I had thought all my early childhood books were gone — sadly, at some point when I was a teenager I culled them as too childish, leaving only the "young adult" ones — but my sister saved our copy of Gerald Durrell's The Talking Parcel and has given it to Helen, who loves it. Reading that brought back memories, and I think this must have been one of the books I read many times as a child. (more…)
The details are unclear and the story may be legendary, but the great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck apparently once picked 57 as an example of a prime number. So a Grothendieck prime is a number that looks like it's prime but isn't. (more…)
We've had five days of remote learning so far, and everything seems to be running pretty smoothly. Helen's teachers and school have put in an impressive performance, especially given how little notice there was of whether schools would fully open. (The government delayed announcing a lockdown till the night before we were scheduled to reopen — and after many other schools had opened for a day.) (more…)
Neither "open" nor "shut" are actually possible options for schools now. (more…)
Getting Helen started on new books can be difficult, so it's a lot easier when she reads longer ones. She read Carole Satyamurti's retelling of the Mahabharata, which is 900 pages long and took her three weeks, and then launched straight into Stephen Fry's Mythos, which kept her out of mischief for six days. And now she's started on Gustav Schwab's Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece. (more…)
Helen is rarely an avid reader. If she gets stuck into something she'll go through it eagerly, and she can reread books or entire series she loves, but otherwise she'll pretty much never sit down and start reading if there's playing to be done instead. Most of her reading is done in bed, before going to sleep or (in these days without school) on waking up.
The major constraint on her reading is scariness, which includes broader emotional stress - Hugh and Jonathan parting in Brother Dusty-Feet (which I had to read the last chapters of to her) was almost as bad as Pheasant being shot in The Animals of Farthing Wood (which she abandoned). Once she knows a book she's usually ok to read it again (though she's stalled at "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit, which I've read to her). (more…)
Helen was not convinced that the two times table contains the same number of numbers as the seven times table. [A conversation she initiated herself going to bed, out of nowhere.] She understood the idea of using a bijection to show two collections have the same cardinality without counting them - I modelled it (conceptually, not physically) with smarties, buttons and a lot of string - and she could see how 2n <-> 7n works, but (not surprisingly) it just seemed wrong to her. Just wait till she finds out the rationals are countable! (more…)
Being involved with a school provides a good example of scaling problems. A lot of things that seem intuitive or simple at an individual level are difficult or complex at larger scales.
One key number is 30, the approximate number of children in a class (Helen's has ranged from 28 to 31). The other is 450, which is roughly the number of children in her school, a two-form entry primary school with an attached Early Years unit. (more…)
It will be some time before reopening schools in England (for all children) is practical. They're just starting to do that in Australia, where infection rates are less than one hundredth of those here (with around 10 new cases a day instead of 5000, despite more aggressive testing). But we can think about how that should be done, once infection rates are much lower and a robust test-and-trace system is in place. (more…)
It's important to note that what we and many other parents and carers find themselves doing now is not traditional home schooling. It has been thrust upon us, with little warning, rather than being deliberately chosen, and we are in more or less stringent "lockdown", unable to go on outings or meet up with other families. And our school at least is providing solid remote learning support — home learning plans, videoed storytelling and singing assemblies, links to other resources, and so forth. (more…)
I'm firmly convinced that graph theory is a perfect subject to teach to young (primary school) children. It allows an introduction to core aspects of mathematics - abstraction, generalisation, formalism, proof - in a context where there's a concrete visual representation and without requiring significant prerequisite knowledge. It offers the possibility of building to more difficult material (matchings, Ramsey numbers) and methods and tools (variables, induction, reductio), but also a range of topics which can be introduced independently at a low level of complexity (graph colouring, paths, simple functions). (more…)
Helen complained that she wasn't doing any history. I had to break it to her that reading books on the First and Second World Wars, a historical novel set in Tudor London, and a loosely fictionalised art history survey counted as doing history, and that if she were to study history at Oxford it would actually be described as "reading history" - and probably wouldn't involve re-enactments of the Great Fire of London. (more…)
Air pollution and road danger are among the greatest threats to children's health and lives in the United Kingdom; both are aggravated by motor traffic outside schools at pick-up and drop-off times. School Streets schemes offer a way of reducing this, through traffic restrictions outside schools during key periods of the day.
Road danger and air pollution are the primary concerns, but other gains from such schemes include getting more children walking or cycling to school, improving their fitness and health, and reducing congestion on the road system more broadly.
Oxfordshire County Council has plans to implement School Streets schemes at a number of schools, with Windmill being the first. These are pilots, and if successful would be used as models for other schools. Here I discuss the state of proposals for Larkrise, as the school I am most familiar with. (more…)
The last six months have been dominated by a few series and rereading of favourite books, but have also seen Helen tackling her first really solid novels.
Books that Helen has read and reread include Alf Prøysen's Mrs Pepperpot Stories (a chance secondhand dicovery), Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins books, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Number Devil. (more…)
If your school tells you to cram times-tables or fractions into your child, but they don't want to do that or don't enjoy doing that, don't make them multiply. If they don't enjoy the maths they are doing at school, don't try to force them to do it at home, that's only going to make them dislike it even more. Instead, play games with them, do things with numbers and shapes yourself, show them mathematics unrelated to anything they do in school, and give them fun maths books to read and videos to watch. I realise this is harder for most parents than my previous "don't make your child read" injunction, because fewer parents enjoy mathematics themselves than enjoy reading, but if you are maths-averse yourself think of this as an opportunity to learn something new alongside your children. (more…)
Helen's school has lost its maths awards and gained a "house" system. One of the reasons I preferred Larkrise to other schools was the absence of anything like that, so I can't say I'm very happy about this. (more…)
There's a Humanities 2020 campaign with a manifesto that begins:
Primary schools have a duty to equip children for the challenges of the 21st century. We believe that the primary school curriculum in England is failing to do this or to fulfil the legal requirement for a balanced and broadly-based curriculum. Literacy and numeracy dominate the curriculum while other vital aspects of learning are often ignored. This is wrong.
We want young children to be literate and numerate, but much more than that. We affirm that every child is entitled to rich, stimulating and engaging learning experiences. We want children to have more opportunities to be creative and to build on their sense of curiosity. We would like to bring more joy and imagination back into the classroom.
This is something I fully endorse. The major concern I have with the campaign is its conception of the humanities as History, Geography, Religious Education, and Citizenship. (more…)
Kenneth Katzner's Languages of the World is being updated and since I'd reviewed the previous edition I'd been asked for comments on that and had my copy lying around. Browsing through it with Helen, she decided that Georgian was the most attractive script, so we transliterated and translated the first word (ღმერთსა / ghmertsa = to God) in the sample text, with the aid of Google Translate and Wikipedia. We're not about to learn Georgian, but I think she understands the difference between transliteration and translation now.
The last couple of months have seen an explosion not in the scope of Helen's reading but in the amount of time she spends reading. She'll almost always prefer friends or games, but she can read for an hour at a stretch in the right circumstances. (When I was in Year 1, I used to sit and read in the playground while everyone else ran around. I'm glad Helen is more sociable than that!) (more…)