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Topical Science—October 2021

Happy October! We’re well and truly into fall now, and Halloween is just around the corner. Below, we’ve collated some notable days of this month, along with related topical science videos and articles. These are perfect for helping you bring real-world phenomena into the classroom. Let’s have a look.

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Monday, October 4

World Habitat Day
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World Habitat Day raises awareness of the importance of protecting the world’s different habitats. Find out more about habitats:

Tuesday, October 5

World Teachers’ Day
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On this day, dedicated to all the fantastic teachers around the world, let’s find out how Twig Science supports teachers to deliver the Next Generation Science Standards: Watch now.

Friday, October 8

World Octopus Day
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Celebrate one of the world’s coolest animals by learning more about invertebrates:

Saturday, October 9

World Migratory Bird Day
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This day brings attention to the importance of protecting migratory birds. Learn more about these fascinating birds:

Friday, October 15

Global Handwashing Day
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Now more than ever, it’s important to remember to thoroughly wash our hands. Want to know the best technique for washing your hands? Our Handwashing Song will help you out! Watch now. 

Saturday, October 16

World Food Day
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World Food Day brings attention to the importance of having reliable access to food. Food gives us the energy we need to live and be healthy—but how do we know how much energy is in different foods? This experiment shows one technique:

Wednesday, October 20

International Sloth Day
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Did you know that there are two types and six species of sloths? Let’s find out more about one of the smallest species, the pygmy three-toed sloth: Watch now.

Sunday, October 31

World Cities Day
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This UN Observance Day encourages the sustainable development of cities. Cities are a type of settlement, just like villages and towns. Find out more about settlements:

Halloween
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Happy Halloween! Here are five facts you might not know about this spooky holiday: Find out more.


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Interview with Paul Downie, Royal Society of Biology’s UK Biology Teacher of the Year Award Winner

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Paul Downie. I’m a biology teacher based in Glasgow, where I’ve been faculty head of science. I’m currently on secondment developing West OS [part of the National e-Learning Offer in Scotland providing recorded video lessons created by teachers] and the creator of the Higher Biology Podcast.

You have just won the Royal Society of Biology’s UK Biology Teacher of the Year Award – the first Scottish teacher to have won. Can you tell us about the award, and why you won?

The award seeks to identify and celebrate the UK’s leading secondary teachers. For me, it provided an opportunity to reflect on my practice and share the work that I’ve been involved in over recent years. Hopefully, that work has played an important role in educating and inspiring the next generation of biologists – it’s not an award that I could have won without being surrounded by some fantastic colleagues.

What made you decide to be a biology teacher?

I like my subject, I’m passionate about it, but the biggest thing was that I wanted to leave work at the end of the day – or week – and feel like I’d made a difference. There is a lot of hard work involved in teaching, but it’s a special career, in that you get an opportunity to make a difference to others every single day, and I don’t think that there are many jobs that can give you that feeling.

Can you tell us about your teaching philosophy?

Primarily, my teaching philosophy is to enthuse young people about the subject. To ensure they understand why we’re learning something and why it’s relevant to their life. We need our young people to leave school as both responsible and informed citizens, equipped to participate in debates around global issues which will impact their lives and also to have an understanding of the world they live in.

You took a class of students on an expedition to the Galapagos a few years ago. What gave you the inspiration to do this and what was the primary goal of the trip?

I was lucky enough when studying at the University of Dundee to participate in a research expedition to Trinidad led by Professor Steve Hubbard. It had a big impact on my studies and the direction that I took after that.

It was an incredible experience. It allowed me, at the time, to play a very small part in what I believe is now the largest data set of its kind, looking at the survival rate between tropical and temperate bird species. I always said that if I had the opportunity to give pupils even a little taste of that experience, it was something I’d try to do. 

A young person in an S3 class had asked the question “could we go on a school trip to Galapagos?” and the rest of the class laughed, but the thought in my head was “why not?”

Two years of preparation, two years of fundraising and a lot of hard work by the students and everyone else who was involved, and we got the Galapagos. We wouldn’t have been able to have that experience if it hadn’t been for a range of partners, all of whom played a big role in supporting the trip and we were incredibly grateful for that support, especially our fantastic expedition shirts which were provided by Twig.

Any advice you would give to teachers planning on undertaking such a big trip in the future?

