As featured in Parentdish

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Losing interest in history

I read a report the other day that stated that English children are losing interest in history. Ofsetd have found that many pupils lack a chronological understanding of history and are unable to link events. Schools are dropping the subject, and because it is not compulsory past the age of thirteen, many pupils are dropping it.

As someone who loves history and who has a history book in the planning, I find this sad. But I also wonder whose fault it is.

My memories of history at school are of spending lessons learning about the different parts of the Corn Law and such like. An Act would be noted down and we would have to learn everything that that Act covered.

That’s not history, that’s law.

Then there was ‘o’ grade history where we spent two years covering the two world wars and the years in between.

By fourth year I’d had enough and didn’t bother with the Higher.

And despite going to school in Scotland I have no recollection of ever being taught about the Treaty of Arbroath.

I can’t comment on today’s history curriculum but one thing I do know is that if you make the subject boring kids will turn off. And history certainly isn’t boring.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Review of 'My first chemistry kit'

From what I gather, James Galt  has a good name as a toy manufacturer so when I was asked to review their ‘My First Chemistry Kit’ I was more than happy to oblige. While I could probably explain the basics to my children, and I did do Higher biology, anything beyond basic chemistry and physics is beyond me. In a few years time when they hit secondary school, they are going to have to rely on natural ability because I don’t think I am going to be much help.

The kit comes with a booklet of eight activities to work on with the children and I was pleased to see that you get a bit more than I expected for your money. Some of the experiments involve putting mixtures aside for two weeks and we currently have a container of a gelatine mixture sitting in the kitchen.

The box states that the set is for age five and above so I opted for letting my eight year old, six year old, and nearly five year old join me as we gathered round the kitchen table.

Having a four and a half year old there really wasn’t a problem, although I wouldn’t advise letting children younger than that get involved.

The first activity was entitled, “The case of the disappearing powders’ and memories of first year science came flooding back. Although in a good way. We discussed the differences between solids and liquids before moving on to dissolve various liquids in water.

Moving on, we used pH paper to find out whether something was acid, base or neutral and made a potion with the gelatine, which is still sitting in the kitchen (to be left for two weeks). We used the magnifier to examine granules of salt and dissolved it before leaving it to dry out to see if the salt returns.

At this point I meant to tell you what else we did – the experiments with the test tubes, the fun with the microscope, how we made a rainbow disc, but I must be honest and say that by this point my head cold has got so bad that I went to bed.

Obviously me having a head cold is not good but what is good is that this kit is more than one afternoon’s work. Our kids have received a fair number of toys in the past nine years and often the box may look large but the amount of time spent on the toy isn’t. At this point in time we are only on activity four so half way there.

The kit contains enough tools and powders to keep families busy – test tubes, several pH papers, gelatine, bicarbonate of soda. The booklet is easy to follow, giving instructions as well as providing ideas for further ‘experiments’.

The only negative thing was the microscope. It may look the part but it requires a very strong light in order for it to be used.

But to be honest I think for the price (£10.99) I think it is well worth the money. I liked the concepts it introduces to children and the fact that it demonstrates that science is not something foreign, to be kept to a school science lab. Suggestions are made for how household products can be used for scientific experiments.

The most impressive aspect was that for your money you get more than an afternoon’s entertainment. So with regards value for money, it gets the thumbs up from me.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Weighing pigs

Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter’ is, I have been told, a teacher’s saying, and what a great saying it is. It refers to the obsession with assessment of children. Sorry did I write obsession. I really meant the ‘act of’. Honestly.

Politicians are preoccupied with assessing children, so much so that English schools in particular have been accused of teaching to test. If it’s not in the exam they’re not interested in teaching it.

I listened to four MSPs on Thursday night – one education secretary and four hopefuls. Three of them were very keen for more assessment in primary schools.

Under the 5 to 14 curriculum we had national assessments in Scotland but I have spoken to teachers who told me that they didn’t need assessments to see how a child was doing. They knew anyway.

The politicians’ argument is that parents want to know how their children are getting on. But this can be done without branding them and putting them under pressure. What’s wrong with a good, honest talk at parents’ evening?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Last night's TESS pre-election debate

One of the things I was surprised at last night was how polite every one was, in particular the politicians. I have been told that when the English TES held a similar event, things were a bit different. SMPs must be more refrained.

When booking, we were asked two questions for a poll – who we thought we would vote for, and who we thought will be in power after the election. The same questions were asked at the end of the debate.

For the first question the winner was the SNP with 40%, for the second question the winner was Labour with 63%.

Without going into too much detail, the SNP did come across as very confident whereas sadly Labour did seem a bit uncertain about what they were going to do, particularly with regards the new SEQIA, and Mike Russell did use this to his advantage.

So based on how each of them came across last night I can understand why so many voted SNP. But people still think Labour is going to win, which is interesting.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Grilling the MSPs

Tonight I will be attending the TESS (Times Educational Supplement Scotland) pre-election debate at the National Gallery in Scotland. With the Scottish elections approaching this is an opportunity to quiz Michael Russell, Education Secretary and his counterparts in Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

I haven’t had a chance to put any questions together but here’s a few topics I hope turn up:

-          the education budget is no longer ringfenced meaning there is a constant fight for funds
-          since the SNP announced that all three and four year olds should have ‘access to a nursery teacher’ local authorities saw this as the green light for getting rid of full time nursery teachers and instead making them floating positions with one nursery teacher covering several nurseries. This is despite evidence that children who have regular access to a nursery teacher do better in school.
-          the fact that the maximum class size promise has been abandoned
-          what is to be done about the low levels of literacy in Scottish schools. Children reaching secondary who can barely read and write

I shall report back tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

No you're not rubbish at maths

On a few occasions recently both my oldest children have voiced opinions that they were not very good at something at school – maths, spelling etc. This is an opinion which I don’t like.

I have a postgrad in a maths subject, and being a journalist I guess I can say I’m good at English, but at no point in primary school do I recall knowing that I was good or bad at anything. I just did the work.

But today school is very different. Parents and teachers feel the need to find a child’s strengths early on.

In my opinion this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a child grows up believing he or she is rubbish at maths, they are not going to have the confidence to tackle maths adequately.

When I speak with teachers at parents’ evenings I tell them that I want my children to enjoy school work and that that is my focus, not being good at it. Maths is fun (honestly) in the same way doing a crossword or Sudoku is fun. My focus is for them to enjoy maths.

I also think teachers get it wrong. A child who may be a poor speller one year, may have vastly improved the next.

And I’m glad that when I was in primary school nobody told me what I was good or bad at, for I strongly suspect I didn’t impress them all that much with any area of the curriculum.