Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tumbling Dice

I recently attended an English conference for secondary and primary teachers, in my county. It was a fantastic day and not just because of the rare opportunity for a trip out. One of the sessions I attended was called Active Learning in Literacy and focussed on interactive activities to improve student talk in the classroom. One of these activities involved playing with dice. Now I am really quite lazy, so when it comes to making resources, if I can’t create it on my laptop, then I usually don’t bother. However, I really liked this idea because it managed to inspire a group of cynical teachers, during their post-lunch-slump, to talk with enthusiasm. And if it did that, then I believe it might just work with my year 10s.

The activity: Each group was given a foam dice, with a plastic cover over it. There were slips of paper on each side of the foam dice. On these slips were the pictures of six different characters from a short book (that we had read at the beginning of the session). We were then asked ‘What would the character say?’ and when we rolled the dice, had to write a relevant sentence for the character we ‘rolled’.  After that, we shared our sentences and discussed which ones we agreed with or disagreed with, before extending our sentences.

What I really liked about this activity were the possibilities it presented. It was a fun way-in to discussing our inferences about characters in the text but the potential for use in different contexts is huge. I can see this working with comments from the perspective of different characters in a novel; comments about quotations from a text; comments about themes from a text; and many more.  It could also easily be differentiated, with more challenging quotations/ perspectives given to more able groups of students. Most importantly, as we all know, meaningful student talk helps to create meaningful student writing.

I have now adapted this activity to use in the next few weeks with my year 10s, when we study ‘Of Mice and Men.’ I am sticking to a character focus to begin with and will use it as a starter after studying chapter 4 (with Curley’s Wife, Crooks, Lennie, Candy, George and Steinbeck as the dice-sides). Hopefully it will help my students to engage with the different perspectives in the novel and begin to unravel the different tensions at this point in the story.

With any luck, this dice-game will be a safe bet.

Naomi Hursthouse, October 2012

Download dice templates here!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Secondary Business News Quiz - 25/10/2012

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

Download the Word version of the quiz! (with answers and weblinks)

1. Shares in which business, which is famous for its leather bags, have sunk by more than a quarter after the luxury goods firm issued a profit warning.

Orla Kiely ( )
Mulberry ( )
Chanel ( )
Fendi ( )

2. Which business has been reported as paying only '£1.2m in UK tax' on sales of £800m?

EBay ( )
Google ( )
Apple ( )
Microsoft( )

3. Which band has joined the rich list for British under-30s for the first time?

The Wanted( )  
The Saturdays ( )
JLS ( )
One Direction ( )

4. Newspapers accounting for 90% of the circulation in which country, have abandoned Google News?

Ireland ( )
Brazil ( )  
China ( )
Russia ( )

5. Which company has reported a loss of $59m (£37m) despite seeing revenues rise 32% during the third quarter?

Google ( )
Apple ( )
Facebook ( )      
Samsung ( )

6. Union leaders have said US car giant Ford is closing its factory at Genk in Belgium with the loss of how many jobs?

14,000 ( )
6,600 ( )
4,300 ( )
12,000 ( )

7. Department store chain Debenhams has reported a rise in full year profits despite "challenging trading conditions". Pre-tax profits for the year to 1 September rose by how much to £158.3m?

7% ( )
6.2% ( )
5% ( )
4.2% ( )

8. Sportswear giant Nike has agreed a deal to sell which UK sports brand to US clothing company Iconix Brand Group for $225m (£140m)?

Reebok ( )
Umbro ( )
Sweaty Betty ( )
Fat Face ( )

9. Crucial security information about the what? Has been leaked online, making it easier for users to play pirated games on the machine?

Nintendo DSi ( )
Nintendo Wii  ( )  
Sony PlayStation 3  ( )
Xbox ( )

10. Which retailer is planning to close or relocate at least 75 stores over the next five years?

Homebase ( )
WHSmith ( )
Waterstones ( )
Argos ( )

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

When is an IB not an IB?

