Planet Earth II – The revenge of the surf.

Science Teaching Library

It’s impossible not to be impressed by Sir David Attenborough hot-air ballooning two miles above the planet to open the second series of Planet Earth. I fell in love with the first series, from the Sigur Ros anthem to the outstanding aerial photography (the vast herds filmed from far above the surface using the latest stabilised camera technology of the time but mounted on a helicopter). This new one starts in impressive fashion with barnstorming music and a very effective juxtaposition of two mating island-dwellers: the lethargic swimming and tree-climbing prowess of the pygmy sloth with the ferocious and bloody battles of the dragons of Komodo.

Graceful and sedate. Swimming technique is much like mine. (BBC)

[Spoilers :)] We then move via a never stopping camera past the lemurs of Madagascar to the Galapagon Islands of TERROR. My heart has only just calmed down. I was enjoying the beautiful shots…

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The sins of the father…

Today, a story was released in the Daily Mail (I will not be linking as I am not a fan, but will attempt to paraphrase fairly) about a letter received by a parent regarding a debt owed for school dinners.

The article explained that the parent had received a letter (later shared online by @richardA from the Guardian amongst others – see below) that explained they were late to make payment of £75 for school dinners by one week, and that if the arrears weren’t paid by the following week the school would take action.

The action to be taken was this: as from the following Monday, the child would be placed into lunch isolation. They would receive a sandwich and a piece of fruit only. They would spend the entire 60 minutes in isolation. Only when the amount was paid back in full would they be allowed into family lunch with their classmates.

Now, the article went on to say that the parent had paid the money and the child had still received isolation the following week. The head teacher was quoted as saying that the child had been put into isolation for a separate incident (as it turns out, for misbehaviour at the bus stop).

That is pretty much the story and it has caused quite a little furore today, both below the article in the Daily Mail (as most articles in the Daily Mail are designed to do) and online, on both Twitter and Facebook.

I think it’s fair to say that there are elements to this story that shouldn’t be taken at face value:

  • why would a parent contact the Daily Mail about this unless to kick up a fuss; were there underlying issues with the relationship between the parent and the school?
  • the school in question is always in the news for being a free school, a school that espouses “no excuses” as a behaviour policy, a school run by a head teacher who has been held up by political parties as either being a saviour of education or someone not to be lauded at all.
  • the letter appears to have been sent to many parents (it is addressed: Dear Families), but the details are specific to the parent in question with regards to date, amount owed and consequences.

I have two comments to make about the letter (not the article) which was shared:

  1. The first thing I noticed was that the letter was written poorly. It had capitalised “Sandwich” and “Faithfully” and the word “overdue” was written both correctly as a single word, and incorrectly as two. Am I being unkind when I say that this shouldn’t be the standard of a letter sent out to multiple families about a debt payment?
  2. The second thing was the aspect of the letter that seemed to cause the most concern with others. Why on earth were children of parents being punished by being placed into isolation for the parent’s inability or even unwillingness to pay for 6 weeks of lunch up front? The school was out of pocket by £15 by the time the letter was sent. Also why was there no indication in the letter that the school was willing to discuss alternative methods of payment for those who might be having financial difficulties. Remember this was addressed to ‘Families’, with ‘Yours faithfully’ as a sign off; a generic letter to all who had not yet made payment.

Here is the letter for reference via this tweet from @richardA 

cohnobnusaapnj1

So back to the furore. Comments were made about the fact it was this particular school and its “no excuses” ethos that was the problem and that parents should know the rules and follow them. But here was a parent whose son had just joined the school a couple of weeks before, being pulled up and the child threatened with isolation.

Of course there is more to the story; Tom Bennett posted in his blog a full and frank explanation of the back story from the head teacher. I would link, but in my opinion the information shared by the head teacher should not have been posted in the public domain as it contains detailed information on the educational attainment of the child, former behaviour, history at other schools and details about the parent such as financial difficulties and their behaviour and I am concerned it identifies too much personal information about the already named child. It was clearly the reply to the journalist at the Mail and even they only published a small portion of the information. UPDATE: I’ve just read a tweet by another journalist Alice Woolley saying their lawyers would have been unlikely to sign off publishing full content of email from the head.

