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Sunday, October 4, 2015

WHEN I became a scientist!!

When I became a Scientist’

OK, so…….what is a scientist?

The popular view held by most children is that the world of science is owned by wide-eyed, white-coated ‘boffins’  [1] who spend their time poking in test tubes and looking into microscopes.

I opened my dictionary, looked up the word scientist, and read the following:
A scientist: a person having expert knowledge of one or more sciences, especially a natural or physical science.’

Mmmmm………not terribly helpful, I thought. That’s not how I would describe what a scientist is to a young child. So, let me make a stab at it. I know, for a start, that:

·       Scientists are very curious about what they see around them.
·       Scientists are collectors – they collect things and they collect ideas.
·       Scientists read books to find out more about what they collected.
·       Scientists carry out experiments.
·       Scientists write notes and draw pictures to explain what’s in their heads.
·       Scientists talk with other scientists and learn from each other.
I do ALL these things, don’t I? SO, I’m a SCIENTIST! Hey, hey!

Several young scientists attending my ‘I’m a Scientist’ workshops have asked me when did I become a  scientist…….:)

Good question, yes? When I thought about it, I remembered how and when I became a scientist, someone who throughout his life has enjoyed exploring and asking and finding answers to the endless questions about the world of nature.

It was my parents and one teacher in particular who fanned my science fire and got me going as a young child, in Cornwall, England.

In fact, I can remember it as if it were yesterday.
OK, here goes……. my story:
 WHEN I became a scientist

On the day of my 5th birthday, Monday, July 14, a week before we broke up for the summer holiday, I was really surprised when my Dad, not my Grandma, met me at the end of the school day. Dad had never picked me up from school before.

He was in his driver’s uniform so I knew he’d come straight from work. My stomach turned over. Was something wrong at home? Was Grandma ill?

Standing by the gate in the iron fence, Dad smiled when he saw some of the kids rush out of the yard, up to the street corner, and turn and slide down back towards school, skidding on the cobble road, sending up a stream of yellow sparks from their hob-nailed boots.

Hey,” he said, “Birthday walk for you, m’son!! C’mon – we’re going pebbling – c’mon, les go… the beach!!”

Just my Dad and me. Pebbling? On Lariggan Beach? After school? On my birthday? Could it get any better than that?

Thrilled and surprised, I looked up at him. I felt so special, and knew in my bones that something magical was about to happen. It was, after all, my 5th birthday treat.

And what a memorable, lifetime treat it turned out to be.

Smiling, Dad took my hand and we walked together in the afternoon sun towards the harbor, down the cobbled street to The Fradgan, past Uncle Steve and Aunty Flo Green’s white cottage, past the tall icehouse towering over the small inner harbor, and crossed over to the open fish market. We soon reached the small stone bridge by the Fisherman’s Institute at the end of Newlyn pier, where the Coombe River runs into the sea.

We leaned over and saw the swans and the seagulls dipping their heads into the refreshing, bubbling blend of fresh and salt water. Grabbing Dad’s hand again, we walked around the corner by the Austin and Morris Garage onto the seafront, then down the six smooth, worn, granite steps, onto the beach.
The sky was bright blue, and the sun a shimmering yellow. St. Michael’s Mount, way off in the distance, looked very majestic, its fairy-tale castle catching the late afternoon sun setting behind the Mousehole granite cliffs.

The tide was out and the smooth, black and grey and white pebbles were wet and shiny. As the greeny-blue water lapped back and forth, herring gulls squawked and squabbled as they looked for food scraps.

We stepped over the pebbles, avoiding the slimy brown and yellow strips of seaweed. and found a nice dry spot.

‘This’ll do,” said Dad. He reached in his pocket and brought out two of his OLD HOLBORN tobacco tins.

 “Here,” he said, giving me one, “take this treasure tin and fill it. Just wishing rocks, mind you.” With a broad smile and a knowing twinkle in his eye, he said, “Bet I fill mine first.” [2]

The competition was on. We walked along the seashore, stepping over the brown sticky seaweed, and we looked and we touched and we talked - and we collected. The beach pebbles were so endearing, so collectable. There were thousands – all small, round, smooth, and warmed by the late afternoon sun.

Soon my tin was full of wishing rocks (plus some heart-shaped pebbles that mum really liked) that I wanted to take home to show Mum and my brother. I so wanted to tell them I filled my tin before Dad filled his.

“OK,” said Dad, “you win. Keep the tin, you hear? Don’t lose it. C’mon, send your ma a wish ‘fore we go. Go and find one more real good wishing rock.”

In just a minute I spotted the best, the most beautiful black and white wishing rock. Sure was my lucky day!

