Credit for the bright sparks

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Technology and science can be fun for everyone. Douglas Blane reports on two teachers who are proving the point.

Last term, while most of us were standing around in the chill night air watching fireworks, two Scottish teachers were being honoured in the warmth of the Midlands Engineering Centre in Birmingham, courtesy of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the National Electronics Council.

Roderick Duthie of Linksfield Academy, Aberdeen, Joyce Currie of Kirkshaws Primary, Coatbridge and 10 other teachers from England and Wales, had been selected by a distinguished panel of judges from more than 500 nominations received from education authorities around the UK.

At the awards ceremony each teacher was presented with a certificate and a cheque for pound;100 by Professor Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, in recognition of their "good practice, enthusiasm and dedication in subjects relevant to electrical, electronic and manufacturing engineering".

Roderick Duthie is wary of talking about his achievements. "The award could have gone to any of the technology teachers in Aberdeen. And I don't do it all myself at the school - there's a department that is keen and enthusiastic as well."

But Aberdeen City's education department nominated Mr Duthie, and a look at the school's two latest HMI reports indicated reasons such as the dramatic improvement in student numbers, courses offered and qualifications gained over the six years of his tenure as principal teacher of technological education.

"I like to take one step at a time," he explains. "We now offer Standard grade courses in three subjects and Highers too. At first we concentrated on craft and design, then we developed the graphical communications, and then we introduced technological studies. Initially we had very few pupils. It's a small school in a deprived area.

"We do try to push our students if we feel we need to. Technology isn't an easy option and they have to work. By the time they get to fourth year they're not just making things but working on their own designs too.

"We don't have many discipline problems. There's a happy atmosphere in the department, not confrontational. I think the best way of dealing with difficult children is to get the other kids on your side and use peer pressure. It takes time but they do respond.

Mr Duthie runs twilight classes for new teachers to technology education and is currently chair of the curriculum group of principal teachers of technology in Aberdeen. At school he and his colleagues try to make course and career options clear to children and parents, and encourage the pupils to continue their studies at university or college. Boys are still in the majority but around a third of the pupils are girls, and the department is actively trying to raise their numbers.

"The other full-time member of the department is a woman, which encourages the girls."

The department's aim, he says, is "to keep raising the standards and increase everyone's awareness of technology. Teachers get bashed all the time, so it's great that an organisation like IEE is giving us some recognition."

Joyce Currie was not the only primary teacher to win an award this year - there were three others - but her background is distinctive in one respect. During 30 years as a primary teacher, science has never been her favourite subject, and until recently she did not like it at all. "I think I was doing everything else well but I wasn't happy with the science - I felt I was just doing bits and pieces," she says.

"So I went on a course three years ago, run by North Lanarkshire. Everything was provided - worksheets, instructions, forward planning - then I came back and put it all into practice with my Primary 5 class. They loved it."

Mrs Currie and her class are now the subjects of a video which appears at in-service courses, as does Mrs Currie herself, sharing her new-found expertise and enthusiasm with other teachers. She and her class even provided a science demonstration at a seminar of 200 headteachers and deputies.

"Her transition from science sceptic to converted preacher has benefited not only her pupils but also her colleagues," said Professor Brighouse at the ceremony.

Mrs Currie concludes: "The lessons go well and I have the children working in mixed-ability groups, so those who are maybe poor readers aren't tagged as ones who can't do it. It lets them shine and some of them are excellent."

Nominations for the awards, which the Institution of Electrical Engineers regards as "one profession honouring another", are normally accepted from education authorities or IEE members. Tel: 0171 344 5445

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