Suffice it to say, there is history between the school and the parent already and this incident was only part of the story. But in my opinion the school failed to do the right thing here on three points:

  1. The head teacher explained in her email to the journalist that the letter was intended to bring the issue of non-payment by the parent to a head. This implies that the letter was intended to be sent to the parent directly. In that case it should have been addressed appropriately so there was no avoidance of doubt.
    To suggest this was being sent to more families was potentially misleading.
  2. Citizens Advice has the following to say in categorising harassment by creditors:
    • putting pressure on you to pay all the money off, or in larger instalments when you can’t afford to;
    • trying to embarrass you in public;
    • telling someone else about your debts or using another person to pass on messages, such as a neighbour or family member;
    • I would argue that all of the above apply to the letter sent:

    • The money was asked for in full; the pressure being that the child would be kept in isolation for an hour each day until the the payment was made.
    • The embarrassment in public was by proxy: a child would be removed from the normal lunch sessions and kept in isolation. This would have been public in the school as the classmates would have been aware of the situation; remember this isolation was not intended to be due to the poor behaviour of the child.
    • Telling someone else about your debts; tricky one here – most children are aware if their parents have or have not made payment for something at school and most schools will communicate a debt via the child in the first instance; however it would have been made abundantly clear to the child, that the parent owed money to the school, due to the threatened isolation.
  3. My final comment is regarding the principle of punishment of one person for another person’s behaviour. The head teacher wrote in her email to the journalist that the child had made great improvements in the short time at the school (just four weeks). They had no problems with him: no fights, quick improvements to academic attainment and a child happy at the school. The problem, she said, was entirely with the parent. So why on earth would the school impose a punishment upon the child – by isolating them for an hour each day (during the social time in school) – for the debts and behaviour of the parent? This is not on. A child can (and should) be held responsible for their own behaviour in school; they are not responsible for the behaviour of their parents.

Even Deuteronomy had figured that last point out.

 

If you’re desperate for the links to the Daily Mail and Tom’s post I’ll put them up, but I’m assuming anyone reading this is aware of the story.

 

Fiducial or fiduciary – that is the question!

Very quickly:

A fiducial marker (noun) or fiducial for short is an object used to indicate a measurement reference point either to indicate scale or an original position or to aid more precise measurement.

A fiduciary (noun) is a person who holds a position of trust between parties for legal or financial reasons. The word fiducial (adjective) in this context indicates the actions or activities of a fiduciary.

I can see the confusion these two terms might cause. But it’s not a confusion a scientist is likely to make because we learned our words proper-like. So this leads me to think that the legal team at the DfE drew up the plans for the AS and A Level physics*. For, lo and behold, in the DfE guidance for the AS and A Level physics – students must be aware how to: fiduciary_dfe

It’s ok, one thinks, the subject specialists at the exam boards will pick it up.

AQA spec:

fiduciary_AQA

OCR spec:

fiduciary_OCR

EdExcel spec:

fiduciary_EDEXCEL

WJEC spec:

fiduciary_WJEC

So once again, the DfE blunders (due in part to their desire to over-specify every part of the curriculum) will come to shape the teaching of physics students up and down the country, and they won’t know what the correct word for a fiducial marker is.

Spotted by the excellent Carol Davenport @drdav on the Twitters who is as frustrated by DfE physics blunders as I am.

*It doesn’t really, it’s probably just an administrative mistake.

Listen

Mike echoes my thoughts on this manner. We have had unprecedented change in education in the UK since I became a teacher (the same time the government changed and Gove, Gibb and Teather started their plans).

Do read :

Distant Ramblings on the Horizon

Listen.

We have the cancelled baseline tests, an entirely predictable (and predicted) mess.

We have KS1 spelling tests uploaded to the governments own website and left there for months. Causing the subsequent cancelling of the national test.

We have exemplar materials for a new testing regime delivered late and requiring correction and further explanation. Not once. Not twice. But five times.

We have the departments accounts effectively qualified by the National Audit Office in a stinging report.

