Archive for the Education Category

Remote Exam Time Again

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on May 14, 2021 by telescoper

It’s Friday 14th May 2021 which means that it’s the first day of the Summer examination period here in Maynooth, so let me begin by sending my best wishes to everyone taking examinations today and over the next few weeks, wherever you are. It’s a lovely morning in Maynooth. It seems to be a law of Nature that examinations always take place when the weather outside is nice.

For readers elsewhere in the world, full-time undergraduate students at Maynooth what is called 60 “credits” in a year, usually split into two semesters of thirty credits each. This is usually split into 5-credit modules with an examination in each module at the end of each semester. Projects, and other continuously-assessed work do not involve a written examination, but the system means that a typical student will have at least 5 written examination papers in January and at least another 5 in May.  This is very similar to the system in most UK universities that I am aware of except that a full year’s work over there is 120 credits so there’s a conversion factor of 2:1. A 5-credit module in Ireland would be a 10-credit module in the United Kingdom, for example, but otherwise the system is similar.

Each examination is usually of two hours’ duration. We’ve kept that length after moving examinations online, although students are given extra time to scan and upload their answers. The question papers themselves have been slightly adapted online use by having much less “bookwork”. Generally these assessments are unsupervised and students are allowed to consult notes and textbooks so there is little point in asking them to copy out standard derivations and formulae. That means we can concentrate on the problem-solving aspects of theoretical physics, which are the most interesting bits (and perhaps the most challenging).

One big difference between our examinations in Theoretical Physics in Maynooth and those at other institutions I’ve taught at in the UK is that most of the papers here offer no choice of questions to be answered. Elsewhere  it is quite common to find a choice of two or three questions from four or five on the paper.

One  advantage of our system is that it makes it much harder for students to question-spot in the hope that they can get a good grade by only revising a fraction of the syllabus. If they’re well designed, two long questions can cover quite a lot of the syllabus for a module, which they have to in order to test all the learning outcomes. To accomplish this, questions can be split into parts that may be linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent to explore the connections between different ideas, but also sufficiently separate that a student who can’t do one part can still have a go at others. With such a paper, however, it is a  dangerous strategy for a student to focus only on selected parts of the material in order to pass.

As an examiner, the Maynooth style of examination also has the advantage that you don’t have to worry too much if one question turns out to be harder than the others. That can matter if different students attempt different questions, but not if everyone has to do everything.

But it’s not just the number of questions that’s important, it’s the duration. I’ve never felt that it was even remotely sensible for undergraduate physics examinations to be a speed test, which was often the case when I was a student. Why the need for time pressure? It’s better to be correct than to be fast, I think. I always try to set examination questions that could be done inside two hours by a student who knew the material, including plenty of time for checking so that even a student who made a mistake would have time to correct it and get the right answer. If a student does poorly in this style of examination it will be because they haven’t prepared well enough rather than because they weren’t fast enough.

My first examination is this afternoon. The subject is (3rd Year) Computational Physics. This is an unusual module as a majority of the marks (60%) come from continuous assessment in the form of four class tests (20% altogether) and a mini-project (40%). The exam is a theory paper concerned with such topics as accuracy and stability. There are two questions on the paper, both of them compulsory. Next week there is my (4th year) Advanced Electromagnetism paper with four questions, again all compulsory. Obviously I’ll have to wait to see how the students do.

In the meantime here are some tips for students

  1. Try to get a good night’s sleep before the examination!
  2. Be ready well before the start and try to ensure you won’t be disturbed for the duration.
  3. If you’re doing an unsupervised examination, download the paper and any supplementary material needed  at the start to avoid problems if you get disconnected.
  4. Read the entire paper before starting to answer any questions. In particular, make sure you are aware of any supplementary information, formulae, etc, given in the rubric or at the end.
  5. Start off by tackling the question you are most confident about answering, even if it’s not Question 1. This will help settle any nerves.
  6. Don’t rush! Students often lose marks by making careless errors. Check all your numerical results on your calculator at least twice and remember to put the units!
  7. Show your working! Especially in an unsupervised examination you need to convince the examiner that you actually did the problem rather than looking up the answer on the net somewhere.
  8. Don’t panic! You’re not expected to answer everything perfectly. A first-class mark is anything over 70%, so don’t worry if there are bits you can’t do. If you get stuck on a part of a question, don’t waste too much time on it (especially if it’s just a few marks). Just leave it and move on. You can always come back to it later.
  9. Try to finish the paper at the assigned time, i.e. use the upload time for uploading rather than doing more work. There is always the chance that you might run out of time for upload if you’re rushing right at the end.
  10. If you’re scanning and uploading answers, check that you have submitted everything you intended to. I have had several examples of missing pages over the last year…

Anyway, once again, good luck and best wishes!

