Welcome to the Stoverview

Welcome to the Stoverview which, it is hoped, will be of interest to those connected with Stover School - and also to the wider community involved with secondary education, and perhaps to those just interested in 'bits and pieces' about science, history and stuff! See here for more.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Dramatic Reflections

Did you hear about the accident-prone actor? It was just a stage he was going through...

Yes, it has been pretty hectic here in the Drama Department over the last two months - writes Ms Absalom. Bugsy Malone was great fun of course, but there were also two 'theatre' trips and the Off-By-Heart Shakespeare Competition.
First was the trip to Kents Cavern for an underground hour-long adapted version of Romeo and Juliet. Butterfly Productions created a wonderfully atmospheric performance among the stalagtites, ‘mites and mineral deposits, ushering us through the twists and turns of the caves to the tragic deaths of the star-crossed lovers in The Great Chamber. This was a promenade performance where we were literally swept along, on foot, with the action.

What an incredible setting for any Shakespeare play – we shall certainly be going to Butterfly’s Macbeth in the Cavern next year.

More recently, An Inspector Calls riveted us to our seats in the Plymouth Theatre Royal. J B Priestley’s old favourite was given a new spin – the Edwardian house in a street set exploded in front of our eyes. Fireworks on stage… followed by an animated discussion on the coach home about social injustice then and now. A Whodunnit with a psychological and social agenda.

Two of our students also took part in the regional finals of the national BBC Off-by-Heart Shakespeare competition in Bristol. Abigail Bulbulian (Yr 10) and Abigail Joint (Yr 9) learnt different speeches from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to perform in the competition, competing with 1500 others. They workshopped the character, text and language in school. Then worked with professional actors. Abi and Abi showed enormous courage, confidence, talent and enthusiasm. Congratulations, girls!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Carol Service

Monday morning saw Exeter Cathedral packed with parents and friends for the Stover School carol service. It was a lovely occasion, in a wonderful setting, which fittingly marked the beginning of the Christmas season for all present. Staff and pupils were bussed in with military precision, and a varied programme incorporated contributions from the Senior Choir, Prep School Choir, Cantabile, soloists, orchestra, readers and of course the congregation!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Farewell Gappies!

Today we said goodbye to Rita and Madelaine, our two Australian 'Gap Year' students, who have been a continually upbeat and cheerful presence throughout the school for the past year. They have made a big contribution to Stover and have been fully involved in a wide range of activities, such as: helping out in the Prep School and Nursery, boarding duties, secretarial work and exam supervision.
We shall miss them of course, but wish them well as they return 'Down Under' to pursue their university studies, and hopefully they will keep in touch with Stover and the many friends they made whilst here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Little Spanish Something

A really valuable contribution to Stover's vibrant student body  was made  this term by our four 'short-stay' Spanish pupils. Never one to be backwards in coming forward, Mrs Machin (ICT) invited them  to join her in the Home Ec. Room for Pa amb oli ('bread and oil').  This is a traditional food usually eaten at special occasions in Spain.  It consists of Rye bread cut into slices; rubbed with a ripened tomato which has been cut in half.  A good quality olive oil is then poured onto the bread followed by some salt with herbs. 
It is optional to add Serrano ham, chorizo and cheese.  The most common cheese to use is Manchego (Goat’s cheese). 

A few members of staff 'happened to drop by' in order to join in and were shown by the pupils how to create their own Pa amb oli.  The meal was finished off with some lovely stuffed olives and red grapes.

David James Coaches Stover Footballers

Stover footballers were privileged earlier this term to welcome David James for a goalkeeping training session.

The Bristol City keeper is a former England international and holds the football league appearance record for goalkeepers. He has also kept more clean-sheets than any other league glovesman. League and FA Cup winner James’ former clubs include: Watford, Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City and Portsmouth.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bugsy Malone

Tallulah amd the girls
Friday saw the final triumphant performances of this year's school musical Bugsy Malone. Set in 1929, the Jubilee Hall was transformed into Fat Sam's Grand Slam Speakeasy in prohibition New York, complete with gangsters, showgirls and of course Bugsy the boxing promoter plus girl friend Blousey Brown and sassy admirer Tallulah.

Amongst many very entertaining moments, particularly polished performances were put in by Clara Finigan who played the title role with poise, aplomb and great stage presence, Abigail Joint as Blousey and  Annabel Kennedy as Tallulah. There was also great support from the vast cast of hoodlums and hangers-on, a lovely song from Georgina Allen as Fizzy, and some neat choreography from the show girls. Wonderful costumes and impressive splurge guns topped off a highly enjoyable show.

