Saturday, 21 July 2012

Diptic and Instagram

It isn't directly related to teaching science, but I am pretty excited by these two services.

Diptic allows me to put several photographs together in one place.

First I chose a layout:

Then I select two photographs. This can be from the iPhone, from Flickr or from Facebook. I don't use flickr, I use Picasa instead as this blog links to it, but I do use Facebook.

Then it is possible to move the borders, adjust brightness, contrast etc and also add filters for various effects.

I can then export to the social media application of choice:

I am using Instagram to save my beautiful pictures.

Once uploaded to Instagram I have more filter options should I choose them.

And I share my image with the world. Or at least those people who follow me.

I am not a great photographer, but between these two services I can make my photographs beautiful.

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Using photos to give a lesson a context

@TESscience is collecting photos for his pinterest board. Details Here.

I think this will be a great resource for helping to put some contexts into science lessons and I can't wait to start collecting photos to add.

Things like:



Endangered species

I will be keeping my camera close!

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Do we do AfL correctly?

In this article in TES: Dylan William says that he believed AfL is not done correctly in England's schools. This because in 2008 the government confused AfL with trying to give grades.

From the article

"How it should be

Dylan Wiliam's key Assessment for Learning strategies:

Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions.

Eliciting evidence of pupil learning, through the use of tests and quizzes, for example.

Providing feedback that moves learning forward.

Using pupils as learning resources for one another, through methods such as peer assessment and peer tutoring.

Encouraging pupils to be owners of their own learning, through self-assessment and other methods."

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Evidence Based Practice

In his book Geoff Petty describes evidence based practice as needing the following:

1. You need all the evidence to make a sound decision
2. It is not enough to know what works, you need to understand why
3. You need to find the critical success factors that are failing in your teaching context and fix these
4. You need to review your teaching constantly in the light of the evidence from the points above

Evidence based teaching, does not show you what you should do; it shows you how best to achieve your own values priorities and goals. Evidence based professional development should give teachers control over initiatives to improve learning.

I find these points very useful to hear.

I have been searching in books for most of my career for a magic pill to make all my students behave beautifully and learn vast quantities every lesson. Moreover, from the beginning of my teaching career senior management have been pushing one way of doing things across the school. Geoff Petty seems to be advocating that one size fits all pedagogy is not necessarily the best thing and that it isn't important to take on all different approaches, but rather the approaches and techniques that work best for me.

It is interesting to me that in recent years the schools I am aware of take a more personalised approach to CPD, asking teachers to work on their own project for improving practice in someway. However, none of the schools I know of use the idea of evidence based teaching to justify this.

In my current role I will have more input into my own practice and look forward to developing my own teaching in an evidence-based way.

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,,United Kingdom

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Underground - a theme for year 6 science term 1

I am teaching science to year 6 for the first time ever. I have observed year 6 twice, once before my PGCE in Sepember 2002, and once during my work experience in November 1995.

The pressure is high because we want to make a good impression on these students.

Here are my initial thoughts. I want to start with questions so that I can incorporate the "scientific method" and help the students take an investigative approach to learning in their science lessons. It should also help me be more creative and not worry that the students should cover "habitats" etc.

I would prefer the science blends nicely to the theme rather than feel forced. Can I achieve this?

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Location:Tetbury, UK.

A teacher's library - how much is excessive?

Am I alone in having a massive library of teaching books? I doubt it.

This is the shelf that has most of my pedagogy based ones, and some of the journals I have.

But I also have a lot of textbooks. Most of them bought with my own money.

I haven't photographed my folders of schemes of work. They fill shelves at school and crates at home.

Is there a better way?

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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Bristol Dinosaur Project

Today I went to a training day organised by the south west STEM ambassador organiser Katy Glazer. It was about the Bristol Dinosaur Project.

We met at Aust, under the Severn Suspension Bridge to look for fossils. There are no ammonites, but you can clearly see shells in the limestone and can also find fossils of teeth and bones if you look carefully enough.

I have never been very good at spotting fossils, but it was really easy to find them. I can see why youngsters would love coming down here.

Apart from the fossils the cliff is interesting. At the base you can see the white gypsum, the mudstone and at the top the limestone.

In the photo above you can see the slip that has caused the discontinuation in the layers.

I can't wait to go back and take my family! The Bristol Dinosaur Project will organise for groups of students to go to Aust and have some money to support with transport, although can't manage a whole year group at a time.

