Monday 19 June 2017

You can sing it

We've finished exams at The Institute - big phew! all round. Almost all my hours nowadays are practical classes in biology and maths, so I only have to write, have reviewed and mark one Summer exam: Human Physiology for 1st Year Pharm Tech PT1. With all my courses, there is a certain amount of Imposter Syndrome - none of it really taps into my peer-reviewed expertise in the migration of cats; hominid tooth metrics, synonymous codon usage; gene discovery in chickens or operons in the human genome.  There are no operons in the human genome!  I used to get nervous submitting exams in Human Physiology knowing they were to be reviewed by two external experts in Pharmacy.  Then for several years, the feedback was entirely complimentary "good paper, well developed syllabus, fair questions" so I started to believe that I really did know and was effectively explaining important stuff about how the human body works.

The exam papers are reviewed by the externs in February and the answers are reviewed at the beginning of June.  For the first time, all my PT1 students had passed the course, although I'd had to be a bit generous towards some in the trailing tail of the class.  To be honest, a handful of them had done shockin' bad on the exams and had only passed because they had done okay on the numerous MCQ quizzes that I'd put them through during the year . . . and done surprisingly well on their essay on lysosome storage disorders. So I was little defensive talking to the extern and I found myself gabbling about the artificiality of examinations: learn learn learn, cram cram cram, blurf it all out in two hours and forget it forever the very next day.- as shown by some of these university graduates retaking the teenage maths exam. I asserted that my students would remember the information about their lysosome storage disorder for longer than anything that had appeared on the May exams.  It made me resolve to have more project work next year but I also resolved to make some of the key facts more sticky.

At the beginning of the month I was unavoidably listening to adults talking about the berluddy Leaving Certificate, the exam ordeal to which every 18 y.o. in the country is subjected.  As a bit of light relief two presenters were remembering what was top of the pop charts during those fateful two weeks long long ago. Loadsa people txtd and phoned in to report the song that was still buzzing round their heads decades after they had forgotten The Calculus, the terms of The Treaty of Paris 1783 or who signed The Treaty of Paris 1951.

Then I heard an interview with George Hammond-Hagan [similar on the BBC] who has devised a mnemonic resource call Study Tracks.  He is song-writer who had a son going through the goddam exams and so he wrote and sang some songs using the text-books for lyrics.  It has the ring-a-ling-ling of truth. It's got to work for some kids some of the time.  It's a business but here are some samplers renaissance - R&J. Such rapology doesn't sing to me, but it may well work for The Yoof. This is not an original idea: here's Mrs Martin making her maths pupils dance to her tune. And years and years ago Tom Lehrer [bloboprev] nailed the Elements to a song so that Daniel "Potter" Ratcliffe could recite them.

I've introduced my PT1s to The Memory Palace for blood pressure but there are lots of ways in which something will happen that will make more sticky the ideas, the lists of attributes, the main players in Human Physiology.  If I was deliver myself slightly late to class in a bright red leotard, brandishing a huge hot-water bottle and moaning about the pain d'ye think they'd remember the four attributes of inflammation . . . forever?

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