Congratulations to all performers, the stage hands, Tony Etheridge for the car, and a special thanks to directors Ms Absalom and Mrs Middleton, music meister Mr Hurst and technical guru Mr Haigh.

Ms Absalom writes... ‘We could have been anything that we wanted to be….’ Our young cast of 11–15 year olds did themselves proud in our matinee and evening performances on Friday, 2 December. Many of the performers were new to the experience and all are to be congratulated. The Year 10 girls, with a few years of ‘treading the boards’ behind them, set a terrific example in early word learning and the importance of self-discipline as an actor. A new American pupil in Year 9, Alyssa Chudy, choreographed the musical numbers with superb panache and brought an authentic sense of glamour to the 1930s speakeasy. As well as those mentioned above, Saul Kurzman (Yr 8) met the challenges of failing gangland boss, Fat Sam with great maturity and good comic technique .

Mrs Middleton and I would both like to congratulate and thank the company for ‘getting it together’ and their brilliant American, Irish and camp accents!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

South Devon Schools' Cross-Country Comes to Stover

Last week saw teams of runners from all over the region descend on Stover as we hosted the South Devon Schools' Cross-Country Championships. Congratulations to Mrs Craven and her team, ably helped by the Sixth Form CSL pupils, for organising such a highly successful event. Thanks also to our groundsmen ('The Barn Boys') for getting the place so well set up.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The oldest Devonian of us all?

Teeth of the First Devonian from Kent's Cavern
The first known truly human inhabitant of Devon is one of the oldest European Homo sapiens people ever discovered, dating back over 41,000 years. They lived (or at least died) just 14 km away from Stover in Kents Cavern, Torquay – although sadly all that is left of them now is a piece of upper jaw.

Some time after the existence of the Kents Cavern individual the ‘ice age’seems to have got much colder for a while and glacial conditions gripped most of the British Isles - pushing humans southwards until about 10,000 years ago, when the ice finally started to melt. Around 6,000 years ago early farmers, who had a ‘neolithic’ (new stone age) culture, were living on Dartmoor, just to the north of Stover.
Cut Hill recumbent stone row

A stone row at Cut Hill in the middle of north Dartmoor has recently been dated as being 5,500 years old – pointing to the fact that complex human societies have existed in Devon since before the time of the Egyptian pyramids. The precise dating of the stone row was possible because it was buried in peat – allowing dates to be obtained from immediately above and beneath the stones. Although older than the monument of Stonehenge, the Cut Hill row also has its stones aligned with the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. None of the hundreds of stone rows in Britain and northern France have been accurately dated up to now, but the Cut Hill example shows that some at least are Neolithic rather than Bronze Age structures.

The remains of a Devonian who belonged to an early Bronze Age society, and died just 4,000 years ago, have recently been unearthed from a stone burial chamber (or ‘cist’) at Whitehorse Hill (near the Cut Hill stone row). Cremated bones and a woven bag have been recovered from what the Dartmoor National Park Authority have described as ‘one of the most important archaeological finds of the last 100 years.’ The bag (or basket) contained shale disc beads, amber spherical beads and a circular textile band.

The Whitehorse Hill cist
The peat and pollen surrounding the cist are due to be analysed and carbon-dated to provide evidence of vegetation and climate at the time of the burial, and the items will be analysed to reveal how they were made and what materials were used.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Stover ICT Trip to London's Olympic Park

In October 40 pupils and 5 staff set off for London, to visit the Olympic Park. After spending some time visiting the main attractions such as the London Eye, Westminster, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, some free time was enjoyed followed by an evening meal in Covent Garden. After a night at the Holiday Inn there was a 6.30 wake-up call in preparation for a hearty breakfast and another busy day.

Day two saw the group visiting the Olympic site, where a classroom session explored the use of ICT when hosting an event as big as the Olympic Games. Pupils were put into groups and had to consider everything from the original bid to the advertising, building, merchandising and even the legacy. Pupils were also shown videos of athletes using technology to enhance their performance.

Next there was a two mile walk around the Olympic Park with information on each venue, and a stop at the View Tube - which gave a good view of the stadium and its surrounding area. The guide was very informative and explained what will happen to the accommodation for the athletes and the other buildings after the games are over. She also spoke about the area and its associated regeneration project and how this will help the local community. Eventually we set off on our journey back to Stover, very tired but feeling like we had been part of something special.

