Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: August 2015

More on the BBC, the Met, and August rain

📥  Comment, New Publications

No, not the police, but the Office, which I wrote about last week.  Here are a couple of other perspectives: from Christopher Booker, and from The Conversation, which a colleague in New Zealand alerted me to.  Oddly, I did not know about this, despite its London news base.

Booker makes his usual climate change point, and thinks that we may not notice much difference as whoever gets the contract will have to use Met Office weather station data to get valid UK-wide forecasts.  The Conversation also wonders if we will notice any change, but clearly thinks that the divorce is a loss for the UK as a whole.  It also wonders whether the BBC has confused the best value with the merely cheap.  It would not be the first to do that!

And it is certainly a cheap way for the BBC to land a blow on the government in what will surely become a nasty scrap over money, independence, virtue  and value.

Here's a link to a previous Conversation piece on the Met Office, the BBC and climate change – from August 2015.  Meanwhile, it keeps raining as forecast in that quintessential piece of weather lore by Flanders and Swann:

In July the sun is hot.

Is it shining; no it's not.

August cold and dank and wet,

Brings more rain than any yet.

You can hear it all here.  In the F&S view, it gets no better in September.






Wind and Air and Earth and Rain

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The BBC is about to dispense with the services of the Met Office for its weather forecasting.  This high profile divorce has money, maths and technology at its heart.  The BBC says that the Met couldn't come up with a decent App for smart phones (and anyway was too expensive); the Met says that the BBC is reluctant to allow it to express weather forecasts in terms of event probabilities on the grounds that no one outside W1A 1AA understands them.  So, rather than good old British weather forecasts, we're likely to get Dutch or New Zealand ones.  Umm.

It is certainly worth looking at different sources of forecast to see how this probability business pays out.  Here's the Met office forecast for Bath, where temperature is presented as an integer, and rain (precipitation) as a probability in percentage terms.  Whatever its accuracy, there is rich detail here.

Here's the BBC's forecast for Bath where the rain forecast is in terms of little pictures.  There is little detail, although you have to admire the way the temperature data bobs up and down.

And here is Google's where there is more detail than the BBC (and the same waviness), but less than the Met office.  The likelihood of rain is just presented as a % (of what they do not say).  I don't like the way you have to click between temperature, rain and wind.

My own preference is for the Met Office because of the detail.  As most of my weather forecasts come online, I'll not be troubled by the BBC's decision – though I am concerned by it.  The BBC knows that lots of people don't understand probabilities (actually, they don't really understand percentages), and seems to be determined to keep it that way.  A shame.

Outdoor learning in [school] gardens

📥  Comment, New Publications

The USA's National Wildlife Federation encourages outdoor learning in school gardens and habitat areas and is active in 8,400 schools.

As such, it is interested in the academic and broader learning effects of school garden programs, and has recently tried to summarise what the research literature says about gardens as a learning asset for schools.  It drew on a recent literature survey (Williams and Dixon 2013) which is a summative assessment of 48 studies (between 1990 and 2010) of the various effects of school gardens on learning and other outcomes.

The Federation says this about all this:

“The results of the studies show overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.  These positive impacts prevailed for nearly every outcome group, including the elementary, middle, and high school levels, with positive impacts of 85%, 83%, and 91%, respectively, although the number of studies at the high school level was the lowest.  The preponderance of overall positive findings is important since research methodologies of the 48 studies were found to be highly eclectic. These findings speak to the potential of garden programs in benefitting academic and academic-related outcomes."

It goes on to make a point that reminds me of the work that Garden Organic did a few years back for the Food Growing in Schools Task Force:

"However, these results also indicate that garden instructional activities may need more curricular development and integration with particular subject areas if they are intended to improve academic performance.  Perhaps garden-based learning could serve as one venue to advance the recent interest in education reform promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives (National Science Foundation, 2010) and for career prospects in horticulture, landscape design, and architecture, as well as food, nutrition, and health.”

The Foundation said that, taken as a whole, the advantages of garden-based activities are overwhelmingly positive because school gardens support constructivist learning.  It also pointed to three studies:

Radcliffe et al. 2011

Block et al. 2012

Dadvand et. al. 2015

If only I had the time to read all this; the trouble is, of course, that I'm spending so much time in the garden ...



A storm in a G and T

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a piece in the G last week about a recent article in the T which had gone out of its way to praise England's tax-funded schools in the great pre-university [A-level] qualifications race, comparing them favourably with 'independent' schools – that is, the ones where (grand)parents pay cash.

The G says that the T's comparison (as well as fudging the exam results data – well, who doesn't!) was unfair as such tax-funded schools are likely to be selective, whereas independent schools are open to all who can pay the fees.  I spluttered into my Waitrose rich muesli mix as I read this distortion of the reality that most parents face.

The G also hinted that the T was probably playing politics in that it was talking up some welcome outcomes of government schools policy; but then I thought that, perhaps, it was only trying to reassure its liberalista readership that the considerable sums many of them fork out to separate their Tamsins, Tristrams and Tamaras from hoi polloi (and to buy them some socio-economic privileges) are still worth it.

It's obviously still August ...



