Enjoy the break

As July comes to an end and attempts to reprieve itself with a little sun it also means that the exam season is over for many, at least for a short time. But what should you do with this time off, what is the best use of time after exams?

I have always been interested by the idea that I am sure was in an updated version of Tom Peters and Bob Waterman’s book, In Search of Excellence, first published in 1988. This was a book about what made American companies great. But rather than building ideas from first principle, it looked at successful US companies and worked backwards in order to find common themes, a simple modeling exercise.

What I found of particular interest was the updated chapter that I believe was called, the price of excellence. In this chapter they argued that to be excellent you have to make sacrifices, having a balanced life was all well and good but it did not lead to excellence, excellence required to some extent obsession. As I watched the opening of the Olympic Games last night I wonder how many of those athletes had a holiday or were at home every night to kiss their children good night, how many sacrifices had they made.

No man ever reached to excellence in any one art or profession without having passed through the slow and painful process of study and preparation”

Quintus Horatius Flaccus – Roman Poet

But this is not an argument for obsession, well maybe short spurts of obsession, with rest and variety in the middle. The brain needs sleep and ideas need fertilising, sometimes connections and understanding come when you are least expecting them.

So go on holiday, engage in different activates, and challenge your understanding of what is around you but most of all have a great holiday…

Final thoughts

Excellence in the opening of the London 2012 Olympic games.

And just for sheer entertainment a fabulous presentation by Marco Tempest telling the story of Nicola Telsa, “The greatest Geek who ever lived.”

Are you taught in the most efficient & effective way? – The flipped classroom

To pass any exam you need to learn in the most efficient and effective way but only part of that is down to you the student, much is about the way in which you are taught.

Little has changed in the way knowledge has been transferred over the years. Initially teaching was one person talking to a few people; let’s call this the Neanderthal approach, the first classroom? Then we had a major innovation the printing press, around 1450, which made it possible for knowledge to flow around the world, all be it slowly, no email in those days. But with the advent of the computer in 1837 (Charles Babbage) or 1942 (first digital computer) or the first PC, IBM 1953, the ability to store and transfer information to the masses was possible. Yet little changed in the way we were taught, until now.

Now we have both online and classroom learning. But what is best way to learn, what is the most efficient and effective way to transfer knowledge?

The lecture

If you think of a traditional lecture, the lecturer stands at the front and talks, the student makes notes and then goes away to read and perhaps actually learn something about the subject.

The online approach

A mass of content is available online, you can watch the very best lecturers from all around the world, stopping and starting the presentation to suite the speed in which you learn. Or perhaps you have a sophisticated e learning course where activities are carefully constructed to explain what you need to know. But this can be lonely and despite the claim that online is the same as being in a classroom, from my experience it is not, it is different.

The blend and the flip

But is the best method to have a blend of both online and Classroom / Lecture Theater. This is the idea behind the blended course. Attend the lecture and then watch some online instruction later in the day perhaps. However much thought needs to be given to how this works, directing students to random You Tube clips is far from ideal. Yet it feels like a move in the right direction.

And now the Flip – The flipped classroom (2004 ish) takes its name from the idea that content has historically been taught in the day and students expected to apply that content in their own time for homework.  But is making notes in class the best use of that face to face time? Should students not watch the lecture on the evening, benefiting from studying at their own pace and then attend class the next day, where they can ask questions? Can we flip the process?

In class the lecturer or teacher can then bring the subject to life using real world examples, answer student questions and deal with individuals on a one to one basis.

It’s not perfect, but it is better

Okay it is far from perfect and it has yet to be proven over time. But it does seem to make a lot of sense and for the first time we may be seeing the power of the PC complementing rather than competing with the classroom.

Oh and it has some powerful supporters Sal Khan & Bill Gates

Watch this for a great explanation why flipping the class is a good idea

Sorry is not good enough – Exam paper mistakes

9 exam paper errorsExams seem to be in the news a lot these days, unfortunately often for the wrong reasons. This month we were told of at least six errors on exam papers sat by students studying A-level, AS-level and GCSEs taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The errors were on questions with marks ranging from 1 to 11 and effect 90,000 students. In fact it is hard to keep up; only yesterday there was news of another possible three mistakes, bringing the new total to nine!