After lunch we looked round the new labs of the Earth Science Department. Very swish! All paid for by the Bristol Dinosaur Project. Link:

Pedro, showed us the equipment. In one room we saw buckets containing acid that was helping to remove the rocks from the fossils. This is a picture of the equipment that contains a tiny pneumatic drill that can be used to remove rock from fossils. They have come a long way from a chisel and hammer as this damages the fossils.

The passion for fossils was evident. Pedro has used old maps to find quarries so he can collect more rocks that contain fossils.

He maximises the chance that the rocks have fossils by choosing those that were formed in caves. This is because a flood will kill and wash a large selection of the plants and animals that were alive at that time into the cave. This then gives and idea of the whole ecosystem at the time, so palaeobiologists can find out a lot more about the time.

It is possible to spot the caves in the rock because the rocks formed are not as ordered as those around it.

At the end of the day Ed Drewitt talked to us about the ways that schools can engage with the project:

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Location:Aust, UK

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Controlled Assessment OCR B, a description.

I really dislike the new controlled assessment. Here is a description of how it works.

Part 1: research.

The students get several questions they have to research and write up in class. This is under low control.

My main issue here is students who are absent: they don't get the questions, they don't do the work. So when the group meet the write up the questions what do you do? You can supply the students with some sources... So why get them to research at all? Why don't the exam board supply the students with a comprehension activity in the exam?

The worse bit about this part is that part 3 relies on the students collecting data in the research in some of the tasks, but the paper work does not make this explicit to the student. As a teacher we have to tell the students to do this. In the piece of controlled assessment we have just done with year 10 for additional science the questions to research do not lead the students to the information they need for section 3 at all. Should we tell them what to look up and write, or stop the students from reaching the top marks in another part even if they are an exceptional student?

Part 2: planning and carrying out the investigation

In core science the students are given a hypothesis to investigate, in additional science they have to make up their own. They are able to work in groups to plan and carry out their investigations, but must write their own procedure and results tables.

I can give the students generic, non-specific advice, but not a writing frame... I don't understand the difference? So what am I allowed to give them? A list? I am supposed to have trained them, but there are so many more steps than previously and the students get confused.

This part is completed under low control. The students can work in groups and discuss their work. This has advantages, as you would hope that between them they can work out what to do. A mixed ability class maybe advantageous at this stage.

The students have to
A) write a list of equipment, with justifications for sensitivity for higher marks
B) write abut fair testing
C) write a method that can be followed by someone else, and detailed
D) write about repeats, how many and why using the word repeatability
E) write about reducing errors, in detail for higher marks
F) identify and describe the dependent and independent variables
G) state the values for the independent variable, for higher marks they need to be appropriate
H) a description of variables that cannot be controlled
I) write about modifications made to the plan during the carrying out phase.
J) few spelling or grammar mistakes

To be fair, I can give them the generic mark scheme. But it is actually quite difficult for some students to understand and follow.

Before the students can do the experiment they also have to complete a risk assessment. This is something that the students should be able to get six marks for... If they remember to do it and some don't.

Practical Activity:

The practical activity should last between one and two lessons according the the guidance given by OCR. On completing a chemistry controlled assessment we found it took A LOT longer. Particularly for lower ability students who struggle with doing more than one experiment at once. If you are measuring a rate of reaction over ten minutes and have to do five values and 3 repeats then the experiments will take 150 minutes without considering the set up and packing away.

Remember that we can only give generic, non-specific advice. So as a teacher I can't tell my students to do two repeats and if they agree not to do the third, I have to let them get on. Of course I could probably ask "how long will this take you? Do you think this is OK?" But this would rely on another student in the class realising.

The students are also marked on the quality of their table. I find that students forget the units or use the wrong number of decimal places and end up getting low marks for this section when they don't need to. This despite giving the "generic, non-specific" advice to ensure "you use the correct units and appropriate number of decimal places".

It is really important here that the teacher does check that the students can obtain useful results. How they do in parts 1 and 2 dramatically affect how they can do in part 3.

It is possible to give students the results of others and the plan of others, but not one written by the teacher. This is because the board wants to ensure the practical activity occurs. They were finding schools who were using the fall-back data with all students instead of doing any practical.

Part 3: interpreting and analysing

This is completed under "high control": test conditions. It is a 3 sided test paper with 6 questions.

The first asks the students to draw a graph. The second question is about analysing the graph and drawing conclusions. It is poorly worded, but by using the phrases with classes, I would hope to train them in the meaning. However, this would take time. The current year 10 are not properly prepared.