To Malta to run a CPD session for science teachers on effective teaching and learning using the Collins KS3 resources – very pleasant to work in a venue with the shutters thrown open to allow in a warm Mediterranean breeze in October.  You can see I’m going for the sympathy vote here – probably not very successfully.  Malta is a real melting pot of cultures: the cuisine is similar to Sicily, the religion Roman Catholic, the British influence through governance decades ago is still apparent but the language draws on Hebrew and Arabic influences.  Of course, some of these influences weren’t always benign but the result is a place in which a lot of different people can feel at home.  One of the activities we did was on questioning and one of the teachers told me afterwards of a Maltese saying “il-mistoqsija oħt il-għerf” – “the question is the sister of wisdom.”  That’s one for the desktop – and the next CPD session.

Breadth of cultures is also coming up in the matter of A level reform.  Michael Gove has indicated that he wants A level students to have breadth as well as depth to their studies.  What this appears to be leading to is an Advanced Baccalaureate, or ABac.  Unlike GCSEs, A levels are not for the chop, though it seems likely that modular assessment will go and there are questions over the future role of AS levels.  The plan emerging is of an ABac ‘wrapper’ surrounding a package of attainments.

There’s a desire for students to have a balance of subjects – for Arts students to do Maths or a science and vice versa.  I think the principle of balance is good both because lots of people can benefit from the kind of reasoning used in Maths and Science but also because mathematicians and scientists often need skills that are better developed in Arts subjects.  However, I hope this will be seen in conjunction with the debate on AS levels.  Students going on to study STEM courses at undergraduate level not unusually need all three of the STEM subjects they study at A level so being able to run a fourth to AS has real merit.

There should also be care taken over the selection of subjects recognised in the ABac.  Computing and Engineering desperately need support; there’s a real economic imperative behind encouraging keen post 16 students to study these.  Broadening culture is a laudable motive but it can be broadened in a range of ways.  There’s also talk of a 5,000 word assignment.  Certainly a number of schools I know run an Extended Project pathway for sixth formers and are enthusiastic about its impact, not least on university applications.  It’s not difficult to make the case for students having to be able to structure some extended writing but it really does have implications for developing the skills lower down the school.  “He knows lots of science – he just can’t write it down” is looking a bit threadbare; it may be true but it begs questions of the science curriculum.

Ed Walsh

Read Ed's GCSE Science blog here

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Secondary Business News Quiz - 19/09/2012

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

Download the Word version of the quiz! (with answers and weblinks)

1. Apple lost a UK court ruling yesterday about the design of the Ipad. Against which company?

Samsung ( )
Google ( )
Microsoft ( )
HTC ( )

2. The Chinese manufacturing firm that makes Apple’s Ipads and Iphones has admitted employing 14 year olds. What is the name of this firm?

Lenovo ( )
Hang Seng ( )
Paedobiz ( )
Foxconn ( )

3. Vehicle manufacturer, Manganeze Bronze, have had to recall 400 vehicles and suspend new sales for safety reasons. This has caused severe financial problems for the firm. What do they make?

Container lorries ( )
Racing cars ( )
London taxis ( )
Speedboats ( )

4. A major American company has been criticised for only paying £8.6m in UK corporation tax in the last 14 years, which one?

McDonalds ( )
Starbucks ( )
Apple ( )
Ford ( )

5. What happened to UK unemployment last month?

Rose to 2.9m ( )
Rose to 2.5m ( )
Fell to 2.5m ( )
Fell to 2.9m ( )

6. William Hill have agreed to take over which other bookmaking firm?

Paddy Power ( )
SportingBet ( )
Ladbrokes ( )
Bet365 ( )

7. Which sporting star have Nike and Budweiser dropped this week?

Lance Armstrong ( )
Tiger Woods ( )
Danny Rose ( )
David Beckham ( )

8. What’s the most expensive football team to support in the UK, according to a BBC survey? A season ticket can cost £1,995 and a match-day ticket costing up to £126

Manchester United ( )
Chelsea ( )
Tottenham Hotspur ( )
Arsenal ( )

Monday, 22 October 2012

Communication: through the eyes of a child

The Communication Trust has recently produced four films to help parents encourage their children’s communication development.

These short films (between 2 and 5 minutes) are based on material from last year’s national year of communication project ‘Hello’ and cover the age ranges birth to 6 months, 6 months to 1 year, 1 to 2 years and 2 to 3 years.

