Private Tuition Blog: Archive for November 2011
Posted on 30th November 2011
With Christmas coming up, there seem to be hundreds of adverts around for video games. There are posters around cities, television adverts and even adverts before films at the cinema. Although not all video games are violent, there are plenty that are and lots involve activities such as hunting and killing down zombies, capturing gangs and stealing cars. Although there is currently no evidence to suggest that playing violent video games makes children more aggressive and badly behaved in social situations, researchers have found that playing video games can have a profound and potentially damaging impact on your brain.
The human brain is incredibly plastic and adapts all the time. Whenever we learn new things new neural pathways are created. If we do a particular activity regularly, or if our jobs demand certain things from us, then our brains will change accordingly. For example, it has been found that London taxi drivers have enlarged hippocampi (the hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with memory) as a result of having to know so many different streets and routes in the city.
Millions of children play video games and the industry is worth billions of pounds. Some of the most popular video games such as Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto (both of which are highly violent) have sold a combined total of around 130 million copies worldwide. New research suggests that we should be concerned about the negative impacts that the games can have, so maybe it is time to regulate the industry and inform people about the potential impact of excessive game playing.
Baroness Greenfield, a respected neuroscientist working at Oxford University has argued that the games can reduce players’ ability to empathise with other humans and over in Indiana scientists have found that regular video game players have altered left inferior frontal lobes and anterior cingulated cortexes. The research is only in its early days, but it does show that video games physically change our brains. If you or your child plays games, limit the number of hours spent behind a screen to be on the safe side until more is known.
Posted on 30th November 2011
The current degree classification system of ‘First, 2.i, 2.ii, and third’ is around 200 years old, but now a handful of top universities are thinking about scrapping the system. Eight institutions, including University College London, the London School of Economics, Sheffield, Nottingham, Southampton, Warwick and York are heading towards a more American style of offering point scores.
Many academics are worried that the current system is too crude and that top degrees have been undermined by the fact that so many people are now being awarded high classes. In 2010 62.7% of undergraduates were awarded a first or 2.i. Under the new system every students’ score on a particular paper would be converted into an average point score between one and four, so in stead of a ‘2.i’ you might get a ‘3.5’ or a ‘3.8’.
The points system is currently used in America, where you can also be awarded points for extra-curricular and sporting activities. It is also being increasingly used in China, and so supporters of the ‘GPA’ (grade point average) system say that one of the benefits that it would be more recognisable internationally.
Karen O’Brien, who is the pro-vice-chancellor at Birmingham University, has said that she thinks it would make students work harder because under the GPA every module counts, and if you slack during one, your whole average will be knocked. Birmingham is currently trialling the system and is likely to introduce it properly next year. Nottingham is likely to introduce GPA in 2014, although other institutions’ start dates are currently unclear.
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the changes and Oxford and Cambridge are particularly unlikely to follow suit. Most Oxbridge degrees do not rely on modules and nearly all final exams are taken at the very end of the course.
It will be difficult to measure the success of GPA for a few years, but it will be interesting to see what the impact is and whether it does indeed make students work harder. However, if this is one of the main incentives, and it does work, then we may end up with thousands of hard working students who all end up with high GPAs and so it’ll still be difficult to tell which are the smartest graduates again!
Posted on 29th November 2011
This time of the year always makes me want to get creative and make things. There’s so much joy to be had decorating Christmas trees, making the house look cosy with festive lights and occasionally getting sticky with a bit of arts and crafts. The festive period is a great time to do family activities together, so how about planning a bit of artistic expression en famille this weekend? Here are some ideas to get you started…
Christmas wreaths are always a big success and never fail to make the house feel festive. Many flower shops will sell plain wreaths and then you can add your own ribbons/dried citrus slices/cinnamon sticks/flowers etc. If you don’t mind getting up early, make a trip to New Covent Garden Flower Market where they sell lots of inspirational things.
Ginger biscuits cut in the shape of stars and iced with white icing make fantastic tree decorations (and delicious snacks, too). For a non-edible version, make some salt dough by mixing flour, water and salt, shaping the dough and then drying it in a low heat in the oven. You can then paint the shapes and hang them on the tree with red ribbons.
Home-made Christmas cards are always nicer to receive than bought ones. Stock up on card, glue sticks, a bit of glitter and maybe some felt and off you go…
For something quirky and unusual, here’s how to make biscuits out of felt.
If you know how to crochet, then this might be the project for you.
Are you a dog lover? If so, you may want to get involved with a campaign being run by Battersea Dogs’ Home: they’re calling on kind people to make scented doggy bags to help keep the pooches calm in their kennels. Click here for more info.
Try making your own stamps by carving shapes into potatoes or old rubbers (ask for an adult to supervise you as you don’t want to cut your fingers off). Dip them in paint and stamp away!