What should universities keep after Covid?

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on May 7, 2021 by telescoper

On the last day of teaching for this academic year, with reasonably encouraging signs of some form of reopening of campus education being possible in September, it will shortly be time to think about how we proceed next academic year.

It seems obvious to me that although university staff have worked very hard over the last year the Covid-19 restrictions have meant that we have not been able to provide the level of education we would have liked and most of us are longing to get back to some form of face-to-face teaching. On the other hand, the restrictions imposed upon us have generated some new approaches and it would be silly just to abandon what we have learnt and go straight back to the way things were before the pandemic.

I have two main things in mind, one on teaching and one on assessment, both of them relating to my own discipline – theoretical physics – but hopefully of some wider interest.

Implementing the Lane-Emden equation as two coupled first-order ODEs.

First, on teaching. Over the past year we have mainly been delivering lectures and tutorials remotely, using a mixture of platforms (Zoom, Panopto, Microsoft Teams, etc). Most lecturers have done lectures as live webcasts as well as recording the sessions to be viewed later. I have used Panopto for most of mine, actually. I am actually looking forward to being able to dismantle the setup I have in my study for this, to reclaim a bit of space, but probably won’t do so until we know for sure what we’ll be doing next Semester!

(By the way does anyone know where I should send the bill to my employers for their use of my study over the last year?)

For the record, I have found about 50% of the registered students have watched the lectures as live broadcasts from my home; the rest watch the recordings offline.

Maynooth didn’t have any facilities for lecture capture on campus until September 2020, in contrast to my two previous employers – the University of Sussex and Cardiff University – who both had systems in place long before the pandemic. I blogged about this 8 years ago, in fact. In Cardiff they actually use Panopto; all lectures were recorded as standard. In my view the benefits of lecture capture far outweigh the disadvantages, and we should incorporate recordings of lectures as part of our standard teaching provision, as a supplement to learning rather than to replace face-to-face sessions.

It seems to me that much of the argument against providing lecture recordings is from older staff who thing the younger generations should learn exactly the same way they themselves did despite the reality that classroom teaching in schools is now utterly different from what my generation experienced.

My view is that every student learns in a different way and we should therefore be doing as much as we possibly can to provide a diverse range of teaching resources so that each can find the combination that suits them best. Technology allows us to do this far better now than in the past.

Some really enjoy live lecture sessions, but others don’t. Others have reasons (such as disability) for not being able to attend in-person lectures, so providing recordings can help them. But why not in that case provide recordings for everyone? That seems to me to be a more inclusive approach.

The problem with continuing lecture capture beyond September 2021 in Maynooth is that we will need to improve the cameras and recording equipment in the large lecture rooms to make this possible for lectures with a significant mathematical content, as the existing setups in teaching rooms do not easily allow the lecturer to record material on a whiteboard or blackboard. In Cardiff the larger rooms have more than one camera, usually one on the lectern and one on the screen or whiteboard (which has to be placed further away and therefore needs to be of higher resolution). In Maynooth we only have small podium cameras in the teaching rooms.

The next topic is assessment. Since we were forced to switch to online timed assessments last May we have been doing most of our assessments that way. The student is given an exam paper at the appointed time, which they do on their own, then scan and upload their answers online (in our case via Moodle).

This mode of assessment has its problem. One is the possibility that students can collude (as there are no invigilators). Another is that not all students have a home environment conducive to taking an examination, nor a decent internet connection.

We decided to implement these as truly “open book” exams in which students are free to consult their notes, textbooks and internet resources. That format means it is pointless to ask the students to regurgitate definitions or learn derivations by rote so we concentrate on problem-solving, testing the understanding and application of concepts. Although it makes it a little harder to construct the examination papers, I think this a good way of assessing ability and knowledge of physics. If we can go do exams back on campus I think we should retain this approach at least for advanced topics, providing supervised spaces on campus to prevent collusion.

