Category Archives: education

It is all Greek to me

Recently, I fear I sound a lot like Mr Portokalos, the eccentric Greek patriarch in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Mr Portokalos, a Greek immigrant in the USA, being very proud of his heritage, does not only believe that Greece provided the foundations of Western culture, but never misses an opportunity to prove the point.

“Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek” is his motto.

Indeed, he has the unique ability to create connections and eventually link any English word to a similarly sounding Greek word.  His line of reasoning occasionally makes for truly hilarious instances.

The last few months, as my children are becoming curious about the new words they encounter, I hear Mr Portokalos in my head, as I say:

“Oh this is a Greek word”

“Did you know that the origin of this word is Greek?” 

“This comes from the Greek word…”

Only this weekend, we came across the following: hypothesis, thesaurus, octopus, airplane, planet, astronomy, telescope, paragraph, apostrophe, synonym. Not to mention all the mathematical terminology or physics vocabulary I use in my work.

So the phrase (another English word originating from Greek) “it is all Greek to me” can have a literal meaning to me.

In English, it means “I can’t understand it at all”. But do you know what the equivalent Greek phrase is? “It is all Chinese to me”.

I wonder what the Chinese say.

How do I keep my children off the “summer slide”?

With the Summer holiday break fast approaching, you may already have heard of the “Summer Slide”, a term that is used to describe the loss of learning over the six week school break.

Following the end of a demanding school year, children need a break and will probably resist any attempt to be engaged in traditional academic work. Fortunately, learning for academic success does not neccessarily require textbooks and vigorous study.

So what’s the alternative? How do we make sure that our children are provided with opportunities to boost their brain power, while at the same time take a hard-earned break from conventional academic work?

Here are my five simple but effective strategies published on The Talented Ladies Club website.

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Summer ideas for Maths activities

There is a common misconception that maths is just about numbers. Yet maths is so much more than this. Pattern recognition, problem solving, structured thinking, comprehension, interpretation of quantities and critical thinking are all skills required to investigate even the simplest of mathematical questions. But most of all, maths is about questioning, trying ideas and challenging ourselves.

All children are born with the “curiosity bug” and love a challenge. In fact, children are adept to mathematical problem solving from an early age. The summer holidays provide a fantastic opportunity for learning in different contexts and through more playful channels. So this summer why not nurture your child’s maths abilities?

I have written a few tips and ideas for the latest Families Warwickshire magazine. Visit the website to find out how to have fun with your children this summer, while at the same time helping them to sharpen their skills. All activities are designed to develop core skills that will help children gain a solid background in maths.

Families Warwickshire magazine

 

 

Cereals and kitchen paper tubes

“To a child, often the box a toy came in is more appealing than the toy itself.” (*)
What wise words! It is the simple things that capture a child’s imagination and spark their creativity.
In our household it is cereal boxes and kitchen paper tubes that have been transformed into the golden weapons of the Lego Ninja.
(*) Quote by Allen Klein
ninja2fninja3f  IMG_0855f  ninja1fninja6fninja5f

Fun experiment: What does gravity do to us?

It was one of these rainy days that we always get in the summer half-term. Our bike ride had just been cancelled due to the bad weather. Disappointed we started talking about alternative plans. Unsurprisingly, one thing led to another and we ended up talking about space travel. My daughter would not like to go to Jupiter because it is made of gas, and how could we live there? My son said that he would quite like to live on the Moon, because he “would be jumping all day long and that would be fun, wouldn’t it be mum?”

It was that comment that sparked a lively discussion about gravity and what it does to us.

Earth’s gravity is the force that holds us to the planet. Without it we would fly off. Gravity depends on the mass. Because the Earth is more massive than the Moon, Earth’s gravity is bigger than the Moon’s so the pull is stronger for any object on our planet than it would be on the Moon. For instance, if you can jump 20 cm on Earth, you could jump nearly 2 m on the Moon. Wouldn’t that be fun?

But how does gravity affect us?

Here is a nice little experiment to help us investigate.

Hypothesis

Gravity is pulling us down, as a result we are slightly shorter in the evening than in the morning when we have spent the whole night lying in the bed.

Method of exploring the question

Measure height just before we go to bed and just after we get up.

Subjects

Child 1 – 9 years old

Child 2 – 6 years old

Data recording

The children designed a table to record the measurements. They had to think about what the question is what the best way is to sort out the data.

Measurements

gravity experiment

Discussion

Hurray!!! We have shown that indeed gravity makes us shorter. We would be probably a little bit taller if we were living on the Moon. We used a simple measuring tape, hence the measurements are not accurate, but fluctuate a couple of centimetres. However there is a clear trend, which shows that the children are slightly taller by 2 – 3 cm in the morning.

A 9 year old’s view on Nigeria, education and everything else

We are in the car, the three of us. The children are quiet in the rear seat. It is 11am and the BBC radio 2 news is on. Michelle Obama has delivered a radio address to draw attention to the plight of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. Naturally the event is on the news bulletin.

Mum is this true?” asks my daughter.

What?” I say absent-mindedly.

Some girls have been kidnapped. Is this true?

Once more she has caught me off guard. I know how this is going to unravel. She is going to bombard me with questions. In between her feelings are going to change from being worried, concerned and a little bit frightened to being upset and finally she will become determined and offer a solution or two.

