer 2019 in order to give myself more theatrical opportunities, both in acting and directing, and now writing.
 
The play explores what it means to have a big imagination; it is about self-love and confidence, discussing religion, sexuality, philosophy and gender. I would say that above all, The Definition of Charisma is about friendship and the intensity that that can bring.
 
After much procrastination, I wrote the first draft in just three days last August. The process of editing then began, aided by David Anson, Head of English, and Hayley Cole, Head of Drama, who also helped with casting and rehearsal space. David’s advice for Charisma has been invaluable to me; it’s always good to find someone whose opinion you trust to ask for feedback on personal work and David is a teacher who is there to encourage through honesty, speaking to you like a grown person. Hayley provided an invaluable theatrical lens on the script, making me think more about the audience and other stage aspects. Hayley also forwarded my script to other theatre experts working at Bedales. My teachers at Bedales have really made this happen for me and their encouragement and genuine interest in my passion has continued to drive me forward. As part of the Drama enrichment I entered my script into the New Views Competition at the National Theatre and recently heard that it was longlisted.

The Definition of Charisma is a two-hander performed by the hilarious Ella Peattie, a fellow 6.2 student, and myself. Due to COVID, the original performance time was delayed. This said, we continued our weekly rehearsals over Zoom, working on characterisation; my idea for the rehearsal process was to form deep connections and understandings of our characters in order to allow for a fluid and natural staging. This is a technique influenced by Meisner, who focuses on reacting in the present moment, believing that no two performances should be the same. I’ve recently learned about this method through the Wednesday Industry Workshops programme, a class led by Ben Press, who will continue advice for me practically in rehearsal before the performance, given we got along so well.

I run the ‘NYT Playwriting Group’ at the National Youth Theatre and brought Ella along with me to a Tuesday-night Zoom to do a short R&D of our play – we did a play reading and received feedback from the fellow Playwriting Group members. This was extremely helpful for both of us as actors, and for me as a writer. Specifically, it was extremely special to hear people debate over themes in the play and Charlie and Sophia’s characters – something I had created was raising discussion. I then proceeded to write the final draft.

I’ve learned in the rehearsal process that performing one’s own work can be quite challenging – I’m performing a kind of version of myself, who’s also not me. It becomes hard to think of the character objectively, given that they are my own creation. This is a challenge I’m completely willing and happy to face and intrigued to see the outcome. Only by accepting challenges and having a willingness to fail can we produce our best work; this is definitely something I learned at the National Youth Theatre and at Bedales.

I write and I act because I’m curious about how people’s minds work and what drives them to perform certain actions. I think this is what primarily drives me forward, as well as the idea of empathy – if I can make an audience have a little more empathy after watching a performance of mine, then I’ve achieved my goal with it. As seen very recently with increased xenophobia, people often forget the humanity of others.

Ella and I are rehearsing the performance intensely during the 6.2 bridging courses over the period of a week. Student Directed is a drama bridging course and I’ve been offered extra support with industry professionals coming in for support, such as Ben Press’ return to help after we got along in his Meisner workshop. We really hope you can come and enjoy the hard work we’ve put into this.

Here’s what Ella has to say: “Sophia is an enigma. Cultivating her thoughts and reactions has been confusing, yet thrilling. It’s been a delightful experience creating her life story, cultivating her manner of walking and so much more. Come and see this freaky, fun-packed show.”

Tickets are available here: https://www.bedales.org.uk/event/definition-charisma

There will also be a stream of the performance later on in the summer – you can visit my theatre company website and join the mailing list to keep up to date at nakedbear.org.

Drama’s industry-based Wednesday Workshops continue into Summer Term

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Three weeks into the new term and three phenomenal Wednesday Workshops have already been delivered. We have been so lucky with the wealth of experience that has been shared in these workshops and the generosity of professionals in the industry to share their time and their insight with our students has been invaluable.

Kate Winslet returned to deliver another workshop on characterisation, sharing her scripts and her own character notes alongside photographs from set. The students were enthralled by the schedules and script edits they saw and could truly appreciate the graft of acting and the research and exploration an actor should and must do to truly inhabit a role. Kate then delivered a separate more intimate session on American dialect for a student directed group and the difference in accents used by the actors at the end was astonishing. I know they will continue to practise using the crib sheets and techniques taught – and I will too!