The examining bodies have said they were sorry and that they would take into account the errors when they come to mark the paper, ensuring that no students would be disadvantaged as a result. Firstly an apology is not good enough, it should not happen in the first place and secondly they can’t “take into account” the full impact of the mistakes. And it looks like David Cameron agrees……

Now of course everyone makes mistakes, but when the consequences are as important as this there should be a system in place to ensure they are spotted. That system should include having an examiner, an assessor and a sitter. This is in addition to the normal proofing and arithmetic checks. The examiner writes the paper, and presumably checks it, the assessor also checks the paper, ensuring the wording is clear and that what is being asked is within the syllabus and technically correct. The sitter should then attempt the paper under exam conditions, to make sure that it can be completed in the time available. If these processes are followed it would seem almost impossible for a mistake to be made, I wonder what went wrong?

Equally it is not possible for the examining body to ensure that no student is disadvantaged. What can they do, be generous with the marks for any attempts made?  What if the student looked at the question tried to do it, panicked and as a result wasted valuable time, making little or no attempt at the rest of that question, there is in effect nothing to mark. What can you do in these circumstances; just add on say 5 marks!

How can you take into account the student who raced through the second question because they spent so much time on the first and made mistakes due to the time pressure, add on another 5 marks!

And what about the student who looked at this question, lost their confidence and so failed to complete the paper, add another 5 marks!

Listen to this confident student describe the impact of a mistake in the exam.

And he got no reply…..

What to do if there is a mistake

There is however some good news, you can still give yourself the best chance of passing if you apply some simple exam techniques.

1. Stick to the mark allocation – if it is a 10 mark question then only spend 18 minutes on it, 1.8 marks per minute for a three hour exam. So even if you cannot answer the question because of a mistake on the paper you will not be wasting time that could be better used on the next question.

2. Don’t think you have to get everything exactly right. Your objective is to pass the exam with the highest mark, so you may have to accept that you will not get 100%. And of course getting 100% correct is impossible when the examining body has put down the wrong information! Do your best and move on.

3. Make assumptions – read the exam question slowly, underline the key points and if it doesn’t make sense clarify what you think it is saying by stating your assumptions. Then answer the question in accordance with your assumptions.

4. Don’t bother asking if you think there is a mistake. There is little point asking in the exam if there is a mistake on the paper. The invigilators on the day are unlikely to be subject experts and so will do nothing. Let others put their hand up and ask, you should keep your head down and get on with answering the question.

Remember exams are more than tests of knowledge and they are not always fair, but they are equal, everyone in the exam room is faced with the same examiners mistake. How you deal with those mistakes however can make all the difference….

Another TED lecture worth watching

And finally I have another TED lecture for you to watch. It is presented by Sir Ken Robinson who gives a very interesting talk on what he describes as a crisis in our education system – personalised learning not standardised/production driven learning.

No excuses FREE knowledge – The Khan Academy

I look to do one blog a month, not  that demanding I know but enough for me. However I am so excited about what I am going to show you next I wanted to post something now!

Check out this link to something called the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere, okay their words not mine but an impressive mission none the less. All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, or parent. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

This is a great example of open or free content, knowledge that is available on the internet for free, so now you have no excuses you can learn anything for free………

Okay you can’t learn everything, there are ONLY 2,100 videos and there are issues, how good are the lessons, are they of the right standard and quality, are they up to date, how relevant are they in helping you pass your exam?

Equally the Khan Academy is not meant to be a substitute for structured learning. There is more to a course or a well written text book than simply knowledge.  Teachers motivate and focus attention, they identify what is important and what is not, they will link topics together in such a way that makes the whole subject easier to understand and follow. But this material can really help, it can complement a structured course so that teachers can free their time to support and show how the knowledge can be applied. And if there are specific topics that you have never understood, just check out one of the lectures from the library.

This is not of course the first website to provide free content and it is American, do they not know that Math’s has an S on the end! But it is pretty good and it’s not just me who thinks that, Bill Gates does too.

In a time when universities are increasing their fees to teach stuff, it might be that they need to reassess exactly what they are charging for, because if its knowledge, well why pay for that when you can get it for nothing! 

Watch this TED lecture given by Sal Khan the founder

And for my students not sure about earning per share EPS

Or the PE ratio

Or what market capiltalisation (wth an S) might mean