Julie Brown

Julie Brown

Julie Brown is head of Practical Action's education team in the UK, which produces teaching resources for teachers of Science and Design & Technology.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org/schools

Posts by Julie

  • Why is energy important for the Global Goals?

    October 16th, 2015

    That’s one of the questions we want children in the UK to be thinking about and discussing in schools.   Our new teaching resource ‘Energy and the Global Goals’ enables them to do just that; helping them develop an understanding of why energy access is so important in global poverty reduction, something we at Practical Action passionately believe in!energy and the global goals teaching resource

    Comprising of two very hands on, engaging activities suitable for 7-14 year old children our resource is just one of a package of resources entitled ‘ World’s largest lesson’ which helps children understand what the global goals are all about and why they are key to ending world poverty.   The package includes assembly material and videos as well as lessons linked to every Global Goal.

    So why not have a look and see how through your teaching you can get children more engaged in and excited about  this UN initiative.

    Here’s a great video on the global goals below, and you can find lots more on the website.

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  • Technology Justice reaches Poland

    July 3rd, 2015

    ‘We invited experts on land fill into our school to talk to them about technology justice’

    So said one student from Poland when asked what the action was they took following a science project they did in school.  The project was inspired by their teacher who had been on a teacher training programme Polish 'Make the Link' students run in Poland by the NGO CEO as part of an EC project Practical Action is leading on called Make the Link.  The teacher had used the materials provided as part of the training and given pupils aa starting point of looking at how science can be used to improve lives in the developing as well as the developed world.  Students were encouraged to pursue their own interests and work on a project, a novel approach in Poland. They got very keen on biogas, loved our #techjustice marvellous microbes video

    Projects varied from designing solar phone chargers to drying herbs and building a wind turbine.  Pupils had clearly got really engaged with the project, had taken ownership of it and at the same time learnt a lot about the lives of others. One teachers said ‘ I like that the students really understood the problem.  We saw compassion, empathy, and a side of character of pupils we wouldn’t normally see.’ This was echoed by another teachers who said,  ‘ I think students really changed their approach, we noticed a difference in their way of thinking…that science is about real people’.

    Teachers really felt that the global approach was a huge benefit in helping pupils make connections between their own actions and what happens in the developing world.???????????????????????????????

    ‘Raising global awareness makes students realise some complicated interdependences and know that what we do here has impact on other people in developing countries’

    When asked what feeling they had during the project the students said things like:

    ‘We were surprised in the beginning that our lives are so different to people in Africa.  By doing this project we not only learnt how to make solar power but found out what life is like in another place’. Hubert (15 year old boy)

    ‘We were surprised that some people don’t have basic things like toilets.  We complain a lot about a lot of things but really we don’t have a lot to complain about. It has made us want to find solutions’ Justyna (14 year old girl)

    The students had all come together to share their projects with each other.  First at a small gathering organised by our Polish partners CEO to gain information for a publication on good practice, then to attend a much bigger event where over 200 schools in Poland set up stands to share their work with pupils , teachers and people from industry.

    The ‘killer’ quote for me that showed the real impact of the great work in Poland was from Patryja, 15.  When an evaluator asked him ‘what does technology justice mean to you?, he replied:

    ‘Technology justice means that in other countries people don’t have the  technology we have that they still need.  This made us ask…why?  It bothered us as in our opinion is not fair. The conclusion was that we respect more what we have, and want to try and help others get what they need.’

    If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact of our work on the future generation I don’t know what does!!

    To view materials ( but in English) that inspired these students go to www.practicalaction.org/schools

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  • Beat the Flood wins an award

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 26th, 2015

    I am very proud to be able to say that our Beat the Flood challenge recently won an award for the Best STEM resource for pupils, from the European organisation Scientix.   As a result it will be translated into all 24 European languages.  In addition we recently went to an event in Brussels and presented to over 50 head teachers from around Europe.

    To find more great science resources from other European organisations, and opportunities to network with science teachers across Europe take  a look at the Scientix website.

    Pupils at Sandlings school testing their flood proof houses

    Pupils at Sandlings school testing their flood proof houses



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  • Flood-proof school …flood-proof community

    March 11th, 2015

    All around the UK are villages and towns with community centres, but just imagine how valued that community centre would be if it was not just a community centre but also a school, and a place of safety. The Multi-purpose Community Centre and School in Saghata, Giabandha, is one such place.

    IMG_2677Most of the time the building is used as a school and this is what it was being used for when I visited it.  The place was full of incredibly well-behaved, delightful children from 5-18 years old.  When I walked into a classroom they all got up to say good morning to me, and were clearly very proud of their ability to speak English, and to recite traditional English rhymes.‘Early to bed , early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise’ was a firm favourite.  Several of the children were able to tell me a little bit about their lives.  Playing football is obviously a popular pastime in Bangladesh!

