Saturday, September 23, 2006

More on "Junk culture is poisoning our children"

The Shayler paper arrived today. Not yet published, so no link except to a report of the preliminary results.

It's really surprising stuff - but does not of course support the conclusions of the green ink brigade.

The Piagetian (i.e. based on Piaget's observations of childhood developement) test "volume & heaviness" explores 11-year-old pupils' appreciations of these two concepts. For instance, pupils are shown a 5x4x3 block of plasticine, which is lowered into a beaker full of water until it is just under water: the pupils see the water overflow. The plasticine is removed, the beaker is refilled, and pupils are asked whether more, less or the same amount of water would overflow if the plasticine was lowered down to (a) the middle and (b) the bottom of the beaker. There are 13 other tests exploring other aspects of volume and heaviness.

What Shayler found was that scores were steady from 1976 to 1995, and then declined rapidly. Boys, who had been better at these tests, are now the same level as girls.

Shayler speculates that this is due to the lack of experiential play in school, and the rise of the video game culture.

But does it matter? Life has changed. Doubtless today's kids are better a some things than kids of 30 years ago, due to their gaming and tech skills. Claiming that this points to a destroyed childhood or a dumbing down of Britain is wildly overstating the case. Perhaps, though, it points to one reason why take-up in science education is falling - kids don't get the basic concepts the way they used to. There's other evidence that points that way too - and it should be easy enough to remedy in school if that's really what's happening.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Energy realities

Chris Rhodes has drawn my attention to his blog, linked above.

I would be extremely grateful if other bloggers who cover the question of the realities underlying our future energy supplies would do the same.

If we politicians are going to make sensible decisions, we need to have a grip on the total implications of the energy policies which are being touted around, and not allow ourselves to be seduced by the latest rabbit out of a hat. I find it very difficult to locate information sources which even approximate the truth: so much of industry, and so many pressure groups, seem addicted to lies and distortions.

Claims are made about the energy efficiency of different models of cars, based only on their fuel consumption rather than on their lifetime energy cost. Wind turbines are hymned as the solution to our problems, on the basis of a 15 year payback! Fuel cells (with which I was commercially involved for a while) are promoted as 60% efficient without taking into account the inefficiencies that flow from creating and storing and transporting their fuel.

Chris Rhodes's latest posts address the mathematics of biofuels. Good Stuff.

Monday, September 18, 2006

In love with Shakespeare

Hear! Hear!

It's wonderful to see the Royal Shakespeare Company arguing that boring Shakespeare lessons are putting children off the bard for life.

What on earth is the point, for most children, of examining Shakespeare? Why teach it as a piece of literary criticism, dissecting it and analysing it? I can see that this is a useful skill for those who are going on to an academic study of English, but for most of us it merely means that we miss the joy of the thing until, if we're lucky, we rediscover it later in life.

My wife ( has used Shakespeare (and indeed Milton and the Greeks)with prisoners with the lowest possible levels of educational entertainment. They find it inspiring and immediately accessible and entertaining -- and this should be no surprise at all, as people like them who were in Shakespeare's earliest audiences. He seems to go down particularly well with black prisoners, because the blank verse raps.

The BBC article above ends with the usual your fatuous comments from the Department for Education etc. The curriculum is in a mess, and those in charge of steering it have let go of the tiller. More later.