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Sunday, 22 December 2013

Something on Black and White holes.

Written a while ago...

The relationship between Black and White Holes.
Since they were first postulated by Oppenheimer and Volkoff [1] Black Holes have been a popular area of science. This is in part to their mysterious nature and also to them providing science fiction writers with a handy Deus Ex in stories. In turn this has led to Black Holes being part of everyday vocabulary and knowledge despite the fact that we know very little of them. This mysterious nature was partially reinforced by our inability to detect Black Holes and so prove their existence for much of the 20th Century in fact it was only into the 1970s that laws explaining how they could exist and be tracked were proven [2]. It has also been shown that we can now detect Black Holes due to their radio frequency output [3].
There has also been links shown between Black Holes and White Holes. The evidence supporting the relationship between the two has been shown experimentally in laboratories and the red and blue shift associated with light at their respective horizons [4]. The linking of White and Black holes in a similar way to which two ends of an Einstein-Rosen bridge link [5] is an interesting thought when we consider the nature of Black Holes. Often we think of them as being similar to either an egg timer or a funnel. This is our 2D way of resolving something in 4D which our minds can’t comprehend. If ever you have seen a Black Hole on a film or television program you may have seen that they appear to be disks which then funnel inwards linking another part of space-time. However space time is not a 2D flat land and so the disk idea of a Black Hole does not fit.
A better analogy for our minds to understand is to imagine space-time as being something denser that we are familiar with. If you can picture a giant swimming pool and imagine that the swimming pool has objects suspended into it – similar to how space has planets and stars. Now if we imagine something akin to a black marble suspended in the water, then that would be more similar to a Black Hole than a disk like object. The reason being that whichever angle we approach the Black Hole would be the same as the other directions of approach. If we are in our swimming pool universe then we could swim around the black marble and it would be identical from all angles. This would be more in keeping with the high gravity present than a disk shaped Black Hole.
Why is this analogy important? We have evidence proving that Black and White Holes are able to exist in space-time [6] [7] although as yet no way to identify White Holes then it is important to consider their relationship to one another. The reason for this is that there is an idea that they are joined together so that the Black Hole will lead to the White Hole. If we consider the Black Hole to be the marble in a swimming pool however, then there can be nowhere for it to lead to, at least not in our perception of space and time. This is because you can move around the Black Hole and not disturb any passage way it might be creating. As it is in an environment which is at least 3D then there has to be another solution which does not involve a drastic alteration of what is the fabric of reality. A possible solution lies in the idea that our Universe is within a Black Hole, and as such would be a White Hole [8]. In this idea imagine that a Black Hole is within another Universe (U0). The Black Hole is absorbing matter from U0 and expanding. Inside U0 the matter is able to be compressed and drawn together due to gravity and form stars, nebulae and galaxies. As a result we could begin to think of another Universe (U1) as having begun to exist within the confines of the original U0 Black Hole. As the Black Hole begins to engulf more matter it stands to reason that it would begin to expand, giving rise to our evidence of an expanding universe. Also there is no reason for the U1 to have begun with a Big Bang, which would still fit our models of the creation of everything and also answer the question of where the initial matter came from. In this way we have the inverse of a Black Hole present, a White Hole and our idea of the cosmic marble works. It is just that the marble is gradually expanding.
This concept works if we accept that due to scale it is possible for the Universe either U1 or U0 to be much larger than we can ever imagine. In the same way that electrons are much smaller than human minds are able to comprehend just by observing the macro structure of the Universe. It does not however concern the formation of Einstein-Rosen Bridges but just that Black Holes lead to White Holes. Only that instead of the White Hole being another point in the same space time the White Hole is within the Black Hole and present as a separate Universe, in this example U1.

Chris Gibson
09/06/2013
(881 Words)


References:
[1] J. R. Oppenheimer and G. M. Volkoff, “On Massive Neutron Cores,” Phys. Rev. 55, 374 (1939).
[2] J. M. Bardeen, B. Carter, S. W. Hawking, “The four laws of black hole mechanics”, Communications in Mathematical Physics, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 161-170 (1973).
[3] M. Lacy,  S.A. Laurent-Muehleisen, S.E. Ridgway, R.H. Becker, and R.L. White, “THE RADIO LUMINOSITY–BLACK HOLE MASS CORRELATION FOR QUASARS FROM THE FIRST BRIGHT
QUASAR SURVEY AND A “UNIFICATION SCHEME” FOR RADIO-LOUD AND RADIO-QUIET QUASARS”
The Astrophysical Journal, 551:L17–L21, (2001).
[4] T. G. Philbin, C.Kuklewicz, S.Robertson, S.Hill, F.König, U.Leonhardt, “Fiber-Optical Analog of the Event Horizon”,  Science 7, Vol. 319 no. 5868 pp. 1367-1370, (2008).
[5] Nikodem J. Popławski, Radial motion into an Einstein–Rosen bridge, Physics Letters B, Volume 687, Issues 2–3, (2010).
[6] R. Gomez, S.Husa, L.Lehner, J. Winicour, “Gravitational Waves from a Fissioning White Hole”,
Phys.Rev. D66 (2002)
[7] G. E. Volovik, “Hydraulic jump as a white hole, ”Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics Letters, 82, Issue 10, pp 624-627 (2005).
[8] M.S.Berman, “Is the Universe a white-hole?”, Astrophysics and Space Science, Volume 311, Issue 4, pp 359-361, (2007).