Ben Press delivered his second session in person, and it was lovely to welcome him to Bedales and for him to share his experience and expertise in the Meisner method. Students were intrigued by this different way of working and the simplicity of responding and reacting to create truth on stage. I look forward to learning every Wednesday with the students and gaining these industry insights in the most memorable way.

Read a selection of students’ perspectives on the workshops below.

Poppy Brough, 6.2

Kate Winslet, a world-renowned actor, came to Bedales and delivered a second acting workshop for all students interested in Drama. She answered many questions from the students about her career delivering full and interesting answers, while also giving us funny anecdotes about being on set. She also showed us some photographs taken on different film sets. I particularly liked the picture of a massive sink in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.

Kate was very open and didn’t judge anyone’s questions, creating a warm open atmosphere that was comfortable for everyone. 

She talked enthusiastically about her new series Mare of Easttown, set in Pennsylvania, where she plays a grieving detective. She spoke about the intensity of the role and gave us valuable acting tips for filming out of chronological order, which is necessary to avoid time wastage. 

We would really like to thank her for the precious time she gave to us, and we hope that she comes again soon.

Kit Mayhook-Walker, 6.1

To assist 6.2 student August Janklow with his student led adaptation of Sam Shepherd’s True West, Kate Winslet kindly agreed to come in to give the cast a workshop on dialect. The two-hour workshop focused on everything from pronunciation, articulation and how accent informs character. She gave each member of the cast a dialect pronunciation sheet which actors use to better understand the sounds common in specific regional accents, southern Californian being the one in question. she also sat in on a scene reading and offered her advice and opinions on vocal characterisation and specific things for each actor to focus on and remember while acting. The workshop was extremely helpful and useful in the development of the play and we are extremely grateful she took the time to come in and assist all involved.

Zeb Murphy, Block 3

I attended a workshop given by Ben Press, an actor who studied in New York. He spoke to us about the Meisner technique. It is an acting method developed by Sanford Meisner, under the influence of Stanislavski, Lee Strasburg and Stella Adler. 

The first activity Ben introduced to us was the ‘Repetition Game’, as he called it. Two people had to sit face-to-face, side-to-side, or back-to-back. Then we had to simply follow three instructions; Don’t say anything until something causes you to speak, Don’t try to be interesting, The other person is the most important being in the entire world.

The general idea of the game was quite simple. Whatever the other one says about you, you just repeat but change it to ‘I’ instead of ‘You’. For example, this is a possible round:

Person 1: “You are looking at my feet”

Person 2: “I am looking at your feet”

And so on…

What is noticeable, is that even though we are trying not to act, the tone in which the phrase is said will continually change, and the partner must always react to how you said the phrase. It was incredible and hilarious to watch. It was mind blowing that this simple activity, of not even trying to act, was more enjoyable to watch than half the acting scenes I have seen in theatre.

Ben then made the exercise even more challenging by requesting that one member of the pair, had to be attempting a near impossible task, such as stacking three golf balls on top of one another. The person assigned the task began their challenge, whilst the other person had to walk into the room and do as follows:

·      Walk into the room as if it was the most important thing to do

·      Say nothing

·      Observe what is occurring in the room

·      Still say absolutely nothing

·      Only speak when something in the room causes you to speak.  

The Repetition Game would continue with the same earlier rules. This time, when the moment felt right, you were allowed to break the repeated phrase and change it to something else you needed to express. It was incredible to both watch and perform this challenging activity.

Overall, the workshop taught me that not trying to be interesting when acting can bizarrely be the most interesting thing to do. Good acting is about the way you say something rather than what you say, noticing and reacting is just as important as acting out your rehearsed part. I absolutely adored this workshop and I hope Ben will return to Bedales for another lesson”.

Students reflect on presenting their EPQs

By Jo Mayhook-Walker, Head of EAL and Extended Projects Coordinator

Last week, 18 Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) projects were presented to an audience made up of students and staff. For me, it was an educational and invigorating experience, but how was it for the students? This week, five students who gave presentations share their thoughts.

