Black History Month

Black history month always seems to focus on the same few people: Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela…. or else people from the worlds of sport or entertainment are chosen. I’m not saying that these people are not important, I’m just saying that the fields of scientists and inventors always seem to be neglected. Why not change that this year and find out about some of these people instead?

The Black Inventor Online Museum

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst is probably most famous for being one of the suffragettes.

She was born Emmeline Goulden on 15th July 1858, and as her parents were both political activists who supported votes for women, she was taken to rallies from a young age and from there she developed her own interest in the women’s movement.

In 1879 she married Richard Pankhurst, who was 24 years her senior. He was a lawyer who shared her views on women’s rights, and together they founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1889. Sadly Richard died only a few years later in 1898, aged just 62.

In 1903 Emmeline, together with her eldest daughter Christabel, set up a new group the Women’s Social and Political Union. This was much more militant than her first group, and its members were often imprisoned for violence, including smashing windows and setting fires. None of this for them any closer to achieving their aims of voting rights for women.

In 1914 wall broke out and Emmeline turned her attention to supporting in the war effort. At the end of the war, women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote. Many people put this down to their work during the war, although this was never given as the official reason.

Emmeline Pankhurst died in June 1928, just a few weeks before the government granted the vote to all women aged 21 and over, to match the voting rights of men.

Summer Solstice

In the Northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is the name given to the longest day of the year – i.e. the day when the sun appears highest in the sky and there is more sunlight than on any other day (16 hours and 38 minutes in the UK this year).  It falls on 21st June, but celebrations relating to the solstice are held on the day itself and the days either side, depending on local traditions.

Celebrations to mark the solstice date back to ancient times, when the sun was revered as a deity in many cultures, and its movements were the subject of great interest and had many legends and stories attached to them.  The name “solstice” comes from the Latin words for sun and standing still, as it is the day the sun can be seen to reverse its course in the sky.  These days, when we think of the summer solstice we tend to think primarily of the pagan festivities that take place, as these can still be found in modern society.  As was also the case in the distant past, they are most prevalent in Scandinavian countries, where people actually experience a full 24 hours of sunlight at this time of year.  In the UK, the summer solstice is marked by a 4-day festival at Stonehenge, our most famous Neolithic site, where the alignment of the stones highlights the sunrise on midsummer day.  In past times, the most widespread practice was to light bonfires to symbolise the triumph of the sun over darkness.  Because it was seen as a time of warmth and light, when crops are in their main growing season, there were also fertility rituals at this time and it was considered an auspicious time for marriages.

Litha is the name that the Anglo Saxons gave to this much earlier festival, and that is the name by which most modern-day Pagans and Wiccans refer to the celebrations.  As well as watching the sunrise, it is a day for reflecting on “dark” and “light” aspects of your own life, looking ahead and planning for the harvest time and winter on the horizon, and also for spending time enjoying the sunshine in the outdoors with family, culminating with communal meals cooked outdoors and the lighting of traditional fires, accompanied by singing, drama and storytelling.  Generally speaking, it is one of the most light-hearted and festive of the major dates on the calendar.

As with many earlier traditions, the medieval Christian church co-opted existing festivals as days of religious observance.  In the case of the summer solstice, the midsummer celebrations became the feast days of St John the Baptist (24th June), with the bonfires lit to ward off evil spirits being a direct adoption of existing practices.

No matter what your religious beliefs, the summer solstice symbolises the arrival of summer (not that this is always apparent in the UK!).  As such, it heralds the time of year when we tend to spend more time outdoors – perhaps enjoying the sunshine on picnics or walks, or just experiencing the natural world – and when we take most of our family holidays.  And it’s interesting to think that if you are in the garden enjoying a barbecue or sitting around your fire pit with friends and family in the next few days, you will be doing the same as people the world over have been doing at this time of year for millennia.

Thank you again to my lovely husband, Ian Braisby (Blue Badge Guide), for writing this piece for me.

Related posts: Autumn Equinox, Yule

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong

Most of us have to learn something new at some point in our lives. Thankfully my GCSE, A level and BA days are behind me, but I still like to do short courses and if ever a fairy godmother dropped a fortune in my lap I’d love to do a Masters in the future.

These tips, which I found on the Open2Study Facebook page are for everyone who still has exams to pass. I especially like the one about taking notes with pen and paper, because I always feel more creative with a pen in my hand than a keyboard at my fingertips.

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong.

When is a test not a test?

It’s amazing what a difference a word makes. Say the word “test” and people fly into a panic: I don’t know it! I can’t remember it! I hate tests!

This year, instead of doing tests at the end of a unit, we have had quizzes instead. Now children are not stupid, and if you just swap the words “quiz” and “test”, they still know it’s a test. So we had real pub-quiz style quizzes. The children wrote their team name (which had to include their own name) at the top of the paper and then huddled their arms round it to stop anybody else copying, and before we started they had to switch off their invisible phones.

I put the questions into rounds and read them out in my best Quizmaster voice. For a bit of extra authenticity I made one of the rounds a picture round…. In fact the only thing we lacked was the chance to play a joker for double points! And at the end I announced the “winners” who won a round of applause from the rest of the class.

The children loved it. In fact if anybody was off sick on the day of the quiz I had to delay announcing the winners, because next lesson the children who had been absent would beg for the chance to sit in the corner quietly and do the quiz on their own!

Did it make the children who didn’t win feel bad? Well, actually – no. Because it was a bit of fun not a test, there was no pressure and I found that even the children who found the subject more difficult did really well in the quizzes. Sometimes they even won!

During lessons they became more willing to admit if they didn’t understand something, so any uncertainties and misconceptions could be dealt with more quickly. They became more willing to take risks because they knew that making mistakes wasn’t a disaster – it was just a step on the road to the learning – and this helped them to learn even more. And the more they learnt the better they did in the end of unit quiz.

At the end of the year the children voted the quizzes the most fun thing they had done in that topic, and as I looked at the class I knew that every single one of them had made more progress than I had imagined possible.

Would this work with every class? I don’t know. What I do know is that for this particular mix of children, turning those end of unit tests into quizzes made the children happy, relaxed and enthusiastic learners.