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.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park... Strychnine and Cyanide

Irish Baritone, Ben Russell, was our guest artist for this year's Phyllis Dence Performing Arts Day. Amongst other things Ben gave us a wonderful version of the old Tom Lehrer classic "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"

Ben sang of using strychnine and cyanide to poison his pigeons, and this got us thinking about how such poisons work...

Strychnine is a naturally occurring, colourless, bitter, crystalline alkaloid compound of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen C21H22N2O2. When inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through eyes or mouth, it interferes with the action of motor neurone inhibitors, resulting in 'over stimulation' of motor neurones - causing muscular convulsions and eventually death through asphyxia. As it produces some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known toxic reaction strychnine poisoning is often used in literature and film.

Strychnine is produced by plants of the genus Strychnos which are trees and climbing shrubs found in warm regions of Asia, Africa and America. The seeds and bark of many species are highly toxic, and seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica, from Indonesia, have long been used as a source of rat poison.

Cyanide is any compound containing a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom (a 'cyano group'). Hydrogen cyanide, in the form of Zyklon B, was used by the Nazis in World War II gas chambers and cyanide crystals (potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide) occur frequently in the world of 'whodunnits' such as in Agatha Christie's Sparkling Cyanide.

Cyanide inhibits the action of an enzyme (cytochrome c oxidase) which is needed for cellular respiration. When active in a cell's mitochondria the supply of energy (in the form of ATP) is interrupted and the cell stops working and ultimately 'dies'. Tissues that depend highly on aerobic respiration, such as the central nervous system and the heart, are particularly affected.

Cyanides are produced by certain bacteria, fungi, and algae and are found in a number of plants e.g. the 'stones' of apricots and pips of apples. The cyanide helps to protect plants against herbivores, although the golden bamboo lemur of Madagascar is immune to the high levels of cyanide in the Madagascar bamboo.

Oh by the way, It's 'Science Week ' this week and all of Stover is involved in uncovering who poisoned our science technician - based on various experiments and analyses being carried out in this week's Science lessons!

Monday 27 January 2014

Conodonts - Our Favourite Fossils!

Conodont elements
Conodont elements are some of the most beautiful yet enigmatic fossils known (the image above shows conodont elements atop a pinhead). They came from a group of extinct worm-like animals, at least some of which are known to have been about 4 cm long. These were relatively common in the seas of Palaeozoic times, and are thought to have been primitive craniates (‘agnathans’). In general these animals are only represented in the fossil record by these small (0.2 mm to 13 mm), disarticulated, tooth-like skeletal elements made of calcium phosphate – probably forming part of their ingestive apparatus.
Conodont elements were first described by Christian Heinrich Pander in 1856, although he thought he was looking at fish teeth, but it was not until 1983 that the nature of the conodont-bearing animal was first revealed – following a study of Carboniferous sediments from Granton, Edinburgh. The animals described are 40 mm long and 1.9 mm wide, and the conodont elements form an apparatus in the head region – just behind 2 lateral lobes. The body is divided into a series of v-shaped muscle blocks, and an asymmetrical series of fin rays are commonly preserved about the tail. This suggests that the animal was an active swimmer.

Conodont animals?
Conodont animals of the Upper Palaeozoic generally had a range of differently shaped elements in their apparatuses (e.g. ‘bars’, ‘blades’ and ‘platforms’), and the way in which these fitted together to function in 3D has been much debated. Stover Geology teacher, Dr Stone (with PhD student Davida Geraghty) did some work on this as a Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin, and had great fun making scale models of the elements and trying to fit them together in a meaningful way (Stone, J. J. and Geraghty, D. A. 1994 ‘A Predictive Template for the Apparatus Architecture of the Carboniferous Conodont Idioprioniodus’, Lethaia, 27, No. 2, pp. 139-142.).

Sunday 26 January 2014

Year 10 Geologists Learn About Ammonites

Year 10 Geologists display some of the fossils in the Stover collection
In a new departure for Stover, 6 Year 10 pupils have taken up the study of Geology this academic year. They are following the WJEC syllabus, and have recently been learning about various fossil groups, including ammonites.

