Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When America sneezes ...

How hilarious. Last month, the New York Times ran a report on the ignorance of American teenagers. But I'm not sure that I, for one, have anything to gloat about.

"Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought ..." Civil war?! Er ... that's Abraham Lincoln, right? So (no cheating and looking up Wikipedia) 1860-ish? "... and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750." But, as we all know, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fifteen ... er, fourteen hundred and fifty ... sixty? ... seventy-two? Oh, ninety-two?! Really?

According to the survey organisation, the results demonstrate that "a significant proportion of teenagers live in stunning ignorance of history and literature". Well, I'm here to tell you that (a) it isn't just American teenagers, and (b) it isn't just teenagers!

I don't know about literature, but history seems to be an endangered subject in some Scottish secondaries. Far more important to learn what proportion of the Scottish population are elderly, or what age you have to be to get a criminal conviction, or how a gay couple constitute a viable family unit. The authors of the report said, “The nation’s education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of federal law, and that is not healthy.” Narrowing the curriculum? Sounds familiar.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wild Science!

Seemingly, Sir Fred Hoyle believed that evolution occurred because of mutating life-forms continually arriving from outer space; all this was arranged by a super-intelligent civilization wishing to colonise our planet.

Sounds grand.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gissa job!

I feel a bit like Yosser Hughes.

Nobody who grew up in the 1980s can forget Bernard Hill's splendid portrayal of that out-of-work labourer in Alan Bleasdale's Boys From The Black Stuff.

(Actually, I much preferred Hill's laconic Praetorian Guardsman in Jack Pulman's BBC adaptation of I, Claudius (or "Aye Clavdivs", as we called it in the playground next morning, when we discussed the salacious details from the previous evening's episode). And younger viewers will only know him as King Theoden from The Lord of the Rings.)

But I digress. Yosser Hughes' famous catch-phrase (I'm sure I don't need to remind you) was "Gissa job. Go on. I can do that." And with fewer teacher vacancies, existing teachers becoming "surplus to requirements", and Computing's general falling-out-of-favour, this is fast becoming my own mantra.

I hope you're having better luck.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Just a quickie.

The Education Guardian has an amusing piece on exam cheats by the indefatigable Boris Johnson. Here's a snippet (or, as Alan Bennett's Mr Irwin would say, gobbet).

I have just been looking at a cheat's website called UKEssays, and its sheer efficiency makes me feel queasy. Never mind some long-dead monk; UKEssays will supply you with a tailor-made essay, at £500 a pop, on any subject you are set, and teams of essay-writing graduates can calibrate their output to provide you with material worth a 2.1 or, if you are feeling really brazen, a first. According to some estimates, 10% of university students are engaged in some kind of cheating. If you consider that the difference between a 2.1 and a 2.2 can be thousands of pounds on your starting salary, the incentives are obvious.

Definitely worth a read.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


This morning's Saturday Live on BBC Radio 4 ended with an item on clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

CloudsClouds: That one looks like a horsey ...

Besides background music from David Bowie, singing Bertold Brecht's Remembering Marie A. (... there was a cloud my eyes dwelled long upon ...), Gavin selected the wonderful Cloudbusting, from Kate Bush's 1985 (was it really so long ago?) album, Hounds of Love. And not a single mention of Wordsworth.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nil nisi bonum

I've just realised ...

It's not a good idea to go criticising people who will be writing your next batch of references. And you certainly shouldn't complain about the facilities that they have kindly loaned you for your probation year. And as for questioning the philosophy that underpins their educational establishment ... don't even go there.

Unfortunately, the whole idea behind the "education" blog, as far as I can see, is to air new ideas. This often involves a critique of the status quo, and might even include a moan or two about how things could be done so much better if we did them this way instead of that way.

Again unfortunately, I think I have left too many hints about my current whereabouts, so that any searching analysis may be construed as veiled criticism (or worse). Which kind of defeats the purpose of the blog. I can't see any way round this conundrum. Can you?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Week Three

Here they come.
And I'm not ready.
How could I be?
I'm a new teacher and learning on the job.

(Frank McCourt, Teacher Man, London: HarperCollins, 2006, p.11.)

Yup -- I know that feeling.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Book of the Month

In a previous post, I lamented the fact that I was due to teach Visual Basic 6.0.

The problem was that (a) I didn't know the software, (b) I didn't own the software, and (c) Microsoft couldn't supply the software. (In fact, I was officially advised to purchase a VB 2005 licence, and then somehow regress to VB 6.0 -- quite how was never fully explained.)

