Sunday, November 22, 2015

Understanding maths, or writing down the answers

Bipods have two legs, and tripods have three.   At least two of each land on earth, and they have 23 legs.  How many of each are there?

Well, I thought of solving it with equations.  But there are two unknowns and only one equation.  So I borrowed two primary maths books from the excellent Educational Resource Collection (for trainee teachers - hope they also got the ones they wanted!) at work.   Starting with a guess, was the suggestion.  So we did, and with a bit of use of the 2 and 3 times tables, we arrived at an answer.

There is more than one answer, so we tried to find another.   But we did not understand how we had got to the first answer, so we could go not go any further.

I was not sure what to do next.  I am a Primary PGCE drop out.   So, I recommended we (well, my son) ask his teacher.

The next night, my son wrote down his own fraction problems.  He wanted to do them himself, and take them to school to show his teacher.  An admirable application of what he had learned. 

Some were easily solved using the techniques he had learned at school.

One was 5/10 of 48.  He drew 10 boxes and proceeded to share 48 dots between them.  He ended up with some boxes with 6 and some with 5 dots and was not sure what to do next.   I asked how else you could write 5/10?    1/2, he said.   He tried again, with two boxes, and worked it out.  

Then the next was 6/9 of 50.  The same problem with the boxes, and with no solution in sight, he was very upset that he would have to take the answers to school with blank spaces in.  One of his friends had written out some questions and had no blank spaces, he said.   Maybe, I said, he had not come up with any questions that he had not done at school.  Remember, these were questions my son had written himself, and however many times I told him not to worry, because he had come up against some maths he did not know, he was most upset.   Having the answers was more important than knowing how you got there, and more important than saying "I don't know" and realising that the methods you know don't work, even if you don't know why.

So, when devising assessments or assignments, I need to remember - make them so people have to understand a process, as well as having an answer.

Talking with children about the news

Son #2 has become fascinated by skyscrapers, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building and definitely a tremendous piece of engineering.  His fascination extends beyond this building, and includes skyscrapers in New York.  His mum and I were lucky enough to visit the city some years ago, and came back with a lovely illustrated book about the city's skyscrapers.  He can also tell you, if you want to know, some of the world's previous tallest buildings, which include several in New York, of course, and also the Eiffel Tower, which has also been met at school as part of a project about "Fantastic France".

The news?   Recent news.  Our son's class spent some time at circle time earlier this week remembering the recent terrible events in Paris, after a classmate had mentioned seeing about it.

The Guardian reported what the French education ministry had done to help teachers. 

And older news.  From 1970 to 1973, the tallest building in the world was the original World Trade Center in New York.  It appears in books we had read, but so does the new one (as a design), and so I had said that the original one was no longer there, that it had been replaced by new buildings, including the "Freedom Tower", which we had read about.  

And that was going to be that, until he was older.

And then, there we were, watching a documentary about building an enormous artificial island in Dubai.  The island was designed to increase tourist visits to Dubai, to start to develop alternative sources of income to replace, in due course, oil.   Work started in August 2001, and was affected by the global downturn in tourism that followed 9/11.   And the programme showed, briefly, what happened to the World Trade Center.  I am glad I was watching it with him.  So, we had to talk about what had happened.

I don't think the answer he needs now to the question of "why" is the one that he will need when he is older.  For now, I hope it was ok to tell him that it was not an accident, and that people did die (he asked both those things, and he had seen a photo of a plane that crashed some years back into the Empire State Building). 

So, how do you talk to children about the news?    I am not thinking here about breaking bad news to them about their health or the health of family members.  That should be the subject of a separate post.   But, how you talk to them about difficult stories in the news.  You can, as I tried to, not tell them, but they will find out about the news story sooner or later and they will want to know.

Here are a few things that look useful. 

BBC's Newsround has advice for children/young people on what to do if you are upset by the news.

PBS Parents

Common Sense Media - an American Academy of Pediatrics site.  

A lot of British advice that I found was about dealing with bereavement, abuse or illness, but Cranmer Primary School in Mitcham, Surrey, has taken some American advice and amended it for a British context. 

A interesting newspaper item is this one from the New York Times, reporting French sources and media.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


American actor Charlie Sheen recently announced on a television chat show that he was living with HIV, which has got some media coverage, including some that suggested that not everyone knows how HIV is spread.   

I don't know how typical this Guardian story is, but it does suggest that some people do need more information, and up to date accurate information, about HIV.

When I started working in health libraries in 1986, AIDS was a very current topic.  I remember hearing ideas about who was most at risk, and what some people said definitely conveyed the idea that it was a condition that affected gay men, and not anyone else.  I also remember learning about Edinburgh, where I had just moved from, that the group most affected there was not that group at all.  Richard Holloway, who became Bishop of Edinburgh the year after I left the city, realised when he moved there that the community affected in Edinburgh was not the same as the one affected in Boston, Massachusetts, where he had lived and worked before.

Then there was the government's television advert and leaflet, "Don't Die of Ignorance", preserved here at the National Archives.

For today's information about HIV, including how it is spread, and all the developments in treatment and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, have a look at these:

NHS Choices: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, prevention and living with HIV and AIDS, plus stories, details of clinical trials, and a discussion forum.

Clinical Knowledge Summaries: for primary care health practitioners, covering diagnosis and management, with scenarios.  CKS links to supporting evidence, but in this case it is guidelines and review articles, with no information about anti retroviral treatments, which are beyond the scope of the information.  CKS information was last updated in September this year.  CKS is one of the sources picked up by NICE Evidence Search, which you should try for other sources.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, founded in 1982 and named after one of the first men to die of AIDS, has publications, information on sexual health and on living with HIV, and the history of the Trust gives an insight into the history of what is known about HIV and AIDS.  There is also information on the activities of the Trust itself, and its local centres.

Thanks to the THT site, I know that National HIV Testing Week begins today, 21st November.

In the United States there is information at (managed by the Department of Health and Human Services), CDC, and Aidsinfo, from the NIH.  Aidsinfo uses Google Translate to provide information in other languages, and the other sites are available also in Spanish.

The World Health Organization has information, including data and statistics, information on treating children, on mother to child transmission, and on co-infections.  Use the links at the top right to get the information in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.