27 February 2014

On spreading too thin

I've just done a stir-fry. It was awful. The meat was tough, the veg was/were soggy, the noodles were meaningless, and the sauce... less said the better. We ate it, of course. And I'll repeat three or four times a year—just often enough to think, "We haven't had a stir-fry for a while—that would be something different!" and too often to realise that there is a good reason for the infrequency.

And indeed for several months I have been accumulating the data for a spreadsheet which will optimise the variety of our evening meals. The idea is that it will take; several protein sources, meats/fish (not in our case, S. only eats deep-fried battered haddock) and veggy; carbs, potatoes/rice/pasta/bread, and perhaps cuisines (eliminating implausible combinations such as traditional Jewish/Muslim cuisine and bacon—although chicken poached in milk is good if the herbs are strong enough... haven't done it for years). So five meats etc. times four carbs, in say four traditions = 80 different dishes. We wouldn't have to repeat ourselves for three months (allowing for the occasional meal out—we don't do takeaways)!


My mother was not a good cook. She made no bones about it. Getting a meal on the table every evening (or lunch-time on Sundays) was a chore. Somehow she never managed to get it hot to table. Even in later years when they lived in a bungalow with a dining-kitchen, where the table was but a few feet from the cooker, the meal was at best warm (which accounts for my obsession with getting it on the table hot—even too hot to eat). Partly that was because the Sunday roast was cooked on Saturday because it could be carved thinner when cold; and that mattered when she was growing up.

Our menu in the 'fifties was limited. It was not until the early 'seventies that Mum asked me how to cook rice (other than for rice pudding) and mince (other than simply to boil it, plain). Sunday roast. Monday leftovers. ... Pork pie on Saturday.

But this is not a memoir.

Our culinary horizons have expanded enormously, thanks to Elizabeth David and then legions of TV chefs (even if their principal impact has been to expand our range of tastes for ready meals).

So—I can now cook traditional British/ Indian/ Italian/ Spanish /Lebanese/ US/ Chinese/ French/ Hungarian/  ...  badly.

The restaurants and takeaways cook this stuff all the time. They make sure they have all the ingredients to hand (even if some comes in five-gallon drums of yellow gloop), but more important—they practise. Even if they are not practising in order to improve, the experience makes a difference which nothing else can.

So perhaps I should give up on home cooking and turn to the experts?

(This reflection is prompted in part by teaching on formal and informal group structures which I illustrate by analogy with professional catering and domestic cookery. The formal/informal construct does, I suppose, parallel professional/amateur approaches to a task.)

24 February 2014

Items to Share: 23 February 2014

Education Focus
  • Failure can be productive for teaching children maths [theconversation.com] 'Learning from mistakes, errors, and failure seems intuitive and compelling. Everyone can relate to it. But if failure is a powerful learning mechanism, why do we wait for it to happen? Why can’t we design for it, understand how and when it works? What if designing for failure while learning a new concept or skill could result in more robust learning?'
Other Business
  • What Is Color? | Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science “The Flame Challenge has grown from scientists trying to answer the question of one 11-year old (me) from many decades ago, to tackling questions on the minds of thousands of current 11-year olds from around the world,” said Alda. “I’m in awe of the scientists who can bring clarity to these questions and I’m in awe of the kids who keep the scientists on their toes.” 
  • The Sweet Kisses of Embodied Cognition – The Chronicle of Higher Education 'Research on embodied cognition—the idea, basically, that the body strongly influences the mind in multiple ways we’re not aware of (though not everyone agrees with that definition)—is a fairly new field, and in the last few years it has produced a number of head-scratching results. For instance, there’s the 2009 study that seems to show that people holding heavy clipboards are more likely to disagree with weak arguments than people holding light clipboards. Or the study, also published in 2009, that found that people gripping a warm cup of coffee judged others as having a “warm” personality.

17 February 2014

Items to Share: 9, 16 February 2014

Sorry for missing last week!