It’s certainly going to be more challenging, given the ongoing pandemic, but what I would say is that you don’t have to travel across the world to find excellent learning opportunities. It was a fabulous trip and a fabulous experience, but there are loads of great places to visit in Scotland, with amazing learning experiences, right on our back doorstep.

Tell us about The Higher Biology Podcast, and the inspiration behind starting it?

I created the Higher Biology Podcast during the first COVID-19 lockdown, really as a response to my own frustration and trying to be able to deliver a more engaging learning experience for young people at that point. Myself and my wife listened to a lot of podcasts, and I started wondering if it was possible to produce something with educational value and add depth to their learning. 

There was a lot of learning [for me] as I went and a bit of DIY, but it was good fun, and hopefully it has provided young people a platform to be able to access really interesting and fantastic subject experts from across the planet to add a little bit of depth and insight into different areas of the higher course, which has been really exciting. 

One of my own students summed it up really well, saying it’s far more interesting than just listening to me talk.

You’ve been a Twig user for a long time. What attracted you to the program?

The quality of the videos on Twig are excellent, simple as that.

How do you use Twig in your lessons?

I’ve used Twig in lots of different ways. The materials can be really good for putting a learning point into context, sharing as part of an example in a lesson, or summarising a piece of learning. They can also be useful for supporting revision as well.

There’s a lot of different ways you can use the videos, depending on what they are. I’ve certainly utilised the heart dissection videos, for example – the class can do a live dissection along with the video and we just stop and pause it on the projector and it gives a really clear visual explanation of the steps involved in the process. Then we might bring the class together to discuss different bits and have a closer look at what we’re doing, and then break back into pairs to do the dissection and get that hands-on practical experience.

You’re also a regular Twig Science Reporter user. What do you like about the news updates?

The quality of the weekly Twig Science Reporter updates are fab. They give really good weekly topical news stories and they never fail to capture the imagination and interest of my classes, particularly in the BGE. 

[I use them] at the end or the start of the week to stimulate a little bit of conversation around topical science stories that are in the news. Equally, I’ve found myself using them in assemblies or in other circumstances with larger groups of young people to take that 3, 4, 5 minute spot in the day and just focus on some different stories from around the world and use it as a stimulus to spark some curiosity and discussion. 

What is a piece of advice that you would give to young people who want to go into a career in teaching?

If you are enthusiastic about your subject and you’re passionate about it, and you’re looking for a career that you can make a difference in, then there is no better thing than teaching. There’s a lot of hard work, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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Topical Science—September 2021


The back-to-school season is upon us, and it’s time to get inspired. We’ve collated another month of fun topical science content that hopefully inspires a great start to the new school year.

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Saturday, September 4

National Wildlife Day

First founded in 2005 to honor wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin—famously known as the “Crocodile Hunter”— National Wildlife Day brings attention to the world’s endangered animals and celebrates animal sanctuaries for their preservation efforts. Today, why not learn about Global Positioning Systems (GPS), used to track the movements of wild animals in Namibia, Africa? Learn more.

Tuesday, September 7

International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

This day, facilitated by the United Nations Environment Programme, aims to raise awareness of the importance of clean air and encourage actions to improve global air quality. Watch this video and learn why our sky is blue: Watch now.

Thursday, September 16

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

The ozone layer is a vital part of Earth’s atmosphere, absorbing almost all of the Sun’s ultraviolet light. In the 1980s, scientists discovered that a deep hole had developed in this protective layer, attacked by harmful greenhouse gases used to make products such as hairspray. 

This UN day commemorates the signing of an agreement between 197 countries to minimize the use of ozone-depleting substances. Learn more about the ozone layer:



Saturday, September 18

International Coastal Cleanup Day

International Coastal Cleanup Day is a global movement that encourages people to remove trash from their beaches and waterways. Since the event’s conception 30 years ago, over 100 million volunteers across the globe have contributed to the cleanup of more than 300 million pounds of trash. On this day, take the opportunity to teach your students more about keeping Earth tidy: Learn more.

Wednesday, September 22

World Rhino Day

There are five species of rhinos and, fun fact, their horns are made of keratin, a protein that also forms the basis of human hair and fingernails. World Rhino Day celebrates rhinos and aims to bring international awareness to how critically endangered they are. Today, why not learn about ecotourism ventures in Namibia? Learn more.