    IMG_2668BUT…this is a school with a difference, if you look closely at the buildings you will see they are all raised from the ground on plinths and made of brick.  This is a flood-proof school.  When the floods do arrive however it stops becoming a school and is a place of safety for the local community.  The classrooms become places where people and animals can stay until the flood subsides. This Centre was clearly the hub of the community and is making a big difference to the lives of the people who live there irrespective of flooding.

    School2I will always have fond memories of the children who greeted me so warmly and the staff who were clearly very dedicated.

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  • Give a man a fish…

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    March 11th, 2015

    We have all heard that saving, ‘give a man a fish and he will have food for a day, teach him to fish and he will have food for a lifetime’. At Practical Action we take this a step further, we would teach a man to fish and provide all the equipment he needs to do that as well!


    In my recent visit to Bangladesh it was this expression that came to mind when I met a lovely family were keen to tell me how their lives had been made much better as a result of their involvement in a Practical Action project.

    Hagera is a lady who had been given training and equipment from Practical Action as part of the Shiree project about 3 years before.  She had learnt how to make a range of different snacks to sell to local shops and door to door. She was proudly wearing the Practical Action apron she had been given at the time.  What made this story a bit special however was that recently she had trained her 19 year old son Allakba  to also get involved in the business.  He told me that if he didn’t make snacks he would have to be a labourer.  As a labourer he would make 100 Taka a day ( about 90p) , but by making snacks he could make 300-500 Taka. He was a very happy and in fact he didn’t stop smiling the whole time I was there!

    Hagera and her son showed me how they made the snacks and then with typical Bangladeshi hospitality invited my colleague and myself to taste them…and they were delicious. My favourite was a snack called jhuri, it is similar to a hard chip that tasted both salty and sweet at the same time, not like anything I had ever had before but really yummy.

    In terms of the difference  Practical Action’ had made to their lives Hagera told me that in the three years they had managed to buy a cow and  the materials to build a house, which was obviously a huge thing.  She clearly felt very blessed and grateful for both what she and her son had managed to achieve so far and that as a result of our input they had a bright future to look forward to.

    Another ‘proud to work for Practical Action’ moment for me, and a family I will never forget.


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  • Marvellous Microbes

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    December 3rd, 2014

    Having been to the amazing biogas plant at Gaibandha a while ago I decided ‘Marvellous Microbes’ would be a good title for the science video I am going to be producing for school pupils.  The video will be one of three illustrating that access to technologies like biogas is important part of technology justice. 

    We could learn a lot from the engineers in Bangladesh, who have made good use of a by-product (the biogas) from a waste collection system designed primarily to reduce the hazard caused by kitchen waste being dumped in the street.  The system is well managed, it is a definite benefit to the community and the staff are incredibly dedicated. Within the process itself the microbes are the star of the show!  Microbes break down the kitchen waste from 1,000 households producing two really useful products, fertiliser and biogas.  The biogas is used by 25 household to cook food and the fertiliser is in the form of slurry, some of which is then used to make compost.

    If you are interested in more details please read on. The process goes like this!

    1. Household recruiters, Biogas plant , GiahbandaFirst of all you need buy in from the community, so a team of three lovely ladies go from door to door encouraging households to get involved in the scheme and pay a small fee to have their kitchen scraps collected. They told me that mostly people do this because they understand it is better for the community as a whole to not have waste dumped in the street, and the only other option is to walk quite a distance to larger bins.   In this site just over 1,000 households have joined in. Like me (!) these ladies have their targets to reach and are constantly signing up more. The plant itself could manage waste from about 2,000 households in total so there is a way to go.
    2. Kitchen waste is collected every day by vendors.  One vendor I spoke to has worked here for 4 years. He much prefers working here as he can look through the waste and if he finds anything that can be reused he can take it and sell it,  this could be something like a small plate. By doing this he can increase his income by about 50% .  He told me that most precious thing he found was a locket which he didn’t sell but gave to his daughter.
    3. Kitchen waste is also sorted by ladies at the landfill site. They spend up to 5 hours a day separating it out from general waste. Not a job many people would like but they said they were happy because they have work and the are given safety equipment.

    Vendor working at biogas plant Giahbandha Waste pickers at landfill site Giahbandha

    1. The kitchen scraps collected in these two different  ways are  then put into the digester and mixed with water where the marvellous microbes get to work. Conditions for these anaerobic digesters are perfect, The right pH, temperature, moisture and oxygen levels mean that in 15-20 days the kitchen scraps have changed to fertiliser that can be used as slurry and converted into compost, plus lovely biogas. Slurry is used in the plant itself and surrounding fields, in fact I was told the biogas plant is known as the ‘green garden’ because the plants in it grow so well. The compost is sold on to generate a small income for the plant.