Narrated by Kathy Burke, the films present a unique perspective on communication through the eyes of a child and are full of useful advice about interacting and talking with young children.

Although the films have been made for parents, they provide a very useful resource for your learners. The material can be used to enhance learning in the classroom as well as helping to reinforce the links between theory and practical experience in placement.

With Communication and Language as one of the three prime areas in the Early Years Foundation Stage, there is a renewed emphasis on the importance of communication, particularly with the under three’s. This is a very important component of both the Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce. Particularly:

L2: Unit TDA 2.7 Maintain and Support Relationships with Children and Young People
      Unit SHC 21 Introduction to Communication in Health, Social Care or Children’s and Young People’s Settings

L3: Unit CYP 3.5 Develop Positive Relationships with Children, Young People and Others Involved in their Care
      Unit SHC 31 Promote Communication in Health, Social Care or Children’s and Young People’s Settings

Young learners often struggle to communicate effectively with babies and children and the fun approach presented through these films helps to break down embarrassing barriers and self-consciousness. Key themes from the films can be extended in class with group activities and discussions, which encourage learners to share examples from their placement experience. For example, how they can extend children’s vocabulary, ask open-ended questions and develop conversations using strategies like recasting and modelling. The four activities (attached) could be used alongside the film clips and learners could use this to help them generate evidence and prepare for practical assessment in the real work environment at different levels, for example:

L2: Unit SCH 21 (AC 2.2 and 3.2); Unit TDA 2.7 (AC 1.1 and 1.2)

L3: Unit SHC 31 (AC 2.3 and 3.3); Unit CYP 3.5 (AC 1.2 and 1.3)

Download the classroom activities for children's speech and communication here.

Janet Stearns, Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, former Lead Examiner for CACHE

Introducing Very Simple Computing

Computing in the curriculum is a really hot topic at the moment and one which is worrying a lot of ICT teachers, who may not have a computing background. There are many of the ICT teaching fraternity who are completely self taught and this is another opportunity to gain some more skills and knowledge and a wonderful chance for the experts to tell the World about something they love and weren't allowed to push for the last ten years!

My own department is made up of a mixed base of skills, from the 'Geeks' to the more creative multimedia types. The advantage this has given is the enthusiasm and genuine knowledge for the computing concepts has been teamed with an approach to learning which does not require a darkened room, thick framed glasses and a bow tie. The secret for us has been keeping everyone within their comfort limits, whilst integrating the computing elements into our curriculum. Another very important factor has been to keep teaching the end user skills which are so important for the Digital Citizen. It is not all about computing, the pupils still need to be able to use word processors, spreadsheets and databases.

When the Key Stage 3 curriculum was launched, following years of ICT being the worst taught subject in the curriculum, we were subjected to an extremely prescriptive curriculum with even more prescriptive lessons. The actual content was purely user-skill-based, with rarely any need to understand why you were completing things just how and what the advantages of this were. One thing it did improve was the approach to lessons, with structure and graded tasks and we must continue to improve on the introduction it gave us. Now we have computing back on the agenda we can choose the content to pair with the improved teaching.

Change is one of the main causes of stress and managing this is important, especially if the lessons are to be executed well. Teachers perform well when they are in their comfort zone and pupils can concentrate on the new knowledge if they don't have to learn a new software, so delve into the 'World of Computing' with PowerPoint.
The PowerPoint approach could be used with all sorts of year groups, depending on what the focus is. I use it in Year 7, with the focus of assessment being audience and purpose.

The last few versions of PowerPoint have included the ability to add Actions onto any object you place on the slides. Using this principle you can create a range of mouse puzzle games. The creativity of your classes will see no bounds, lower ability pupils can create simple mazes whilst higher ability pupils include hidden routes, objects to collect and mind puzzles. If you have ever seen the Impossible Quiz online, you can recreate something similar. The Actions tool allows you to place mouse over and mouse click actions, so by creating a start screen and losing screens you can make the user stay away from certain objects or have to click on others to advance through the game. A simple maze can be created by placing drawn shapes on the slide, all with mouseover actions which send you to a 'lose' screen or the previous start screen. To add levels something to click on and advance the player to the next slide must be included, but remember the next slide must start at the point you have just clicked on. Adding animations to objects also gives a moving element, making the playability more interesting and harder. The results can be amazing, with the final part being the opening screen design and instructions which must be suitable for the intended audience. PEGI ratings, game proposals,designs, testing and peer evaluations will give this project some real weight for the curriculum, but the idea of setting control has been introduced in a comfortable environment.