Thanks to Mrs Machin for this post

Monday, 28 November 2011

Annual Concert for St. Cecilia's Day

Teigngrace Church
Last week saw twenty pupils from Stover giving a very polished performance at Teigngrace Church in a concert to celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia (the patron saint of musicians). Teigngrace is our local church, and we are linked to it historically through the Templer family, as it was rebuilt by the children of James Templer - who built our school.

The concert was a mixture of solo items by singers and instrumentalists, with some vocal and piano duets. The programme concluded with all the singers who had taken part singing ‘The Rose’ and ‘A Clare Benediction’ as an encore.


This morning’s Senior School assembly was taken by Miss Titterton, of the PE Department, who introduced us to the world of Futsal.

This is the internationally recognised version of what is known in the British Isles as ‘5-a-side football’. The name Futsal is derived from the Spanish for football (futbol) and hall (sala), and this form of reduced size indoor football is recognised and supported by FIFA and UEFA, who run World and European Championships for club and national teams.
In Futsal, unlike normal 5-a-side football, there are hockey-sized goals, a smaller ball with reduced bounce, and no side boards to use for rebounds. It is designed as a fast and fair game which rewards skill, tactical awareness and speed of thought (and action).

Futsal is now supported by the English FA, and in Devon Futsal leagues and competitions are being run at Plymstock School, Paignton Community and Sport College and Exeter City FC (among others).
Any Stover pupils who wish to get involved in playing Futsal are asked to contact Miss Titterton, and to sign the list in the Round Passage.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Maths Challenge

The Maths Department recently entered some of its star Year 12 and 13 performers in the Senior Mathematical Challenge competition which is run by the The UK Mathematics Trust - a ‘satellite’ of Leeds University which organises national mathematics competitions and other mathematical enrichment activities for 11-18 year old UK school pupils.

This was great fun and a very useful exercise for the Stover mathematicians. A big ‘congratulations’ is in order for Linh Nguyen who, despite only being in Year 12, came out as ‘Best in School’ and winner of a gold medal. Other top performers were Bobo Chan, Neo Kan, Sian Wood, Dauen Lee, Coco Lee, Carol Chan and Angel Sze. Well done to all concerned!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mammals of the British Isles - The Squirrel

Grey Squirrel
Strangely enough, the cute and lovable grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) we see playing in the grounds of Stover School are in fact rodents – the same group of mammals as rats. Since their introduction from North America, they have had a catastrophic effect on the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) throughout the British Isles. Grey squirrels also cause significant damage to woodlands through ‘bark stripping’ and reduce density and diversity in populations of woodland birds.

Wild grey squirrels first appeared in Britain in the late 19th Century, with some possibly escaping from London Zoo. In Italy two pairs escaped from an ambassador's garden in Turin in 1948, although some sources suggest that pet grey squirrels had already escaped in Piedmont by the late 1800s. The spread of grey squirrels, at the expense of native red squirrels, appears to have had a more marked effect in the British Isles than on mainland Europe – so far at least.
Red Squirrel
There are now thought to be just 140,000 red squirrels in Britain, whilst there are over 2.5 million greys, and the future of the red squirrel is becoming increasingly uncertain as they are now extinct in southern England (except for a few on the Isle of Wight). Red Squirrels are still widespread in the North of England and Scotland, but even here their range is contracting. The grey squirrel is having such a profound impact on British wildlife that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has now listed it on their global list of the 100 worst invasive species. The UK Forestry Commission is working with partners in projects across Britain to develop a long-term conservation strategy that deters greys and encourages reds.

The Grey Squirrel is larger and more aggressive than its European cousin, and greys out-compete reds for food, feeding more on the ground and being able to digest acorns, which reds can’t. Contrary to popular opinion, red squirrels do not hibernate – but as greys can build up and store more fat they are better at surviving cold winters. Grey squirrels are also more generalist feeders eating: nuts, flowers, fruits, seeds, tree bark, fungi, bird eggs, nestlings and frogs - whilst reds prefer the seeds of coniferous forests, although they will diversify under pressure. Grey squirrels are also thought to have introduced the squirrelpox virus from North America which is deadly to red squirrels, although greys have a natural immunity.
Distribution of Grey Squirrel
Distribution of Red Squirrel

Grey squirrels, which can live at high population densities in broadleaved woodland, cause significant damage to trees such as sycamore, beech, oak, sweet chestnut, pine, Norway spruce and larch, by bark-stripping. This dramatically reduces the economic value of woodland – costing more than £10 million per year. They may also be partly responsible for recent declines in many woodland bird species - through predation of eggs and young chicks, competing for nest sites or because they consume food which would otherwise be available for birds.

