Thursday, 15 August 2019

Testing, testing...

It's that time of year again, the day when local newspaper photographers everywhere try to get photos like this...

or this...

or even this...

So predictable.

So is the coverage of their print or broadcast colleagues who usually try some way of devaluing the results, criticising teachers, claiming it was all much harder last year (or when they took the exam) and so on. And on. Yawn.

What never seems to be discussed (at least, not often) is this.

Why do we persist with this cockamamy system of applying for a place at university before (not after) results come out?

In what other walk of life would you be asked to apply for something that required a certain level of accreditation before securing it? Oh yes, I know you need to be a qualified in medicine to apply for a job as a surgeon, but I'm working on it. I watch Holby City every day!

Perhaps self-styled 'mental heavyweight' advisor Dominic Cummings and his self-styled 'intelligent' political master Michael Gove could have turned their combined brain to this when running education, rather than changing GCSE grades A-G to grades 1-9 (yes, they couldn't even count!) and other such footling fiddling at the margins of the problem.

But no. Everyone wants to spend the day arguing about grade inflation and unconditional offers (surely a big hint that the current system isn't working) rather than tackle the problem, or tackle those who for years, while in charge, failed to tackle the problem.

There has at last been some discussion on the subject as we approached this year's exam results day. But the headlines this morning were, predictably enough, all about grade boundaries and getting offers without even needing any grades, and what that might have done to grades, and how university admissions departments might be punished for daring to want some control over the process.

But my bet it'll be a long, long time (if ever) before someone has the courage (and intelligence) to tackle such an issue.

Bit like the drugs problem. But then, like education, that's something they all think they know something about. Because, of course, they all went to school.

And they've all taken drugs.

At least, Michael Gove has.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Beat Summer Learning Loss with EdPlus

Summer learning loss is a thing. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

You've probably heard all about it anyway. Teachers (I used to be one) always worry about all the hard work that their pupils have been doing all year disappearing. Your children's teachers may even have set some holiday homework.

But try as you might it can be difficult to just keep the learning engine ticking over. Which is where EdPlus might come in handy.

Charlie liked it so much that he made this video about it. I like it because when the kids ask if they can play out/play on the Xbox/play with their friends I can easily say 'yes' then, 'five minutes of Edplus first.'

And, you know what? They DON'T MOAN!


About Edplus:

Oxford-based education technology start-up Edplus has launched a mobile app which allows children to learn their times tables for free in a new way, challenging and complementing traditional teaching methods. Developed by Francis Brown, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, the technology uses an algorithm that creates a learning pathway unique to each child, adapting and improving as they play.

Children across the world have been learning their times tables for over 2,000 years, by various methods and with differing degrees of success. Times tables are typically learned by heart in a prescribed order but Edplus incorporates an adaptive algorithm developed by Professor Brown. This permits a more fluid and personalised approach.

The app is now available to download from Google Play Store, App Store and Amazon Apps:

Speaking about the app, Professor Brown explains:

"Instead of dictating an order in which children should learn their times tables, the Edplus algorithm takes a flexible approach. It takes into account the fact that a child may grasp one concept quicker than another without any predefined expectation of what that might be."

"It then builds out from this using the idea of ‘topology of knowledge'. A simple example is if a child shows that they know 2 x 7, the algorithm might introduce the related question 7 x 2. This might sound obvious but the national curriculum only expects children to know their seven times table by the end of year four, some two years after their two times table."

As more questions are answered through Edplus, the topology of knowledge of different children - in other words - a map of what they know and how they learn, is progressively built up. In essence, the software promises to get smarter and more effective with use. Professor Brown, who is more accustomed to the challenges of quantum field theory than multiplication, continues:

"Becoming a father has caused me to question conventional wisdom about elementary maths. I don't want my children to spend four years learning just 78 number facts. Times tables are a basic building block of more advanced mathematics and it is vital that children attain mastery in them as efficiently and enjoyably as possible."

The app coincides with the introduction by the UK government of a nationwide test for year four pupils (age 8-9), starting in the 2019-20 academic year, to assess whether they can recall their multiplication tables fluently.

Edplus - an Oxford University spinout company - has promised to make the times tables component of its app free worldwide. Toby Staveley, CEO at Edplus said:

"We combine a fresh approach to times tables with lots of features to keep children engaged. Times tables are often learned out-of-school where there is a sizeable inequality of opportunity. Our technology makes out-of-school learning easier for parents, more fun for children and can ultimately help reduce the attainment gap."

