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BANGKOK 18 August 2019 07:46
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Martin

"what Earthly Use Is This?'

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George (quite rightly) closed a thread that had gone off topic. But its original topic had been an important one. It was about the things that make for, or against, achieving what greatness each of us can in our teaching.

It reminded me of 40 years ago when I taught a technical college (mature) student who so often asked this topic's question that he was known as "What Earthly".

When we were saying farewell to each other (as I was moving to another college), he told me (but asked me to keep it secret) that it was his way of testing teachers. Those who were annoyed, or didn't give the question some thought, he classed as 'Rubbish'. I was lucky---I had been able to give an example of the usefulness of whatever it was that he had first challenged me on. And it had made me think subsequently about other topics. So I used to try to find out when a topic had first been accepted as "ought to be taught", and why. Which caused me to consider whether it still merited its place in the curriculum. Very often the answer was that it didn't, but it needed to be learnt because it made a convenient, and therefore common, exam question!

Ever afterwards I used to tell students what I thought of each topic's relevance to 'real' life. It was then up to them to decide whether to put it in that short-term memory category that gets forgotten in the first holiday after the exam, or assigned it to the 'worth remembering' section of their memories.

Incidentally, there is maybe a PHD in researching at what age pupils/students start differentiating between the 'schooling' world and the 'real' one.

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It reminded me of 40 years ago when I taught a technical college (mature) student who so often asked this topic's question that he was known as "What Earthly".

Wow, I salute you Sir, if you can remember 40 years ago. I can hardly remeber 4 years ago.

I get pissed off when someone tells me something in Thai then tells me,"but you will never hear that", "that is only said to royalty",etc.

Every time I ask Thais how they are, I hear "I'm fine thank you, and you?".

They get that drilled into them all through school. Not much use if you are feeling shit!

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I like the idea of there being a practical use to things- but sometimes it still gets a bit abstract. For example, some mathematical skills are way out of wack in the order of the curriculum for what they eventually may be useful for in science- the quadratic formula isn't really useful for students (of science) until 3 years or more after they've had it taught (in math). You can make little useful applications for factoring a quadratic (like the consecutive number problems) but they still don't seem THAT useful. I guess I could still give an answer, but it might not be meaningful to the student for awhile.

"Steven"

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Neeranam: At my age, the 40-year memory is in fine shape. It is the nearer times that give the trouble. Like standing at the open 'frig door and wondering "What was it that I needed, 4 seconds ago?"!!

I know exactly what 'Ijustwannateach' means about the Maths curriculum teaching things way ahead of when their application will be met. I can remember, as a student, when 'an application time' arrived thinking that if I had known I would need it later, I would have taken more interest in a topic and learnt it more 'rememberingly'.

However, it is worth teachers spending just a few minutes say, and showing, that there may be a later use of a topic. Kids like 'glimpses of the future'. They also like glimpses of the past----enormous rooms full of Victorian draughtsmen at their drawing boards, doing hundreds of long-winded calculations by logarithms in order to construct a graph, because slide-rules were too expensive. The 40-year memory comes in handy there. I can remember the very first hand-held calculators coming on sale in the shops (and the umbrage of 'clever dicks' who had been able to show off their skill with mental arithmetic and then lost their chance of 'one upmanship'). And I remember some Maths teachers who were subconsciously miffed that their pupils could now get answers quicker than they could, and came up with all sorts of reasons to 'put down' calculators!!.

When you tell about what is to come in the future, you often plant concepts in minds well ahead of time. Then, when someone comes to the topic (and all the 'academic jargon' (sorry, 'terminology') that is associated with it), the concept doesn't get lost among the terms. I have 'turned around' a few young (and some not-so-young) technicians who were convinced they were 'hopeless at Maths' by pointing out that, in essence, maths is only commonsense being described in a 'rigid' language and written in a shorthand. Once they got the idea of: first the commonsense concept, then put it in 'maths speak', and in step three put it in 'maths shorthand', they got some confidence.

One thing that I really dislike about the UK new National Curriculum is that teachers are so constrained to do just what is laid down, and so they can't take advantage of a class being in 'learning mode' for something else because that is what is topical and seen as 'Some Earthly Use'.

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