Nina Jones, 6.1

Last week I presented my EPQ, titled A Thoroughbred’s life, how dangerous is it really? The process of presenting was much more rewarding and less stressful than I had initially thought; I felt that it was an important experience for me in order to build my public speaking skills and conclude my project. Prior to writing my dissertation, I put in a lot of time to research, ensuring that I was confident in the topic. This allowed me to answer the questions with ease. Within my presentation, I talked about my inspiration for my project, how I completed my research, the development, the content, and finally, an evaluation. The evaluation in particular helped me see the strengths and weaknesses of the process and the project itself and taught me valuable skills such as time management and sticking to a word count. I found that the feedback which I received after presenting was very beneficial, and I hope that I can transfer these skills into diverse areas of my academic and work life.  

Jamie Loudon, 6.1

For my EPQ I decided to record and write a song. When I started, I was completely new to the process so I had to learn how to do everything. The first thing I had to do was choose a music production software. I did this by looking at reviews of lots of really good music software packages. I ended up picking a software called Ableton and I then learned how to use it using YouTube tutorials. I took what I learned and used it to write a song. I really enjoyed writing a song as I found it rewarding when I had a finished the song to be able to say I made it myself. Hearing people’s opinions of it after was also really nice. I found the presenting experience really fun because I got to show everyone what I had done. I found it fascinating listening to everyone else’s projects as there was a huge variety of topics covered. I was especially interested in the projects related to music, learning about the path their project took in comparison to mine.

Ben Bradberry, 6.1

For my EPQ project, I chose to focus on Singapore and how it achieved its importance in the modern world. I was inspired to do this having lived there for six years and noticing the differences to the UK. I found it frightening to be one of the first to give my presentation, but instantly felt more reassured as I got into the flow of it. I found the other presentations to be extremely interesting to listen to, but also valuable as a learning experience for myself as I could see how other people went about the process in comparison to how I had done so. Overall, it was an extremely worthwhile experience and I strongly encourage anyone considering an EPQ to pursue it.

Gemini Wang, 6.2

In last Wednesday’s EPQ presentation, 6.1 and 6.2 students presented their projects to an audience. In my group, there was a wide range of subjects from horse racing to time traveling. I was the first one to present in our group and although I was quite nervous before the presentation, from the moment I started talking about my project, I felt no stress at all. Talking to people about my interests and research was really enjoyable. At the end of each presentation, there was a chance to ask questions and the audience took this chance very well. They asked me interesting questions which challenged me as the presenter. Overall this presentation was a great opportunity for us all to share our research and listen to other people’s passions. It was also the moment when months of hard work finally paid off and I could see and hear that I had achieved my goals with my project.

Ernie Allesch-Taylor, 6.2

The opportunity to present an EPQ to Bedales staff and students was such a nice event to be a part of. What could have been a nerve-racking experience turned out to be a very good opportunity to share our projects. Despite differing topics, this enabled people from both Sixth Form year groups with ranging interests to showcase their passions. I for one thoroughly enjoyed the inclusive and welcoming atmosphere that everyone in the audience contributed to. Being able to ask in depth questions to my peers and having questions being asked to me about my project was a great way to properly engage with each individual projects. As well as this, being given the opportunity to ask for feedback after the presentations had ended was also a great way to learn how we could improve whilst also receiving positive praise.

EPQ presentations go digital

By Jo Mayhook-Walker, Head of EAL and Extended Projects Coordinator

COVID has encouraged a huge reliance on technology both in school and in the wider world. Last Wednesday afternoon saw a small and select audience settle down in front of their computers to form the audience for two Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) presentations given over Teams by Isabella Montero and Eloise Cooper, both 6.2 students.

As the new Extended Projects Coordinator, I felt incredibly privileged to be part of the audience.  Previously, projects have been presented in the Library, giving students, staff and parents an opportunity to wander from stand to stand, dipping in and out of a smorgasbord of projects and being able to question each student about the inspiration behind their projects, the challenges they encountered and what they had learnt. The current situation, however, has meant that we have had to rethink. 

