Thursday 7 November 2013

Alfred Russel Wallace 1823-1913

Wallace argued that the "drab" peahe...
Alfred Russel Wallace
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Alfred Russel Wallace died 100 years ago today, on 7 November, 1913.

Wallace was primarily a naturalist, but he had a curious mind and was drawn to many academic disciplines, especially controversial new ideas. In particular, Wallace was most renowned for formulating, independently of Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Wallace was beset by financial troubles throughout his life. He did not have a wealthy family and he made some unfortunate investment decisions. In addition, he failed to secure any long-lasting salaried position and had to finance himself through the publications he produced.

Wallace's financial difficulties were further compounded by an incident involving a wager, relating to the curvature of the Earth, one of his many forays into the field of mathematics.

John Hampden, a member of the Flat Earth Society, placed an advertisement in a magazine, challenging anybody to prove that there was curvature on the surface of any body of water. He claimed that he would offer a prize of £500 to anybody who could do so. Alfred Russel Wallace, who was short of money at the time, took up the challenge.

His experiment took place along the Old Bedford River in England and it involved setting up two objects at the same height above the surface of the water. At a third point he set up a telescope. The view of the river through the telescope confirmed that the level of the water appeared to dip the further the object was from the telescope, thus confirming the curvature of the Earth.

The referee for the wager judged that Wallace had won, but Hampden refused to accept the fact. He accused Wallace of cheating, published defamatory articles and sued Wallace for return of the money. The legal cases cost Wallace a great deal of money and a huge amount of time and effort.

When he died, aged 90, The New York Times described him as "the last of the giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellectuals that included, among others, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Lyell, and Owen, whose daring investigations revolutionised and evolutionised the thought of the century."

Saturday 2 November 2013

GCSEs Set For 2015 Revamp

Glenys Stacey from Ofqual
(Image from TES)
This week Ofqual have released more details about the new curricula for maths and English, when the GCSEs are revamped for first teaching in the year 2015 at the insistence of Education Secretary Michael Gove. Other subjects will be given the same treatment the following year. These will be the biggest changes to GCSE since their inception in the late 1980s. Pupils now in their second year will be the first to take the new GCSE.

Glenys Stacey from Ofqual pointed out that the most important changes in the new GCSE will be the new content in each subject. In addition to this:

- There will be only one exam, which will take place at the end of the two years of study;
- Grades will be awarded from 1 to 9 (with 9 the highest). With one more grade available than in the current system, this allows for more differentiation at the top end.
- There will be less coursework in most subjects (and probably none in maths);
- There will be a complete end to modular GCSEs.

Stacey says that the new GCSE will allow pupils to gain a real confidence and competence in each subject. She also expressed confidence that these would be the last big changes to the GCSE for a significant number of years, giving more certainty and stability to the exam system for both schools and pupils.

In the maths GCSE, pupils will be expected to memorise many more formulae, such as the quadratic formula, the sine and cosine rules. Until now, these have been provided on the formula sheet.

These changes only apply to the set of GCSEs offered by the English exam boards. The exam boards in Wales and Northern Ireland are not obliged to follow suit. If the GCSE in these parts of the UK remain as they stand, the divergence from England will become significant, with the qualifications having little in common but the name.

Are you a teacher or a pupil? What do you think of the proposed changes to the maths GCSE? Let us know by email or comment on this post.

Enhanced by Zemanta