Posts Tagged ‘Engagement’

Is it helping them learn?

May 11, 2014 6 comments

Yesterday, I happen to bump into one of my old Chemistry teachers. In conversation I mentioned that I remembered him blowing up hydrogen balloons in the classroom and saying he wasn’t allowed to so don’t tell anyone!

This got me thinking about memory and the things that stick with you. Was this lasting memory useful, or was it just an explosion in a science room? I thought about it, and in this case it was useful, I remember the explosion and the claim not to be allowed to do it, but I also remember the lesson attached. That was that hydrogen was lighter than air and quite unstable, always looking for a couple of oxygen molecules to combine with. That’s why they use it as rocket fuel, that’s why the WW2 barrage balloons blew up and why we use helium, not hydrogen, in balloons for children’s parties.

Similarly, in this post from last year I discussed another chemistry lesson (different teachers, it turns our my chemistry lessons were pretty memorable!) where the teacher used simile to explain ionic and covalent bonding, again I remember the humour in the lesson, but I also remembered the lesson and still to this day know the explicit difference between ionic and covalent bonds.

This isn’t always true though. I remember in year 8 spending weeks in English creating a game show, but I don’t have a clue what it was about or what learning was involved. I just remember having real fun with my friends doing it. (We called it, “They think it’s just beginning”, and it was a bit like a cross between “They think it’s all over” and “Shooting stars”!)

I remember in geography being set a homework project to build a volcano. I enjoyed playing win paper masche, I enjoyed painting it. I even remember my mum coming up with the great idea of using nail varnish to put lava trails down the side. But I don’t remember learning anything about volcanoes or volcanic activity. I learned that in science later on.

I think this is important when planning activities in lessons. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making lessons “fun”, but we need to consider the content, and ensure it is that, rather than just the fun activities, that stay with our students. We need to ask “Is it helping them learn?”

Vectors, Despicable Me and Other Stories

January 25, 2014 6 comments

This week I have been teaching my year 13s about vectors. It had been a while since they had met vectors, so I asked what they remembered about them and one said: “direction and magnitude, they have direction and magnitude. That’s why vector on despicable me chose his name, because he’s committing crime with direction and magnitude!” See this clip.

I had seen the film before, but a few years ago and I had completely forgotten about this character! It is certainly a clip I will share with students in future! (Along with this classic.)

Videos like these are funny and memorable, and can help to embed the knowledge of vectors into the minds of pupils, thus enabling them to recall the knowledge better in an exam. There is plenty of debate around gimmicks and teaching methods. Whether one should be trying to teach or to entertain, but I don’t see why you can’t do both, as long as the entertainment adds to, rather than detracts from, the learning. And videos like this work better than any mnemonic for embedding knowledge and ideas into the teenage memory banks.

The world of entertainment certainly seems to have strong links to maths, the Simpsons and Futurama have for years included maths, which is cool in itself and I think should give plenty of things to use in lessons. Dr Who has plenty of maths, including happy primes and Fermat’s last theorem. The Big Bang Theory is, quite unsurprisingly, the show which keeps on giving, from Thursdays episode which included the mechanics of cow tipping, through topological problems like which cinema to go to to modelling examples, like when Sheldon extrapolated data on Penny’s serial history while on his first date with Amy.

Perhaps more surpringly is the fact that Disney snuck pi into Mary Poppins and there is clearly a maths enthusiast at Universal Pictures who worked on Despicable Me to include the vector character. Even preschool shows are at it! Peppa pig has reference to the quadratic equation and Ben and Holly’s wise old elf uses the golden ratio! Do let me know if you spot any more.


The mechanics of cow tipping.


The quadratic formula at Daddy Pig’s office, the discriminant is in yellow.

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