Developing a future Gauss?

31 Mar

The word ‘mathematics’ is taken from a Greek word meaning knowledge, study, learning. There are a range of views among mathematicians and philosophers as to the exact scope and definition of mathematics but what is for sure is that mathematicians seek out patterns and use them to formulate new conjectures.

Practical mathematics has been a human activity from as far back as written records exist. The research required to solve mathematical problems can take years or even centuries of sustained inquiry but sometimes take only minutes.

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was one of the most influential mathematicians in history and was born in 1777 in a small city in Germany. The son of peasant parents (both were illiterate), he developed a staggering number of important ideas and had many more named after him. Many have referred to him as the princeps mathematicorum, or the “prince of mathematics.”

Young Gauss and the Sum of the Natural Numbers

Gauss told the story of a time, when he was a boy, the teacher ran out of stuff to teach and asked them, in the remaining time before playtime, to compute the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 20.

Gauss thought that 1+20 is 21. And 2+19 is also 21. And this is true for all the similar pairs, of which there are 10. So… the answer is 210.

One can wonder what would have happened had the teacher asked for the sum of the numbers from 1 to 19. Perhaps Gauss would have noted that 1+19 is 20, as is 2+18. This is true for all the pairs, of which there are 9, and the number 10 is left on its own. Nine 20’s is 180 and the remaining 10 makes 190.

Or perhaps he would have thought the sum to 20 adds up to 210, and 20 less is 190.

Since starting at Northampton High School, I have had the pleasure of working with some fine mathematicians and I can truly say that all the students I teach are fantastic. Perhaps there is a modern day Gauss amongst them. It is our aim to help students develop a love for mathematics.

This year we have had great success in the National Maths Challenges and for the first time we entered a Sixth Form team into the team challenge. We hope to develop this involvement further in the future. Alexandra Daly again produced a fantastic result in the National Cypher challenge coming 1st in Cypher A.

In addition, we have been looking at the way we track progress and after each assessment students are issued with a list of topics to work on. We encourage the girls to use MyMaths, an interactive online teaching and homework subscription website for schools. Building pupil engagement and consolidating maths knowledge helps to become more confident even if they are not a “Gauss”.

Mr Ball, Head of Maths Faculty

Building resilience

17 Mar

What is resilience?

Resilience can be defined as: a person’s capacity to handle environmental difficulties, demands and high pressure without experiencing negative effects (Kinman and Grant 2011 – lead Professor at Bedford University and Chartered Psychologist).

It is a word that is used quite a lot in the media and in education but what does it look like? How do young people acquire it? We tend to idealise childhood and adolescence as a carefree time, but youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children and young people face.

At School, the pastoral teams work closely with girls to encourage and support their development of resilience because we know that adolescents have to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new phase of education, falling out with friends, and possibly traumatic family situations in addition to the uncertainties that are part of growing up. Building resilience can help our girls to manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

However, being resilient does not mean that young people will not experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.

Dr Ginsbury, a leading paediatrician specialising in Adolescent Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, US has identified 7 “C”s of resilience. These identifiers are what we encourage and foster at Northampton High School.

Competence – the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively

During PSHEE sessions, students are given scenarios that young people face regularly such as falling outs with friends, bereavement, stress and many more and discuss positive coping strategies to deal with these.

Confidence – a young person’s belief in her own abilities

This is about focusing on the best in a young person. Getting to know our girls, developing a close tutor/tutee relationship is crucial so that we can praise their qualities, personal achievements and academic success.

Connection – developing close ties to family and community, creating a sense of security leading a young person to connect with others

Recognising our values and core beliefs as a person so that young people understand what constitutes a healthy relationship. Working with peers, staff, the community and parents in a positive way helps a young person foster healthy relationships.

Character – how a young person develops a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others

Fundraiser for Plan UK, the School Charity

How older girls modelling positive behaviour influences younger girls to treat others with respect and tolerance. Working not only as a school community but smaller communities within that, such as the House system, tutor groups, charity working groups, and many more.

Contribution – understanding the importance of personal contribution and how that can serve as a source of purpose and motivation

We encourage girls to take part in as much volunteering and charity work as time permits. Sometimes young people may feel helpless but can be empowered by helping others. Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes, National Citizens Service, House charities and Form charities are opportunities for each young person to contribute in some specific way.

