That's what I call wow!

15th October 2004 at 01:00
My secondment has introduced me to the concept of the guilt-free trip. For example, a couple of weeks ago I visited the SETT exhibition without any uncomfortable feelings that my absence meant an unfortunate colleague would have to take my classes who, in turn, were left without a physics teacher.

First off was a lecture from John Davitt. He talked of digital longitude, how we needed to find exactly where we were with ICT and learning. His talk, packed with practical examples, was decidedly non-linear. Think of a French film, though without a girl riding a black bicycle. Like a French film, it was ultimately intriguing, entertaining and got its message across.

Tim Brighouse had included ICT in the title of his talk, though the topic was not his main focus. He, too, mentioned learning styles and spoke with passion and optimism. At the end, the applause went on for a long time, the way it does when people don't really want to stop clapping at all.

So there I was, fired up with stuff about visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners, cognitive acceleration, formative assessment and seeing Jackie Bird in real life. It fell upon the ladies and gentlemen of the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre and their leafy counterparts in SAPS (Science and Plants for Schools) to bring me back to my roots.

SSERC had put on a display called "science is beautiful". In a series of darkened rooms, a plethora of colourful experiments were set up, each illuminating some physical, chemical or biological principle. We held chemoluminescent sticks, warmed flasks of phosphorescent bacteria in the palms of our hands and pondered the question: "What colour is a banana?" We were introduced to a material called LSD and shown the wonderful things it did to coloured light. This, you will be relieved to hear, was a light-dispersing material as opposed to a hallucinogenic drug. Another guilt-free trip.

Tuned in, turned on and glad I had dropped out from the run of sitty-doon seminars, I left elated. Having focused on the how and who of teaching for most of the show, it was good to be reminded that you have to be passionate too. We are rightly encouraged, albeit in soundbites, to "teach children not subjects" in secondary.

That said, unless we have a sense of wonder and curiosity ourselves, we cannot hope to inspire the same in our pupils. The SSERC experiments all demonstrated the "wow" factor. You can't expect to have that in every lesson but, like the learning theory stuff, it helps to make the difference between a bad and a good trip.

Gregor Steele expects the SSERC to send him some free LSD in return for the publicity.

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