All the way from Barcelona, Isabella (pictured above in last year’s Rock Show) presented her project, her EP entitled A White Picket Dream. She gave us an insight into her musical inspirations and how her experience of living in different parts of the USA, as well as being an American living and being schooled outside the US, has coloured her musical journey. 

In contrast, Eloise, from her dorm in 6.2, presented her project: Is there a Difference between a Cult and a Religion? She explained why this was a topic that had appealed to her, presented the issue of bias when conducting her research and explored how her own personal relationship to religion had coloured her choice of topic and approach.

Both presentations were insightful, confidently given and complimentary to each other.  We, as the audience, were given a unique opportunity to focus entirely on each individual project with a chance to question the students at the end of their presentation.  Although a very different experience to the Expo of old, the use of this new technology allowed us a more concentrated and intimate glimpse into the story behind the project.

Reflections on International Women’s Day

By Daisy Flint and Emilia Barnsdale-Ward, 6.2 and Head Students

Is International Women’s Day backward thinking? Why do we celebrate women once a year? Whilst this day aims to raise the profile of females within society, it is possible that we end up focusing too much on her being a successful woman, instead of being a successful person, as if this is a rarity. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: what separates International Women’s Day from any other day? The answer we should respond with, is nothing, as a female’s achievements should be celebrated as and when they happen.

However, those who are aware and accept the gravity of sexism will answer this question realistically. Yes, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, however, this shouldn’t be an annual occasion; females aren’t only successful one day of the year. Knowing this, it could be argued that this day contributes to the fact that our generation won’t see a gender equalised society; which to those who don’t understand, is the goal of feminism. Do we end up shadowing a woman’s achievements with the fact that she is a woman?

Understandably, there are multiple points of view on this topic; for instance, by celebrating a woman’s success, society is counteracting patriarchal beliefs of women as lesser. Yet, by separating women’s success from that of a man’s, are we unconsciously propelling the stereotype that females are lesser and men in a league of their own?

Whilst these issues still exist, there are institutions who are forward thinking, such as the Sainsbury’s book prize which Bedales alumni, Anna Fargher, won for her fictional novel ‘The Umbrella Mouse’. It is important that we recognise how she won the book prize for fiction, not fiction written by a female author. Fargher’s work was therefore recognised in its own right, regardless of the author’s gender.

Turning in ‘Othello’

By David Anson, Head of English

The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s play Othello was on Hallowmas Day, November 1, 1604. James I had been king for just over 18 months and he had very recently overseen the Treaty of London which concluded 19 years of conflict between England and Spain. It was a time of great change, a time of unification and much longed for peace.

On Wednesday, Bedales English Literature A Level students were joined on Microsoft Teams by fellow Bohunt English Literature students to take part in a short lecture programme organised by myself and Deana Buchan, Head of English at Bohunt. We were joined remotely by Dr Kath Diamond, a Renaissance specialist who lectures at Goldsmith’s College and Queen Mary and Westfield, and who delivered a fascinating lecture on ‘Turning in Othello’.

Amongst other things, Kath’s lecture recognises the significance of this period of political and cultural change in Jacobean London and the bearing it has upon the action and motifs to be found within a play which presents a ‘spiralling vortex of change’. The play opens in the turmoil and business of a bustling Venice, centre of trade and commerce and the seat of much public debate and discussion about the ongoing war with the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus. It narrows to the defeat of the Turkish army before narrowing again to the private matters of Othello’s marriage to Desdemona and then ends with yet a further narrowing to the marital bed; site of Desdemona and Othello’s tragic end and loaded with much dramatic symbolism. The play is a play of change and a play of turmoil that leaves both its contemporary and 21st century audience somewhat unsettled (though for different reasons) and yearning for the kind of peace and order that a king like James, Shakespeare’s patron, ought to bring at the start of his reign.

The students then explored the way the masculine and the feminine may be considered in the play through shorter presentations led by myself and Deana; a useful foundation for further classroom discussion. At a time when we can’t take our students to the theatre or to lecture programmes, this was a superb opportunity for both 6.1 and 6.2 to revisit their study of Othello and it ushers in the start of more exciting joint projects between Bohunt and Bedales that Deana and I hope to be able to realise in face to face events next year.

