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London UTC teacher named finalist for Global Teacher Prize

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London UTC teacher named finalist for Global Teacher Prize

A London teacher who built her career back from a fatal crash to reach international acclaim has been named a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.

Shafina Vohra, 43, from London Design and Engineering UTC in Newham was nominated after a successful experiment teaching with LEGO.

Students’ learning boosted through LEGO

Shafina began experimenting with LEGO in the classroom as a means of engaging an “active, fidgety, intelligent Year 7 science class”.

However, her nomination states, she was “amazed” at how much the students’ learning was boosted by the exercise.

Shafina found that LEGO is useful for keyword recall, recreating psychology studies, understanding methodology, making links between topics, and for game-based learning.

The mother-of-two has been co-funded by LDE and the Aziz Foundation to complete a PhD studying this learning at Imperial College. Shafina has also trained as a LEGO education trainer in robotics and STEM learning.

LDE now has a curriculum enhanced by the use of LEGO and uses it in a free community-based programme where young children in deprived areas can learn about science, technology, engineering, and maths as well as design engineering. This has enabled the children to learn a wider skillset that will help them when applying for university, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities in the future.

The impact of Shafina’s work is not limited to Newham, however: She has spoken at a number of international universities about her work and LDE has hosted several foreign delegations eager to hear more about using LEGO in learning. Shafina, who lives in London, has also featured on Sky News, discussing her work.

To be considered for the award is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for Shafina, whose career was jeopardised after she was involved in a car crash that claimed her father’s life and fractured her spine, right femur, and pelvis. After being told she might never walk again, Shafina gradually regained that ability and went on to achieve a distinction in her undergraduate project.

Award money would take LEGO learning global

Fifty finalists have been named for the awards, run by global charitable organisation the Varkey Foundation.

The Global Teacher Prize is open to currently working teachers of children who are in compulsory schooling or are between the ages of five and eighteen.

Running since 2014, each year the prize attracts nominations from across the globe.

If she wins the award, Shafina has said she will use the $1 million prize money to take the programme global and train schools in a hands-on fashion. She would also create her own LEGO kits that have more pieces and choices for different students, helping those with neurodiversity to learn in a mainstream setting.

Shafina would also like to continue her research to post-doctoral level, and develop a charity where she can help disadvantaged communities to become skilled in STEM.

London Design and Engineering UTC psychology teacher and LEGO lead Shafina Vohra said:

“I am ecstatic to have been nominated and named a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.

“After having lost my dad and struggling through serious injury, this is really one of the high points of my career.

It is also a massive vote of confidence in the work I have undertaken with LDE UTC and LEGO to put my experiment into practice.

“Regardless of the outcome of the Prize, I look forward to continuing my work, reaching more young people with an interest in STEM, but without the means of accessing the relevant education.”

London Design and Engineering UTC chief executive and principal Geoffrey Fowler commented:

“We are so proud of Shafina’s achievement. She fully deserves to win the award but to be named a finalist is a milestone in itself.

“Her work weaving LEGO into learning has produced some extraordinary results, as demonstrated by the high level of international and media interest.

“It is an excellent example of the inquiry-led learning which we deliver at LDE that enables our staff to be free to formulate creative and, as we can see, highly-successful solutions for students.

“I know everyone at LDE, our fellow UTCs, and across London schools will be cheering Shafina on.”

Kate Ambrosi, director of education and innovation for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which supports UTCs such as LDE, said:

“Congratulations to Shafina for making the finals of the Global Teacher Prize. It puts her among the very best and winning would be the rightful award for the intelligence and application she has put into developing this innovative style of learning.

“The standard of teaching across the University Technical College programme is uniformly high, which explains why six times more of our leavers progress onto apprenticeships than the national average.

“Shafina is a step above, however, and we are very proud to count her among the UTC family.”

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