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.

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