When the end is a beginning disguised as an end and wrapped in the new.

I have not written anything, teaching or bloggy based in a while. Apart from helping Nick the Meerkat to reach the keys for his few posts (he is currently sleeping off some food but states he will blog again soon). 

In fact most of what I have been up to in the past 4-5 months has followed a similar vein.
  1. Get annoyed at work, stressed and frustrated.
  2. Run for as long and as far as I can to remove said frustration.
  3. Complete the tasks I have been set.
  4. Have missed something off my to do list.
  5. Get pulled up on not completing something.
  6. Rinse and repeat.
Most of you probably don't know but those who do know me and what has been going on know I left my previous school to move across the trust to take up a position of Deputy Head of Science (my Nan thought I was becoming a deputy head though - bless). 

I was excited to take up the post for several reasons, mostly the extra TLR and also because if felt like any misgivings or worries about suitability to teaching had finally be laid to bed. I was committing to pursuing teaching as a career and off I went. 

Now the purpose of this blog is not and has never been to criticize others and I am not going to start now. It is not my way and it is not fair. 

However it became apparent after about a term or so that something was not right in the new post world. In fact things were in danger of dropping to a level of bad that they had not been since my NQT year. 

Which was not the best situation. 

There may have been other factors which were affecting my time as a second in department but the upshot was massive dislike of the job, school and myself coupled with a complete falling apart of my teaching. 

Going through the motions is a phrase often attributed to sportspeople or actors who are there in body but never mind, its also a pretty good way of summing up how my teaching was at that point. 

This is not to say I did not try, several times, to get myself together and try to be the teacher/person/position that I was being asked to be. 

It just wasn't for me, I don't (at least yet) think in the way that they wanted me to or expected me to. 

My focus was not on science or teaching or enjoying moving students on but on data, targets, schemes of work and the performance of other people - made harder when my own performance was suffering. 

As a result I stepped down from my position and returned 'to the trenches' as a teacher of science.

I have to say it is the best decision I have made in a while. 

Instantly I started feeling happier and more secure in what I was doing. The job suddenly become more manageable and I felt like I could do the role better.

Plus I started to scheme and make plans again. Something hard to do when your whole world becomes built around what you have to get done for other people all the time.

As a results, and the reason for sharing this harrowing tale, I have a list of things I need to write up. The blog title refers to the fact I aim over the Christmas holiday to write up and post some of the things which I have shelved since my workload became too much.

I also aim to complete some of the free online courses found here to get back to feeling like a scientist again.

Well that's the aim at least.   

Sunday, 7 July 2013

I can see clearly now...

The Sun is shining, temperature is ratcheting up and the smell of BBQ is in the air. This can mean only one thing! Yes summer is almost here/here already. It is a curious thing being a core subject because in all honesty I don't feel like I have any real gain time to speak of, however I do have lots to do to fill this fictional extra time!

My friends who teach subjects like history and psychology who no longer have year 11 and sixth form all seem to have days of non-contact in order to plan and prepare (or muck about) before September. I think I have gained 3 lessons over the week...

Anyways the Sun is shining and there are 2 weeks left until the end of term so there is nothing to really complain about. Although the last week has been a bit of a rush.

Being science we always seem to get called in to do the transition 'stuff' which I can understand. If you do an experiment with year 4/5/6's in a lab then it is something they have never experienced and they go away with a good impression of your school. My friend even went so far as to get his year 4 classes who were in to wear lab coats while testing acids and alkali's. Which was very cool.

I spent 3 days doing transition work this week. Tuesday I was making fruit batteries with year 4's and Wednesday and Thursday I was in a local primary school doing CSI days with their year 6.


And yes I was the chalk outline. Which was strange as our scenario did not involve a dead body! These days are a lot of fun to do although they are very tiring. It is a bit of a culture shock to be in primary school though as I am unused to students doing exactly as I ask the first time I ask them too.

Wednesday evening was a STEM cluster event at a local secondary, these events have been sponsored by the Royal Society of Engineers it seems and every school represented gets a box of 'goodies' to take back to their STEM clubs. This meeting involved testing some thermochromic paint, smart materials and building (slowly in our case) a skeleton bob for a doll. It was, as ever, a lot of fun and surprisingly our team managed to get the bob to travel the furthest.

It is nice to win things.