You can create your own snow-dome by sticking figures to the inside of a jam jar lid and then screwing it on top of a jar filled with glitter and water.
Have fun! Let us know if you do make anything wonderful (if you send us a picture we might even post it on the blog) or if you’ve got more tips on great things to make this Christmas.
Posted on 28th November 2011
Jamie Oliver seems to be taking over the world. His book 30 Minute Meals sold like proverbial hot cakes last year and he’s got a new TV series and a book out about British Cooking. Earlier this year we had Jamie’s Dream School and he has also been spending time in America to promote healthy eating. When Jamie’s School Dinners aired a few years ago it caused a storm. Turkey Twizzlers became notorious baddies of the lunch tray and politicians agreed to draw up new regulations about school food. Sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks disappeared from school vending machines and lunch menus had to pass stricter nutritional guidelines.
However, Jamie has now accused Michael Gove of ‘eroding’ the good work done a few years ago. Academy schools do not have to abide by the government’s regulations on students’ food and caterers are saying that many new academy schools are asking for ‘unhealthy food’. In response, the government has dismissively said that they simply trust schools to behave in their pupils’ best interests. Yet if we consider some of the footage shown on Jamie’s School Dinners, it’s plain to see that many schools aren’t interested in feeding children well at all.
There are currently 1400 academy schools in the UK, which means that thousands of pupils may be at risk of not receiving healthy meals at lunchtime. According to the Local Authority Catering Association many academy schools are asking for confectionary and unhealthy snacks to be put back into schools. There are high profit margins to be made on confectionary, and many people are worried that schools are more concerned about making money than the health of their students.
In a letter to Michael Gove Jamie wrote about how vital providing healthy meals at school is because, it ‘is essentially the future of our country’ that’s at stake. One in three children in the UK are now overweight and obesity costs us billions of pounds each year. Although it may be cheaper to serve fried chicken nuggets than roasted chicken thighs now, there will be an enormous cost incurred later.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Families is on Jamie’s side and is also frustrated with Michael Gove’s laissez faire attitude. Sharon Hodgson has said, ‘Michael Gove is effectively throwing away years of hard work and achievement in driving up standards for purely ideological reasons, and without any mandate from parents’.
A study carried out by Oxford University and Essex University has discovered an impressive link between Jamie’s campaign to improve school meals and students’ academic results and behaviour. Children who eat healthier food are happier, can concentrate better and do well in tests and examinations. With this new research there’s now no excuse not to keep trying to improve the standards of school food.
If you are concerned about what your children are eating at school, contact teachers to find out about what’s on the menu. Alternatively, you could encourage your children to take packed lunches, so that you can keep more of an eye on what they are eating. Foods proven to help boost brain power include tomatoes, blueberries, complex carbohydrates, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables and lean protein such as fish and chicken, so try and pop some in a Tupperware!
Posted on 28th November 2011
More than any other subject, history seems to cause great debates over what’s on the syllabus and it’s in the news yet again after Michael Gove expressed his concern about the curriculum at the recent History in Education conference in London.
In the past the main criticism of the syllabus has been that there’s too much emphasis placed on the Tudors and Nazi Germany. According to Gove, Nazi Germany is still too prominent and he is also concerned by the dominance of the American west 1848-1895. The education secretary was vehement in his criticism and said that he believes too many pupils are leaving school ‘woefully undernourished’ and that he’s ‘startled’ by the narrowness of the topics studied at school.
GCSE history candidates across both the AQA and Edexcel exam boards get very minimal choices when it comes to which topics they can do and last year only 6% (average across the two boards) studied any British history for their examinations.
It is the lack of focus on British history that appears to be worrying Gove the most: “I think that such a concentration of so many students on the history of America over one 50-year period and Germany over one 13-year period is clearly wrong. We need to ensure our GCSEs and national curriculum are better aligned and critically they’re better aligned so that our students have a better understanding of the linear narrative of British history and Britain’s impact on the world and the world’s impact on Britain.” He thinks history is vital because it can “give people the chance to be proud of our past and, in particular, proud of the heroes and heroines that fought for freedom over time”. “That doesn’t mean airbrushing out times when horrific things have been done.”
Meanwhile, Sir David Cannadine has been calling for history to become compulsory until 16 and believes it should have the same status as English, maths and science, and some Tory ministers have complained that the current syllabus is “decidedly thin on actual knowledge”.
