Thursday, May 28, 2009

Education, Education, Education!

It seemed more than appropriate that, as I began my third University level course of education, I should be sitting in front of my laptop waiting for an on-line tutorial to begin. The tutorial, part of a PGCE teacher training course, was about "Professional Studies". This part of the course looks at the history of education, and amongst other things the role and evolution of the National Curriculum. Dennis Almeida of Exeter University showed the YouTube video "Shift Happens" to set the scene for our discussions; it is an interesting collation of various statistics which reflect our fast changing and technological world, and should certainly inform our approach to education.
Having reflected on this I have settled on three threads of thinking; invariants, vocational training, multi-culturalism.
For me, mathematics and basic science, and literacy and good literature will always be the core of education. Understanding the ways to reason rigorously and natural language skills are the gateways to new learning. Good literature is the route to understanding the human condition beyond the world or worlds that we can experience directly [I like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and even Jane Austen who has to be admired for having written the same book so many times!] These things are the invariants for me.
The second thread is vocational training. This one is always difficult. For one, it is very expensive to set up good vocational training facilities (compared to the chalk and blackboard needed to teach mathematics), and secondly everything in this arena is going out of date so quickly. When I left school they were still training printers to typeset with lead typeblocks. Later, I witnessed armies of Cobol programmers being trained. As the video so clearly noted, many of the jobs of the future do not exist today. So what is the solution? I think the main job to be done is to try to reveal a seam of passion within the individual, and to then encourage that individual to nurture and exploit that passion. This may seem vague, but its vagueness is what will allow it to adapt to the inevitable change.
For me the multi-cultural UK is missing out on a trick if it does not embrace and exploit its multi-cultural nature. If I were able to change the curriculum in some way it would be to include more of the history of civilisations, how humanity arose from Africa, the early civilisations in Mesopotania, the Arabs, Indians and Chinese and so forth. I have been delighted to see that the increasing number of programmes on science and mathematics give due credit to the various cultures responsible for the development of these subjects. I would also like to see some different languages taught in schools not just the French and German, how about Polish, Arabic, or Punjabi?
As a final observation, we need to be able to teach our children the benefits of perseverence. From my experience it takes about 10 years to become good at anything; a sport, musical instrument, foreign language, technology or whatever. I have been most fortunate to witness the perseverence of my own children in the fields of mathematics, languages, music and drama. I hope in my future role as a teacher I will be able to help others too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Climate Change - Now It's Official

The last of the most hardened sceptics were finally convinced of the reality of climate change as most of the UK enjoyed good weather over the Whitsun bank holiday. Michael Fish, well-known weather reporter commented "Our forecasting software at the met office has bad weather set as a constant for bank holidays. We can normally only rely on Bank Holiday Tuesday for fine sunny weather. Our scientists are having to rethink our system from first principles". Bernie Madeoff, speaking from an unnamed location in South America said "I'm putting my money, or rather the money of my former clients, back into the market. Riding on the tidal wave of climate change, I'd recommend investments in British Wine and in the luxury seaside resort of Margate". A pity that Alan Sugar's potential apprentices did not pick up on this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Day of Internet Therapy

I spent a very therapeutic day yesterday trawling through Linkedin looking for old friends. It really does seem to be the case that we are each only five people away from knowing everyone in the world (like 90% of statistics, that was made up). The approach that I took was to scan the contact lists of all my contacts and look for names that I remembered; it certainly seems to have born fruit.
It was particularly pleasing to find John Giannandrea once again. Dubbed "John, Jean and Andrea" by still ST-resident wit, and excellent engineer Julian Wilson, the name was particularly appropriate as John did have the productivity of at least three good engineers. It was John who asked me to pay for a connection to the internet and thus gave INMOS (and subsequently ST) its first internet connection; it didn't take long to see how this world-wide email connection was going to change the way we did business. Sadly, through this connection I learned of the recent death of Jeff Mock who worked on the Pixar Renderman Engine when Pixar were using transputers and came to INMOS for a 6 month sabbatical. He provided us with the C run-time library to support multi-threading in our C development system. He was a great guy personally and participated in many of our lively technical debates. We were also priviledged to see some of the early images, such as the baby, that appear in their later blockbusters like toy story.
Of course the internet and email was one part of the story, and this arrived before web browsers arrived on the scene. It was some years later in 1994 that Mario Guanziroli gave me a demo of Mozilla in Cagliari; being slow on the uptake, it took some time (and explanation) for me to appreciate the significance of the "document" that we appeared to be browsing being distributed across various researchers' desktop machines.
As an unexpected side-effect of this trawl I have been delighted to have received so many good wishes from friends and past colleagues. I must apologise for the short notice I gave for my leaving drinks at the Cambridge Arms; it did of course result in a saving worthy of a Corporate Finance VP. I hope to be able to make amends over time.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Crimes of Passion

The Royal West of England Academy should be congratulated for the recent "Crimes of Passion" exhibition showing the work of various Bristol graffitti artists. It was a really vibrant and exciting event which I happened across by chance. I uploaded some pictures to my facebook site I am not sure if there are copyright issues, but I guess if you leave your art on walls in the street you have to suffer the consequences. The wackiest item on display was Andy Council's dinosaur; he should produce a 3D graphic image for the web so that more people can enjoy and explore it. Dora's ladies were particularly poignant and atmospheric. The best graffitti slogan was "When a bike is stolen another fairy dies" which works for me.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Under Construction

Having almost completed my sabbatical year I decided that I should take finding a job more seriously. I have applied to Christ Church Canterbury University to do their on-line iTeach Maths course which would lead to a PGCE in 18 months. There is also a £16,000 bursary to encourage people to become teachers of maths, physics or chemistry. I have seen their on-line teaching and resource package and have to say that it is much more impressive than I expected. I also visited The Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate which I was also very impressed with; I'm back there next Wednesday to spend a day experiencing the maths classes, the youngsters and the place at large.