Donna Jestin

Secondary Business News Quiz - 04/10/2012

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

Download the Word version of the quiz! (with answers and weblinks)

1. Which  major supermarket has reported its first fall in profits since 1994. Pre-tax profit for the six months to 25 August came in at £1.7bn, down 11.6% from the same period last year.

Tesco ( )
ASDA ( )
Morrisons ( )
Waitrose ( )

2. Which technology giant has agreed to invest 50bn yen ($640m; £397m) in the embattled camera firm Olympus?

Nokia ( )
Sony ( )
Apple ( )
Microsoft( )

3. Which company has won shareholder approval for Tiger beer takeover?

Budwiser ( )  
Heineken ( )
Stella Artois( )
Carling ( )

4. Which companies shares plunged to a 10-year low after its boss said it will take time to turn around the company that built its success on printers and computers?

IBM ( )
Dell ( )  
Amstrad ( )
Hewlett-Packard ( )

5. Research In Motion has posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss, sending its shares up nearly 18% in after-hours trading. What mobile brand do they produce?

Blackberry ( )
Apple ( )
HTC ( )      
Samsung ( )

6. How many staff at JJB Sports are to be made redundant after the sports clothes and equipment retailer was placed into administration?

4400 ( )
6600 ( )
5500 ( )
2200 ( )

7. The UK economy grew in the three months from July to September by how much, according to the British Chambers of Commerce?

1% ( )
0.5% ( )
2.5% ( )
3%( )

8. The decision to award the UK's multi-billion-pound West Coast Main Line rail franchise to which company has been scrapped by the government?
Nederlandse Spoorwegen ( )
British rail ( )
Virgin ( )
FirstGroup ( )

9. Samsung has added Apple's latest handset to a US patent lawsuit claiming the iPhone 5 infringes how many  of its technologies?

2 ( )
4 ( )  
6 ( )
8 ( )

10. Which football club chairman has been disqualified from acting as a company director for seven and a half years, the Insolvency Service has said?

Ken Bates ( )
Avram Glazer ( )
Peter Ridsdale ( )
Dennis Coleman ( )

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Secondary Business News Quiz - 27/09/2012

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

Download the Word version of the quiz! (with answers and weblinks)

1. Which social media site has announced its fourth major redesign as it seeks to regain relevance in the face of falling numbers?
The site, now part-owned by Justin Timberlake, aims to focus more on music.

LinkedIn( )
MySpace ( )
Bebo ( )
Friends reunited( )

2. Which toy store is being sued in the US over allegations it stole one of its former partners' trade secrets to develop its own tablet computer?

FAO Schwarz ( )
Early learning centre ( )
Hamley’s ( )
Toys R Us ( )

3. Trade unions in which country have begun the first general strike since the country's conservative-led coalition government came to power in June?

Portugal ( )  
Greece ( )
Spain ( )
Ireland ( )

4. Which car giant has said that it will cut several hundred jobs in Europe because of declining demand, including in the UK?

Ford ( )
Vauxhall ( )  
BMW ( )
Toyota ( )

5. Which company has been voted the "coolest brand" in the UK?  They beat Aston Martin, which has taken the top spot in six of the previous seven annual CoolBrands surveys.

Google ( )
Apple ( )
Twitter ( )
You Tube ( )

6. Which fast food businesses sales have continued to rise in the UK "despite the challenging economic climate"? UK sales on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the impact of new stores, were up 3.7% in the three months to 23 September

Domino's Pizza ( )
Pizza Hut ( )
KFC ( )  
Burger King ( )

7. US book chain Barnes & Noble plans to launch Nook in the UK later this year, what is Nook?

New tablewear ( )
Lightweight PC’s ( )
New book range ( )
Tablet computer( )

8. Which sportswear brand had to call in the administrators this week, in the face of mounting losses and high debt levels?

