Sunday, 20 March 2016

New GCSEs in Science: teaching them!

The new science GCSEs are starting to be accredited. This is a relief, but not good enough. We should have had these specs a year before first teaching. What makes matters worse is that pretty much everyone is accepting that we need to start teaching them in Year 9. So very many schools are teaching unaccredited specifications right now. I know the argument about the content being fixed, but it's the principle.

There are several things that I am considering currently as I plan how to get the best possible outcomes from the new GCSEs.

The first is the non-spiral curriculum. Pre-2006 when I first taught edexcel modular GCSE and it was spiral I didn't like it at all. And to be be honest even now I am not a huge fan. However, I have learned to make the most of revising ideas to revise what I have taught previously. I want to consider how I am going to help students remember previous ideas. I do hope that teaching a topic as one will help better conceptual understanding though.

Electromagnetism is a good example of this. At the moment I teach generators and transformers independently and with no reference to electromagnets and motors. I don't even tell the core science students how a transformer works unless they specifically ask. When I do I certainly don't get them to write it down. What I want to do is what I did pre-2006 when I taught the AQA specification. Teach electromagnets and how to make them stronger. Then teach motors (effectively that two magnets attract or repel, but one is an electromagnet, and knowing how to make it faster is easy if you know how to make an electromagnet stronger). Then teach generators because physics works backwards as well as forwards, the idea of generators translates well to transformers then.

I feel like low stakes testing is another answer to this. Multiple choice tests using zip grade to check what students know and what they are, in general struggling to remember from topic to topic. We will need to identify fundamental ideas that we want all students to remember. I suppose the things that I feel will have to be taught well. Hopefully by reviewing the previous topic during the current one will keep the learning fresher than it would otherwise. However, too much time doing low stakes tests will impact on the second issue.

Secondly, I am struggling slightly with the format of the specification. During my teaching career I have always found the GCSE specification to be useful in setting the level of expected understanding. Teaching the post-2006 specifications has always felt like an exercise in ensuring the students were using the right words in the right order. Whist it looks like we are stepping away from that, I would imagine that we won't be in reality. There has to be a 'right' answer. Even A-level physics has that. A-level physics has a lot of past-papers though to help with the wording of an expected answer. (At least help the teacher). This is issue will be on going. I hope that the GCSE textbooks we have going back to when my husband started teaching will help. But if GCSEs are getting more difficult then old textbooks might not be useful... I will be looking at all the specimen assessment materials to help establish level of difficulty.

Now, you can argue that we should just teach the content to the most difficult level we can. This is exactly what I have said in meetings in the department. But, I still want an idea.

I do want to look more closely at questions that require application of ideas in the current specifications and for other exam boards. I do think that this has been done well in the current gateway specification, but our students have also found it challenging. It is an area that we need to look at and improve in our teaching. However, it is easier said that done when I consider the shear vastness of the content.

Then there is the pace we'll be teaching at. The content is vast. Our students are not happy when they don't feel they are confident in an idea. I imagine we're not alone. But we're going to have to keep going if we are to get through the content. I do agree that it is better to 'teach some of it well than all of it badly'. I actually hope that the non-spiral nature of the content will help with this. I can spend more time on the basics if necessary and the should help understanding of the more difficult concepts. (Even if the more difficult concepts end up having to be taught by chalk and talk due to time). Hopefully I can use my pre-2006 experience to pick the concepts that will allow students to access maximum number of marks.

I will plan out a lesson by lesson break down of the content to ensure that it fits within the time we have to teach it. A tight rota will be necessary to ensure we can keep on track. Hopefully there will be the chance to build in some slack in case of absence for class or teacher. We need to be allowed to be ill.

As part of homework/prep I would like to encourage students to think about the topics and concepts they should have met at key stage 3 so that when they come to the topic we can quickly review the underpinning knowledge and then move on to new concepts. This won't be straight forward as I can imagine that there will be a lot of 'I didn't understand it' and a few excuses. But hopefully by setting the expectation they will see the benefit and it will be easier to enforce as time goes on.