There are doubtless many other innovations we have brought in over the last year that people feel strongly about (one way or the other). Feel free to share them through the comments!

Notes from the Last Week

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth on May 5, 2021 by telescoper

So it’s Wednesday of the last week of teaching here at Maynooth. I’ve got three lectures today, two on Advanced Electromagnetism and one on Engineering Mathematics, and after that my lecturing will be done for this Semester and indeed this academic year. In fact two of today’s lectures will be revision classes as I’ve finished covering the syllabus in both of these modules.

That doesn’t everything related to teaching is over, of course. Tomorrow we have final-year project presentations to assess and after that the final Computational Physics laboratory. That is really just a  virtual drop-in session as students finish off their mini-projects to be handed in on Friday.

Next week is a study week – so no lectures –  but I’ll be using the time to finish off grading coursework and lab tests ahead of the examinations online timed assessments, which start on Friday 14th May. As it happens I have an examination on that day so will be occupied supervising it and then immediately afterwards marking the scripts (electronically). Then next week I have two further assessments and related marking. That should all be finished by the end of May and we then have Examination Boards and related activities in June.

It’s been a tough year. This Semester in particular seems to have lasted an eternity. It’s been bad enough for the staff but has undoubtedly been worse for the students.

People are already asking about what’s going to happen for the new academic year which starts in September. The only honest answer to that is that is that we have no absolutely idea. The possibilities range from being completely back to normal with teaching in classrooms on campus to there being nothing on campus at all, like at present. Which of these turns out to be the case depends primarily on the rate of vaccination in Ireland during the summer.

Talking of which, I will be to register for my shots from tomorrow (6th May) but I have no idea what that means for when, where or with what I will actually get vaccinated. As with so many things these days we’ll just have to wait and see…

Thoughts on Lá Bealtaine

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on May 1, 2021 by telescoper

Today, 1st May, Beltane (Bealtaine in Irish) is an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s one of the so-called Cross-Quarter Days that lie exactly halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. These ancient festivals have been moved so that they take place earlier in the modern calendar than the astronomical events that represent their origin: the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice is actually next week.

Anyway, any excuse is good for a Bank Holiday long weekend, so let me offer a hearty Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh!

While not excessively warm, the weather is at least pleasant enough for me to have had my breakfast outside in the garden. As I was sipping my coffee I thought how much nicer it is to be in my own home during all this. The one really big positive about last year was that I managed to buy a house and move in during a few-month window when that was possible.

I put up a post last year on May Day that was dominated by Covid-19. I didn’t really imagine that we would still be under restrictions a whole year later, but I didn’t imagine that vaccines would be available so quickly either. Now it seems I will have the chance to register for my shot(s) next week with the view to getting a first dose sometime in June. Possibly.

The precise timing of my vaccination shot isn’t particularly important to me at this point, as it looks like I’ll be stuck at work all summer with no possibility of a holiday (as was the case last year). On the bright side, my three-year term as Head of Department ends after next academic year so there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the slow progress with vaccination – currently only about 28.5% of the adult population have received a first dose – and the very high case numbers – about 450 per day on average, and not decreasing – Ireland is now entering a phase of modest relaxation. I think this is far too early and that there’s a real risk of another surge here before any kind of herd immunity is achieved. I hope I’m proved wrong. At least it doesn’t look likely to get as bad as India, where the pandemic is truly out of control.

Workwise we have just completed the penultimate teaching week of Semester 2. Monday is a Bank Holiday so we have four days of teaching left, before a Study Week and the start of examinations. The last week will be busy with assessments and other things, though I imagine most lecturers will be doing revision rather than presenting a lot of new material. In the last few classes. That’s what I plan to do anyway.

Examinations Online Timed Assessment start on 14th May. I have three to supervise and then mark so much of the rest of May will be taken up with that, which has to be done before the Examination Boards in June. After that I suppose we’ll find out what our Lords and Masters have in mind for the start of next academic year…

Theorists and Experimentalists in Physics

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on April 22, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of his blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know that here at Maynooth University there are two Physics departments, one the Department of Theoretical Physics (of which I am a Faculty member) and the other the Department of Experimental Physics. These two units are in the same building but have so far have been largely separate in terms of teaching and research; Experimental Physics (EP) is somewhat larger in terms of staff and student numbers than Theoretical Physics (TP).