Up and Running ( )
JJB ( )
JD Sports ( )
Sports Direct ( )

9. Which business remains the most complained about landline and broadband provider, according to UK regulator Ofcom?

Talk Talk ( )
Virgin Media ( )  
BT Vision ( )
Sky ( )

10. Who at the Lib Dem conference says he has "seen and heard" banks making racist decisions on lending?

Roger Williams ( )
David Heath ( )
Nick Clegg ( )
Simon Hughes ( )

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Secondary Science - 50 years of LCDs

What is the connection between watching TV and heart attacks?  No, it’s not that too much of the former can cause the latter although that could be true.  The answer is liquid crystals.  Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are now everywhere you look – TV screens, computer display screens, clocks, calculators - just about anything that has a digital display.

In 1888 in Prague, Friedrich Reinitzer discovered some unusual properties of compounds derived from cholesterol.  Cholesterol is an important chemical involved in the metabolism of fats – that’s the connection to heart attacks.  Reinitzer found that when these compounds were heated and cooled they didn’t behave like normal solids and liquids.  Solids normally turn into a clear liquid at the melting point.  Reinitzer’s compounds became a viscous white fluid at one temperature and only turned into a typical clear liquid at a higher temperature.  They have a state between solid and liquid which was given the name liquid crystal.  Some of the compounds show colour changes during the liquid crystal phase and are used in thermometers.

The compounds that have a liquid crystal state are long, thin rod-like molecules.  They usually have at least one ring of six carbon atoms that keep the molecules rigid.  In the solid state the molecules are packed tightly together.  In the liquid state they are jumbled and can move.  In the liquid crystal state the molecules can move around but remain lined up in the same direction.  The discovery of the liquid crystals caused some interest amongst chemists but they were not thought to have any use – until 1962.

RCA (The Radio Corporation of America) was the world’s leading developer and manufacturer of televisions – what we now think of as the old, heavy, bulky boxes containing a CRT (cathode ray tube).  RCA had developed electronic black and white television in the 1930s and colour TV in the 1950s. In the late 1950s and 60s the company was interested in all types of display technology but the scientists at company laboratories in Princeton, USA,  were largely allowed to follow any line of research they liked. Richard Williams, a physical chemist joined the laboratories in 1958. Williams was interested in the properties of semiconductors and liquid crystals.

It was already known that liquid crystals had unusual electrical properties.  They were anisotropic.  This means that the properties change with direction.  Like graphite, liquid crystals conduct electricity better in one plane than in the other planes at right angles.  In 1962 Williams devised an experiment.  He sandwiched a liquid crystal material between two glass plates that had been given a transparent conductive coating.  He connected the plates to a source of electricity.  Then he heated the plate gently so that the material changed state from solid to liquid crystal.  When he turned on the electricity he noticed a regular pattern of light and dark appear in the material which disappeared when he turned the electricity off.  The patterns are now called Williams domains.

Williams shared his work with a young chemist, George Heilmeier.  Williams went off on other lines of research but Heilmeier was fascinated by Williams’ discovery.  He realised immediately that the discovery could be used as a basis for a type of display that could be packed into flat screens.  He set to work and soon made more discoveries leading to the development of a simple panel that changed from light to dark when an electric current was passed through it.  One problem was to find materials that were liquid crystals at room temperature.  Heilmeier’s team made progress and in 1968 RCA showed to the world the first working liquid crystal display.

Strangely the bosses of RCA weren’t impressed.  LCDs were a very different technology to the cathode ray tubes that the company sold around the world and which they thought would be the source of the company’s fortunes forever.  RCA abandoned research in LCDs and Heilmeier and his team left the company.

The Japanese company, Sharp, however had seen RCA’s show and were interested.  In a fever of research and development they had the first LCD calculator on the market in 1973.  Soon after LCD watches appeared.   During this time new liquid crystal materials were discovered and manufactured in the UK, Germany and Switzerland that had a wider and more useful temperature ranges and were more stable.  The techniques for switching the liquid crystals between light and dark developed so that the size and speed of the displays could be increased.  At last, in 1988 Sharp announced the first 14inch display unit suitable for use as a television.  It was 1/13th the width and 1/4th the weight of traditional TVs with the same size screen.  Since then the size and performance of flat screen LCD TVs and computer displays has increased and they have become very common.  In 2007 more LCD televisions were sold than traditional types and since then the manufacture of CRT televisions has practically ceased; even RCA now sells LCD televisions.  The LCD has taken over – for how long?


