What can we get out of doing exams?

“What can we get out of doing exams?” I asked the students at assembly on Monday.

This term is the most beautiful of the year at Bedales, yet it is a serious term, too, during which every student will sit exams of one sort or another by the end of term. We started addressing this question by looking at different motivations for doing something: extrinsic goals and intrinsic goals. Exams are generally thought to be good ONLY for extrinsic reasons: they are the ticket by which you access lots of other things you want, such as places at competitive universities, or jobs in industries where particular skills and qualifications are valued. There is a problem, though, in only going after extrinsic goals. Aristotle pointed this out in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he noted that if we only ever do something in order to achieve another goal, then we have no real reason for doing anything. To make this clearer, I used the example: if learning is for exams, and exams are to get you to university, and university is to get you to professional training, and the professional training is to get you to a job, what happens if, after all that, you don’t like the job you were aiming for? If we can find something intrinsically good about doing exams, all the better.

I was arguing that exams are good because they allow students to become the authors of their own learning. We talked about different philosophical/psychological theories of knowledge acquisition, including Locke (which we rejected), Piaget and Vygotsky. It was Vygotsky’s vision we settled on – that when students receive the right support (scaffolding) with their learning from peers and adults, they can progress much better, such that they develop the structures of mind to begin to learn independently. It is this that the revision period gives to students: the opportunity to make learning their own, to move from needing the structures, to taking the content on as theirs. This is part of the conceptual furniture of their mind, not simply some knowledge fed in by a teacher and received passively by the student.

I was arguing that the term ‘revision’ is misleading, because it suggests you are looking at something again; in fact, I think revision allows students to see the material for the first time through their own eyes, as opposed to through the eyes of their teacher. A student of mine in 6.1 proudly said to me the other day that she “owned Plato” now she had revised that material. Intentionally or not, she hit on something by saying this: in her process of independently working through the content, it has ceased to be my content, presented to her – her learning has become authentically her own. And this is something, I think, that we can say is intrinsically worthwhile, and in line with the school’s aim that we “cherish independent thought”.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge, and Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

Read an article in the TES by Clare Jarmy on the subject of revision (with a slightly different argument)

Watch a video about Vygotsky:

Lyrical Ballads: exploring Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley

IMG_8783

From 4-7 February, 6.2 English students studying Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) visited Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley. We explored a number of sites that were important to the early Romantic poets and that were depicted throughout their poetry, and learnt about the poems’ historical and contemporary critical reception.

Below is our poetic response to the trip, which draws on the various forms and meters experimented with by Wordsworth and Coleridge. There is no “gaudiness and inane phraseology” as seen in many “modern writers” though, as Wordsworth continued, to say:

“Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.”

By Ed’s English Set, with thanks to Ed Mason and Clare Lock for an incredible trip!

A Romantic Road Trip

How to begin? What a wonder:

We rose with the dawn one Friday morn

And headed to Kilve’s shore;

Taking in Somerset’s landscape and croissants

on our Bedales bus to the rumbling of its core.

 

On the beach we contemplated Wordsworth’sIMG_8699

‘Anecdote for Fathers’, found fossils,

And maxed out on photographs

The rock formations afforded us.

 

To Watchet, to its harbour, to its sculpture

Of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

To coffee, cake and reading

‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Lime Tree Bower’.
Then arriving in Wells, the smallest city in the land,

The Good Earth provided us lunch and warmth of conversation

We met Agnes in her eighties

She is full of energy

Conversation turned to Bedales and she recognises the name

She mentions ‘riotous’ behaviour whilst chuckling into her soup.

Upon leaving we’re told to ensure we see ‘Quarter Jack’

Who, in Wells Cathedral, in his glorious mechanisation kicks

A chime from the bells each quarter hour.

 

Food filled, we ventured a cavern of vast size

The Wookey Hole.IMG_8714

Tracking the neoclassical footsteps of Alexander Pope,

the group entered an ancient Jurassic world guided by a Wookey enthusiast,

special effects enhanced tales of witches, Celts and cheeses

then out through a mirror maze and Victorian penny games

and away from the Bizarre.

