Friday, 25 May 2012

The punctuation panda is back!

Catch My Meaning? Catch Your Breath:

The Comma

Nothing is more likely to cause a fist fight between two punctuation pedants than a comma. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are fewer hard and fast rules to helpfully govern correctness for the comma than other punctuation marks; some areas of its use can be subjective. The second is that, historically, the comma has two ancient and distinct reasons for its existence. Growing old together like an ill-matched couple, these two forces are often at loggerheads.

Where did it come from?

The earliest punctuation dates back to 200 bc. At that time, it was used as a visual cue to help actors control their breathing during performance. For well over a thousand years, punctuation guided speakers (for that was what readers were) through the rhythm and accents of a text, rather than its grammar. However, from its beginnings in the 14th century, printing brought the written word and the once-exclusive skill of reading to Mr and Mrs Average. They no longer needed to listen to actors, storytellers and preachers to access writings; they could do so themselves. Gradually, the emphasis on performance was eroded to the point that we started to read into ourselves, rendering previous forms of punctuation irrelevant.

Enter Aldus Manutius the Elder (1450–1515), a Venetian printer who, with his son, took on the monumental task of creating a comprehensive system to illuminate meaning (and grammar), rather than melody. Their ground-breaking work provided the framework of what we know as punctuation today.

So what’s this got to do with the comma? Well, think of the comma as the love-child of two mercurial and opposing parents: the written and the spoken word. Not only must it clarify the grammar of a sentence, but it still must, in Lynne Truss’s words ‘point up – rather in the manner of musical notation – such literary qualities as rhythm, direction, pitch, tone and fl ow’. That’s a tall order for such a little guy. The unsuspecting punctuation mark arrived as a recognisable comma in 16th-century English and has been hard pressed ever since (...)

The comma: what should we use it for?
1 To divide items in lists:
A comma is used to divide each entry but is not habitually needed before the fi nal ‘and’ (though we will qualify this rule for specific instances of the Oxford comma; see below). The comma is correct if it can be successfully replaced with either ‘and’ or ‘or’:

The ingredients for scones are simply fl our, sugar, salt, butter, milk and an egg.

We had a busy time feeding the chickens, mucking out the byre, gathering eggs and repairing broken fences.

Mrs Miggins made it very clear that the options for dinner were hot pie, cold pie or starve.

That’s all very logical (and law-abiding) so far. However, though a comma may not be needed before the final ‘and’, one is very often used. Meet the Oxford, or serial, comma:

He was a cad, a cheater, and a charmer.

My husband cleared the drains, the guttering, and the front path.

It’s standard practice in the UK not to use this comma, though many do (notably Oxford University Press). The opposite applies in the States, though some remove it. Canada and Australia tend not to use it except to prevent ambiguity.

Whatever your feelings, it pays not to be infl exible. Some sentences are undeniably improved with an Oxford comma. Hear the weight of the final ‘and’ in both of the sentences above, reminding us again of the dual origins of the comma to mark both grammar and breath. In a list of adjectives, use a comma where an ‘and’ would be appropriate:

The vestry clerk [...] is a short, pudgy little man …(Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers)
‘I’ll tell it her,’ said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone …(Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

She was a thin, unkempt, sour young woman.

Don’t use a comma when the adjectives work together as one describing unit. Here they are not layering on several additional qualities but are making one concerted effort:

He’s a great little lad.

There was a terrified black cat cowering in the greenhouse.

The British red squirrel is one of our protected native species.

2 When two sentences (two complete actions or thoughts) are joined together with conjunctions like ‘for’, ‘and’, ‘nor’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘yet’ and ‘so’:

They drove overnight for Gretna Green, but they lost their nerve before Carlisle.

My sister is a musician of some distinction, yet I cannot play a note.

I had known him a long time, so I knew him better than most.

Two controversial things can happen with commas for joining. In the name of art, some writers drop the conjunction and insert a comma where a semicolon should be. This is the infamous comma splice; cause of much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments:

He appeared silently at her shoulder, she had always thought him slightly creepy.

Secondly, it’s possibly even more wrong to use words like ‘therefore’, ‘moreover’, ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless’ instead of the usual joining words. They are not conjunctions and need firmer punctuation: more on those in the exercises later and in chapters to come; get that kettle on!

3 To stand in for missing words:

I ordered the Ploughman’s; my husband, a balti.

Jane reads voraciously; her brother, not so much.

This use of the comma is increasingly rare.

4 Use a comma before direct speech:

The King looked anxiously at the White Rabbit, who said in a low
voice, ‘Your Majesty must cross-examine this witness.’ (Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat)

This use of the comma is primarily to pause for breath and harks back to its use for guiding the voice. We now seem to prefer colons or no marks at all. At the end of the day the choice of whether to use it or not is yours, though you must be consistent at all costs. As Lynne Truss says, ‘since this is a genuine old pause-for-breath use of the comma, however, it would be a shame to see it go.’

5 To set off interjections:

Bugger, I’ve lost my mobile phone!

Oh no, where did you lose it?

Hang on, I’ve found it, thank God.

6 To encapsulate a portion of a sentence that’s just bonus information. If you can take this ‘weak interruption’ out without losing the sentence meaning, close it off in commas:

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders. (From the Apostrophe Protection Society)

Emma, who had not touched macaroni since university, couldn’t bring herself to eat.

However, if by lifting out this portion you change the sentence’s meaning, then you’ve got a ‘defi ning clause’ which shouldn’t be put within commas. Quite the opposite is true; it must stay bedded into its sentence as part of its core meaning. Note the difference between the following:

I’ve noticed that Scots who love haggis are actually something of a rare breed.

I’ve noticed that Scots, who love haggis, are actually something of a rare breed.

The first sentence is correct; the second has a defi ning clause wrongly placed in commas. The resulting statement that Scots are a rare breed isn’t quite true, is it?
When the weak interruption comes at the beginning or end of a sentence, only one comma is apparent:

Like teeth, writers are divided into incisors and grinders.

Writers are divided into incisors and grinders, like teeth.

These days, with a drive towards cleaner pages and fewer grammatical marks, you may find that commas for weak interruptions are omitted. Choosing to do so relies on context, style and personal preference, some of which we will touch on in the exercises to come. Is that kettle boiled yet?

More than any other punctuation mark, the comma’s success relies on you being alert to the context and to potential confusion:

Clapham Police are searching for a burglar on the loose, wearing plus fours and wellies.

The Police are wearing what? Ronnie Barker was master of the comedic value of such ambiguities.

Fragment from 'Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave?' by Clare Dignall, HarperCollins Publishers 2011

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Applied Science - Cinderella or Ugly Sister?

When you think about non-GCSE Key Stage 4 science courses, how do you regard the BTEC and Cambridge National Applied Science courses? Important provision for a key group of students or a back door way of getting C grades?

Not so many years ago the increase in uptake in these courses was, in some schools, nothing short of meteoric. This in itself didn’t, of course, necessarily mean that anything was amiss. However there were suspicions in some quarters that some students who might have otherwise got a grade C in GCSE Science were being guided towards these courses to turn the possibility into a probability and boost the school’s performance through equivalences. Again, not necessarily a problem. These courses, taught well, serve students well. A couple of years ago I was at a seminar at which one of the other people attending indicated his disagreement with equivalences on the basis that “you can’t equate apples with pears”. No, but you can recognise them both as portions of fruit. No student ever left school with a certificate saying nothing more than they had achieved the equivalent of 2 GCSEs at Grade C in science.

Let’s be clear. Science GCSEs are not a universal qualification; they don’t work for all students in all schools. Certainly not now, with a strong focus on literacy and numeracy and with linear assessment in the offing. With a bit of imagination and resourcefulness they can be made to work for quite a lot of students but there are some who’ll do better on a different kind of course. At one school I visited in South London a couple of years ago a student on a BTEC Applied Science course said that he really liked it “because it’s the first time ever in science that I’ve felt that I was succeeding.”