For instance, when students enter on our General Science degree programme they have to choose four subjects in the first year, including Mathematics (much as I did when I did my Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge back in the day). Picking `double physics’ (i.e. Experimental Physics and Theoretical Physics) uses up two of those choices, whereas Physics was a single choice in the first year of my degree. In the second year of this programme students do three subjects so can continue with both Theoretical and Experimental Physics (and another) , as they can in Year 3 where they do two subjects, and in Year 4 where they can do a single Major in either TP or EP or a double Major doing a bit of both.

To confuse matters still further, the Department of Theoretical Physics only changed its name from the Department of Mathematical Physics relatively recently and some of our documentation still carries that title. Quite often I get asked what’s the difference between Theoretical Physics and Mathematical Physics? As far as Maynooth is concerned we basically use those terms interchangeably and, although it might appear a little confusing at first, having both terms scattered around our webpages means that Google searches for both `Mathematical Physics’ and `Theoretical Physics’ will find us.

The Wikipedia page for Theoretical Physics begins

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.

This is what Wikipedia says about Experimental Physics:

Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

I count myself as a theoretical physicist (that’s what I did in Part II at Cambridge, anyway) though I do work a lot with data and many of the researchers in my discipline (cosmology) actually work at the interface between theory and experiment, so the distinction between theorists and experimentalists is perhaps not a very useful one.

As a matter of fact I think there’s a good case for theoretical physicists to have at least some experience of practical experimental work. There are two reasons for this:

  1. to understand about errors in measurement and how to treat them properly using statistical methods;
  2. to learn how easy it is to break expensive laboratory equipment.

In the past during Open Days I have asked the audience of prospective physics students if they could name a famous physicist. Most popular among the responses were the names you would have guessed: Einstein, Hawking, Feynman, Dirac, Newton, Schrodinger, and some perhaps less familiar names such as Leonard Susskind and Brian Greene. Every single one of these is (or was) a theorist of some kind. This is confirmed by the fact that many potential students mention similar names in the personal statements they write in support of their university applications. For better or worse, it seems that to some potential students at least Physics largely means Theoretical (or Mathematical) Physics.

Although it is probably good for our recruitment that there are so many high-profile theoretical physicists, it probably says more about how little the general public knows about what physics actually is and how it really works. No doubt there are many prospective students who are primarily drawn to laboratory work just as there are many drawn to theoretical calculations. But there are probably others whose interests encompass both. For me the important thing is the interplay between theory and experiment (or observation), as it is in that aspect where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.

Anyway, this year we’ve been thinking very hard about bringing about closer cooperation between the two Physics Departments at Maynooth. It remains to be seen precisely what form that closer cooperation will take but I think it’s a good idea in principle. In fact in the Open Day at Maynooth coming up on Saturday 24th April there will, for the first time ever, be a joint talk by the Departments of Theoretical Physics and Experimental Physics. I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes!

Questions of Wellbeing

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , on April 21, 2021 by telescoper

I wonder if the wellbeing webinar will answer the most important questions:

  1. Should I laugh or cry at receiving this email?
  2. Are staff not allowed to have any wellbeing for the other 11 months of the year?
  3. You do know that we’ll all be supervising and marking exams in May, right?
  4. Is there any chance of the reduction in workload that would be be necessary for me to have the time to attend a webinar?
  5. When can I afford to take early retirement?*

*Sadly the answer to this appears to be is “not before you’re 60…”

Will we return to on-campus teaching next academic year?

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth on April 17, 2021 by telescoper

As we approach the end of the 20/21 academic year during which most of our teaching has been online rather than face-to-face, a number of students have been asking me whether we will “get back to normal” next September for the start of next teaching year.

The answer I give to this is that I don’t know. It depends entirely on the progress of the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic and that has so far proved to be difficult to predict.

Over the last week, however, the news has made me lean very strongly towards a negative answer. I am now quite confident that there will be no (or at most minimal) in-person teaching at Irish universities in September 2021.