Squirrels build large nests, called dreys, often in the forks of tree trunks. They can breed twice in a season, in spring and in late summer, but usually only breed once. There are between one and six young in a litter. The young are born naked and blind. Young squirrels may stay with their mother until she has her next litter. Mortality is quite high, with only one in five surviving to their first winter. Adult squirrels have few natural predators, as they are far too quick and agile for most.

this article is based on work by Jane Chen, Year 10

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Prep School Choir

The Prep School Choir with their trophy
Congratulations to the Prep School Choir who won their class in the City of Plymouth Music Festival last week. Sixty young Stoverites performed two pieces in front of a large audience. The judges noted that the choir 'showed a good contrast in styles and was musical, energised and focused. A fun, great sound!’ Winning the trophy capped a wonderful day out for all, with the pupils giving of their very best and acting as excellent ambassadors for Stover.

 The Prep School Choir's next public performance will be in Exeter Cathedral at the School Carol Service on Monday 12th December.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Stover Artists win Christmas Card Competition

Many congratulations to Hugo Longrigg and Henri Poole-Birrel who have been selected as winners of the Anne Marie Morris MP Christmas Card Competition. This competition was open to Year 5 and 6 pupils from all the schools in her Teignbridge constituency. Hugo and Henri’s designs will now be made into Christmas cards and used for Ms Morris’ official correspondence. What an excellent achievement boys!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rugby Victory for Stover Prep

Saturday was certainly a great day for Stover rugby, when our Under 10 team came home victorious from the Queens’ Rugby Tournament. The team were quietly confident going into the pool games and thought they had a good chance of making the knockout stages. As the day progressed our defence held strong and we beat the following schools: All Hallows (20 – 0); Paragon (10 – 0); Exeter Cathedral (15 – 0). In the quarter final we beat Queens (5 – 0) and in the semi- final we beat Exeter School (10 – 5). This was the only team to score against us all day. Our opponents in the final were Sherborne School, who were unbeaten all season and had defeated the much fancied Millfield team en route to the final.

The decider was a tight, physical game which we won 5 - 0 thanks to an Alfie Raynor try. Alfie was outstanding and really set the tournament alight with his running. A special mention goes to Reuben Ash who was captain; and led from the front at all times. The coach, parents, staff and pupils of SPS are all very proud of this magnificent achievement. The splendid cup and individual medals were presented to the team in our Awards Assembly on Monday. Well done lads!

Stover Prep in TOP FIVE for ‘The Best Preparatory School’

Stover was nominated for ‘The Best Preparatory School’ at The Archant Good Schools Show held at Olympia, London earlier this term. Stover was shortlisted with four other Independent Preparatory Schools nationally and was invited to attend The Archant Good Schools Award Ceremony in London. The Ceremony is designed to bring together many of the UK’s top independent schools and allow parents and pupils the opportunity to vote if they believe their school has something special to offer.

At this same event, Mr Brown was nominated for 'Best Teacher' and he, too was in the final. We are absolutely delighted to be the finalists for such a prestigious award and thank all the pupils and parents who nominated the Prep School and Mr Brown.

Devon Schools Maths Challenge

The Team: Neo, Alex, Daeun and Linh
Blundells School in Tiverton recently played host to teams of top mathematicians. Three rounds of rigorous and testing calculations saw a very close finish ending with the Stover team in a highly creditable fourth place after Shebbear, West Buckland and Colyton Grammar.

Mrs Skuckova from our Maths Department reports:

There were 3 rounds. Round 1 consisted of 10 challenging and complex questions, and we only scored 50% - a shaky start – perhaps due to nerves! This only made our team pull together and the fighting spirit kicked in.

Round 2 was a Crossnumber round, requiring excellent team communication between pairs and good nerves. Our team achieved 55 out of 56 – Wow – Excellent stuff. I was feeling very proud!

Round 3 was the nerve-wracking Relay round – a demanding and tricky format in which each pair has to get a question absolutely correct for their team to use that number to solve a further question. We scored 45 out of 60 (West Buckland got 42), and as there were 4 questions and only 8 minutes, there was real pressure, but our team excelled!