On the other hand, there’s a pitfall in trying to address the challenge of trying to meet everyone’s learning needs simply by means of providing a varied choice of courses. Sometimes it’s not the wrong course, but the wrong implementation of the course. There’s a risk that the Head of Science becomes like the Wizard of Oz, pulling levers and pressing buttons like mad, switching students from one curriculum pathway to another and trying to achieve the perfect mix, when the effort would have been better placed in making sure that the lesson design and delivery were good. A couple of years ago I asked my wife (an Assistant Head and not a scientist) to proof read a draft of a publication I was working on that included a diagram to show the range of curriculum pathways possible in science at KS4. “Why do you have to make it so complicated?” she asked, “In English, students do GCSE English and the teacher is expected to modify the teaching to make it work for those students.”

Well, the dust is now settling on the revised arrangements for these Applied Science courses. There’s been a bit of a set to and things have been changed. The new courses have some external assessment and they have some synoptic assessment. The latter will help to avoid courses become too fragmented and the former will probably raise the status of the courses in the eyes of the students, apart from anyone else. Furthermore, for students for whom Applied Science is their only non-GCSE course (assuming they do both Level 2 courses) it can still be counted as an equivalent. However for me the clincher comes from, of all places, the DfE’s response to the Wolf Report on vocational education. Having indicated that students shouldn’t be lured into taking courses that lacked rigour or status and that schools shouldn’t be able to rack up Brownie points by getting lots of people to do such courses it asserted that “We want schools and colleges to be free to choose whatever qualifications they identify as most appropriate for particular students and will enable them to progress, whether they are recognised in the performance tables or not.”

These courses have had their wheel nuts tightened and they’re good to go. For some students they’re the right thing.

Ed Walsh


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Managing Behaviour

Anyone who was following the Local Elections coverage recently would have got sick of hearing how bad ‘times’ are. It’s of course no different in education – we have our own hard times as the Coalition seemingly declares war on us…pay freezes, pensions under attack, constant belittling of the profession, Heads attacking a ‘culture of fear’ imposed by OfSTED (BBC News, 6th May 2012)… Although only 32% of us bothered to vote – worryingly the lowest turnout since 2000 – perhaps we did just enough to give the Coalition a bloody nose. George Osborne has accepted the ‘tough message’ and even the dictatorial Gove appears to have realised he cannot take on the entire profession on his own and has backed down on no-notice inspections! Politicians seem surprised by how resilient the profession is – but then of course we’re used to it. Whoever is in charge, left, right, centre, use us as political point-scoring football. One thing is clear though – despite the rhetoric, no politician ever acts upon perhaps the most pressing issue in the classroom – discipline. Blaming the teachers for not giving students high enough aspirations is easier than admitting socio-economic policies since 1979 have failed big time…

During a recent interview - which I am pleased to say turned out to be successful – I was asked about how I deal with disruptive students. A very simple question… and a very simple answer - of course my classroom management is perfect… After all, I’ve read Sue Cowley’s Getting The Buggers To Behave (both 1 and 2), Bill Rogers’ Practical Guides, Jim Smith’s Lazy Teachers Handbook… ok, perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted to the last one, it gives a bad impression, but the book’s title is ironic, and I never send students out of lessons so my classroom management must be perfect.

If only! Dream on… and its probably the thing us teachers fear the most and the hardest thing to master. As every NQT knows, you can read all the books you want, nothing prepares you for the realities of the classroom. I thought my PGCE course was excellent, especially the seminars on behaviour and psychology, but even then there were times during that dreaded first year when I thought how the hell do I deal with this? The seminars didn’t prepare me for this! Going back to the interview, in the true words of a politician, I was glad they asked me that question. I think I’d got a bit complacent over the years and it gave me a chance to think over why I’d been relatively successful in the field of behaviour management.

The obvious things to do, the well researched theories that we’re all taught on our PGCE, Teach-First or whatever course we’ve done or are doing, are to think about your lesson plan, differentiation (all/most/some), seating plans etc… I’m not going to go into this and I don’t want to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, but it goes without saying engaging the students with accessible tasks, relevant topics and

I once saw a PGCE student ‘set the scene’ in a year 8 lesson on the Black Death by reading out a passage from a scholarly tome by an eminent Cambridge professor. Needless to say the lesson was not a success, although I learnt a lot!

What is key to me though and what has really made the difference in my ten years of teaching is getting to know the students – and I don’t mean just their reading ages, statements and data, I mean getting to know them as an individual and treating them as such. Never lose track of the individual in front of you, no matter how hard it gets – and we all know it gets very hard at times. Engender a feeling of mutual respect – let them know you are on their side, you are a professional and you are not going anywhere and, it might take longer in some schools than others, you will earn their respect. When you take an interest in even the most difficult of students they will react in a positive way… find their interests, their likes and dislikes – I’ve even created whole worksheets around certain students’ interests that have worked wonders even at secondary level.

Knowing your students also means knowing your allies – from the very first lesson find out who is on your side and use them. They can help you appear human by allowing humour and banter – but of course only certain students fall into this category – you need to know who you can rely on to help you out and who will help create a positive atmosphere of mutual respect where the whole class, staff and students are working together – its hard to achieve, but its possible.

Getting the atmosphere right is essential too. It’s a tough balancing act between not appearing so laid back that you will let anything go and not being draconian and ruling through fear. During some recent work with an EBD unit I learnt more about this than ever – you need patience! Ok, these students had severe emotional problems and poor beahviour stemming from this but it was true that they responded to a calm, measured approach at all times. If, on occasions I got a bit over the top and excited or the starter was a bit too interactive, they reacted in exactly the same way and it was difficult to get them back. The same happens in mainstream schools too.

One last piece of advice - develop a thick skin and don’t take it personally! This is so, so difficult to do – we put so much of ourselves into teaching that it is hard not to go mad when 7C rip up the worksheets you were up until midnight preparing, but you have to remember, you are not the target as an individual. Let it bounce off you and carry on… There is also the chance that if the class see your Achilles Heel they will exploit it, so make sure they don’t! Also remember that you can’t do it all on your own and you shouldn’t have to – use the support from management, discuss things with your line manager – it is not a sign of weakness. ‘We’re all in it together’ seems to have take on a different meaning recently, but in teaching’s case, we are, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Joe Wilkinson
History Teacher

Notes from the History of Maths

A’ is for algebra and angst

Maths teachers know that when a class are told the new topic is to do with algebra, there is likely to be a collective groan. Algebra, however, has a rich and fascinating history. Who invented algebra? Why do we use the letter x?

Certainly, as far back as 1900 BCE (our Bronze Age), the Babylonians were solving problems such as:

The length of a rectangle exceeds its width by 7. Its area is 60. Find its length and width.

In the classroom, we would solve this algebraically by giving a symbol for the unknown width (w, say). So that the length becomes w+7 and the area of the rectangle: width x length becomes w (w+7) = 60. Students would then solve this quadratic by a taught method to get the solution w = 5 (or -12, which is discounted as a possible length).

The Babylonian method was an algorithm, not involving symbols, and would look like this:

1. Halve the 7 => 3½

2. Square this => 12¼

3. Add the area => 72¼

4. Square root this => 8½

5. Length is last answer + answer to 1. => 12

Width is last answer – answer to 1. => 5

It isn’t clear, from the clay tablets that show these methods, to what extent the Babylonian mathematicians saw these as general methods and, as a result, whether they can be thought of as algebra.

