Bedales mark Chinese New Year with themed Jaw

By Ellie Xi, 6.2

With the theme being Chinese New Year, in Jaw on Wednesday, a group of Chinese students and I talked about the traditions, stories and messages behind Chinese New Year.

There were two video clips playing in the background as people came in, portraying the Spring migration where millions of people travel back home for their reunion dinner. This event is also known as the Spring Festival travel rush.

Some of the traditional dishes were introduced and why we have them in the reunion dinner for good luck. There was also a slide of numbers which are closely linked with Chinese New Year – for example, “double six breaks the jinx” and “four is not to be mentioned as it sounds like death”. They show the superstitions people still have at New Year and the wish for luck for the year ahead.

As an Economics student, I am interested in the impact of Chinese New Year on the economy. The money flow during this period is huge, which encourages consumption, boosting the economy. This does not only occur domestically but also in foreign countries as companies release New Year limited editions to attract consumers.

A traditional poem and an extract of a Chinese New Year description were presented in Chinese by Aria, Maggie and Mike.

Comparisons were made about Chinese New Year and Christmas: the most important thing that they share in common is the reunion of families. They are both festivals designed to bring people together at least once a year.

In the end, five lucky winners who found red envelopes under their seats learned to say Happy New Year in Chinese. There were also chocolate coins at the end of handshaking and Chinese food for supper!

It was a special experience to talk about my traditions in front of the whole school and what Chinese people do to celebrate New Year. The festive period is a significant time to bond with family and relatives. Although none of us could be with our family, the school, teachers and our friends made us feel the warmth associated with Chinese New Year.

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Economics and Business students visit Prague

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By Ellie Xi, 6.2

Over Long Leave Weekend in January, a group of Economics and Business Studies students took a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, accompanied by Shaun Ritchie and Gabriela Vrbikova.

On the first day, we had a guided walking tour by Gabriela, which allowed us to see the main sights such as Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock. The city is both modern and traditional, with medieval architecture of castles and palaces. That evening, we watched a ballet in one of the national theatres – the Estates Theatre.

The following day, we took a train journey to Pilsen, where Pilsner Urquell Brewery is located. The group had a guided tour of the production process, travelling in the brewery bus to three brew houses. At the end of the tour, we had an opportunity to dine in the largest restaurant in the Czech Republic: Na Spilce.

On the third day, we visited the high-tech production facilities of car giant Skoda. The factory is located in the city of Mlada Boleslav and the area it occupies is greater in size than Monaco – around 2.7 square kilometres. This trip complemented our studies in Economics, such as economies and diseconomies of scale, rational behaviour, division of labour and other fascinating topics.

One thing I loved about the trip was the ballet The Little Mermaid. For me personally, I had never watched a ballet before and it was such a special experience to watch an exuberant performance in a foreign theatre with my teachers and friends.

Walking back to our hotel in the snow was definitely another highlight of this trip. I would like to thank Shaun and Gabriela again for giving us this wonderful experience.

The plague: medieval relic or still cause for concern?

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Biology

Plague! The very word is inclined to strike fear into the heart, but what is it, where did it come from and is it still about?

This was the subject of a talk by Dr Tim Mason, a retired lecturer in Microbiology from the University of Portsmouth, who visited Bedales as part of the Biology Lecture Series last week. His lecture covered the history of plague from the Bronze Age, through the mass deaths of medieval times to the atrocities of its use in germ warfare in the 20th century.

Archaeologists, digging deep into the skulls of Bronze Age skeletons, have shown us with their DNA analyses that it was only at about this stage that the plague bacteria, a new mass murderer of mankind arose.

Over the coming years, periodically remerging to cause global epidemics, the plague would hone its homicidal skills, bringing us the relentless killer The Black Death. Over the course of several centuries that pandemic raged across the land, killing about half the world’s population.

From then onward it has never completely gone away, returning in the middle of the 19th century to kill many millions more. But where is it today? Epidemics in areas such as Madagascar continue to occur, the most distressing of which was totally untreatable even with the impressive array of antibiotics that we have today.

Dr Mason told us that this is a disease for which no vaccine is available and which, when it cannot be treated with antibiotics, lends itself perfectly for use in germ warfare. The horrors that were seen in 1930s China using plague would be nothing compared with what could be achieved today, if for example, terrorists were to acquire the necessary resources.

The lecture, told with enthusiasm and humour, reminded all of us that we live in a world more fragile than most of us appreciate, and encompassed everything from science and history through to warfare and morality.

Insightful Keats’ lecture

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

After the trip to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset on Saturday 19 January, English teachers David Anson, Ed Mason and Lucy McIlwraith took a slightly different group of 6.2 English students to Chichester to attend a lecture delivered by distinguished academic Professor Nicholas Roe on John Keats’ narrative poem The Eve of St. Agnes.

The lecture was organised in celebration of the poem’s bicentennial anniversary and took place the day before the Eve itself, which falls on 20 January. The lecture contained a lot of insightful context to Keats’ life as well as that of the poem, evidencing the brutality and viciousness of the criticism the poet had to break through in order to a gain a place among the English poets, which indeed he did with much of his 1819 poetry and in no small measure in St. Agnes’ Eve.

The lecture was followed by a brief but curious bell, which preceded an assorted poetry interlude, and finally a dramatic reading of both Keats’ biography and the 42-stanza poem itself. Despite its impressive range of talent and voices, however, it left something wanting in its representation of dramatic setting and passionate young love, which only sparked in us a desire to recreate the scene for ourselves.

6.1 Biologists hear from country’s leading scientists

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Biology

In January, a group of 6.1 Biologists travelled to the Apollo Theatre, Victoria, to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of the Science Live: A-Level series.

Firstly we heard from Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore from UCL, who spoke about the complexities of the teenage brain and her team’s cutting edge experiments which reveal how behaviour is affected by the environment and how we relate to each other through this period of our lives. Sarah-Jayne explained that adolescence is a period of great vulnerability, but also one of enormous creativity which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Next was Professor Robert Winston, who was the speaker at Bedales’ Eckersley Lecture in 2013. He spoke about manipulating human reproduction from his work on in vitro fertilization through to regenerative medicine such as stem cell research and epigenetics, which may turn out to be the most important biological development in the years to come. He warned though that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.

Dr Jenny Rohn’s entertaining talk was entitled Revenge of the Microbes. She explained how there are 100 trillion bacterial cells on our bodies and how more and more are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria go through around 500 generations in just a week, which gives them an enormous advantage as they can evolve resistance to antibiotics extremely quickly.

Dr Adam Rutherford’s lecture focused on DNA, which he described as “the saga of how we came to be who we are today”. He told the fascinating story of how the body of Richard III, who was found buried under a car park in Leicester, was identified by DNA analysis and announced that everyone from Western European descent would be related to the British Royal Family if we traced our family trees back through enough generations.

Finally, Dr Ben Goldacre talked about the importance the media should play in correctly reporting scientific research, focussing on the MMR scandal in particular. Although Andrew Wakefield, the author of the MMR report, was blamed by journalist as the only one at fault, Dr Goldacre argued that the media were equally guilty as missing trials, badly designed research and biased dissemination of evidence were reported at the time as important scientific breakthroughs, while evidence showing no link to autism from the MMR vaccine published in peer reviewed academic journals was ignored.

Overall these lectures showed us just a few examples of the enormous range of scientific enquiry that encompasses the subject of biology and how it continues to shape our lives.

Twelfth Night – theatre review

By Eben Macdonald, Block 3

On 15 January, Block 3 students went to see William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, directed by Kelly Hunter.

The plot follows the plight of a woman named Viola, who is shipwrecked on the fictional island of Illyria, wrongly assuming that her brother Sebastian is dead. For her own safety, she pretends to be a boy, gives herself the pseudonym Cesario and goes to work for Duke Orsino, who madly loves Queen Olivia. She, however, does not feel the same, therefore Viola tries to persuade Olivia to love Orsino, but Olivia in fact falls in love with Viola, of course thinking she is male. There is then a variety of mad love affairs.