I also want to encourage the students to make Q&A flash cards as we progress through the course. This will hopefully allow them to spend time revising and reviewing rather than copying when we get  to Y11 mock time and Easter of Y11. I think giving a selection of questions will help scaffold this activity.

This holiday I am going to evaluate our key stage 3 offering to ensure that we are getting across the key ideas that will be fundamental to the new GCSE. I hope that OUP are doing the same!

Lastly is the practical aspect. The monitor who visited for the A-level practical endorsement suggested having some fold out information sheets in the back of the practical books with advice. I want to do something similar for GCSE. I have been looking at the GCSE specification and what is expected. I think if we get the students into habits it will help.

These would be making a prediction, writing a results table, drawing a graph identifying anomalies and writing a conclusion. Yes, we'll need to look at practical techniques and evaluations too, but I think that I want to teach that for each experiment rather than make them come up with things totally independently. The worksheets that we use for the A-level practical endorsement have instructions to follow and questions at the end that make the students evaluate the specific data collected and methods. Something like that would be useful. It probably means we will have to try all the experiments.

To make practical work efficient I will probably create instruction videos for the practicals. (Without giving away the conclusions if I can possibly help it. I usually try and obscure the readings during filming or speak over still photographs). It is very satisfying watching the student watch and pause video instructions. I have said this, but it does make a difference.

We are debating if we get students to only 'write-up' the PAGs we have to do in a practical book, or all the practical work. Or whether it should just be in their files.

The GCSE changes are becoming pretty real now.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Nurture 15/16

When I sat down to write this blog post I felt that my 2015 wasn't as busy as previous years (especially 2013), but it seems that I have still been busy.

The greatest defining points of my year have again revolved around my husband. I am just used to calling him that as we have now had our first wedding anniversary. Of course on the actual date he was cycling!

1. Paris-Brest-Paris: In the summer Richard cycled 1000km in 87 hours (three of them sleeping) from Paris to Brest and back with thousands of other randoners. He absolutely loved it.

2. New job: The main cloud hanging over us this year has been Richard's job. In the spring he was put in a position where his only option was to resign without a job to go to. However, he has a new job and is a lot happier and making good headway with very challenging students.

But the whole experience has been crushing on my opinion on the people involved in education. I naively thought of teaching as a job for life, but now heads are now able to give a couple of observations and destroy 25 years of a career that you thought you were good at and don't expect your colleagues or union to be able to support you.

I fear to go back and work in the state sector. To see so many good and hard working colleagues fall is heartbreaking and I don't want a part of it.

3. Curriculum change: My job is defined by the changes that are going on at the moment. After the October half term I had a real wobble about the new GCSE and the amount of work it will create for me.

I am still not confident about the way that we are recording the practical endorsement and the quicker someone comes to see the better. We're doing the practical activities so I know that even if we get a slapped wrist or have to make changes the students won't be disadvantaged. However, I am happy about the opportunity to reflect on A-level. I would really like another couple of years to iron out the changes that are happening at A-level before the GCSE changes start

We still have work to do on key stage 3, but the students in Year 8 are very positive about science lessons. I fear that key stage 3 - the most important key stage will be neglected because of the impatience of politicians.

At key stage 2 I am delighted with the scheme we are using from collins. It takes a very long time to prepare lessons, but the ideas are excellent, the students love the lessons and I feel like I am doing a good job when I teach these lessons. I just wish I had more free time so I could prepare all my lessons so well.

4. GCSE and A-level results: Again I was delighted with our GCSE results. The A-level results were got on the back of an awful lot of hard work and determination on behalf of the students. They got into the universities they wanted to and are content in their courses. I am very proud.

5. ICT: As a department we have been using kerboodle with key stage 3 and it seems to becoming more and more part of our practice. There are a few girls still struggling, but they are in the minority and as a staff we are getting to grips with all the things it can do. Using iPads in lessons is reaching a peak now and it's 'newness' is wearing off on me. I find it frustrating when students don't bring their devices, can't remember passwords or can't connect to the WiFi properly. I have hit a wall and don't know if I want to break it down when I also have all the curriculum change hanging over us.

