Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK, our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.
Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.
On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.
This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?
Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.
An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.
To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.
In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.
So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.
Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.
The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.
Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.
This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.
Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.
A week ago, the InSight spacecraft was successfully landed on the surface of Mars by NASA scientists. It was the culmination of a seven month mission to get InSight safely in place before it begins a two year mission, to explore the crust of Mars. Talking to USA Today, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the atmosphere at NASA was “… intense, and you could feel the emotion…” as InSight finally found its target after what is being called “seven minutes of terror.”
These last few moments of the landing mission were make or break for NASA. As the spacecraft took its final plunge to the planet’s surface, its heat shield had to cope with temperatures that rose to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, as the parachute designed to slow InSight’s decent at supersonic speed was released, a dozen retro-rockets deployed three shock-absorbing legs so that InSight could settle onto Mars’ surface. At any time in these final stages, one or more of the mechanisms could have failed, ending what was a billion dollar mission there and then. As the Popular Science website explains, “Mars has just enough atmosphere to set an incoming object on fire, and not enough to really slow it down. Landing anything there requires the utmost precision, planning, and an understanding of that pesky thing called physics. But the years of planning paid off.”
InSight will be the first spacecraft to concentrate on investigating what goes on beneath the surface of Mars. Despite previous investigations into the planet, scientists don’t yet know how big Mars’ core is, what it is made of, or if even if the planet is still active. NASA hopes that InSight will provide information to explain all of these things. To keep itself powered up, InSight, once the dust it disturbed on landing has settled, will need to deploy solar arrays to collect Martian sunlight, and so keep itself charged for the duration of the project. Once it has acquired sufficient power, the craft’s robotic arm will be activated and used to operate a number of scientific instruments. Amongst many tasks, these instruments will take the planet’s temperature and measure the extent of Mars’ slight wobble as it orbits.
InSight is also equipped with a seismometer, which will use the waves created by Mars-quakes and meteorite strikes to build a 3-D picture of the planet’s interior. Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s lead scientist, told USA Today, “That is the goal of the InSight mission, to actually map out the inside of Mars in three dimensions so that we understand the inside of Mars as well as we have come to understand the surface of Mars.”
The ultimate aim of InSight’s adventure is to provide an understanding of how planets such as Mars and Earth first evolved within our solar system. As Banerdt explains, “When we look at the crust of Mars, that’s a snapshot into the past, of what the crust of the Earth might have looked like 4.5 billion years ago…”
In 1957, Russia sent Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, into space. America’s response was a promise to send a man to the moon. It was the then President Kennedy who made this risky claim, but it was met in 1969 when, on 20th July, Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the Moon.
Eventually the Cold War ended, and the USA and USSR decided to work together. Since then, although space exploration has continued remotely, the race for physical discovery in Outer Space appears to have subsided. Or has it? In recent weeks, a film celebrating the life of Buzz Aldrin, First Man, hit the big screen. Its reflection on an original ‘Man on the Moon’ comes as a new space race is gathering pace. Rather than government bodies such as NASA running the race however, it is the billionaires of America who have their hands on the controls.
The Falcon Heavy car, made by one such billionaire Elon Musk’s (above, right) Tesla company, was produced so that he could start exploring the possibility of carrying tourists on “slingshot” trips around the moon. As The Economist reports, ‘Mr Musk’s ambition is to propel humanity beyond its home planet…. In the days of the space race between America and the Soviet Union, the heavens were a front in the cold war between two competing ideologies. Since then, power has not merely shifted between countries. It has also shifted between governments and individuals.’ For his part, when speaking to The Guardian, Musk underlined the assertion with enthusiasm: “We want a new space race,” he said, “Races are exciting.”
Musk is not the only one to have taken over from space agencies like NASA and their main contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos beat Musk to landing a reusable rocket through his own company, Blue Origin, and the UK billionaire Richard Branson and a slew of other entrepreneurs have followed with lighter-lift rockets.
Phil Larson, a senior science adviser in Barack Obama’s White House and a former SpaceX official, explains, “There are many new rockets being developed, some light, some super-heavy, some in between.” There are some inevitable concerns. NASA has strict safety requirements for human spaceflight, but there are fears the new breed of explorers won’t always adhere to them in their race to be the first to reach the next popular goal.