All that has now changed, thanks to a book called Sams Teach Yourself Visual Basic 6 in 24 Hours, which I stumbled upon during a recent visit to Waterstones. It's not so much the lessons that I'm talking about, because the LTS resource pack is based on VB6, so I could just have followed that. The real bonus, however, is the bundled "Working Model" of Visual Basic 6.0 that comes on a CD-ROM. And all for £17.99.

Blast! I've just realised that I could've had it from Amazon for only £13.59. But I wouldn't have had the satisfaction of supporting my local book shop.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Car trouble

Dawn Over Banknock.

All good things must come to an end.

My trusty old car, which has served two generations since it was born in 1986, has finally given up. The irony is that, mechanically speaking, it's fine. But the chassis needs £700-worth of welding to hold it together, and I ain't got that kind of cash!So I've been calling in favours to borrow cars for the long commute.

(Maybe Santa will come to the rescue.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Even in Australia

I know I shouldn't be surprised.

It's called the internet for a reason, after all. But I'm always fascinated to see the widespread geographical locations of my modest band of visitors.

Aunty Mel's recommendation
Auntie Mel stumbled upon my blog ... and loved it

I recently discovered (courtesy of SiteMeter) that Aunty Mel had stumbled upon my blog in Australia. She was kind enough to give me the thumbs-up, chiefly for my habit of adding copious links.

But what's the point of the internet if you don't link ..?

Saturday, July 15, 2006


... is not my favourite pastime.

Not by a long chalk. In fact, it's one of those activities that I put off as long as possible. Usually until the ligustrum ovalifolium has almost taken over the pavement at the front, and the fagus sylvatica has plunged the side garden into gloom. (And don't even mention the cupressocyparis leylandii at the back of the house.)

Beech hedges in the side garden

Why do I dread hedge-cutting? Because (a) we've got rather a lot of hedgerows, and (b) they're pretty high. Not exactly Longleat hedge maze high, but high enough. High enough to present a challenge to my old Black and Decker GT250, with its modest 41cm cutting blade (that's a compact 16", for my American reader — I know you're out there).

Anyway, the hedge-cutting is now over. And, like hitting your head against a brick wall, it's fantastic once you stop. (The hedges look pretty good, too.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Grand Day Out

(Cue the Wallace and Gromit music.)

Dunkeld Hilton
Dunkeld Park Hilton
Originally uploaded by Duncan__.

Yesterday, those nice people at QiE invited me to their team-building day at the Dunkeld House Hotel Activity Centre.

After a drive up through the beautiful Perthshire countryside, we had archery in the morning and off-road 4x4 driving in the afternoon, all in glorious Scottish sunshine! In the recurve target archery, the target was only 25m away, but I only managed bronze medal position; not good enough to win the bottle of Portuguese wine, and not poor enough to win the consolation box of chocolates. Although the off-road event was non-competitive, driving the Range Rover, with 4-channel ABS and automatic hill descent control, was exhilarating.

All in all, a grand day out ...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

If it wasn't for bad luck

... wouldn't have no luck at all.

While loading the dishwasher and generally tidying up of an evening, I usually listen to a CD. Lately, it's been The Very Best of Cream, with the wonderful bluesy track "Born Under a Bad Sign". (Hence, the opening title.)

Now, don't misunderstand: I don't think for a minute that I have "real bad luck". But it did strike me as rather unfortunate that, having spent a year's Teacher Training getting familiar with Standard Grade Computing Studies, I'm going to a school where they don't teach it!

I'll be spending my summer vacation getting to know Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 Computing. Then, there's the small matter of figuring out how to teach Microsoft Visual Basic 6.0 to 13-year olds when (a) I don't know the software, (b) I don't own the software, and (c) I don't know the software. Oh, and (d) Microsoft appear to have moved on to VB 2005 (thanks for the CD, David!) and .NET. Actually, now that I think about it, let's talk about that bad luck again ...

Friday, June 23, 2006

A week in the Borders

I just can't stay away from schools.

This week, while many of my fellow NQTs are earning a crust stacking shelves in supermarkets or pulling pints in bars, I found myself visiting schools in the Borders.

Hawick High SchoolThe view of Hawick High SChool from my B&B. If only my Probation school were so handy ..!

Putting my PhD to good use, I became involved in a research project which has been running in Primary and Secondary schools across the Scottish Borders council area.

It was really interesting to meet some great youngsters with challenging needs, and chat about their learning experiences. And all without the use of a Borders-Glasgow phrase book.