#005 - Welcome to the The NatMatSci Podcast, brought to you by The National Mathematics & Science College. This is the podcast to let you find out more about NatMatSci by hearing staff and students talking about their experiences here, all unscripted and unplugged, so that you can hear what life is really like at the college.
Today we’re talking to the new Assistant Principal (Academic), Jocelyn D'Arcy, all about what brought her to the sphere of Maths and NatMatSci, the connection between data and effective learning, and we even talk about Freakonomics, the hidden side of everything. So let’s not waste any more time but get into this episode right now.
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Welcome back to the NatMatSci podcast brought to you by The National Mathematics and Science College. This is the podcast to let you find out more about NatMatSci by hearing staff and students talking about their experiences, all unscripted and unplugged, so that you can hear what life is really like at the College. Today, we're talking to the new assistant principal, academic Jocelyn D'Arcy, all about what brought her to the sphere of math and NatMatSci the connection between data and effective learning, and we even talk about Freakonomics, the hidden side of everything. So let's not waste any more time. But get into that episode. Right now. Jocelyn, welcome to the NatMatSci Podcast. And thank you for being here. How are you today?
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 0:40
I am very well, thanks, Simon. I'm actually in Wales at the moment visiting a friend near Monmouth. And it's a nice and green here, lots of hills and valleys, which I think is one of the things that Wales is known for. I'm not from this country originally. So I'm still kind of getting used to different parts of it. Even though I've lived here for over 20 years, it still, it still kind of surprises me how much England is like a miniature country, like you travel to ours and everything is completely different. You know, the landscape looks entirely different. You go from like, coastal, and then the New Forest is, you know, just completely father's the ponies that are everywhere that there's no grass, and then you go a little bit into the Cotswolds. And you've got all the bright yellow, you know, rapeseed fields, and you go like to the lake districts, and it's all trees and mountains. And, you know, America is not like that. You travel two hours, and it looks exactly the same.
Okay well tell us a little bit about that. Then tell us where you're from. And what brought you across to the UK?
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 1:42
Well, I was born in Los Angeles, and I moved away from there when I was about two, two to the Bay Area. My father was an electrical engineer. So certainly Silicon Valley was the right place to be in the 90s. He actually invented kind of the the technology that they use lasers to sculpt the eichhornia. So that you can see without glasses on the X and murder team that got kind of FDA approval for that. Yeah. Yeah. And so we lived I lived in kind of Northern California barrier until I was nine. And then I think my mother and father wanted a little adventure. So they, my dad convinced his company that what they really needed was somebody in the UK to kind of talk about the technology and you know, to, to share that share the World and get approval and speak to doctors and all that. So they moved us over. I was supposed to be for two years. But I think after about a year, the company realised that maybe they didn't actually need somebody in the UK at the moment. And even if they did, my dad probably wasn't the guy because what they really needed was him back in the Bay Area making the lasers Oh, I see. Right. It's an engineer, not not a PR guy. So they moved us back a little bit earlier, and spent a couple years there. Sadly, my dad passed away when I was 11. And then I think we had a nice time in England, my mother met an Englishman. And we moved here when I was 13. And so it's been my kind of permanent home for the last 25 years. But I've gone back and forth for university and my mother summers in Maine. So I'm still very connected to America. But I spent my teenage years here I went to British public school, I went to Cheltenham Ladies College. And I you know, I feel like all of my cultural references are very much based in English culture, it's only my accent that kind of makes me seem American.
Right. So let's just take it back a little bit. Let's go back to the start of your career. What took you into teaching in the first place,
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 3:57
I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a teacher, I think everybody else knew that I was going to be a teacher when I was growing up. I like that. I thought I was going to be a politician or a litigator. I've always loved learning. I've always loved school. And I do really enjoy public speaking that was kind of my favourite public speaking and debating were my favourite activities at school, but I kind of ended up taking a job as a teaching assistant. And then I just couldn't imagine being anywhere else. There's, there's something about working in a school that just makes everything feel possible. You can just you can do anything in school and you don't have to be the best at it. You can, you know, you can join the choir and not be an amazing singer. Whereas kind of in the real world, you're only going to join a choir if you're a very good singer. Or you could you know, go rock climbing. These are all things that schools kind of offer and when you're in a school situation, you can just do it and just take part in it and it doesn't have to be A big commitment and a big choice. And you don't have to be particularly kind of skilled at it. And I think that's, I love that opportunity and that kind of diversity of experience that schools have. I also really like working with teenagers. I think there are a lot of fun to be around. And I think that interactions, you know, are really meaningful. I was just, I was actually just chatting with a former student. He's 28 now, and it was, I met him at my first school that I worked at, which was something called a national challenge School, which they've got rid of that label, but it used to be a school, where I think fewer than 25% of the students achieved five grades grade C or above at GCSE. Okay, so really, really struggling, you know, difficult area, really tough school. And this boy had a lot of behavioural problems, but was very bright. And we found that we had similar tastes in music kind of 90s American rock, we both like so okay, while I was there, I made him a CD. That was the it was I called it the end to underachieving. And he, he didn't do particularly well in school, I think it was kind of off and on. And he had to change schools. But then he fell in love with coding. And he ended up doing, he ended up going to university, which was, you know, unheard of. Yeah, he did a Master's at Cambridge, in mass and AI. And he invented this app that he ended up selling to a very well known food delivery company. For millions and millions of pounds. No, you're kidding. Seriously. No. And like, literally last night because he lives in Wales. He was just messaging me is it you miss? You're the only one that ever believed in me. And you always saw through all my father issues. And now he sends me all these playlists and all these new bands and he created the the original CD, the end, underachieving, it is actually a public playlist on Spotify. So Oh, wow. If anyone wants to listen to it, you can you can find the end to the end to underachieving.
What a great story.
I just really like working with teenagers. Because, you know, every interaction to them seems to seems to be so meaningful work. And it doesn't matter if it turns out that they're a millionaire. Or it turns out that they're, they remember you and they're having a hard time. And they just think, actually, wouldn't Miss D'Arcy say or but just to know that I can kind of have that impact. Yeah, it means so much to me.
Wow. Yeah, I can see that I can feel that in your voice as you're talking. That just sounds fantastic. But tell me about about NatMatSci. Then what is it about NatMatSci that brought you here?
Yeah, I mean, I love maths. I'm a real geek. I'm a total nerd, you know, I went to MIT. And one of the really fun things about mit is that you can walk into any room and you can tell a joke that requires multivariable calculus knowledge of that to understand like the punchline, and believe me, there are funny jokes that require multivariable calculus to understand. You seem sceptical, Simon, but I promise you there are some and and everybody in that room will understand it. Because everybody there is kind of already on the same page. And I love that and I, I have a lot of interests. And I like to read and I'm really, you know, I teach Economics as well. And I'm interested in that. But my, my, my true love my kind of my first love is is mathematics, and to be in an environment where that is kind of central to the ethos of the school. And really where people can kind of geek out in the way that NatMatSci really does. Like the face masks or you know, the chemistry where it had the elements hanging down from it. It's just, it's just so unbelievably exciting for me. I was I it was interesting. I, I saw the job advertisement at the same time that I was listening to Tim Harford on the radio. And I don't normally listen to the radio, actually, because I have a former student who makes great playlists for me to listen to. Yeah, but I was listening to radio four. And they they've been asked a question posed the question, if you got this was kind of at the height of the pandemic, if you got all of the copies, all of the variants of the SARS cov two virus, what volume would it fill? which is you know, I thought, what a great question. And I just, it just made me light up and I started thinking about it, because you know, there's maths in there, but you also have to know things about viral load, you've got to know that, you know, the average person has about 10 to the seven, you know, per millilitre. So then you've got to think, Okay, so how many millilitres given that it's going to be carried to the mucus but not the blood, and then you're looking at the number of people and how do you do that? Do you actually look at The WHO, because that's confirmed cases. And then, you know, you have an idea in each country, what percentage of actual of cases are tested, but it varies from from country, depending on, you know, the testing procedures, because, you know, certainly here in the height of the pandemic, we were only, we were only testing people who were very, very ill, right. for treatment reasons, we weren't, we weren't really testing for any other reasons. So, you know, there were so many different things. And, and I just, I loved how lots of different areas of math and science were kind of coming together to answer that question, because then you were, you know, doing things in standard form and doing it kind of all in your head. And I really, really liked it. And I think I'm not gonna say the answer, I think I'll leave it to listeners to come up with their own with their own predictions, and maybe email them to me, or you can search for the podcast yourself and see what what the two people came up with for that.
All right. Well, I'm sure some of the people listening to this will do that. Is that is that one of the beauties and the dangers of any kind of data science, though, in that you could use data to present one finding? Or you could use it to present the complete opposite? How should people in life balance that difference between the two?
Yeah, gosh, that's a really good question. I mean, I think that's a danger of any piece of information. I don't think that's just data science, I think any facts that you have, you can always spin to the contrary, you know, you can say, people with blue eyes are attractive. And then does that mean, people with brown eyes are unattractive? Or does it you know, you can always spin a piece of data, it doesn't matter whether it's kind of numerical data, or whether it's a different kind. I think the danger with numerical data is that so few people understand what it means that it's probably easier to pull the wool over somebody's eyes. It's interesting when I when I teach graphs, you know, kind of pie charts, bar charts, histograms, box and whisker plots. I do tell people, the only reason that you would ever draw a graph is to try to convince somebody of something. It's true, isn't it? Yeah. I mean, that's it. So you know, you can choose whatever graph you want, you can manipulate the axes. But if you're drawing the graph, it's probably because you're making an argument. So to me, that automatically means beware of any graphs that I see, printed that are trying to convince me of something because to me, that's why you draw a graph because you want to want to, you want to hide, you want to show something and hide something else. And that's what a graph can do for you.
Okay, so let's jump forward, then 12 months into the future, if you're looking back on the last 12 months that you've been at NatMatSci? What do you think some of the things might be that would fill you with the most most amount of joy? I guess, really? What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Um, I think I mean, getting to know the school. I don't know it well enough yet, because I, you know, I've had some visits, I am so excited to be working with Andy and Penny, and Charlie and the team there I've met, you know, some people and they all just seem like such committed teachers, and just, they're all really excited about what they're doing. And I love I love that possibility. I like being in a place where I'm excited to be in a place where nobody's ever going to say, Well, this is how we've always done it. Because there is no, this is how we've always done it. I'm also just really excited to meet some of the either the best mathematicians and scientists in the world, not the country, but the entire world who've chosen to come to this school to get better at those subjects, and that's of the youngest ones, and and, and to work with them, and to get to know them and find out what their ambitions are, and to kind of try to help them realise those. I enjoy working with teachers a lot as well. In previous roles, I've been kind of responsible for staff development, and I've trained quite a few math teachers. And I recently got, well, not recently, but in the last kind of five years, I've become really interested in cognitive science, and the potential applications to the classroom. I think, you know, for a long time, the field of education was based on sort of thought experiments and conjectures, and cognitive science was approached more like social science, and kind of from a data perspective. And, you know, for decades, they're the two shall meet at no point did anybody think the science of how we learn might be useful information for teachers. But in the last kind of 10 years, people have started to think Well, actually, maybe that is information for teachers and no, it's not necessarily the case that everything will translate directly to the classroom, but actually having an awareness of if you want to memorise something if you want to learn something, to be able to recall it. These are the most effective strategies, I think it's really an exciting time because people are really starting to think about how to bring that into the classroom.
So what are some of those most effective strategies and for for learning and retaining information?
Well, retrieval practice is key. So you can almost see it on brain scans. But you know, effectively, there's kind of recognition is very different from retrieval. And it's very easy to fool yourself when you see something that you've seen before to go Oh, yeah, I know that. You don't know it, you're just recognising it. So when students kind of prepare for a test by looking through their notes, what they're doing is they're recognising material. They're going Oh, yes, I remember that was something I learned. But that is a very different act than retrieving the information yourself. If you if you compare it to something like seeing people, if I introduced you to two people, or something, I told you two people's names. And then I kind of showed you 100 people. And I said, Do you recognise this person? Do you recognise? Do you, you know, Do you recognise them? Or I told you their names, I said, Is this their name? Is this a name? Is this their name? Is this their name? When I said their name, you go, yes, that was their name well done. But if I introduce you to 100 people, and I said, tell me all their names, you're not going to be able to do it. So it's very different to retrieve the information than it is to kind of to confirm it or recognise that it's something that you learned at one point. And in any sort of test situation, you're always being asked to retrieve, you're never being asked to call. Have you heard of five dBm term of a sequence? Nobody? Nobody really asks you that they asked you to find the answer or the sequence. So you know, I think the most important thing is to make sure that that's what you're practising when you are revising,
Some people say that one of the best ways to to learn to be able to retrieve that information is to always be testing yourself before you get to the test, or before you get to the exam. Is that something? That's a good approach to take?
Yeah, I mean, certainly, you know, it is about. So there's something called kind of spaced retrieval practice. And it's it is about the time period. So it doesn't have to be you know, it's not always. But there, there are some interesting graphs. So there's a graph that describes kind of how long it takes to forget something, you can clip that just like you can with any data and say, Okay, so the best point to retrieve something is just what I'm about to forget it. So you want something to be what the Bureau's called desirable difficulty. So you want it to be a little bit difficult to access the information. Because otherwise, you're not retrieving it again, it's still in your kind of immediate short term memory, you're still thinking about it. So you want to have to retrieve it, but you want it still to be retrievable. And the forgetting curve tells you kind of when you're about to forget it. And so in a way that tells you the best time to retrieve it. So yeah, for me, this is very much a case of do your homework the night that it is set, because if I set a homework on a Thursday, and it's not, you know, I don't see the class again until Monday, if we've done something new on that Thursday lesson, and they don't tackle until Sunday night, they are way past the point of being able to, to retrieve it. So it's not constantly practising it. But it's, it's kind of when and if you follow those points, so it's sort of, you know, within a few hours, and then within a few days, and then within a few weeks, and then you kind of check up on it and just go maybe once a month, but once something is in your long term memory, it's there, you know, forever. And really, the goal of learning is to put things into true long term memory.
So on that basis with that homework, then it was set on the Thursday, it should be done on the Thursday night for most people, but shouldn't be done immediately after that lesson on the Thursday, because that's too close to when you've actually landed in first place.
Yeah, so sometimes I say if I have a lesson that kind of goes into lunchtime, or it's right before lunch, sometimes students will say, Can I just stay here and finish the homework? And I say no, because you haven't, you haven't had time to forget it you haven't had so you're not gonna have to retrieve it. You need those few hours. You just it doesn't have to be too long. But it needs to be enough time for you to go away and think about something else, so that you're not thinking about this anymore. And then you have to retrieve this in order to think about it in order to do it again.
Now, Jocelyn we've talked about math, we talked about data, we talked about information we've talked about. We've touched on economics as well, because you mentioned that to more and more people are reading into things like 'Freakonomics', is that a good thing for young people to be reading up on? And for people that don't know 'Freakonomics'? Can you just explain what that is as well?
Well, I mean, 'Freakonomics' is a book that kind of starts to describe some aspects of behavioural economics. Is that is that kind of what you're talking about? Exactly. That Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, that's a case of applying traditional economic models to more interesting circumstances and seeing whether or not they still hold. So you know, I think one of the examples in 'Freakonomics' was about this one. This one is particularly poignant to me because I have small children. So it was, there was a nursery school, and parents were late to pick up their children. And so the nursery thought it was really annoying for them. You know, I can imagine if I had spent eight hour day with lots and lots of very small children, I certainly would not want the parents to be late to pick them up. And you know, they had their own families to get home to and, but but parents were still late, no matter what they said, no matter what they did, the parents were still late. So they had the idea. Okay, well, let's fine parents for being late and let's fine them a lot of money. Let's fine them, you know, 25 pounds or something just for being one minute late? What do you, what would be the natural thing that you think would happen? If you're faced with a 25 pound charge for being one minute late?
You think that everybody would turn up on time and never be late?
Well, the opposite happened, actually, people became late more often, because what happened was the nursery turned into a chargeable extra. They basically were saying, Look, it's okay, if you're late, it just cost you 25 pounds. Oh, I see. And so parents started making that calculation. And, you know, you're in the middle of a business deal that closes at 4 million pounds. And you're thinking, is it worth the extra 25 pounds to be a minute late? Well, yes, it certainly is. It is. So once people put, you know, a monetary value on it, actually, they found that the monetary value was less of an incentive than the guilt factor of annoying the people who are looking after your children. So you know, if you're thinking of opening a nursery don't impose a late fine, just just do the thing that that I had once where they, you know, three of them stand outside the nursery holding your crying child and say, you know, because it's six o'clock, don't you?
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 21:43
And that's much more effective.
Yeah. Jocelyn, tell me one of the things you miss about America, given the fact that now for the last 20 odd years you've been over here?
Oh, it's sort of a difficult question. This is a really boring answer. It's really boring. Okay. It's okay, we can do boring. Are you sure? Okay, hopefully, the rest of what I say is interesting enough, I missed the wide roads. The roads in England are just so narrow, and it's just driving is like, it's like a full activity that requires all of your concentration all of the time. And it's really not what I want to do. I mean, I missed a motorway exit. Not that long ago, because I was trying to solve this differential equation in my head. And I just, I just missed it. I do not want to think about driving. I'm sorry. But driving is boring. Like, I just want to I just, I just want to be able to get from A to B and in America, the roads are wider and it's just a little bit easier to do a no route. No roundabouts, because that stop you stop. Great. There stoplights. Great. You stop. It's, it's more straightforward. It's less of kind of a nesting thing of Oh, do you go in this lane? Or should I go or we know that this isn't really big enough for both of us. So so let's play this game of who's gonna go first? And yeah, yeah. Why bros? What we do? Yeah. Oh, no, you Oh, you do? Oh, yeah.
And then when you're back in America for the times that you go over there? What are some of the things about the UK that you miss?
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 23:07
Oh, well, I mean, the UK feels like home. So when I go back to America, it feels, it feels comfortable. It's like I have a holiday home there. So it feels familiar, and comfortable. But it doesn't feel like whoa. So, you know, I miss the feelings of home. I miss the green space a lot. You know, I love how green England is. I miss I miss the humour. I think my sense of humour is quite dry and quite, quite British in some ways. And people in America don't understand that I'm not always being sincere that sometimes I'm being sarcastic. And so I think England, you know, people assume that if what you're saying doesn't sound reasonable, it's probably because you are being sarcastic. And people in America are less likely to sort of take that make that assumption.
I see. We need to bring this to a close in a minute. But for anyone who has heard anything and might want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to connect with you?
Unknown Speaker 24:01
Well, I am on Twitter. I'm @MissJKDarcy, but I have an email address, obviously at the College, so they can email me and that is J.Darcy@natmatsci.ac.uk, with no capital with sorry, with no apostrophe. Interestingly, not everyone knows this. But email addresses are not capital sensitive at all. So even if you have capitals in your email address, you can always omit them, and it will still get to you but it's email@example.com
Okay. Well, Jocelyn, thank you for your time. Thank you so much for being here and talking to us about Maths. I love the passion that you talk with. And thank you for telling us all about your experiences leading up to here. Thank you for your time.
Jocelyn Kate D'Arcy 24:48
Thanks. It's been an absolute pleasure Simon.
So that was Jocelyn D'Arcy, thank you, Jocelyn, for joining us on this episode of the podcast. I really enjoyed talking to you. Now. You can follow Jocelyn on Twitter. That @MissJKDarcyor you can contact her by email which is J.firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just search up The National Mathematics and Science College or NatMatSci and you'll find the website too.
As always, if you enjoyed this episode, then please do follow this podcast channel because if you do, then when each episode is released, you'll just get a small notification to let you know that it's available. Each episode will be talking to someone different, which means you'll be able to gain an insight into all parts of College life. But in the meantime, thank you for listening and we look forward to seeing you next time.
Bye for now.
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