<![CDATA[Victoria Jay - Education Blog]]>Sun, 21 Feb 2016 01:39:28 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[A Little Quizzical]]>Wed, 04 Sep 2013 11:12:39 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/a-little-quizzicalOn Twitter:
 "Alom Shaha @alomshaha

 .@tesScience Can we, as teachers, devise testing strategy that is not just about assessment, but improves learning? @MaryUYSEG"

My offering is a little longer than 140 characters.

Going back to some basic psychology:
First, memory. We all know the 'forgetting curve'
Graph was taken from here

Something must be returned to often to be remembered. We often assume this to just apply to items of information - or small 'chunks' - and only useful in memorising lists or formulae. That is actually not the case. It also applies to skills. Musicians, athletes, academics all must practise their skills.

Second, the well-known attention experiments of Shiffrin and Schneider (1977), Norman and Shallice (1980), Logan (1988) and especially Cheng (1985) for the constructionists.
In simple terms, practising a multi-step skill over time automatises it, or welds it into a single step, or produces a complete cognitive restructuring of the task (however, you like to think of it). A practised skill leaves 'cognitive room'.
Remember when you learned to drive? When you changed gear, ALL your attention was on that multi-step process. Could you have carried on a conversation or anything else? Now, do you even notice changing gear? Do you now even notice when you decide to change gear? Could you have learned how to drive safely if you had to go through the gear change as a step-by-step process every time?
An example Nicky Hayes gives in her book Foundations of Psychology, is that of a skilled essay writer versus a novice in how a task comes to be quite different. For the skilled essayist it is not just about collecting lots of information and writing it down, but about structure and themes. The essayist has 'cognitive room' to make decisions beyond the novice.
A colloquial term is that it has become 'second nature'.

Third, recall scaffolding - and here I am talking about Vygotsky and Bruner and not some modern bastardised version that equates to 'learning by Sat Nav' (and have you ever remembered a route you took when you used Sat Nav? I know I haven't). In this context, we are talking about building upon skills and teaching how to stretch skills: building upon an already-learned skill set, one that is already second nature.

Putting it all together, it's rather simple. Little and often with increasing cognitive demand over time.
<![CDATA[Time Flies]]>Mon, 26 Aug 2013 14:21:43 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/time-fliesTime flies when you're not having fun....

.... or at least in regard to this website and blog.

There's a limit to how much stress you can take, and then it takes a while to recover.

It might take a long while, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel - and sometimes it's not an oncoming train.

<![CDATA[Give or Take - You Sure?]]>Sun, 12 Feb 2012 12:56:18 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/give-or-take-you-sureError bars, uncertainties, students have problems with them.

Most of the problem with is with the language. Some is with using IT.

First of all, an 'error' is a mistake and we don't use that word. If you've made a mistake, you do it again. So we don't use 'error bars' we mark the range of uncertainty.

So what is uncertainty? Well, it's as simple as "I know it's on my desk, not sure where, but it IS on my desk". (Much easier to understand if you've ever seen my desk.) We know where the thing we are looking for is, within bounds. We are uncertain as to its exact position, but we can say within what parameters it will lie. In this case my desk.

A stage further - numbers. "There are 200 children, give or take 10." We all use the term "give or take", so we know that the number of children must lie somewhere between 190 and 210. 
The number of children is 200 + or - 10, not a huge step and neither is using the '+' over the '-' sign that I have no idea how to type in here.

When we put this number on a graph, as we do not know the exact number, but we do know the bounds in which it will lie, so we draw a line and somewhere along it is the actual number.

So far so good?

Let's add another dimension.

We are measuring the number of children every hour, but our time-keeper could be anywhere between 5 minutes early and five minutes late. Our measurement of children is such-and-such and hour give or take 5 minutes. All the above applies.

But what if we are putting both (uncertain within bounds) numbers on a graph? For example the number of children against hours.

Well, we mark the line somewhere along which the actual number lies at the hour. But the hour is "give or take 5 minutes" so we mark a line horizontally to show that uncertainty.

Those two lines mark out a box. Somewhere within that box is the actual value. It could be far bottom left - 5 minute to the hour and 190 kids. It could be far right - 5 minutes after the hour and 210 kids. But it is SOMEWHERE in that box - we can be sure of that.

So why is IT unhelpful? Students put in numbers without actually thinking about what they are doing with them. They are two steps away from the data - especially if the software then produces a line for them. The students use the information the computer has calculated with no appreciation of what it has done for them. It is like thinking that a computer that reads FOR you makes you better at reading. Or an automatic car makes you better at changing gear in a car with a gear stick.

We might give students the ability to make pretty graphs, but we take their understanding of them. Are we really sure we want this? ]]>
<![CDATA[The Elephant in the Room]]>Mon, 06 Feb 2012 00:32:59 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/the-elephant-in-the-roomWhy did we go from blackboards to whiteboards?

