Sam Ponsford, Course Director of the Open Minds course at Marlborough College, talks to School Notices about inspiring teenagers to fall in love with learning.
Welcome, Sam. Tell us a little about your background and how you ended up at Marlborough College.
I moved to Marlborough when I was very young. My father has worked in the College for over 30 years as an English Literature teacher and housemaster. When I was a pupil at the school I discovered a passion for adventurous activities and went on to become an adventure guide as a profession.
Through this work I specialised in the therapeutic potential of the outdoors in residential care settings and, in particular, with disaffected teenagers or those who had been victims of abuse. Needing a new challenge, I later retrained as an English Language teacher where I again specialised in teenage learning. When offered the opportunity by Marlborough to be involved with setting up their new summer camp for teenagers, I brought all of these aspects of my career together to create the Open Minds course.
Sounds fascinating, could you tell us a bit more about the concept behind the Open Minds course?
It is designed to inspire people to fall in love with the process of learning. School systems around the world are becoming ever more focused on exam results and it often leaves little space in the curricular year to explore ideas, question things, develop strong social skills and indulge in creative pursuits.
Ironically, these skills are becoming ever more essential in order to adapt to the rapidly changing jobs landscape. The course is very interactive and involves people from all over the world discussing and debating ideas, creating performances, learning about each other’s perspectives on the world and developing a curiosity for the world around them.
Could you give us some more specific examples of the type of content that is taught during the course?
The course is split into four one-week modules and students can attend for two or four weeks.
This year, we have a module on the way that the stories of our unique cultures shape the way we think about the world, a module about the way that mental health issues are represented in theatre and the arts (this is a practical, drama-based module), a module exploring the way that the internet is influencing and changing our human relationships and a film-making module exploring film as creative expression as opposed to storytelling.
Great, and what do the students get up to outside the classroom?
In the afternoons there is a diverse programme of activities available to choose from including sports, adventure activities, drama, arts, shooting, photography, fashion design and loads more.
In the evenings there is a programme of excursions and activities designed to develop some of the ideas and skills developed in the morning classes in a very practical way. So, we will have guest speakers and performers (poets, photographers, musicians etc.) come in and give performances and workshops, we also take the students out on adventure activities and give them plenty of opportunity to explore the beautiful local area through interactive activities.
At the weekends we have an adventure weekend in West Wales in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. There’s also an excursion to London where the students have to race against the clock to complete challenges that guide them through the major attractions of the city.
Then on the final weekend, a speed film-making challenge where the students have a day and a half to write, shoot and edit a short film!
Sounds fantastic. Finally, what do the students come away with at the end of the course?
Our students often talk about an increase in confidence, a sense of well-being, a passion for learning, a curiosity for the world around them and a greater sense of empathy with others. To me this is why we do what we do!
They also receive a certificate detailing the course content and a score of Pass, Merit or Distinction for their effort and engagement and the quality of their final project for each module. I also offer to write references in support of applications to university as the high-level content of the course and its focus on critical-thinking is very appealing to them.
You can find out more about the course using the following links: