Like millions of schools, Waad Academy Jeddah was forced to close its doors in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe.
Since then the Cambridge International School’s 1000-plus students aged between three and 18 have been following a programme of blended learning.
Waad Academy School
Waad Academy Jeddah is one of the largest schools in the region, set in spacious grounds and consisting of 120,000 square meters. With 2 main campuses that serve both boys and girls, it offers primary and upper grades. Offering the Cambridge curriculum with a particular emphasis on Saudi culture and heritage, the Academy sets a new standard for education in the region and beyond.
The school has fully embraced technology, their focus is on improving digital literacy to help meet the needs of the 21st Century – a crucial part of which includes the award-winning UK-based GCSEPod online revision and learning platform.
First introduced to Waad Academy at the end of 2019, the EDTech platform covering 28-plus GCSE and IGCSE subjects, is dedicated to both making learning stick and improving the working lives of teachers.
Famed for its Pods – three to five minute bursts of concise and expert-written subject knowledge – GCSEPod quickly proved its worth when Waad Academy had to move learning online.
The academy has taken advantage of not only the rigorously quality checked Pods, but the platform’s unique Check and Challenge assessment system which helps evaluate students’ knowledge and understanding and offers scaffolded support through hints, feedback and multiple choice options; pre-created assignments; and the Paper to Pod function, listing past exam questions with relevant tie-in videos.
So successful has GCSEPod been in helping keep education on track over the last 18 months, that Waad Academy has been inspired to produce its own in-house Pod-style videos for those in Grade 8 (UK Grade 9) and below, recapping on lessons and helping enhance the learning experience during what has been a difficult period of home study.
Despite the disruption, IGCSE students have excelled in this year’s exams, achieving an impressive 100% A*-C.
Here Waad Academy’s physics teacher and IGCSE academic coordinator, Mohammad Pandore, and Head of Boys’ Schools, Radwan Chahrouk, explain the important role GCSEPod is playing in not only students distance learning experience, but in helping shape their independent study.
Tell us why Waad Academy decided to sign-up for GCSEPod?
RC: It came highly recommended! Our executive principal had had it in one of his previous schools and suggested we check it out. As educators we quickly realised its value.
We knew it was a proven tool to drive success and student learning, and it all just came together.
Then, of course, we were forced to close in March last year and we very quickly saw the positive impact and value GCSEPod has added with our students having to move to home study.
What are the things you really like about GCSEPod?
I had already come across the platform when I was teaching in a secondary school in the UK. At that time it was just the Pods, which we used for revision. But something I have noticed since being reintroduced to GCSEPod is the speed with which the platform can react to not only shifts in education but the changing needs of users.
I have been particularly impressed with things like the Check and Challenge and assignment features, where I can allocate Pods to students, match questions to them, and then track how they are getting on.
That has been really helpful in monitoring students’ learning needs, especially during this prolonged period of home education when we haven’t been able to offer face-to-face lessons.
This last academic year has really shown me the value of GCSEPod as an online resource for both teachers and students.
How easy has it been to integrate GCSEPod into Waad Academy, given the school closed just weeks after it was launched?
MP: It wasn’t easy, but once people started seeing positive results then usage went up. I introduced competitions – using data provided by GCSEPod – alerting everyone to which subject was excelling, which teacher was setting the most assignments, etc. As the year progressed, engagement improved.
It took off to such an extent that at one point in the 2020-21 academic year we were more than 20 points in front of our nearest competitor on the regional leader board for GCSEPod usage, going ahead of 68 other international schools.
By the end of the last academic year out students had watched a total of 21,802 Pods – 16,496 of them just in that one year.
Given my teaching specialism it will come as no surprise to hear that physics tops our table of most watched Pods with 5,732, followed by ICT at 3,575, chemistry at 3,157 and biology at 2,654. The sciences have really run with it.
Lockdown has obviously played a part in pushing usage up, but we do see the value added to the consolidation of the learning material, which is one of the reasons I felt I had to really drive it as I genuinely believe that having GCSEPod has been a massive advantage for us.
Being in lockdown allowed us – especially with the GCSEPod assignments – to assess our students on their understanding of the concepts we had covered.
Are your students’ big fans of GCSEPod?
MP: Once they got used to navigating it and finding the topics we were studying they very quickly realised they had free access to either go back and revise what we had already covered, or even go forward and extend their own curiosity and learning. They do engage, they do enjoy it, and there is no doubt they have benefitted educationally from having the GCSEPod platform.