While it’s certain that history may undergo some significant changes in light of this high-profile criticism, the exact details of its future are unknown…
Posted on 24th November 2011
Whilst writing a blog about GCSE maths skills the other day I got thinking about the state of my own brain when it comes to maths. Although I have to use very little maths on a day to day basis, I do have to make the odd calculation, and I’m sure I am not the only one who relies on the calculator on their phone rather heavily. I am acutely aware of how lazy I have become when it comes to mental arithmetic, bit I am also concerned about my lack of knowledge into the inner-workings of the devices I so often require for help. And it seems I’m not the only one who is worried about these things…
Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, recently criticised the British school system with his comment, ‘your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made.’ Admittedly I don’t know the fine details of the British IT curriculum, but if Eric’s right, then this is something which should definitely be addressed.
As things stand, most key stage 2 pupils learn about calculator skills and thus are taught to rely on electronic devices from a young age. Only 2% of schools in the country do not use calculators in maths lessons for 8-11 year-olds. Perhaps this reliance on computers is to blame for the poor GCSE maths results of so many young people. Around 50% of young people fail to achieve an A*-C grade in maths at the moment. This is appalling and we need to improve the situation.
In Asian countries, where school students are among some of the most mathematically adept in the world, calculators are rarely used in the classroom. In Singapore you will struggle to find a primary school which uses calculators, however you will be impressed by the arithmetic and numerical skills of the pupils. Should we follow Singapore’s example?
The Canadian province of Alberta, the US state of Massachusetts and many schools in Sweden are experimenting with the idea of reducing calculator use in the classroom in an attempt to improve pupils’ skills. So far the results seem to be successful and pupils’ maths results are on the rise.
We can’t deny that technology plays a vital role in the modern world; however, we must work out how to stop it from making us lazier and less intellectually adventurous and successful. As Eric Schmidt pointed out, we must also teach students about how technology is made and works so that we can understand it better so that we don’t end up with a generation of lazy consumers of laptops and smartphones.
Posted on 24th November 2011
In the UK today there are currently 1,163,000 people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in employment, education or training (‘NEETs’). This figure is absolutely staggering and extremely worrying indeed; to stop things getting worse we need to start thinking seriously about concrete ways of bringing this number down.
New research by the Centre for Cities has discovered a clear trend linking poor English and maths results with joblessness among young people. In the last four years nearly 50% of young people left school without having attained an A*-C grade in English and maths. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that not reaching basic levels of literacy and numeracy will set you back when trying to get a job.
Although the unemployment figures are partly to do with the ongoing waves of job cuts, they also show that many people haven’t got the right skills to be offered a job. Basic English and maths are key in almost all professions, and without a decent GCSE in either subject, it’ll be hard to find an employer who will welcome you with open arms.
Cities with the highest youth unemployment figures, also have the most students who have not achieved good GCSE results, whereas in areas such as Cambridge, where youth unemployment has remained at a steady 1.3%, many more pupils are leaving school with decent results.
Many schools have been encouraging students to take ‘soft’ GCSE subjects so that they have a higher chance of doing well and thus will make the teachers and the school look better in the league tables. However, this isn’t helping anyone in the long-run.
What these new figures and the latest research shows is that schools need to work harder when it comes to helping their students attain high marks in traditional GCSE subjects. That way, when the students do leave school they will quite simply be more attractive and valuable to employers.
Posted on 22nd November 2011
It’s a dilemma that that most parents and their offspring will come into collision with when choosing which schools to apply to. There are so many good arguments for both single sex and co-ed schools that coming to a decision can seem impossible. I’ll never forget looking around different secondary schools when I was in year six. Where I grew up there are three excellent local schools, a girls’ school, a boys’ school and a mixed school. Each had to compete hard for applicants, although they are all excellent. When I attended an open day for the mixed school the headmaster at the time told as an anecdote about when he asked some of his pupils about why co-ed is important. A girl said ‘it’s important for girls to learn how annoying boys are’. Of course there were far more ‘serious’ answers as well, however a key thing really is learning to deal with the opposite sex. In the ‘real world’ men and women have to work and interact with each other all the time, but is going to a co-ed school the best way to learn about the opposite sex?
Girls’ schools continue to perform exceptionally well in the league tables. St Pauls’ Girls, North London Collegiate, Wycombe Abbey, James Allen’s Girls’ School and the Henrietta Barnett School, to name but a few, are prime examples of schools educating girls who perform brilliantly in exams, go on to study at top university, are accomplished at a range of extra-curricular activities and go onto exciting and impressive careers. According to the statistics, if you want your daughter to well academically, she’ll probably do better at a single sex school.
In the end I decided I didn’t want to go to a mixed school, but opted for the girls’ school around the corner, and I don’t regret the decision at all. Being a teenager is very difficult and while hormones are doing mad things to your body, I think it’s healthier if the pressure to look good every day is taken off, for example. I was much happier being able to focus on my schoolwork than making sure I looked my best in order to impress the person I fancied at the time. Knowing I’d probably only bump into ‘X’ at the weekend was a great relief. Although it might sound hugely stereotypical and reductive to say that all girls are concerned about making themselves attractive to boys when they’re at school, I don’t think we should deny that this is a common concern among many teenagers.