Yes” I reply with hesitation. The truth is that she has not been aware of the situation that is being going on for three weeks now. Is this a good time  for us to talk about it. But we are in the car. I am driving and she is sitting in the back. This is not the ideal set up for introducing my daughter to a complex issue, which involves history, tradition, religion, poverty and inevitably lack of education.

Apparently the news has alerted her. “Are there kidnappers for real?

Yes” I attempt to reply, but before I actually mutter a word she moves on to the next question.

Has such an incident ever happened in England?

I can see now that she is nervous and uncomfortable. 200 school girls have been abducted on their way to school. She can relate to them. She probably thinks that this may as well happen to her.

I try to reassure her. No, this has never happened in this country. This event took place in Nigeria a country in Africa. A militant group, who believe that people and particularly girls should not attend school kidnapped the girls. They think that learning is a sin.

Mum, will my sister get kidnapped?” asks my son, his voice slightly trembled.

I reassured him that no such thing is going to happen to his sister. “In this country we value education,” I add.

My daughter is now really engaged. She has a strong learning ethos. It is simply inconceivable to her that girls will be abducted simply because they go to school.

“Mum I am really upset. No, I am frustrated. I so wish to have a meeting with them. Explain why we should learn and grow our brains. Explain that what they have done is unacceptable. And have they thought about the poor parents?”

We talk about how the parents may feel and the she asks the obvious question “Are the girls alive?”

“I do not know,” I say.

“How are they going to find the girls?”

I say that a lot of countries, the UK included, have offered their help. It is now a global team-work effort that takes place. Satellites are monitoring the vast Nigerian forests in the hope of pinpointing the location of the girls. Once the location has been identified, trained people will find the girls, free them and hopefully capture some of the criminals.

Apparently she is not satisfied with the plan. “Is that all?” she says and then adds “but this may take ages”

“I am sure that they try some other things as well. But I really do not know. When we get home we can read the news and find out more” I offer.

And then she simply asks, “What can we do to help the girls?”

To this question I have no convincing answer.

One thing is for sure, celebrity involvement and twitter hash tags may raise awareness, but can certainly no help these girls.

I asked my daughter if they had discussed this incident at school. It turns out that they hadn’t.

Our car conversation reminded me once more how children are wired to be socially sensitive about issues affecting the world. This particular incident offers so many opportunities for discussion and reflection. It was a disappointment that it had not been discussed at school.

But it also made me realise my responsibility as a parent to engage my children with social issues. At home, it is our priority to engage the children in discussions and listening to their views. But we do not tend to use current affairs as our starting point. Raising socially aware citizens is not rocket science, but requires providing opportunities for discussing current affairs and engaging with the children’s views and opinions. They need to be aware of the inequalities in the modern world, see cause and effect and be able to express their views, propose solutions and strategies.

So what should our next topic be? European Parliament Elections?

Let’s talk about sex

I have been watching BBC3’s Tough Young Teachers with great interest.
To the layman it must have been an educating experience. An insight into a secondary school environment, albeit a particular one, with the focus on what goes on behind the scenes of our children’s learning.

But as a mother of two primary school children, I was really shocked to find out that the teaching of sex education was left to two unqualified teachers, barely out of university with no relevant training in the subject of sex and relationships education. The two tough young teachers were as clueless and embarrassed as their students. I cannot help but wonder, is this an accurate portrayal of teaching sex and relationships education in England?

Currently sex education is not compulsory. However many schools (primary and secondary) include the topic in their PSHE curriculum, but according to OFSTED the provision is patchy. Which to some degree explains the bleak picture that the statistics reveal:

  • The UK has the highest teenage birthand abortion rates in Western Europe with rates of teenage births to be five times those in the Netherlands, double those in France and more than twice those in Germany. Albeit according latest figures the number of teenage pregnancies is decreasing year on year
  • Violence in teenage relationships is increasing
  • A “page 3” culture prevails in many parts of the society and shapes cultures and attitudes towards women
  • An increased sexualisation of children

The picture painted by the statistics makes me anxious. Obviously sex and relationships education urgently needs a shake up. But with limited budget and ever increasing pressures is designing a modern, age-appropriate and effective curriculum a priority for schools? Will head teachers be able to put in the time and resources required? Or will the curriculum be set just to ticking yet another box?

For a start teachers should be trained to be able to talk comfortably and confidently about sex matters. They should be able to convey the message that sex education is not an embarrassing topic and engage in intelligent conversations with their class.

But I am convinced that even the best designed and delivered school-based programmes won’t have an impact, unless schools engage with their parent community.

Here is why. Research with young people shows that they want to discuss sex matters with their parents. In addition to that, parents want to talk to their children about topics related to sexual matters but they lack the vocabulary and feel uncomfortable.

If you add into the equation that inevitably the family environment shapes the attitudes of children and young people, it becomes obvious that only well informed and confident parents can support and guide their children effectively.

Sex education is indeed a sensitive issue but unlike any other subject taught in school, it can empower young people to take charge of their lives and deal with the pressures and can set the foundation for children to become confident adults.

I feel that as a matter of urgency, it is parents that need to be educated about talking to their children about sex. So what are we waiting for?

Please share any experience you have with your child talking about sex. What support do you think you would need to help you support your child?

References:

Parents as educators of sex and relationship education: The role for effective communication in British families, Health Education Journal July 1, 2013 72: 417-430

The Family Planning Association