Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Changes to Physics NC 1999 to 2014

Electricity and Magnetism 

I think that the new national curriculum does show an increased ambition for students. 

There is specific reference to potential difference and resistance as well as V=IR in the new curriculum. However, I imagine that most schools are similar to the ones I have worked in and teach potential difference as part of key stage 3, and the concept of resistance as something that opposes the current flowing. The extra activity will involve the students calculating resistance. We have fixed resistors with small values, that will be useful for this type of activity. 

Static electricity is new, but I don't think that this will take a lot of time to teach. Students are familiar with static electricity and the national curriculum doesn't expect them to understand earthing as a concept. If students have studied magnetism previously then the idea of 'opposites attract' should sit comfortably. They may also be aware of electrons as a concept from current electricity, if this has been introduced. 

Magnetism has been increased to include compasses, but these are usually part of schemes anyway, so won't be a departure. Including the motor as an application of electromagnetism is a bit different and will require adaptation of resources, but I don't believe that it will require more of a challenge than teaching the door bell or speaker. 

Forces and Motion

Looking at each section in turn, using the speed = distance / time equation isn't new, although distance-time graphs seem to be, they are currently taught at key stage 3. The new section seems to be relative motion. 

In the forces section, there aren't many areas that are not currently taught, except perhaps work done and energy changes on deformation. I am interested to know what this should look like, and whether it should be approached in the forces topic, energy topic or both.

We already teach Hooke's Law in Year 7, but it is more about developing the ability to draw a line of best fit and interpolate from a graph than about recognising when a material obeys Hooke's Law. Air resistance is taught in Year 9. Most schemes of work I have taught have also covered the difference between contact and non-contact forces, so schools may already have resources to cover these curriculum points. 

Pressure in liquids is not explicit in the 1999 curriculum, but this is taught in schools, so again should not be a stretch to develop lessons for.


The obvious addition is the mention of waves in water. As we use water waves to teach about light, I can see that this can be added into light topics. In the QCA schemes light came before sound, but teaching sound first, then light and water and finally being able to compare the three would be useful. That water waves are light light and transverse, but also like sound in that they need a medium to travel in. 

I have never taught the pin hole camera before (although I have made and used a 'real' one in an extra curricular activity run by one of the technology teachers), it is part of some schemes however. 

The human eye is something that I have not taught at key stage 3 before. As I write this I am wondering what level of detail I will go into about how the eye works; will I mention long and short sightedness for example?

The word frequency appears in the new national curriculum. I don't usually ensure that students understand that different colours have different frequencies. I think this is because I don't usually teach light as a wave, I teach more about the properties of light and what it does. Teaching that light is a wave introduces some new questions for the learner - what is it that is vibrating? Light doesn't wiggle, it is a straight line.  

Space Physics

This is the area where information seems to have been stripped out. Satellites haven't been included. 

Although the seasons and day length were not included in 1999, but were taught in the QCA schemes, and I also think I have seen SATs questions about day length and the movement of of the sun across the sky. I note that the planets are not explicit in either curriculum. 


Energy is the bit that needs work. I am not entirely sure how I will include 'simple machines'. Physics for you will help, I hope. I am also undecided of how to approach kWh as a unit of energy. 

The issue with physics is that we need to teach transfer instead of teaching transformation. Reading work by Robin Millar is a good place to start. e.g.  and

Teaching food energy, energy resources, and heating and cooling is something covered in previous schemes of work. It is interesting that convection is not explicit in the new national curriculum. I think that it is something worth teaching to recap the idea of density and prepare students for GCSE, where it will be necessary to help understanding of how insulation works. 

Power is an interesting addition. I know the OUP scheme from the early 2000s covered it, so there are resources available. 


The new addition is the reference to matter. 

It will be interesting to see the ways that schools and publishers approach this. I would prefer to teach the particle model in Year 7 chemistry and then use physics contexts to revisit the ideas. In that way we will cover the concepts written in the national curriculum, without needing to add another topic that recaps the ideas already taught in chemistry. 

For example, Brownian motion will be taught in air pressure, change of state will be taught as part of the heat energy topic as well as the changes to the spacing of particles as temperature changes. Density will be taught in floating and sinking, etc etc. 

Hopefully these observations will help someone. I will try and do the same things for biology and chemistry. 

Friday, 30 May 2014

My Ideal Scheme of Work (1) Giving it Purpose

It is not a secret that I love the Segue schemes of work. My ideal schemes of work would be built on the some of the same principles from the Cracking Science manifesto of Tony Sherborne.

