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Monday, March 12, 2007

Heads or Tails

Sometime we feel the need to demonstrate a practical solution to a problem. When we were at school the key point in the term was seeing the dissecting tools laid out in a science lesson. Our heart beats would rise. Would we be offered a worm or a rat? What was in the teacher’s mind? The smell of formaldehyde would precede the white coated science teacher. He would walk out with a tray covered by a white cloth.

We would be given the `sermon’ for the need for respect for death, the importance of taking care with sharp instruments and the necessity of not flicking or throwing the more unsavoury parts of the dissection around.

Generations of children must be delighted that the barbaric practice was stopped some years ago. It is highly unlikely that any thing like this will ever be allowed to happen again. But teachers sometimes do feel the need to do practical exercise.

Take, for example, an exercise covering probability and graphs.

Each child in a group of 4 spins a coin 100 times and counts how many times it comes down `Tails”. This is repeated twice.

The question is, “Does the coin usually come down tails or heads?”

We drew attention to a question like this to a boy attending one of our lessons. He was offered the exercise just before the end of the lesson. We encouraged him to write down an estimate of his answer before he started on the practical exercise. We found him a little section of carpet so that the noise of the falling coin would not distract the other children. The whole exercise would hopefully take not more than a few minutes.

Twenty minutes after the lesson ended there was a little group of children and adults on their knees in the corner of the waiting room. They were flicking coins. This enterprising boy had enlisted not only his parents but others waiting for their children.

As teachers we have to careful of so many things. Suppose the group had been seen by a member of the public who reported us for running a gambling den? Suppose one of the granddads taking part slipped in a little side bet? Suppose, by chance, that tails had actually come up more often than heads?

The boy must have left his lesson bursting with excitement. His parents must have fallen in with his wishes. The other parents and grandparents must have been caught up in the natural curiosity of the child to solve a problem.

Thank goodness that we had not been teaching dissection in KS2 Science. We would have been in court by now.

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