Captain Cook

The celebrated explorer, navigator and cartographer James Cook was born on October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton, near Middlesbrough. He was from a large farming family, and helped out at home until he was 16. He then took an apprenticeship with a shopkeeper, but never settled, and soon swapped to another apprenticeship, this time working on coal ships. James loved the work, and in 1752 he passed the exams which would eventually enable him to help command a ship.

The Mariner’s Museum records how Cook, “…completed his three-year apprenticeship in April 1750, then went on to volunteer for the Royal Navy. He would soon have the opportunity to explore and learn more about seafaring. He was assigned to serve on the HMS Eagle where he was quickly promoted to the position of captain’s mate due to his experience and skills. In 1757, he was transferred to the Pembroke and sent to Nova Scotia, Canada, to fight in the Seven Years’ War.” During this war, Cook’s skills as a surveyor and cartographer were put to great use and led him to plan many attacks.

In 1760, Cook helped map the entire coast of Newfoundland. Once again, his exceptional mapping skills brought him attention, particularly that of the Royal Society and Admiralty, who would use his maps for voyages for the next 200 years.

On 30th July, 1768, Cook set off on his first great expedition, aboard the Endeavour, with a crew of 84. Amongst them were several scientists, their mission being to record the journey on new maps and explore as many unknown lands as possible.

In 1769 the Endeavour reached South America. Proceeding further, the crew set up a research base in Tahiti, which they named Fort Venus. One of Cook’s most renowned achievements occurred on June 3rd that year, when the transit of that planet was observed and recorded.

They left Tahiti in August, and sailed blindly for several weeks. It wasn’t until October 6th that land was sighted again, when Endeavour reached the country we now know as New Zealand. Cook named its first feature Poverty Bay. On all his travels, Cook tried to mix with the local populations and collect plant and animal life. In Poverty Bay, however, the native population was unfriendly, so he decided to sail south along the coast. As he did so, Cook noted many of the separate islands that cluster around New Zealand, and he named most; from Bare Island to Cape Turnagain. When the Endeavour turned around to reface the northernmost tip of the island, Cook realised that New Zealand itself was made up of two large separate islands.

In April 1770, Cook spotted the coastline of Australia. He landed in Botany Bay near modern day Sydney, before exploring the area. Then began the long journey back to England, via Batavia in Indonesia, before they finally returned to London in July 1771. A full chart of this first expedition is pictured above.

In 1772, Cook was promoted to full Captain and given command of two ships, the Resolution and Adventure, tasked to look for the Southern Continent. His explorations continued until he was 50, when his interest in the lives of native populations led to his downfall.

Captain Cook’s final voyage took place on board the HMS Resolution, and now he became the first sailor to land a ship on the Hawaiian Islands. This visit was initially successful, and Cook left the island with much information, before heading to America. A few months later he returned to Hawaii – but he’d outstayed his welcome. The local population had tired of him interfering in their way of life and at Kealakekua Bay, while trying to negotiate repairs to his boats, on 14th February, 1779, a fight broke out and he was killed.

James Cook is the first British ship commander to circumnavigate the globe in a lone ship. He is also the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, by serving them citrus fruit. He charted many regions and recorded many European islands and coastlines for the first time. Cook also provided new information about the Pacific Ocean and its islands. Further, he met with and recorded information about their various peoples. Again, none were previously known at the time.

While his methods would be seen as intrusive today, Cook was a man of his time, and his skill at surveying unexplored lands and seas can’t be denied. The long term importance of Captain Cook’s discoveries, coupled with his fearlessness to do so, have meant that we continue to commemorate his achievements today. A NASA space shuttle is even named Endeavour, after his first ship.

In the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of the year falls on 21st June. This day is often referred to as the Summer Solstice or Midsummer’s Day. But why is this day so much longer than average?

As the Earth rotates on its axis, parts of the world move closer to the sun, while the rest moves farther away. It is this tilt which brings it nearer to the Sun that is force behind the solstice. On 21st June the Earth’s axis tilts 23 degrees at the same time as the Sun reaches its highest point of altitude. The result is that, with the exception of the Polar Regions, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the longest period of daylight hours of the year on that day.

In the UK and Europe the longest day is usually 21st June, but due to the curvature of the Earth, the highest altitude of the Sun occurs on a different day in a few locations over the tropics. In areas where the sun is directly overhead (within both the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) there are two different ‘longest’ days. This is because the Sun crosses directly once on the day before the solstice and once on the day after.

