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If you think nice things, write nice things…

Came back from lunch today, to find this lovely email waiting for me. After a fairly boring time dealing with problems with the website, it was back up just in time. It takes so little time to write a note like this and gave me a nice big smile. It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are actually people working hard to put so much wonderful and inspirational content on the web and this has reminded me to write to people when I see wonderful projects online!

Dear Sir,
I had the chance to visit your website and your project.
I have been amazed by the quality of the idea (exploration with edu purposes and free) as well as those of the resources.
I’m an italian science teachers working full time for a Science Centre in Italy called MUSE Museum of Sciences
www.muse.it

The Ocean talks to Michael Gove

This is the transcript of a conversation between Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education and the Ocean examining the latest draft National Curriculum document.

Michael Gove: I understand you have some concerns about the latest draft curriculum. Let me assure you, to start with, that the programmes of study put forward are designed to present a return to a curriculum that is built on a core of rigorous knowledge.

The Ocean: I can see that you have put a lot of work into this, but I just wanted to point out that I feel a little ignored and at times misrepresented, and…

MG: Let me stop you there. This is a core set of knowledge that every young person should know, schools and teachers are still free to include information they think is relevant to the young people that they teach.

TO: I understand, it’s just that I cover over 70% of the planet’s surface, contain 95% of the living space, 98% of all life is aquatic and I provide at least half the oxygen that you breathe, not to mention a little climate regulation on the side.

MG: Well, we never say that teachers cannot teach about you, and there are several references to the oceans within the documentation. In science for Year 5 (9 year olds), you are mentioned as one of the other habitats that pupils can study, and we believe that 5 and 6 year olds should learn the names of your different basins in geography. Surely that’s enough.

TO: I’m all for rigour and your core plus approach to curriculum planning, and I’ll say again 98% of all life is aquatic. That’s why I was confused to read that in Year 2 Science, young people will be taught that: “find out about and describe the basic needs of animals, including humans, for survival (water, food and air)”. Do you know what happens when you put a fish in air? Then I read every single example of animals that pupils can study, chickens, butterflies, woodlice, frogs, sheep, slugs, worms, spiders, and insects. Yes, there was a cursory mention of fish, but I feel a little let down.

MG: Look. You are mentioned as a habitat that pupils could study. In Year 5 Science, pupils are asked to “compare life cycles of plants and animals in their local environment with other plants and animals around the world (the rainforest, under the oceans, desert areas and in prehistoric times), asking pertinent questions and suggesting reasons for similarities and differences”.

TO: Before tackling the main point you are making, it’s ‘in the ocean’, not ‘under the oceans’. I am not just one habitat, I contain a huge diversity of environments for life: coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass meadows, mudflats, estuaries, intertidal zone, sandy shore, rocky shore, mangroves and salt marshes, open surface waters, the open deep sea, vents and seeps, oceanic trenches and seamounts. I don’t see why just because I am mostly unseen and covered by a reflective surface that your new rigorous approach to the curriculum should be so unbalanced.

MG: I think you just need to recognise that most young people’s first encounter with nature will be looking under rocks and finding creepy crawlies, or having the opportunity to grow something in a garden. If you keep on taking this ‘me, me, me’ route, I may have to brand you as an enemy of progress.

TO: I was trying to be nice. You live on an island. No one is ever more than 71 miles from the sea in England. The oceans are vital for the survival of humanity. So here are my demands, as a starter:

  1. include an ocean habitat as a must for primary and secondary school science
  2. correct any factual inaccuracies in the draft curriculum where you completely ignore the oceans and marine science (e.g. the ‘air’ comment above)
  3. do not refer to me as an ‘other’ habitat around the world
  4. give me my proper place when pupils study primary production
  5. within Earth science at Key Stage 3 Science, make sure that pupils know my role in the current composition of the Earth and atmosphere
  6. the production of carbon dioxide and its impact needs to include ocean acidification as well climate change

I’ll come back to you on geography once I’ve calmed down, and just remember I provide half your oxygen. Don’t ignore me or make me angry.

[Editor's note: the ocean was a little upset as you may be able to tell, any comments, corrections or additions from the marine science community welcome. We are looking to arrange further interviews between important global concerns and the Minister, please let us know if you have any recommendations.]

5 years old…

Digital Explorer was five last week and in the great tradition of 5 year plans, it’s time to reflect on what we have achieved and think to the future about the next five years.

When we started out, the aim was to provide young people with a different way of engaging in their world through a range of experiences whether it be going on one of our expeditions, linking live with teams in the field or being taught by someone who has enjoyed one of our training courses or used some of our resources.