Something I learnt at university and through tutoring is that boys and girls learn and think in very different ways indeed. While this can make for fascinating discussions in university seminars, in a classroom environment I think it’s better for teachers to tailor their methods to a way that will benefit the majority of the class, and not try and go for a ‘one size fits all’ approach and hoping everyone, however different they might be, will gain something.
It is undoubtedly vital that girls and boys do learn to interact properly but this doesn’t have to happen specifically between the ages of 11 and 16 and in an academic environment. As we had links to a boys’ school nearby we did lots of extra-curricular activities (plays, bands, choirs, parties, charity events etc) with them, would go to the cinema and so on at the weekend and then at university had the chance to learn together again.
Let us know what you think about the single sex/co-ed debate. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Posted on 22nd November 2011
A little while ago I wrote about the increasing number of schools that are replacing textbooks with iPads. On the whole the schools embracing Apple’s tablet computer are secondary schools. However, teenagers are not the only ones who are rapidly increasing their engagement with digital media…
AVG Technologies, a firm that makes antivirus computer software carried out a survey earlier this year that looked into children who have internet access at home. The results are staggering: more children aged between two and five know how to play a computer game than swim or ride a bike and more pre-school children know how to use a smartphone than tie their shoelaces. According to Plymouth council, 72% of children under five spend on average half an hour a day online. In my opinion, with childhood obesity on the rise, the last thing we need is toddlers who would rather play on a computer than run around in the garden.
There are now hundreds of apps being developed with children in mind, and often app developers will test games out on young children and incorporate their feedback in the final designs. There’s an app called StoryTime that has already sold over 20,000 copies, which shows how popular games for young children are becoming.
How damaging is this increased use of smartphones, computers and tablets on children? A developmental psychologist in Canada called Michaela Wooldridge has been looking at whether mothers interact differently with their children when they are playing with technology rather than traditional toys. Wooldridge found that when their toddlers are playing with a computer, mothers are much less involved, interact with the child less, and make a minimal effort to try and teach them something while the child is playing.
Moreover, children find it much harder to get their heads around 2D rather than 3D shapes. Wooldridge’s study found that children struggled when watching a video of their mother telling them instructions about how to find something more than when the mother was in the room with them.
Children love to copy their parents and so by watching mum or dad on the phone or laptop, they want to be involved as well. Parents are also frequently giving their children their own smartphones to play with. A survey by Flamingo in July revealed that 75% of mothers admitted to giving their children their mobile to play with.
Although technology plays a vital role in our modern world and we need to teach younger generations to use computers and digital technology, we also need to make sure they learn about human interaction and develop physical skills. In the last decade children’s muscles have got steadily weaker, and computers are being blamed. A study by Essex University has shown that children now can do fewer sit-ups, have weaker arms, hands and legs than children ten years ago.
What are your thoughts on children’s use of technology? Do we need to restrict access to phones and computers or should we be giving them their own iPads?
Posted on 18th November 2011
Some schools offer both, most schools offer just A Levels, but growing numbers are opting for IB. The IB is very different from A Levels, but which is best?
A Higher Education Statistics Agency report done earlier this year stated that pupils who do the IB at school tend to perform better at university and get higher paid jobs. To many, this information alone is enough to make the IB come out on top.
An advantage and disadvantage of the IB is that students have to study certain subjects, and more subjects than most students take at A Level. If you are taking IB you can’t just do essay or arts bases subjects, as you could with A Levels. The good thing about this is that school leavers have a much broader knowledge in different subject areas, however they are less likely to be specialists in an area, as their A Level comrades might be.
As there is less choice within the IB system, some students may end up having to take subjects that they aren’t particularly keen on or good at. Should all students take maths until the age of 18, or should they be allowed to drop key topics? There are convincing arguments on both sides.
Having tutored a few IB students, I have been particularly impressed by the creativeness of their thinking and ability to tie different subjects and ideas together. This is probably a result of the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge elements. However, many of my past A Level tutees have had the edge when it came to analysing texts, particularly those who took two or more essay-based subjects.
Arguably one of the best things about the IB is the international outlook, with many languages included in the diploma programme and the many international issues studied. The IB is also recognised almost worldwide, and students who want to go to university abroad may have a marginally higher chance of being offered a place if they have done the IB. However, many British universities are still a bit unsure about the IB and although things are changing, when I was at university many friends who had done IB were convinced that the admissions tutors hadn’t totally understood what their grades really meant.
Whether it’s ‘better’ or not, one thing’s for sure: the IB is on the rise. It is now studied in 141 countries, in 3,294 schools and by 972,000 students.
What do you think? Are you on ‘team IB’ or ‘team A Levels’?