NASA is preparing for a return of American astronauts to the moon, and last year China deemed an expanse of desert in the country’s north-west to be sufficiently Martian to be reserved as a training ground for Mars-bound “taikonauts”. China is not working alone in this, though. For the first time, Pakistan appears to be entering a space race, this time with rivals India. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that, “Pakistan will send a human to space for the first time in 2022, with China’s help.”
Meanwhile, India is promoting itself as a low-cost provider of rocket launch services for overseas satellite projects. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is no stranger to space exploration. The ISRO has already sent remote exploratory missions to Mars and intends to be the first to reach the Moon’s south pole in 2019. They also plan, in 2022, to send a crew of three astronauts on a seven-day orbit of Earth. As The Economist reports, “If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth country in the world to independently develop a manned space flight, following in the footsteps of the former Soviet Union, US and China.”
While the race to reach the Moon has already been won, there is much still to learn. Mars features high on the wish list of the space explorers of the modern age. But who’ll win the next race? The established space agencies or a rich billionaire who has always dreamt of walking amongst the stars?
I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…
In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!
So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?
I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day. Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.
I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.
One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.
Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.
Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!
The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!
Millions of blood transfusions are performed in hospitals across the world every year. However, the origins of this now familiar and vital life saving procedure were, as with other medical developments through history, controversial.
Experimentation in blood exchange began in both England and France 350 years ago, but such was the outcry at the ‘ungodly’ acts taking place that the French parliament banned the research, and all medical exploration in the subject ground to a halt. It wasn’t until 25th September 1818 that English surgeon and obstetrician James Blundell, after years of working on dogs, was finally able to conduct the first human to human blood transfusion, at St Guy’s Hospital in London. This was a radical procedure at a time when the majority of medical professionals still tried to cure most complaints by draining blood from a patient rather than replacing it. That same year, Blundell published Experiments on the Transfusion of Blood by the Syringe in the journal Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. This paper discussed his experiences conducting whole blood transfusions in dogs and humans using a syringe. It opened his work to scrutiny and further experimentation across the medical world.
Blundell’s choice of career was influenced by his uncle, John Haighton, a leading medic at Guy’s Hospital. Blundell studied with his uncle in the field of obstetrics. While they studied all aspects of childbirth, he and his uncle designed many of the instruments we associate with delivering babies today. As he was working with women in labour, he saw a large number of birth time related blood haemorrhages. It was so common in fact, that Blundell, desperate to save more women during the childbirth procedure, took to transfusing four ounces of blood extracted from the woman’s husband, and injecting it into her with a syringe in the hope it would cleanse her blood should she be losing the battle to live during labour. The Science Museum reports that Blundell “… performed a further ten transfusions between 1825 and 1830 and published details of them. Half were successful. Blundell limited the use of his transfusion apparatus to women on the verge of death due to uterine haemorrhage, the heavy bleeding that can result from a difficult labour. Blundell believed blood had a nutritive property and was infused with vitalism – a living force.”
Blundell’s work was a major breakthrough in medical science, but it still wasn’t until 1900, when Karl Landsteiner discovered blood groups, and worked out why certain bloods were incompatible with each other, that transfusions could start to become the successful cure they are today.
Blundell and the many scientists that followed in his wake continuing to develop transfusion techniques, are unlikely to have imagined what a massive impact their work has had on the modern world. Thanks to their dedication, by the twentieth century scientists in New York were developing the first blood banks. They were to become vital in keeping many injured soldiers alive during the two world wars, as well as other conflicts.
Even though it is two hundred years since James Blundell first ran blood from one human to another, the equipment he designed is still recognisable in operating theatres and transfusion kits used across the world today.
The year 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first worldwide influenza pandemic. Known as Spanish Flu, this major outbreak claimed the lives of between 50 and 100 million people across the globe in 1918. The Guardian newspaper records that, “By the time the pandemic finally ended, it had killed around 25 times more people than any other flu outbreak in history. It killed possibly more people than the first and second world wars put together.”
Unlike the flu strains we recognise today, Spanish Flu was not claiming the lives of young children and the elderly as we’d expect, but was at its most virulent in healthy young adults. At a time when the First World War was already claiming millions of men’s lives, it must have felt like the end of the world, and at its height, panic was rife.