The reason I feel this is the shambolic state of Ireland’s vaccination programme. According to the updates page, as of 15th April, Ireland has administered 1,155,599 vaccine doses, including 814,470 first doses and 341,129 second doses. The figure for total doses on 1st April was 893,375. That means in the first two weeks of April just 262,224 doses have been given. The HSE’s target for April is 800,000 doses; to reach that the daily rate of dishing out vaccinations has to more than double in the second half of the month.

The slowness of the rollout is partly due to a pause in use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of concerns about blood clots and a decision by Johnson & Johnson not to deliver its promised doses for similar reasons, leaving a shortfall in supply. But that’s not the only reason. If it were then the vaccination programme in Ireland would not be stalling at the same time as Germany’s has been accelerating.

There has been an absurd amount of dithering and disorganization in the Health Service Executive and at Ministerial level which, together with incoherent messaging, has led to administrative chaos.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will in future only be offered to those over the age of 60, with an impact on the timetable for other age cohorts. Last week the HSE announced that Irish people in the general population under the age of 60 will not get their first jab (presumably either Pfizer or Moderna) until June “at the earliest”. It seems – to say the least – unlikely that 80% of the population will receive a vaccine dose by the end of June (the official target) if they’re not going to start on the under-60s until the beginning of that month.

More recently it has been announced that the HSE is also considering changing the correct rollout programme yet again, this time moving people aged 18-30 up the batting order. (Currently the scheme for the general population is organized by age; those in the 65-69 cohort are currently registering.)

I can see the argument for doing that. Younger people tend to have a bigger cross-section for interaction, as it were, and therefore contribute more to the spread of the virus. Prioritizing them would therefore lower the rate of community transmission. On the other hand, moving younger people to a higher priority will have the effect of moving older people down it. But surely this should have been considered long before now?

If the decision is taken to do this people aged 30-50 will not get even their first dose until much later than they would under the current programme, possibly not until the autumn. The vaccination programme plays two roles: one is to protect individuals from serious illness and the other is to slow the transmission of the virus. The former approach means to prioritize the older cohorts while the second pushes in the opposite direction. It’s a difficult question and I think it’s sensible to consider moving younger adults up, though it’s not obvious to me that on balance it would be advantageous.

All of which brings me to the reason I think we won’t be doing on-campus teaching next year, at least for the first Semester. If students (who are mainly aged 18-30) are vaccinated first then most academic staff will probably not be vaccinated by September. If most academic staff are vaccinated by September then probably most students won’t be. Either way it doesn’t look good for a return to campus. I know for a fact that some Irish Universities are already planning for online teaching at the start of the 21/22 academic year. I don’t know what the plans are at my own institution.

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but there is I am not going to support a return to face-to-face teaching on campus unless and until a majority of staff and students have been vaccinated. And I am certainly not going to return to campus until I have had both jabs. I am in the 55-60 cohort and may therefore get my first shot in June and second doses by September (although, to be honest, I wouldn’t bet on either of those possibilities).

Of course there are much wider issues to be taken into consideration than what happens in third-level institutions so I’m not saying that this should be a main policy driver, but it’s important to be aware of the ramifications. In previous manifestations of the rollout programme, those involved in delivering education where in a high priority group, but they are no longer. In lowering the priority for vaccination teaching staff, the Government has to accept that it is lowering the priority for a return to campus in September.

Spring Return

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth on April 12, 2021 by telescoper

After a few days off last week following the Easter Bank Holiday weekend it’s time to get back into the swing of things for the four weeks of teaching term that remain. It’s back to school today for all school students in Ireland too, so good luck to them on their first day in the classroom since Christmas!

As well as (remote) lectures the next four weeks will involve us getting our papers ready for the examination period which starts on 14th May this year. All our examinations will be remote online timed assessments (as indeed they were last year). I’ve been teaching three modules this Semester so have no fewer than six examinations to write: three main exams plus three repeat papers for the resit period in August. The decision has already been made to make all the repeat exams online so at least these will be of similar style to the original May versions.

Then it will be marking and Exam Boards and various other things heading into the summer break. Hopefully I will get some holiday this summer as I didn’t get any at all last year. On the other hand there’s a strong likelihood that Senior Management will think of something else for Heads of Department to do that will make this impossible.