Occasionally the summer solstice falls on June 22nd in Europe; although it is very rare. The last time this happened was 1975 and the next time will be in 2203. This occasional variation of a day, or a few days as you get nearer the equator, is because the earth orbits the sun in an ellipse and not a circle (or sphere), and its orbital speed varies slightly during the year.
The Winter Solstice, or the shortest day, which occurs on the 21st December in the Northern hemisphere, works in the opposite way. The Earth is orbiting at its furthest point from the Sun, and so we experience long periods of dark skies and therefore a shorter day.

The longest day traditionally marks the first day of summer in the UK, just as the 21st December heralds the start of Winter. However, just because the Summer Solstice is the longest day, it does not guarantee that it will be the hottest, or even warm. Traditionally the Summer Solstice has been a time to celebrate the planting and harvesting of crops. This ancient idea is still celebrated by some to this day; most famously commemorated in England by the Druid communities who gather near Stonehenge to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

At the present time, one of the worst storms in American history, Tropical Storm Harvey (seen below at full strength), is laying waste to east Texas. It also generated the worst hurricane to hit Texas in fifty years and is  causing unprecedented flooding in the city of Houston. The neighbouring state of Louisiana is also beginning to feel its effects. Harvey, which made first landfall as a category 4 hurricane, has brought flash floods and extreme winds across the land; claiming lives, destroying the environment, and damaging the long term economy. Tropical storms can include hurricanes as was originally the case here, or cyclones and typhoons, or a combination of all three. With them comes heavy rainfall, mudslides, and floods.

As tropical storms need intense heat in which to form, they only occur either just to the north or south of the equator, where the sea temperatures can reach up to 27ºC. Generating where the air above a warm sea rises, it is this combination of temperature between the water and the sky that causes the sort of atmospheric low pressure which can spark a tropical storm.

When superheated air rises, it begins to spin, forming the eye of a forthcoming storm. Once that air has risen it cools rapidly, condensing into massive clouds. Compacted air within these clouds creates areas of intense low pressure. In turn, that low pressure sucks at the air around it, creating incredibly strong winds. Only when the storm blows inland, where the air and ground cover are cooler still, do these major weather events begin to blow themselves out.

To make storm weather data easier to track and record accurately for future meteorologists and historians, tropical storms are given names. These names are alphabetical and alternate between male and female. It means that the next tropical storm in America will be given a female name beginning with the letter ‘I’.

Due to the erratic nature of the air pressure near the equator, it is very difficult to accurately predict the path a tropical storm will take. This means that evacuating people and livestock from a threatened area is not easy. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, over 1,800 people died and 300,000 homes were destroyed before the area could be completely evacuated.

The social impact on an area hit by a tropical storm can often be major and long term. Power is often cut, with vast populations being left without electricity for many weeks, if not months after the storm has passed. Homes have to be abandoned and many will be destroyed entirely. Mass migration from the affected area leaves entire communities temporarily, or permanently, homeless. Neither is it certain that affected communities will return entirely. In fact it is more probable that a significant number will not. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the population left or did not return to New Orleans after Katrina. What will happen to Houston remains to be seen.

As well as homes, businesses, towns, farms and power stations are all vulnerable to destruction. The looting of abandoned homes and shops can also come from criminal and desperate locals alike. On a national level, resources such as petrol can’t be taken safely into a hurricane hot spot, which means fuel prices rise, as does the cost of food and clean water. Houston will be a prime example, as it produces a great quantity of the oil America runs on, let alone exports. Tourists also stop coming to the area, and as most places on the equator rely heavily on tourists from countries with cooler climates, the economic impact can be extreme. An industrial city like Houston might not feel this, but New Orleans certainly did.

If a tropical storm burns itself out quickly, then the environmental, social and economic costs can be quickly mitigated. When storms of the ferocity of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey hit, however, the costs are far higher- and can take decades to overcome.

Amazon_origin_at_Mismi

A cross marking the source of the Amazon, the greatest river on Earth

Rivers begin life as a trickle of water that originates high on a hillside or in a mountain range. Most of these thin runs of water, known as headwaters, emerge through the earth from underground streams. These submerged bodies of water are formed when rain or snow seeps into the ground, before the pressure of being trapped underground bubbles it back to the surface. This water is called surface run-off.

The course of a fledgling river’s surface run-off is steered by gravity, which will initially send the water flowing downhill in trickles, which will eventually meet with other parallel rills or tributaries, as it gathers momentum. Once these parallel rills unite, they form a stream. When more rills converge with the stream, a bigger flow of water is formed; a brook.