    Putting kitche waste into the biogas digester BiogasDigester

    1. Biogas is piped out of the plant to 25 lucky households. They receive the biogas gas three times a day. Women who are lucky enough to get biogas for cooking  much prefer it to the more traditional stoves because it is cleaner, and also food doesn’t have to be watched to the same degree,  reducing  drudgery as it allows the women time to do other things whilst the food is cooking. The plant has the capacity to provide biogas for up to 50 households, the limiting factor being the cost of  building the pipes.

    Biogas stove, giahbanda, Bangaldesh Biogas plant Giahbanda, Bangladesh

    I came away feeling …what a great idea, basically a win win situation.

    To find out more about Practical Action’s work on biogas go to   www.practicalaction.org/biogas-fuel

    For a technical brief on biogas to use with pupils go to  practicalacton.org/technical-briefs-schools-energy

    …And watch out for that Marvellous Microbes video coming soon on Youtube!

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  • ”Please protect our riverbanks”

    Gaibandha, Bangladesh, Ambajit
    November 18th, 2014

    …that was the only thing anyone in Giahbanda, Bangladesh asked of me the whole time I was there. The people I met in a range of communities were all more concerned about giving me things than the other way round…a chair to sit on, food, answers to any questions I might have.  That is why the request from a lady called Rabea really touched me. Practical Action had worked with a community of 100 households to build a flood-proof village 5 years prior to my visit.

    Rabea and her daughter Shilna, giabandha, Bangladesh

    Rabea and her daughter Shilna, Giabandha, Bangladesh

    Rabea told me how the village made her feel secure as previously her home on the other side of the river had been washed away by flooding.  There is still a problem though as the river bank is being eroded away at the rate of about 1 foot a year, so each year the river is getting closer to the village, threating their homes, a shop, and the community centre.  Clearly there is still work to be done to help the community feel safe long term, and I can only hope that Practical Action or another NGO will do that.

    The village is a great example of technology justice (#techjustice) in action through Practical Action’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) work.  Just simple technologies were made accessible to the community to enable them to have a safe, flood-proof community.  Firstly, the ground level where the village was going to be built was raised, then houses were built on concrete plinths.  Lots of plants were planted around the house, to suck up water when it floods.  The houses themselves are made of brick with corrugated iron roofs, so they are strong and waterproof, unlike the traditional straw house. Other technologies essential to life and therefore important in technology justice like water pumps, toilets and solar power were also installed.  The lovely people who live here really do believe they are the lucky ones, as demonstrated in the warm welcome I received.   In Bangladesh I felt especially proud to be able to say ‘My name is Julie Brown,  I work for Practical Action’.

    Flood-proof community centre, Giabandha, Bangadesh

    Flood-proof community centre Giabandha, Bangladesh

    If you are interested in your pupils carrying out an activity around flood-proof housing please look at our Beat the Flood challenge

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  • That lady is wearing boots!

    Gaibandha, Bangladesh, Ambajit
    November 6th, 2014

    ???????????????????????????????Before my journey to Bangladesh I was told to prepare to be stared at, as some of the people I would meet might never have seen a white lady before. So I was expecting comments on my white skin, maybe my blond hair showing from underneath my headscarf, or even my height… at 5ft 7” I must seem like a giant compared to women in Bangladesh.  I am sure all of that happened but I was told that what was really causing a stir and a few giggles was the fact that I was wearing boots!

    Despite being obviously different the welcome I received when I visited a small village, which had benefited from Practical Action’s support, was simply wonderful. Some of the braver children tried out their English asking me ‘How do you do’ and ‘what is your name’. Abkor, one of the older men an I was told was the ‘unofficial boss’ insisted on having his photo taken shaking hands with me and throughout the visit tried to get his baby boy to call me ‘auntie’! The women all wanted to know how many children I had and how old they all were.  I made them laugh when I showed them how tall my boys were.

    Then I met Ria. Ria is an 18 year old girl who lives in the village with her husband.  She spoke good English so we could speak without an interpreter.  She was thrilled that we had visited  her village and very quickly invited me into her home and insisted on making me a meal.  I am in Bangladesh with the film company Ignite  Creative to film for some science videos and Ria was keen to help. She quickly became the ‘star’ in our first video which will show how important water access is in technology justice.

    children palying at well Korok RoyRia explained how the village has two water pumps, one is ring pump, that takes water from deep in the ground  and can be used for drinking, while the other pump, a  tube pump,  does not go so deep and the water can be used for washing and cleaning. She said her grandmother remembers before they had any wells and they had to drink water from the pond, just filtering through cloth, and that this often made them sick  and gave them skin diseases because of the viruses in the water.   They were all very grateful for the wells, as well as the toilets and houses that Practical Action had helped them build.