6. Drama: I have been given a bigger insight into the workings of the drama department this year. Drama and music are very important to the girls at my school. Last year the production was the Wizard of Oz and because I like to wear red shoes at work I jokingly became the witch that gets squashed under the house for one night of the production. It was interesting to help back stage and see how the cast work together to give us a show. My tutee was Dorothy in the show too. In the summer I helped with the lighting of the play that the drama department took to the Fringe in Edinburgh. Getting to see so many shows and seeing behind the scenes at the fringe was a fantastic experience.

This involvement is partly of my own doing as I try and increase my own knowledge of different areas of the school. If I am to have a whole school responsibility down the road, then I want to be able to have a degree of understanding for other colleagues in other areas of the school.  Of course it is also because I love supporting my colleagues.

7. Extracurricular: This year I have been to Edinburgh with the Drama department,  Weston-Super-Mare and Bath with the Geography department, Cardiff to hear a lecture about Einstein with the A-level scientists, Bristol for the IoP festival of physics with the Y13 physicists, and Thorpe Park with a mixture of students for a great day out. Again we went to see Team Bath play netball and I took a group of Y11 to tour the Krispie Kreme doughnut factory in Bristol. I got the school outside to see the solar eclipse, we had the space odyssey dome in to give shows to the students. In enrichment week the students took the squashed tomato challenge. Year 6 came second in the Great Bug Hunt and completed enough experiments to qualify for a Crest Mega Star Award.

8. Tutees: I have been very lucky over the last 12 months to have two amazing groups of tutees. Working with them is a great

9. GCSE Classics: Esther completed here Classics GCSE a year early and got an A*. Relived and proud are the two emotions. She has set her sights on Oxbridge, so the GCSEs need to be good.

10. CPD, MOOCs and conferences: The year always starts with the ASE conference, which makes going back in January a very positive experience. Speaking to Chris Colclough about being a head of science was extremely useful. Seeing great friends and getting lots of inspiration is the main reason to go to the conference. I don't think that I made the most of last year's ASE conference, but I still took a lot away. I went to two teachmeets and organised another; I always love these events because of their atmosphere and positivity. The iPad training day from Rachel Jones' school KEVI that I went to with a couple of colleagues was brilliant. I also attended Research Ed in September and was able to speak to Nick Gibb, and presented at Teaching and Learning Takeover 15. I also helped organise our own ASE conference in Bath.

The AfL MOOC from future learn, the SLC and Sheffield University was brilliant. Taking place over a period of weeks meant that my practice was changed much more effectively than just attending an event. The live Q&A with Chris Harrison was very good; there is so much to be learned from those people in universities who study education and being able to ask about AfL was very useful.

The CPD highlight though was the ASE professional learning conference. Shirley Simon's talk was a real inspiration to me and it was a real treat to hear Jonathan Osborne speak. Paul Black and I exchanged words! Hearing Brian Cartwright was very useful and I can only describe Andrew Carter as an 'interesting' character. It was great to meet Andrea, Katrina, Bryony, Helen and see Pete, Liz, Chris and Stuart.

11. Writing: One of my aims was to add more purpose to my writing. I have written a lot during the course of the year, but I haven't published much of it at all. I don't want to get into arguments. I am not all the knowledgeable about education, I only know my own classroom and some of what goes on in that of my colleagues. I don't know enough to be an expert. More than that though I don't want to get into an argument and have to spend a great proportion of time defending my position. I would expect some people not to agree or understand my position, but it makes me nervous that some people appear to not want to let others have their opinion based on their own experiences. I don't want to be part of that, so I fly below the radar thank you. (Actually more about time than not feeling strongly about something and the curriculum change is overwhelming me emotionally).

12. Home: In the summer I sorted out all the accumulated rubbish we had in the spare room. It seems that we had an awful lot more paper and plastic wallets than I thought and a large number of ethernet cables 'just in case'. Several 'very useful boxes' and trips to the dump later and we are at least able to get in there! Next step is to get into the loft and put some boards down so I get move some old CDs and books Richard refuses to art with up there.