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

BIC KIDS Young Artist Award 2019

Remember last week? That was summer, in case you missed it. And if, like me, you've got kids at home wondering what to do as the rain falls, this might just be for you.

It's the BIC® KIDS Young Artist Award and it's open for entries from all 5- to 11-year-olds NOW!
And it will be rewarding the creativity of children from across the country by offering them the opportunity to see their artwork graduate from the fridge door (where BIC's research says it is most frequently displayed) to billboards.

Entrants are encouraged to exercise their artistic flair, let their imaginations run wild and draw with complete freedom. Once kids have created their showstoppers, parents can enter by simply visiting and uploading the artwork before the deadline on Sunday, Aug. 4.

Once entries close on Aug. 4, BIC’s expert judging panel will select one finalist from each region, whose amazing artwork will be used on local billboards throughout the voting stage of this year’s BIC® KIDS Young Artist Award.

The 13 finalists will also receive a certificate and a bundle of BIC® KIDS goodies. Specifically designed to help children hone their artistic talent, the hampers will include an array of exciting stationery products including the BIC® KIDS Evolution Ecolutions® Colouring Pencils and BIC® KIDS Kid Couleur Felt Tip Colouring Pens.

Once the public has decided who will be crowned the overall champion for the 2019 BIC® KIDS Young Artist Award, the winner will have his or her artwork published on a combination of 6-sheet posters and a 48-sheet billboard.

Full terms and conditions for the BIC KIDS Young Artist Award can be found at

Friday, 19 July 2019

Lest we forget

One hundred years ago today, July 19th 1919, 15000 British and Empire troops paraded past a temporary, wood and plaster monument in Whitehall as part of a parade marking the official end of World War One.

But Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect, had been given only weeks to complete the project, the first sketches of which he'd drawn on the back of a napkin. And just days after the parade the entire structure was due to be dismantled.

Then something remarkable happened. Wreaths and floral tributes at the foot of The Cenotaph grew and grew. It became clear that Lutyens' catafalque had touched a nerve among a nation in mourning. So, although there had been no intention to make The Cenotaph a permanent monument, pressure began to build. There were questions in Parliament, leaders in The Times and letters to the 'papers. Clearly something had to be done.

Even before the war ended work was being done on how it would be remembered. Sir Edwin Lutyens had been to France with the newly-founded Imperial War Graves Commission as early  as 1917. There, on the old battlefields, he found 'wild flowers that are as friendly to an unexploded shell as they are to the leg of a garden seat in Surrey.' He wrote to his wife of 'the ribbon of isolated graves like a milky way across miles of country where men are tucked in where they fell. Ribbons of little crosses each touching each other across a cemetery, set in a wilderness of annuals and where one sort of flower is grown the effect if charming, easy and oh so pathetic. One things for a moment that no other monument is needed.' But it was. And Lutyens knew it. Once the war was over, the nation knew that Lutyens was the man to provide it.

The first cenotaph designed by him was not, in fact, the hastily erected monument in Whitehall. On 22 January 1919 Lutyens had been invited to Southampton to view potential sites for the city's war memorial. Though the design of this civic monument were to change, the end result is strikingly similar to the Whitehall cenotaph, so much so it might almost be regarded as a prototype. 

Having already got the basic design principle sorted, it was no surprise that Lutyens chose a similar structure for the hastily built temporary cenotaph in Whitehall. Although plans for a Peace or 'Victory' parade had been in hand for some time, they were on hold both until the formal peace treaty (The Treaty of Versailles) was signed and until the French (who were to be guests at the British ceremony) had decided what they were going to do to mark the final, formal end of war.

What was a surprise was how much the monument seemed to mean to so many people. It soon became obvious that the temporary monument intended only as a symbolic structure for the parade down Whitehall was too important to lose. Questions were asked in Parliament; on 26 July an editorial in The Times called for a permanent replacement; many letters of support appeared in the press. On 30 July the Cabinet met and agreed that a permanent monument should be erected. The only remaining question was... where?  

There was understandable disquiet about placing the Cenotaph in the middle of a busy London thoroughfare. The same Times leader demanding a permanent structure suggested Horse Guards Parade as a more fitting location. The London Traffic Advisory Committee suggested Parliament Square. But Lutyens was adamant. The site in Whitehall had been 'qualified by the salutes of Foch and the allied armies and by our men and their great leaders. No other site would give this pertinence.'

Whitehall it was. 
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