There was never any real reason. Except they were NEW.

OK, I never got chalk dust out from the seams of my black jacket, but so what? A sacrifice I was more than aware of when I started.

So whiteboards - well, first of all train your cleaner not to touch it. The damned things need glass cleaner and kitchen towel or you're buggered. Anything that leaves a residue is anathema.

If you are unfortunate to inherit an almost-black whiteboard, clean it with all the alcohol based products you like, but wash it down with water, apply a glass cleaner and buff with kitchen towel. Brand new (and if you followed the glass cleaner/kitchen towel advice will also stay that way).

OK, we have a whiteboard (no real reason, but, hey we've just spent thousands getting them).
What can you do with a WB that you can't do with a chalkboard?


Except project the OHP.


Which brings us to what can you do with an IWB that you cannot do with a projector and a few fridge magnets?

Moving stuff on the board we had sorted; the board is steel, we have magnets. So IWB what DO you DO?

Ahhh that would be the expensive software and aftercare.

Take away the saleman and we are left with an elephant in the room. But who is the elephant? The management who buys it or the teacher who unquestioningly thinks it's  the best thing thing since sliced bread?
<![CDATA[Leave the Best til Last]]>Wed, 25 Jan 2012 12:40:04 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/leave-the-best-til-lastWhy do so many science lessons begin with the climax, limp along and end as a damp squib?

At least, that is how the children see it. 

It begins with the big demo or video clip. Amazing! Wow!

And THEN teachers expect learning! In the students' minds the thoughts are "Why? We've already seen the good stuff. Couldn't care less about the boring stuff." They then tune out and turn off.

Or an extremely brief introduction and then the practical. Great, playtime! 

The students don't really have any idea of what they are looking for, so they don't see it. Then the lesson goes on to reason out the thing they couldn't see or relate it to something else they couldn't see. But it was nice playing with the equipment.

So what to do? 

Build up to the climax. End with the Wow!

This is, sort of, done with the POEE or PEE, or whatever the letters are, format with demonstrations and it is not those I am talking about. I'm talking about the really big ones. If you're doing displacement reactions, end with Thermit (or my slightly different version that sets off the fire alarms). The lesson builds up to that point and that Wow point glues a great big memory label on the neurons, sticking down what went before. It doesn't work the other way around.

Practicals also work better when the students know what they're looking for. The 'Yes!' at the instant they confirm or disprove their earlier thoughts and reasonings is far better as it is emotionally laden and occurs during the experiment. Another great big memory label slapped down. Faffing about with results and finally 'discovering' a relationship is more of a 'yeah, right' moment and not very memorable.

My point? Lessons should work up to a climax (or a series of smaller ones dispersed throughout the lesson)

Or you could end on a song. ]]>
<![CDATA[All of Nothing]]>Mon, 16 Jan 2012 09:49:29 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/all-of-nothingThere's something that really annoys me, and it's the misuse of percentages.

Now there's nothing wrong with percentages, don't get me wrong. They're great for expressing proportions. Three-quarters is 75%, half is 50%, etc.

What really annoys me is when they are used in regard to pay rises, especially sweeping pay rises across the board. It makes the pay rises of  CEOs  look SMALLER than they actually are - even when the percentage is quite large. And that's because we're looking at a proportion of a huge amount, not the actual amount. 

Let's take current figures just quoted by Clegg. He suggested that most people got a 3% pay rise (I wish) and CEOs 13%. Yes, that looks bad - but it would still look bad even if the percentages were reversed.

3% of £10 000 is £300
13% of £250 000 is £32 500

Reverse the percentages:

13% if £10 000 is £1 300
3% of £250 000 is £7 500

This is why I don't like the use of percentages with regard to pay - it increases the gap between low paid and high even when the percentage rise is the same.

And above all remember 100% of £0 is £0
<![CDATA[Pawns of Policy]]>Sat, 14 Jan 2012 22:30:51 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/pawns-of-policyWhat is being done to children?

It started with the National Curriculum - which seemed a good idea at the time as it meant that schools taught the same things. Except ...

There were levels. And what can you do with levels? You can measure them and turn them into statistics. Then you can compare kids against each other - sorry,  I mean schools, and produce league tables.

And you can do the same with GCSEs and A-levels. Education has turned into a numbers game, forget the children.

Ah, but someone pointed that out, so now its value added. Which can be measured and turned into statistics ... etc. And you have to progress each and every year (or term) more and more, or you've failed.

So schools need to ensure that children will pass exams with better and better results. So what do they do? They choose exams which their children will pass with better and better results. And because they want their exams to be bought by schools, exam boards produce exams that kids will pass with better and better results. 

There's only one way you can do that and that's to drop your standards. I've just seen a practice exam paper for AQA Higher Tier it's here. This is sort of thing that I would have expected my Year 9s to be able to do and not that long ago either. You have to question the quality of qualifications.