The amount of opportunities and resources on the Digital Explorer online academy is testament to how far we’ve come in achieving this mission. So many different people have contributed to their creation from the amazing sponsors and partners to the expedition teams we’ve had the pleasure of working with, not to forget the great resource writers and designers who have brought it all to life.

We have some great projects at the moment for the classroom, learning about the Arctic or the Great Barrier Reef, something on sustainable fishing, a great archive on Pakistan and looking at the reporting of extremism in the media and several more to launch in the coming weeks.

At the heart of all we’ve tried to do is make learning about the world fun for students and easy for teachers.

We’ll be taking some time in the next months to plan the next five years. In the meantime, if you have any comments about what you’ve liked about our work over the past 5 years or even something you’d like to see more of in the next 5, please do comment below.

We’re here for young people, but more importantly we’re here for teachers, to support you in engaging the next generation in the big issues facing all of us.

Too horrific for the geography classroom?

We’re looking to bring the issue of rhino conservation in South Africa to classrooms and schools across the UK in the coming months. At the moment we are looking at some of the imagery available and some of it is truly horrific.

Rhino horns are often cut off when the rhino is still alive, leaving them to die, suffering terribly. Images like the one below are all too common.

In the Far East, ground rhino horn is worth more than gold and is marketed as a remedy to a range of illnesses from hangovers to cancer. There is no clinical evidence behind these claims.

This increased demand led to 448 rhinos being poached in 2011 alone.

We want to make an impact with these images for your classroom to bring this home, but is it a step too far or justifiable?

What level of taxonomic detail is best?

Creating resources about field science is always difficult. What bits do you include? What do you leave out? Will some of the information distract from the point you are trying to make.

The past couple of days have been spent thinking about how to described zooxanthellae-coral symbiosis for younger teens, without getting all caught up in issues like, ‘Well they’re plant-like, but not a plant…’

Today is all about taxonomic detail and the difficulty of getting it right for a broad age range, say 10-16.

The above image is of the mantle of a giant clam. As a science teacher, which of the following levels would you want including in a resource sheet about the coral ecosystem:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

Is there a ‘right’ level of detail?

Views on current ICT in education debate

Hurray for the government: a new week, a new idea about education. Computing, ICT, digital literacy, call it what you will, is the flavour of the week and Michael Gove is due to make a speech on the subject on Wednesday. I am guessing that the three main themes of this will be that: one there needs to be more rigour in the teaching of computer skills; two that this is vital for the UK’s future economic competitiveness; and three that all schools should teach this irrespective of how ‘free’ from Local Authority control they are.

It’s not that I am necessarily against the teaching of computing in schools. Running an organisation called Digital Explorer, it would be pretty contrary if I were. However, statements such as Ed Vaizey’s comment that knowing how a computer works should be “on a par with a knowledge of the arts and humanities” don’t really help. (more…)

We must always hold to the difficult

If only we arrange our life according
to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult,
then that which now still seems to us
the most alien will become what we
most trust and find most faithful.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

The endless immensity of the sea

If you want to build a ship don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Planting seeds…

When I run a project, I never really know what’s going to happen. Like a lot of people I imagine, I promise a whole load of things to funders without really knowing what the outcomes of the project or expedition will be.

With the final episode of the Pakistan episode launched last week, it’s time to celebrate the achievements of the young people as they start on their journeys and to thank all the funders, supporters and collaborators who made this possible.

Special thanks to the financial backers of the project, who put their faith in us to deliver something. I hope that they have watched the video below and are proud of what they have allowed to happen.

Now the long journey to find the funding for the next one…

Conversations on education and exploration with a Tibetan monk

Good morning class, here's your new teacher

I didn’t recognise Tenzin Tsepak initially. The streets around the main temple complex in McLeod Ganj, North India, were thronging with a crowd welcoming HH the Dalai Lama back on his return from a trip to the USA. Tenzin, of course, looked older, since we first met fifteen years ago. He was also now a layman. A “turbulent” marriage with a American woman had ended a number of years previously, and a diet of pizza and masala chai from the new monastery cafe had replaced the meagre rations of the monastic kitchen.

We caught up on this and that, eventually turning to what we were up to at the moment. Tenzin currently works as a translator for HH the Dalai Lama. I explained the work that I do with Digital Explorer and the problems that I faced trying to create a compassionate response from young people in Britain regarding issues that seem very far away. Why should a teenager care if his trainers are made in a sweatshop or that the ice shelves around the Antarctic and disappearing with their wildlife because of climate change? (more…)

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