Annie points out an ammonite
Ammonites are an extinct group of marine cephalopod molluscs, which lived in Jurassic and Cretaceous times. Cephalopods (ammonites, nautiloids, octopuses, squids etc.) are the most highly evolved of the molluscs, and in many ways are the most highly evolved of the invertebrates in general (complex eye, large brain etc.). The mouth is surrounded by tentacles, which usually have suckers. Some modern forms have lost their shells (octopus), some have a straight internal shell (cuttlefish, squid) and some still have a coiled external shell (nautilus).

Most ammonites were probably active carnivores and accomplished swimmers. They were able to control their buoyancy by filling the inner chambers of their coiled shells with water or gas through their siphuncle (see diagram). The outside of the shell was often ribbed or keeled in a distinctive way (which is how most fossil species are told apart). Other fossil forms with external shells include: Nautiloids (Cambrian to Recent) and Goniatites (Devonian to Permian).


Wednesday 15 January 2014

Humour in the Classroom 2

The quest for humour in the classroom continues...

2. Chemistry

Q. What's this: h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o?
A. Water

My old Chemistry teacher was a bit boron, but Mr Baillie thinks he's sodium funny that he tells jokes all the time - sadly he never seems to get a reaction. Maybe he should take all his jokes and barium.

Monday 30 December 2013

Is Eating “Frogs’ Legs” Really More English than French?

It is thought that humans (Homo sapiens) have been living in Britain, on and off, for at least the last 41,000 years (see “The Oldest Devonian of us All?”), and for most of this time our ancestors were using stone rather than metal for making their sharp tools, and so were living in the “Stone Age”.

We don’t know a great deal about Stone Age Britons as remains are scarce. Indeed, between 19,000 and 26,500 years ago - there would have been no humans in Britain at all as they all migrated southwards to avoid the ice of the Last Glacial Maximum.

However, an interesting insight into the Stone Age diet (from around 9,000 years ago in Mesolithic times) comes from a recent discovery at Blick Mead near Stonehenge in Wiltshire - believed to be the oldest continuous settlement in Britain. Bones recovered from the site include: aurochs (giant wild cows), wild boar, red deer, hazelnuts and - more surprisingly perhaps - toads’ legs.

David Jacques, team leader at the dig, reported to the Guardian newspaper "They would have definitely eaten the toad leg because it would have been quite big and juicy."

Perhaps our careless "Froggy" nickname for our trans-channel cousins should really refer to “les Anglais” rather than the French. Food for thought!

Sunday 29 December 2013

Humour in the Classroom

Welcome back dear reader, and apologies for the Stoverview ‘going dark’ for so long.

We are starting our comeback with a quest for that most elusive of commodities, humour in the classroom.

1. Mathematics
It is generally believed that Mathematics is no laughing matter, and this may not seem the obvious subject to start with but here is one of Mr Haigh’s favourites, just to kick us off...

"There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who understand the binary system, and those who don't."

We look forward to more in the same vein!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Year 8 Book Reviews: Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols

Mrs Wimsett's Year 8 English class have just completed book reviews, in which they chose a book and produced a poster or folder covering: a synopsis of the story, author biography, target audience and personal reflections. They then gave a short presentation of their review in front of their peers.

We start the ball rolling with Jess Holman's review of Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols.

Endless Summer is a "rom-com", aimed at a readership aged between 12 and 15. It is the sequel to The Boys Next Door.

The main character is called Lori. She is a bit "blonde" and clumsy so she kind of reminds me of myself! Lori loves to wakeboard; every Summer she does this and hangs out with her friends. This Summer it's her 16th birthday. Lori has been best friends with Adam Vadar for years, but she really likes his older brother Sean. She plans to win Sean over by making him jealous and pretending to go out with Adam. But Adam starts falling for Lori and everything heats up! Lori is sick of being treated as just one of the guys so when her plan goes all wrong, and she has two brothers fighting over her, it all becomes very difficult.

I really liked this book because of the comedy in it, and because all of the characters were equally likeable, and the author did a really good job of making them all unique. Also, at the end of most chapters there was a cliff-hanger, so it was really gripping and made you want to read on.

Jennifer Echols
Jennifer Echols is American and lives in Alabama, where she was born, with her husband and son. She mostly writes romantic comedies for teenagers but has also done a few for adults. Her first novel was called Major Crush which was about her own high school funny experiences.

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.