Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Engaging Brain

_20160303_103651 Completing the Killer Sudoku in the I newspaper has become a bit of a midday ritual. It’s basically an exercise in mental arithmetic and logic. The numbers in each square of nine and each row add up to 45 with none of the numbers 1 to 9 repeated.

At school our maths teacher started each lesson with a quick mental arithmetic test. He shouted out the questions,  such as 24 times 17, and rewarded the boy who first answered correctly with a wrapped sweet. We also got questions such as convert 243 lbs into hundredweights, stones and pounds, or what is 63 guineas in pounds and shillings, or discount £3 10s by 5%.

When I helped my grandson with his key stage 2 maths I was disappointed to find he had not been taught all the tricks we had to help calculate the answers to basic maths problems in one’s head.


World Book Day

image:52138 Our local school makes World Book Day a big event for the children.  They are encouraged to dress up as their favourite character from their favourite book and tell their class mates why they have made such a choice.

I also have the pleasure of reading to them during assembly, and this year have chosen an extract from a Jennings book. It will be a bit of a performance piece with voices, actions and sound effects.  I just hope it will make a few of them interested enough to read the book themselves and make Jennings and Derbyshire their friends as much as they were mine.

Educate Our Employees But Not Our Customers

terry_leahyI am well aware of the woeful standard of education achieved by so many children. Just interview a few, even university graduates, and it does not take long to discover that many kids are ill prepared for the world of work. Basic numeracy and literacy are often lacking and even allowing for interview nerves few have the ability to express themselves in a concise and cogent way.

At first I was not surprised to read similar complaints by Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy on the poor educational attainments of job applicants and how his company has to take on the role of teaching basic knowledge. But then surely there is a conflict here, does Tesco really want a better educated public, have they not thought through the consequences?

A better educated public would soon come to realise much of what the supermarkets profess about price cuts and bargains is all smoke and mirrors. The extent of their subtle deceptions has even been noticed by the government. With a better informed public there would be even more pressure to introduce consumer legislation to ban these misleading tactics, not something, I suspect, the supermarkets would welcome.

The Distant Past And The Far Distance, Human Knowledge Keeps Growing

marsThe discovery of a mini Tyrannosaurus Rex from 125 million years ago has greatly increased our understanding of how and when the dinosaurs evolved. It also shows that it took a further 60 million years for what we know as Tyrannosaurus Rex to develop and it only reached its huge size towards the end of its existence. Being able to delve into such detail of a era that occurred so long ago is utterly amazing.

Also this week scientist have issued the results of a study into why they think the planet Mars is red. For a long time its been assumed the red colour is rust from the heavily oxidized iron minerals and thus a clear indicator that there was once water on the planet and therefore the possibility exists that the planet was and may still harbour some forms of life. Well, scientists now think the red colour is the result of a natural chemical reaction between regular sand and the black Martian basalt that does not involve water.

All quite amazing when you remember Mars is 143 million miles from Earth and the fact we have yet to get there. Its a further indicator of our ability to understand the world and the universe. However the one thing we have yet to understand is just how intelligent are the other species on this planet. We may be at the top of the league, but I bet there are quite a few species not far behind us. The problem is defining what we mean by intelligence and devising ways in which it the can be measured.

Testing The Testers

testThe suggestion that teachers should be tested every five years to ensure they are competent to carry on teaching has, at first, some attractions. After all GPs and doctors are now subjected to peer review to ensure standards are maintained. However, there is a big difference with teachers. The children they teach are tested and assessed each year and if a teacher is not performing well it soon starts to show in their pupils results.

It does not take long for the inadequacies of poor teachers to become evident, what does take a long time is for action to to be taken to resolve the situation. Very few teachers are sacked for poor performance. Most just leave having found they cannot cope with the pressure of modern teaching and the ridicule that comes from their pupils poor performance.

If there is going to be a regime of professional assessment there also needs to be a clear methods and sanctions for dealing with those who fail the assessment. Such methods must also comply with our employment laws, which can make the process difficult and overly bureaucratic. Perhaps if the latter part of the process was clearer and rigorously applied we would not need the former.

Learning We All Have A Different Way Of Learning

One of the more useful courses I attended while at work was on psychology of humans and work. We covered a whole range of subjects including learning styles and how these need to be considered when designing staff training programmes. The subject of the lectures came to mind many years later when I was helping my grandson prepare for his SATS.

