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At-Bristol abstracts…

Some nice abstract images from a trip to the Bristol science centre.

Spinning metal, green bubble solution, light dangles and patterns in a sand spinner…


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Response to my email on teaching climate change…

Following the email I sent via the People and Planet website, an automatic response has been delivered…

Unravelling current confusions around the national curriculum and the school curriculum

‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

(Native American Proverb)

Thank you for your enquiry on this very important matter.

Very few people read past the headline of the Guardian article of 13th June (Climate change should go from school syllabus). Many people have missed the point. For example: websites are saying ‘Keep climate change in the school curriculum’. This is a confusion. It confuses the National Curriculum with the School Curriculum. If we desire our National Curriculum to be robust, enduring and not overbearing, then we need to have some strong principles about what is in and what is not.

The National Curriculum lays down, in law, the fundamentals which all children should be taught. It should be lean and precise, describing the essentials of human knowledge and understanding. The National Curriculum is part of, but not the totality, of the School Curriculum.

The School Curriculum should be broad and balanced, consisting of rich learning programmes devised by teachers who understand which topics and issues would most motivate and engage their pupils.

The national and international evidence scrutinised by the Expert Panel giving advice on the National Curriculum suggests that this is a vital distinction which we, in our education system, have lost.

The National Curriculum should provide a clear statement of the essential elements of learning which underpin – and form part of – a broad and balanced School Curriculum for children from 5 to 16.

A slimmed-down National Curriculum is intended to be a positive development, empowering teachers and schools. It increases the ‘professional space’ in schools, giving the opportunity for teachers carefully to select themes and issues which will maximise learners’ motivation and engagement.

It’s precisely BECAUSE the environment is so important that we need children to engage with these complex issues with comprehensive and incisive scientific understanding. The National Curriculum should focus with great intensity on what this understanding comprises. We want increasing attainment and understanding amongst those taking science and related subjects in Higher Education; we need all children to be prepared well for engagement in ALL of the vital issues which confront our society.

As the Chair of the Expert Panel, providing advice to the Secretary of State on the content of a new, more robust National Curriculum, I am seeking to assert the distinction between the National Curriculum and the School Curriculum, precisely because we want issues such as climate change to be discussed in such a way that the right actions will be taken by the next generation, and generations to come.

Once again, thank you for your comments on these vital matters.

 Tim Oates

Cambridge, June 2011

After reading this and the attached letter, I sent the following response…

Good afternoon,
I read with interest and concern the automatic response to my email regarding climate change as part of the National Curriculum. The thrust of your response seems to be to slim down the national curriculum and put forward only the essential knowledge in key subjects.
I agree with this, but not having climate change in there is a regressive move, considering what has been proven to be one of the most serious threats to human civilisation, ever faced by humans. Evidence put forward from a range of sources is unequivocal, in that humans are having a profound influence on the way in which our planet functions. I’m not sure what the criteria is upon which anyone can make the decision that this isn’t a critically important subject, given that it affects every single living organism on the planet.
One of the headlines regarding this subject was ‘putting science back into science’. How is science not part of the study of climate change? The study of climate change is grounded in hard data, collected over hundreds of years. The study of climate change is connected to multiple subjects and can be used as a practical means of introducing the learning concepts to students.
By all means give teachers flexibility and freedom in how they put across the information, but this subject has to be included.
I hope this response will be taken into consideration.

Synthetic life…

Craig Venter has finally done it. He, or more accurately his team of 20 scientists, have created ‘Synthia’ – synthetic biological life.

This is the first truly unique human-made species of bacteria, which has been built from scratch.

Research article published in ‘Science’ Synthetic life – science.1190719v1[1]

The things i’ve read about Venter already suggest he could go on to become the most important person of the 21st Century. This strand of science could revolutionise food production, disease prevention and medicine + answers to climate change. There are so many fundamental applications possible with this technology.

Let’s hope there’s no repeat of the shambles of GM foods! The thing is, there is an almost inevitable contradiction of the organic or natural principle but i’m keeping an open mind about this one. This seems to be more honest than the earlier GM research, as it isn’t ‘combining’ various existing genomes, like the spider and plant example.

There are still the same issues with how these new species will react with existing species and we’ll have to see if the ‘marker’ DNA in the new species can truly be tracked. It still may not be possible to stop it if there is a problem though.