When getting an A is not enough . . .

We have a system in our school where about five times a year teachers issue Effort Marks to students (this also goes out to their parents).

As part of that system we give students a mark from 1 – 4 which reflects their academic effort. If a student is getting an A in class tests then this is supposed to merit a 1, but personally I think the bar should be set a little higher. Lots of people get A’s; if I give them all 1’s then there isn’t any mark left for those who something above and beyond the normal call of duty.  Some students may not be happy with this, and some have asked me what they need to do to get that elusive 1. So here’s my answer: Enter a competition. It can be Science, Maths, or anything else with a Science/Maths theme. Maths Week is just over which can only mean that Science Week is lurking somewhere around the corner.

Now everybody knows that I think ScienceWeek is a depressing indictment on our profession. Why should we need a week-long series of activities to convince students and the public that Science is interesting? Why is every week not ScienceWeek in our schools and classrooms? What does that say about us as teachers, and in particular about the rediculous syllabus we are asked to implement? Bring on the JC reform, that’s what I say. Not to mention that anything the teacher unions give out about must be good for students.
But I digress . . .

Enter a competition. Check out some of the following sites: (thanks to for highlighting this one)

Or have a go at this one

Maths Eyes and Geogebra Competitions

Fun for all ages and  Digital Cameras to be won in a  fantastic competitions!

For Maths Week 2012 in collaboration with the Institute of Technology Tallaght and the Maths Eyes initiative we are offering an  new exciting activity for all ages. Entrants explore the mathematics of real life using a photograph taken in  their local area and the free mathematical software GeoGebra. See more at

The categories for the competitions are 7 years or under, 11 years or under ,14 years or under,18 years or under , Adult Education (Open to all those currently participating in an adult education course), Family/Community Group (collaboration between family members or collaboration between members of a community group)

The closing date for entries is this Friday 27th October. The basic idea is that students take a photo of something in their locality, import it into GeoGebra and highlight some aspect of the underlying mathematics ( see eg above). There are screencasts on the website for the competition showing how to import photos  etc as well as practice photos and prepared Geogebra files with photos already inserted, so even if people don’t want to enter the competition it might be useful as a learning activity to point the students at etc.


It’s been a pretty cool few days

After a number of months  of trying (off and on, mind), I finally managed to get the url for the blog changed to
Thanks to my colleagues at St. Columba’s College English department for the idea.

After putting in quite a bit of work into Young Scientist Projects for the first time this year, we have had four out of the eight submitted accepted for presentation next January. Busy times ahead. They’re almost all in Second Year, and when we spend time on it in class, those not preparing for the Young Scientist Exhibition will be preparing for the Scifest equivalent next May.

Then I got a phonecall on Saturday from Aoife O’Donoghue, who is the Tyndall Outreach Officer, to inform me that one of my leaving cert students won first prize in the senior category of Science Snaps, their Science Photography competition (Shhh . . . Shane doesn’t know yet).
Not that I that anything to do with it mind; I tried to promote an internal Science-Photo competition at the beginning of the year and had the grand total of three entries. So at least this should help in promoting it if it runs again next year. And Mary Mulvihill over at Science@Culture might even be impressed with the quality of the entries.

And then I came across this on Youtube, and I don’t know why but I cried. My wife thinks it might have been the beautiful music in the background.

Ideas for Young Scientist competition

I put together a list of (124) possible Young Scientist projects for my second-year class. Most of them are taken from previous years and hopefully it will give them some ideas. 

Closing date is October so you need to get cracking. You don’t need to have the project finished by then, but you will need to have a one-page description ready to send off. Remember only about half of the applications are accepted for presentation.
The good news is that we will be concentrating on this over the next two weeks, so no boring science textbooks.

I pushed this with fourth years before but got nothing but frustration for my troubles. So this year I was going to concentrate on second-years, but some of my fourth-years have actually come up with some very interesting ideas.  Hold this page.

The list of projects is here.

The Young Scientist homepage with rules is here.

Now get cracking!

Some of my science class investigating the action of saliva by trying to eat three crackers in under a minute – is there a science project here?

Planet-scicast video competition


The Institute of Physics used to run “Paperclip Physics”; a competition where students had five minutes to present/teach a given topic in an interesting fashion.

This year they have replaced this competition with “Planet-Scicast”, where students have to put together a two and a half minute video-clip on any aspect of Science.

It’s a wonderful idea. Entries are closed for this year but I hope to encourage some of my own students to think about it over the Summer and enter next year. I know that I learned more Phyiscs in my first year of teaching than I did in the previous six years of preparing for exams. Hopefully students will benefit in a similar fashion.

In the clip above there is a wonderful moment when the student says

It takes 365 days for the Earth to orbit around the Sun, but 366 on a leap year.

 Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask the class why this might be so? 🙂

Hats off to the teacher – it is wonderful teaching, and much more importantly, wonderful learning


Internet Safety competition

I’m not tech guru, and I’m still at the bottom of a very steep learning curve when it comes to incorporating ICT into my lessons, but I can’t help feeling a little dismayed whenever I hear people who should know better warn about the dangers of internet usage to the point where you imagine they would prefer if the damn thing had never been invented.

So it was nice to come across details of a video competetion from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner

This competition should get entrants thinking about their privacy by considering :·        Advantages / disadvantages of the growing use of technology as a means to recording personal information including the use of Biometrics·        The security that CCTV brings Vs possible invasion of privacy·        Use of RFID (radio frequency identification tags) on products ·        Social networking and the electronic footprints we leave behind·        Are we evolving into a ‘Big Brother’ environment as depicted in George Orwells ‘1984’?  

·        What is the line between legitimate gathering of information and a surveillance society? “

Maybe I’m biased but it seems to be slanted slightly towards the “Beware the hooded monster” side of the argument.

It’s not going to change public opinion or anything, but it’s a nice start, particulary if it engages students. Nice prizes too.

Privacy in the 21st century competition

On youtube