We were so close to a top place, but could take pride in our best result so far. Our pupils worked very hard to prepare themselves and showed great enthusiasm and joy during the competition itself. I was excited to see such emotion generated by people doing mathematics!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Gunners come to Stover

Monday assembly this week saw a change from the normal routine, when we saw a presentation by Mark Titchard of Arsenal football club, who is the South Devon Co-ordinator for 'Arsenal Soccer Schools'.

Being a life-long follower of the Grecians (Exeter City), this is heady stuff indeed as the 'Play the Arsenal Way' soccer programme comes to Stover for a 12 week course, for boys and girls from Years 5 to 13. Starting in January they will spend an hour every Friday after school going through warm up activities, technical ability exercises and mini matches with the Arsenal coaches. Our thanks are due to Head of boys PE Mr. Veal for setting up this wonderful opportunity for Stover pupils.

A residential course will be held at Stover during the Summer holidays for gifted and talented players from the South West region.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Further Music Success at Plymouth

Helen, Harvey and Mrs Farleigh - amongst others
The week at the Plymouth Music Festival ended on a real high. The choirs all won their respective classes on Friday (including the Prep School Choir winning their first cup) and adjudicator, Bryan Husband, was highly impressed - ending his comment sheet with the phrase ‘Wonderful singing and fabulous music making!’

The senior vocal classes followed with Helen Te and Harvey Seale both collecting trophies in the adult singers classes. They gained enough marks to be entered for the Championship class on Saturday afternoon, and Harvey went on to win this, becoming the most successful adult vocal soloist in the festival.

Thanks must go to Mrs Farleigh, our singing teacher at Stover for all the hard work she has put in to prepare pupils not only for this competition but also the many other concerts and events that our singers take part in.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Plymouth Competitive Music Competition

Junior Vocal Category Prizewinners
Thanks to Mr Lea, our Director of Music, for passing on this penultimate instalment on the Plymouth Competitive music festival. It was the turn of the singing pupils on Thursday, and there was success for: Georgina Allen, Clara Finnigan, Annabel Kennedy, Venetia Blelloch, Amy Bellamy, Abigail Joint and Tim Lee, who all scored highly and received very favourable comments from the Adjudicator in the Junior Vocal classes. Our pupils were competing against a large number of other 11-16 year olds from local schools, and certainly did their bit to maintain and promote the strong reputation for singing at Stover.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Concert for Arthritis Care

Ten pupils from Stover School gave a very enjoyable concert for the Newton Abbot branch of Arthritis Care at St Paul’s church yesterday. The programme was a mixture of piano, instrumental and vocal solos which was well received by the audience. This is the fourth year the Music Department has been able to support the charity and the pupils welcomed the valuable experience of being able to perform to such an appreciative audience.

Many of the pupils have also been taking part in the Plymouth Competitive Music festival this week and so the concert gave them an opportunity to give their pieces a second performance.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Extra Curricular Activities

Prize winning pianists
As we know well, all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl). Stover pupils daily continue to be engaged in a wide range of extra-curricular activity. I write this piece to the background of ethereal piano music wafting down the stairs from the entrance hall as one of the music pupils works through their repertoire during prep. This is one of the great perks of my office being where it is!

Pianists Coco Lee, Alvin Lo, Velika Lee, Charlotte Lai and Venus Chim all gained success in their classes last Monday at the Plymouth Competitive Music festival. The vocal classes will be held on Thursday and Friday this week, when Stover will again be well represented.
SPS v Kelly College

As ever, last week saw a range of sports fixtures being played-out on the pitches by the front drive. These included the Under 9 Stover rugby festival, Under 13 rugby against St. John’s and the girls from the Prep School taking on Kelly College.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Year 13 Philosophy and Ethics: Voices and Visions

Year 13 Philosophy and Ethics students have recently been studying the topic of Religious Experience. They created a “mock” newspaper article describing the events leading up to the establishment of Lourdes as a centre for pilgrimage and healing.

Bernadette Soubiros, a 14 year old local girl is reported to have seen visions of a lady dressed in white who then told her to dig a hole in the ground, which she did. Water then sprung from the hole, the location of which has developed over the last 160 years into the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in the Pyrenees region of France. Lourdes is today visited by over five million people a year to bathe in or drink from the holy water which is said to have amazing healing powers.