Education Focus
  • The Cult of Variety: Where Phil Beadle Goes Wrong | Pragmatic Education ''The theory is hogwash. [] Not only that, but its effects are pernicious. Fun and variety are distracting from focusing our pupils on thinking about subject content so that they remember it. Teachers are spending huge amounts of time resourcing marketplaces and attitude cards when they’d be better off thinking up subject-specific tasks than fun, generic activities.' 
  • To be determined: An East End school visits the Holy Land – Day 2 - Tom Bennett - Blog - Tom Bennett - TES Community 'And that's one thing that we – the teachers and students on this journey – took from the day: what it meant to be alive in conditions that would be considered unbearable; what iron you need to turn up to school every day and study and learn with barely enough seats in a classroom even though there may not be a job at the end of it for you; to love learning, and language, and art and science for its own sake because it makes us human.' and Going home: A school trip to the Holy Land – Part five - Tom Bennett - Blog - Tom Bennett - TES Community 'Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Memorial of Israel, West Jerusalem. We took our school party from Raine's Foundation to visit on the last day of our pilgrimage, because any journey to Israel that ducked a consideration of the Shoah would be a crime against history. Zionism stretches back far before the Second World War, but the Final Solution acted as a grotesque catalyst to the invention of the Israeli state. The Holocaust and Israel are as intrinsic to each other as the double helix of DNA.' 
  • Can an Islamic education produce critical thinking? (Dennis Hayes, U of Derby) 'Cultural trends in the West adopted by Islamic, and many other, educationalists, such as well-meaning policies emphasising diversity and multiculturalism, and the adoption of the politics of identity, may reinforce a closing of Islamic thought and of critical thinking. They celebrate what you are, rather than what you can become.' 
  • Great Teachers in Schools Infographic | e-Learning Infographics Note (20 February): These "infographics" are ingenious ways of presenting ideas and information—but that doesn't mean they necessarily make sense. David Stone has pointed out that the statistics under "Great teachers are made, not born" are nonsense; they compare percentages of first-year teachers who do not see themselves as competent with fifth-year teachers who do. I ran the source material to earth. It's quite respectable: Feistritzer, C. E. (2011). Profile of Teachers in the US 2011. National Center for Education Information.  http://www.ncei.com/Profile_Teachers_US_2011.pdf  The relevant discussion starts on p.33. So the authors of the poster messed with the material purely for their own reasons... Weird.
Other Business
  • AT-ATs versus the Olympics - Boing Boing 'This is the only footage from Sochi that you really need to watch: when the AT-ATs of Russia attacked the skiers, it was sheer, Olympian magic. Watch it now before the IOC exercises its right to humorlessly obliterate anything that interferes with the corporate integrity of its celebration of human potential and indifference to human rights.'
  • Language Log » Whom loves ya? 'So listen, what I'm saying is screw the rules: evolution cares only about whether you get laid. And (admit it) so do you. I've been throwing my life away trying to catalog the entire set of grammatical principles that characterize Standard English; but those days are gone. My eyes have been opened to what's really important: attracting women through writing woman-pleasing prose with plenty of whoms in it.'

03 February 2014

Items to Share; 2 February 2014

Education Focus
  • If You Think Student Output as Measured by Achievement Tests Is a Way to Evaluate Teachers, You'd Be Plug Wrong! (artofteachingscience.org) 'We need to think about school as a whole. It’s a school system, and a more powerful way to look at schooling is to think of it as a system. A system (according to many researchers in this field) is a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts. Indeed, every part of a system has properties that it loses when separated from the system, and every system has some properties–its essential ones–that none of its parts do'.
  • Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives | Brain Pickings 'One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, [Carol] Dweck found [...] has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, [...] striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.' (A good basic summary, so you don't have to read the book, which is very lightweight. If you do read Dweck, read Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development Psychology Press, 2000, which is much more informative about the research base.) 
  • Four Student Misconceptions about Learning | Faculty Focus  '[The paper is] in an impressive new anthology which is reviewed in the February issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. Briefly here, the book contains 24 chapters highlighting important research on the science of learning. The chapters are highly readable! They describe the research in accessible language and explore the implications of those findings. Very rarely do researchers [...] offer implementable suggestions. This book is full of them. [] And [...] you can download it for free. It’s being made available by the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology.' (Download link provided.) 
  • How do you solve a problem like Meryl? Tough Young Teachers midweek special - Tom Bennett - TES Community 'Meryl looks to me like she'll be an astonishingly good teacher once her skin thickens and she gets her classes into routines where sanctions electrify the fences of good conduct until they are no longer required. Shouldn't we be looking after new teachers, not damning them if they fail to turn base metal to gold in their first month? Answers on a detention slip please. [] How do you solve a problem like Meryl? By realising that she isn't the problem.'
Other Business
  • What’s Ikea for? Cultural Differences in Appropriate Behavior » Sociological Images 'In the U.S., there are rather strict rules about what one can do in a retail store. Primarily, one is supposed to shop, shop the whole time, and leave once one’s done shopping. [...] Not in China. Ikea has become a popular place to hang out. People go there to read their morning newspaper, socialize with friends, snuggle with a loved one, or take a nap.'