We are still waiting for exam specifications to be signed off that teachers are expected to start teaching in September.

We’ll pass rapidly over their novel interpretation of the laws of physics and cock a blind one to the ministerial obsession with the minutiae of exclamation mark theory.

Then there’s the farcical approach to teacher training place allocation that was only changed because a Cambridge course had under-recruited and could have closed.

This…

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Have I got precision for you!

I know I’ve got a bit of a reputation for pedantry, especially when it comes to DfE curriculum documents. I promise you, I don’t scour them all looking for mistakes. That would be petty. But when they’re physics bloopers or causing a ruckus, then I like to look into things a bit more.

What follows isn’t a judgement on whether the DfE are right or wrong about exclamations, only that I think their instructions and definitions lack clarity and precision, and that this topic is likely to be very confusing for 10/11 year olds (and under).

Firstly, I fully accept that the exclamation debacle is not about whether students are only allowed to use exclamation marks after exclamations that begin with what or how. It is about the definition of an exclamation and in an attempt to calm the waters, the DfE have sent out this clarification:

Exclamations

Instructions in the clarification document

“The use of an exclamation mark does not change a sentence into an exclamation”. Of course it doesn’t! No one said it does (though some have had a joke about banning exclamation marks).

Let’s read the top line together shall we: The national curriculum states that an exclamation is one of the four forms of sentences.

Yes it does, here it is:

nc sentence forms

And the rest of the relevant detail (they discuss exclamation marks a lot too).

NC sentences

There’s the example: What a good friend you are! [exclamation]

So what’s the problem?  Well, one example is rather vague isn’t it? And looking online for resources that schools use throws up some anomalies. Let’s ignore English schools using American English resources (a troublesome situation perhaps).

Here’s the second resource in a google search for sentence types exclamation

http://www.primaryresources.co.uk/english/pdfs/sentence2.pdf

And a task from it:

Examples sentence types

How do we know which are the exclamations?

In a SPAG test the only correct answer is What a mess! [EDIT more on this later]

But depending on your definition then Stop! and Oh no! might be classed as exclamations:

an abrupt, emphatic, or excited cry or utterance; interjection; ejaculation

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/exclamation

An exclamation (also called an interjection) is a word or phrase that expresses strong emotion, such as surprise, pleasure, or anger. Exclamations often stand on their own, and in writing they are usually followed by an exclamation mark rather than a full stop:

How wonderful!

Ow! That hurt!

Exclamations are also used to express greetings or congratulations:

Hello!

Well done, lads!

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/exclamations

The DfE don’t really mean exclamation when they say exclamation. They mean exclamation clause.

The only clear definition I’ve found about exclamation clauses comes from English Grammar Today via the Cambridge dictionary website:

We use exclamations to express surprise or shock or a strong emotion about something. The type of phrase or clause associated with exclamations is called exclamative.

We usually form exclamatives with what or how. In writing, we usually put an exclamation mark (!) at the end of the exclamative:

What an amazing car!

How I love the summer holidays!

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/exclamations

The suggestion here is that there are different forms of exclamations with certain exclamation clauses (exclamatives). But they don’t just include what and how forms as shown further down on that page.

There are interrogative exclamatives that appear like questions but aren’t: Have I got news for you! which is functionally the same as I’ve got news for you! but the I and the have are inverted. It’s not a question, you wouldn’t answer yes or no (it’s not even a rhetorical one). It’s an exclamatory statement (and a commonly used one at that).

So here’s the thing: the document that test developers are to use is very specific about what is and isn’t allowed for the test.

Exclamations2

Instructions to SPAG test developers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/439645/2016_KS2_EnglishGPS_framework_PDFA.pdf

Those weasel words are such a problem (for me as a parent): For the purposes of the test.

Everywhere there are resources children are using to learn to read and write from. And there are exclamations throughout them. I’ve just been through my daughter’s reading books. They’re everywhere. Some are interjections, some are what or how sentences. Some are imperative.

It’s confusing, and as my series of tweets from earlier this evening suggested – the DfE would have done well to define exclamation separately from an exclamative clause which is what they’re testing in the SPAG test.

(there are more below that one)

Anyway I leave you with an exclamation; how would you categorise it?

“Boy, do I hate being right all the time!” 

Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park

*Thanks @DiLeed for the retitle.

 

EDIT – Martin Galway has added a further twist in the comments below – I will summarise here:

I spotted something as I went to sleep last night, that was still bothering me this morning, and then Martin wrote to me on twitter asking if I minded him adding a comment – I said of course. What a comment [he wrote]!

You see, the clarification document at the top of the page in trying to make things better, adds another constraint:

Exclamations3

Wait a minute!

Let’s recap the new rules (from Martin’s comment  below). Perhaps a check list would help the students:

  1. Phrase begins with What / How?
  2. Does not take the form of a question?
  3. Subject + verb?
  4. Exclamation mark?

OK so lets look at the examples we’ve got [as pointed out by Martin]:

What a mess! (from the online teacher resource I found – and I thought passed the SPAG test)
This passes 1,2 and 4 but not 3 which was added in the clarification document! <- 10 points from Gryffindor.

What a lovely day! (example from the Test Specification document from the DfE!)
This passes 1,2 and 4 as well. Their own example doesn’t pass the requirements in the clarification document! <- 50 points from Slytherin 😉

How exciting! (2nd example from the Test Specification document from the DfE!)
This passes 1, 2, and 4 – but this has neither a subject nor a verb. Again the example they have given the test developments doesn’t pass the requirements in the clarification document! <- 200 points from Slytherin

Boy, do I hate being right all the time!
This doesn’t pass 1 or 2, but it has a subject, a verb and an exclamation mark 🙂 <-20 points from Gryffindor

So let me spell this out for you: the examples for the test developers contradict the clarification document!

From Martin below:

The fact that the frameworks continue to linger online with examples that are not creditworthy strengthens your point. Contradictory materials have led to confusion, and have led to all sorts of inference going on – some inferefences complete/some not. For my part, until the writing exemplars came out, my colleagues and I thought this would only appear in the test. The framework said:”For the puprose of the test.” So it seemed a reasonable deduction. Now that it is required in teacher assessment of writing for KS1, somehow these constructions will need to appear in the range of evidence.

What a total and utter stupid mess [this is]! <- 100 points to Gryffindor 🙂

Public reminder – things I will write about.

Alex, you need to blog about your ideas on:

  • teaching the photoelectric effect with no equipment.
  • video resources for supporting teaching of astrophysics
  • mini coding projects for GCSE Computing.
  • why Hour Of Code resources are useful for supporting computing classes with non-specialist teachers – but beware…
  • The computing curriculum and digital skills (ICT, computer science and cross curricula)

 

GCSE Science specifications are released

Here are the draft specifications for GCSE Science from each of the exam boards – they are due to be ratified by Ofqual before end of the summer holidays. Officially for first teaching in September 2016, but some schools run a 3 year GCSE so they will be teaching this from September 2015.
Please could you comment below if your school is doing this – we could do with getting heads together over the summer to formulate an appropriate scheme of work – see below.

This table has links to the relevant webpages (click on each exam board) as well as direct links to the specification as PDFs.

AQA EdExcel Eduqas OCR Gateway OCR C21
Combined Science
(Trilogy)

Combined Science
(Synergy)
Combined Science Combined Science Combined Science Combined Science
Biology Biology Biology Biology Biology
Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry
Physics Physics Physics Physics Physics

keep-calm-it-s-only-gcse-science-5I will study the physics specifications in more detail and report back, but here’s a comment: the content for these GCSEs has changed greatly. There is little resemblance to the topic structure that existed before.

They all cover new subject criteria as defined in the DfE GCSE Subject Content for combined and single science but aside from the order it’s more or less the same content as the DfE document on first look.

My initial advice would be to study the sample assessments and make a decision on exam board based on accessibility of assessment as the content is all but identical.

 

 

 

TODO:

  • Comparison of Proposed Exam structure
  • Identification of key descriminators between each course
  • Practical requirements.

 

Please comment below with your thoughts and advice – I will collate any pertinent tweets.