Back to reality means back to test marking as due to the time of year we have had all of our end of year/end of key stage testing going on. Another annoyance with the outreach days (reminds me I have to plan a year 6-7 activity for this Thursday) is that I missed out on PPA's to get ahead with the test marking. However I have already found some beautiful answers in the work already.






Fantastic stuff I am sure you will agree. The end of term is also a weird bit of the year when it comes to setting work. Often courses have completed or you and the students are on a bit of a wind down, especially when the weather is very good outside, and so activities tend to get set that you may not do the rest of the year. Added to that we are moving into a subject plaza for September so we are trying to get as much display work produced as possible. One activity we got our year 9's to do was to design your ideal house and then list the materials used and the energy efficiency and energy saving technologies used. Here is my ideal house;

For someone with minimal artistic skill I am pretty pleased with it.

Our year 10 have a 'community action week' approaching where they will undertake various volunteer roles within the wider community. Most of these involve being outdoors and doing something fairly manual. The science department is going to work with a group of around 10 students to create a science garden which we will be working on with a lower ability group once a fortnight starting in September. One of our department is running a project to see if attainment can be improved by taking ownership of a project like this. The results will be interesting. It does remind me though that we need to keep an eye on plants in pots a bit more than I did with some of mine at home. 



There has been a lot of talk and articles written about the sad demise of bee populations. However I must be the only person who has not seen this as I am sure I have seen more bees (bumble and honey) about this summer so far than ever before. Maybe it is a Kent thing but I seem to be seeing about 5-10 bees a day. 

I also managed to get a closer picture.


I like cropping photo's can take a simple looking picture and really bring out some detail.


And cropped becomes.


Works nicely doesn't it? Which is probably what I should be doing now, these tests don't mark themselves. Which is a shame.

*Edit*

Found this at the end of some homework. Is very uplifting to find things like this.




Sunday, 30 June 2013

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The importance of asking the right kind of question.


Questions are all around us. They are inescapable. We know that there are good questions and bad questions. There are questions that pique our interest and ones that we do not really pay much heed to. There are questions that seem so complex that they hurt our head to contemplate and seem impossible to answer. The opposite of this are questions so simple that we wonder why people have bothered to ask them in the first place. In amongst this variety of questions are those that continue to occur repeatedly. One of these questions is the question ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’
When asked, the questioner often will sit back and smile as the questioned wraps their mind around the concept. How could you know what is in the egg, who laid the egg, what makes a chicken? Surely this is a question that will prove a conundrum and a talking point for a long time. It is probably this ambiguity about the solution which is why the question has entered into common lexicon and is used when considering such lofty topics as the origin of the universe [1]. Could the genetic classification of species provide a suitable answer? [2]
There are answers from both sides of the chicken or egg fence. These range in merit from philosophical takes on the problem [3] to sophisticated scientific endeavour in looking at the proteins produced in egg development and their evolutionary origin [4]. The philosophical argument given supports the egg viewpoint and the protein history claims to show that the chicken had to have come first.
However I take a different approach the question and propose that all attempts at answering are irrelevant and incorrect because they are answering the wrong question. This is not some attempt to divert the topic down a false avenue or some metaphysical plane of existential thought. In fact let us look at the question more closely.
The question asks ‘what came first a chicken or the egg’. The egg, an egg, whose egg are we talking about? We need to know nothing about the evolution of chickens, or the ideas of classification of species, or even philosophical argument we only need to know 2 pieces of information in order to solve this question. Firstly when did chickens appear on the Earth and secondly were their animals on the planet before chickens that laid eggs?
Remember the question only states what came first the chicken or the egg; it is not specific about which type of egg. It could be an avian egg but there may have been other birds present before chickens came into being!
In fact a quick search for dinosaurs laying eggs on the internet yields articles on the egg laying of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period [5] [6] (over 66 million years ago).  Now if we look to see when chickens appear we find they are domesticated versions of Red Jungle Fowl, an event which occurred around 5 thousand years ago [7].
Even if that estimate is out by a hundred thousand years or a million years or ten million years eggs still came first by a long way.  We know that life began in the sea and that fish lay eggs so there were species much older than dinosaurs that will have laid a form of an egg. So to answer the question which came first the chicken of the egg it was the egg. Simple really, yet that is not the question that people mean to ask. People mean to ask what comes first the chicken or the chicken egg.
Now that is a much better question and that is the point. If we want to get useful answers to the important questions we need to make sure that the question itself is first scrutinised. Our first act must always be to question the question.
For only when we understand exactly what the question is asking are we able to produce an answer worth merit.