I picked it up and rested it comfortably in the palm of my hand. I slowly wrapped my fingers around it and squeezed really tight.  When my fingers warmed the pebble, I closed my eyes and, concentrating really hard, sent a really special loving wish to my mum and dad.

Hey,” said Dad, when I opened my eyes, “did you just send me a wish? I felt it, you know, like a warm tickle right down my back. Thank you!!”

Wow! I thought. It really works! Wishing rocks are brill! Hope Mum got her wish.

And, knowing just that really lit a fire in my head. I was so excited.

OK, time to go,” said Dad.  “Ready? Got yer tin?

Just as we were leaving, I spotted something different.
There, lying with all the other pebbles was a bright yellow object. It didn’t look like any of the other pebbles. It was so different, more like a small slice of pineapple.

Whatever was it? It stared up at me, wanting badly, I felt, to be picked up, wanting to be touched and admired. By me!

And that’s what I did. I bent over, touched it, picked it up, and held it in the palm of my hand. It was lighter than a pebble. It really was another magical moment. I couldn’t believe my luck. Wide-eyed, I showed my dad.

Because I knew he knew everything, I asked: “What’s this, Dad?”  He looked down at it, smiled, and then, half-closing his eyes, frowned. Dad had no idea what I’d found. “Dunno. Never seen that before. Good, though, in’t it?”

I thought that was really funny, because I knew he had seen everything there was to see. I couldn’t believe that Dad had never ever seen anything like the yellow stone before – and he’d been to the beach over a thousand times in his life. But Dad did know it was different and, therefore, very, very special. “Take it home, “ he said,  “and show your ma. She might know.”

I stared at my orangey-yellow, rock-like, magical find. It looked soft. So, not wanting to scratch it, I wrapped it up in my white hanky and put it in the other pocket – it didn’t seem right to put such a special rock in the OLD HOLBORN treasure tin with the other pebbles I’d found.

Dad took my hand and we made our way back home. As I walked up the very steep hill, I kept feeling the Old Holborn tin in one pocket, and checking the lumpy hanky in the other. I KNEW I’d found something very special. I KNEW it was lying on the beach waiting for me to come along and find it. It was something that I KNEW belonged just to me – and would, forever. I KNEW it was a special day. I was excited! My discovery made my head glow.

When we reached #17, Trevarveneth Crescent, I skipped up the back garden path, past the three gooseberry bushes (one for brother Jimmie, one for brother Charles, and one for me), pushed opened the glass door, and ran straight into the kitchen. Mum and Grandma were standing by the white enameled cooker, waiting for the kettle to boil. Charles was sleeping in Mum’s arms. Jimmie was tucking into a jam sandwich. Beside myself with excitement, I shouted, “Mum, Mum, Grandma, Jicky, I beat Dad. Filled my tin first. See what I found. It’s brilliant.”

I took out my OLD HOLBORN treasure tin and showed them what I’d collected on the beach. “And, now, look at this,” I said, with a beaming smile as I unwrapped my hanky. I knew then by the look on Jimmie’s, Mum’s and Grandma’s faces that the yellow rock I had found was special. And I found it on my birthday, too!

“Where’d you find THAT? Dad, where’d he find that? You give it to him?” Jimmie asked. Dad shook his head. “Nope. ’E found it. Just as we were leaving the beach.”

What a birthday surprise,” said Grandma, with a twinkle in her eye. “Good for you, Johnny Paull. Good for you.”

Mum looked at it again, sitting snug in the palm of my hand. “THAT beautiful yellow rock was waiting for you, Johnny,” she said, “just for you. It’s a treasure. A real treasure. Put it in one of your OXO treasure tins, Johnny, and keep it there, forever. Forever. You hear me? Forever and a day.”

I squeezed my treasure tightly in my hand and took it into the kitchen. I had never held such treasure before. I turned on the hot water tap and washed off the grainy sand with hand soap, then dried my special rock with newspaper, stroked it, and looked at it again.

I put it on the dinner table, next to my birthday tea treats - the big blue and white plate of bread splits, a jar of jam, Cornish cream, treacle, and yellow saffron buns.  “What IS that, Dad?” asked my brother, Jimmie, again, looking at Mum and Dad. Jimmie picked it up and stroked the yellow pebble. Mum and Dad shook their heads and said they didn’t know, but, as Mum explained, the yellow discovery was something very, very special.

Dad told a story, when we settled down after my birthday tea, a story about his Dad working in the Botallack tin mine, near St. Just, digging in tunnels deep down under the blue sea. “Bet he never found a yellow rock like yours, Johnny,” he said. “Found good stuff, though.”