The Greek Mathematician, Diophantus, in the 3rd century CE did use a symbol for the unknown. He is particularly known for his work on indeterminate equations (which have many solutions). We would write these as x2 + y2 = a2. In 1637, Fermat reading a Latin translation of “Arithmetica” by Diophantus , wrote that he had found a proof that xn + yn = zn (x,y,z,n all positive whole numbers), has no solutions for n > 2 but it was ‘too long to fit on the margin’. Mathematicians tried to prove this ever since and only succeeded when Andrew Wiles did so, 357 years later.

The word ‘algebra’ is Arabic and was first used in the book “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” written by al –Khwārizmi who lived from about 780 to 850 CE. The al-ğabr means “completion" or "restoring” by moving a negative quantity from one side of the equation to the other side. This technique is well known to students learning to manipulate algebra. In our notation,

x2 = 40x − 4x2 is transformed by al-ğabr into

5x2 = 40x.

al –Khwārizmi was showed how quadratics can be transformed into a set of basic types of equations which were then solved by algorithms similar to those use by the Babylonians. The main difference with this work is that the methods were generalised and proved. The use of letters in algebra was not used systematically until much later in the work of Francois Viète who lived from 1540 to 1603. He used uppercase vowels for “things sought” and uppercase consonants for “things given”. This was further developed by René Descartes
(1596-1650) who used letters from the end of the alphabet for numbers sought. The use of ‘x’ in algebra is possibly a matter of chance. The story goes that when Descartes’ book “La Géométrie” was being typeset, the printer began to run short of the last letters of the alphabet. He asked Descartes if it mattered whether x, y or z was used in each of the books many equations.

Descartes replied that it didn’t. The printer selected x since the letters y and z are used in French more frequently than x.

Don Hoyle
Mathematics Matters

Superstuffs - silicon, silicones and silica

Silicon – the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust; building block of civilisation; the substance of the electronic age; relied on by some to enhance their appearance. Silicon is a remarkable element but not one that receives much attention in GCSE or even A level chemistry courses.

We meet silicon as one of the first twenty elements, atomic number 14 and in the same group as carbon. It is one of the main elements formed by nuclear reactions in stars. Like carbon it forms four covalent bonds and forms a dioxide with the formula SiO2. Unlike carbon dioxide however, silicon dioxide, also known as silica, is a solid. Carbon dioxide is discrete molecules containing two C=O double bonds while silicon forms single bonds building up chains and rings of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms in a tetrahedral arrangement. This is where silicon chemistry becomes a little complicated – and versatile.

Pure silicon dioxide is found as quartz, where the silicon and oxygen atoms are arranged in a diamond-like pattern. Silica is an acidic oxide that forms silicate salts with aluminium, magnesium and other metals. These compounds make up most of the minerals in the Earth’s crust. Silicates provided us with our first tools chipped from lumps of flint, sandstone and granite for building materials and clay for our pottery and bricks. Silicon dioxide is the main component of sand which is used to make glass and concrete.

Silica and silicates have high melting points that make them difficult to decompose. It took until 1824 before silicon was isolated by the Swedish chemist Jons Jacob Berzelius and it was 1854 before crystals of silicon were obtained by Henry Deville. Crystalline silicon has a metallic appearance but has a giant covalent structure like diamond. About half of the silicon that is extracted is used to make alloys with steel and aluminium that have a variety of uses.

The semiconductor and photovoltaic properties of silicon have made it the foundation of the computer chip and solar energy businesses. For these purposes it has to be prepared in an extremely pure form and then tiny amounts of other elements are added to give the desired electronic properties.

Silicones have made headlines for their use in breast implants which are frequently and incorrectly referred to as “silicon implants”. Silicones are a range of polymers discovered by British chemist Fred Kipping in the 1920s. The molecules have a silicon-oxygen backbone with two methyl groups (CH3¬) attached to each silicon atom. Silicones are liquids with a viscosity that varies with the length of the chain. Silicones are stable to heat and are very useful as lubricants. Cross-linking the chains turns the silicone into a rubbery solid. Varying the length of chain and number of cross-links produces a huge variety of materials which makes them useful as sealants, hoses and much more. They are used in flexible kitchen utensils that withstand the heat of cooking. Silicones are “bio-inert”. This means they are not toxic and do not cause allergic reactions or rejection when used inside the body. Heart valves, joints and other surgical replacements, in addition to breast enhancements, are made from various silicone rubbers.

The full diversity of uses of silicon, silicones and silica has barely been touched on and we probably make use of the element’s fascinating properties every moment of our lives. It really is a superstuff.


1 Find out the names of rocks and minerals that contain silicon and some of their uses.

2 Make a list or picture of all the silicon based materials that you use in a day. How important is silicon to our lives?

3 Explore the lives and work of the chemists mentioned in this article viz. Jons Jacob Berzelius, Henri Deville and Fred Kipping.

4 Nettle stings are delivered by a tiny needle of silica. Investigate the use of silicon by organisms.

5 There have been a number of scares about the use of silicones in breast implants but silicones are supposed to be non-toxic. Investigate the stories about the health effects of silicones. Do you think the use of silicones in cosmetic surgery is justified?

6 Find out why many clocks and watches contain a piece of quartz.

7 Find out about the structure and properties of different types of clay (such as kaolin and vermiculite).

8 Asbestos is a silica based mineral with tiny fibre-like crystals. Its properties made it a sought after mineral that was used for a hundred years but its use has now been banned. Find out the properties and uses of asbestos and the reasons why it is no longer used.

Peter Ellis
May 2012

Secondary English - Imaginative Writing

We all know that the burden of marking and assessment is particularly heavy if you’re an English teacher. And yet one of the things that keeps us going can be those little moments of frisson when we read something that one of our students has written that is just fantastic. When we’re just captivated by the description, or the idea, or the character… when we feel that we’re in the hands of a real burgeoning writer at work.

It might not happen very often. But on those rare occasions when it’s happened to me, I can remember feeling rather humbled and wishing that I could encourage more students to be that creative and imaginative.

When getting ready for some Year 10 creative writing recently, a colleague mentioned in passing a starter activity he had experimented with which had yielded some really enthusiastic responses. The basic idea is that you put a simple grid on the board:














You also display the following questions:

  • What is on their feet?
  • Describe their hands.
  • What is in their pocket?
  • Where are they going?

Students nominate a box from one to eight. They have to use the questions to fill in the box. If something interesting appears, the teacher’s job is to try to ask some leading questions to draw out more information. The student’s job is to say whatever comes into their head. This is often started as a whole-class activity, but can also be done in small groups equally well – when the class are comfortable with the idea.

My colleague was right. I tried this with one class – as a starter activity – and an hour later we were still going. The students came out with the most incredible ideas: the depth and sensitivity of their imaginations seemed to just take off!

Sarah Darragh
English Teacher and author of A Bridge to GCSE English

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Secondary Business - Web Literacy and The Ten Best Business Studies or Economics Websites

Developing student independence in learning is incredibly important. The promotion of this early within Key Stage 4 help students bridge the gap between their skill sets in Year 10 and Year 11 into the appropriate different learning styles of Key Stage 5. Getting students to review learning and teaching materials and resources online is of particular importance. The internet is a valuable research tool and many students will use it when preparing home study and for various projects. I often encourage the use of the World Wide Web as a fantastic resource but also make students further aware of issues such as plagiarism, inaccuracies and cheating.

For a student to be a competent user of the internet it is more than simply taking material from websites, but actually using it as a means to develop the best piece of work that they can produce. There are some really great websites out there that are exciting, and stimulate enquiring minds and curiosity. With my GCSE groups I encourage students to become independent learners who take an increasing responsibility for their own progress with all work in and outside of school. I make it clear that any information gleaned from the internet must have the source acknowledged.