They do engage, they do enjoy it, and there is no doubt they have benefitted educationally from having the GCSEPod platform.
What have been the advantages for Waad Academy of having access to GCSEPod when it comes to distance learning?
MP: The assignments. Without a doubt. One of the advantages of being online is that I can set an assignment and task my students to watch a particular set of Pods, and then give them questions based on that information. I can then assess how well they have understood that concept by how well they have done in that particular task.
One of the challenges we have found around online education is that a number of students will sign in to a session but they won’t necessarily engage. With GCSEPod I can easily see, for example, that out of a class of 30 students a handful will have completed the work whereas for others it will say ‘awaiting submission.’ That tells me they haven’t completed the assignment. But thanks to the way GCSEPod is set-up I can follow up with a particular student to ask why they haven’t completed the work.
It’s an easy way to monitor how the class is doing at a time when we haven’t had the luxury of face-to-face contact.
I can also see the progress individual students are making. I can see that a particular student may only have got 37% on an assignment and which questions he got wrong. I can launch those questions, advise him to go back and watch the Pods connected with his wrong answers, and to have another go. I should then see an improvement in his response.
GCSEPod is helping your students tackle distance learning, but what advantages are there for your teachers?
MP: Planning. GCSEPod gives me the scope to potentially plan a whole year of assignments.
In addition, the exam-style questions linked to the Pods introduced towards the end of the last academic year, have been a fantastic new feature. I can assign the questions online, mark them and easily give feedback on where a student needs to make improvements.
GCSEPod has also helped teachers take on the challenge of teaching another subject in addition to their own area of expertise. They have been able to not only reinforce their own subject knowledge but feel confident about teaching and setting assignments in other areas.
What evidence do you have that GCSEPod has benefitted your students with their distance learning over the past 18 months?
MP: In terms of individual topics, I have been able to monitor how well a student has been doing. In some instances where a particular student has not done well, for example if they have dropped below a certain threshold, I have been able to modify my way of teaching, reassign that assignment, group of Pods and similar questions, and in most cases have seen an improvement in their scores.
I genuinely believe that GCSEPod has helped to ease the burden of distance learning. At the beginning of the pandemic when we first went online, many of the lessons were very boring.
But towards the end of the last academic year our lessons had completely morphed and we had evolved in our capabilities as teachers to the point where we were giving the students ownership of their learning by handing them access to the Pods.
It has allowed us to help those that needed it, and for those that were ready to move on, they have had access to the material so they weren’t held back.
It has come as no surprise to us that those students that had the highest GCSEPod usage have achieved the higher grades in the teacher assessed exams. That was no coincidence.
As students return to school for the new academic year. What does that mean for distance learning?
MR: We will be adopting a blended approach, so we will be continuing with online learning. But we are also looking at implementing some of the online skills we have learnt when we return to the classroom.
Whereas in previous years our lessons would have been teacher led, we are now going to be giving ownership to the students, encouraging them to acquire the learning themselves, with teachers dipping in and assessing what information the students have acquired and how well that fits the criteria for the learning outcomes.
What we are looking for is for teachers to be more facilitators of learning and for our students to be more independent.
This is because we can see the value that has been added by GCSEPod, especially in terms of learner retention.
The way GCSEPod has been used here at Waad Academy by our teachers has helped our students to develop numerous skills; their level of independence has gone up massively. We have seen them take ownership of their learning.
Previously, the students were heavily reliant on their teachers. Whenever they had a question the first thing they would do would be to ask the teacher without even thinking for themselves, but our online offering, with the help of GCSEPod, allowed us to support our students in becoming more independent learners. We will continue to use GCSEPod during face-to-education, putting this valuable resource to more innovative uses.
Yusuf Aloqbi, 16, reveals his distance learning experience with GCSEPod at Waad Academy.
“I use GCSEPod a lot, especially in the online learning. It has really helped me constantly revise over topics. Any questions I had, I went to GCSEPod. It really explained mostly everything, covered nearly the whole syllabus, if not all of it, and it was like being in class, just online.
“It’s improved my research skills. I was constantly researching on the Pods, going to GCSEPod first then going to questions after that, checking if it was helpful or not, and mostly it was.
“I was going to GCSEPod first, answering the questions on my own, and then if I needed any extra help I would go to the teacher. But GCSEPod would always be my first method.”
“I liked the GCSE pods because it provided quick summaries for topics and questions that helped boost one’s confidence. It helped connect and refresh some topics.”
Hamza AlKhubani,16, who this year achieved seven A* grades, had this to say about GCSEPod.
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