Category: science

Those were the days Part 29


papers01The World Patented Roy Bollard filing method ©

When I got my first job in a West London comprehensive there was only one other Chemistry teacher in the school – Roy Bollard. He was a well organised bloke who was a pioneer of the use of audio visual equipment. He moonlighted as the school’s sound and light technician and as a consequence was involved in drama and musical productions as well as some legendary discos. He was the bloke who also did so much to underpin the well-oiled machine that was “Charities Week”. He operated the lights and microphones for the shows, auctions and other events that took place in the hall.

Roy was dynamic enough to use an OHP in his lessons, which was cutting edge in those days. Pre prepared acetate slides were the equivalent of a modern day Power Point presentation. Roy had his own take on using the OHP. He had a huge roll of acetate mounted on his projector which became an organic scheme of work. He started writing in September on the top of the plastic scroll and worked downwards till the end of the academic year. So it became a huge time line that essentially grew into being the scheme of work. After a few years of doing the same thing he instinctively knew where a lesson was on the scroll and could wizz the whole roll of clear plastic to where it was written.

Now the cleverest thing that Roy did was adopt the simplest filing method I have ever seen. In those days you did not have e-mails, SIMS and all that jazz. You got memos on paper, in fact everything was paper based. Roy had one single pile that he put all his paper work on which sat right next to his OHP. It soon piled up, but made sense as he knew where everything was, he just had to sift through the pile to find it. The filing system had three rules:

  1. Anything you get given on paper you read and put on the top of the pile
  2. Anything you need later you find in the pile and deal with it but put the memo back on top (see rule 1). As a result the new and important stuff would be at the top and all the rubbish sank to the bottom
  3. When the pile reached the same level as the top of the OHP ie a about the height of a 30cm ruler, he would get a bin, lift up the top half of the pile and sweep the bottom half of the stack of paper from the desk and into the bin. Sorted!

Those were the days Part 25

Old School Science

There used to be a position in the teaching profession that had a very basic job title – “senior teacher”. As opposed to the modern terms such as “assistant vice principal” or “associate head teacher”, the position of senior teacher was a post that was simple and easy to get to grips with. The position could be quantified by the fact that it merited an “E allowance” on the old pay scale.
You were experienced, respected, and on the ball if you were a senior teacher. They knew what they were doing. Some were gun slingers (do we call them behaviour managers now?), some were planners and organisers (suppose these folks are now SIMS/curriculum/timetable coordinators today), but one thing that they had in common was they were all superb classroom practitioners and had a bit of presence about them (were they old school ASTs?) All I know is I do not see them around these days – dinosaurs I suppose, killed off by the “fast trackers” and well-dressed office types.
Jim Chinnor was a senior teacher who remained in the same school long enough to teach the kids of the kids he had taught a generation before.  Physics was his specialism. He was a legend.

Jim was a pure magician when it came to holding a class’ attention.  The way he held most groups’ interest was through his anecdotes and stories that related to the science theories that he was teaching and he also loved a good practical – as most kids do.

He had a special way of demonstrating to students the principle of heat conduction in a metal bar. The bog standard way is to stick drawing pins onto a copper bar using wax or petroleum jelly. (See video below) When the bar is heated with a Bunsen at one end, the conducted heat travels down the bar and melts wax so the pins drop one by one as the heat is conducted along the bar.

Now Jim Chinnor loved the spectacular, so he adapted the method above by using white phosphorus rather than relying on waxed pins. White phosphorus burns almost spontaneously in air; it has to be stored away in a sealed container in a locker or chemical bin outside of any building.  Phosphorus was used by the RAF in the incendiary bombs dropped on German cities towards the end of World War II. It is nasty stuff and has to be treated with respect.

The brainwave that Jim had was to put small pieces of white phosphorus on the copper bar which would catch alight in turn as the warmth from the bar became enough to start the reaction of phosphorus with air. Jim made two mistakes when doing this demonstration for his students, firstly he did not set out the equipment in a fume cupboard and secondly he forgot about the stock bottle of white phosphorus and left the lid off it.

Jim was chirping away to his group when suddenly he realised that the stock bottle of phosphorus had been left open too long and the air had got to the volatile chemical. The whole bottle caught fire belching out loads of noxious fumes and because the bottle had not been put in the fume cupboard the room quickly filled with smoke. By now the bottle was too hot to pick up and put in the fume cupboard or taken outside, so a rapid evacuation took place. All the kids got out without any mishaps, but the bottle continued to burn and fumes spread up through the ceiling into the room above the lab, leading to mass panic in a German class. The fire was eventually put out, but not early enough to stop the chemical mess from spreading around the lab and the room above. The building got condemned by a HSE inspector and it was a week before the whole place got cleaned up!

Today you would not see such a practical attempted, but an “interactive” visual aid would be shown to the class instead, ie another POWERPOINT©

But watching the video below you can see why Jim tried to jazz up the demonstration a bit!

Those were the days Part 22

Those were the days Part 22

“Bosnia”

The West London comprehensive school where I first taught had a few Science labs that were situated on the ground floor of the “sixth form block”. Above these labs were the sixth form common room, offices and three classrooms where languages were taught. “Languages” was commonly known amongst some staff as ‘Bosnia’, as it was truly a war zone up there. On regular occasions I would be invited over to help sort out kids from my form who were messing around in class. Consequently the joke was that anyone taking a trip over there could be regarded as a UN peacekeeper.