1            Look around your house or school and make a list of all the items that have an LCD.

2           Why do you think LCD televisions have replaced the older CRT TVs?

3           In what ways are liquid crystals like (a) solids, (b) liquids?

4           Reinitzer’s cholesterol derivatives were liquid crystals between about 120°C and 180°C.  Why was it important to find compounds that were liquid crystals between about -10°C and 50°C?

5          The first LCD digital watches were expensive and their displays lasted for about five years.  Why do you think they were popular?

6          What contribution did chemists make to the development of flat screen TVs and computer monitors?

7          It took less than twenty years for LCD technology to replace cathode ray tubes in TVs.  What other examples are there of a new technology replacing an older one?  What do you think will be next for replacement?

8         Why do you think RCA gave up on LCD research while Sharp (and other companies) took it on?

Peter Ellis

Chemistry of the Senses – The 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry

The 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Robert J Lefkowitz and Brian K Kobilka for their work on G-Protein Coupled Receptors.

We say that there are five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – but the cells in our bodies can also sense and react to a whole variety of chemicals called hormones and neurotransmitters.  The work of Bob Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka has shown that the way this happens in cells is similar for all the different types of sense.

The most important part of the process is a group of compounds called G-Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCRs).  Nearly a thousand of these molecules are now known but they have many similarities.  They are themselves proteins – long chains of amino acids wrapped up in a special shape.   GPCRs are found in the membranes of cells.  Their Loch Ness monster-like chains criss-cross the membrane seven times.  The head of the molecule sticks out of the membrane and the tail pokes into the cell.

When a particular molecule, such as a hormone or an odour chemical, hits the exposed receptor end of a matching GPCR it bonds with it.  This causes a change in the GPCR molecule that alters the shape of the end inside the cell.  This causes a molecule called a G-protein to react with the end of GPCR and sets off a chain of reactions in the cell.  In this way the cell responds to the molecules outside it.  The GPCRs in the membrane of every cell each respond to a small number of molecules which are known as agonists.

Bob Lefkowitz was born in 1943 in New York.  He studied medicine at Columbia University and at first was interested in cardiology (the study of the heart) because his father suffered and died from heart attacks.  A year in a laboratory persuaded him to investigate how heart cells reacted to the hormone, adrenaline.  In 1972 he was offered a post at Duke University in North Carolina, USA where he set up a laboratory to carry out his research.  Lefkowitz and his team used agonist molecules containing a radioactive atom to follow what happened when they activated the receptors in heart cells.   Over the next few years they worked out the role of the GPCRs.

Brian Kobilka was born in Little Falls, Minnesota in 1955.  He took a degree in Biology and Chemistry before studying medicine at Yale University.  In the 1980s Kobilka joined Lefkowitz’s team at Duke University.  He was responsible for working out the DNA sequence for the gene that codes for the GPCR that is the receptor for adrenaline in heart cells.   It was this work that lead to the discovery that all the GPCRs were similar.  For example, Rhodopsin, the protein in retina cells that makes cells respond to light is a GPCR.  They found GPCRs involved in the other senses and in the reaction of cells to other hormones and neurotransmitters.   Later Kobilka moved to Stanford University, California to set up his own team of researchers.  They have used X-ray crystallography to work out the shape of GPCR molecules and to observe them change when agonists bind with them.

As well as discovering how our cells respond to all sorts of different molecules, the work of Lefkowitz and Kobilka has resulted in the development of many medicinal drugs.  There are molecules similar to agonists called antagonists or blockers. Antagonists stick to the end of the GPCR but do not make it change shape.  Nothing happens inside the cell so the response is blocked.  This work was used to design the beta-blocker drugs given to people with heart disease and the anti-histamines taken by hay-fever and allergy sufferers who have a strong reaction to certain molecules.  Over half the drugs developed in the last forty years are molecules that interfere with the reaction of one GPCR or another.