Please see:

Through experience I agree with the idea of having big ideas as themes through schemes of work; adding to the ideas of the students, nudging and supporting them in building their ideas about science. I want to go back to the 'Principles and Big Ideas of Science Education' document on the ASE website to work out what those big ideas are. I was not always confident that the 5 big ideas of the old key stage 3 strategy are the best choices. However, I did always use them in my teaching, e.g. student study particles in Year 7, develop this in the Solutions topic, recover the basics again in the sound and heating topics in Year 8 and again in the pressure topic of Year 9. This only scratches the surface, the ideas interweave throughout science and this revisiting of the ideas can only help students to remember and understand ideas about science.

Using these key ideas it is possible to help students make links between the concrete knowledge of the student to abstract ideas, allowing them to use what they know to explain things they don't. As real scientists do.

In the cracking science manifesto, Tony Sherbone mentions the term 'backwards design'. It is something that I am familiar with. When working with a team in London in February we outlined what we want from key stage 3. We need to work back from this to ensure that the opportunities for students to develop the skills (knowledge was only a small proportion) are part of the schemes.

Following this starting point, Ed Walsh (leaning heavily on the work of Robin Millar) has convinced me that having a 'working scientifically' objective alongside the content objective is the best way to teach the skills and knowledge that students need from science education. This is what the upd8 schemes have.

I also agree that the teacher has to motivate the learners. In science this is important to inspire the next generation of scientists.

  • We have achieved Motivation To Learn when students find meaning and purpose in science. Unfortunately, it is clear from research into students' attitudes (as well as low uptake of science subjects) that too many view science as 'important, but not for me'.
Emotionally engaging the student in the learning journey, either by helping them overcome a challenge or through relevant activities and contexts. I like the question asked 'why should I care?' Actually, "because it will help you get GCSEs in the future and this is a compulsory subject" isn't helpful, because we have to do more, we have to help students to see that science is an important part of their lives, because it is!

I like the 5/7E lesson cycle, I believe that it has the potential to engage students both intellectually and emotionally in their work. The idea of engaging students with a question in context helps students to engage in the lesson and give it purpose. Starting with an engaging problem also helps to give the end of the lesson clarity. The elaborate section is my favourite bit, the plenary of the lesson and it usually gives the chance to assess the student formatively and build their literacy skills.

I have written about it before. In my ideal world all my lessons would be structured this way, but it takes time to think about it especially when it also needs to be fitted to the GCSE curriculum. However, I don't see why my KS3 lessons can't have this structure, upd8 wikid and segue prove that it is possible.

The criticism of the wikid schemes was that the students got too wrapped up in the stories. In my ideal scheme of work I would try to make the 'story' more real. It may curb the excitement, but hopefully it will help students find out more about real science discoveries.

I also want to think about how new technology can change the way that students will learn. Our students will have an iPad each. (Or should have). Watching videos, researching using the web, working on collaborative documents, answering online quizzes, writing blogs, creating graphics, auras and videos should all be possible. Alongside developing future scientists and scientifically literate young people I have the added responsibility of helping students get to grips with ICT, and using it to help them learn. I want to develop a scheme of work that also makes the most of this new technology.

I want to develop a scheme of work that

a) starts with the end in mind,
b) interweaves the big ideas of science throughout, building a progression in understanding from concrete to abstract models in these areas
c) has learning objectives that reference working scientifically and knowledge for each lesson
d) is emotionally engaging for students by including a context and/or story for lessons or sets of lessons
e) is made up of lessons that are structured using the 5E lesson cycle
f) makes use of new technologies to support the learning of students and helps them develop ICT skills
g) most importantly helps students to see that science is relevant to their every day lives and is a subject worth following as it is for everyone. 

Key Stage 3 Planning

I have now done a bit of work on the new key stage 3 national curriculum and had time to think about the opportunities as well as the inconveniences it affords us. Having looked at the resources from a variety of publishers I am pleased with the move forward in some ways and wonder at the lack of movement in others.

I really like the idea of online resources and textbooks. I will admit that I don't yet know how useful they will be to 11-14 year olds, but I think as the technology develops for GCSE and A-level students I can see being able to interact and annotate an online textbook will be really useful. As I type this it feels like I will buy the kerboodle/OUP resources, this is because I am impressed with the online testing. I know other publishers intend to produce similar resources with the ability to support students in dispelling their misconceptions through online testing/resources. I look forward to seeing this at GCSE and A-Level.

Online resources have come a long way since samLearning. It is an exciting time.

However, I really can't see a great deal of progress in the schemes themselves. I haven't looked with forensic attention to detail, but with the exception of 'better teach science' by Hodder I don't see anything that catches my imagination.

