Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pedagogical Aims for A-level

Totally stolen from Tom Sherington I have put together the list of things I am working on for A-level.

I do usually do something like this in my improvements note book for each class at the start of the year.

1. Building a bank of key words using quizlet 
In order to get to a grade E in physics students have to know all the basic definitions, there is no way around this. Last year I spent a long time laminating key word definition cards for my ELT students. This year I have done the same thing on quizlet, but really I want my students to do it for themselves. This will help me because I will be able to see their understanding in their definitions and help them practice phrasing their ideas succinctly. What I need to do is draw up the list of words I want my students to know to ensure they cover them all. 

2. More opportunities for longer answers
My students, and I can't imagine I am alone, don't feel confident approaching exam questions where there are a lot of blank lines to fill in. I need to make this part of their experience in class so they are not so nervous in approaching this type of question in an examination. What I really want for inspiration are paper 6 questions from the pre-2008 specification. But I am not sure where I can find them now. This is probably the most under developed idea for next year, at the moment I rely on past exam paper questions and development of this skill between Easter and May when they are working to complete papers, it needs to get embedded. 

3. Low stakes testing at regular intervals
I have tried to do this before with a groups of students I was trying to move from U to E and it wasn't successful as it didn't make a difference to their learning of the basic facts (they still did no work between lessons no matter how accessible I made it). However, I think that my current students would respond well to this. It will help to encourage them to learn the facts they need to be able to start to access the A-level materials and give them confidence that they are making progress. I want to test the uni structural/multi structural knowledge students need. I have made lists of closed questions for the materials topic and will do the same for waves topic during the course of this half term. Answering them will then form part of their prep. I have also created some socrative quizzes that should be 'easy' to check knowledge at certain points in the course, such as : SOC #: 16472046  It will mean I can track failing students and hopefully work with the pastoral teams to intervene early. 

4. More practice in maths basic skills, building to multi step questions
For the first time 2/3 of my physics class won't be doing A-level maths along side their physics A-level. I have discovered this year from one student that this can pose quite a confidence problem. I aim to make sure that I am explicitly considering the mathematics I am asking my students to do. Currently I am mapping the mathematics skills in the back of the specification to the units that I am teaching to ensure I teach them too. I find that students struggle with the prefixes to unit and standard form the most, and I know that I must teach calculator skills. I have bought some resources to help.

5. Hands on practical wherever possible to encourage problem solving
I know a lot of people don't like this idea, but I did read an article about how 'experts' learn by solving problems and 'novices' need to be told something. After reading this I taught an A-level physics lesson and it rang true. I want my students to ask questions and search for answers and doing practical work brings up those questions. I feel that if students ask the questions themselves they will engage more with the answer (particularly given it has a context) and will build a better understanding. They will need to think widely about a topic to answer exam questions and learning to question is part of this. I will have a group of up to a maximum of 6 students so I can manage discussions and ask questions to get students to the conclusions I want without talking at them for an hour. In the past I have not been as good as I could be at using practical work with A-level students and I want to change that. 

6. Opportunities to work with authentic data and draw conclusions
I don't know what the new exam questions will be like, but I know that they should include working scientifically. When we do the core practicals I want to ensure I am taking more care than I have previously on making the most of the practical activities to ensure students understand how to process data and evaluate it. 

7. Develop lab book skills
I want to create a course book and have the students use it to keep a record of their core practicals. I will be relying on Alex Weatherall to lead the way here! The shape of what I want to make is still in development and very much in note form in my note book. 

8. Increase context by reading around subjects
I want to copy the idea of Sarah Pannell and develop a journal club for the science post-16 students (and perhaps some Year 11s who are keen). I also have students who have ambition to apply to some very high caliber universities. I want to make sure I am helping them in their applications by giving them a helping hand in learning beyond the specification. More than that though, physics exam questions have contexts to them, and learning more about the context of physics should help to expand the vocabulary of EAL students and practice thinking about physics in different situations for the others. The Salters Horners course does help to do this, but I would like to go further. 

9. Using prep to instil good study skills from the start of the course
The amount of work you do for a single subject at A-level is a big increase (four times) than what you would do at GCSE. In some cases turning up to your GCSE lessons is sufficient to pass a GCSE. It isn't enough at A-level. I need to get my students into the habit of working 3-4 hours per week on their A-level physics work, but it isn't easy at the start. I still haven't got this right yet. Students struggle with the questions because the amount of knowledge we expect them to use to answer an A-level question is far beyond that at GCSE. For example, changing the unit they are using, understanding standard form, rearranging a formula, knowing what letters mean, remembering a formula, understanding the context of the question (is it under compression or tension) etc etc. I need to consider the develop of my students from the demands of GCSE to the expectations of an A-level student. 

10. Use video to help give clear explanations
I want to try and expand the number of videos I have made for the students. So far I have only made resources for GCSE, but I would like to support any A-level students who need to refresh their know of a skill or key idea by being able to watch a video of me. I find this an excellent way of explaining things clearly as I can have numerous goes until I am satisfied the explanation is clear and uses key language appropriately. Hopefully I can encourage the students to do this too using showme to explain how they are doing calculations so I can see their thought processes, which will be useful assessment. 

I will try to follow up with the sum of my preparations during July.


  1. This is Excellent! Great to see such reflection. I may have to do my own.

    With regards to point 1. One problem I've had in the past is the quality of the definitions. Getting the students to write them themselves often leads to a lack of details, or outright inaccurate attempts.

    One thing I've tried this year is setting up a Google Doc and splitting up the definitions. One student researches, another either allows it, or rejects it and offers feedback. Once that's done I can moderate their attempts. It means they use the IB/A-level definitions, rather than those from Google. The definition of the Ampere is a classic one.

    The great thing about Quizlet is that you can then just import the spreadsheet straight in. My students are currently fighting out for top place in Space Race and Scatter. They're very competitive!

  2. This is great. I like your blogs about the details of teaching Physics. Thanks .