It become clear that the diktats of the government restricted not only what he was taught but, in the main, how each subject was taught. Being a very practical person he found it hard to cope with the methods used at his school which was not helped by the dismissive attitude of some teachers. I got the clear impression the teachers were working to a script and any child who could not cope was just ignored as it made the teachers life easer. With several months of help he achieved grade 4s and 5 in his tests much to our delight.

The government is now moving to remove many of the strictures placed on primary school teachers by allowing them to adopt proven teaching methods that suit themselves. It may still be a bit of a one size fits all approach, but with care the more dedicated teachers will now be able to meet the learning needs of all pupils. However, what is still missing from our education system are the practical subjects that were the focus of the secondary schools network but lost with the introduction of comprehensive education and through budget cuts. Not every child needs to go to university many would be better served by a more practical and skills based education. Perhaps this will be the next step to getting our education system back in shape.

Mr Average Can Be A Mystery

Numbers and maths fascinate me, the tricks you can do and the oddities that can arise from using them. Take the following statement: ‘Most men in England have more than the average number of legs.’ At first sight you may think the statement is untrue, in fact impossible.

When did you last see a three-legged man? Probably never, unless you work in the medical profession and have witnessed thousands of births. But the statement is true. If you have two legs you, like me, have more than the average number of legs.

Here is the proof.

Male population of England = 23,923,390 (2001 census)
Number of men with only one leg = 2,392 (1 in 10,000 is an amputee)
Number of male legs = ((23,923,390 – 2,392)*2)+2,392 = 47,844,388
Average number of legs per man = 47,844,388/23,923,390 = 1.999900014
As 99.99001% of men have two legs, most men in England have more than the average number of legs.

Boys Toys And Budding Engineers

They say men never grow up, and in some respects its true. In the late 1950s Meccano was billed as ‘the toy that grows with the boy’. Now in my 50s, I must confess to still having a No 4 set won in a competition many years ago. I must also confess to using my grandson as an excuse to build cars, trucks and my favourite cranes, all under the pretence of education.

One of my ambitions as a child was to own a No 10 set. Housed in a large wooden chest with draws full of red and green steel shapes and all the extras provided such as an electric motor, this was Meccano nirvana. At just under £50 at a time when the average weekly wage was £11, the No 10 set was only for the wealthy.

Today the colours have changed to yellow and blue and many components are made from plastic. The quality does not seem as good, but the pleasure of building a model is undiminished. Having celebrated its centenary in 2001, I’m sure Meccano will be around for many more years, and perhaps I will get that No 10 set after all.

The Conceited Comfort Of Being A Know-it-all

I am far from being a polymath, but do tend achieve a high armchair score when listening to quiz shows such as Round Britain Quiz, Brain of Britain or Who Wants to be a Millionaire. No doubt it is the fact I do reasonably well that attracts me to quiz shows.

I seem able to retain information on obscure subjects and trivial facts while having large gaps in subjects such as literature and sport. Much of the information comes from a set of encyclopaedias my mother bought from a door-to-door sales man. Yes they did used to exist.

The Book of Knowledge, published by The Waverley Book Company still stands in my bookcase over 45 years later. Some of its contents may be out of date, but it still deserves a browse just to see all that commonwealth pink on the maps and the news reel style of the writing.

Cutting It Up For Education

Biology lessons at school in the 1950 and 1960s included delving into the inner working of various animals from worms to rabbits. The dissections were optional, but every schoolboy was desperate to experience the gore and exercise their fascination with anything to do with blood and guts. To be able to boast about having cut open some poor animal was a matter of pride.

The most spectacular dissection we under took was a rabbit. I can remember the teacher describing the entrails we were about to see as looking like a colourful salad. I can also remember the smell, a greasy, slightly sweet aroma that invades the nostrils, claws at your senses and persists for hours. At the end of the dissection the teacher made the mistake of leaving the carcass unattended with the instruments of surgery close by. Within seconds the body was minus its legs, tail, ears and some other less savoury body parts.

I managed to claim a leg which was to become my lucky token and entertain fellow class mates by pulling on a ligament to make the foot twitch. Unfortunately the odour of rotting flesh soon spread around the classroom and out into the school corridor. This prompted a systematic search by the teacher. The offending items were collected together and consigned to a shallow grave in the school garden.