When I went upstairs to bed, I put the treasure into one of my small OXO tins, slipped it under my pillow, curled my fingers around it, and fell asleep with a smile on my face.

What a birthday it had been.

As I dressed in the morning, I put the OXO tin inside my left-hand trouser pocket, next to my favorite small seashell, to take to school to show my teacher, Miss Harvey.

I scoffed down my bacon sandwich and headed out the door with Grandma. Mum shouted from the kitchen,
Got your yellow rock for your teacher, Johnny? Don’t forget it. Got your dinner, them OXO cubes, too?”

“Got everyfink mum.” I replied.

I couldn’t wait to get to school to show Miss Harvey.

Even before all the boys sat in their seats, I was standing by her tall desk, the OXO treasure tin in my hand, spluttering, “Miss Harvey, Miss Harvey, see what I found! I found it on the beach, after school, yesterday. You know, next to the harbor wall. I found it on Lariggan. Went there with my dad. You know, when the tide was out, when you can see what the tide brought in.”  

Every word came out in a rush.
Description: IMG_4055 - Version 2
As Miss Harvey looked inside my scratched OXO tin, her eyes widened! It wasn’t, apparently a rock at all. It was, she said, ancient fossilized tree resin, and, it was called amber. Miss Harvey – who knew everything - knew that amber was millions of years old and came from the inside of trees.

Resin? Fossilized? Amber? Ancient? What beautiful sounding words, I thought. I rolled the words around in my head. Resin. Fossilized. Amber, amber.

Miss Harvey held my precious amber in her hand, smiled, looked down at me through her glasses that balanced on the end of her sharp nose, and said loudly, so everyone in class could hear, “THIS is AMBER…’s fossil tree sap………it’s been washed ashore after a long, long trip in the sea. Johnny Paull was the lucky one who found it.”

Miss Harvey handed the amber back to me and then wrote the word
A M B E R on the board. “Show it to everyone, pass it around,” Miss Harvey said. “Share it – that’s what scientists do. And, Johnny Paull, you’re a real scientist!”

What’s a scientist, I wondered as I passed my OXO tin around the classroom? Is that something dead good?

My head glowed. It was on fire. When I met Grandma outside at the end of school, I told her I was a scientist – and asked her what that meant!

“Yep,” said Grandma, “you sure are! You’re a scientist – cos you’re always looking for things!! That’s what scientists do.”

That was it. I was hooked. I’ve been a scientist - thanks to my amber, my mum, my dad, my grandma, and my teacher  - ever since.


P.S. Many years later, when I was a teacher, one of my students renamed the treasure tins we had in our classroom.
He called them POCKET MUSEUMS.

And that’s what all my tins have been called since that day – POCKET MUSEUMS!

[1] Boffin – English slang for scientist!
[2] I have that tin to this day. I’ve had it for 65 years. It’s in the cabinet in my study.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cardboard boxes - GREAT Science resource!

‘I’m a scientist’
      3 ‘Sciencey’ things you can do with
a cardboard box

1. Make a science journal:
  • Cut the cover from a cardboard box
  • Punch a couple of holes in it
  • Punch holes in several sheets of paper - and place inside
  • Loop a long strand of wool or string through the holes, tie it, and, hey, you have your journal! 

Then, inside, write and draw your science experiments, science questions, and science thoughts.

2. Make a marble run:
·      Cut a cardboard box in half, lengthways……………use the piece you cut away for your strips……….glue them in place, and, hey, you have a marble run.
·      Rest it on a couple of books (a ramp), and let it go!!
·       How high is your ramp?
·       What happens when you alter the height of the ramp?

3. Make a mini boomerang!
·       Cut out a 1” square from A small piece of card
·       Draw and cut out a small boomerang.
·       Write your initials on your boomerang.
·       Use another piece of card as your launching platform.
·       Balance the boomerang on the edge and flick it with your finger.
·    What happens when you flicked the boomerang?
·       Is there a pattern to the direction it rotates in? Does it spin to the right or left?
·      How far does it fly before it changes direction?

Yep, a cardboard box – sure is a great science resource!!
And, I bet there  are more things you can do….

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A few thoughts for readers who run schools......

      Following recent conversations with a couple of principals, I remembered something I wrote in 1984 when I became Principal of my second school - and now part of my next book: Through My Eyes - on becoming a Principal.   

            So, what had I learned during my time at my previous school, Robert Bakewell County Primary School?

So, I was now ready to leave one school and, after the wonderful summer break in Boulder, join another. What had I learned as Headmaster at Robert Bakewell that I could put in place, when the time and opportunity were right, at Ibstock Junior School? With that nagging question in my head, and wishing I had a cigarette in my hand, I wrote these notes in my journal, thinking I might talk about some of them with one or two fellow Loughborough Headteachers over a pint or two before I left.

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT BEING A HEADMASTER, on THE JOB – in no particular order of importance (‘cos they’re all important) :

·    First of all, make sure you remember that you, the Head of the school, are always on show. Always look the part, sound the part, and do what is expected of a Headteacher. You set the example for your school.
·    As important, well, more important, make sure the kids (and staff) are safe and comfortable in and around the school building.
  • Always be the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening.
  • Be smart, look smart, BUT don’t give the impression you’re the smartest one on the ship!!
  • Make sure teachers have everything they need to do what they think is important in their classrooms.
  • Resource each teacher's personal teaching style/strength – don’t penny-pinch. Give them what school can afford and what they need to teach THEIR way.
  • And, don’t Micromanage!
  • Co-teach when possible – then give teachers relevant and useful feedback after you spend a good deal of time.
  • Meet every teacher at the very least once a month for in-depth, one-on-one conversation about their kids, their classroom, their relationship with parents, how they help others in school.
  • Ask to see/observe/give feedback their favorite lesson – and the one, if they’re comfortable, that causes them problems.
  • Ensure that every staff meeting has a set agenda, snacks, and a beginning and end time.
  • Don't use short-term supply teachers – take over a class if a teacher is away for the day, on a course or sick. That way, you keep your hand in, AND, it gives you far more credibility when talking at staff meetings or when giving feedback to individual teachers. It also means you walk in their shoes, meaning you can answer parent criticisms much better when you know what the teacher faces each and every day.
  • Take over a class if a teacher seems unduly stressed – this gives the teacher time to catch his/her breath and you chance to get to know the reality of his/her classroom.
  • Tell teachers, in a quiet, private area, about parental complaints.
  • Keep teachers, parents and governors informed and up-to-date on school matters that affect everyone.
  • Be available to kids, staff and parents. Always. Especially parents.
  • As Headmaster, everyone expects you to appear in control – so, when things get a bit tough, don’t let anyone in school know what’s going on in your mind. Well, perhaps your deputy…………
  • Make sure your Deputy knows what’s going on behind the scenes. Why? Well, s/he has to pick up the pieces if you’re not in school.
  • Don't share current administrative/parent/governor issues with staff (again, except the deputy) UNLESS one of them is the focus of the celebration/problem.
  • Don't have favorites, kids or teachers. Teachers aren’t daft. If you have favorites, it shows, causes resentment, and can act against you. Kids aren’t daft, either!
  • Use the morning assemblies to give staff time off to plan for the upcoming day, or, just have a chat with another teacher over a cup of tea.
  • Cut down on out of school meetings and keep staff meetings on track.
  • Share the chair role at staff meetings – different chairperson for each meeting. This gives you better opportunity to say what’s on your mind.
  • Have a clear, agreed discipline process – and be sure to share with parents.
  • Have curriculum evenings for parents so they can help their children at home with maths, reading and writing, science and history.
  • Share what’s going on in your office, with school secretary and the deputy, at least once a week - part of his training for when he runs his own school – and keeps secretary in the picture.
  • Take tea and biscuits to your teachers on parent evenings - and take them to the teaching areas where the meetings are taking place.
  • Check on every pupil absence ASAP and keep the teachers posted on what ‘s going on with their children who are at home when they should be in school.
  • Get to know those with learning and behavior issues - ensure their needs are met as best you can. Involve the parents, too.
  • Develop good relations with the school’s child psychologist.
  • Be alert to gender issues, particularly with your staff.
  • Participate in sports day [1]and be seen when PTA has jumble sales and other school events.
  • Ensure concerts are well rehearsed before they are presented to the public.
  • If you bring in parents to help, make sure you talk with them at the beginning as a group, giving guidance on what and what is not acceptable visitor behavior in the classroom
  • Encourage the PTA to fund-raise as often as possible.
  • Arrange overnight camps at the beginning of the school year – this experience is a great community builder.
  • Get PTA to cover the cost for all the kids.
  • Similarly, arrange as many full day trips as possible, especially for the younger kids.
  • Don't go to local pubs at night or over the weekend.
  • Don't smoke in public. In fact, don’t smoke at all! That is not what parents want to see!
  • Do, though, shop in local shops, especially at weekends, but wear your Head Teacher’s clothes.

Last, but not least, try, try to leave school behind in your head each day - don't let its daily flood of issues impact your private life.


[1] I made a point of challenging the fastest boy and the fastest girl to a hundred metre sprint, dressed in my Headmaster’s regalia. And, I always won!!!!