The students reported the events surrounding the visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858, and then included “quotes” from eminent scholars in the field with their imagined views on the subject. For example, Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist dismissed the experiences as “an illusion that derives from people’s psychological needs” whilst William James, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, said that he would be very keen to speak to Bernadette about her vision to include it in his forthcoming book about Religious Experience. “Bernadette has experienced union with something larger than herself and from this union she may find her greatest peace”.

Thanks to Mrs Bradley (Alison that is!) for this piece.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Bad News for the Javan Rhino

Sad news was reported today on the BBC News website. 

There are believed to be fewer than 50 Javan rhinos left in the wild worldwide, and the last individual remaining in Vietnam was found dead recently – probably the victim of poachers who had cut off its horn. Genetic analysis of dung samples collected between 2009-2010 in the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam showed that they all belonged to just one individual.

Rhino poaching appears to be on the increase globally, and Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, said the surge in the illegal trade in rhino horns was being driven by demands from Asian medicinal markets.

Rhinoceros sondaicus the Javan rhinoceros thus no longer exists on mainland Asia, and is now only to be found in the westernmost parts of Java itself.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Senior School Speech Day

The Choir practise for Speech Day
Wednesday 19th October saw Stover looking spick and span for the Senior School Speech Day. Prizes were presented by Guest of Honour Serena Brocklebank: mountaineer, diplomat, House Mistress and lawyer (amongst other things). Ms Brocklebank recently led a party from Stover on a trek to the Annapurna Base Camp and, with extreme modesty, gave a short but inspiring illustrated talk on her conquest of Everest - highlighting how she was acutely aware of following in her grandfather's footsteps.

Chair of the Governers Mrs Charlotte Walliker outlined some exciting new developments for Stover in her speech, including a move to being a completely coeducational school from September 2012, the advent of boys' boarding on the school site and a new structure to the school day - which will allow increased contact time for lessons and make it easier for pupils and staff to get more fully involved in extra-curricular activities.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Perils of Modern Technology?

Many thanks to Mr. Haigh from the Maths Department for alerting us to the MailBigFile blog – which carries a range of interesting articles on matters cyberspatial and technological. For example...

Boston College has recently published research findings which show that teenagers watching television whilst using a laptop tend to concentrate for an average of just 14 seconds on one before switching to the other. Adults over 40 did not fare much better, switching on average every 17 seconds.

It is perhaps not surprising that people are easily distracted when electronically multitasking, but do these findings suggest that a generation brought up on i-phones, TV and laptops may find it increasingly difficult to learn how to concentrate and focus?
Another MailBigFile article highlights the dehumanising effect of social media - suggesting that whilst it gets easier to keep in touch, we become more isolated as people engage in less personal contact.

A telling example is cited of Julianne a 41 year old teacher (sounds familiar?), who ‘talks’ to hundreds of ‘friends’ on the internet about her isolation. She has always suffered from low self-esteem. She has no partner, no children and is in a cycle of misery that exacerbates her social problems. She teaches, but knows few people, as colleagues tend to socialise with their own families. Her parents are elderly; she is lonely. Occasionally she goes on drinking binges…
With social networking sites and increased use of language-destroying ‘txting’ are we storing up social problems for the future by whittling away the need for basic human interpersonal skills and face to face contact – or are we simply evolving new and better ways of communicating and keeping in touch?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Year 11 Pupils Investigate the Kidney

As part of their GCSE Biology course, Year 11 pupils today investigated the structure of the kidney.
The Dissection Begins
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs attached to the rear wall of the abdominal cavity. They have a rich blood supply, and as the blood passes through them it is filtered by millions of little structures called nephrons, consisting of: a glomerulus (a coiled ball of capillary blood vessels), and a kidney tubule (of which there are over 1 million, or 60 km worth per kidney).

A Nephron
Finishing Touches
Blood flows into each glomerulus from the renal artery. Small molecules ‘leak out’ under pressure filtration, into the Bowman’s capsule of the tubule. The small molecules are: water, urea, sugar and salt. The urea and most of the water flow down the tubule to a collecting duct and ultimately into the ureter and bladder to be excreted as urine. Useful materials however, like glucose and salt, are actively transported back into the capillaries surrounding each tubule – a process known as selective reabsorption.  