The order of the information, the route through the sub-topics, seems to be very similar to previous schemes. The ideas, activities, contexts, and investigations seem to be very similar to resources I already have in my possession.

(There are two possible reasons I can see for this: Science education is well researched and we know enough about the best order of teaching to be pretty confident we have it right and it doesn't need to be changed or we lack the creative skill and motivation to come up with anything new).

What does this mean for me? Well, my department is going to invest in a new scheme, a one that includes all the online learning that I mentioned. We'll see how that goes. For me it is perfect timing as the girls have to come to school in September with an iPad alongside their pens and pencils etc. The timing is right to invest in this technology. Even if this were not the case our textbooks are out of print and looking very tired, so it is opportunity to change. (We give each student access to their own copy of a textbook, and this isn't something I am in a position to alter. I don't have the time to write my own set personally - one day?).

On a leadership level I feel I need to help my department continue to work on embedding the development of literacy, numeracy, ICT and working scientifically skills into their teaching. I believe that 'how science works' is the single most important thing I am teaching the young people in my school. This needs to be reflected in the changes we make at key stage 3. There is more to come in this area.

I have realised that rearranging everything isn't necessary. (I hear you Richard and Linda!) As I did with the draft curriculum I will point out the deviations from the QCA schemes of work and work on these areas. As I see it at the moment, genetics in biology and energy in physics are the areas that need most attention. (I am ignoring catalysts and ceramics in chemistry for now). The other areas get a nod in at least one of the old key stage 3 schemes I possess, although I think upd8 segue covers a section of the genetics part.

I won't get the scheme I want from this, but I might get something more workable than what we have at the moment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:John Street,Bath,United Kingdom

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Textbook

When reading the reports from the primary bloggers who went to the DfE and met Liz Truss a while back, I was not the only one who was struck by her attachment to the textbook. Then when she made a speech later referencing textbooks I felt I wanted to write a blog post about textbooks.

I am not against textbooks. However, I rarely use them. Throughout my career I have used them less and less. As I write this I have spent two days surrounded by the textbooks on offer for the new key stage 3 science scheme of work. I was hoping to look into them and find contexts, activities and ideas that would inspire the next, much improved, iteration of the schemes of work I have been using over the years. But I find them hopelessly lacking.

I wonder if Liz Truss is genuinely looking for a way to reduce teacher workload and see the textbook as a possible answer. She sees teachers making and copying worksheets and thinks 'why can't they just get students to work through a book?' I can understand that, but she's not in touch. 

Part of me wonders if it us teachers that should expect more?

I want to think about my key stage 3 and GCSE teaching separately from my A-level teaching. I do use textbooks more in my A-level teaching, and I do go into that later.

After some research I found a speech in December 2013 when she said:

Textbooks less popular in England
So it’s odd that almost uniquely in the developed world, in England, textbooks have fallen out of fashion. ....
And in science, across the world, on average 74% of teachers use textbooks as the basis of instruction for 14-year-olds [eighth grade].
In Korea, it’s 88%. Hong Kong - 87%. Malaysia - 83%. Chinese Taipei - 92%.
In England - it’s 8%.

I am still wondering who the 8% are (and how we know this).

She seems to associate not using a textbook with progressive education. I don't think I am particularly modern in the way that I teach. I spend a lot of time delivering information and handing out worksheets for the students to practice what they have learned,  ironically at A-level I do this by (illegally) photocopying pages from textbooks! (although I have bought some second hand copies of those books now, and I will come to A-level later). 

 She says that 

In that view, textbooks were - and are - seen as regimented, old-fashioned, as stifling creativity.
This is certainly not the reason I have reduced the amount of time I spend using textbooks. 

I can understand the sentiments she goes onto express in her speech. The usefulness of a textbook to accurately cover the key concepts and ideas (they aren't always accurate). She expressed that a textbook should structure knowledge and build on ideas as a student progresses through the book.

She highlights examples of textbooks that were used in the 70s and 80s. I used the Nuffield science textbooks when I was at school. We worked through the chemistry one from beginning to end, and it was possible to see that our teacher was certainly using the biology one, although not always that closely. Physics, however did not match the book in a way I could work out. I remember struggling to use it to revise from too. (Although I did OK!)

I believe that "Physics for You" is a fantastic book, and the first place I look when considering how to explain a topic in a clear succinct way. I have used both the GCSE and A-level versions of the book extensively throughout my career. It isn't a new book. 

Of course teachers should be using the best methods and materials in line with evidence and experience. But to have such a low rate of usage of a technology the rest of the world relies on should at the very least be questioned.
I can't disagree with this sentiment from Liz Truss. Who has it right? Does it make a difference? If there is a difference who is it to? A good textbook may help to reduce teacher planning time, this cannot be a bad thing. 

In her speech on April 10 2014 Liz Truss says just that: 

I’ve said before that there has been an ‘anti-textbook orthodoxy’ in this country. In TIMSS, an international study of maths and science teaching, an average of 75% of teachers in countries studied use textbooks as the basis of instruction for 10-year-olds.
In England - it’s 10%.
This doesn’t make sense to me: surely a well written and designed book or online course means that teachers can spend more time on subject knowledge development or working with children, rather than photocopying worksheets.
I am one of the 90% who don't use textbooks. All my students are assigned a textbook at the start of the Year. Key stage 3 get 'Scientifica' from Nelson Thornes. It seems you can buy it from amazon, but Nelson Thornes (OUP now) don't seem to have copies to sell (if I wanted them). They aren't what I want from a textbook. They do ask the students questions, but if you don't follow the scheme to the letter they aren't much use and the information can only be described as 'thin'. An amazon review describes the Year 7 book as "the book is looking exciting but it only is giving enough information if you have extra support from school. It does not give a clear overview of the subjects." 

At GCSE we give all the students a copy of the Collins OCR Gateway book. I don't use these in class either. They give the basics of what the students need, and on the whole are accurate, but they don't help the students understand or think for themselves. They don't help them make connections, and there are no where near enough activities. Their structure of dividing the information into low/medium/high demand is great for clarity on the students' working level, but I still prefer to give more succinct notes myself. The students who prefer not to make notes bring their revision guides to class and check what I write or present against what is written in the CGP guides. (I really don't like them either, but at £3.50, you can't argue with the cost).

At A-level my students don't use the book recommended by the exam board either:
Instead the girls have spent £37 each to buy advanced physics for you. The book gives clearer explanations, has many more worked examples, lot of simpler end of chapter questions and several examples of exam questions. And 'Advanced Physics for You' gives the answers! 

But, "Advanced Physics for You" does not have the information in the order for the specification I follow. Even "Advanced Physics for You" would benefit from even more example questions. Practice makes perfect. So I supplement the physics textbooks with more physics textbooks. I have the Collins book, the Heinman book, (I don't have Muncaster, but aim to get a copy), Calculations for A-level Physics, Practice in A-level Physics, Breithaupt etc etc. I can't afford to buy each of these books for all my students and to ask them to do it would cost a lot. 

So (forgive me) but I photocopy pages from these books as practice questions and activities for my students. This is what I want from my textbooks: questions and activities. This is what I don't get.

We chose to buy the red Edexcel book following the content-led approach and I do regret that. I have copies of the concept-led approach and find the resources, practical ideas, tasks and information much more informative. There is a lot to select from and this is something that I would prefer. The blue concept-led book is £5 more expensive than the red ones I have. 

So why not use books that do have lots of examples? 

One reason is cost. Physics for You (the GCSE version) is £21.99, the Collins book is £14.99, what would you choose if you had to buy 50 or 100 or more? (15 per classroom could be 155 copies, and that means 1 between 2, I worked with a geography teacher who couldn't believe we made students share in science - that is because we have 11 classes on at once, not 2).  Yes, there are ways you can get the cost down, only have the physics books in the classroom you teach physics, order textbook sets from the technician etc. 

Another reason is content. Exams require students to use technical terms in a specific way. Buying the book from the endorsed publisher means that book will contain those words in the right order as expected by the exam board. Shoot me, I am teaching to the test. 

I am afraid even though I consider the 'Physics for You' books as the best, they are simply not a viable option. (A personal reason for me is that we give the girls books and carrying a biology chemistry and physics book is too much for their bags, I hope that Nelson Thornes/OUP will consider an online-version 

Lastly, as a science as a science teacher I want a worksheet, especially when I am doing practical. An editable one that I can add details specific to my circumstance and equipment. My data loggers may need a greater level of explanation to allow the students to understand them. I might choose to give my class 50cm rulers instead of 1m rulers, I might want to use sulphuric acid instead of hydrochloric acid (although probably not!). I might want to give out a sheet so that I don't need to worry about a book taking up space in the working area. I might want my class to have photographs of the electrical equipment rather than a technical drawing. The platform on my microscopes may move instead of the lenses. I might not want my students to do the experiment in the book, they may have done it before in primary school, I might be pressed for time, I might want to develop a different skill so I need another activity.

My favourite ever textbook was Thinking Through Science Book 1.
As the name suggests there are thinking activities and it does exactly what Liz Truss suggests, building up the concepts and ideas. However, I have never had a class set or the teacher book. I still covet that. And, unfortunately book 2 and 3 were not of the same quality (although book 2 is still pretty good). I have (ah-hem) copied many of the activities from this book to use with my classes on worksheets because no school I have worked at ever had a class set. 