Bob Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka may describe themselves as cell biologists.  The fact that they have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry shows the importance of chemistry in the processes that happen in cells.  Using chemical techniques they have investigated the structure and properties of a particular group of molecules, the G-Protein Coupled Receptors.  They have discovered how cells sense the world around them.


1              How many senses are there?  Traditionally we say five but some scientists say there are many more.  Make a list of all the things that you can sense e.g.  sight is at least three different senses – dark and light, colour, movement.

2              Sketch a diagram of a GPCR molecule in the cell membrane from the description given in the article.

3              (A level) GPCR molecules are typical proteins made up of a polypeptide chain. Draw the structure of the peptide link between amino acids in a protein.

4              (A level) Each GPCR only binds with particular agonist molecules rather like an enzyme combines with reactants.  Describe how the GPCR recognises and binds with particular agonists.

5              The Nobel Prize recognises discoveries that are exceptionally important.  Evaluate the importance of Bob Lefkowitz’s and Brian Kobilka’s research.

6             Discover how Bob Lefkowitz’s childhood influenced his career.

(Go to

You can find out more about the Nobel Prize for Chemistry at

Peter Ellis

Monday, 15 October 2012

Primary Maths - Pompeii

The burying of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius throws up lots of numerical information; the length of time the ash fell for, the depth of ash, the numbers killed etc. This information can be used not only for a number of investigative activities in maths but linked to geography and history as well.

Activity One – Which was the worst volcanic eruption in history?

LO: Be able to compare numbers saying which is bigger
Be able to order numerical information and recognise which is better or worse in context

Read the children the Collins Big Cat book on Pompeii and use the questions at the back to reinforce their understanding of the events.

Ask them now to collect information on the top five worst volcanic eruptions; Mount Tambora 1816; Mount Pelee 1902; Krakatoa 1883; and Mount Unzen 1792. The children should collect information on deaths, damage, explosive power and volume of material expelled. Ask them to compare the numbers and decide which they consider to be the worst eruption and to say why. Encourage them to present the information in a table and then as a bar chart.

If you have time, you could ask the children to present all their findings in a PowerPoint including some of the eye witness accounts of the time. Finally, as an extension activity, ask the children to plot the events on a world map.

Talking Point: Do the children notice anything about the location of the volcanic eruptions?
Draw a red line on the map showing the fault lines that cause volcanoes.

At Home: Volcanoes are still erupting today. Ask the children to find out the names of the ones that are currently erupting and which countries they are in. Plot these on your volcano map.

Activity Two – Problem Solving

LO: Be able to use pictures to help understand problems
Accurately label Picture sums to show their understanding of a problem and how they solved it

You can formulate a number of questions for the children to problem solve using the information about Pompeii. Ask them to use the information they have to answer questions such as…

1. How many metres of ash fell per hour on Pompeii?
2. Use the formula x9 then ÷5 and add 32 to change the temperature of the hot air flows to Fahrenheit.
3. If the population of Pompeii was 20,000 and you could fit 300 people on a Roman ship, how many would be needed to rescue the population?
4. If the Romans had only 17 ships, how many people could they have rescued and how many would have died?
5. Records show that the goods found by the archaeologists included dried fruit, sealed wine jars and dried grain. What time of year do you think the eruption took place? Explain your answer.
6. Do you think the main eruption took place at night or during the day? How do you know? How would it have affected the number of people who died if the eruption had been 12 hours later?

These are just a selection of problems you could ask but to help the children solve them you need to encourage them to draw the problem to visualise it. In this way, maths becomes an art lesson and you can display their visual working out on the wall as proudly as you would any piece of art. Encourage them to label their pictures so you know their train of thought.

At Home: Children can get a greater understanding of problem solving if they are allowed to make up some of their own. Ask them to write a volcano related problem and have an answer for it. The next time you do maths, write some of them on the board for the children to solve.

Activity Three – Roman Money

LO: Convert between different currencies using a calculator
Be able to calculate change from an amount by subtraction or adding on

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, The Roman Empire used nine coins as shown in this chart:

You can use this information to ask the children which Roman coins they would use to pay for everyday items today. You can use the ideas below or make up some of your own…

At Home: Ask the children to imagine they were given a sestertius for their pocket money.  What could they buy with it? Ask them to calculate the change in Roman coins that they would get.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Take a look at Collins Big Cat: Pompeii The Lost City.