    As I was shown round the village, feeling a bit like the pied piper, I felt incredibly proud to work for the organisation that had helped improve the lives of these lovely people. People who despite being poor and having very few possessions are happy, proud of their achievements and live in a close knit and supportive community.  I came away feeling there is an awlful lot we could learn a lot from them.

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  • Global opportunities in the draft science curriculum

    July 28th, 2014

    I recently made myself a cup of coffee, sat down, took a deep breath, and started to look though the new draft science curriculum for England for KS4  ( 14-16 year olds). I wanted to see if it offered any opportunities for pupils to learn how science can be used to reduce global poverty, and role they have to play in global issues such as climate change and food security.Such opportunites are really important if we want the next generation to understand and become as passionate about

    Testing materials as part of the Beat the Flood challenge

    Testing materials for a model flood-proof house

    working toward technology justice as we are at Practical Action.Along with other organisations such as Think Global we had put forward the case for inclusion of global issues when the DfE opened the consultation some months ago, so I had my fingers crossed.

    Somewhat to my surprise and delight, although the content pupils need to cover has little very obvious global context, the way in which the content is to be taught described under the heading ‘working scientifically’, certainly does.  This is great news as it aligns with what we have always believed in at Practical Action, which is that where possible science should be taught ‘through a global lens’.

    Let me give you an example.  In ‘working scientifically’ the document states that students should be taught…

    ‘’the role of science in understanding the causes of and solutions for some of the challenges facing society, such as climate change, food security, water supply, health and energy issues.’’

    And that they should be given the opportunity for…

    Evaluating associated personal, social, economic and environmental implications (of the technical applications of science)

    In the chemistry section, part of the content states that pupils need to cover ‘bulk properties of materials’ . We would suggest that a great way for them to do this, fitting in with the requirements of ‘working scientifically’, is for them to design a model of a flood-proof house using different materials, and link this to both climate change and health. Having understood flooding is made worse by climate change, and the detrimental effect of flooding on health, they can go on to consider what they can personally do to help slow it down. As it so happens one of our most recent resources, our Beat the Flood challenge would be perfect!!

    The KS2 ( 7-11 years) and KS3 ( 11-14 years) science curriculum for England has already been produced. To see where our resoruces fit these curricula and the science curricula for other countries in the UK please see our Global learning in science docments, which have been downloaded by over 1,000 teachers.

    And finally …I have to say i am particularly pleased by the recognition of energy as a global issue, something we strongly suggested was included.


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  • Tired but happy after the ASE conference

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    January 14th, 2014

    It’s 4.30pm, it’s early January, I’m on a train, I’m exhausted but happy, which must mean only one thing…I’m on my way home from the ASE conference!

    studetns with posterI always enjoy the ASE conference. It the most important conference in the year for us because it give us the chance to not only meet teachers but a whole range of different people who like us are passionate about science education in the UK and promoting good practice… subject leaders, teacher trainers, STEMNET contract holders, ASE field officers and people involved in organsiations like the Primary Science Teaching Trust to name a few.

    This year was a bit special because we were on a mission to promote our new STEM challenge, Beat the Flood. Designed to support the new science curriculum it is the first resource produced with funding from our new EC project Make the Link. Students are challenged to build a model of a flood – proof house and to help them choose relevant materials they carry out experiments on tensile strength and absorbency. Students can gain a CREST Discovery Award when they complete the challenge and enter our competition which finishes end of April making it the perfect activity for NSEW. Quite a few teachers seemed keen to win the £250 prize for their school or STEM club!!

    A lovely surprise for use this year was that delegates were coming to our stand following recommendations by other people in their workshops. We know of at least five workshops where this was the case, including:

    • Great ideas that work : Novel Science activities for 11-16 year olds ( Sue Howarth and Phil Collins, University of Worcester)
    • Science Resources for Global Learning (Marianne Cutler and Phillipa Hulme, ASE)
    • Planning your new science curriculum? Let’s make it cross-curricular (Di Stead and Lois Kelly)

    Practical Action at the ASE conferenceWe also sponsored the ASE’s prize draw, which meant a number of delegates who may have missed us sought out our stand and of course once they were there saw our materials and couldn’t help but find out more . The completion was won by the lovely Bryony Turford or @prisciencegeeks as she is known to us tweeters. Incidentally tweeting was a big thing at the conference, so  if you want a summary of what went on just search for #ASEconf.

    So, a really productive, successful event. All I need to do now is add the 180 teachers who signed up to get our newsletter to our database and follow up on all the interesting conversations I had…should keep me busy for a while!

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