What happens at the end of summer all depends on Covid-19 of course, and specifically how Ireland’s vaccination programme goes. My personal opinion is that we should continue with remote teaching until all staff and students have had their jabs, which is unlikely to be the case before September at the current rate, but you never know. The speed of vaccination shows signs of increasing though, so we might be able to do it.

Despite the more rapid progress with immunisation over the other side of the Irish Sea, UK university bosses are apparently complaining that they haven’t got a date for returning to campus. This surprises me as they run on roughly the same calendar as here in Ireland so there are only a few weeks of teaching left there too. Why bother to go back at such a late stage? Unless of course it’s so they can charge students for a full term’s accommodation…


Uniform at School?

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , on April 9, 2021 by telescoper

I noticed a little news item this morning about school uniforms and thought I’d comment, because I think the author of the piece misses some important points.

I had to wear a uniform when I went to my secondary school, the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne. I got a place there under the Direct Grant system, after passing the 11+ examination. It was basically a private school but I won a scholarship and my parents didn’t have to pay anything, which was just as well as they would never have been able to afford the fees.

I should mention that when I went to the RGS, in the 1970s, it was only for boys, but it is now for boys and girls.

Before actually starting at the RGS (in September 1974) we were sent a list of things that would be needed including various items of sports gear and, of course, the uniform. This included a distinctive blue* blazer with the school crest on the pocket. That was for the first two or three years. After that we got to wear a black/dark grey blazer which more closely resembled what other schools required and in the sixth form it was even more flexible, with many of the boys wearing a suit.

The list of things to be bought was quite long but we didn’t have to worry about the cost because we weren’t very well off and I qualified for vouchers from the Council to buy everything.

I was mightily relieved that I got to turn up for my first day at school in a new uniform because I didn’t have any good clothes – most of my normal clothes were hand-me-downs from my older brother. If I’d just worn my usual things it would have made be feel even more out of place than I did anyway, as all the posh kids would have been dressed much better than me. The uniform was a relief because it put everyone on the same footing – at least at a superficial level.

The big problem was that I had to travel every day on the bus from Benwell (a rough area, where I lived) to Jesmond (a posh area, where the RGS was and still is). The bright blue blazer was very conspicuous and I often got picked on by local kids while en route there or back. I remember getting spat on more than once. In the end I decided to wear a big coat over my uniform to avoid it being recognized, even on hot days.

The value of the uniform seemed to me that it was a leveller. It wasn’t really anything about expressing loyalty to the school, nor was it a means of imposing discipline and obedience, it just helped diminish the effect of parental wealth. In an environment in which social class was such a prominent factor it seemed to me that the uniform was a good thing. My friends from wealthier families disliked the uniform, usually for the same reason that I liked it.

I’m all in favour of updating the style of uniform to a more neutral, less gender-specific style – especially for coeducational schools – but I think as long as schools take in kids from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds then on balance they’re a good concept.

Anyway, you probably disagree so here’s a poll:

P.S. Our school had an exchange programme with a school in Germany – the Max Planck Gymnasium in Gelsenkirchen. When I was told the name I assumed the kids were all fantastic athletes, but then a teacher explained that the name came from the Greek word gymnos meaning “naked”. That minimal approach to a school uniform would never have taken on in Newcastle, on grounds of the weather among other reasons, but I learnt (to my disappointment) that it was only a metaphorical term anyway.

That was the Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass that was

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 25, 2021 by telescoper

I’m a bit late getting round to writing something on the blog today because it has been yet another hectic day. Between my usual lecture this morning and Computational Physics Laboratory session this afternoon we also had our long-awaited Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass (held via Zoom).

This event had been delayed twice because of Covid-19 so we were glad that it went ahead today at last!

We were a little nervous about how well it would go but as it happened I think it was a success. We had approaching a hundred schools tuning in, from Wicklow to Tralee, Longford to Monaghan, Donegal to Cork and many places between. The level of engagement was excellent. We held a question-and-answer session but were a little nervous in advance about whether we would actually get any questions. As it turned out we got a lot of questions with some very good ones among them. Reaction from students and teachers was very good.

For those who couldn’t make it to this morning’s session we did record the presentations and I’ll make the video available via YouTube in due course.

Now, I’ve been Zooming and Teaming (with a bit of Panopto thrown in) all day so if you don’t mind I’ll now go and vegetate.