Saturday 17 November 2018


What do we want for our children? Insofar as we can change their fate; what attributes, knowledge or stuff would we wish on them. You can stop reading now if your answer was €10,000,000 because you're not on my wavelength at all at all. Because, if you pause in your gallop you'll realise that there are many things that money cannot buy: health, honour, honesty, happiness . . . and that's just some of the Hs. Many years ago, when I wrote articles for the Home Education Network Newsletter, I submitted a short filler piece; and as I was the editor and needed to fill a fraction of a page, I accepted the submission.
Educational Outcomes
We obviously want good things and positive outcomes for our children and presumably we believe that home education is a way to optimise this process. But can we prioritise? Here is an exercise. Look at the alphabetised list of words below and sort them for how important they are to you as educational outcomes for your children. Subsidiary exercise: do this blind with your partner and see how well your aspirations match. Or again, write your own list and date it and look at it in a year's time - will it have changed? 
Brave -*- Compassionate -*- Confident -*- Co-operative -*- Famous -*- Generous -*- Happy -*-Honest -*- Independent -*- Kind -*- Punctual -*- Rich -*- Successful 

I was thinking about this on the last day of Science Week at The Institute. It has been a great success for me because at least once every day, I've had an encounter with teenagers which gives me hope for the Future of Ireland as a Technological Nation. There was Gabriela, part of whose self-image was Woman of Science although, as yet, she knew little. Her classmates were being constructively noisy around her. I wrote to their teacher: "Science is not about the stuff you know, it's an approach to working out how thing tick. They were pushing the frontiers of acoustics working out how to optimise the signal-to-noise ratio for reflected sound. Of course, they wouldn't have used that sort of language but that was in effect what they were doing. You can find out what "The Answer" is by looking it up but if you Do it, the information will stick." What do I wish for young scientists? Consistency -*- Cooperation -*- Perseverance -*- Self-confidence.

For an hour on Friday morning, I was told off to mind a bank of microscopes which visiting teenagers were encouraged to look through. All the exhibits were obviously alive and kicking: giants snails and cockroaches, nematodes, insect larvae, and huge variety of microscopic pond-life. I was there to make sure nothing got broken but it was me who spilled the vial of Hydra [like L] and had to suck up the puddle with an eye-dropper. I spent rather more than 1 hour fielding questions about the life and times of each creature. During a lull, one of the girls from a Community College just up the road, came back to me.
  • Could she ask me a question?
    • She could
  • Did I know what was a UV-vis Spectrophotometer?
    • I did. I also knew that I was the least appropriate person in our Science Department to ask for help. But I have allowed students to learn how to use such an instrument while I got out of their way - the best way to teach anyone anything. 
  • Did I know what was the minimum amount of water necessary to make measurements with a UV-Spectrophotometer?
    • I didn't but we could find out, and whisked the girl to one of the labs upstairs where I showed her the UV-spec, and gave her a plastic disposable "cuvette" for receiving and processing samples. I gave her my e-mail address: by the time she contacted me I would have found the most appropriate person to supervise her BT Young Scientist project about heavy metals and water quality.
What do I wish for young scientists? Knowing when to ask for help; and when it's better to try something yourself. Knowing whom to ask and getting the timing of the request right. You only learn those skills by being wrong a few times and not giving up. She could have found the answer to her substantive question with Google "UV spectroscophotometer sample size" the answer being 2ml. But by that path she would never have encountered me and secured free access to the instrument she needed.

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