Bis Sister Little Sister Breakfast

Coping – learning to cope effectively with stress through developing positive and effective coping strategies

Guidance by staff, tutors and parents enables a young person to model positive coping strategies. The Big Sister Little Sister programme builds ties with older girls who share their experiences with younger girls, in order to provide them with the right guidance in how to cope with a stressful situation and advice on which person from their network of support can assist.

Pancake Races

Control – young people who realise that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realise that they have the ability to bounce back. Empower girls.

Tutors and teaching staff dedicate a lot of time to talking with girls, providing guidance and support in their personal endeavours and academic needs. The partnership between staff, girls and parents is very important to us as we aim to nurture and promote confidence and competence in our girls.

There is no simple solution to guarantee resilience in every situation but we believe that knowing girls well and the adequate training and experience of staff can help girls develop the ability to negotiate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier.

Staff Mental Health Training

Recently, a cross section of teaching and support staff were trained in a Mental Health First Aid course, designed to equip staff with the skills needed to support girls who face mental health issues. We know that mental health and emotional problems often develop during adolescence. With greater awareness and understanding of these issues, we are able to provide help to prevent the emotional or mental health problem developing into a more serious state.

Even our Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech signalled a ‘long-awaited and much-needed shift in thinking’ on Mental Health and the government’s recognition ‘..that the key to creating a mentally healthy society is held within our schools, communities and workplaces, not just in our health service…. This is perhaps the most vital context to help prevent mental health issues. We need the whole school to take responsibility for our children’s wellbeing’. This is a welcome approach and focus as mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others. The capacity to learn, communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships, coping with change, all test our resilience.

We aim and believe in fostering an environment that enables girls to develop their emotional and spiritual resilience which allows them to enjoy life in school with a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in their own self-worth.

Sonia Margareto

Whose Story….?

10 Mar

‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men.’  So said Thomas Carlyle, famous Victorian man of letters, putting into words what has been, for many, the received idea about history and their experience of studying it at school and beyond.

But what of ‘herstory’?

The very concept of ‘herstory’ (history, one might say, with the women put back in) –  a product of second-wave feminism in the 1970s and ‘80s – was attacked and even ridiculed at the time (and since) as tokenistic or ideological.  True, herstorians, in rejecting history as ‘his story’, have missed the true etymological roots of the word (historia = a knowledge-based enquiry).  However, even a passing acquaintance with the History curriculum in British schools will make clear how few female voices are heard and, as a career teacher of History, I have always been struck by the paucity of women on the syllabus.  Beyond Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Rosa Luxemburg, the textbooks are largely silent.

The (missed) chance of having a woman in the top job in the White House as well as in Number 10 and Berlin has raised the profile of women in public life in our own day and helped to stimulate research into the many heroic women of the past whose stories remain largely untold.  In truth, this work of retrieval has been going on for years, though it has yet to make much impression on the school curriculum.  In 1979, for example, the American artist Judy Chicago created an art work called ‘The Dinner Party’ which identified and commemorated 1,038 great women from the past.  These were the women, Ms Chicago said, who deserved an invitation to her dinner party (rather than being consigned to the kitchen, as so many women had been in the past).

International Women’s Day (IWD) provides a perfect opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in this work of unearthing remarkable female deeds and voices.  Embracing this theme, at Northampton High, we decided to mark IWD 2017 with a debate on the herstoric women who have done most to change our world.   Characteristically, we had several willing volunteers to stand up and promote their chosen candidate – Kate Harrison and Jess Picot nominated Rosa Parks, Zoya Bilal chose to speak about Coco Chanel, Lexy Daly and Sabrina Sheikh introduced us to Lotfia ElNadi, a pioneering aviator, while Kate Jameson and Ezri Mannion staked a claim for Eliza Shuyler Hamilton, philanthropist and abolitionist.  It was exciting to learn about women whom I had never heard about before alongside more familiar individuals. All our speakers spoke with passion and conviction about their choices.  Ultimately, only one nominee could be chosen and the winner was Rosa Parks.

IWD 2017 marks a very important anniversary – the centenary of the protest march by the women of St Petersburg which was instrumental in bringing down Tsar Nicholas II and setting in train the events of the Russian Revolution.  These women – we do not know their names – were change-makers on a seismic scale.  They never achieved the fame of a Lenin or Trotsky but their actions set in motion a revolutionary movement that changed the course of history and helped to shape our modern world in ways which we are only just beginning to understand.

