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

  • 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, Gaibandha
    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, Gaibandha
    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 wells, one is ring well, that takes water from deep in the ground  and can be used for drinking, while the other well, a  tube well,  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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  • Looking for activities for Gifted and Talented pupils?

    October 11th, 2013

    If so, there are a lot of Gifted and Talended co-ordinators who would say you should try our STEM challenges.

    Yesterday my colleague Bren and I exhibited at the Optimus Education Gifted and Talented conference at the Oval in London #gifted13.  This was a new experience for us so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

    Optimus Gifted and Talented conference 2013

    We were delighted that so many of the 300 teachers who attended came along to our stand to find out what we had to offer…and how  impressed they were with what they found:-)  They recognised that our challenges enable pupils to really stretch themselves and demonstrate what they are capable of in a global context that is likely to be new to them.

    Some teachers had already heard of our work through the grapevine.
    One teacher said I heard someone say they had done tPractical Action at the Optimus Gifted and Talented conference 2013 he squashed tomato challenge and it was phenomenal!’  Others came across us for the first time.  This included one teacher who like us had travelled down from Rugby!  Our Beat the Flood challenge and competition was a real hit, with teachers liking the hands on, enquiry aspect of the challenge as well as the idea of potentially winning £250 for their school. We are looking forward to seeing those competition entries come flooding in (groan!).

    One thing we both noticed was how at this conference many teachers were not just thinking about working with small groups of pupils but how they could use our challenges for a whole year group; as the basis for a transition day, or as a  whole school activity.   One teacher said to me:

    ‘ Beat the Flood  will be perfect for a whole school activity day we are having in three weeks time.  I can’t thank you enough…  you have just saved me sooooooo much work!

    As always teachers were impressed with the quality of material we produced, and amazed that it is freely available.  In turn we were impressed with the enthusiasm and passion shown by  teachers to improve the experiences of pupils in their schools.

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  • Top Ten Pictures of Technology Justice in Action

    June 6th, 2013

    Do you believe that everyone has the right to a decent quality of life, no matter where they live?

    At Practical Action we do.

    We believe that everyone has the right to technologies that enable them to lead a live they value, as long as that does not harm others now or in the future.

    We recently held a competition among our staff to find some of the best images we have illustrating what we are doing to make technology justice a reality in the developing world.

    We had some amazing entries, the best of which we have put together in  the  short Youtube video below.  We hope you like them.

    If you want to find out more about our work and technology justice please visit our website.

    For some great teaching resources which help students and look at their own needs and wants in relation to technology, and explore their feelings around technology justice please look at our schools material.  They include a top trumps style activity where technologies are given a technology justice rating.

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  • Pick up ideas at an ASE Teachmeet

    May 13th, 2013

    I recently attended an ASE Teachmeet at the Think Tank .  It got me thinking, where else would you find out how to:

    • teachersfind an interactive periodic table from the  Royal Society of Chemistry
    • Paint a huge diagram of a heart on a big sheet to use as a teaching aid
    • make a small revision book out of a piece of paper http://bit.ly/ZfLQbo
    • join a network that review research in education methodologies, @bio_joe
    • run a floating garden challenge to teach science in a global context
    • use ipads to provide interesting learning experiences @syded06
    • connect with STEM ambassadors
    • Get support on teaching microbiology using UV light

    …all in a couple of hours?

    Teachmeets are great, informal occasion where you can meet like-minded enthusiastic teachers and pick up great ideas to integrate into your teaching .   You also get a nice up of tea and chocolate biscuits  :-). They occur in 12 different regions around the country. To find the one closest to you go the ASE website or contact your local ASE field officer.  For the West Midlands Teachmeet contact Gaynor Sharp gaynorsharp@ase.org.uk .

    Follow #tmase to keep in touch  :-)

    Heart painted on large sheet to be used as a teaching aid

    Heart painted on large sheet to be used as a teaching aid


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  • Technophobe gets to grips with webinar

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 1st, 2013

    My friends and work colleagues would tell you that I ‘m just not that good with technology.  I got a new phone recently and when I posted the photo to the right on my facebook account (which I have to say I am proud that I know how to do!) the comments would confirm that.

    Julie Brown and technology

    Me and technology

    So when I was asked by Think Global to present a webinar for them on ‘Integrating global learning into STEM’ I must admit my initial reaction was – what me? Really? As well as being flattered to be asked of course. The very lovely (and I have to say much younger, which i am convinced must have something to do with her less technophobic nature) Amy West convinced me it would all be fine so I took a deep breath and went for it!

    I have to admit it was not as difficult as I originally thought to set up, although that may have been because Amy did most of the work!  When the day finally came I just took a deep breath, followed instructions and off we went.  To my delight it all worked well.  In fact, more than that I got a real buzz from being part of something new. OK, so the sound quality wasn’t brilliant, but it worked and enabled me to talk to teachers I wouldn’t normally have been able to reach.  Something my friends and family will also tell you is I just love talking about Practical Action and our education work so anything that gives me a platform to do that is good by me.

    It didn’t end there however. After the event there was another technology challenge…how to share the webinar presentation with others.  There was a lot of info on the presentation I thought others might be interested in and I wanted to share it.  So with the help of colleagues here at Practical Action I learnt how to change a presentation into a YouTube video – how cool is that!

    So, I am feeling really pleased with myself for trying out new technological things and actually getting to grips with them.  Hope you enjoy the resulting video below.

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  • David Cameron talks to students about Practical Action project

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    April 15th, 2013

    Students show David Cameron their ideas of how science and technology can be used to improve lives of the poor at the Big Bang Fair 2013

    David Cameron talks to students about Practical Action project

    David Cameron talks to students about their Practical Action  CREST project

    Students at Ursuline Academy had an experience of a lifetime at the Big Bang fair in March. The Science Angels were one of just two teams interviewed by David Cameron when he visited the Big Bang Fair.  In his speech  captured in the video clip below the Prime Minister  said that ‘ it is important that students make that connection between what they study in the classroom and real lives…the problem you want to solve in the developing world’.

    Watch David Cameron at The Big Bang Fair 2013.

    I joined the students on the second day of the fair where they won and the UKFT Textile edge prize and another group of students from the same school  won the Shell Prize for sustainability  in the National Science and Engineering competition. They were presented with their prestigious awards from the Big Bang at the Award ceremony.  Both groups were also proud to achieve their silver CREST awards.

    Both teams used Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges materials as inspiration for their projects.  The material provides students with support in using real life problems in the developing world to work on for  their CREST awards . It gives students starting points for projects and links to Practical Action’s technical briefs as support material.  The Sustainables were looking at materials suitable for housing in Bangladesh whilst the Science Angels focused on solutions to help grow crops in Kenya.

    As well as an amazing achievement for Ursuline Academy I think it is great recognition of Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges which were launched just over a year ago.

    The Sustainables, winners fo the UKFT Textiles Edge prize  proudly showing their CREST silver certificates

    The Sustainables, winners of the UKFT Textiles Edge prize proudly showing their CREST silver certificates


    The Science Angels, Ursuline Academy, winners of the Shell award for Sustainability

    The Science Angels, Ursuline Academy, winners of the Shell award for Sustainability

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