Primary Maths - Scott of the Antarctic

In planning his epic and ultimately tragic journey, Robert Falcon Scott needed careful navigational skills and these involved map reading, measuring distance and using bearings. He would also have needed to be acutely aware of weather conditions. This series of activities allows the children to practise some of the skills Scott would have had to use.

Activity One – Grid References

LO: To be able to identify the position of an object on a grid by its coordinates
To be able to use coordinates to place an object on a grid or map

Grid references are fun no matter what level you use them at.

The first activity is great for younger children. If you’ve got an interactive whiteboard you can prepare this in advance. On the board, draw an 8 x 6 grid and draw a picture of an object in each square – you can repeat some pictures. Label the boxes along the bottom A to H and up the side 1 to 6. Begin by demonstrating how we name each box by reading along the bottom and up the side. Remind them to think ‘Along the hall and up the stairs’. Now ask them to say which picture is in say, square D5 or H3 moving on to asking them to say which square an object is in. If you’ve repeated pictures, it gives other children a chance to see how a square is named before naming the repeated picture following the same pattern.

Older or more able children should now work with the coordinates placed on the lines of the grid and remember that the coordinates of the bottom left hand corner defines the square.

The progression on from this is to give and ask for grid locations where the grid is further subdivided virtually into ten so for example a mark in the middle of square 5, 4 would have the reference 55, 44. For the very able you can introduce ordnance survey maps and use six digit referencing.

At Home: For an extension activity, ask the children to find out the coordinates of their home either from a map or from Google Earth. In the classroom pin up a labelled grid of your catchment area and ask the children to plot their homes on it.

Activity Two – Bearings

LO: Be able to describe a direction to be taken in terms of bearings
Be able to follow directions given by a bearing

Bearings are an interesting way of giving direction. In KS1 and KS2 it’s likely you will have used quarter and half turns clockwise and anticlockwise but this activity introduces the notion of bearings.

Chalk a large compass on the playground marking NSEW and labelling them with degrees, 0, 90, 180 and 270.  Place an object at north (0 degrees) and another at east (90 degrees). Ask the children to say what direction they would have to turn and by how many degrees? You can place the object at different places around the compass but make sure that the children always count clockwise from north.

You can extend the activity to direction from one object to another. Mark a north/south line on the playground crossed by an east/west line. Place an object where they intersect then another in one of the quadrants.

Directions are always calculated from north or south depending which sector they are in so the first part of your direction finding will either be N or S. The next part of it is the angle measured from north or south to the line that joins the two objects so if the line bisects a quadrant the next part of the bearing is 45 degrees followed by E or W depending on the quadrant.

Practise this with the children asking them to estimate the angle (which is always less than 90 degrees).

In class, ask the children to draw a treasure map on a piece of cm squared paper. Mark different landmarks or locations and use a protractor to calculate the bearing.

At Home: Draw a plan of your room and calculate the bearings of the different items in it.

Activity Three – Positive and Negative Numbers

LO: Be able to recognise and use negative numbers in the context of counting on and back
Understand what happens to a number when you count through zero

Another playground activity, this helps children to count through zero into negative numbers.

In early subtraction work, children use objects and remove some of them to show subtraction so 11 sweets take away 5 sweets equals six sweets. There they can physically see the process taking place so visualising the problem. This doesn’t work with negative numbers so a different approach is needed.
Either draw a long number line across the playground labelled -10 to 10 or give each child a card with a number from -10 to 10 on it. You can ask them to arrange themselves in order to begin with then get the children without a card to count up or down a certain number making a sum from their exploits so counting 9 down from 4 would give the sum 4 - 9 = -5 and so on. The complicated part is when you take away from a negative number. So counting down 5 from -4 would give you the sum -4 -5 = -9.
Give the children photocopied number lines back in class and ask them to calculate similar sums to those they worked out on the playground.

At Home: Measure the temperature of a glass of salt water then place it in the freezer. After an hour check the temperature and calculate the difference between the start and end temperatures.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Take a look at Collins Big Cat: Captain Scott Journey to the South Pole.