The force of physics: school wins £150,000 as nation's pupils vote for lesson on rocket science

A teacher from Surrey has scooped a £150,000 prize fund from e-learning site O2 Learn, by getting her students and thousands of others to see science in a whole new light. The teacher and the winning school will share the money after pupils across the country showed their passion for physics by voting her explosive lesson on forces as the site’s most inspiring and engaging video tutorial.

Sharmila Hanson, a teacher at The Bishop Wand Church of England School in Sunbury-on-Thames will be awarded the top prize this afternoon during a special school assembly. Her success is down to a nine minute master class on Newton’s laws of motion, which features homemade rockets, crowd participation and animation to explain the science behind them.

Mrs Hanson beat off stiff competition, including rapping RE teachers and singing sociologists, to win the prize. Her video was the most highly rated amongst more than one thousand uploaded to www.o2learn.co.uk over the last year by a combination of public voting and the views of a panel of expert judges.

The prize fund will be split between Mrs Hanson, who will receive £50,000 and the school, which will receive £100,000, which they have earmarked for the creation of a new outdoor learning complex.

Mrs Hanson, who plans to donate part of her £50,000 winnings directly to a school in India, said: ‘I was astounded, humbled and overjoyed to find our film had won. The ethos of the competition was right up my street as I’m very keen to advance teaching beyond ‘chalk and talk’. Twenty-first century teaching is all about ‘active learning’ ‘ the pupil engagement and practical hands-on participation that forms the basis of my teaching and is realised so effectively by O2 Learn. They say rocket science is one of the most challenging applications of physics, but through our filmed lesson we’ve been able to make it accessible to students in a whole new way.

‘On a recent trip to India I visited a primary school close to where I grew up, and was struck by the spirit and vitality of the teachers and students despite limited means. There was a big difference in attitudes towards education between there and the UK. The children at the school use their literacy skills to go on to become milk-ladies and postmen taking them off the streets. I plan to return there to consult as to how best to use some of my winnings to improve the school’s facilities.’

Mrs Hanson was shortlisted alongside six other teachers and eight videos, including rapping RE teachers ‘Mr. A and Mr. C’s Reincarnation Song, Patrick Jordan and Matt Fodor’s innovative drum kit music film and Claire Corrigan and Salim Rahman’s singing sociology students. The finalists have been judged through popular vote and by a panel of leading lights from the world of education and support for young people, including Phil Beadle, Camila Batmanghelidjh, Mike Baker, Sir Mark Grundy and Gav Thompson, creator of O2 Learn, who looked at their educational value and creativity.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of youth charity, Kids Company, said: ‘Sharmila’s video was quite simply a great lesson. You could not watch it without getting excited and she did that in a really creative, engaging way, providing a clarity which is so important for young people. Bishop Wand School was up against a really strong field of videos covering more popular subjects like music, sociology or RE. The video’s success just goes to show that science can be accessible and interesting to anyone when taught in the right way.’

O2 Learn is an innovative education initiative designed to celebrate the UK’s finest teaching and create a lasting learning resource that can help young people achieve their ambitions. Teachers are encouraged to upload and share videos of their best lessons on the e-learning hub. The ambition is to build Britain’s biggest classroom online, giving young people everywhere, from all backgrounds, access to inspiring teaching.

Gav Thompson, creator of O2 Learn said: ‘O2 Learn celebrates the UK’s finest teachers and shares their great teaching with as many students as possible. Sharmila’s winning video is a testament to the high quality, creative and innovative teaching that is happening in classrooms all over the country.

‘School kids are growing up in a digital world and so there’s more value to be had than ever in teachers meeting them halfway and engaging them in a way that is relevant and fresh. The fact that we have school kids genuinely enthused by a tough area of physics just goes to show what can be achieved through this kind of creative use of technology.’

Kwasi Kwarteng, MP for Spelthorne where the school is based, said: ‘Many congratulations to Bishop Wand School and their fantastic video, which has captured the imagination of the kids at the school and the surrounding community. The prize money and the outdoor learning facility they will use it to invest in, will offer a valuable boost to the school and help them go from strength to strength.’

Since the scheme’s launch in Autumn 2010, visitors to the site have been asked to vote for their favourite video, with the most popular awarded £4,000 for the teacher and their school. This led to £72,000 being given away to teachers through the O2 Learn scheme. Last month, eight finalists were drawn from a pool of 1,000 uploaded videos, to be in with a chance of winning the grand prize of £150,000. There were two runners up [INSERT DETAILS]…

O2 Learn is part of O2’s Think Big initiative which seeks to inspire young people, and those that help young people, to make a positive change to the community. O2 Learn recognises the crucial role of education and the teaching profession in young people’s lives, providing them with the skills to make their communities better places.

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