Today I returned to a large lecture theatre that I had not visited in half of my life. Half of my life. I was last there when I was 21. You can figure out my age now for yourself! Physics A is a big lecture theatre, and in my first year at Southampton Uni I had to take 'Ocean Science and Man's Use of the Seas', course code OC104. Yep! I hear you cry. I did it too! It seemed to be a compulsory module for all students. Regardless of whether you were at uni studying physiology, computer science or cupcaking making, you were on that course. The other big one was Ecology - in a huge lecture theatre with Rory Puttman a memorable, scary lecturer. Anyhow, you will note the 'man's' use of the seas - this was in 1991, and clearly feminism had not reached the Oceanography department at Southampton.
So - how did I come to be in Physics A today? I saw an event on eventbrite, whilst booking a vegan feast evening for a group of friends (another story) and ordered 3 free tickets for A, myself and a friend of A's. A bit of a scurry round for her to find a friend suitably interested. We thought the lecture was about astronomy, so her friend came along on that premise. However the friend, whose parents were at uni at the same time as me, incidentally, her mum studying chemistry, was eminently perfect for coming to what turned out to be a chemistry lecture. The visiting lecturer, Nick Barker, works at the Uni of Warwick as a scientist who goes out to schools to inspire children to do sciences, so far as I can tell from his humble introduction. He spent 12 years teaching Science in secondary schools so is well qualified to do so. And he was great! Funny, chatty, emotionally vulnerable (I always worry that this experiment might go wrong...) able to explain oxygen, combustion, fuel cells, burning hydrogen, how to make liquid oxygen, and along the way answering the question why does the flame of a candle look yellow? I enjoyed learning stuff that I already had learned a long time ago when I wasn't really interested. It was a little electrical jolt for the memory - half my life to jolt back through, remember - and it did the job well. He was passionate about Science, an effective communicator and teacher and I would have loved to be in his class at school.
For a few years, a few years ago, we took our girls along to the annual Uni open day. It is great, and is coming up in March and you should go, even if you don't live in Southampton and don't have children. It is full of interesting and hands on Science, and passionate people telling you what they are studying, researching, teaching. I think it is great and am currently conjuring up a selection of children to take along myself. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing inspiring people inspiring children. What a joy! That is what made today so good - the joy of being inspired.
Thinking back to OC104 - there were some inspiring bits - and some awful bits. There were a series of lecturers from a variety of disciplines. I remember learning about El Nino - and remember what I learned. I remember learning about deepwater ocean life. I remember learning about the deepwater current systems and how Antarctic ocean swirls made the rest of the world go round. I have not had much use for this learning in my life - I knew what a tsunami was when one was reported on the news - but I haven't used that learning a whole load in this last half of my life.
I don't think I had been to a university until I went to look around on Open days. To be honest, I don't think I knew there were any other than Oxford or Cambridge until I was in 6th form. I had no idea what they did or what they were for. I have been blessed to bring my children up in a university city, with a really good, research based university a few miles away. H has been to a few events there during her time at secondary school. I have dragged them along to the family days a good few times. They both swim at the pool there with their school. I have taken H to see Shakespeare in the uni theatre. We went to a fair few children's plays and such like at the theatre when they were younger. We went to a schools music festival in the concert hall there. We did swimming lessons there. University has been normalised for my children in a way that it wasn't for me - different time, different place, different life. I find it inspirational every time I walk onto the campus. I envy the academics who get to do that every day! What a joy - to be inspired, to work in a place of discovery and see people inspiring others every day!
I guess that is a bit of my dream of my ideal school too - on a mini scale - but that sense of purpose, of study, of finding out new things, of sharing that learning with others.