Many myths and misconceptions have grown up around Spanish Flu. The biggest of all being that it had begun in Spain. This was not the case. As the epidemic raged against the backdrop of the First World War, the countries involved, Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S, did not want morale worsened by either side believing that their own nation was the source of the flu. Consequently, and much to its annoyance, the neutral country of Spain was chosen to have the virus named after it and create the false impression they were bearing the brunt of the disease. In reality, the geographical starting point of the pandemic is still debated, with both East Asia and other parts of Europe more likely hosts.
As the virus spread very quickly, killing 25 million people in the first six months, it is understandable that many came to believe that Spanish Flu was a uniquely lethal strain. However, recent studies have suggested that it was only so virulent because of the conditions of the time. War meant that there was severe overcrowding and poor sanitation in many environments such as military camps. Poor living conditions led to bacterial pneumonia in the lungs being a relatively common condition amongst soldiers during the war years; once this has been contracted, the flu could get hold much faster. If the flu hadn’t had each an easy path to contagion, then it may have caused no more deaths than other epidemics.
As Richard Gunderman, the Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy at Indiana University, explained to The Conversation newsletter, “During the first half of 1918, new studies reveal that the death rate was relatively low. It was in late October and November of 1918 and early 1919 that higher death rates occurred, when people with flu symptoms began to crowd into hospitals in panic, and thus spread the disease further.”
In 2008, researchers announced that they had successfully determined the gene sequence of Spanish Flu. This was possible because one of the flu’s original victims, British diplomat Mark Sykes, was disinterred from his lead-lined coffin so that researchers could study his remains. The Guardian reports that, “The purpose was to enable researchers to take samples, from his remains, of the H1N1 virus strain that caused the Spanish flu. Such samples, now under high-security lock and key in Atlanta, have been examined for clues as to why this strain was so potent and how a future pandemic might be contained.”
Every few decades a new flu epidemic occurs. Scientists believe that the next pandemic will happen sooner rather than later, and that the more we can learn from the 1918 outbreak, the more prepared we will be.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation a heatwave is a “marked unusual hot weather over a region persisting at least two consecutive days”.
Usually, such a definition would not be something we may be interested in knowing, but perhaps times are changing in this country. For the UK, this summer is shaping up to be one of the hottest of all time. Forecasters at the Met Office have been reading out temperatures of 34C over the last few days (24-27th July), and even with the onset of storms in some regions, it looks like it will be remaining warm for a while yet.
The Met Office reports that “the temperatures so far this summer have been remarkable… between 1 June to 16 July, the average daily maximum temperature across the country was 20.9 °C.” This average has increased over the past two weeks, with many parts of Britain experiencing heat in excess of 28C. Porthmadog, in Wales, now holds the record for the hottest day of June, when it reached 33C on the 28th. This was beaten in Suffolk, though, when on 22nd July temperatures soared to 33.3C.
The UK’s heatwave has been caused by a jet stream looping to the north of the UK, creating an area of ‘home grown’ high pressure. Met Office forecaster Mark Foster explains, “Long days, very still conditions and clear skies helped June temperatures to get very intense… The sun in June is relatively the highest it gets in the sky and heat can build up over successive days.”
The build of heat Foster refers to leads to extreme levels of pollen and UV, meaning hay fever sufferers have been having a particularly bad year. As the sunshine continues to blaze in our skies, experts have warned The Telegraph “… the heatwave risks bringing on a faux autumn with prematurely ripening fruits and browning leaves.” If hedgerow fruits mature two months ahead of their usual growth pattern in some parts of the country, that will cause disaster in the autumn for the animals that rely on them for food.
There is no way of accurately predicting how much longer this sunshine will last. The Met Office explains high pressure systems are “slow moving and can persist over an area for a prolonged period of time such as days or weeks”. The longer this weather lasts, the higher the risk of thunderstorms and flash floods resulting from heavy rain fall hitting dry ground. Rain-soaked days are traditionally associated with a British summer, but between 1st June and 16th July the UK received just 47 mm of rain. This makes it the driest start to summer since 1961. The summer of 1976, which is currently the hottest summer on record, had an average temperature of 21.0 °C. In 1976 there were 69 days of sunshine in total. The Met Office has confirmed that if the “rest of the summer is average, 2018 will certainly rank in the top 10 warmest summers on record and if we continue to see above average temperatures, it could well be record breaking.”