Guided by gravity and the surrounding geology, the brook flows on through the valley, its volume of water swelling with rain and groundwater. The brook becomes wider as it travels, and as its water level rises, it becomes a river.

It isn’t the weight of the moving water alone that dictates how wide or deep a new river is to become. It is the river’s load which will gorge out its path in the geology that surrounds it. A river’s load will include any rocks, stones, and other large particles, which wash along the new riverbed. As the river water pushes its load along, the bed of the river will deepen.

The speed of the moving water determines how quickly the load will erode the river’s banks, and how wide the river will become. As the river winds through the landscape, it carves out deep valleys in solid rock and deposits huge amounts of debris on either side of it.

Not all springs, brooks and streams that form into headwaters on high ground will become rivers. Many will remain small creeks, brooks, rivulets or tributaries. Those that do become rivers will forge their way through the geology of the earth until they reach, and sometimes merge with, other rivers, and then ultimately meet the sea.

512px-Hawaii_Volcanoes_NP_MagmaThe Earth’s crust is made up of huge slabs called plates. These massive plates fit together rather like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes these plates move, and the friction that action causes, can lead to both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

A volcanic eruption occurs when the pressure and high temperatures beneath the plates cause rocks to melt. This melted rock turns into a liquid known as magma (or molten rock), which seeps through the Earth’s crust, before gradually making its way up to the top of the volcanic mountain, and eventually form into rivers of magma that brim beneath a volcano’s surface.

The pressure in this magma chamber fills and builds, like water and steam in a boiling kettle. It is when this pressure reaches breaking point that the eruption occurs. Gases and rock shoot up through the opening in the top of the mountain, spilling over its edge. The moment magma reaches the top of the volcano it becomes lava, which flows down the sides of the volcano.

The lava flows are only part of the devastating effects of a magma explosion. As the air around the volcano blast fills with lava fragments, hot ash adds to the lava flow, as well as sparking mudslides, avalanches, falling ash and floods.

The most powerful volcanoes release a pyroclastic flow. This is a fluid mixture of solid to semi-solid boiling hot fragments that include expanding gases, which cascades down the sides of a volcano. Volcano eruptions can also trigger tsunamis, flash floods, earthquakes, and rock falls.

There are three recognised stages of volcanic action. They are either active, dormant, and extinct. An active volcano is one which has recently erupted and there is a possibility that it may erupt soon. A dormant volcano has not erupted in a long time, but there is a possibility it might erupt in the future. An extinct volcano is one which has erupted thousands of years ago and will never erupt again.

There are more than 1500 active volcanoes on the Earth. Another 80 have been discovered under the ocean, and there are believed to many more hidden beneath its waves. The world’s largest, active volcano is Mauna Loa in Hawaii. It is 13,677 feet above sea level, and from its base below sea level to its summit, Mauna Loa is taller than Mount Everest.

Children who are educated at home are unfairly denied access to examinations, according to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph.

This is not really a new story. Some home-schooled candidates have always found it time-consuming and awkward to locate suitable exam centres to take their exams for GCSE or A-level. But the Commons Education Committee has now said that it is “not reasonable” that some young people are struggling to sit national tests. It calls for a duty to be placed on councils to provide access to examination centres.  It also asks for examinaton fees to be met from public funds. We are happy to endorse all those proposals!

As Graham Stuart, the Committee’s Chairman, says: “Everyone else gets to take GCSEs and home-educated children should do so [for free] as well.”

These are welcome sentiments and time will tell whether they lead to genuine change. But they ignore the more fundamental problems of GCSE examination entry for the home-schooled, namely the need for all candidates to produce controlled assessments (coursework) in most of the main subjects, including English, History, Geography, languages and all the science subjects. Controlled assessment (as the government has defined it) is not possible for home-learners on distance learning programmes like the ones we offer, so, whether the costs are met or not, our students simply cannot take GCSE exams in these subjects.

Four years ago, Oxford Home Schooling fought hard to preserve GCSEs which were genuinely accessible to home learners, but the government rejected all our pleas. As a result, most of our students now take International GCSEs (IGCSEs) rather than GCSEs, an equally valid alternative but confusing for many families. And now those IGCSEs must call themselves “certificates”, not GCSEs, which also leads to marginalisation and confusion.

There are moves afoot to re-introduce exams (at age 16) which do not require controlled assessment, possibly based on the current IGCSEs, and such a development would be welcome news to thousands of home learners and their families.

The government, via OfQual, has invited all interested parties to make comments on the proposed changes to the GCSE system. I think it is in all of our interests to make our views known, even if those views are completely ignored as they were last time around!

