The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Doc from Doing Less Harm has been guestblogging at The Report Card, in an entertaining series about his old schooldays, called The Good, The Bad, and The Bully.

The Good is a brilliant description of the sort of offbeat, off-message physics teaching that used to actually bring ideas alive to children. It's a million miles away from the intransigent, stuffy - switch activity every twenty minutes / do as we say not as we do stuffiness of the government's literacy and numeracy strategies.
My favourite teacher at school was "The Doc" who taught us Physics. He was one of the meanest and most beligerant teachers in the school but he was only being hard on you for your own good. I ended up doing Physics A-Level and getting an A in it so I guess his magic rubbed off on me.

He had some strange ways. He used to teach us the syllabus for, say, five lessons and then on the sixth, he'd go off on a complete tangent and we'd spend 40 minutes calculating:
  • what thickness a 6 foot tall spider's legs would have to be to support its body,
  • the distance away and size an electron would be if a hydrogen nucleus was a pound coin on his desk,
  • the amount of current running down each strand of electrified chicken wire
  • and the chance of inhaling an oxygen molecule that Caesar exhaled in his dying "Et tu Brute" breath. (Which is surprisingly high!)

We'd also have to do Oxford and Cambridge standard exam questions when studying for GCSE. "The best way to train for a marathon is to run up Everest with a sack of bricks on your back."

He was also very strict. He used to make you lay out your calculations in a specific way. If you deviated from that way then you would get comments like "DROSS!" and "DRIVEL!!!!!" written across your homework. He also insisted that all homework be done in the brown homework book. If it wasn't done in that book, it wasn't marked. When the, in his words, "snivelling little toad", J, handed his homework in on a piece of A4 paper, Doc got a book of matches and set it on fire in front of the entire class.

But he was fair. I remember once when he set us a test about radiation, conduction and convection. I wrote about how a silver surface reject heat. He marked that as wrong and I got some comment like "IDIOT!" written on my work, until I produced his own photocopied notes which hadn't copied the word 'reflects' correctly and made it look like 'rejects'. So he gave me a mark for learning what he had given me, even though it was incorrect.

He was also very harsh on my friend C and about 5 other people. He suspected them all of cheating and took them one by one outside of the classroom and into his office where he grilled them over the cheating. Of course none of them were daft enough to admit that they had cheated. They thought they could get away with it.

Well at least until The Doc pointed out that they had all calculated the distance between the Earth and the Moon as being about 100,000,000 miles.

Once again The Doc proved he was the best.
Halcyon days, eh?

Compare and contrast to the flexibility QCA allows my classroom: