Author Archives: Iain Thomson

Wake up! Grab a brush and put on a little (lot of) makeup!

While driving home from university, an interesting program came on the radio regarding the makeup industry (You and Yours, Radio 4, 27:45). Whereas, the radio show was reporting on the business and economics of the industry, I could not stop thinking about the pressure that this industry puts on young women of all ages. The money that young women spend on makeup surprised me, with 19- to 24-year-olds spending an average of £1759 a year, according to the market research company Kantar, which was quoted on the show. Men spend on average a reported £250 a year. The show also mentioned that cosmetics company L’Oréal spends half of its marketing budget on social media. We know that social media companies show their users specific and personalised adverts based on an individual’s browser data (unless turned off, but how many of us have done that?). If we combine this practice with the marketing of makeup being almost exclusively targeted at women, and with the number of young people present in online spaces, it appears that the cosmetics market is exploiting a quite specific section of society, namely, young women who engage with social media.

A GQ Magazine article titled, ‘How to take a selfie like a male model‘ featured an acronym I was unaware of, FOMO. It means ‘fear of missing out’, and is a social anxiety experienced when one is aware of others having an interesting or exciting time. Of course, we do not know if that is true, but the technology of today makes the appearance of fun a lot easier to simulate, especially when we are not there to judge for ourselves. Filters, animations, stickers, backgrounds, 4K resolution cameras, lighting apps, lenses, etc. are available to those with smart phones, which are widely used across society (Statista). And if you are not in a photo that shows how much fun the event is, or you are, or life is, then did it really happen? What is the easiest way to make your presence at awesome events unequivocally true? Take a selfie.

The make-up artist that aided the journalist Alexandra Jones for this article made this observation about ‘The Face’, a term for a heavily made-up visage.

“I see a lot of girls in their late teens or early 20s in this look. And it’s such a shame because to recreate it, you’re not emphasising a certain feature, you’re not even trying to create something fun and unique. It’s very homogenised, you’re re-drawing a person’s individual features to fit a narrow mould.”

The writer reports that her photos were getting ‘likes’ a lot faster, which increased her confidence and satisfaction with the engagement of others on her social media. If this response is similar for people in their teens, then it isn’t surprising that young people feel obligated to interact with each other on social media. If someone doesn’t like your photo, then you might retaliate by not liking their photo, leading to potential rejection from virtual peer groups. Newspapers have been reporting on the impact of social media on the mental health of young people.                                                                                                                                                         The Guardian: Mental health referrals in English schools rise sharplyStress and social media fuel mental health crisis among girls, Social media firms failing to protect young people          The Daily Mail: Facebook and Twitter must do more to help people switch off, Suicide among girls soar to a record high as doctors issue warning over ‘pressures of social media’.

Advertising of cosmetics is not a new endeavour, especially not the marketing of these products to women. Women’s magazines from the early to mid-1900’s featured adverts such as these, possibly aimed at the middle-class housewives of the era.








I am not dismissing the potential of makeup to transform people’s lives, as it has done for so many people with skin diseases, such as vitiligo, a skin depigmentation condition that affects many people. It is a positive thing that we are able to transform ourselves relatively easily and without invasive procedures, as this youtuber espouses. However, this video is serving as an advert for the cosmetic products that she is using. This Dermablend advert campaign of 2014 featured Cheri Lindsay in which she is helping sell the product, and this is a video that she published on her personal account a few years earlier. In the second video the product is mentioned but there is no links or description that suggests this is an advert, just a person informing the viewer of a product that she uses in her day to day life. Winnie Harlow is a Canadian model and spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo who is very much in the public eye and has chosen not conceal her condition.

This is something that I will request everyone to discuss, as I so not have the experience or personal perspective to delve into this issue. I very much enjoy wearing makeup, but it is usually for performance rather than part of daily life or a weekly occurrence.

What are your views on buying, using and wearing makeup?

Do you think that the cosmetics industry is causing damage to young people’s wellbeing?

Does the fashion industry behave differently?

Short video on vitiligo.

Scientific Literacy

Scientific literacy and fair testing – Áine O’Neill, Gillian Daly, Iain Thomson

“Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence based-conclusions.” (OECD, 2003) It allows us to expand our knowledge on science and allows us to learn about new things. It is very important to teach children about scientific literacy at a young age so they can start questioning scientific knowledge from a young age and gets them into the habit of questioning and understanding scientific literacy from a young age. Although scientific literacy is helpful with acquiring new scientific knowledge, not all scientific literature is true. A lot of scientific literature on the internet is false due to scientists lying about their results or falsifying evidence. Therefore, it is important to carefully read scientific literacy found online to make sure it is true. It is important to teach children that not everything they read on the internet is true.

A lack of scientific literacy could lead to inaccurate media reporting. An example of this is the ‘Changing diet could stop cancer’ theory.

In 1924, Otto Warburg suggested that an acidic diet could affect and be the cause of cancerous cells, after he discovered that cancer is caused by low oxygen and an acidic PH. His suggestion to patients was to change their diet to be less acidic and more alkaline by eating more of a green diet.

This suggestion caused fear within the public as it was new information released about cancer, and caused a great deal of hype within the media. However, after various investigations scientists concluded that cancer cells can not live in an overly alkaline environment, concluding that Otto’s theory was wrong. Scientists provided closure to Otto’s theory by discovering that blood is slightly alkaline, and is tightly regulated by kidneys and cannot be changed by what you consume. Due to this any extra acid or alkali that isn’t needed in the body is released from the body in urine.

Developing understanding of scientific concepts and language is a very time consuming activity. The scope of science is enormous and varied, so basic knowledge of scientific practice and language should be taught at a young age. This can be as a foundation for more skills, knowledge, and scientific inquiry required in the sciences.

Bybee (1997: cited Dunn and Peacock, 2015) suggested that scientific literacy followed a hierarchy, from knowledge of some scientific terms with no deep understanding of them, to multidimensional scientific literacy, where learners can apply concepts and theories to the world around them. There is much learning and teaching to go from the initial stage to the latter, so the introduction of science in the classroom at an early age is important.

The teaching of fair testing in schools gives children an idea of scientific practice, an introduction to scientific vocabulary, and the beginning of understanding how scientific evidence is used and interpreted. Without these skills, young people will struggle to understand the difference between scientific theories that have been verified through experimentation, and false scientific claims built on faulty, or fictional, scientific evidence (as above).



Dunne, M. and Peacock, A. (2015), Primary Teaching: A Guide to Teaching Practice, 2nd ed., Croydon, Sage.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2003) The PISA 2003 Assessment Framework- Mathematics, Reading, Science and Problem Solving Knowledge and Skills. Paris: OECD (Accessed: 8/2/2017)




Maths is Magnificent!

i-love-math-pictures-love_math_1I love mathematics. This is not usually the first line that you read when someone is writing about their feelings towards mathematics. Most are negative, sometimes extreme in their descriptions of dislike. How is it possible that I enjoy and appreciate the flexibility and depth of mathematics as a subject, while others block themselves to its beauty by disregarding it as useless, or a thing that they cannot do? I had a positive image of mathematics from my home life. Both my parents studied biology at a university level, so they helped me to understand the importance maths has in understanding the world around us. For many, however, the stereotypes of mathematics have been passed down through the generations, by parent/carer or teacher, to our children. Haylock (2014, p.10) gives these examples from trainee teachers:

“My Mum would tell me not to worry, saying, ‘It’s alright, we’re all hopeless at maths!’ It was as if it was socially acceptable to be bad at maths.”

“Maths has an image of being hard. You pick this idea up from friends, parents and even teachers.”

My memories from primary school maths are neither negative or positive, but I do remember a level of competition. We would play a game called Buzz, which involved counting from 1 and saying ‘buzz’ every time you reached a multiple of the times table we were focusing on. This would be made more complicated by the addition of other times tables. While this game is fun to some pupils, it clearly highlights the differences between each pupils ability, and there will be an eventual ‘winner’. This could have a damaging effect on children confidence in their ability at that subject, leading to the anxieties that might be carried in to adulthood, then passed onto other children or learners.

Looking at the positives, this game did provide us with a more interesting way of remembering the multiples of different numbers. I still remember visualising a string of numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… with the multiples poking above the others, in a different colour.

The usefulness of my thought process was not known to me at the time. This is sometimes why mathematical concepts are so easily dismissed as irrelevant, because there is a lack of examples of future applications provided for the learners. This animation is an example of how that thought process can be visualised. (I also included this because prime numbers are incredibly interesting and should be much more widely thought about in day to day life. Use this link for the Wikipedia page and research from there!)

With technology in primary schools it is possible to use resources like this in the learning of mathematics. There is software with mathematical games suitable for use in early years, and commercial videogames sold for entertainment that use recognition of patterns as the main challenge. In the Standards for Registration, section 2.1.4, it is expected that provisional and registered teachers should “know how to use digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning” (The General Teaching Council for Scotland, 2012). By incorporating ICT into our maths learning it can help reduce any anxiety that children might have picked up from their parents/carers and demonstrate mathematics as an engaging and everyday activity.

I went onto study mathematics, physics, chemistry, electronics, and music in secondary school, all of which require mathematical skills. The lack of confidence in maths leads to students not engaging with the sciences which can lead to a drop in scientific literacy. The exploitation of societies illiteracy in these subjects by the media, politics and businesses already happens today. These are some sentences I made using the Curriculum for Excellence four capacities to demonstrate the importance of mathematic and scientific literacy.

  • Successful learners with openness to new thinking and new ideas and able to make reasoned evaluations.
  • Confident individuals with ambition and able to asses risk and make informed decisions.
  • Responsible citizens with commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social, and cultural life and able to make informed choices and decisions.
  • Effective contributors with an enterprising attitude and able to apply critical thinking and new contexts.

(The Scottish Government, 2009)


Haylock, D. and Manning, R. (2014). Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) The Standards for Registration: mandatory requirements for Registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Available at: (Accessed: 29 January 2017).

The Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for Excellence: Building the Curriculum 4 – Skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work. Available at: (Accessed: 29 January 2017).

Chat Racism, Chat Sexism

57_largeIn May of this year, a young African-American videogame streamer was subject to a barrage of racist abuse in the chat stream that runs alongside the video footage of his game. He was competing in a videogame festival in the USA, playing Hearthstone, an electronic card game for two opposing players. He made it all the way to the finals. The competition was broadcast live on Twitch, an online streaming service that is free to watch. During the stream of the final, the abuse reached its peak. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that a participant in games or sports is subject to abuse, but why do the abusers behave in this despicable way?

This September, diversity in videogame streaming was discussed at a convention, also held in the USA. A live feed of the convention was available to see on the Internet. It was targeted and overcome with racial abuse. One of the panellists was a veteran of the US Air Force who was subject to racist abuse within that government institution and in the online environment. In America today racism permeates all walks of life, from armed services to digital entertainment. This is the link to the article ‘TwitchCon diversity panel deluged with racist chat’ (within it, there is a link to the video of the convention for any that are interested in seeing it).

These two incidents I am highlighting, involving the individual gamer and the convention, is the most recent example of discriminatory behaviour in video gaming that has been reported in magazines and online publications. This abuse is so common that it is accepted by those to targeted as something that happens. Female gamers who are active on Twitch or who take part in eSports competitions face abuse regularly, like unwanted advances from viewers and other competitors and explicit and violent sexual language. This behaviour discourages women from taking part in these competitions, further increasing the untrue stereotype that gaming is a male pursuit and that female participation is not ‘normal’. We not only encounter gender issues in gamer community but also within the games themselves.

In recent years, game developers have produced some excellent female driven content with writers like Amy Hennig (Uncharted Series) and games such as Beyond Two Souls and Gone Home (who chose not to show their game at a convention in 2013 because of sexist comments by the organisers) (The Fullbright Company, 2013), but a huge portion lara-croft-tomb-raider-6374056-1600-1280of the industry is still aimed solely at males aged between 15 and 30. An early example of sexism within the videogame industry is Lara Croft. While the industry patted itself on the back for creating Lara, a strong, independent woman who pursued her own wishes and defeated the bad guys, usually, she still conformed to the ‘feminine norms’, young, slim and conventionally attractive (Giddens A. et al., 2013, p.802-803).

For such a modern media type, the videogame industry has not done enough to promote equality and inclusion. You just have to look at the advertising posters for Duke Nukem Forever (2011) to see how prevalent the ideology of patriarchy is within the industry. Players of this game, and other ones similar to it, are being influenced by the male protagonist’s behaviour, mannerisms and attitudes to women. Work by Judith Butler helped define theories of gender performance, namely that gender “…is not something that we fundamentally are, it is something that we do” (Holford N., 2014, p.261). Portrayal of men as dominating, violent, sexist sociopaths in videogames is not a healthy image to present to young people. This might have contributed to the negative behaviour of the people who watch live streaming channels, most of whom are gamers themselves. However, research carried out by the APA Task Force on Violent Media (American Psychological Association, 2015) found that while video games are one of the factors that are involved in increased aggression, it is impossible to say that it is the only cause of that behaviour. The study took into consideration all other aspects of life such as family, peers, school and neighbourhood and community. As the perpetrators of this abuse are anonymous individuals, there will be circumstances influencing their behaviour that we have no knowledge of.

While these gender and race issues are major problems facing the Internet and the widening audience of videogames, there are many positives when it comes to videogame streaming. One example is AGDQ and SGDQ (the Awesome and Summer Games Done Quick). These are week-long videogame speed run marathons held in the USA and shown on Twitch. SGDQ raises money for the charity Medicine Sans Frontier and AGDQ for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Last year the two events raised over $2.7 million dollars combined. They include gamers from many genders, ethnicities, nations and backgrounds. The players are recognised for their skill and generosity to the cause rather than what stereotypes they might be labelled with, even though some abuse still persists. It is a very inclusive event that tries to recognise diversity, abuse and inequality within its own community. Unfortunately, the largest audiences gather not for charity runs but for eSports events, that carry a large pay check for competitors, rising into the millions of dollars. With such offerings in place, it seems that issues of social justice are not as important.



Games Done Quick


APA Task Force on Violent Media (2015) Technical report on the review of the violent videogame literature. Available at (Accessed 10 October 2016).

Giddens A. and Sutton P.W. (2013) ‘Chapter 16 Race, Ethnicity and Migration’ in Giddens A. and Sutton P.W Sociology, 7th edn, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp. 671-715.

Holford N. (2014) ‘Chapter 12 Gender and sexuality’ in Farrington-FLint L. and Montgomery H. (eds) E102 An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology, 2nd edn, The Open Unitversity, Milton Keynes, pp.253-273.

The Fullbright Company (2013) Why we are not showing Gone Home at PAX. Available at (Accessed 15 October 2016).



It’s not fair!

“Life is not fair”. Different people ascribe varied meanings to the statement. In return one often hears, “Deal with it”, and those who respond this way are more likely to be in a position that society deems as privileged.

In our most recent workshop for the Values module we explored social inequality through a devious exercise orchestrated by our multi-talented lecturer. The class was divided between four tables, approximately nine students per table, and on each table was a numbered envelope. We were given a group task “…to create a resource for new students studying at the University of Dundee, using only the materials in the envelope”. The groups were numbered 1 to 4, and it was revealed that we would be receiving marks out of ten for our efforts at the end of the class. There was a noticeable silence when this was revealed because I imagine most of the class would perhaps not want to be put in the position of appearing superior to the others based on a score out of ten. At least not consciously…

Half way through the exercise, as each group revealed their concepts, it became apparent that we had received different materials in each envelope. Groups 1and 2 had similar resources, group 3 had noticeably less, and group 4 the least of all. To put that more specifically, group 2 had ten sheets of coloured paper, sticky tape, paperclips, coloured pens, post it notes, paper clips, letter clips, pencils and pens. Group 4 had one pencil, a few paper clips and some post it notes. The presentations were performed in numerical order and the feedback changed from overwhelmingly positive and supportive, to negative and unhelpful, presented with disappointment bordering on anger (such range!). The negative feedback given to groups 3 and 4 took the whole class aback. My group (number 2) ,received moderate praise, so we quickly disregarded this and carried on creating our design. We didn’t need to worry about the others. ‘They will come up with a creative idea and put themselves back in the good books’, I thought.

While the groups were constructing and discussing ideas, Derek Day-Lewis was engaging with each group, again in numerical order, feedback and support going from positive, through middling and negative, to none. The activity at each table reflected the mood of each group. Group 1 abuzz with ideas and group 4 quietly hoping that it was all over. When we finally presented our finished products the marks out of ten awarded were:

  • Group 1 – 9/10
  • Group 2 -7/10
  • Group 3 – 4/10
  • Group whatever – ?

Once it was revealed that, in fact, it was all a wind up, the release of tension in the room was obvious. The students in group 4 who were neglected and disregarded, seemed disappointed in themselves. Groups 1 and 2 appeared to be performing well, and so went about the task with gusto. Group 1 were being praised for their creativity because they had the resources to design something more effective. Group 4 felt excluded because they did not have the same resources and were being judged negatively on their performance because of that. Once the workshop was finished, the positive effect it had on group 1 was obvious. Despite the knowledge that it was an example of inequality, they were happily chatting with ‘Mr Olivier’ once everyone else had left. Hopefully group 4  weren’t too upset.

The exercise showed how teacher behaviour towards pupils affects performance, and how important inclusion is in making the classroom learning environment one of equality. The task also highlighted some of the problems of inequality in society; those with the most resources received a positive response, those with fewest resources a negative response. Ideas of equality change over time and between different political ideals, like communism and democracy. I look forward to exploring more about the issues that underpin social inequality.









Play it!

Like many musicians before me I began my musical journey on the piano. Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, it was the most popular and widely available instrument; you could find one in every school, village hall and community centre. Like many musicians before me, the piano fell by the wayside when I picked up my second instrument. Eventually, by the time I started my third, the piano had been relegated to the ‘instruments I used to play’ pile. With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, I now realise that I should have kept some proficiency, as it will be difficult to relearn the techniques after such a long time away from the keyboard.nljb33w

The piano is such a versatile instrument which is why I want to start ‘tinkling the ivories’ again. It can stand on its own in a solo performance or as part of an ensemble. It can also be a learning tool for single line musical instruments, such as the trombone or clarinet, and it can be used as an accompaniment. The latter of these qualities is very valuable when it comes to learning songs for a group, or solo, performance. There is another reason to take up playing again. I actually own an upright piano, and I have been putting off playing for too long. I should just sit down and play it!

While I was gaining teaching and classroom experience in a local primary school, I helped put the Christmas holiday play. That year was called, “Pirates vs Mermaids”. It had well written dialogue and was peppered with fun but challenging songs. The backing track for those came on a C.D. and the music was performed digitally (MIDI format) rather than by musicians. Even though the C.D. is a solid base for the songs, it could be more fun, and provide more learning opportunities, if the music was performed by the children as a band.

From my own experience and what I have observed in schools, singing in front of an audience usually comes with a lot of nerves and anxiety. By introducing the choice of playing an instrument, perhaps percussive like a tambourine and maracas or melodic like a glockenspiel and recorder, music becomes about more than just singing along to a C.D. The piano is important in this scenario because it provides the chord structure underneath the sung or played melody. This is why I am motivating myself to start playing again, so I can provide this assistance.

Playing and exploring music in this way is fun, but access to instruments is dependant on what is available in the school. While many instruments are expensive, such as brass, woodwind and strings, others are relatively cheap to acquire and maintain. The percussion section has both tuned and rhythmic instruments, which are sold in sets by educational resource providers, such as Music Education Supplies and the TTS group. Unfortunately, even though instruments are sold at low prices, some school budgets do not extend far enough to reach this aspect of the arts.

I know starting again will be a difficult process, as learning the piano was not easy for me compared to the other instruments I play, but I do love to learn. The coordination required to use individual fingers, on both hands, in the correct order stimulates the brain in a most wonderful way. I will update this blog with my progress as often as possible or when I reach what I consider to be a milestone (if I manage to make it that far without someone calling the authorities about the horrible noises I am making!).


Why teaching?

I want to teach because being an effective learner is fundamental to growing up in this rapidly changing world. My time volunteering in classrooms gave me the confirmation that I love helping people learn. To me there is no other feeling like it; the sharing of information between pupil and teacher, pupil and pupil, teacher and teacher, creating a learning zone that is for all. I also observed the changes in teaching methods from when I was in school, which demonstrate what a varied and adaptive profession teaching is. My journey from leaving school to being at the University of Dundee has seen me at two higher education institutes and two colleges, not always going smoothly, but that is a story for another time!

I decided to become a teacher more than two years ago. In those years I dedicated my spare time towards achieving that goal. This involved returning to attain my Higher English, volunteering at a local primary school to gain classroom experience, studying two modules with the Open University (E111: Supporting learning in primary schools and E102: An introduction to child psychology and childhood studies (it is a field that greatly interests me after studying this module)) to learn more about support in the classroom and the curriculum, and lastly applying to the University of Dundee. It was a challenge to balance my work with my studies at the Open University . At times it was difficult, but I learned valuable time management skills that will no doubt prove useful. It has been a long journey and at times progress seemed slow; it took me two years of extra work on top of my education in Secondary school, but the rewards will be immeasureable.



A very important factor in the decision to teach is my love of music. I have played trombone and bass guitar for most of my life. Learning to read and perform music has given me opportunities to play with orchestras, concert bands, brass bands and function bands all over the country. The best times I have had in education involved working with other pupils and teachers in musical ensembles, and I want to inspire young children (and teachers!) to take part in the magical world of music so they can share in that enjoyment.

Lets go!