The third questions relies dramatically on the students ability to collect good research in part 1. It asks students to compare their results to secondary data. This is an area the students really struggle to manage. They tend to compare superficial things instead of whether the conclusions say the same thing.

The fourth question ask the students to evaluate the experiment. The students have to do this in three sections: the data, the experimental techniques and the risks. Miss one section and the marks available are limited. It is at this point that the students have to use the terminology correctly.

Then the students have to describe how well the their data and conclusion matches the hypothesis, either their own (in the case of additional science) or the one provided (in the case of core science). Again this relies on how well they have done in part 2 for additional science. If they are unable to write a good hypothesis, then the marks in this section would be weak.

The last questions is more particular to the topic of that controlled assessment item. It will ask the students to relate the experiment to scientific ideas. They have to use their own thinking skills here.

In part 3 there are marks in four sections.
1) processing data - which involves drawing the graph and also requires the students to process data in two ways, e.g an average and working out a rate or drawing error bars.
2) analysing and interpreting - identifying trends and relating what they found to secondary data, ie their research.
3) evaluating - the data, the experiment and the risks. If they fail to do one of the three the students lose marks.
4) justifying a conclusion - here the students have to related the conclusion to the hypothesis and decide how well the experimental results back up the hypothesis. They also have to show an understanding of the underpinning science.

All these things sound reasonable, but the level of understanding required by the students seems to be equivalent of what I would expect of A-level.

My students and I are finding these tasks so very difficult, time consuming and are putting us all off GCSE science.

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Climbing the pole

I have just started working at a school that is small (260 pupils). It is refreshing. No one has personal ambitions for greatness, they just want to make the school better. No one uses the words "inspirational" or "outstanding" unless it means something. No one shows off and their isn't any competition between the staff. No one is singled out as the worst, no one is held up as flavour of the month.

While I will acknowledge that there could be an issue with a potential lack of ambition or lack of sharing of practice, I don't feel that we have that. It is just that these things are organic rather than forced by the management, it reflects the needs of the teacher and not any external pressures. Our school is focused on the individual needs of the students.

Does providing an internal ethos of competition between staff, and an eagerness to impress those at the top in the hope of getting a promotion, really help improve the school?

I have seen another way, and I like it.

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Location:Bowldown Rd,,United Kingdom

Sunday, 1 July 2012

York Tweet Up (August)

I can't express how excited I am to have an excuse to go to York and also to meet up with some wonderful twitter people. People who are enthusiastic about science teaching and always want to improve.

We are going to meet and share ideas in a teachmeet style session. I wanted to contribute, but couldn't really think of what to do. However, it came to me in a flash: I have to talk about how much I love the segue course.

I have booked my hotel from 20th-23rd August, allowing us to visit the National Railway Museum and Viking museum too.

I can't wait.

Anyone else who would like to come should contact @missmolecules via twitter.

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"Bad Science" from Science in School Journal

I promised myself that I would try more activities and ideas inspired by articles from the science in school, school science review and physics education journal.

The first of those was an activity made for the classroom and in issue 22 of science in schools. The purpose for choosing the article is explained in a previous blog post: I want to improve the ability of the students to analyse information and interpret data.

I suspected from the previous lesson that my group would have difficulty with written information and using their general knowledge and imagination to solve the problems, so I wanted to structure the task as much as possible.

We started by looking at three locations and discussing the differences between them. I was impressed that after a few prompts the ideas started to flow. The difficulty came in "nomilisation"; the students were unable to express their ideas in single words and were grasping for expressions for things like "standard of living" and "climate".

Coming up with a plan of how to study whether eating more olive oil affected the amount of wrinkles someone has proved difficult. There were ideas about letting some people eat olive oil, but time frames were too short and the practical implications of monitoring someone's diet were not considered. It was very difficult for the group to imagine the idea of a study of this sort.

After we discussed how to study the effect of eating olive oil on wrinkles I gave the group a summary of the information of a real study. The students had to analyse the information and produce a newspaper report that was 50 words long.

Again this was a difficult task. The important information was tricky to pick out and the students struggled to relate the news paper article they were to write to olive oil once they had seen other pieces of information in the article.

However, I was pleased in the end that the students were able to answer the plenary question well. It was "would you stop eating butter if there was a headline saying it caused cancer?" The students were able to give lots of insight about how they needed to know figures before they could make an informed decision. Which shows progress.

This activity is worthwhile and I would suggest it for a level 5 and above group. More structure and support would be needed for students below this level. I have one more attempt next week.

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