And the government's policy is more and more 'healthy' competition. The children are just pawns.

It's a joke. And a sick joke at that.


It gets worse. The 'competition' is now extended to international league tables - here

I just hope that other countries won't start to 'play the game'

<![CDATA[What's the Question?]]>Sun, 08 Jan 2012 11:27:40 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/whats-the-questionI've just read a 'point of view' article entitled "Why Didn't Harry Potter Use Google?" 

The question is easily answered - It didn't exist.

So why the long piece about knowledge, its accumulation, sorting, selecting, losing, etc etc?

The author also ends with

 'There is all too little danger of the knowledge currently accumulating in floods - multiply-owned, stored and captured - being lost. Rather, if we are going to make sense for posterity of today's information-saturated present, one of the things we will have to learn to do is decide how to prune the evidence, and ultimately, what to forget.'

This should be the answer to the question. It's not.

Now I am of the opinion that the title of a piece of writing should at least be related in some major way to the text. It can be a metaphor, a pun (and I admit that I am very guilty of those) or a simple statement of what the piece is about.

Without going into the use of Harry Potter to sell things, I shall simply put forward how to use a question as a title. 

This is the (very) general format I ask of my A2 students for their Research Briefing coursework: 

1. Ask a question

In the piece itself
2. Explain what the question is about/why you are asking it
3. The background and essential knowledge to understand the piece
4. Arguments (supported statements) and logical development of ideas towards ....

So the answer to the question "What is the Question?" is "The one you answer".
<![CDATA[The Grim Reaper]]>Thu, 29 Dec 2011 14:28:22 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/the-grim-reaperIt's been a while since I did my PGCE - that's when we were taught to teach kids.

By that I mean imparting knowledge and skills.

Now, I am having to read a load of complete tosh as I have no idea what my management expect me to be doing in the classroom. I thought I was there to teach physics...

But no, it seems that I have to teach the kids how to learn the stuff themselves. Independent learning, group learning, discovery learning. What total nonsense. It's 'game show' lessons.

And a lot of this really is nonsense as any neurologist (above the age of 40) will tell you. The brain does not stop developing and rearranging the neuronal networks until approximately the age of 25 or 26. A lot of this latter development involves planning, consequence and prioritizing. 

Even beyond actually learning stuff, biologically speaking we should not devolve to children their own learning plans and all that garbage. Would you really ask a nine-month old baby to think about how he gets to be an olympic high-jumper?

But that's the fad.

So we spend out time teaching 'learning skills' and the children use it indeed (see previous post), but what have we actually got out of the last 20 years?

We have researchers who don't really know how to research because most of researching is KNOWING what you're looking for and KNOWING whether what you are looking at is credible or not, bugger the knowing how to cut and paste it into a document. But, bless them, they've been through an education system that does not actually value knowledge - in fact, knowledge is an awful thing to acquire if you read some documents. These researchers produce poor research (much of the time) which feeds back into an education system already overrun with fads.

Oh and of course entrepreneurs. Yes, we've seen them: Paint the wheel a different colour and call it new, or take Hattie's size effect for innovation (any change will be positive initially) and SELL, SELL, SELL.

But what have we got? What will we get?

The government wants 50% to go to Higher Education. That means BY DEFINITION you only need an IQ of 100 to get a degree.

You reap what you sow. ]]>
<![CDATA[Worshipping Tools]]>Mon, 19 Dec 2011 10:19:26 GMThttp://www.lethandrel.com/education-blog/worshipping-toolsIn the news recently there was a piece about a burglar. He'd dropped a 'wish list'.

It was a wonderful indictment of our education system. This system had imbued him/her with the skills to plan his burglaries and address some problems in how to successfully achieve his aims. He/she even listed what tools he would need.

The young burglar (and I say young by looking at the handwriting/language/skills they had displayed) was applying skills he had learnt at school to knowledge he already possessed (where desirable items were located) to gain more knowledge (how to acquire said items).

Surely this is the purpose. Skills are tools.

Reading is a tool to gain knowledge.
Writing is a tool to impart knowledge.
Maths is a tool to further knowledge.

These are the most basic tools. You may read a page on Google to gain knowledge of your favourite celebrity. You may write an abusive tweet to impart to another the knowledge that you are an obnoxious troll. You may use maths to work out whether your benefit will stretch to two bottles of alcohol or just one. You are using skills but to what purpose?

A tool has no value. What you do with it does.

Concentrating on skills we are worshipping the tools and missing the point. (And yes the pun is intended.) Do we admire the Mona Lisa or the brush Leonardo used? Do we look at Michelangelo's David and ponder over the chisel?

Yes, skills are important but they are a MEANS TO AN END and we must not forget that.

"Guns don't kill people, rappers do," as Goldie-Looking Chain put it.

A hammer can be used to create a house. It can be used to bash somebody's head in.