This energetic and powerful performance on Shakespeare’s most famous comedy certainly has a lot of display. Everything from the acting to the music had been well thought out and enthusiastically executed. For example, in almost every character I could very much get a feel for their personalities and inner-affairs; Oliver Grant, who plays Duke Orsino, was very versatile in his conveyance of emotion, and I could easily detect his raging desire for Queen Olivia’s love (Augustina Seymour), his consistent desperation, and his comic romancing. There is also a particularly moving scene where Viola (Paula Rodriguez), dressed as a boy, comes back from having attempted to woo Olivia in order to persuade her to love Orsino. He asks her excitedly, desperately whether he (she) was successful or not. When the response is ‘no’, Orsino falls into the pit of depression.

Also, I really got the impression of Viola’s audacity and eroticism when trying to woo Olivia, to which the audience responded with a lot of laughing, although at times I admit that I could not hear her very well. I thought that Malvolio, played by the composer himself, Tom Chapman, was especially good, as he starts off as a comically bossy and domineering character, and his amorous passion for Olivia, but after being imprisoned in darkness and humiliated, develops into a cynical and dark person; he delivered the famous line “I’ll have revenge on the whole pack of you” perfectly. The audience reacted to his yellow, cross-gartered stockings with plenty of laughs.

I very much enjoyed the way music and drama were ingeniously interweaved. For example, when we see Olivia for the first, grief-stricken upon her father’s death, is sat there, hunched, playing a mournful melody on the cello. It was evident that all the actors on stage were talented musicians as all the wonderful music was played by the actors themselves. I commend Tom Chapman, who was in charge of music.

Despite all this, there was one thing I did not approve of: at the beginning of the play, some of the scenes were swapped about, which I am against in Shakespeare because I believe that a director does not have the right to play with Shakespeare’s plays in that way. I also noticed that at times the audience did not respond to a lot of things with laughing, although I found them very amusing myself, such as Viola’s eroticism and Malvolio’s adoration and obsequiousness to Olivia. There were also actors playing more than one character, for example, Augustina Seymour plays both Olivia and Sir Toby. Although this was confusing at times, I appreciate that it was deliberately used to create a sense of disorder and chaos, which is what this play is about.

The simplicity of the set also caught me: it is merely a small, unraised stage with musical instruments scattered about the sides, conveying this metaphorical sense of music being intermingled with drama, and a ladder at the back of the stage which Malvolio eventually uses as the prison, hanging there is darkness, still wearing his ridiculous yellow, cross-gartered stockings, as the clown mocks him.

The end scene when Sebastian and Viola are reconciled, I thought was particularly moving, because the perplexion Orsino, Olivia and the curate display of seeing these two identical twins, right next to each other is so incredulous, and the two siblings, so elated to finally be together again.

The actors in this play certainly deserve credit for their energy and versatility, Kelly Hunter definitely deserves credit for his ability to mould this great play to please modern audiences (though I did not like the scene-swaps), and his magnificent performance of Orsino, and Tom Chapman for his musical creativity. I recommend this play highly.

Bedales Head of Science speaks at conference

emily seeber speaks at association for science educators national conference - jan 2019

By Emily Seeber, Head of Science

Last Thursday and Friday, I took a trip to the University of Birmingham to take part in the Association for Science Educators National Conference, which is the largest gathering of science educators in Europe.

I was giving two talks at the event. The first was entitled ‘Reinventing the Chemistry Practical’, which gave chemistry teachers tools to allow students to lead their own practical work and end the monotonous recipe-book practicals which dominate the science education landscape (in other schools!)

The second was a workshop on ‘Planning a Progressive Practical Curriculum’, sharing the principles used to design the varied, purposeful and coherent practical curriculum at Bedales.

It was inspiring as ever to speak to other educators about how we can support students so they can take advantage of a rapidly changing technological world. I look forward to sharing more of the great work happening in Bedales Sciences in future.

Read more of Emily’s writing on improving practical work in schools (subscription may be required):