We will never be able to do more than pick out a few bare threads in the narrative of world history to delineate the contribution, enterprise and sacrifice of women.  However, by taking the lead from our IWD speakers this week, we can bring at least some of the great women of the past back into their rightful place in the sweep of our national and global heritage, to invite them, so to speak, to the global dinner party, and offer them a place at the table and a vote of thanks for all that they achieved.

“In Loco Parentis”

3 Mar

In a few weeks’ time, my usual brood of children will temporarily drop down from 3 to 2. One will be participating in the Year 8 trip to Normandy whilst the other will be heading for the ski slopes of Alpe d’Huez  on the Junior School trip the following week. Apart from the logistical headache of collecting one at 11pm one night and dropping the other off at 3am four hours later, the fact that our normal family of five will be four for two weeks is a rather curious feeling.

As a parent, it is only natural to worry about your offspring – will they be homesick? Will they eat enough? Did I pack enough socks/snacks/sun cream (delete as applicable!). What if they’re ill? But as a parent and a teacher with experience of many school trips, perhaps my level of anxiety is less, simply because I know what goes on behind the scenes before, during and after any school day trip or residential.

In my professional career, I have undertaken many duties on trips which can be part and parcel of the job: dried up tears, mediated in teenage squabbles, cleared up sick, accompanied injured students down a mountain in an ambulance, acted out concussion in the A&E department of an Italian hospital, effectively bribed a child to carry on walking in the Lake District using chocolate raisins and even re-dressed an infected in-growing toenail on a daily basis! Perhaps the person who said “never work with animals and children!” was right?

But alongside the less glamorous side to the job is the immense pride I feel when a student overcomes their fear of heights, or picks themselves up after falling over on the slopes, or makes a purchase using a foreign language or even just looks at something with new found awe and wonder. Effectively, you get the buzz of parental pride, just with someone else’s children and that is what makes me get up for work in the morning.

Ski Trip Austria 2016

The concept of  “in loco parentis” is not a new one. Teachers have a duty of care to pupils which derives from ‘common law’ i.e. developed through decisions of the Court as opposed to law which has been determined by Parliament and set down in statute.  Traditionally, the term “in loco parentis” was used to describe the duty of care that a teacher has towards a pupil, to the effect that a teacher has a duty to take the same reasonable care of the pupil that a parent would take in those circumstances.

“In loco parentis” originally embodied the nineteenth century common law principle that a teacher’s authority was delegated by a parent so far as it was necessary for the welfare of the child. A court held, in 1893, that “the schoolmaster is bound to take such care of his pupils as a careful father would”.  During the 1950s and 1960s, case law was developed further by the courts. In 1955, it was held that “a balance must be struck between the meticulous supervision of children every moment of the day and the desirable object of encouraging sturdy independence as they grow up”. Teachers’ professionalism was recognised by the courts in 1962, where the “standard of care expected of a teacher was held to be that of a person exhibiting the responsible mental qualities of a prudent parent in the circumstances of school, rather than home life”.

The current standard of care expected of a teacher is that of a reasonable person in the circumstances of a class teacher. It has been recognised that a teacher’s duty of care to individual pupils is influenced by, for example, the subject or activity being taught, the age of the children, the available resources and the size of the class. Furthermore, it is clear from case law that the standard of care expected is the application of the ordinary skills of a competent professional, the skill and care of a reasonable teacher. If it can be shown that a professional acted in accordance with the views of a reputable body of opinion within their profession, the duty of care will have been satisfied, even though others may disagree.

Normandy Trip 2016

So as teachers, it is our duty to assess the risks, plan for many eventualities (including those curve balls that life sometimes throws), oversee the many and varied activities that our students participate in, rejoice in their successes, commiserate when things don’t go according to plan and bring them home to their parents full of stories of new experiences and with a little more independence and resilience. It’s not that dissimilar to part of the role of being a parent.

So as the departure dates approach for my own daughters, I will endeavour not to show that I am anxious, I will revel in their excitement and intrepidation. I will hug them a little tighter and wave them off on their travels. While they are away I will sleep a little lighter but ultimately I am safe in the knowledge that they are in the best hands as they broaden their horizons beyond the confines of the classrooms at Northampton High.