Lectures worth listening to

9th January 2015 at 00:00

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures were a model of excellent teaching. It has been something of a tradition in my family to watch these on the dark, rainy afternoons following Christmas Day. My youngest child has just turned 11, but has been enjoying them for a few years now, and my near 18-year old, hoping to study physics at university, also gained much from them. So how do they achieve such enviable differentiation, appealing to children of all ages (and, I have to confess, to an adult in educational leadership)?

Of course, there is considerable money and time invested in the lectures, and even the wealthiest public schools might struggle to persuade a succession of astronauts to appear in the classroom. Yet much is straightforward classroom practice. There are explanations. Technology is used to add relevance and sophistication. Children are involved in the learning. There are practical illustrations. There is grounding in the relevant subject knowledge.

And my favourite moment? As a volunteer poured invisible carbon dioxide over lit candles, putting them as if by magic, a girl in the audience silently mouthed “Wow!” If any of us can have that “Wow!” effect this year, then we’ll know we have chosen the right career.

Michael Hartland

Assistant headteacher, Wimbledon College, London

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