Chris Gibson
09/05/13

References
[1]  Theosophy "Ancient Landmarks: Plato and Aristotle". Theosophy (September 1939).  27(11): 483–491.
[2] James Mallet, A species definition for the modern synthesis, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 10, Issue 7, July 1995, Pages 294-299, ISSN 0169-5347, 10.1016/0169-5347(95)90031-4.
[3] The egg came before the chicken. Roy A. Sorensen. Mind, July 1992 101, 403

[4] Simulations of Ovocleidin-17 Binding to Calcite Surfaces and Its Implications for Eggshell Formation Colin L. Freeman, John H. Harding, David Quigley, and P. Mark Rodger The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2011 115 (16), 8175-8183

[5] A nesting trace with eggs for the Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Troodon formosus Varricchio, DJ (Varricchio, DJ); Jackson, F (Jackson, F); Trueman, CN (Trueman, CN). JOURNAL OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY : MAR 15 1999 19,  91-100

[6] A Pair of Shelled Eggs Inside A Female. Tamaki Sato, Yen-nien Cheng, Xiao-chun Wu, Darla K. Zelenitsky, and Yu-fu Hsiao. Dinosaur Science 15 April 2005: 308 (5720), 375. [DOI:10.1126/science.1110578]

[7] A genetic variation map for chicken with 2.8 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms. International Chicken Polymorphism Map Consortium (GK Wong et. al.) 2004.Nature 432, 717-722| doi:10.1038/nature03156 PMID 15592405


Saturday, 18 May 2013

That time of year, teaching reforms, brains and Gibson's Laws of Nature...

Well that time of year has approached. Not just because students have their exam timetables, or year 11's are jaded and seemingly climbing up the walls in order to leave school now but mostly because my dinning room table is full of stacks of end of topic/mock/revision tests to mark through.

There goes my weekend (again).

Personally I ally myself with the school of thought that hates exams as they only test how good students are at passing exams. In a subject like science there is so much more to being a 'good' or able scientist than being able to recall and use information. In fact the whole concept of memory recall is pretty much outdated owing to the information age we live in. If you want to look up or remember something you can find not only the factually (in)correct information in a matter of seconds but also the opinions of half the world. Surely then we need to go to a more skills based curriculum. In other words training people in how to use the information, how to decide if an opinion is valid or poorly thought out or maybe I am wrong in my opinion and the current system is the biggest and bestest in the world!

Actually while I am on the subject of subjects (ish) I do find it a bit of a missed trick with Mr Gove. I am not going to slate him (though it would be easy to do) I will leave that to the Headteachers Union this weekend. I am though going to feel slightly sad that he wants us to go backwards in terms of what students learn. Surely (and forgive my science heavy leanings) he could have really revolutionized and brought up to date not only the content but the focus of 21st Century education. Look forward no backwards to the careers and fields which are going to require future graduates and workforce's. The world is ready for another massive shift forward once the privatization of space gets underway, the UK is extremely well poised to be on the forefront of that. Personally I feel we should put our eggs in that basket. Try leading the world again instead of riding on the coattails of other countries. The reason why it is a shame is that Gove seems to have the drive and self belief (arrogance) to push things through regardless of their merits. Pushing through the need for UK students to be science and space literate would mean we could have been world leaders in this area. Which would not only have been exciting but also very good economically!

As I say, a missed trick, ah well.

A long time ago (I was pretty drunk at the time) someone told me an analogy of the brain that despite mine being pickled at the time has always stuck with me, even though the persons name hasn't. They said that the brain could be thought of as a hotel. Imagine a giant hotel with different levels and each level containing many rooms. Now each level of the hotel is representative of a form of intelligence (a little like Gardner's multiple intelligence model but not abused for students to cop out of certain activities). However everyone has the same floors. So for arguments sake they could be a numeracy floor, a creative floor, a writing floor and a critical thinking floor. The overall intelligence of a person is not denoted by the floors they have because we all have them but by the doors which are unlocked.

This is the part I really liked because the door potentially could all be unlocked if you acquired the correct keys (learning). Some people with high intelligence have lots of doors unlocked. Other people have doors unlocked in different amounts on different floors giving rise to talents and abilities. Geniuses   would have almost a skeleton key allowing them access to any of the rooms at any given time.

Education should be allowing people to unlock different doors and allowing people access to the information and abilities in that room. Often, and this was why this came up in a conversation with a colleague about exams and education, I feel that with some students we are actually closing and locking the doors. That instead of engaging and illuminating things for them we are in fact providing barriers to their natural intelligence and curiosity. In other words, are their some students who don't really need us other than to just point them in the right direction?

Would those students get those grades with or without us teachers at all? Especially in an age of instant information available? I am not saying teaching is redundant but it has made me wonder if a model of teaching from a time where information required research in libraries and books etc is now outdated in today's tech savvy world? Lots of questions and not many answers, but then I am a scientist so this is a normal state of affairs for me.

Actually there is a kind of answer, and it is mainly my attempt to piss of Physicists. See as a Biologist I often feel looked down on by Physicists and Chemists. Especially Physicists, who seem to constantly be on TV these days, but this may be because I got an E at A-Level Physics despite really enjoying it (I love Physics but it doesn't love me). Anyway before this turns into an episode of Jeremy Kyle I shall move on.

Physics is looking for a law that will link everything together. If you don't know about this the short of it is that big things act differently to very small things. The very small things have some really weird properties which mean that the laws of Physics which explain the big things don't quite fit. Most people have heard of Schrodinger's cat and this is an example of how weird things can get, although as a thought experiment no cats have actually been harmed. Now Physicists are looking for a set of rules which will link the very small and the very big.

One of their problems is that they are trying to find Mathematical rules to explain their findings and nothing as yet has managed to fit perfectly. Well I have simplified things and done what I try to do in most of my life and remove the Maths (although I did argue to include statistical testing in my Masters dissertation...).

As a result, based on observation, Gibson's first law of nature states;

An object will behave in a way which is in accordance with its nature.

An object can be anything from organic to inorganic and the nature of that object is said to be the way in which it behaves naturally with nothing else impacting upon it outside of its natural setting. Imagine a chair sat in a room, no one sitting on it, just there waiting.

Following on from this we have a law which explains what happens when we alter something temporarily;

The nature of an object can, in certain circumstances be altered.

So now the chair has been tipped over, if we stand it back up it is back to being its chair but while it is on its side it has had its nature altered.

The third law of nature explains what happens to things that have been permanently changed;

If the change in nature is permanent the object can no longer be said to be in its original form.

The tipping of the chair broke a leg, so when you stand it up it no longer stands on 4 legs but 3, it is no longer the original chair as it has been changed.

There we go, Physicists you are welcome a set of laws that link everything!


Gibson’s 3 laws of nature
1. An object will behave in a way which in accordance with its nature
2. The nature of an object can, in certain circumstances be altered
3. If the change in nature is permanent the object can no longer be said to be in its original form


Now it seems to work for all the conditions I can think of from students to electrons to elements but I am sure there is someone out there who will disprove this. Or maybe prove it.

If you can Mathematically prove it I will share some of my Nobel Prize with you.

Right off to mark, now where has my green pen gone?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Some days you eat the bear...

other day's the bear he eat's you.

From The Big Lebowski. Often I think this is a pretty fair reflection of teaching. Or work. Or life in general.

There, that is life. Life is one day of being top of everything and another day of feeling down in the dumps.

I have solved it!

Or something.

There are lots of teachers who I talk to, both in the flesh - face to face not naked- and over Twitter who seem very peeved off at the moment.

I know myself that I am feeling pretty down about the job at the moment. It doesn't take much to knock me out of my rhythm and I have spoken before about the need to keep moving forward and maintain a positive outlook.

It is hard though. Especially this time of year with pressure coming at us from all quarters. SLT (who themselves are under pressure) piling it on, students who just want to be free and out in the sunshine, parents who want to know why/what/where is going on and obviously external factors OFSTED/exam entries/coursework moderation etc.

This is all aside from our general teaching and test/book marking and sweeping the floor with a broom up our arses.

Oh and lets not forget that we should have shorter holidays and longer working days.

(prick)

What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah. Staying positive.

Erm...

Actually personally it isn't too bad. Come home, put on some loud and heavy music (RUSH), drink copious amounts of tea and remind myself that I would not be earning as much as I am in another job, followed by looking at how many days until the next holiday.

Sounds materialistic and simple but I think when you're down it's whatever helps get you through?

I have been given lots of advice over the course of my teaching 'life' but I think the important things that float up to the top are sometimes the hardest to remember.


  1. it is a job
  2. focus on what happens in the classroom first

That's it for me. 

It is a job, nothing more and nothing less. Yes I am a professional and I am proud of what I do, but at the end of the day I am not going to get ill or sacrifice what is really important in my life for it. 

What happens in the classroom/lab/plaza that is my domain and ultimately what I am judged first and foremost on. So if you are having a bad time, make something that you are going to enjoy teaching. Bring it back around so you enjoy lessons. It doesn't work all the time or with every class but if it happens once it will start to happen more regularly. 

Remember schools seem to run on opinions. If people have a high opinion of you staff/students/SLT then you tend to get more leeway to get other things done (in my opinion).

Plus I don't consider planning a fun lesson (for me) to be work. As I enjoy it. 

So lets puff our chests out, raise our heads, enjoy the sunshine and remember it is a 3 day weekend this weekend ;-). 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Course changes, museums and long journeys with Eagles...

Afternoon, to give you the full story of my very busy day we must go back a week.

Looking at our department 'headline figures' it was put to me that there were rumblings that we may need to offer BTEC or equivalent for some of our learners as GCSE was not suitable. This lead me to do a search of some alternatives provisions for some of our learners and come up with a plan. This was put to the department for mulling over (with other suggestions) the basics are thus;


  • The top 2 sets do 3 year GCSE course years 9-10 core and year 11 additional - so end up with 2 GCSE's in science. 
  • The bottom 3 sets do 1 year AQA entry level in year 9. Those that excel at this course and achieve a gold/silver go on to do the double award in years 10 (core) and 11 (additional).
  • Those who really are not suited to GCSE do OCR Cambridge or BTEC. 
This all seemed good to our department as 1 not being too complicated and 2 giving all abilities a chance to achieve. 

So I went off to my AQA exam feedback meeting today feeling like some form of ball had started rolling. 

Now here's where the fun begins.

Firstly I must sat commuting from Maidstone to London was expensive but other than that fairly painless (I could get used to it if I was to work at one of the museums for instance...).

Anyway the first weird moment was when I saw that the conference centre was opposite broadcasting house. This was unexpected despite having route planned how to get there and where I was due to be. It is a very strange feeling when you see something you have seen in pictures , heard their output and then suddenly see it in the concrete. 

So the meeting begins with the very charming and witty Nigel English who is the chair of the chief examiners for AQA. A very lovely and knowledgeable man and he seemed very sad that this was the last of these types of meetings which he is allowed to give due to a change in rules. This I think is a mistake as personally I learnt a lot from him today and feel better armed to help my department drive forward and improve standards in our exam preparation.

The following are a list of the things which I learnt today, I will try to go through them a bit to clear up any confusion!
  1. From 2015 all exams will be terminal.
  2. From 2015 here will be no tiering of exams - similar to how the iGCSE works.
  3. Performance tables (league tables) will be split into English + Maths, EBAcc and Value added.
  4. Even if students take triple science only the best 2 will count towards the EBAcc.
  5. The performance tables are based on the % of cohort taking GCSE science NOT the entire year cohort.
  6. GCSE science will only be double or triple. There will be no course for single award science.
  7. Alternative science courses (not double or triple) will still run (computer science, agriculture etc) but will not count towards EBAcc or performance tables.
  8. Not all have to do GCSE science but so far no word on whether science is still a core or whether students could drop science to pursue other courses... 
  9. Terminal means end of course, so if the students do double award in years 9 and 10 they will sit all exams in year 10  (but be up against year 11's from other schools) however if they do their courses in year 11 ALL exams are in year 11. Which means they may have 6 science exams + other GCSE's in year 11 (or 9 exams if triple) which is going to be a very heavy duty timetable.
  10. Yesterday Michael Gove mentioned plans for a 'technical baccalaureate' though there was no details about it today just conjecture it seems the TecBacc is a post 16 only course. It is however worth keeping an eye on.
There, and that is before we talk about what the course was actually about!

The headline themes for me are the lack of single award (weird as we were discussing this yesterday) and the fact that we will only get reported on the students we choose to enter to GCSE. Almost like there is an expectation only to put our 'best' or most likely to get C's into GCSE and everyone else can do what they want so the results look good...

Does this mean that science GCSE's will have a reduction in people taking them but those taking them will all be A-C grade students. Then moderation will drop those C candidates lower...? 

Or at least that's how it feels. I am not going to try and pull it apart any more because I don't want to colour peoples views. Would like to see what other people think.

OK now that part is out the way part 2 was about issues students seem to have with certain exam questions. Or at least skills within the questions. 

Explanations must be an explanation - that is not just a list of facts. In 5 mark questions you need 5 points, there is no longer the 3 from 5 best fit scenario. Your explanations have to link ideas and not just be a series of 'points made'.

Evaluations have to have a positive and a negative for each point and a justified conclusion. Evaluations h Get students to ask themselves if they have made 5 valuable points and a justified conclusion at the end of the evaluation questions. These have to be comparative statements. For example 'this one is cheaper' rather than 'it is cheap'.

In the longer extended prose questions - which are poorly answered across the board - these are general level questions to be answered by higher and lower abilities. As such they are judged at a standard grade C level. Which means (from what I could gather) the answering and marking of them has to deal with the level first and the content secondarily. 

What does this mean? Well a good well structured coherent answer will be looked at as being level 3 (worth maximum marks) and then will be found its mark on a 'best fit' basis. This has probably been explained badly by me but hopefully you get the idea (feel for answers is very important).

So that was the crux of my course. Before I move on I have one thing to get off my chest. If the chair of examiners tells you what a student was awarded, don't argue, accept it and try to see why and how the student got that mark and why you were wrong. In fact teachers everywhere need to stop moaning so much! Yes it is a hard job and we have a lot to moan about but bloody hell, there were people today who just wanted to complain and/or get someone else to justify their teaching practice. Which isn't what the course is about. For balance I should point out that a lot of the colleagues there were amazing and very insightful plus a lot of fun to talk to. 

Trying to make the most of my day and sort my head out I hopped on a tube and headed to South Kensington.

Naturally I went to the Natural History Museum first. Whilst this was as excellent as ever I felt I needed to be around more science and engineering things so help me think about something that came up in my mind during the meeting. So off I wandered to the Science Museum to engulf myself in some brilliant innovations and inventions. 

What was worrying me was the following; 'what do we mean by education?'

This is such a deep and multi-layered question but I think we all know what it isn't. However let me share my train of thought with you.

At uni I took a compulsory course in biochemistry. I was not very good at it or very interested in it. I do remember the following quote that was on our handbook - "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch.

I also remember the Einstein quote on imagination being more important than intelligence. That always sticks in my mind as I perceive myself to be a fairly creative and imaginative person - so it makes me feel good. 

How is this relevant? Well the current changes seem to be intent on being based on learning facts (filling vessels) which means more time will be spent learning and writing rather than doing (reducing the use of imagination). So what is the solution, is there a solution?

Unfortunately the museum closed before I was able to come up with something witty and post worthy. However I do offer the following little thought;

We are programmed by evolution to question, to do and to learn. It takes a lot of effort on our part to undo 3.5 million years (ish) of evolution and create a situation where learning is not valued and the act of gaining knowledge is seen negatively. 

What is the justification for this state of things? So one country can show off to another? Or one government can point score against another? 

Learning and understanding run deeper in our species than we often give it credit. Learning is for life not just school, and this often gets forgotten. We need to ensure that students (of all ages) have the tools for life long learning. 

That should be our goal.

I do not know where standardized testing fits into this and my idea may not be practical but I do know that a system from 10 years ago does not fit in today's society where information is so readily available. Surely it is more important to have the skills to interpret and use the information you have found than just to be able to recall some facts. 

For instance I could find out what tactics were used in a football match. I could memorize them and recall them to my friends in the pub. I don't have the skill to know when to employ them in a match!

I am sure I will get some people shouting at me for that but I dunno, I just feel that where we are going is not what I signed up for. I wanted to be a teacher 1 because my job sucked but 2 I love watching people learn, whether from me directly or them taking what I have said and moving on the next step. As soon as that is lost to a succession of vessel filling, well I doubt I will stay as a teacher.

To finish on a very random note...

Leisurely went back to Victoria Station to catch a train to Maidstone. Wandered to the train no care that people were running to get it. Decided if I could not get this one then it was sunny so would just wait for the next train and read. The doors started beeping so I casually hopped on the train. 

Wandering from first class to the next available carriage I found a space where I could stand until a seat became free. I noticed some people looking at two older gentlemen with long hair and black t-shirts. 

Those two gentlemen were Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh from the Eagles (scream!?) who were on their way to the Maidstone studio to record and interview for Later With Jules Holland. 

Randomly one of the people they were talking too was a Leeds alumni (as am I) as was their 'handlers' son. Plus a tech guy for another band on Later... was sat opposite them (randomly). All in all it was very surreal! 

By the way Joe Walsh has a very dry sense of humour and spent most of the journey doing sudokus and Timothy B. Schmidt is a very nice polite man who thanked me when we left the train for wishing them 'fun' on the show. 

What a twisty turn-y day!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Not about teaching, just a musing on what it is to be an individual.

There is something which troubles me. Troubles me in that I can't resolve it in my mind. Maybe i am not smart enough, maybe the answer is not there or maybe I am just not thinking about it in the correct way.

Here goes.

We know that there is nothing special about the molecules that make us up. The elements that make the compounds which make us are common throughout the Universe. We know this, we also know that we are made of 'star stuff'. 

OK fine, so the building blocks that make me also make everything else I am happy with that. 

Except that really we aren't here at all. Since 99.99% of all atoms are empty space that means that the majority of what makes up us is empty space.

Right.

We also know that our DNA is not that special really, we share 98.4% of our DNA with chimpanzees

However the majority of the cells inside our body is bacterial, ten times as much as human cells. Which means that the part of us that makes us human is very small. 

Although that is a small part of a small part that is not empty space. Still with me? 

So what we are, in terms of what we can see, is mostly empty space and mostly bacteria DNA. The person we see when we look in the mirror is in fact a tiny proportion of a tiny proportion. 

I think I have my head around that, although the part of my body I use to understand this doesn't really understand itself. In fact it makes decisions before I have decided. Seriously, studies show that the neurons responsible for movement fire before a person has actually thought about moving. Which means the brain decides to do things subconsciously before the conscious brain catches up with it.

So the parts of us which aren't empty space are made of stars but most of that in me is bacteria not human and the stuff that makes me human and not a chimpanzee is a tiny part of that, and the thing which I rely on to control and run all this barely human bit actually makes decisions before I have thought about what I actually want to do.

Right.

So who am I then? Well surely I am the amalgamation of my experiences and memories. Except memories can be faked or forgotten.

There is a thought that we actually remember everything, it's just the brain can pick and choose what to remember. However we don't see of hear everything that there is. In terms of what frequencies of light we see and what frequencies of sound we can hear is actually very very little! We are practically deaf and blind. 



So this all brings me down to what makes me, well me. 

If its not the atoms that make me, or the DNA that is inside me, or the world I perceive and how my brain recalls this or even the decisions I make. Then what is it?

I am probably missing something or over simplifying something else. I just wonder which part of us makes creates the individual. Is it as simple as the wiring of our brain, however I can't see how that would give us something so unique as a persons personality. Not when everything else seems to be so generic. Well sort of generic. I think.

Actually I don't know. My brain probably does though, somewhere...

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Back from a break... to cause a fuss!

Or at least that is what I am going to say it was. A long winter break off. Maybe. Actually the last 5 weeks (5 weeks?!) have been pretty intense and full on. Long few weeks of getting settled into a new school, getting up to speed with a new role and then to top it off OFSTED came a calling.

Having now faced all that down and relaxed over half term, no work done as yet (oops) I have decided to get back to the blog. I know all the people who semi-regularly read the blog are dying for me to continue.

*tumble weed roles by*

Ahem, moving on.

There was a temptation for a long time to leave the blog in the past, make it a thing I did for 2012 and not worry about doing it anymore. Not really sure what changed, I started tweeting a lot more than I have been and have started to find that what I want to say or talk about is not fitting into 140 characters very often. Maybe that is just me becoming more mouthy though?

Who knows?

Anyway the main point of this blog was thoughts following this quote;


“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”


― Bertrand Russell

The reactionary in me instantly thought of Michael Gove (especially this article). However it made me wonder about whether this could be true of students as well? Then I came across the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The D-K effect basically states that unskilled individuals are unaware of their own inadequacies due to the fact that they do not possess the skills to recognize their failings.

Sound familiar?

I think one of the major failings in secondary education is that we expect too much of our learners. Not in terms of ability or even the fabled 'high expectations' of students but that we forget that most of the young people we teach are not yet mature enough to recognize their mistakes properly. So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Personally I think it comes down to use of KS3. Often (and in the schools I have worked in so far) KS3 is almost a lost key stage. It fails to bridge the gap between the safe and secure environment of primary school and the expectations and change in environment that underpins secondary education.

Before I continue what I am about to write is purely my opinion. It is based solely on what I think and not on any research or 'party line', I fully expect people to disagree but please remember this is an opinion piece only.

Here is what I think (yes think) and it is based on science education only.

KS3 should be based around skills.

There I said it thank you I will now take five minutes to let that sink in.

What I hear you cry not content? What about the content, they need content especially in science education.

Yes and mostly no.

The content covered in KS3 in my experience well it sucks, it is not much different to KS2 science nor is it taught effectively. Most peoples idea of differentiating at this level is to make it easier which means that the content delivered is not stretching enough. Students go from doing science once a week or a term to it being delivered 3/4 times a week. The awe and wonder students might feel about experimentation and asking questions is drummed out of them by a relentless quest for levels and progress and stuff that I can only describe as bullshit (new year not taking any prisoners anymore).

The question that plays in my mind all the time is what is the point. Seriously what is the bloody point in delivering lessons that are serving nothing more than to put students off a subject that the are unable to drop.

Brilliant!

Instead the KS3 curriculum should be used as a tying together course. Yes there needs to be new knowledge delivered, but I feel that the crux of the 2 years (because almost all schools start GCSE's in yr9 - which is too early) should be about developing the skills to succeed.

TEACH students to link skills from history and English with science (writing and evidence analysis). TRAIN students to THINK about a problem and design an investigation. ALLOW students to experience science and link it to the real world and importantly SHOW students the awe and wonder that science can create.

Most students come to secondary school enjoying science because it is taught infrequently so it has a sense of wonder to it. All we seem to do is drum that out of them by making science just another subject, when it is so much more (yes I am now on a soap box) but it's true. As a cross curricular subject science has the capacity to branch into all other subjects. As something current and in the news or on TV  again we are ahead of the curve. So why is it that we seem to have class after class of disaffected and disillusioned students?

Because it is hard, because it is compulsory, because everything comes down to levels.

Coming back to the D-K and Russell quote. How do we expect students to move forwards if they do not possess the skills to do so? All the data and natural ability in the world means nothing if you can't apply it.

I know I got a little bit ragey in the middle but one of the jobs my current role has me doing is to re-write the KS3 curriculum. I am not best pleased with the one that is in place at the moment (bee in my bonnet type situation). Added to that the constant stream of 'why do we HAVE to do science' that I seem to encounter at KS4 and I am a bit fed up with the state of affairs.

Right having said that I am off to mark some yr9 GCSE mocks (still to early for them someone said that eyes help a mouse balance in the dark).

As ever comments are welcome but remember that this was more a personal opinion post.

 'Its very difficult convincing the young of anything. They're born knowing so much' - Leto II (God Emperor of Dune)