13. Event at Westonbirt: This was one of the aims for last year. I will do a teaching and learning team party in the spring I think. It would be lovely to have a small gathering in the library at school with some cake. (The library is a wonderful room).

14. Shaun the Sheep and friends: After finding all the Gromit statues in 2013 we decided to do the same with the Shaun this year. Richard and I went to London and found all 50 there in one day. We walked a marathon that day. Then Lucie and Abi helped us find all the Shaun's in Bristol. It was a great excuse to catch up. It was also brilliant to meet Karen in Exeter for some black Friday weekend sale shopping.

15. Holidays and breaks: I make it my mission to get away and see as much of the UK (I can't afford the world) as we can. This year we had a day out in Oxford and London, went to the Brecon Beacons for a few days, visited Lincolnshire, Northumberland, had a day in Hull, Swansea and Minehead. My brother has bought me a scratch map of the Uk so I can make a record of where we have been.

The year ahead:

To be honest I don't have many plans that haven't a;ready been set in motion by things that have happened this year.

Esther's GCSEs feature heavily and hoping that Richard can get a permanent job. Although no teaching job will ever feel permanent again.

I really want a foreign holiday and we're thinking about visiting the North West when we book our cheep caravan holiday. The Olympic Games will feature heavily in my summer holiday plans.

I am still thinking about preparing myself for management and I want to aim my personal CPD to that. However, I think that it is unlikely I will find anything because school are not advertising for assistant head teachers externally. Budgets and MATS are the reasons I would imagine. However, I still enjoy working at my school and the curriculum changes present me with more than enough challenges!

So mainly next year is about dealing with the changes to the curriculum and trying to get the best possible outcome from them for our students.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Tracking and Evidence

When I started teaching we'd all give our students tests at the end of a topic. They'd get 18/24 and we'd would add this to a spreadsheet. My head of department would use testable to level each question and this would help us develop a level system whereby 17 on this test gave a lower level outcome than 15 on the next. (Rather like raw to UMS scores in public exams).
Sound and Moments always came out skewed too high, Simple Chemical Reactions too low but otherwise it wasn't too bad. Using levels helped to make homemade tests equivalent. At the end of Year 9 when students would do the SATs exams our method usually under predicted what they would get by up to half a level, but this is not enough that we were concerned. We tracked the students and were reasonably happy with the quality of the evidence and we also had grades for reports. We did lots of tests and if a student missed a test they didn't need to re-do it, this gave plenty evidence about the child's attendance too.
No where in the previous paragraph do I describe formative assessment.
Fast forward twelve years: I thought that getting rid of the levels was to put the focus onto formative assessment. Not how you move from level 3 to 4, but how you really improve that individual piece of work or your knowledge about what is going on in a chemical reaction. That ray diagram you have drawn about refraction, do you really understand it? Can you identify the normal? Can you measure the angles? Can you explain how and why the ray bends? 
I have seem some projects and work (in primary) that are putting the focus on formative assessment. Using examples of real work as tracking and as a starting discussion for developing the teaching and learning of science within the school. 
But, others it seems have to track EVERYTHING. Is it reasonable to know if a child in year 7 got mixed up between a chloroplast and the cytoplasm. If in year 8 they wrote oxide instead of oxygen? Does this information really help? Is it useful? If a child did know the difference between exothermic and endothermic reactions in year 8, will they still know it in year 10 anyway? What am I really going to do with all the data that tracking every learning intention will generate?
Would we be better off keeping the actual work rather than transferring it to a spreadsheet? Would that tell us more, with no extra work?

Friday, 6 November 2015

In a GCSE curriculum change spiral of despair

I am so pleased that I decided (all three science subjects decided) to stay with the same A-level examination board. There are subtle differences in the content and I have at the back of my mind that I have to do a decent job of the core practicals in order to help the students gather enough knowledge to access the questions in the exam paper that will be around practical work. I have actually embraced the chance to reflect on my A-level teaching and think carefully about how my lessons and schemes support the students I teach and what I can be doing differently. I am including more technology and making more of an effort to investigate different practicals and demonstrations that I might include in my lessons.