Outdoor Learning in 1915

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is from The Spectator on August 21st, 1915:

"War is a time in which a shortage of labourers can least be borne with.  The land must not go untilled, the seed must not remain unsown, or the crops unharvested.  Many of these services can be rendered by children whose schooling is not yet over.  Care must be taken that the teachers do not lose sight of them, and that days, or parts of days, shall still be spent in the old way.  But if this is secured, the child of twelve will not be wholly a loser by the change.  He will gain in health by being more in the open air, and in skill by being early taught the elements of the industry by which in most cases he will eventually have to live."

Ah!  Happy days.  And who says the outdoor classroom is a new idea.


Why it matters how we frame “education” in ESD

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is the title of a new paper by Kerry Shephard and Pete Dulgar in Applied Environmental Education & Communication [2015, 14:3, 137-148, DOI: 10.1080/1533015X.2015.1067577]

You can access it here. For those who cannot, a limited number of copies are also available here.  This is the Abstract:

We analyzed two educational frameworks that seek to embed “education for sustainable development” into higher education (HE).  Both identify that HE is failing to educate graduates able to address the sustainability needs of society and suggest approaches to remedy the situation.  We used discourse analysis and framing analysis to explore the communication frames that the text activates in the context of education. Our results suggest that exponents of this form of sustainability-education have struggled to situate affect within HE learning and teaching and as a result may have underestimated the extent of pedagogical change necessary to achieve desired outcomes.

One of these frameworks is the HEA's Future-Fit.  The other is the recent HEAQAA attempt to change the nature of UK HE.  Rather predictably, this has now vanished from sight, and this paper suggests reasons for this.

The paper ends:

"Although these frameworks do not limit informed and motivated university teachers from teaching what the frameworks aspire to, the limited viability of their constituent frames casts doubt on their likely general efficacy.  ESD seeks higher order affective outcomes, but the Future-Fit and QAA/HEA 2014 frameworks promote only cognitive and lower order affective outcomes.  The stumbling block for HE appears to be higher order affect and it does matter how we frame this concept in the frameworks and guidelines that are designed to help HE.  If, in general and for whatever reason, we must educate doers and stewards who will assume their global responsibilities, HE will, indeed, need to transform itself to something very different from what it is today and these two frameworks are unlikely to get us there.  An alternative is possible:

  • We could, in particular, remove these higher order affective rationales and assertions from the frameworks that promote HE’s involvement in sustainability-education.  To some degree, and in some senses, they set us up to fail.
  • We could address our limitations. It may be stating the obvious and certainly moving beyond the confines of framing analysis, but many of us are not the doers and stewards able to assume our global responsibilities in the context of sustainable development.  Educating our students, in general, to be what we are not ourselves, may be outside the ability of HE teacher.
  • We could alternatively, and in general, focus on what we are good at.  Our role may indeed be to develop higher order cognitive and lower order affective skills of our students, with respect to sustainability.  Perhaps we should attempt to encourage our students, in general, to listen, to respond and to decide the worth and relevance of sustainability ideas for themselves and so think deeply, and effectively, about sustainability.  These objectives may not in themselves achieve the aspirational hopes of Agenda 21, but they may be far in advance of what we currently, and generally, achieve in HE.

Framed in these ways, specifically with clear definition and cognizance of affective outcomes, the “education” in ESD may develop fidelity and credibility for all who teach in HE."

At last, some realism about HE and sustainability.  Essential reading, I'd say; especially for HEAQAA if they have any residual interest, which may well be unlikely.


Graduating from Destitution

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A recent Free Exchange column in the Economist was a feature on helping the world's most poor people to help themselves.  It begins:

"THE poor do not just lack money. They are also often short of basic know-how, the support of functioning institutions and faith in their own abilities.  As a result, note Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of MIT in their book, “Poor Economics” (2004), it takes 'that much more skill, willpower and commitment' for the poor to get ahead.  No wonder escaping extreme poverty – usually defined as living on less than $1.25 a day – is so hard."

It then reports a new paper by Banerjee, Duflo and others that claims to have identified an anti-poverty strategy that works consistently.  Their conclusion is based on a seven-year, six-country study of more than 10,000 poor households.  The secret, it seems, is to hand out assets, followed by several months of cash transfers, followed by as much as two years of training and encouragement.  That formula seems to have made a lasting difference to the lives of the very poorest in countries as different as Ghana, Pakistan and Peru.

If you want to be just a little bit encouraged by all this, you should read the full article, or maybe even the paper.  If you prefer to think that the world's poor will always need the Western handouts that come as Aid, or that we should all be as poor as each other – an equality of misery – then you shouldn't bother.



📥  Comment, News and Updates

For all those who've still got withdrawal symptoms from WEEC 15, along comes WSSD-U-2016.  I know it sounds like a WW2 submarine, but it's another conference (as if the poor Earth hadn't had enough already).  So, if you're anywhere Boston next September, you could drop by.

The theme of the event is: Designing Tomorrow’s Campus: Resiliency, Vulnerability, and Adaptation (DTC–RVA to the cognoscenti), and the co-hosts are Julie Newman, and the ineffable Walter Leal (Filho), who says that the event:

"...aims to offer a platform via which academic, technical and support staff concerned with sustainability issues at universities may meet, interact and exchanges ideas and information.  The event is also aimed at promoting innovative approaches, methods and projects, thus furthering the cause of sustainability at universities.  It encompasses, teaching, research, campus greening and extension."

Details here.  Don't say you've not been warned.


Another thought for August

📥  News and Updates

A (kind) colleague in the US sent this to me wondering about the state of our education system.  As a mix of credulity and ignorance, it is almost beyond comment.