 

Down the rained cobbles of the most complete medieval street in Europe,

In Wells. We entered the rib cage of the Cathedral

Following its high white bones arching upwards

To prettily painted veins of decoration,

Hearing the high notes of Wells choir rehearsing

For Handal’s Messiah in some hidden chamber.

 

Upon the hour, in the vestry we witnessed

Jack’s musical movement in all its glory

Thanking Agnes quietly.

 

Travelodge and shower

went another hour.

 

Out for food to be filled again!

Then Tesco for face masks and ice cream

Bed time. Sweet dreams.

 

We rose with the rain

Bus and breakfasted again.

To Tintern and its rustic ruinIMG_8755

Dancing in the rain drops

We frolicked among its

Battered buttresses

And tried to recreate Turner’s perspective

And Wordsworth’s words

‘with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy

We see into the life of things.’

 

Tintern Abbey to Clifton’s cave

Limboing we descended down a rocky oesophagus

To a viewing platform made from the cave’s mouth

Looking out toward the suspension bridge-

Sending us whistled complaints in the wind.

And there we read of how Coleridge struggled to define

the difference betwixt beautiful, picturesque and sublime.

 

Lunchtime.

 

Bristol – a tapas bar

Hummus, chicken, pesto, carrot and coriander

A market selling silver from Northern India

The seller selling Bristol

For the beauty of its people.

Beautiful.

 

We regrouped at the Arnofini Gallery

Watched John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo’ which showed

Humanity’s repeated history of atrocity

Aiming to encourage our sympathy.

A brisk walk in the rain to food

Quinoa and avocados-

Eating al-fresco in Nando’s,

To a show at the Wardrobe theatre-

‘The hours before we wake’ Prophetic and amusing;

A pill for dreaming in the 22nd century.

Bus, bed and lie-in until 9:30. Luxury.

 

We rose with the bright sky

Then drove into Glastonbury

And headed up the tor, losing ourselves in the breeze

Thinking of ‘these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door.’

Somerset and more.

Picturesque.

 

Then to the last

Stonehenge. our final pilgrimage

paying homage to the scene where Tess lay,

the stones of ceremony and great debate.

Those stones which seem to defy man’s possibility

On nature’s wind-wild verdant vast plateau.

Sublime.

Shuttling back to the Bedales bus,

we beetled home under one grey sky

on roads where two great Romantics roamed

along the Valley of the Wye.

Psychology – what’s it all about?

Periodically, questions are raised about the rigour and value of some A Levels, of which Pyschology is one. Most recently, Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools’ Council (ISC) was reported in the Daily Mail as saying that girls who should be doing Physics are instead doing Psychology, and urges schools to persuade capable girls to choose the latter. Why? Because he says this will help to get more women into Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) careers and, importantly, onto university courses in subjects such as Engineering and Medicine. It is of note that he at least partly absolves independent schools from his analysis although I am unconvinced by his argument. Psychology was introduced as a subject at least in part to get girls more involved in Science, a task at which it has surely excelled. Although well established in universities, it was not until the 1970s that Psychology A Level was introduced in the classroom. Today more than 50,000 students are entered for the examination each year, making it the fourth most popular A Level nationally – also the case at Bedales. And, yes, it remains popular with girls.

The ongoing mantra is that it simply is not as difficult as Maths and the Physical Sciences, with great play made of its omission by the Russell Group universities from its list of ‘facilitating subjects’ – those identified as having the greatest transferability across university degree subject areas. In fact, the Russell Group identifies Psychology as ‘useful’ in relation to a range of degree subjects, whilst a number of different assessments of the difficulty of A Level subjects place Psychology above some facilitating subjects. Survey findings in 2003 found that the majority of students regarded Psychology as both their most demanding and most interesting subject (McGuinness, 2003). In 2008, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) found that Psychology was comparable in terms of standards with Biology and Sociology (although with a caveat about the difficulty of comparing different subjects).

Psychology employs a research approach and methods – for example, experimental design – that is consistent with those employed in the Natural Sciences. However, Psychology A Level also requires familiarity with the less tightly controlled observational method – also associated with the Social Sciences. Consequently, it is our belief that Psychology provides a unique opportunity to explore different and sometimes conflicting schools of thought with regard to theories of knowledge and scientific method.