However, the department are also working through our key stage 3 changes. Some of it we love. Some of it we find lacking (the homework) and some of it needs a bigger solution (the end of topic assessments). We really need time to discuss the changes, divide up the work, upload what we have created independently to the platform and make notes for the schemes of work to stop us from making the same mistakes next year. But we don't have that many opportunities to do any of that because we're working on year 12 now.

We also teach Year 6. Luckily, I have bought an excellent scheme of work. But it is not perfect. Again, homework isn't great and I spend three hours per week preparing for one hour of lesson because I have to make presentations and often have to make equipment or set up my classroom to be ready. Teaching Year 6 needs a lot more thought with respect to classroom management/organisation that teaching year 11 does.

So adding yet another curriculum change to the mix is distressing me. I can't describe myself as feeling any other way.

When I was teaching the final year of the old key stage 3 and making resources I didn't feel I was wasting my time. I figured that key stage 3 is flexible so I might teach that content in that way again. When I was teaching the last year of the previous A-level specification and making resources I felt the same. But GCSE teaching is the majority of my timetable and even though I am teaching the final year of a specification I am still making resources. Resources that will be unusable in their current form in the new specifications. Resources that are very specific to lesson P3f (for example) of the Gateway specification.

Why am I making resources? I am making them because the students now have iPads and I feel that I need to embrace the new technology we have to ensure that the girls are using them and their parents investment is not wasted. I am making them because (in the case of video) it genuinely does improve the educational experience of the girls. But I know I am putting effort in for the students I teach now that is not going to be laying a foundation for the future.

So this time next year I will have an even greater amount of work than I would have if there had been no new curriculum changes. Not only will I still be trying to perfect the key stage 3 and 2 schemes, and ensure we have key stage 5 schemes that prepare the students for the longer more integrated terminal examinations I will also be starting from scratch on a totally unknown GCSE where I will be able to use very few of the resources that I have spent the last 10 years developing without some level of adaptation. Add to that the uncertainty of how practical skills will be assessed and what the grading 1-9.

Understandably within school we are grappling with the best procedures and timings to deal with all the changes. The changes that not only impact science. If the drama performances or geography field trips have to change then what impact does that have on the time pressures on students and my teaching time in science? If examinations are longer, how does that impact our mock examination weeks and internal assessments? How do we change our reporting at key stage 3 and 4 to reflect the new GCSE changes? The options booklets and curriculum descriptions all have to be changed, the parental handbooks regarding revision and coursework have to be updated (twice, once saying this is provisional and again when the changes are confirmed). Etc etc, all little things that add up to a lot of administration work we need to do.

Not having a settled school environment and knowing this is going to be the case until at least 2018 is filling me with dread. I was told when I started teaching that after six years of teaching I would have my resources and be able to get a decent work life balance. I would not be working until 1am just to keep my head above water.

To have every aspect of my working life affected by the shear volume of change being created by the previous and current government is distressing enough, but knowing that it we are not being given a decent length of time makes me extremely angry. Knowing that the Science GCSE specifications will not be ready until February, 6 months after some people have started teaching it is unacceptable. For me is a yet another straw. When will the camel's back break?

I am overwhelmed by the changes, by the swirling mess of knowing that everything I am doing, every aspect of my working life is on shifting sands and there is no end in sight.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Nurture 14/15 Update.

1. Writing with purpose
My blog needs more attention and direction. I would like it to show what I feel and my vision and I don’t believe that it does. I have strong feelings about things and I want to be able to describe them in a rational way. 

When I go to my blog, one word stands out: "draft". I have written a lot of posts about education. But most have been too angry to publish. Nothing that is really constructive and adds to the educational landscape. However, we now have curriculum change and a reason for me to write about the things that I am doing (particularly post-16) and share the progress of the things that I put in place. After Christmas I hope to look more at GCSE. 

2. At home
We only have one plan for the this year - getting Richard qualified and ready for Paris-Brest-Paris in the summer. It really is the culmination of ten years of cycling so that he is ready for this challenge. My main hope is that some of his colleagues recognise the achievement, it will mean so much to him. I doubt it though. We did say that we would take Richard’s daughter to Oxford to see the city and to go to the Imperial War Museum as we haven’t been for a while. When Richard is out cycling I want to work on things around the house and get over my fear of gardening. 