Monday, September 27

World Tourism Day

World Tourism Day brings awareness to the myriad benefits that international tourism has societally, economically, and politically—from bringing cultures together to having a global contribution to GDP of 2.9 trillion US dollars in 2019 alone. Today, why not learn about Butler’s Tourism Model? Learn more.

Wednesday, September 29

World Heart Day

Heart disease is one of the world’s leading causes of death—tragically, however, up to 80 percent of cardiovascular deaths could be avoided. World Heart Day aims to bring attention to cardiovascular diseases and educate people on the factors that can increase the risk of developing such a disease, such as tobacco use and unhealthy diets. Learn more about the heart: 

Wednesday, September 29

International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste

Did you know that an estimated one-third of all food produced goes to waste? Designated by the United Nations General Assembly, this day aims to generate awareness of this problem and makes a call to action for both public and private businesses to increase efforts to reduce food waste. Today, let’s watch a video about the cities implementing innovative policies to reduce food waste: Watch now.

Thursday, September 30

International Podcast Day



First celebrated in 2014, International Podcast Day highlights the power of podcasts and gives an opportunity for podcasters, and podcast enthusiasts, to connect with one another. Today, why not listen to Twig’s podcast: Twig Education On..? Listen here.

Thursday, September 30

World Maritime Day


World Maritime Day celebrates the seafarers of the world and brings attention to the importance of the shipping industry, which accounts for the transport of around 80% of international trade. Did you know that shipping is one of the oldest industries in the world, with a history that dates back thousands of years? Today, why not learn how sailors in the 18th century first mapped the sea? Learn more.

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Back-to-School Self-Care Tips for Teachers

Summer is coming to a close, and the back-to-school season is among us. Being a teacher is immensely rewarding, but getting back into the swing of things, especially after the last year, can also be challenging and stressful. It’s important to find ways to switch off and take care of yourself! Read on for some of our best tips…

Put healthy boundaries between work and freetime

It can be tempting to bring piles of schoolwork home for marking, or to check your email throughout the evening. Sometimes this might be unavoidable, but it’s important to not let work take over your whole life. If you do take work home from school, try to set a reasonable time limit. This also means not always being available via email or phone. 

Take weekends off

Following on from the last point—even if planning and marking might sometimes bleed into the evenings, it’s important to take actual weekends to rewind, spend time with family and friends, and have fun. If it’s impossible to not do any work at all, try to at least stick to a short session and, again, set a time limit. 

Get organized and work smarter

This might seem obvious, but getting organized and planning ahead can help immensely. Find reliable teaching resources, plan out lessons in advance, and make sure you’ve got a planning system in place that works for you—whether you prefer paper calendars or digital planners.

Take care of your health 

Mental health and physical health are closely connected, so if we’re taking care of our body that will inevitably affect our happiness and our stress levels. Try to find a selection of healthy meals and snacks that you love and a workout routine that suits you and your life. If you’re short on time, look into things like short online workout classes and meal prepping.

Prioritize your sleep

We all know how important sleep is to our overall health. When you’ve got a busy day of teaching ahead, it’s perhaps even more important to have slept well! Aim for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, and try to implement a winding-down routine before bed.

Have a good morning routine 

After your good night’s sleep, it’s important to start the day right. Having a good morning routine can impact your whole day, so try to figure out what you need in the morning and make sure that you have enough time to implement that each morning. Leave time for a proper breakfast, perhaps a workout, and a stress-free journey to work! 

Connect with other teachers

Being able to talk to other people who understand the challenges of the teaching profession can be incredibly beneficial. You might already have a strong support system at work, but if not, it’s worth connecting with a group of teachers—whether it’s a local group or an online community. 

Celebrate your successes

A lot of people are prone to focusing more on problems and challenges, rather than on successes. Did you have a significant breakthrough with a struggling student? Did you have a particularly engaged group of students today? Or did you try something new that your students loved? Remember to celebrate these successes—big or small! 

Don’t hesitate to ask for help 

Whether it’s asking a colleague for help with a teaching problem or asking a professional to help with your mental health, it’s important to recognize when you are struggling and need support. There is no shame in asking for help, and doing so can help you avoid bigger issues. 

We hope these tips will help you prioritize your health and wellbeing.