That Psychology A Level is a subject that faces usefully both the Natural and Social Sciences is reflected in Psychology provision at university undergraduate level. For example, the University of Cambridge Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Department stresses the ways in which the subject overlaps with and contributes to Anthropology, Archaeology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy and Sociology.

We think there is great value in a subject that may lead students down so many potentially interesting paths. When students know exactly what they want to do beyond school, it makes sense for them to study those subjects that will get them to where they need to be next. The study of Medicine, for example, calls for a major commitment to the Natural Sciences – as a third of fourth subject Psychology might be interesting and valuable, although not essential.

However, for the significant proportion of students who have not yet decided where their future interest lies, Psychology can be a very useful way in which to ensure that the Sciences are represented in their mix of A levels.

By Sarah Flavell, Head of Psychology, Bedales School

More information about the Bedales Psychology curriculum.

 

Science at Bedales – A distinctive approach

CERN trip 3

Bedales – that’s the school for people who are into arts and humanities, right? Well, yes and no. It is true that Bedales offers a distinctive education in those areas, with plenty of notable careers made subsequently to prove it. However, Bedales also has a very successful Science Department whose courses are well subscribed, that gets excellent examination results, and whose students go on to pursue further academic study in the sciences and related subjects, and successful careers.

To a certain extent, Bedales’ reputation as a school devoted to the arts and humanities is justified – English, History, Religious Studies and Art are all very popular at A level. However, Mathematics (and Further Mathematics) is often the most popular A Level choice for Bedalians and amongst the current 6.2s (upper sixth) over half the block study at least one of Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Psychology, with an almost even uptake for each.

The study of sciences at A level, then, is an attractive option. For some, this is undertaken with an expectation of further study and a related career. Supported by extensive careers advice, these students will typically study traditional subject combinations – for example, linking Mathematics with Physics, or Biology with Chemistry. The Department has developed a particular expertise, thanks to Cheryl Osborne, in preparing students of natural sciences for further study in Medicine, and to this end has introduced a Sixth Form enrichment course in Medical Ethics. Of the students that have left Bedales for Oxford and Cambridge since 2009, over a third have gone on to study Mathematics or one of the sciences and last year three out of seven places went to the sciences: there is a proven and consistent track record for our Oxbridge applicants. The list below of degree subjects taken up by Bedales leavers over the last three years shows an impressive range and quantity of courses.

However, at Bedales science subjects are also successfully pursued alongside others beyond the traditional combinations – for example, over a third of 6.2 (upper sixth) Science students are also studying either Art or English and most students will choose a third or sometimes fourth A level from the arts, humanities and languages in the interests of subject diversity. At Bedales we take the view that these different areas of study, and their respective orthodoxies and methods, have much to offer in combination. There are powerful precedents for this approach: the late Steve Jobs saw artistic sensibilities as central to Apple’s business and, perhaps more dramatically, Albert Einstein was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. In addition, various researchers have found a positive relationship between participation in arts, crafts and music and success in scientific and technological careers. There are many Old Bedalians who have combined science with arts and humanities subjects, and who have brought to bear both scientific expertise and alternative literacies in service of innovation, and in communicating relevant ideas through policy advice to industry and government, or within companies.

“Art can be a way of capturing the essence of something while filtering out small details – a very useful skill in any kind of research, whether in the humanities or in the sciences.”

Alexei Yavlinsky, computer software engineer and entrepreneur (Bedales 1994-99)

Bedales Approach to the teaching and learning of Science

Bedales’ approach to the teaching and learning of Science is laudably distinctive. We encourage inquisitiveness and independent learning, for example, by making the room for students to exercise, experiment, innovate, reflect and discuss. In 2014, the school introduced a student-inspired initiative – the Dons – giving 6.2 (upper sixth) students the opportunity to represent subjects and mentor younger pupils. Last year, the Chemistry Don successfully promoted the subject to both parents and students, and helped with the science education of lower year groups. This year we have expanded the role of our Dons to organising science events for lower schools and developing and recruiting for scientific societies. Bedales has high expectations of students, and employs tried and trusted principles (such as Assessment for Learning) in seeking to ensure that each student knows where they are with their learning, where they need to go, and how they are going to get there.