Often with their work they will be using quotations, citations and a bibliography, for instance. Students will slowly become more analytical and critical in their use of the internet as a tool as they use certain business sites more often. It is wrong to assume that the most truthful search results are shown first. The following are my favorite websites that develop web literacy within the subject and help with the all-important revision for the public exams:

Web Literacy Tips for students:

  • Is the information accurate?
  • Can I verify the information through another source?
  • Is the publisher reputable? (i.e. BBC, Guardian)
  • Is the author actually qualified to write on this topic? Be objective. Do you think the website has commercial interests?
  • Are you seeking a balanced opinion? How will this affect your work?
  • Is the information up-to-date? Are you researching a topic that changes frequently?
  • Is there real depth to the information? Does the content appear to be complete and above all relevant?

Top 10 Websites: 











Daniel Baker
Trinity Catholic High School

Secondary English - Dealing with A02 English Literature

As an examiner for English Literature, it’s fair to say that one of the most prevalent phrases used by students in response to poetry is: ‘the enjambment helps the poem flow’. This is closely followed in over-use by ‘the poet / writer does this to create an effect.’ Full stop.

Of course, poets  do, indeed, use enjambment to ‘help the poem flow’. And they do a lot of other things to ‘create an effect’. This is unarguable. However, bald statements such as these, which are a very, very common feature of exam responses at notional grade D and below, are such a shame if the student doesn’t then go a little bit further… stressed and harried examiners have been known to actually talk to the script itself, asking the student ‘What? What is the effect? Why is it there?’ In one now-famous exam response, the student had actually said ‘He does this to create an effect’ thirty one times in their essay. Without once explaining what the effect was, or what the writer’s themes or ideas were. This was ‘technique-spotting’ at its extreme, of course, but quite a good example of what can happen when students are industriously attempting to do what they think they have to do in order to achieve marks in English Literature exams.

The Literature Assessment Objective to which these type of statements refers is, of course:
AO2: Explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers’ presentation of ideas, themes and settings

In Stevie Smith’s The River God, for example, of course the enjambment ‘makes the poem flow’. That’s one of the key structural techniques, and most students can see that this is a very effective use of enjambment. They can see that she is using structure to deepen the creation of her persona. However, once students have identified the technique, what are they then going on to do with it? Might they, for example, talk about where the enjambment stops – where the end stops are and why Smith might be deviating from the use of enjambment in order to foreground some particularly strong ideas? Might they look at the use of enjambment to really intensify the effects of the two monosyllabic statements: ‘Go’ and ‘Now’, and the ways that the positioning of these two within the enjambment suggest a subconscious command? Because if they do this, then they are starting to analyse the use of structure and how it contributes to meaning, which will enable them to access much higher notional bands than D.

Teaching glossaries of literary techniques can have a place in the Literature classroom. It is arguably a fundamental part of opening students’ eyes to the language of poetry. However, unless students link the technique they want to talk about to some investigation of what the actual effect might be, and how it impacts on meaning, they will produce the kind of frustratingly limiting statements like the ones above.

Sarah Darragh
English Teacher and author of A Bridge to GCSE English 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Secondary Business News Quiz - 10/05/12

Test your students' knowledge of what is happening in the business world with this week's news quiz.

Download the Word version (with answers and weblinks) here.

  1. Driver-less cars will soon be a reality on the roads of Nevada after the state approved America's first self-driven vehicle licence, which company has come up with this innovation?
    Google ( )
    Microsoft ( )
    Apple ( )
    Ford ( )

  2. Leading bureaux de change are selling euros at the highest rate to the pound in three and a half years. What rate is it?
    1.50e( )
    1.40e ( )
    1.20e( )
    1.30e( )

  3. US firm General Electric, Dutch company Philips and UK-based Sylvania all showcased their products at the Light Fair industry conference in Las Vegas, an invention was a light-bulb that lasted how long?
    30 years ( )
    20 years ( )
    50 years ( )
    70 years ( )

  4. Which troubled retailer has warned it expects its largest supplier to begin steps to place it into administration later this week?
    Focus DIY ( )
    T J Hughes ( )
    Clinton Cards ( )
    Thornton’s ( )

  5. Telefonica is launching an app that allows smartphone users to make calls and send messages without using up their quota of call minutes or texts; this is seen as being a rival to Skype. What is it called?
    Hear Us ( )
    Ovum ( )
    Tu U ( )
    Tu Me ( )

  6. Which of the ‘big four’ supermarkets will invest £1bn in its UK business this year in an attempt to revive its flagging domestic operation?
    Morrison’s ( )
    Tesco ( )
    ASDA ( )
    Sainsbury ( )

  7. Which business has pledged to help protect the environment by reducing its carbon footprint? From July 1st 2012 its data centres, software development labs and office buildings would all be carbon neutral.
    Nokia ( )
    Yahoo( )
    Microsoft ( )
    Motorola Mobility ( )

  8. Who was fired from ‘The Apprentice this week after a task where they had to convince urban artists to let them represent them in a gallery sale?
    Tom Gearing ( )
    Adam Corbally ( )
    Laura Hogg ( )
    Jade Nash ( )

  9. Which supermarket group has reported an increase in sales and market share but a small dip in profits in what it described as a "good year"?
    Co-Op ( )
    Morrison’s ( )
    Waitrose ( )
    Sainsbury's ( )

  10. Which electronics firm reported a record net loss of 456.7bn yen ($5.7bn; £3.5bn) for the year to the end of March, compared with a 259.6bn yen loss last year?
    Samsung ( )
    Sony ( )
    Toshiba ( )
    Apple ( ) 
Donna Jestin
Teacher of Business Studies Notre Dame College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Secondary Geography - Going underground!

Transport for London has just released a new poster map to coincide with the London Olympics. The familiar stations across the network have been replaced by what are called ‘Olympic Heroes’. These include athletes and other people connected with the games, which have been arranged in lines which make up groups of people with a particular connection. The Olympics is providing a context that is being used in many geography departments this year. The Geographical Association is among the organisations that have produced activities based around the games:

(c) Shutterstock images
The original tube map was designed by Harry Beck in the early 1930s, and was based on diagrams of electrical circuits. Beck realised that if people were underground they didn’t necessarily need to know exactly ‘where’ they were, but how many stops and on which line they needed to travel to get to where they wanted to go. It’s an interesting opportunity to discuss how maps can distort the real world - something that geographers should be aware of. In March 2012 the BBC series ‘The Tube’ showed some of the secrets behind the organisation of this network which carries millions of people every year - a visualisation here shows how far the journeys made on each tube line would reach on a typical day.

Beck’s original map design has been much copied, and most underground networks around the world have a similar schematic map to help users navigate and find the correct line.

Apart from the obvious connections with transport, the tube map has also been ‘appropriated’ for various uses over the years, notably by Simon Patterson who produced a version called ‘The Great Bear’.

Other versions of the map have replaced stations with the name of musicians and bands, pubs in a city, rude words and food.  A version has also been produced to show how the network might be affected by climate change and rising sea levels.

I have used the TfL website to explore journey planning across the city in lessons, setting up scenarios for journeys that have to be made. Although geography is not about ‘teaching how to read timetables’ there is an element of this in the way that geography should prepare people for living in the UK.

The increasing use of Oyster cards has also generated a large amount of data on people’s movements across London and this could be used as a case study for the value of data, and the extent to which our movements are monitored by data capture and CCTV the minute we step foot in a large town or city.

The re-labelling of the tube would lend itself to an exercise in classification. Provide students with a list of terms which refer to three different processes e.g. those connected with rivers, glaciers and the sea. Some of them share similar names, or are similar processes. These would be placed where tube lines intersect.
Lines could be drawn using the freeform tool in Powerpoint and coloured keys produced to summarise the learning.

You might also ask students to ‘organise’ the tube line so that the first stops on the line were the earlier parts of a sequence which terminates at ‘the end of the line’.

A blank tube map which could be used for this activity, or adapted, can be obtained from the site of Geoff Marshall using this link:

Students could also be asked to design a tube line with stops that relate to revision for forthcoming exams, or design a platform motif which summarises a particular term.