I was lucky not to be timetabled in that block. The main reason being if you taught below a language lesson it was quite disturbing at times due the chaos occurring above you. Regularly school bags would be hung on the blinds cords and left to dangle out of windows so that they were seen swinging outside from the labs below. The kids would eat up there all the time and chuck their leftovers and other bits of rubbish outside too. The occasionally rejected sandwich would land outside the lab downstairs whilst the odd crisp packet and sweet papers would drift past on the breeze. You always had to go up and sort things out if you were teaching below.

Luckily I did not teach in these labs that often, normally it was for a room swap. On one occasion I had to cover a test in one of the labs. The kids in my class were quietly doing the task in hand, whilst it was clearly kicking off upstairs. All of a sudden a large, dark shape wizzed down past our windows and landed on the playground outside with a huge thump. “Oh my God!” shouts a kid, “someone has fallen out the window!” It did look like it, and certainly sounded like it. Pandemonium broke out in my room; one kid started screaming. I dashed out the fire exit to check, only to find that the premises manager was replacing some carpet in an upstairs office. He had lugged out an old roll of underlay from an upstairs window onto the playground to save carrying it downstairs!

Panic over.

Two major Discoveries

Two major discoveries occurred this week.

I was stunned by the revelation that Stella Artois was in fact not what it seemed and it had fallen from its lofty position of 5.2% abv to a much lower alcohol content. The once “reassuringly expensive” premier lager had quietly drifted into being a weaker concoction that was no longer top of the line in my humble opinion. To me this was a real eye opener.(See my previous post)

The second Earth shattering discovery of a particle that supported Higgs Boson theory was announced at CERN on 4th July 2012. As with a lot of “breakthroughs” that happen at the high end of Science, the Press get hold of the new concept and either dumb it down, or get a so-called expert in the field in question to explain in “lay man’s” terms how it affects day to day life of the average person in the street. These “experts” are normally socially inept academics who may be able to talk a lot about, in this case, Particle Physics but do not say much.

People want to hear that Higgs Boson can make their plasma telly work better, or their iPhone will need less battery charging time. They do not want to be tied down by quantum mechanics. Well I think that the common man is in for a disappointment, but at least we have come a few steps from the point where the tabloid red tops were scaring the living daylights out of some of the kids I taught at the time that the CERN project started. This was due to the fact that the kids were reliably informed by the tabloids that the World would end when the linear particle accelerator was switched on.

It is so much more reassuring that the Daily Star reports this week that the discovery…

means one day we could travel faster than the speed of light – like in Star Trek. Beam me up Scotty!

If you are happy with that explanation then do not watch the video below. I am quietly thinking to my self if the same tabloid had announced that Stella Artois could no longer be considered to be “wifebeater” it would create more of a stir!

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Physics – in a minute, it can be done

There are some things that you just experience as part of life. Now the study of life processes is Biology – everyone gets that. You can have first hand experience of most biological actions. Hey, think about it, you can summarize most key concepts of Biology on a A3 poster, bit of colouring in and there you go!  That is why girls love Biology, and also why I can say that without being rude, anyone can (and have done in my experience) teach it.

So Biology is the study of living things. Great.

So what is Chemistry? I was once told by a Physicist that Chemistry was “advanced cooking” – ‘So what was Home Economics then?’ I retorted.

‘Oh, that’s just dough bashing!’ came the reply.

My response was ‘Ok. So Physics must be Black magic then! – the study of things you cannot touch, feel or explain, such as magnetism and quantum theory” He took that as a badge of honour that he wore with pride.

He was the best A-level teacher I have ever worked with.

There is a different level of thought required to study Physics. That is why most girls do not choose it as an option. I will never forget the time when that same teacher came and unravelled the mess that I created in trying to explain the ideas behind Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle to a very bright 15 year old girl (as it happened).

I had rambled on and tied her in knots, she did not even need to know this theory for her exam in the first place. Grabbing the Master of Black magic from next door’s classroom I shoved him in front of her. About a minute of time, a broken pencil and a mug of tea was all he needed to model his the ideas that he explained. All fixed. Panic over. A true master craftsman had done his work.

Anyway here are two sources of other great Physics teaching – click and enjoy. There are only two of you left now reading this anyway!

First up Sixty Symbols ………….

Then some inspiration in a ‘Physics in a minute’ video

STELLARIUM.ORG

Got this website tip from a ‘pocket rocket’ in her own right. A good shout.

Great to help find those planets out there. Mind you, if you cannot find Venus at dusk at the moment you are doing something wrong!

Those of you with iPhones, yes you guessed correctly, the App also exists. Well it always would be wouldn’t it? It is quite impressive.

In fact Baz downloaded it on his phone in Origins last night. He got the “Er,……..Hello……you all right mate?” from the bloke stood next to him at the bar. Not really surprising as Baz held his phone up at the ceiling for him to squint at the screen which changed its stellar view as he pirouetted around. A look not enhanced by the fact that he was sipping café frappé  from a highball glass at the same time!

Screen shot from stellarium.org

JUST CLICK ON THE PICTURE FOR THE LINK