Richard has qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris. I haven't got over my fear of gardening. The over growth is winning every battle. I really want to let it win the war. However, in the house I am doing better. The recycling pile is increasing and I am being ruthless. We did take my step-daughter to Oxford, it's a really lovely place. A trip to London is planned for the summer. 

3. Bringing a conference/an event to Westonbirt
The head has seen me help organise activities outside of school and has invited me to replicate this in school. We certainly have the space. I need to think about this in order to bring together something valuable. It is a real compliment to be trusted with this. 

Still in the planning stage. 

4. More curriculum change
The next task at school is to embed the changes to KS3 and do more to look forward to the changes at KS5. I think that the department will need some help to develop the idea of a lab book as will the students. The changes at GCSE concern me greatly, I don’t think that the specifications will be ready towards the end of 2015, again giving teachers and publishers less and less time to prepare a good scheme of work. 

I am really pleased with how well Year 7 have done this year with the new scheme of work we have. We're teaching less in Year 7 than we used to and I think this really helped them. I worked hard on revision with them and as a result the test results were extremely high. 
I am teaching them as Year 8 in September, so I can continue to work on the new schemes. All of the curriculum change is a work in progress otherwise. 

5. What is next?
I love my school and working there. But I also feel the pull of a new challenge. I don’t know what that is yet and I fully expect to see myself working at Westonbirt in a year’s time, partly because I want to see through the curriculum changes and develop my use of 1-2-1 devices in the classroom and partly because it is a fabulous school and I believe in what we do. But I need to prepare myself for what is next. Would I get an assistant head position from where I am? Do I want one or do I want to stay more closely tied to science education? Would being an assistant head affect that? Am I good enough? Do I want to stay as a teacher?
But I also think that to look to the future I also need to consolidate. Think about what we/I/the department do really well and make the most of those things. Ensure they stand out as excellent and don't get lost amongst all the change. 

I have spent some time this year talking to my colleagues in other departments. I think that it is important to understand the pressure and commitments of other subjects if I am going to have whole school responsibility in the future. However, I am still really enjoying thinking about my own subject and working with my team. I want to work on the current set of curriculum changes and I am enjoying working on the 1-2-1 iPad scheme. I also enjoy being able to tap into the expertise within the ASE, the professional learning conference reaffirmed it's usefulness to me last week. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

ASE Professional Learning Conference 2015

Back in January Joanna Conn, chair of NAIGS (which is the advisor and consultant subgroup of the ASE) suggested that anyone with an interest in teacher CPD should attend the NAIGs/ATSE (science ITT tutors group of ASE) conference in the summer. The date was set for after I finished my term, and I do organise conferences and have an interest in teacher CPD as part of what I do in my own department, on twitter and where my career might go, so I thought that I would go.

The first session was by Prof Shirley Simon, entitled 'CPD, what does it really mean?' This was definitely my favourite talk of the two days and the one I took the most away from. Prof Simon was obviously an expert, her talk was pitched very well for me though. It was understandable, yet also thought-provoking. (I was very glad she delayed her holiday a few hours to give us her time).

She said that moving from 'surviving in the classroom' to 'teaching for learning' (I love this phrase) was a life time's work. I have to agree. Even now, 11 years in there are occasions where my lessons are about getting through the hour and hoping the students have a positive experience, rather than knowing what I am going to do will be valuable and result in progress. I suppose the positive I take away from that is that I do know the difference. I always get the impression others are planned and perfect all the time, but I have a way to go until I am organised enough to be brilliantly prepared for every single lesson I teach.

Prof Simon said that for valuable PD it was important to learn from outcomes, that collaborative learning was important as well as critical reflection, and teachers need time to change. To support teachers in this they need relevant classroom activities, accessible strategies and the opportunity to reflect.

At the time I was struck. I should know these things, I do know them. I suppose it is just the right time in my career to hear them? I am thinking about moving to senior leadership, but more on the curriculum, procedural side (time tables, exams, policies, that sort of thing), but on hearing this I decided that despite my lesson than perfect performance in the classroom perhaps I would have something to give a teaching and learning role.

Is what we do in schools transformational to the way that teachers develop their teaching? I don't think it is. When I consider the way that CPD has been delivered in schools I have worked in over the past 11 years of my career I feel that it is far from being transformational and collaborative.

Prof Simon went on to describe some of the projects she is involved in, listening to the way that she works with teachers, schools and other organisations was very interesting. It made me hope that one day I can work more closely with a university researcher to improve my practice. Her analysis of why the work she was doing had more impact on some teachers than others was interesting too, again going back to reflection and collaboration.

Next was a session by Paul Clark who examines international qualifications for Edexcel. He went through examples of exam questions that require students to have done the practical. I am more confident that students who have done the practical work and learned from it and about it, will have a greater advantage than those who haven't in the new qualifications. It also made me acutely aware we need to discuss practical skill development with Year 9 students when we start in September. I would also advise any reader to have a look at the examiner reports of international qualifications.

I wrote the following questions at the end of the session.

  • can students apply their theory in context?
  • do students know how to use pieces of equipment appropriately?
  • do students understand practical concepts or are they learning them by rote?
  • just because a student has an A, do we assume they have a good grasp of all topics?
The next session I went to was excellent. It did assume more knowledge of how to deliver good practical work than I really have, so the conversation went slightly too quickly for me to make good notes in places. Prof Paul Black and Prof Jonathan Osborne both spoke about the importance of practical work. 

One set of statistics that I wrote down, and I hopefully remember the context correctly was also about the importance of practical work in increasing understanding. Prof Paul Black said that in a study involving three groups of students one group was given a list of equipment during their learning, another pictures of the equipment and the third group was given the actual pieces of equipment. In the assessment of the work those that were given the list 15% got top grades and 72% got the bottom grades, the group that got the pictures 32% got top grades and 54% got the bottom grades, and as you can guess those that were able to use the equipment 48% got top grades and 33% got the bottom grades. That sold the importance of practical work for me.

Jonathan Osborne spoke about the obsession there is about practical work, and that it is only a small piece of what we do in science education. He talked about the importance of the practical coming from what we do before and after it. He refuted that practical work itself was motivational, but that the motivation came from answering a question. His talk was compelling and makes me need to go back to the work of Abraham and Millar on good practical work. Jonathan Osborne's article in SSR is also worth a read if you are an ASE member or know one. 

The final session of the day was from Tony Sherborne. I love hearing from Tony, everything he does is so considered and rooted in theory. He talked about a mastery curriculum as he is working with AQA to develop this idea at key stage 3. He talked about assessing students before teaching the topic so we know who needs extending and who needs intervention and we can do something about it. He talked about ensuring that students get the support they need. This is something that has been going around my mind for some weeks now (after doing the future learn AfL MOOC) but I don't really have a practical way that I can accomplish it - yet. Some of the advisors in the room were slightly more sceptical than I. I saw mastery statements, that helped breakdown the key stage 3 curriculum into steps that we can use to help students achieve this mastery then move onto excellence. 

In the evening we had a great conference dinner. The social aspect really helping to make the conference something special. It was time for reflection and to meet people that I only know virtually. It was also great to be able to talk to Liz Coppard and Stuart Naylor about the day and get that opportunity to reflect. Stuart is a real joy to speak to, everything he talks about is backed up with examples and rooted in his vast understanding of classroom practice. He asks challenging questions in very non-challenging ways. Through my interactions with him I have learned a lot over the past few years. I also have to mention Liz Lawrence, Andrea Mappleback, Briony (PriSciGeeks), Chris Harrison and Pete Robinson, who were brilliant company too. 

The second day started with a presentation by Sir Andrew Carter of the Carter review. A very charismatic man, with a lot of positive things to say. However, I do believe after that presentation that he is not the person to be able to sort out the recruitment crisis in education and that power hungry heads should not have to have been given power over ITT routes in order to make schools pay better attention to the quality of teachers on entry to the profession. The whole thing made me worry about teachers.