While humans are suffering from heat-related exhaustion, the threat of water restrictions and coping with searingly hot commutes to work, there are many other, more far reaching implications to the heatwave. Farmers are struggling to keep their livestock fit and healthy. Speaking to Sky News, Gloucestershire farmer Luke Wilson said after his “250 sheep were sheared in June [and] they have been relatively happy, but a lack of grass is the biggest problem… It’s their food which is a concern, I only feed my sheep on grass and we’re about to run out due to a lack of rain.”
Crop growers are also worried. Hot temperatures mean more people are eating salad foods like lettuce. However, many types of lettuce won’t grow if it’s too hot, and there are fears that supplies will run low soon. Broccoli also refuses to grow if too hot, and so prices will rise as supply diminishes. Insects such as dragonflies are in danger as their water supplies dry up. Bees, however, are enjoying the dry conditions, and are experiencing a much needed boost; which has lead to a bumper year of flowers.
One occupation, however, is enjoying a bumper year of discovery thanks to the effects of the scorching temperatures. Archaeologists across the UK are making a great many discoveries, just as they did in 1976. Dry ground highlights the hidden features of the earth, especially when observed from above. For example, the drought in Ireland has lead to failing crops, and so has exposed as long forgotten henge at Brú na Bóinne. The Express explains that, “The circular design was spotted by photographer and author Anthony Murphy who was flying his drone nearby above the site when he stumbled upon it. The pattern is 150 metres (492 ft) in diameter, but experts are unsure what its purpose is.”
The all-time July heat record is 36.7C , set at Heathrow airport on 1st July 2015. Whether or not that record breaks this year isn’t entirely clear now, but if the temperature trends of recent times continue to rise as they have been, it may be that sometime in the next few years it will be.
A Blood Moon occurs when the Moon, during a total lunar eclipse, appears to take on a reddish colour. This ‘blood red’ appearance happens because the Moon is illuminated by sunlight that has been filtered and refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere.
On the 27th July 2018, we will experience the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. NASA lunar scientist Noah Petro of the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, USA, says that the phenomena should last between 1 hour and 43 minutes and four hours. This ‘Blood Moon’ will be visible almost everywhere in the world (with the exception of North America.) Speaking to The Independent newspaper, Dr Morgan Hollis from the Royal Astronomical Society said that the eclipse will be visible from “anywhere in the UK, weather permitting.”
Observing a lunar eclipse is much safer than viewing a solar eclipse as no special equipment is required to protect your eyes. As the Moon passes into Earth’s shadow, it will be safe to view the event with the naked eye, telescopes or binoculars.
When asked what determines how long a lunar eclipse lasted, Petro told Space.com, “What controls the duration of the lunar eclipse is the position of the Moon as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. The darkest part of Earth’s shadow is called the umbra. You can picture the umbra as a cone extending from Earth in the opposite direction to the sun. The Moon can either graze through the cone, or go right through the middle….” The nearer to the middle of the cone the Moon grazes, the longer-duration eclipse.
The Royal Astronomical Society are predicting that in the UK on 27th July, moonrise will occur at 8.49pm in London, while further north, in Glasgow, it will take place at 9.26pm. According to EarthSky.org, there will be a period of time either side of the eclipse when the Moon is travelling through the lighter part of Earth’s shadow. This transition is called the penumbra. Including that penumbral time, the eclipse will last for 3 hours and 55 minutes.
During the lunar eclipse the Moon will appear at its most ‘red’ when it lies directly in the shadow of the Earth. This brightness of colour is caused because some of the sunlight going through Earth’s atmosphere bends around the edge of Earth and falls onto the Moon’s surface.
The Blood Moon will be seen at its clearest away from cities and well lit areas. You can find a list of the very best observation spots in the UK here- https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/lunar-eclipse-best-places-to-watch-uk-blood-moon-mars-explained-when-a8459956.html
If you miss this lunar eclipse, you’ll have to wait until 21st January 2019 for the next one.
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.