Summertime, Shakespeare and the real-world relevance of science

I’ve had a lovely summer, enjoying time with my friends and family and catching up on some of the things I love away from the science classroom: reading, swimming and a bit of Shakespeare at the globe. As the summer draws to a close I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned while I’ve been out of the classroom.

I’ve seen quite a few productions at the globe over the years and I’ve always enjoyed being a groundling. The dull ache in the legs by the end of the play is well worth it for the proximity to the stage and to the action and the extra involvement which the players grant the standing audience.


The Globe Theatre (CC-BY-SA: Another Believer)


This summer my husband and I saw Macbeth, a play I haven’t seen since I was at school. The players were fabulous and the set and costumes wonderfully enhanced the play.  The three witches were played using musicians and puppets as well as actors and this worked brilliantly, in my view. There was, however, a fly in the ointment for me. It took me a while to work out why the extra audience participation which had been added to the play bothered me so much, but I think I have now figured it out.


Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches for the first time. Theodore Chasseriau (musee D’Orsay). Public Domain


When I worked for science communication company science made simple one of the things we considered very carefully when devising science shows was how to ensure that we had an interesting and entertaining show without patronising the audience. We worked hard to make sure that the excitement of the show allowed space for the deeper excitement and interest in the underlying science. A show full of flashes and bangs with ‘serious science bits’ in between runs the risk of giving audiences the implicit message that the science is a chore to be put up with in order to make it to the pleasure of the thrill of a few colour changes and pops. ‘Eat your greens and then you can have pudding’.


Hydrogen balloon bang. CC-BY-SA (Maxim Bilovitskiy)


During that performance at the globe I had a similar nagging feeling. That the pantomime-esque calls to the audience, reference to Scotland’s oil wealth by McDuff and changes to the porter’s speech (funny as they were) served not to highlight the relevance of the play to contemporary issues but rather to suggest to the audience that this amazing, moving, thought-provoking and at turns hilarious play can only be of interest to an 21st century audience with the addition of explicit titbits aimed at them. Instead of enhancing the relevance of the play, these additions and amendments actually served to undermine it. ‘Well done guys, keep paying attention and you can have some cake.’


As my second September as a teacher starts I’m going to try to keep these ideas in mind. I want to make sure that my students see the big picture when it comes to the science I’m teaching them but I’m going to try to ensure that I don’t inadvertently end up shoe-horning this in and undermining the implicit intellectual interest in the subject matter itself. Science does lend itself all too easily to both cheap thrills and grandly overstated claims of real-world relevance, but neither are likely to foster a genuine interest and enjoyment beyond the superficial. Of course, everyone needs a bit of cake from time to time and a little of what you fancy does you good but it’s the interest in the science without the frills which is necessary in order to not only work through the difficult bits but to actually take pleasure in these. ‘Bring on the broccoli!’.


Broccoli- it’s delicious! CC-BY-SA (David Monniaux)

Learning Theories, Laughs and Library time

Almost 2 weeks into my PGCE and we have covered a huge amount of material at what feels like sprinting pace. I was worried 3 weeks in college wouldn’t be enough to cover all the background to learning theories, behaviour management techniques and all, the rest and I was right. The lectures are a fast-paced romp through the subject matter (often totally ignoring the ideas espoused in them for the sake of speedy chalk and talk).

Each lecture concludes with a list of 40000000 essential texts to read. The thing is, while some seem really interesting so do another 5 or 6 hundred books which I think would benefit me but aren’t actually on any of the lists and the days still have 24 hours.

Half and half: three course texts and three for fun

Half and half: three course texts and three for fun

Some things on politics of learning theories: I have been really interested in the lectures and references to learning theories as well as what i have seen in schools.  Some teachers seem to take the whole thing with a pinch of salt whilst others are evangelical adherents.  I need to read more (obviously!) But i am sceptical of the evidence base to these and can’t help wondering if they might be picked up with enthusiasm and then held onto tightly less because they actually describe learning well and more because they chime with preferred political  attitudes to education.  For example: the mindsets theory seems to me (health warning: more reading required) a good match for the ‘work hard and success will follow’ view of life, whereas that of Vygotsky leans more in the direction of an almost relativistic approach (potential learning determined by those around the learner)  and acknowledging the need to support learners in those tasks they may be able to do in time. I expect there are some good academic papers out there on this which i should read. Back to the library then!


On laughter: it seems like this learning to learn ’em lark is going to be a full and tough year, so I’m very pleased that my subject group seem to be supportive, knowledgeable and quick to laugh. Thursday subject pathway sessions are going to be full but fun I think!

And so it begins

Today was day one of my PGCE, spent observing in a school which will not be my placement school.  I saw lots of interesting things (possibly including a bit of pseudoteaching), met friendly and welcoming staff and fellow trainees and it’s definitely got me excited about what is to come.  There’s another day in a different school tomorrow and then college for the rest of the week.  But there’s something niggling: whilst I’m keen to get into the classroom I’m also a bit concerned that with very few college days before I am in my placement school (11 to be precise) there’s not going to be much in the way of learning theory actually covered.  I’m sure I should be reading all about it instead of typing this but I’ve always found a bit of heated discussion much more effective when it comes to getting to grips with ideas.  I hope that we will get a chance to discuss, for example, the role of class practicals and how they can be best used to facilitate learning (Alom Shaha has some interesting things to say about them here– and I really do want to make time to read the references he points to).

New year, new adventure, new ideas?  Photo: CC-BY (Christopher Sessums)

New year, new adventure, new ideas? Photo: CC-BY (Christopher Sessums)

There was just time to quickly pop down to the allotment for some emergency weeding and harvesting before picking up M from nursery.  While down there I met a chemistry teacher who is at the school partnered to the one I am going to be placed at (allotments are amazing places).  He asked me why, given the current situation in teaching, I wanted to go into it and said that he was frustrated with many of the changes he had experienced in recent years.  I said that kids are still kids. He grinned. ‘Yes’, he said ‘When I get into the classroom everything’s ok’.

Things happen down at the allotment.  Photo: CC-BY (Roger Muggleton)

Things happen down at the allotment. Photo: CC-BY (Roger Muggleton)

I think tomorrow I’ll just try to enjoy the day and suck what I can out of being in classrooms with kids and teachers who want to help them to learn.  And then get my nose into the textbook in the evening!

Learning to Learn ‘Em

Having received my first bits of pre-course homework and text book in preparation for the start of my PGCE in September I have decided to start writing about the experience.  My hope is that by making myself regularly write about what I do as I ‘learn to learn ’em’ (gettit?) I will reflect on the process.  I’m sure there will be tricky bits to get through, and hopefully I will be able to flick back to positive reflections at those points to encourage me, and use the blog a little cathartically if necessary.

There’s not a lot to reflect on yet though as I haven’t even cracked the spine of the lovely new text book.  I’d better crack on with my current job (quite a lot of housework) and hope that my toddler goes to bed nice an early tonight so that I can open the first pages of ‘Learning to Teach in the Secondary School’ (6th Edition) and the first pages of my new career!