Another useful area for exploration in GCSE Urban Geography could be research into the development of ‘Metroland’ and the importance of the railways in the development of the suburbs as we know them.
The imagery of the Tube advertising, particularly in the vintage posters such as can be seen in this Flickr set: is also worth exploring. How is the city represented in these images ? Do they reflect the reality of living in London ?

Younger pupils could be introduced to the Animals that are hidden in the underground at: or challenged to find other animals and shapes within the pattern of lines.

A final stopping point could be this site which includes an animation which ‘morphs’ to show the comparison between the ‘actual’ geography of London and that of the tube map:

Safe travels through these geography ideas, and mind the gap!

Copyright notice: The Tube map is the copyright of Transport for London.

Alan Parkinson
Secondary Curriculum Development Leader of the Geographical Association

Monday, 7 May 2012

Primary - using the Olympics in Science

Activity One – Muscle groups
Year 1 to Year 6

Ask the children to tell you what it is in our body that helps us to move and to complete tasks. Some will say bones and joints; others will correctly identify the muscles. If you have studied bones and muscles before then the children will be able to describe how muscles work to control movement. If you have a skeleton in school, show the children what happens when the movement of the bones isn’t controlled by muscles – the skeleton collapses.

Now set up a small range of ‘Olympic events’ such as running, jumping, throwing and lifting. Ask the children to ‘take part’ by slow motioning each event, thinking carefully about which muscles they use.
Complete a chart or Carroll or Venn diagram to show which muscle sets are used for each event. Do any of the muscle sets appear in more than one set? Ask the children to say whether a sprinter would do well in weightlifting and say why or would a high jumper succeed in the hammer throwing event?

Activity Two – Chow for ChampionsYear 3 to Year 6

Sportspersons have a strict diet to help them win.

Take a look together at the different food groups, how they help us to stay healthy and discuss how they might help an athlete. You’ll need to go a little more into the detail of how they help for the activity in which the children need to devise a diet for the day before and the day of the athlete’s event. They’ll need to find out how quickly the body can get energy from different types of carbohydrates and sugars or how long it takes for muscles to develop from protein intake.

You may be able to check your ideas against the actual diets of the athletes by following their twitter feeds or following their training blogs.

As a fun assessment activity following the lesson, give the children the diets of fictional athletes and ask the children to order them in events depending on their diets. For example:

Fast Freddie eats pasta with salmon for dinner the night before his race then in the morning has a bowl of porridge made with skimmed milk and honey. Just before he runs, he snacks on a banana.

Rapid Rajiv eats McDonalds with a large milkshake the night before and has cocoa pops with coffee in the morning before the race and just before he runs, tucks into a Mars bar.

Swift Sandhu has steak and chips, followed by ice cream the night before and has two glasses of wine. In the morning he grabs a piece of toast and before the race has a packet of crisps.

Blistering Bernie has chicken curry with lots of rice the night before. In the morning he has a bran cereal with semi-skimmed milk followed by a fruit juice. Just before the race he downs a bottle of energy drink.

Speedy Sam has fish and chips in the evening then a cooked breakfast in the morning. Just before running he has a bottle of water.

Activity Three – Animal Olympics
Reception to Year 6

We all know animals that can run, jump, swim and carry but in the spirit of the Olympics, if they were all competing fairly in an event, who would win?

For this activity, the children will need to collect data or use information that you provide to decide who, from the animal kingdom, would be crowned champion. Before setting out to do the research, ask the children to predict the medal winners and give reasons for their choices. Some are easier than others but the results are often fascinating:

Try these events…
100m sprint
The contestants:
In lane one - the ostrich
In lane two – the cheetah
In lane three – the polar bear
In lane four – the horse

Weightlifting (or carrying)
Representing Africa – the gorilla
Representing India – the elephant
Representing Great Britain – the ant
Representing Europe – the donkey

100m Freestyle
Lane one – barracuda
Lane two – swordfish
Lane three – shark
Lane four – Killer whale

High Jump
For Australia – the kangaroo
For Great Britain – the hare
For Africa – the cricket
For Europe – the flea

You’ll have to make allowances for size but many of the statistics say for example – ‘can lift twenty times its own weight’ or can jump ten times its height.

You can extend the activity further by asking the pupils to predict where humans would come in the events by referring to the Guinness Book of World Records

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

Friday, 4 May 2012

Primary - using The Olympics in Art

Activity One – Photo Montage
Year 1 to Year 6

The Olympics will be covered in great detail by the world’s media and whilst millions of words will be written about the games we’re going to focus on the adage that says ‘a picture tells a thousand words’.
From the pictures already on the web of the development of the venues for the games to the thousands of pictures that will be taken at the opening ceremony, almost every moment of them will be documented in pictures.

This activity asks the children to be objective in selecting the pictures they think tells the story of the Olympics in London.

The children can make a scrap book from sugar paper bound together with treasury tags and do a design for the front of it.

Ask them to scan the newspapers and web each day for pictures that sum up the events and include them in their scrap book together with an annotation as to why they chose them.
At the end of the games, ask the children to swap scrap books and comment on each others' work.

Activity Two – Logos
Year 1 to Year 6

There was much controversy over the logo designed for the London 2012 Games but then almost every games has attracted comments from the media on the choice of logo.
Ask the children to find a selection of the logos or mascots of some Olympic games and how they came about.

Use the website for ideas.

What do they notice about the elements used in the following?

London 2012
Vancouver 2010
Beijing 2008
Athens 2004
Sydney 2000
Lillehammer 1994
Barcelona 1992
Montreal 1976

From their findings ask them to improve on the logo for the 2012 games and finish with a vote on which one they think should have been adopted.

Activity Three – People in Action
Year 1 to Year 6

Use photographs of athletes ‘in action’ in sports such as running, swimming, high jump, hammer throwing and javelin etc. and ask the children to draw ‘stick people’ to document their stance whilst undertaking the action. Can they predict the changes in stance to complete the action?
Once they are happy with their predictions, ask them to divide a sheet of A4 paper into a 3 x 12 grid and copy the stick person carefully into the appropriate position on the grid spaces. By drawing the stick person sequentially, they should be able to overlay the pieces to create a ‘flick book’ to show the movement.
Once they’ve been successful with the paper version they can use free animation software such as Pivot to do an online Olympic animation.

You can even upload your animation to YouTube once you’ve finished!

Activity Four – Critique
Year 1 to Year 6

This is a great idea for an assembly towards the end of the Olympics.

Using the scrap book from Activity One ask the children to select a picture that they think sums up the spirit of the games and to write a small introduction to it giving their reasons.

In assembly create a slide show of the images to be played whilst parents are waiting and ask the children to present their choice and the reasons they have chosen it. At the end, you can ask parents and/or the children to ‘vote’ for which their favourite was based on the introductions given by the children.

This activity allows the children to practise the skill of critiquing a piece of art, be it a painting, sculpture or, in this case, a photograph.

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Happy Centenary Glenn Seaborg!

Happy Centenary Glenn Seaborg!

Feted during his lifetime, reviled by some, forgotten by many – why should we remember Glenn Seaborg in this centenary year of his birth? His work has little relevance to GCSE or even A level Chemistry but in fact he was one of the most influential chemists of the twentieth century and perhaps we can spare a moment from examination preparation to consider the part he played.

Glenn Seaborg was born in April 1912 in a mining town in eastern USA. His parents were Swedish. In 1922 the family moved to California but his father struggled to make a living. Glenn did part-time jobs to pay his way through a chemistry degree and in 1937 completed a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. He stayed on as an assistant and instructor working on acids and bases with Gilbert Lewis.