In a lot of ways I am glad that Liz Truss has challenged the publishers. She says that:
So for children, parents and teachers - a good textbook is far from restrictive.
It’s liberating.
 The issue is I haven't come across this liberating textbook (yet). I would love to see it. I would challenge Liz Truss to find me this book for less than £15 per student at KS3 and £20 at KS4.

Liz Truss talked about the possibility technology brings. I am exited by this. However, I think it will take me further from the textbook. (Another blog post I believe).

I find it ironic, that the most 'liberating' scheme of work I have used: Upd8 Segue is the most worksheet heavy (laminating, coloured worksheets, the works) scheme I use!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Pinterst Science Teacher

Here is a list of science teachers/educators using Pinterest that I can find. It isn't easy to find your twitter 'friends' on Pinterest, so this might help.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Bought Schemes of Work: I expect more

So, I am currently reviewing key stage 3 schemes of work. I have to say that I am not that impressed.

I am in a very fortunate position of not having to worry as much as someone who works in a state school about progress, evidence and monitoring. There isn't a half termly email demanding a progress report. My SLT use the grades we give in the reports we write as that evidence. (Which we do October, December, March and June).

This means that I am looking for a scheme of work with an engaging book, good support materials for the technicians and creative activities. I am really struggling to find it.

Making a poster, answering a 6 mark question (which I could have made up myself), closed question sheets, make a model, fill in the labels on the diagrams, create a presentation with ideas about X on slide 1 and Y on slide 2 etc. Questions like 'write down the names of 10 elements'. Worksheets that require students to write in boxes with no lines, (especially when they could be writing in their books and using the worksheet as a reference and saving paper).

I want more.

I want activities that inspire the students, I want contexts, I want a lesson where the activities tie together, I want lessons that build on the one before, I want something I could not do myself. Apart from the typesetting, I haven't seen this. I want links to real scientists, I want every day applications, I want data, I want examples of good and bad investigations and modelling of good practice when drawing graphs.

I don't want the students to know what onion cells look like before they look at them down the microscope, I don't want them to know acid and bicarbonate is going to fizz before they add them together. I don't want them to know a spring is going to obey Hooke's Law before they stretch it.

But I want something that a) needs more than a few months to put together and b) costs more than I am willing and able to pay.

The cheapest available course it is then.

Monday, 12 May 2014

It's different for girls?

Before I worked in a single sex school I was aware that there were issues getting girls into STEM subjects, and I was aware there were issues in the world where girls didn't get as good an education as boys. But it wasn't something on my agenda. I am female, yet I did STEM subjects, I wasn't put off by being the only girl in my physics class and surely charities will work with those countries where girls don't get an education and help them. I did have the attitude "I did it, you can do it too".

However, my mind and attitude is slowly changing. I think that the women of the world do need to be empowered and supported.

The eye opening started with international day of the girl child. A relative of a girl who goes to the school I teach in pointed it out to the Headmistress and I got the girls to complete the sentence "with an education I can..." and took photographs of their statements in October 2012. Some good, some predictable, some daft, but some inspiring. Last year we did a walk at lunch time. Inspired by this I did some research into the importance of girls' education. Now I feel strongly that it is about more than *just* inequality but about better lives for people in poor communities, and educating women is vital to the improvement of the world we live in. That only 30% of all girls are enrolled in secondary school is a shocking statistic.

I teach some Nigerian girls, and I asked one about the girls who have been kidnapped. It wasn't surprising really to see the interest from the other students about the topic, that a group would want to stop girls being educated was strange to them, but not unheard of, that they would go to such extremes was difficult for us all to grasp. Although the Nigerian student did add a political dimension to the story as there are elections in Nigeria next year and undermining the current president seems to also play a part.

In January I went to a session about gender imbalances between girls and boys in certain A-level subjects. The IoP report is here: The statistics here are eye opening, and not just for physics, for English too. Why should that subject be so female dominated? I am ashamed that I did think during the session "what can I do, I work in a girls school and girls schools already go some way to addressing gender imbalances, so I don't have to worry", however as the statistic came forward I realised everyone must re-evaluate the way they work with girls (and boys) and the messages they get across about what is appropriate and inappropriate as an academic or career path for them.

I am more aware of the "everyday sexism" that we encounter and we inadvertently spread now than I have ever been, and so I feel that now is the time in my life and career to take a more active stand to support the education and opportunities of girls. The question is how? I suppose the first thing is to get my hand in my pocket and support a charity that gives girls the opportunity for an education: