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 In fact the whole concept of memory recall is pretty much outdated owing to the information age we live in.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?