Exciting new work was going on at Berkeley using the cyclotron built by Ernest Lawrence. Lawrence and his team of physicists used the cyclotron to fire charged particles at targets made of various elements. In 1940 the team produced the first artificial element, number 93, named neptunium as it followed uranium. Seaborg was asked to use his chemical skills to separate and identify the products of the bombardments which he did in his spare time. In 1941 Seaborg was fully involved in the isolation of the next element, number 94, plutonium. Over the following 33 years Seaborg led the team that produced a further eight of the “trans-uranic” elements the last being number 106 in 1974. No other person has been involved with the discovery of more elements.

In 1951 Seaborg was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work and in 1997 received a unique accolade. His last new element was officially named Seaborgium. This is the only time an element has been named after a living person. Seaborg died in 1999.

Another reason for remembering Glenn Seaborg is that he is responsible for the version of the Periodic Table that has hung on chemistry laboratory walls for the last sixty or so years. In school courses we celebrate Mendeleev’s Periodic Table but in fact it does not look much like the modern version. This is because Bohr’s model of electron shells changed our understanding of how the elements are built up. In the 1930s elements were arranged as today with 8 main groups and the transition metals in a central block with the fifteen lanthanide elements (from lanthanum, 57, to lutetium, 71) in a separate row, usually tacked at the bottom of the table. Most chemists placed the four elements from actinium (89) to uranium (92) in the transition metal block. Seaborg studied the properties of the trans-uranic elements, particularly americium and curium, isolated in 1944, and became convinced that the fifteen elements from actinium should in fact be in a row under the lanthanides. This is where they are found today.

During the Second World War Seaborg’s work was top secret because it was discovered that an isotope of plutonium was spontaneously fissile. This means that the atoms split roughly in half releasing neutrons and a huge amount of energy. Seaborg was brought into the atomic bomb project. There were in fact two groups working on “the bomb”. One group designed a bomb using naturally occurring uranium which was detonated over Hiroshima in August 1945. Seaborg’s team extracted atoms of plutonium-239 made by nuclear reactions. The work was slow and very dangerous as plutonium is highly toxic and radioactive. This material was used in the second bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

Seaborg knew how powerful the bomb would be and that there would be a huge number of deaths if it was used. He supported the idea of demonstrating the bomb to the Japanese by setting it off on an uninhabited island. The US military officials didn’t accept this idea, probably because there was not enough plutonium to make another bomb quickly. In the 1960s Seaborg served on the US Atomic Energy Commission helping in the negotiation of the UN Non-proliferation Treaty that held back the development of nuclear weapons.

Despite advising presidents, Seaborg spent his whole working life at Berkeley and was married from 1942 until his death to Helen, Ernest Lawrence’s secretary. They had six children.


1 Glenn Seaborg’s team discovered elements numbered 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102 and 106.

(a) Find out the names that these elements have been given

(b) What or who have the elements been named after?

(c) What is the most recent element (i) to be given a name, and (ii) to be discovered (probably).
2 The first eleven trans-uranic elements fit in the actinide series at the bottom of the Periodic Table, but where is Seaborgium (106)? Name an element that Seaborgium resembles.
3 Discuss the part that Seaborg played in the atomic bomb project. Was his role important? Do you think he intended to cause the deaths of many thousands of people? Was the work on the second bomb justified?

4 How should we celebrate Glenn Seaborg’s centenary?

Bibliography: Mike Sutton, To plutonium and beyond, Chemistry World, vol 09, no. 03 pub Royal Society of Chemistry, March 2012.

A taste of Rasberry Pi

A taste of Raspberry Pi

A friend wanted to order a Raspberry Pi computer and tried to order online on the first day of sales. Unable to get through (at one point orders were coming in at 700 per second) he phoned up and was asked whether he wanted a Raspberry Pi or, for a slightly higher price, a Raspberry Pi bundle. He went for the latter, which arrived last week. Alas, the bundle contains lots of useful connectors and peripherals – but not the Raspberry Pi itself. His disappointment was palpable and he was back on the phone like a shot. He readily admitted that he had nothing like the personal interest in recent orders of Macs and PCs for his business.

Why has the Raspberry Pi caused so much interest? I’m not convinced that it’s the ‘budget price computer for schools’ argument. It is cheap but by the time you add the peripherals (including the screen) it’s more than an entry level Android tablet and less user friendly. Talking to a group of people about this recently we fairly quickly got into a discussion of first computers that we’d owned. My gambit of a Sinclair ZX81 was soon trumped by someone else’s kit-built ZX80. For many schools though, it was the BBC computers that were the turning point. What they made possible were not only software applications but also programming and interfacing; it was computer science as well as ICT. However as subsequent waves of machines came out and schools tooled themselves up for teaching office applications the interfacing side tended to get marginalised. Like Wallace & Gromit’s motorcycle and sidecar, the bolts started to work loose and the two parts took increasingly divergent paths.

This is not to underestimate the importance of ICT – it’s come in for a bit of a pasting of late, not all of it justified – but rather to say that it’s only part of the picture. Another part, what one might refer to as digital technology, has vanished from the curriculum in some schools and Raspberry Pi looks like being a rallying point for its reinvention. Is it ICT though? There are arguments that the outcomes achievable sit more comfortably in other parts of the curriculum.

Does this affect science? Well, it’s very likely that in some schools science teachers will be the ones delivering this part of the curriculum. A school leader, wanting to exploit the opportunities presented, is likely to be flipping through their mental rolodex of staff interests, skills and understanding to find likely innovators. Some science teachers will come pretty high on this; some will want to get involved. It’s also true that this is an area that students who are successful in science are very likely to be involved in. It’s not science but in the atlas of the curriculum it’s not only in the same continent but a near neighbour. Professor Sir John Holman, previously Head of the National Science Learning Centre and now Senior Fellow in Education at the Wellcome Trust, is fond of pointing out that of the STEM subjects, schools often talk more about science and maths whereas employers are more concerned about recruitment in technology and engineering. Digital technology sits pretty much right in the middle of this.

The Expert Panel on the review of the National Curriculum has proposed that both Design Technology and ICT are redesignated to the ‘Basic Curriculum’ – i.e. that schools have to provide them but that there would be “no centrally prescribed Programmes of Study or Attainment Targets”. If this is accepted then schools will be free to design their own courses. Scientists may have a significant contribution to make at school level to both the design and even the delivery of such courses.

Ed Walsh
Advisor for Cornwall Learing

Did you know? Notes from the history of maths

Did you know? Notes from the history of maths

‘A’ is for algebra and angst

Maths teachers know that when a class are told the new topic is to do with algebra, there is likely to be a collective groan. Algebra, however, has a rich and fascinating history. Who invented algebra? Why do we use the letter x?

Certainly, as far back as 1900 BCE (our Bronze Age), the Babylonians were solving problems such as:

The length of a rectangle exceeds its width by 7.

Its area is 60. Find its length and width.

In the classroom, we would solve this algebraically by giving a symbol for the unknown width (w, say). So that the length becomes w+7 and the area of the rectangle: width x length becomes w (w+7) = 60. Students would then solve this quadratic by a taught method to get the solution w = 5 (or -12, which is discounted as a possible length).

The Babylonian method was an algorithm, not involving symbols, and would look like this:

1. Halve the 7 => 3½

2. Square this => 12¼

3. Add the area => 72¼

4. Square root this => 8½

5. Length is last answer + answer to 1. => 12

Width is last answer – answer to 1. => 5

It isn’t clear, from the clay tablets that show these methods, to what extent the Babylonian mathematicians saw these as general methods and, as a result, whether they can be thought of as algebra.

The Greek Mathematician, Diophantus, in the 3rd century CE did use a symbol for the unknown. He is particularly known for his work on indeterminate equations (which have many solutions). We would write these as x2 + y2 = a2. In 1637, Fermat reading a Latin translation of “Arithmetica” by Diophantus , wrote that he had found a proof that xn + yn = zn (x,y,z,n all positive whole numbers), has no solutions for n > 2 but it was ‘too long to fit on the margin’. Mathematicians tried to prove this ever since and only succeeded when Andrew Wiles did so, 357 years later.

