Thursday, 30 October 2008

School Holidays

One of my tasks this holiday is to try to put together a meaningful programme of study in Physics for the yrs 7, 8 and 9 since the welcome demise of the KS3 SATs. This is not an easy task for someone like me, I philosophise too much.

I've had an idea that if I dump my thoughts out on my blog, they may leave me alone for a while and allow me to do the job I should be doing rather than screaming through my brain that all is futile and I'm wasting my time. Do you get voices like that? Irritating little gremlins aren't they?

Thought 1
The only educational theory that is considered "Kosher" these days is constructivism. Basically this is the idea that students actively construct their own understanding and that learning by doing is the only way this can be achieved. On the face of it, this doesn't seem so bad. In an idealsitic world a classroom full of students actively engaged in their own learning, working to fulfill their own potentials sounds great. In reality it demands that education is goal centred. This means there has to be aims and objectives that are easily accessible to the students and achievable in a given time span. Once we have goals we have targets and measurable outcomes. This means we have tests, we have learning to tests to measure achievement. We have lost our way.

Thought 2
There are plenty of commercial work schemes, neatly packaging together science for pre-GCSE students. They all assume science is a single entity. This confuses the students, biology is easily grasped as a concept, chemistry and physics less so. Continuously chopping from one to another creates great confusion. The schemes of work aim to make science colourful and relevant to the students. I hate the word "relevant", it is Blairite and it is meaningless. Science is abstraction, model making and pattern finding; not much relevance there. The other problem with these schemes is they follow the national curriculum and use the outcomes that those in power have deemed acceptable learning outcomes for our students. The outcomes are phrased with an infinitive followed by a statement; for example "to know that our galaxy is called the Milky Way", or "to know that solar cells convert the energy in sunlight into electricity". There is a major problem with this. The vast majority of these learning outcomes are "know" statements. Well, they DON'T KNOW, I DON'T KNOW...I hate "know" statements, this is just fact, fact, fact, it is shallow, it lacks any concept of discovery, it flies in the face of their beloved constructivism. Get rid of teachers and sit the class in front of the Bumper Book of Facts (or its CD ROM equivalent) if that is all you want from them.

Thought 3
So much damage has been done in education by taking Piaget's theories of cognitive development way beyond where they were supposed to go. He developed a hierarchy of cognition starting with the simplest, as done by an infant and leading to the most complex, those done by children over the age of 11. The problem is, he believed the highest level of cognitive development is abstraction. As mathematics is abstraction in its purest form, it is constantly left out of science for being too difficult.
This leaves the prospective scientist effectively with out a full compliment of limbs and prevents true cognition and development of thought processes. My argument is that the moment a child moves from the Baldrick "one bean, two beans, some beans" mode of quantifying and writes 1 + 1 = 2, that child is engaged in abstraction. The minute a child draws a circle or makes a flower shape using a pair of compasses, that child is is basic doesn't make one a genius if one can do this yet still beat your little brother up because he trod on your favourite crayon.

Thought 4
I admit that not everyone can do maths. Some hate it and quite right too. My final thought is that science needs much more maths but that science should not be compulsory for so long (up to the age of 16). This would make a lot of people very happy and solve the Physics teacher shortage in one fell swoop. (Then again, shortly there may be a glut of physics teachers as countless unemployed city financiers re-train)

There, I've got this off my chest and done myself out of a job in the process. Are there any remote monasteries out there requiring a couple of house keepers; I can cook, clean and sew and when DH's rheumatics aren't playing up he's a decent handyman.

PS: Philip has asked be to link to a petition on his blog, which I do gladly. I'm struggling a bit with point 5
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children
. I think I'd prefer to see "Children have a right to stability and unconditional love and support". Real education doesn't happen in the classroom it happens on the streets, with friends and via the media, a child will only be receptive to learning if that child is confident, loved and is a part of a wider family with consistent moral boundaries, routine and fun. It is important that that wider family is the one you want for your child, not one a child finds for itself. This goes way way beyond a parent's right to choose a school or type of educational experience.


Irene said...

Rita, I don't know why you are surprised -- you seem to have missed the purpose of "education". In the US the goal of "education" is to create a coterie of mindless robots who will drudge daily at their jobs and accumulate wealth for the oligarchy (remember, Americans have the lowest percentage of leisure time of any developed country). It is not to create, for example, scientists or mathematicians -- much less historians.

Since the American oligarchy is a derivative and sibling of the British oligarchy, I find it hard to imagine that things are all that much different over there. Please tell me that I am wrong -- it would give me some hope.

Rita said...


You're right. The thing is I'd moved to a job in the independent sector, hoping for better things. It's not much different there.