While the move away from modular exams is a positive development for anyone involved in home schooling there are problems afoot which will affect future students, if not those who are thinking of embarking on GCSE courses at the moment.

In my view, the proposed changes fail to address the single biggest problem with qualifications at this level – the difficulty of taking the exams for anyone outside the mainstream school system.

The rules for controlled assessment make it difficult or impossible for “irregular” students (including adult learners and the home-schooled) to enter for exams at all. Such students cannot satisfy the requirements for supervision and other aspects of “control”. In English (and other key subjects like Science, History and Geography), there are no GCSE specifications at all which dispense with the need for controlled assessment, because exam boards are not allowed to set such specifications in those subjects – I am sure they would like to!

The result is that home-schooled students are currently obliged to take IGCSE courses in those subjects, but that option will become  fraught with problems after 2014. Meanwhile, IGCSE is a title that will no longer be used in the UK where IGCSEs are being replaced with “Certificates” (as set by Edexcel and others) and in order for the Certificates to be accredited, a number of Certificate specifications, notably in English, must include coursework which itself is subject to stringent controls. In practical terms, this may well mean that examination centres will eventually be unable to allow entry to private candidates.

To take a typical example … any home-schooled child, between the ages of about 14 and 16, will expect to be able to take a GCSE-level qualification in English, Science and various other “core” subjects.  At the moment, it is possible to take an IGCSE instead, with no coursework, and so gain an equally prestigous and useful qualification.

In future, there may be no options available at all, or the ones that are left will be so fraught with controlled assessment and other logistical problems to the point where it is impossible for the private candidate to take the exams anywhere.  Do we really want to close down such options for a generation of home-schooled kids?

Several thousand home learners a year fall into this category and would be effectively excluded from the examination system.  This diverse group lacks a voice or effective representation but it is hugely unfair that it should be, in effect, excluded by this unfair one-size-fits-all policy.

There are a number of possible solutions, including the following:

  1. The government allows non-coursework GCSE specifications in subjects like English and History (just as they already do in such subjects as Maths and Psychology).
  2. The government allows non-coursework options within GCSE specifications, open to certain categories of candidate for whom controlled assessment is impossible or inappropriate.
  3. The government relaxes the controlled assessment rules so that coursework is once again practicable for home learners.
  4. The government accredits Certificates (or IGCSEs) that do not require coursework and ensures that success in such qualifications carries the same weight as success in the “regular” GCSEs, e.g. it secures access to 6th form courses and the like.

Option 4 is only a partial solution to the problem but a lot better than nothing. It is vital that one of these solutions is adopted now before the interests of many different categories of student are irreparably damaged.

As Richard Garner has revealed in the Independent, more than 200 state secondary schools in the UK have ditched the GCSE in favour of IGCSE a more traditional O-level style examination.

Interest in International GCSEs has doubled over the past year since the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, gave schools the green light to offer it to pupils. In the past, schools could not apply for funding to put their pupils in for it and results could not be included in exam league tables. Now the funding is still not there for state secondary schools to offer IGCSE, but results are properly recognised within the state system and full credit given to successful candidates.

Because it is less reliant on government funding, most of the growth in IGCSE numbers in the UK has been in the independent sector where it is recognised that IGCSEs represent a more thorough preparation for A-level and academic studies beyond. Some of the IGCSE exams are a little bit tougher than the GCSE equivalents but this makes up for the fact that no coursework is involved. The absence of coursework and controlled assessment remains the single biggest advantage of IGCSE for those in home schooling and distance learners generally.

Graeme Paton notes in the Daily Telegraph that 945 schools offered IGCSE through Edexcel this year, compared with just 198 state schools offering the IGCSEs set by rival examination board, CIE (plus 350 private schools).  Why is Edexcel so popular? Its secret had been to offer specifications which are as close as possible to the GCSE equivalents so that they are recognisable to those who are used to the GCSE system, adding a little extra depth to compensate for the disappearance of coursework.

At Oxford Home Schooling, we offer a full range of courses for both GCSE and IGCSE so I have no reason to recommend one qualification over the other.  In many cases, it will depend on what subject the home learner wants to do and whether controlled assessment is a mandatory part of the GCSE specifications in that subject, as it is with such subjects as History, Geography and even English.  In such cases, there is little alternative but to opt for IGCSE instead. But students may be reassured that there are a vast number of exam cetres where they can sit IGCSE exams in the UK, especially with Edexcel, and that success at IGCSE will look at least as impressive on anyone’s CV and as equivalent success at GCSE.

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