The word ‘algebra’ is Arabic and was first used in the book “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” written by al –Khwārizmi who lived from about 780 to 850 CE. The al-ğabr means “completion" or "restoring” by moving a negative quantity from one side of the equation to the other side. This technique is well known to students learning to manipulate algebra. In our notation,

x2 = 40x − 4x2 is transformed by al-ğabr into

5x2 = 40x.

al –Khwārizmi was showed how quadratics can be transformed into a set of basic types of equations which were then solved by algorithms similar to those use by the Babylonians. The main difference with this work is that the methods were generalised and proved. The use of letters in algebra was not used systematically until much later in the work of Francois Viète who lived from 1540 to 1603. He used uppercase vowels for “things sought” and uppercase consonants for “things given”. This was further developed by René Descartes

(1596-1650) who used letters from the end of the alphabet for numbers sought. The use of ‘x’ in algebra is possibly a matter of chance. The story goes that when Descartes’ book “La Géométrie” was being typeset, the printer began to run short of the last letters of the alphabet. He asked Descartes if it mattered whether x, y or z was used in each of the books many equations.

Descartes replied that it didn’t. The printer selected x since the letters y and z are used in French more frequently than x.

Don Hoyle
Mathematics Matters

Secondary Business - News Quiz 03/05/12

Test your students' knowledge of what is happening in the business world with this week's news quiz.

Download the Word version (with answers and weblinks) here.

  1. Annual profits at Home Retail Group (HRG) have dropped how much after profits at its Argos chain were hit by weak demand for electrical goods?
    30% ( )
    40% ( )
    60% ( )
    50% ( )
  2. Total sales at Next rose 1.4% for the 13 weeks to 28 April, what are they saying is the reason for the increase?
    The weather ( )
    The economy ( )
    New store openings ( )
    Online directory shopping ( )
  3. The UK economy slipped back into recession last week, which other European city also entered recession again after their economy shrank 0.3%?
    France ( )
    Spain ( )
    Germany ( )
    Holland ( )
  4. Renault-Nissan to take control of Lada-owner Avtovaz, what sort of takeover is this?
    Horizontal ( )
    Vertical ( )
    Conglomerate ( )
    Organic ( )
  5. Which airline is to cut 3,500 jobs as it seeks to cut its administrative costs by a quarter?
    Iberia ( )
    Virgin America ( )
    Lufthansa ( )
    BMI ( )
  6. Which supermarkets like-for-like sales, which ignore new store openings, fell 1% in the 3 months to the end of April?
    Morrison’s( )
    Tesco( )
    ASDA ( )
    Sainsbury( )
  7. Who has been granted an injunction against the distribution of key Microsoft products in Germany?The sales ban covers the Xbox 360 games console, Windows 7 system software, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player?
    Nokia ( )
    Samsung ( )
    Apple ( )
    Motorola Mobility ( )
  8. Who was fired from The Apprentice last night, saying that he thinks the other contestants saw him as a 'threat'
    Azhar Siddique ( )
    Tom Gearing ( )
    Adam Corbally ( )
    Ricky Martin ( )
  9. Samsung will put the rumours and alleged leaks about its next product to rest when it unveils what in London later today?
    TV ( )
    Galaxy phone ( )
    Tablet computer ( )
    Laptop ( )
  10. NHS and WHO have joined forces in an attempt to increase the number of organs being donated?
    MySpace ( )
    Tesco ( )
    Facebook ( )
    Local councils ( ) 

Donna Jestin
Teacher of Business Studies Notre Dame College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Primary - using The Olympics in Numeracy

Activity One – Big Numbers
Year 1 to Year 6

The number 2012 means more than just a year to most people for 2012 is the name most people give to the London 2012 Olympics. There are a mass of really big numbers involved in the games from the number of tickets sold, the number of countries competing and of course the cost of staging the games. To get children to understand the size of numbers, get the children to investigate them, completing the chart for the activity. You can then compare them to each other using place value.

Ask the children what the biggest number is that they know, some will say millions, some billions or trillions. You’re going to get the unusual ones like zillions or the monster godzillions!
An interesting discussion point is why the children say that the biggest number begins with the last letter of the alphabet. Is there a connection or is it just coincidence? You’ll find some bright spark will mention infinity although as Toy Story slips from their memories, it’s becoming less prevalent. Infinity is a great number to talk about. Can you have a number that is ‘infinity plus one’ or infinity minus one? What is the number and how do you write it?

There are lots of websites from the BBC News to the official 2012 website and they’re jam packed with statistics. A lot of children find researching information difficult, especially when looking for written information within a block of written information. Finding statistical information is easier as they’re looking for numbers within a block of text so quick scanning will throw up the numbers, meaning they’ve only got to identify the context from the surrounding words.

Begin by asking them to find some commonly available information such as:
How many countries are involved in 2012?
How many competitors will take part?
How many tickets have been sold?
Ask them then to find any other statistics in the information they discover about the games.

Make a class wall display with the numbers they’ve found, adding a medals table so they can keep tabs on the successes of each country.

You should try to put the place value headers for each number so they can compare and order the numbers. For the older ones discuss how many times bigger each digit is than one in a different column. You could even do some mega-maths by working out the cost per person of the Olympics or how many cars, trains or planes would be needed to transport the spectators to the spectacle.

Activity Two – Measures
Year 4 to Year 6

At the Olympics, everything will have a measure, be it the number of seconds taken for the 100m sprint or the weight lifted by the giants of the jerk and lift. You’ll have the points for the decathletes or the distance achieved by the javelin throwers. These are great for comparing, converting, ordering and finding differences. They’re also good for estimating. Many children won’t have much of an idea how long it might take to run the 10,000m so you can ask them to guess by giving clues. Perhaps give them help by getting the fastest in the class to run a hundred metres and ask them to multiply it up by 100.

One of my favourite activities is to set the children a maths problem where logic is also required. Try this one…

Fast Freddie runs the 100m in 10.09 seconds; Rapid Rajiv does it 0.5 seconds faster. Swift Sandhu is 0.16 seconds slower than Rajiv. Blistering Bernie’s time was halfway between Rajiv’s and Sandhu’s times.  Speedy Sam’s time was 0.08 seconds slower than Bernie’s. Who won the medals and what were their times?

In this activity, the children will have to get to grips with the number representing the time getting bigger as the times slow. This is anathema to their concept of numbers where bigger is better.
Use the events which are scored by length to calculate equivalents in different units, so, for example: How many centimetres are the same as a long jump of 8 metres 35 centimetres? Again, you can do a similar activity to the ordering one for the 100m which can be differentiated by the numbers you use. 

Activity Three – Area and Probability
Year 5 and Year 6

Whilst it seems an improbable combination, these two concepts come together neatly in this activity. This is a good one for those who need extension activities in maths and involves them combining different skills.
The archery and shooting events use targets comprised of concentric circles, each covering a different area.
Ask the children to decide which they think is the easiest to hit and which is the hardest.

They can investigate their answers practically by using different sized hoops on the ground and trying to land bean bags in them. Statistically, it will be easier to land them in the bigger circles. Then place the rings inside each other and repeat the exercise. Do they get the same results?

Now you can investigate the statistic mathematically by calculating the area of each part of the target. Begin with the bulls-eye, using the formula πr^2. Now the thinking skills come in…

How would you calculate the area of a ring? The answer of course is to take the area of the inner circle away from the area of the outer circle.

Having calculated the area of each ring, ask the children to use the areas to calculate the probability of landing the arrow, bolt or pellet in each section. They should present their answers in the form ‘twice as likely’ etc.