In cross-section, a kidney has two main regions: the outer cortex is lighter coloured, and contains the glomeruli and the beginning and end of each nephron. The inner medulla contains the middle u-shaped part of each nephron (e.g. the loop of Henl√©). The medulla extends into the central ‘pelvis’ of the kidney as projections called pyramids.
Kidney in Cross-Section

Kidney Structure
Further Research

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bringing the Past Back to Life: Stover Country Park

The Council for British Archaeology’s fortnight long festival of nationwide events kicks off on Saturday 16th July (see here).

On Sunday 17th July see the past brought back to life at Stover Country Park (entrance just between the school gate and the A38 Exeter to Plymouth road, grid reference SX 331 749). Activities will include opportunities to grind your own corn, make a prehistoric pot or see how Bronze Age tools were made with authentic materials and methods (from 11.00 to 16.00).
Car Park Charges are £1 for 2 hours and £2 all day. Entry to the event is free.

For more details see www.devon.gov.uk/stover_country_park.html, or phone 01626 835236

Monday, 11 July 2011

Great Thinkers: Democritus

Democritus was the first person to develop a view of the world based on atoms, although he was more of a ‘natural philosopher’ than a true scientist.
He was born in Abdera in Thrace, northern Greece, in 460 BC, and died at the remarkable age of 90 (or perhaps even older). Democritus was a follower of Leucippus and together they put forward the concept of ‘atoms’. Contrary to many of their more famous rivals they interpreted Nature in a mechanistic way – believing that natural phenomena were free from the interventions of gods and supernatural causes. Their ideas on the nature of matter and the workings of the body etc., were thus remarkably close to our contemporary science-based world view. For over 1,000 years however the writings of their arch opponents Plato and Aristotle held sway, and matter was generally considered to be composed of four primordial components: water, air, fire and earth – in a world largely ruled by the whims of gods.

Democritus believed that things consisted of an infinite number of very small particles which he called atoms (from the Greek atomos indivisible). These atoms were seen as eternal, and it was believed that there were many different kinds of atom, which could move about randomly – occasionally colliding and joining to form a new substance. Whilst each atom was indestructible, the things they created by combining with others were not. Democritus summed up his views by saying “nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion”. 
His ‘atomic viewpoint’ gave Democritus interesting insights into areas such as reproduction and evolution. He said that all parts of the body contribute to the seed from which a new animal grows, and both parents contribute seed. Parental characteristics are inherited when one parent’s seed predominates over the other for a particular character. He thought that species do not exist for ever, unlike the atoms from which individuals are made. Democritus also wrote extensively on: ethics, the senses, theology (which he disliked), geometry and the nature of the soul or psych√™. Although none of his original works have survived we know of them through the writings of Epicurus and others.

Democritus came from a well-to-do family, and travelled extensively around the classical world. He was known as ‘the laughing philosopher’, apparently due to the high value he placed on cheerfulness, and he believed that “the best way for a man to lead his life is to have been as cheerful as possible and to have suffered as little as possible...The right-minded man is he who is not grieved by what he has not, but enjoys what he has.” There is a lesson for all of us there somewhere!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Homework Debate

Winnie Hu, writing in TheNew York Times, raises the issue of homework and its importance. The general premise is that pupils are being asked to devote more and more time to out-of-class tasks and assignments, at the expense of time spent playing, socialising and interacting with parents.

Research shows that whilst homework in small doses can reinforce basic skills and help young children develop study habits, increasing the amount of homework produces ever diminishing returns. In one US school district a formula of 10 minutes per year ‘grade’ is being applied to calculate the maximum amount of homework set per day (e.g. 30 minutes for pupils in Grade 3), and weekend and holiday homework is being dropped entirely.

There is however an increasing global emphasis on exam grades and ‘high-stakes testing’ in schools, and opposition to a reduction in homework comes from teachers and parents alike - who might argue that ‘you must study more, not less, in order to succeed’.
A recent documentary on stress, disaffection and burn-out in the American school system (Race to Nowhere) has raised awareness about the issue, and film maker Vicki Abeles says “There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance...the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”
Donna Taylor, principal of a school for the gifted and talented, thinks “people confuse homework with rigour,” and goes on to suggest that homework for children under 11 primarily benefits parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom. Taylor has made homework optional in her school. Elsewhere in America teachers are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace.
It would seem that, whilst it is generally accepted that working hard will improve exam performance, there is a need for homework tasks to be clearly thought out, meaningful and manageable.
Thanks to Julian Girdham for alerting us to this topic.