Category Archives: Uncategorized

Physics

This is one of many work files belonging to a colleague of mine. It contains worksheets and notes pertaining to “stuff” that has been, but no longer is, part of GCSE Physics syllabuses. Not the full GCSE Physics course, just the stuff that’s no longer there.

Why does she keep the work? Well, every so often, a topic gets re-inserted, or comes up somewhere else, so the material can be used either as-is, or modified to fit.

What a colossal waste of time and effort!

  • We know the canon of Physics.
  • We know the Scope (for each level) and the Sequence it should be taught in to get the best results.

Why are we dictated to by exam boards and government about what gets taught at KS4&5?

It makes no sense to suddenly take out, or add great swathes of knowledge, as seems to happen.

Subject specialists, at all levels, and in all subjects, ought to come together and sort out the syllabuses properly. Then review them in 5 yearly intervals.  And the same body of knowledge ought to be the basis of all assessments.

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Imagine you’re a tree…

I spent a couple of years teaching in an International, American school, which was working towards implementing the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Programme at the time.

I took from the experience a couple of things:

  • the useful concept of a Scope & Sequence. That, in developing a scheme of work (of whatever size), decide what knowledge & skills content should be included, and then work out the order in which to best present it. And
  • a general dislike for interdisciplinary project work, which the IB seemed quite keen on: for example, each subject focussing on the Renaissance for a sustained period of time.

And so I was aghast to read that a country with a reputation for educational excellence – Finland – are scrapping the delivery of discrete subjects in favour of topics.  It seems to me that such an approach has the real potential to leave huge parts of subject content undelivered, in rather the same way as UK students of the 70s and 80s sometimes complain about not having been taught grammar, or how to draw, etc..

Great care will have to be applied at the planning stage, if this is to work.

It will be interesting to see the results.

The irony of GCSE marks

“We’re going to make exams harder” cries Mr. Gove.

The students weep too, as having faced the test they get a lower percentage score.

The Exam boards, seeing the low percentage scores, lower the grade boundaries.

So the same percentage of students get the same grades, except they’ve understood less of the material that had to be covered (which was arguably unsuitable for them in the first place). :/

Has Mr. Gove inadvertently created the fictional grade inflation he was trying to redress?

Academics threw the SoS a curveball last week

And, rather unsurprisingly, the DfE struck-out (in both senses of the phrase).

The simple question boiled down to:

When should playtime end, and proper school begin?

A fair question too, since there’s huge variance and unclear outcomes:

  • The independent (and international) sector welcomes children as young as three.
  • The maintained sector currently goes for up to 15 hours per week of pre-school provision from the age of three, and then eases youngsters in around their fifth birthday.
  • And yet some countries – with enviable results – don’t start “teaching” their children until they’re seven.

The concrete operational stage of brain development kicks-in around then, with logic and reasoning beginning to be deployed and physical concepts beginning to be understood.  So pupils need to’ve been tooled-up, ready to hit the ground running by then.

  • What knowledge and skills are needed?
  • Who should meet that need? What’re the parental responsibilities, preschool provision duties, and what is the KS1 teacher’s purview?
  • How formal should it be for best results?
  • How much provision is required?
  • Can it be funded, and how can it be organised?

Psychologists have identified two distinct phases of brain development in the first 7 years: the sensorimotor stage (0-2yrs) and the pre-operational stage (2-7yrs).  The first phase is about the baby exploring new experiences and learning about causality, time and space. The second phase is where symbols and language become important, and where memory and imagination are developed. Relationships between things are discovered and problems are solved.

Surely it’s an imperative to ensure that ALL children receive the positive experiences that create strong synapses in the brain.  The question then is how to do that effectively:

  • With parenting classes and parent mentors?
  • With creches / mother & toddler groups / pre-prep for all?
  • By enhancing delivery at such places?
  • All of the above?

And then there’s the thorny issue of the SoS’s idea of a base-line test.   More testing, when many in the profession think that students are already over-tested!

But at some point there needs to be an informal assessment of each child,  based on a set of criteria, which determines when each young person is ready to start KS2.

Report writing

I’ve still got my senior school reports.  All handwritten on uniquely shaped, decent quality paper in blue fountain-pen ink, and bound with an embossed cardboard cover.  Presentation matters.

But so does content. The headmaster ticked words like “conscientious” and “hard-working”, and it meant something to know that he’d read every word.

In an age of technology, how easy it is to just select from banks of stock phrases or sentences – even if we’ve composed them ourselves. But to do that is to sanitize the student (and the teacher) from the report itself.

I’m fairly embarrassed now that at one time I was able to get away with a report that simply read “Larke by name: lark by nature”, which expressed in a kernel the student’s whole approach for the year.  But that’s still better than the “Daniel has done x and y this year to a z standard” techno-babble garbage churned out.  Do parents who are not teachers know how to translate report-speak?  Have they realised that what is sometimes meant by a positively couched phrase is actually anything but praise?

A good report should be a well-considered appraisal of a period’s work. No two students are exactly alike, and whilst we might use the same turn of phrase, we should make every effort to personalise them as much as possible.

And,  up until the very last summative statement,  there should always be encouraging feed forward.

The day the music died wasn’t 3/2/59,

with Buddy Holly’s plane crash in Iowa.  It was the car crash on 23/2/23, when Herr Schöenberg drove Music into the cul-de-sac of Serialism.

Not that it wasn’t heading there in the first place, with more and more colour being slapped on the dolly, but he really did beach it on the speed-hump of Expressionism, and no amount of jiggling has been able to dislodge it.

And so, in a massive devaluation of musical currency which puts stock market crashes to shame, it was replaced with blues, and big bands, and jazz and RnB, and the spectrum of popular culture we have now, including musicals and film music.

So what?

So context is everything.
What mass do the names Haydn, Berlioz or Wagner carry in the average KS3 or 4 Music classroom? Just the father of Form, a conjurer with Instrumentation and the most skilful of all directors of music in drama. Not much perhaps, in the face of Bo Rap, Sgt. Pepper, and Star Wars (though perhaps my cultural references are showing their age now).

And context is nothing.
Does it matter that a bit of pop music is used to explain something if it gets the point across? The music has just as much integrity, after all.

Well perhaps it does. Procol Harum’s A whiter shade of pale or Simon & Garfunkel’s American Tune would’ve been nowhere if Mendelssohn hadn’t championed Bach. But standing on the shoulders of giants aside, some music has the power of endurance. Not only are Mozart, Beethoven et al still famous, but centuries after their deaths, people still hum their ditties.

Which leads to the much debated questions of what good music is, and who the grandees of the music world are and will be.