Does this information correlate to the data they collected practically?

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Primary - using The Olympics in Literacy

Activity One – Following tweets
Year 4 to Year 6

Tweeting is one of the least known but most popular internet communication methods and enables the world to find out what is happening to famous and not so famous people during their day.

In the run up to the Olympics, athletes will be tweeting about their preparation and during the games, their nerves, fitness, anticipation and their response after they’ve taken part in their events. It’s like following their progress as a friend rather than just an onlooker. Almost all of Britain’s and indeed the world’s athletes have twitter accounts and it’s easy to follow them. Some of their twitter addresses are given below but you may well have a local athlete taking part. Gemma Spofforth is a former pupil from our school and the children will be following her efforts this summer. Your local newspaper will be following athletes from your area in the run up to the event and it’s worth asking the athlete if they can spare the time to come into school and talk with the children.

After the visit, you can then set up your computer or mobile device to receive tweets from them.
You can ask the children to use the tweets you receive and expand them into a piece of diary writing that can be added to each time they tweet!


Activity Two – Reporting
Year 3 to Year 6

There will be a number of key events at the Olympics; from the opening ceremony to events like the 100m sprint, the marathon and other events.

Prior to the events show the children examples of sports reporting on different events. Together highlight the key aspects of them including the language used and the structure.
The structure is quite simple as reports usually begin with the lead up to the event, talking about who is expected to win or to discuss the potential of key competitors in the event. Next, the reporting follows the event chronologically, identifying key events as they happen and finishes with the effect of the result on the competitors or their team or country before looking forward to the next event.
Using the template that accompanies this activity, ask the children to watch an event, either during school time or at home and write a newspaper report.

Activity Three – Explain how it works
Year 2 to Year 6

Many people watch events at the Olympics without realising what the focus of the events are. Whilst it’s simple enough to understand what’s happening in a sprint, it’s more difficult in a relay race when specific rules have to be followed. The same is true of perhaps show jumping, gymnastics or judo.
This activity asks the children to work on writing instructions and a clear explanation of an event at the Olympics.

Ask them to choose an event they are familiar with, or even one they would like to know more about, and to research the rules before writing a set of instructions together with rules for that event. Many of the events will lead to chronological instructions and you should encourage them to use the language of chronology such as first, next, then, finally etc.

Finally, to check their work they can swap with a friend and watch the event after reading the partner’s instruction. It will be interesting to see if the explanation works!

Activity Four – The Journey to Success
Year 3 to Year 6

This activity allows pupils to practise work on biography by focusing on an Olympian. 
Use a short biography from a children’s book or a child friendly website to highlight and discuss the format of biographies. The children should note that they are almost always written chronologically.
Use one or more additional biographies to identify content that is common for both and list them ready for their biographies.

They should choose from a list of Olympians selected by you or possibly one of their choice and research facts about them.

Try to get them to focus on what led the Olympian into their particular sport.
Ask them to compile a biography using the format they have picked out from the samples and, when complete, read them out to the class and ask them how well they compare with the examples.

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

Secondary History - Show the Passion!

It was WB Yeats who told us that, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” It’s a quote I’ve long admired and to me it sums up the reason why I went into teaching. It’s something I’ve always tried to remember when planning lessons and delivering them and when building a rapport with students. Looking back, this approach has been quite successful (this can be supported by exam result data – there, I am being ‘accountable’ therefore a good teacher) – although I would argue this is a common sense approach.

If students want to be in your lesson, they know why they are studying the subject and they know what they are getting out of the subject they will, and ten years of experience tells me this, for the most part, be enthusiastic and keen to learn. Sadly, in the ‘League Table culture’ in which we work, I’m worried we’re losing this a little bit. Students increasingly seem to ‘just want to know what they need to pass the exam’ and nothing else – and the pressure we are under as teachers to meet Gosplan’s targets means we often, and I say this reluctantly, do just that. We spoon feed, and sometimes there are other factors in play too. There is often political pressure, for example when an Academy has to prove it is successful not for its pupils' sake, but for the sake of saving a politician’s bacon. Students can therefore pass exams – but are they better educated? Politicians can boast that on their watch exam results went up 63%... but what disappoints them is that education is simply not measurable.

Anyway, let’s keep politics out of education (I wish MPs would just ‘let the teachers be free to teach’ as I believe they promised)… in part contradiction of Yeats I would argue that of course we need some ‘filling of the pail.’ Without any historical knowledge at all students are going to struggle to get any idea of the past – facts, dates, battles and people all help students get a sense of historical context and why things happened. Chronological facts helps students string things together, link events and see that history is not packaged into nice little compartments and, taught properly, it will help them see things did actually happen between the Romans, Tudors and the Industrial Revolution!

In short, we need knowledge and facts, but not just knowledge and certainly not a curriculum based around Core Knowledge – facts we all must know. History has fought hard to move away from being just a memory test requiring factual recall of dates in order for someone to be ‘good at it’. Some good news coming from the government – surprisingly, it would seem, as all that seems to come out of Westminster is a continual bemoaning and belittling of our profession – is that History is soon to become compulsory up to the age of 16. Three cheers all round – Mr Gove has finally got something right! This should hopefully counter the worrying trend of less History being taught. I was a little disappointed to find out that the school I taught at for six years before moving abroad, building up both the GCSE and A-Level cohorts considerably, now offers a three year Key Stage 4. This problem is heightened by the three-tier system they have so students arrive from Middle School and have little more than a week before they decide their options – this has led to very small numbers taking the subject as we don’t have Year 9 with every student to develop skills and interest. We hope that making the subject compulsory will mean decreasing numbers of students taking the subject is merely a blip, but even then we can’t get complacent. We still need to light the fire Yeats talked of.

So what about the lighting of the fire? How do we do it? Having just helped out our English department with some GCSE tuition with some very disaffected Year 10s and 11s I am aware of the difficulties a compulsory subject faces. ‘When am I ever going to need to know about Macbeth?’, as I was asked many times, could soon become ‘When am I ever going to need to know about Abraham Darby?’ if we do not approach it right. I’ve highlighted earlier the need to always let the students know why they are doing what they are doing, how relevant it is and the skills they are getting out of it. Something else that has worked for me is the mantra ‘teach as you would like to be taught.’ All teachers have different styles and whilst we seem to be constantly observed and scrutinised it is important to remember that you have to teach your way. This way you feel more comfortable in front of the class. Thorough lesson planning will mean you know the different needs of the learners in front of you and you can adapt accordingly but you need to lead, to inspire, to be a good role model and to show the students that education is not just about passing exams or that GCSE History merely leads to becoming a museum curator or librarian – not that there is of course wrong with either of those professions. One particularly able student of mine at the international school I taught at used to ironically shout out “but that’s not on the syllabus we can’t discuss that” every time one of our IB History lessons drifted off topic. If a debate is going off topic then let it – if the students are engaged and thinking and learning from one another, keep going – that is education. That is inspiring students to think for themselves. That is lighting their fires.

After one whole staff meeting where we’d just been told the expectations for forthcoming observations, I remember one old cynic chirping up at the back “Oh, so we’re supposed to be entertainers now are we?” Cue much laughter, but the fact remains that if we’re doing our job well then well, yes we are but that doesn’t mean role plays, field trips and TV clips featuring blood and guts. Showing warmth, humour and appearing human through a variety of anecdotes have worked for me. You may not look forward to your double with 8Y on a Friday afternoon – we all have an 8Y - but you always have to show the passion and yes, it’s not easy when you have to discuss proportional representation in the Weimar Republic for the fifteenth time, but it is a relatively simple solution. Showing the passion for your subject rubs off on your students and of all the possible ways of lighting the fires Yeats dreamed of, I’ve found this is the easiest way to light them.

Joe Wilkinson
Head of History