A letter to 6.2 A Level English

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

For the past two years, I have been in the unusual position of teaching a whole cohort of A Level English students. What a privilege this has been; first to get to know you all last year through studying the contemporary Poems of the Decade and an evening with Julia Copus, and then to guide you through some of the pressures of online learning.  

Certainly, my most fulfilling teaching moments last spring involved supporting many of you as you wrote your coursework essays. We worked together, adopting university-style tutorials that were really conducive to the task at hand. In this intimate learning environment, you rigorously dismantled and reassembled your analytical arguments, embedding close textual analysis and context into essays, and become young but impressive scholars of Seamus Heaney, and Arundhati Roy. It is wonderful that I have taught one or two of you since Block 4 and that a number of you are now determined to study English at university: what more could a teacher want?

In the autumn term of this academic year your focus and determination were remarkable. At times as a teacher managing the new COVID secure protocol on site was tough; but it was worth it so that I could introduce you to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf in person and watch you draw comparisons between this novel and her older sister Wuthering Heights. Both novels deal radically with early forms of mental health, a subject on which you often edify me.You demonstrated such maturity and sensitivity in November, embracing hybrid teaching early on so that those of you at home self-isolating could stay part of the class discussion. You make me very proud and are a credit to your parents.

I believe passionately that we learn much from creating peak experiences inside and outside the class room and I had hoped to take you on a weekend trip to Haworth in Yorkshire, to visit the Parsonage where Emily Bronte died and to walk up onto the Moors to Top Withens, a remote, abandoned farm considered to be the inspiration for her only novel. Instead we returned to our homes and computer screens and I have had the challenge of trying to inspire you with the poetry of John Keats. 

A poet of the senses, he is a joy to teach in the winter and early spring in Steep, ideally in the Meditation Hut or the Lupton Hall, where two years ago I launched the first ‘Eve of St Agnes Experience’ with Lucy McIlwraith. 

This year I asked you to work on collaborative creative responses to the poem and I have been amazed at what you have achieved from homes many miles apart. Your original work neatly coincides with the publication of an essay entitled ‘Weavers of Dreams in The Eve of St Agnes and A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ in the English and Media Centre EMAG, co-authored with my partner in Keatsian crime, Lucy. I’ve decided this will be my third and last Keats’ experience, and hope to teach Shakespeare next year. It makes sense to end on such a high.

To all of my 6.2 English students: thank you. “St Agnes moon hath set.” 

A changing approach for Further Maths

By James Welham, Head of Maths

With around 90,000 students in the UK opting for A Level Maths, and around 15,000 of those opting for Further Maths, Maths remains a popular choice, both at Bedales and in the UK, and highly regarded by universities.
 
Up to now we have taught Further Maths distinctly from Maths: different classes ensuring that those opting for further mathematics were taught separately. In 6.1, Further Maths students completed the Maths A Level, waiting until 6.2 to start – and complete within the year – the Further Maths A Level. Whilst this approach has many merits, it also has some negative impacts on both groups of students.
 
I am deeply conscious of the challenges that the current Block 5 students have faced.  Two periods of national lockdown and the uncertainty of grades this summer has meant that students starting their studies in September will do so from a very different point than might have done under normal teaching conditions.  With that in mind, giving students the best possible chance to succeed with maths has never been more important.  Therefore we are going to change the way we teach Further Maths next year.

Students opting for Maths and Further Maths in September will learn both A Levels in parallel. In 6.1, students will start both the Maths and Further Maths A Levels, taking the full two years to complete both courses.  They will learn mathematics alongside single maths students, mixing with their peers and importantly taking time to revise and build upon their work at IGCSE.  In Further Maths classes they will study Core 1, the first of the two compulsory modules, and be introduced to topics such as Complex numbers and Matrices.  They will also study Decision Mathematics, a new area of mathematics for many and one with applications to computer science.  Studying these two modules in 6.1 offer an early opportunity for pupils to be introduced to some interesting and challenging ideas whilst exploring new areas of maths.  In 6.2, students will complete their study of Maths and study two more modules, so completing Further Maths.

For those students whom this will affect, I hope that this explanation will bring both clarity and a sense of excitement about what next year might hold.