What Letter Should We Add to STEM?



The video has a number of well known academics stating their support of the arts (and humanities seems to be added as a “tie-on”) to accompany  Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which has got so much attention in the media and has become a big concern of no less a person than President Obama!

They all agree that the arts and humanities leads to a rounded education and supports work in the other disciplines.

I would go further and say that the arts and humanities support the thinking and social skills that help students to learn STEM and without them the effects of concentrating on just these subjects would be undermined.

I think the statement in the video that resonated with me was Professor Howard Gardiner who said that a STEM education without the arts was a “halfbaked education”. Hear, hear.

Politicians and global warming


I love this sculpture. It is by Issac Cordal in Berlin, Germany and is called “Politicians discussing global warming”.

I don`t need to add anything to what so many of you are no doubt thinking.This sculpture cuts to the heart of the situation. Do we really need to be swamped by an ever-rising and non- shrinkable tide of water whilst our politicians discuss and agree to talk about the subject at some future date?

I would take this photo as a starting point for discussion about Global Warming in schools. Students need to consider the whole debate and to understand the possible ramifications of non-action.

Life as a left-hander


The poorly written piece above was written by me this morning. If you are finding it hard to deciper the scrawl here is a transcript:

                                         The left hand
Today I will be attempting to write with my left hand. What do I notice? The difficulties of  my pen appearing  to hide what I have just written.
I now know why left-handed people often write with the page slanted.
This has been a really good learning experience. I can begin to remember my difficulties as  child when trying to learn to write.
I haven`t discussed the strangeness of the feel of the pen in my hand. I lack confidence and my lack of grip can clearly be seen. I have the advantage on a child learning to write. I am not hindered by by spelling or vocabulary. I know what I want to write, the physical difficulties got in the way!
Interestingly, I do not find any problems deciphering my writing though someone reading this probably will.

I  attempted this exercise for two reasons. In my last post I discussed brain plasticity and the need to  exercise the mind as we grow older in order to  grow new connections in our brain and not allow our brain to shrink before it dies.

The article I referenced suggested a number of things to try such as learning a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument or writing with the other hand to the one you have used throughout your life.

I chose the last task because it was comparatively easy to start. All I needed was a notepad and my pen and the courage to start. I also had another reason  I am the child of two left-handed parents and have a left-handed brother.

As I stated in my transcipt, it was a really good learning experience. I have taken the first steps and deliberately chose to use a notepad because I can see my progress from my first effort. Hopefully my skills will imrove as my brain works to make me more efficient in my persuit. I can, at the same time, get to know how the world feels as a left-handed writer. I can also improve my brain`s capacity at the same time or so the findings say.

Watch this space, I will report on my progress

The need to keep learning


The above link is to an article that discusses the recent findings of neuroscience that the brain can still grow synaptic links well into old age. This conflicts with the older “wisdom” that brain cells die off as you get older, thus decreasing the potential to think and learn.

If the new findings are correct and there is much evidence to show brain scans of firing neurons and the birth of new connections in our brain, then we can combat the “slow death of the brain” by keeping on learning.

The author suggests we could learn a new language, learn a musical instrument or even write with our “non-writing” hand. I would add that we could extend our learning by taking one of the many MOOCs that are available today. You could get involved with local issues or become a volunteer or join the ever-growing numbers of “Makers” and just build something, anything.

I would of course, highly recommend writing blog posts. I am on post number 623 and counting. I still enjoy the research for each post notwithstanding the actual creative process of writing.

The message is simple, as you age, keep learning. The body may wither, don`t let the brain fade away!

And So There Must Come an End | Charlotte Kitley


This is by a long way the best post I have read this year. It is a life affirming statement by a lady who knew she had just a few days to live.
I am, at present in week 2 of an excellent Mooc from the University of California at Berkeley titled “The Science of Happiness”. I have learnt just how important family, spouses, children and friends are to making our lives as happy as possible.
This post underlines all of these ideas. It shows how fragile our “little life” is ( to quote Shakespeare).
Please read and count your blessings.

Becoming a digital age reader

I have been reading a lot this afternoon about the problems or advantages of reading online as against the conventional book, magazine or newspaper.

I have to admit that I tend to read mostly online these days. My reading material is wide and includes blog posts, articles from various academics that I follow, the numerous posts in Facebook, the occasional Tweets on Twitter and various other material that I might come across on a day-by-day basis as I surf the net.

I have also purchased a number of e-books on Kindle and have found some “free” (or freely available) books that I have downloaded.

I recently did a MOOC on Social Psychology from Wesleyan University on Coursera. This led me to download articles and one book on the subject. I also bought two excellent hardback books due to interest in the subject which I had the pleasure of reading at my leisure and without running down my tablet’s battery!

When reading various articles I often come across references to books or other articles that I look up  and I save my material on “Pocket” so that I can catch up with it at my leisure.

I have become a “Digital Age Reader” not by design but because the world of information has moved on from the “book based society” of my youth. This is the world that many of our younger generation are growing up in. You can debate the pros and cons of the “feel” of a book as against the ephemeral screen that is here one minute and can be lost, possibly forever, the next.

I do though read and I read widely. I have access to an incredible richness of material. I cannot ever hope to read everything that I already have as a collection of “must reads” in Pocket, no mind the numerous material that I will put onto it in the future. But that is not the point. I read and read with interest. Yes, it gets tiring and I do not have the ability to flick back pages and savour a paragraph or page so that the book will fall open on that much read and re-read page.

