One mad professor, too many brains and three lanes

10th November 2006 at 00:00
Gregor Steele thinks Livingston has been spoiled by new traffic management

The October holiday saw the Steele family decant to Birmingham to visit relatives. The place has much to commend it, beyond the company of siblings-in-law.

There are the people with their self-effacing accent that seems to express bemusement at the daftness and complexity of life. A trip to Cadbury World was fun, though Liquorice Allsorts and Dairy Milk chocolate, delicious to a fault on their own, do not go well together.

Why, then, do I view a trip to that area, and indeed any conurbation, with foreboding? To find the answer, we need to rewind a couple of years to a period during my secondment when I was receiving training in brain-based models of learning.

The trainers read out numbers. We had to write them down. They started at three digits and went up gradually. Beyond five digits, I was toiling. This left me non-plussed. Only a few months ago, Michael in my Intermediate 2 class had loudly expressed the opinion that I was one of the brainiest teachers in the school. That said, the same boy, at greater volume, opined that, "Nae offence, Mr Steele, but you look like a total mad professor wi thae new specs."

It's to do with short-term memory. One model of information-processing says that this has the capacity to work on seven (plus or minus two) concurrent processes. I fear I may lie at the minus end. I've said before of models, be they of the atom or the brain, that while they don't tell the whole story, they can yield useful insights.

Picture a roundabout on the Wolverhampton Road. Five exits. Three lanes.

Two kids in the back are discussing whether a McDonalds or a KFC would be the best option for tea. Fortunately, the good folk of the West Midlands are a forgiving bunch, not averse to letting you in to the lane where you should have been.

Back at physics world, there's a proof on the board. Seven lines. Three formulae. One mad professor. Five pupils, because it's Advanced Higher.

They are some of the brainiest students in the school, but this is too much for them to take in one go. I know they'll get there after they've been round the block a few times but I'll need to be careful not to sound the horn of summative assessment too soon.

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