I then went to a session by OCR about the new practical endorsement. OCR are officially my new favourite exam board. I took away that I really need to get my head around the practical endorsement, lab books, teaching and recording. But that there is a lot of work being done by exam boards - especially OCR, so we are not alone. More importantly we can be positive about practical.

If you get the opportunity to hear Brain Cartwright speak then take it. I know others who have been invited for biscuits at ofsted feel that there are good people in the organisation and I feel that Brain is one of them. 

He outlined what inspectors do when they come to a primary or secondary school to look at science and why they might do that. (The data from the school shows there is something going on in science that is different from the rest of the school). And that he is looking for evidence that the students are being taught the national curriculum, including working scientifically. He does this by looking at the work the students produce, visiting lessons and by talking to students. He also looks that schools are following the best health and safety advice. A lot of new schools are not part of CLEAPSS and as a result do not always get it right. Ask yourself, have you read maintaining curiosity and have you read the purpose of study section of the national curriculum documents? This is what ofsted are looking at. Brian's presentation was hopeful. The issue over grading lessons was wiped from my mind, he didn't mention about looking for progress in the lessons he visits, he talked more about looking for evidence of the type of experiences the students have and the the outcomes for the students, including them speaking confidently, being proud of their work and enjoying science. 

After an amazing lunch. I heard Alan Edminston talk about the update that is being given to the CASE materials. He told us that CASE is very popular still and that a few years ago a very small charity was set up to try and update the resources. The charity have now been given money from EEF  to work on let's think secondary science. I was very alarmed and interested to see the comparison (and apologies if you are not familiar with CASE as this will make little sense) between the results from the volume/density CASE test II from the students in the 1970s and the students involved in the new study. The results show a drop in the cognitive ability of our modern students. Alan's hypothesis for this was that young people don't explore the world in the same way anymore. However, we await the outcomes of the trail, which are due in the winter of 2016. 

The final session was on the SAILS project. It's about assessing inquiry learning in science. I remember sitting through the presentations by both science teachers involved and hearing their enthusiasm and wondering if that was really coming from working as part of a project that forced them to reflect and collaborate (bringing me back to Prof Simon's initial talk). The open endedness of the inquiry that the teachers had allowed the students was inspiring though. Every teacher should be working with a researcher on something, it would help all of us to continually improve. 

As the session was being lead by Dr Christine Harrison I suspected that there would be an element of participation. She asked us to come up with questions that we might ask the students at each part of an investigation. I was absolutely thrilled (and tongue tied) when Prof Paul Black complimented one of the questions I came up with! The reflection on what questions I can ask during scientific inquiry was very useful. How much time is spent telling the children what to do rather than eliciting their ideas about why they have done what they have done. Something to consider for the future. 

Then I grabbed a taxi back to London and had some food and great conversation with Andrea Mapplebeck. So useful to be able to talk to others about CPD. I know that Science learning centres have evidence that two people from the same school going on a course has a greater impact on return than just one, so being able to talk to another colleague and friend about the experience of the conference was very valuable. 

Jo and Caro (Chair's of NAIGs and ATSE) did a great job of putting together a strong conference that helped me to reflect on my role in helping the rest of the department (and myself) continue to improve. I am beyond the point now where I need to be told what I should be doing in the classroom. I am at the point where I need help to ensure that I implement it. My continued engagement with the people of ASE and the conversations it allows me to have with people who support and challenge me.

If you are a head of faculty and are research engaged, then I do suggest you look to try and attend the professional learning conference and engage with ASE.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Do the DfE care?

After the department for education posted ANOTHER dreadful version of the GCSE science subject content I am left feeling even more bereft than previously.

Do they care about what we teach? Does anyone there understand anything about science? Does anyone there have the passion to get science education in England 'right'? 

At the moment it really doesn't feel like that. 

Let's face it they have made too many changes in too short a time frame and teachers are left pushing round pegs into square holes and hoping ofsted don't notice. But even if the curriculum that has been decided on is quite a distance from perfect it is a massive insult that they couldn't even get the science in it right. 

More care and attention required.