How we Learned in 50s and 60s Classrooms.

In my primary school I remember that a lot of lessons involved learning things by rote or ‘off by heart’ as we called it. The multiplication tables were recited by the whole class in unison first thing every morning – after the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet. Then we recited other tables such as measurement – “Twelve Inches to One Foot, Three Feet to a Yard, 220 yards one-eighth of a mile, 440 yards one-quarter of a mile . . . ” and so on. The same was done for capacity, money, area and weight.

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All our exercise books had these charts on the back.

Our exercise books had all the charts printed on the back for handy reference although the rote learning ensured we didn’t need to fall back on that often!I certainly never forgot them! I also remember learning poems off by heart. I can still recite Cargoes by John Masefield.

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Cargoes by John Masefield

The sad thing is that nobody talked to us about the meanings of the poems. I had no idea what half the words meant in Cargoes, which is a shame as it’s a beautiful poem.

Primary school education was very ‘British’ – and in my case, Welsh. We didn’t have separate subjects called History, Geography Science etc. The history I learned was about the lives of British heroes – Scott of the Antarctic, Nelson and, of course, Saint David. We learned songs like Hearts of Oak, Over the Sea to Skye  (which I can still play from memory on the recorder) and many traditional Welsh ones.

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A wooden school recorder.            The book which every school used.

Science consisted of nature rambles when it was fine in summer. We never had PE but I think that was our Head’s choice and lack of fondness for activity rather than the norm for the times.

In secondary school our learning was still largely based on memorising facts and writing down dictated notes in our exercise books. Individual research was non-existent.

In maths two pieces of equipment come to mind which are probably now obsolete – correct me if I’m wrong! One was the slide rule which was an ingenious way of doing difficult calculations using a calibrated ruler with sliding parts. The other one was the book of log tables. We all had them. They are a very simple way of working out very large multiplications such as four digit numbers X four digit numbers. Log tables do a lot more complex maths than that but I’m talking about how we used them in school. Calculators and computers have probably done away with the need for these but professional mathematicians might tell me different.

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A 20thC log table book.                         A page from an early log table                                                                                                             book.

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Cover of a 17th C log table book.                     A slide rule.

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John Napier.                                                 William Oughtred.

Both the slide rule and the log tables were invented in the 17th Century, log tables by John Napier and the slide rule shortly afterwards by William Oughtred.

 

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School Uniform in the 1960s.

There have always been school uniforms and certain features never change – dark colours, ties, blazers, badges etc. One of the main things I remember about wearing a school uniform is that it was a rite of passage. Back in those times, in Britain, state primary schools didn’t normally have uniforms. My first school uniform was my high school one. How exciting it was, during that summer, to buy all the items on the list in readiness for moving into my new school in September! Learning to tie a tie was one of my tasks over the summer holiday before moving up to ‘big school’.

At that time, in my school and probably most others, the first and second year pupils wore gymslips (girls) and short trousers (boys). A gymslip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is not an item of gym wear but a pinafore dress, much like a skirt with a bib top.  In your third year, as you were coming up to 13 years old, girls moved on to skirts and boys to long trousers. With the skirts, gymslips and short trousers we wore long socks. Girls wore short white ankle socks in summer. Under the skirt or gymslip we wore big, thick navy knickers. They were worn over normal white cotton pants so I can only think they were for warmth and maybe decency – in case your skirt blew up? They were perhaps the least favoured item of uniform.

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The hat was an intrinsic part of the uniform. In our school the girls wore berets, the boys caps. Our berets were called tams. The hat had to be worn whenever you were outside the school premises in your uniform, even if it was well outside school hours. If a member of staff or a prefect spotted you in the town without your hat on you were punished. Most girls pushed the limit by clipping the hat so far on to the back of the head that they looked as though they had no hat on – which was also punishable! We had uniform scarves too, and navy belted gaberdine macs.

There was no choice of school bag style – it was a leather satchel. I had the same one all the way through high school – seven years! On PE day the regulation sports bag was a navy duffel bag.

 

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This is a photograph of a group of girls from my school with two teachers showing the shirts, ties, skirts (regulation length – although we used to roll the waistband over when there were no teachers looking to make them more like mini-skirts) and the white ankle socks.

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As an afterthought, here is a photograph of all the staff at my high school in the mid 60s – no uniform except for the fact that those who had degrees taught in black gowns. . . .

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. . .  and one of a class (we called them forms) with their form teacher for that year, who was our Geography master.

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