It’s all about the winged things

At first I wasn’t sure about including #30dayswild on this blog, because this blog is about education and teaching. But then I decided that #30dayswild is all about nature, and nature is science, and science is very much a part of the national curriculum, so it does belong here.

June 1st

Our 30 days wild adventure started in a spectacular (and unplanned) way when we heard a terrible bumping crashing sound, followed by silence, followed by a panicked fluttering sound. We called out a gas engineer who took our gas fire to pieces and pulled out a terrified wood pigeon, who had somehow managed to fall down our chimney. We set him (or maybe her) down in our back garden with some food and water, and kept an eye on him. It took him a while and we were starting to get worried, but after about 15 minutes he fluffed out his feathers and flew off into the trees. We’re still not sure how it happened as we have a cap on our chimney, but we’ve made a note to check and make sure the cap isn’t damaged as we don’t want other birds to suffer the same fate.

June 2nd

The sky was beautiful. It was covered in thick black cloud, but once it got dark and the moon started peeking between the clouds, it was really quite breathtaking. We spent a few minutes just watching the clouds blow by. Before bed I opened the window ready for the following day’s wild thing.

June 3rd

I woke up to the dawn chorus, and although it was earlier than I would usually wake up, it was a really relaxing sound to wake up to (and to fall back to sleep to before being woken at my more usual time by my alarm).

We always have lots of bees in our garden. I like bees and always insist that we have the sort of flowers they like in the garden. In the late afternoon I watched one of the bees circling round, looking for his home – a little hole in between the flowers on our front drive. I looked him up and identified him as a tawny mining bee.

June 4th

duckMy husband and I went for a walk in a local park. We saw the usual swans, geese, grebes, black-headed gulls and moorhens, as well as rabbits, squirrels and even some cows! As we were leaving we spotted a duck we’d never seen before. My first thought was, “What an ugly duck”, but the more I watched it, the more I liked it. He was standing at the edge of the lake, well apart from the other ducks, and the crest on top of his head stood right on end when they came near.  I took his picture so  could look it up when I got home, although there was no chance of forgetting what it looked like. It turned out to be a Muscovy duck.

June 5th

I thought I was going to do my wild thing early today. I went for my shower and spotted a big black spider scuttling across the bathroom floor. I was going to put him outside so he didn’t accidentally get squished, but by the time I’d found a glass and a sheet of paper to slide underneath, he had found somewhere safe to hide and I’ve not seen him since.

Following that failure, the rest of the day became a tricky one. I arrived at work at 8am and didn’t finish until 7.30pm. By the time I’d eaten, prepared my lessons for the following week and done some housework it was almost midnight!  I went outside with my husband, and we spent the last few minutes of the day standing in our back garden.  It was a clear night, so we looked at the stars, listened to the wind rustling the leaves of our cherry tree, and watched the moths fluttering by.

Birds, bees, ducks and moths – this week has been all about the winged things.

Modular Changes

photoThis is another guest post from Natalie, who wrote the fabulous “Teachers – it’s time to face the music” post about teacher stereotypes.  She has more to say, and this time it’s the modular changes to exams that she is angry about.

Take a deep breath. One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. A slide, a scan, a sigh.

It’s over – you know them now. All the hard work, all the agonizing over dates and names and numbers; it comes down to those few letters on a page. And then, whether they were good or bad, you move on and make plans accordingly.

This year, like so many others 17 year olds in the country, it was in that unforgettable, nervous, sweaty-palmed fever that I got my AS level results. I am, however, one of the last to ever do so, because next year that qualification will no longer exist. Mr Gove and Mr Cameron are changing current examinations to cut out modules, which they say are making a mockery of the system. According to the new government changes, re-sits must be quashed and the old, final examination system has to be brought back in (a system where students sit one set of exams after two years at both GCSE and A level).

As a young person interested in bettering my future, I could not disagree more.

Let’s start by ignoring the fact that countless headteachers and school boards have rejected the proposals (after all, that’s what the government and Ofsted have done), and just look at the impact that changing the system will have on students themselves. When I entered Sixth Form last September, I had no idea how difficult Year 12 was going to be. I had no idea how much work I would have to put into my AS levels. With exams looming in January and June, however, I soon found out. Those initial exams are a crucial wake-up-call to every single student that decides to take A levels. Without them, there is no way that either myself or my friends could have achieved what we had hoped for this summer. And now, with one year left, we can make informed decisions about our futures. Some people will have to change their university plans, realising that perhaps lower entrance requirements are more realistic. Others might drop A levels all together and take up an apprenticeship or a job. A few may re-take the year, giving themselves a valuable second chance. Remove the AS modular system and this will not happen. Students will flounder for two years, convinced they are doing enough and that it will all turn out fine in the end. For those students, results day will really be a nasty shock.

The government counters this argument by saying that the final examination system worked in the past and will work again. To say this, I feel, is to be completely ignorant to the fact that the world of work and education has developed dramatically. Since the modular system was brought into A levels in 2000, we have changed as a nation in unthinkable (and not always positive) ways. Jobs for young people in Britain are now scarce, youth unemployment is high, and the value of a university degree is not only academic but sensible – why not study for a further 3 or 4 years and wait out the economic storm? Why not better your chances at finding a job in the future?  The expectations of young people are that much higher now too, as we are repeatedly told that we must compete with nations across the globe. How can we do this if less people are going into higher education? How can we start to repair the economy of tomorrow if we are not given the opportunities to do so today? After all, employers are not going to know if you sat the 2014 system or the 2015 system. They will simply see your qualifications as they are. For me it all gets a bit personal too, because if I had been born 4 days later I would have been in the year below, putting me in that new final examination system. I am beyond grateful that this isn’t the case.

On top of this initial problem, there is the ever increasing pressure that this sudden change will bring. Balancing an entire future on one set of exams seems absolutely insane to me. One bad day can change everything, and that simply doesn’t work when the stakes are higher than ever before. A level examinations have always been intense, but over the last few years this intensity has multiplied threefold, as my parents’ and grandparents’ generations have told young people that the system will not allow us to achieve. We are told to reach for the stars but are apparently embroiled in incompetence that ties us to the ground. Our exams are ‘easy’, our learning ‘bite-sized’ and  – this is the most common thing we hear – we are given too many second chances. Quite frankly, this makes no sense. As far as I am concerned, second chances are not bad. In fact, I see them as necessary.
Students need to be taught that hard work, and nothing else, leads to success. The most effective way to prove this to young people is to let them experience it first hand – to show them what happens when you do not work hard enough. Is that not what the government wants? A generation that understands what it means to work hard and persevere? Modules encourage this by showing students their potential futures at the end of one year of A level study. This gives them a choice – work hard or give in. It is only by using this system that we can learn the value of hard work, something that pushes people to advance their futures. I have seen this transformation myself in some of my closest friends. It works, and consequently they work.

The government also claims that by removing the modular system they will make exams harder and stop the current ‘dumbing down’ of students. Not only am I shocked at the lack of thought put into this, but I am also insulted, and I have every right to be so. I am not naive, and I know that allowing countless re-sits is not sending the right message to students. However, I also know that the exams I sat this May were not easy. If Mr Gove disagrees with me, he is welcome to try a few. How belittling, how infantilizing, how patronising to say that the exams we work tirelessly for are easy! It is completely unfair to say that one year ‘had it easier’ than the other in the same way that it is impractical to pretend that a string of results reflects a whole person. Not everyone is an academic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the chance to go to University and further their study. After all, modules reflect working life much more than the final examination system does. No employer allows their employees to mess around for two years and then produces a test and expects them to get 100%. In the real, working world employers expect consistent hard work, and modules teach such consistency in a very structured way, giving students employable, transferable skills. Where exactly, I must ask, is the problem?

In the end it comes down to the simple fact that the proposed radical changes to the examination system will affect negatively on students and their exam results. That this is true I have no doubt. And yet, it appears that these changes will take place anyway. Given this, I call upon the government to give us the other part of the plan. Because surely if you are going to make it harder for students to get to university, there is a plan to provide for them elsewhere? Some super-duper apprenticeship schemes set to roll out across the country? Some foot-in-the-door tips and advice to give young people a chance at finding work? At the very least a plan to reduce youth unemployment? Please, do reveal all.

I was always told as a child that you shouldn’t take one foot out of the canoe unless your other foot is firmly in another. It’s too risky. When it comes to my future, I don’t want to take risks, but want to feel supported by a government that believes in my generation’s ability and wants to help us achieve. Instead we’ve lost both canoes and are facing the reality of plunging into murky, uncharted waters.