The commitment of the Science Department to the school’s educational credo – specifically Aim 2’s ‘doing and making’ – is expressed significantly through a commitment to practical work. In teaching the natural sciences, we believe that students must experience events, substances and changes in order to properly understand them; that such work can help develop an understanding of both the value and problems associated with measurement; and that practical work can be the doorway to a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas that underpin scientific theory. No less importantly, students typically enjoy practical work, and for those who go on to further study the skills they develop in this way are a vital asset.

The Bedales Science Department prides itself on the quality of its staff, and of its collective practice. We draw upon doctoral-level expertise (with two PhDs in the Department), and every subject area is taught by specialists for whom it is their primary discipline. Science is taught in all three Bedales Schools with great attention paid to complementary curricula. The curriculum at our junior schools is an excellent foundation for subsequent study at Bedales, with the relationship strengthened by Science Department staff giving assemblies, talks and demonstrations to younger students.

Science provision at Bedales also benefits from excellent external input. The annual Eckersley Science Lecture is delivered by some of the world’s most prominent scientists. Speaker for the 2014-15 academic year was cosmologist Prof. Tony Readhead of Caltech, with Prof. Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey to speak (on 19 April 2016) on the developing discipline of Quantum Biology. Bedales science students also benefit from links with local universities and guest lectures. Recent events include a ‘Brain Day’ with Dr Guy Sutton, whilst an ‘Infra-Red Spectroscopy Day‘ gave sixth form students hands-on experience of the latest equipment. Field trips include regular visits to the CERN Large Hadron Collider for physicists.

We also encourage our students to take up opportunities beyond the confines of the classroom, and to exercise leadership in the area of science. Bedales Block 3 and 4 students (Years 9-10) compete in the Biology Challenge (Society of Biology), and are regularly awarded gold certificates. Older students represent the school in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Olympiad, and individual students give scientific presentations to external audiences. Bedales science students also help with lessons in our junior schools.

To conclude, Bedales is associated in the popular imagination with excellence in the arts and humanities. Whilst the Science Department may sometimes cede the spotlight to its more overtly glamorous cousins, its pursuit of excellence is treated with equal seriousness, is borne of the same educational ethos, and sees impressive returns. Indeed science at Bedales is rendered all the more distinctive for being pursued in an environment in which the arts and humanities are so important – a point that resonates with the many Old Bedalians who have gone on to become accomplished scientists and innovators.

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Science, Bedales

Maths and Science related degree choices: 2013 – 2015

2015
Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Biochemistry, Oxford University (Sommerville)
Biological Anthropology, University of Kent
Chemistry, Oxford University (Worcester)
Chemistry, University of Warwick
Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
Economics, Kingston University
Economics and Economic History, London School of Economics
Environmental Management, Kingston University
Marine Biology, University of Southampton
Mechanical Engineering, University of Exeter
Medicine, Oxford University (New College)
Midwifery, Plymouth University
Natural Sciences, Durham University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies

2014
Automotive and Transport Design, Coventry University
Biological and Medical Sciences, University of Liverpool
Biological Sciences Foundation, Fanshawe College Ontario
Chemistry, University of Bristol
Economics and Finance, University of Exeter
Human, Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge
International Relations and Anthropology, University of Sussex
Medicine, University of Exeter
Nursing, University of Liverpool
Physics, University of Bristol
Physiotherapy, Oxford Brookes University
Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies
Zoology, University of Glasgow

2013
Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft – Netherlands
Agriculture, Royal Agricultural University Cirencester
Biochemistry, University of Sheffield
Biological Sciences, University of Exeter
Economics, University College London
Economics and Politics, University of Leeds
Materials Science & Engineering, Swansea University
Mathematics, Imperial College London
Mathematics, University of York
Mathematics, Loughborough University
Medicine, University of Cambridge (Murray Edwards)
Natural Sciences, University of Exeter
Physics, Oxford University (Oriel)
Product Design Engineering, Brunel University
Psychology, Newcastle University
Veterinary Nursing, Royal Veterinary College (University of London)