Sunday, March 08, 2009

Rocket Science? Not even science!

Inspirational - yeah, yeah
Yet another, ‘inspirational teacher’ genre programmes from BBC2. Here we have a clueless physics science teacher confusing ‘cor-blimey’ with ‘cognitive change’. Fireworks were his solution to teaching physics and chemistry. Good idea, but he had no idea how to relate the fireworks to the science, and his preparation was woeful. The science was noticeable by its absence. He also seemed to know nothing about chemistry, openly admitting that he ‘hadn’t a clue how different chemicals created different colours in thermal reaction. He’s always confusing his copper colour – blue or green Mr Smith – he admits he doesn’t actually know.

Of course, fireworks are eminently impractical in schools so first up is a trip for the class to the countryside to see a specially commissioned £2000 firework display – OK so cost is obviously not an issue. First problem, it’s mid-summer and he has to get his kids home to bed, so they’re set off in daylight – oh and the display was so ‘crap’ that one of the kids was in tears. TTFN as Mr Smith says.

Next he’s off to the University of Brighton, where some luminescence experiments, way beyond the curriculum, are recommended. So the kids mix two chemicals but have they actually learnt anything? No. He defaults into one of his favourite lines - telling the pupils to tuck their shirts in.
Back to the fireworks drawing board. The chemical store in the school hasn’t been opened for years, so the locks are corroded and stuck, and the light-bulb doesn’t work. The chemicals are over 25 years old, so inert (bit of a problem in fireworks). He’s too late to order new chemicals.

He’s on surer ground with physics. However, the use of a slinky spring to show waves is hardly innovative. I can remember that from 40 years ago. And here we go again – an overnight trip to see a fireworks display in (oh no) Blackpool. ‘That’s a man’s firework, that is’ says Mr Smith, showing entirely expected, sexist tendencies. To be fair they did like the fireworks. Did they learn any physics – not a damn thing.

Headmistress, Mrs Holt is retiring. Another opportunity for fireworks? They get stuck into woodwork (not science) to build the fireworks scaffold. Oh dear, you guessed it – the party had to be cancelled.

Another school trip is planned at huge expense – mining copper in Scotland, the US and a trip to China, where fireworks were invented. A bottomless budget and science has still to make an appearance. What a waste of time and money.

Watch out Beedle’s about
It’s in the same genre as the equally appalling Channel 4 programme on adult literacy, Can’t Read Can’t Write, with Phil Beedle, behaving like a headless chicken. Phil is touted (on his own website), as the UK’s ‘most inspirational teacher’. If this is true, we’re in real trouble. He ranted and railed against the existing system, then applied (badly) some basic phonics teaching (which is the orthodoxy anyway). Even with the lure of TV he only got six out of nine adults through a basic literacy test after nine months. Given the scale of the problem we’d have to bankrupt the educational budget to get things done this way.

Phil was clueless on the basic psychology of teaching literacy. He did lots of soul searching, narcissistic pieces to camera, but after criticising the system, he simply parroted that same system on screen. He was hopelessly teacher-centric and failed to get the learners engaged with examples and work from THEIR perspective. This buffoon is quoted as an authority in high level government reports and bandied about as some sort of schools’ saviour – God forbid.

Move on
We need to move beyond this cliched view of the 'inspirational' teacher towards the 'competent' teacher, who can hold a class and actually teach the subject at hand within the time and budgeted resources of a school. Not these performing monkeys with their banal personal ideas, devoid of any real understanding of the subject or the mind. Teachers can be inspiring and inspiration can come from sources other than the teacher. It's clear that technology inspires young people, so why keep it outside the school gates. The difference is that technology is cheap and scalable.


David said...

Beadle's book is so self centred that I threw it in the bin! Taught me nothing I didn't already know or got better advice from my colleagues.

Donald Clark said...

Interesting. I'm sure that the majority of professional teachers don't see these guys as role models. Their over-excited style and lack of real depth is telling. Sure, learners need to be motivated but, as Mayer's research showed, this shrieking style may be no more than noise that detracts and destroys actual learning.

Unknown said...

Yes, I call it the 'To Sir With Love Syndrome'. They come, do some good work,publish and promptly get out of the classroom.

I know..I know...I have left the classroom but I did nearly 30 years first.