But the world has changed and so have I. I believe that we should not dig our heads in the sand and pretend that there is value in a return to a totally paper-based society. We need to understand that there are losses in the direction that we have taken but there are numerous advantages too.

Just as in the past, the real question is not whether to read electronically or on paper but what to read. I try and choose quality material and occasionally I fail and move on to something else. We should be training our children to understand how to choose and further their skills in critical reading by whatever medium they choose.



Why education isn’t learning the lessons of psychology and neuroscience

I have of  late been involved with spending a lot of my time reading and studying   psychology. I have taken Moocs on various aspects of the subject and have been able to read a number of excellent books showing the progress that has been made in the subject, particularly in the linked area of neuroscience that is showing us more and more how the brain actually works.

I first encountered psychology as a marginal part of my undergraduate course in Politics and it mostly involved looking at areas such as mass behaviour linked to extremism and the workings of the mind of a dictator (such as Adolph Hitler). There were some good books to read, I particularly remember one by Hannah Arendt.

After deciding to become a teacher I was given a number of “developmental psychology” readings particularly those of Piaget, Bruner and Margaret Donaldson come to mind. These were seen as interesting but did not really effect me in any major way or change the way that I thought about education and specifically my role as a teacher.

I did a Masters degree in Education and took Child Development as one of my courses. This allowed me to further the studies of Piaget, Bruner etc., with a lot more recent readings but was seen by me as just another course to be got through with an exam to take at the end of the year.

In my career there were very few times when we sat down, as teaching professionals and looked at what we were doing in terms of  the psychological evidence about what worked (or didn’t work) with children. The only way that psychology seemed to come into our lives was with the occasional visit of the “Ed-Psych” (as the local authority Educational Psychologist was called by all of us).

These people seemed like visitors from outer space who would descend upon a school and give us more work to do with a particularly problemmatical child (or more often children) and we would write down daily observations of their lack of attention, their violence towards themselves or others. We would play the game and they would write their reports and we would attempt to get the child “Statemented” that would allow us to get some extra money to employ a T.A. to sit with them (or with a group involving them) for a part of the day.

We never questioned why we seemed to have an increasing number of poorly behaved children, many of them diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. We never questioned the lack of progress of the under_achieving child. We never really tried to look at the individual child and try to work out what made him behave in the way that we did. We were prone to use the few punishments that were allowed of keeping children in, making them redo their work, making them work elsewhere or, if all else fails, moving them on elsewhere (sometimes to a “specialist unit”).

We seemed to spend innumerable hours in so-called “Professional Development” but I cannot recall having to discuss many of the aspects of environment, parental care (or neglect) and at no time did we question the increasing demands that tests and so-called standards (and standardisation) was having on the mental well-being of our charges. We talked about “personalisation” a lot in the latter years of my career but this did not really equate to the ideas that I have read so often recently about finding just what motivates a child and giving him/her the chance to blossom.

We were very much caught in an “education factory” that was producing similar products for the next phase in the process and discarding the rest into the area of “special education”. We were very much the slaves of  aspects of psychological thinking that we didn’t really know we were following. We categorised children and we put them into ability groupings, we labelled them “clever” or “average” and “slow” or “below average”. We periodically gave them intelligence tests that proved our categorisation. We were dealing with their futures and yet we were willing to play along with the “game” and fit the children into neat little boxes. We were especially taken away with the idea of giving them levels of development in key areas such as language, mathematics and science.

I knew a little about the debate on “intelligence” that had been around in the world of psychology for decades. it was though, obvious that the curriculum favoured literacy and mathematics whilst everything else, including science, was relegated to the afternoon sessions in most primary schools. As each successive Government went out of its way to promote “The Standards Agenda”, we were pushing children more and more to succeed in the “core” areas and neglecting any particular interests they may have had in the arts or crafts.

The school system I left two years ago was putting more and more children through stressful hoops of tests and exams. I am reminded of a book I read by the renowned biologist Robert Sopolski which looked at how our society has created a stressful environment for so many of us on the planet entitled “Zebras don’t get ulcers”….. but increasingly our schoolchildren do!

My readings in psychology and especially social psychology have shown me how we have to deal with stereotypes, racial discrimination and the overcoming of poverty. I have seen how there have been developments in neuroscience that have shown that we have plasticity in the growth of our neurones and that we can make new and powerful connections to increase our learning and skills. I have learnt of the uselessness of most homework, the importance of play and of the key importance of creativity.

I am fascinated by what I call “human potential” because I believe that, as incredible as our journey has been on this planet so far, we have conspired to destroy the only home that we have, The  Earth. I have read of some brilliant findings in psychology that can help us to help ourselves in the future and preserve our existence on this beautiful planet .

I have a number of articles that I have read recently that may give you an idea of how psychology/neuroscience can and should inform how we run our schools:


You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential

Robert Sylwester




Creativity Must Be at the Center of Education Big Think interview with Danilo Turk


The 3 Emotions That Drive Deeper Learning  A.J. Juliani


Neuroeducation: 25 Findings Over 25 Years Sara Briggs


Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD  Marilyn Wedge




The Neuroscience Of Learning: 41 Terms Every Teacher Should Know Judy Willis


Why Life Is Really The Ultimate IQ Test Jonathan Wai

The last of these articles is a review of a book that I would highly recommend “Ungifted” by Scott Barry Kaufman whose website is well worth looking up.

I hope, if you are in the education industry and have taken the trouble to read this article, that I can get you to acquaint yourself with the powerful ideas that have come from studies in psychology and neuroscience that can and should transform our schools. If we continue to ignore these findings we may well  risk our very existence on this planet!


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