Take a deep breath. One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. A slip, a crash, a fall.

What do you think? Are these changes a bad idea? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Natalie has a lot to say on a lot of different subjects, so if you want to read more of her writing, visit her blog Life as a Unicorn.


Parkinson’s Awareness Week

Parkinson’s – that’s the one that Michael J Fox has got, right? It’s that one where you get the shakes?  Well, yes and yes. But there is so much more to it than just shaking. It creeps up on you. Quite often you don’t even realise you have it until the symptoms get quite severe. My nan had Parkinson’s. By the time she was diagnosed with it, the doctors said she had probably had it for 10 years.

So, if it’s not just shaking, what else is it?  Well for starters, it’s sometimes not even shaking. Not everyone with Parkinson’s develops tremors.

The condition is caused by a deterioration of the nerves that carry messages to the brain. Sufferers find that they slow down because it takes longer for the body to relay messages to and from the brain. They can be unsteady on their feet, stumbling around as if they are drunk. Sometimes they have a “freeze” – a bit like when your computer freezes – and their body just stops. There is no warning of this – they can be halfway up a flight of stairs and suddenly find themselves unable to move. It can stop their facial muscles working properly, stopping them frowning or smiling. They can have difficulties get into and out of a bath or shower. Dressing and undressing themselves can be a struggle until the time comes when they even need help to go to the toilet – robbing them of any dignity.

It doesn’t just affect their physical capabilities either. Parkinson’s makes thought processes take longer too.  If you are talking to someone with this illness, you need to be patient. If they don’t reply straight away, they are not being ignorant. They need time to process what you have said, to formulate a reply and to get that reply from their thoughts to their voice. When they do speak, their speech may be slurred and difficult to understand.

And there are far more frightening symptoms even than being unable to move or think. Parkinson’s can also cause hallucinations. Parkinson’s sufferers are more likely to develop dementia. It can cause anxiety and depression. It can cause difficulty in eating or swallowing.

It’s a terrible illness. And yet we know so little about it, or why people develop it. At present it is incurable, although it can be treated. And even though 1 in 500 people have Parkinson’s (according to information on www.Parkinson’ it’s still an illness that too few people are aware of. This week is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. Please help raise awareness by reblogging this post, or by sharing the link on Facebook or Twitter, or just amongst your friends.

On behalf of everyone who has seen a loved one suffer from Parkinson’s – thank you.

A Day in the Life of a Self-employed Teacher

Recently I signed up to a blogging challenge and one of the suggestions was to write a blog post about a typical day. That sounds all well and good…..except that I don’t have a typical working day!

Often I have work booked in in advance, which is great.  On those days I get ready for work and I go. Other days I wait to see if the phone rings. Most days it does and off I go to work. Other days it doesn’t and then I work from home.

But, whether the phone rings at the last minute, or the day is booked in advance, the work I do when I get there is the same though – right? Er…no! I teach across a whole range of ages, and teach every subject on the primary curriculum as well as specialising in languages.  One day I could be playing dolls houses and making chocolate crispie cakes in Nursery; the next teaching French to graduates at a local university. The day after that could be a 1960s themed day with Year 6, followed by a day split between Years 1 and 2 doing some Latin. The week could end with a day teaching deaf children.

On those days when I work from home the days are still varied. I maintain my own website and this blog, and also have responsibility for my husband’s website and blog for his tour guiding business. There are always emails that need answering and I sometimes proofread my husband’s translation work for him. I’m part of Team 100WC so I make sure I find time to read the children’s writing and leave comments for them.

I also take my CPD seriously, so a work from home day will include doing my homework for my British Sign Language level 3 course and reading and research for a level 3 course in Dyslexia Awareness, Support and Screening.

Four evenings a week and Saturday mornings I do private tuition for children aged 6-12, but again every lesson is different. Some of the children I work with need help with just maths, some just English and some both. Some have dyslexia and need a different sort of help, and some find the work they do at school easy and need stretching. As if that wasn’t enough variety, I am planning to branch out into 11+ tuition, and language teaching for businesses as well.

So – thanks very much to Nikki Pilkington for the suggestion in her 30 Day Blogging Challenge, but I’m afraid this is about as typical as it gets!