Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year Resolutions

To be honest, I haven't really got to grips with the things I set myself in September.

I hope that my attendance at the ASE conference will help give me some more ideas related to improving the literacy of my students.

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Sunday, 30 December 2012

ASE conference sessions

These are the sessions that I am planning to go to at the ASE conference.

I hope that it will help other decide what to go to. Either avoiding the sessions I am going to in the hope that I can some information from them, blog about them and we can all learn more, or coming to the session with me and having a buddy.

Last year I did find myself sat next to Miss Molecules during one session, so it is a small world at the ASE conference!

The first two are booked courses that I have paid for, so I have to go if I want to get value for money!

Inspire future scientists through effective collaboration in the local community
Friday 11-1pm
Booked course

Controlled assessment
Saturday 11am-1pm
Booked course

I have also been asked to go to the following courses:

Models of online CPD for teachers
Friday 9.30-10.30

Celebrating 50 years of ASE - local events
Friday 4-5pm

Which pretty much fills up my Friday! I can't decide how to spend my Friday afternoon though. I have narrowed it down to the following two sessions. At the moment the presidential address is edging it, giving me a bit of time in the exhibition tent to talk firmly to the people at OCR.

Dr Hal, chemistry demonstrations
Friday 2-3.30pm
Chemistry lecture theatre 2

Presidential Address
Friday 2-3pm
Palmer G10

I want to balance my CPD needs, with sessions relating to policy, those that will support the development of the faculty and those that are related to the development of the ASE.

There are two sessions that I have identified as being helpful for the departmental aim of improving the attainment of the girls in the 6 mark questions. I think that I will go to the session on Thursday.

Preparing departments for QWC
Thursday 4-5pm

Success with 6 mark questions
Saturday 2-3pm
Carrington 101

A session I do like the look of is the first of the day on Thursday. I am interested in knowing more about the future direction of science education and this talk organised by OCR by Michael Risse of the IoE looks like it might fit the bill.

OCR talks policy and review
Thursday 9.30-10.30
Henley Business School G11

After the tweetup in York and my involvement in York Science I am really intrigued by the sessions being put on by the York Science education group. However, the only one I can get to is the one on Thursday afternoon.

A good question
Thursday 2-4pm

But I would mean I would miss

Dr Cyril Isenberg demonisation lecture
Thursday 2pm
Chemistry lecture theatre 2

Kevin Brennan MP - ASE policy lecture
Thursday 3pm
Palmer G10

There is a repeat of Dr Cyril's lecture at 4pm, but it is probably too far away for me to make it in the space of 1 minute! my partner Richard plans to go and see Kevin Brennan speak and if possible ask a question about the effectiveness of the labour party in resisting the problems caused by Michael Gove.

At the end of Thursday I will go to the members reception. A good opportunity to meet up with other ASE members.

Members reception
Thursday 5.15 - 6pm
Exhibition marquee

The other sessions I intend to go to are:

Curriculum reform at ks4 and how it impacts at ks3
Saturday 3.30-4.30
Henley business school 101

Leading science into the future
Saturday 2-3.30pm
Henley business school 208

My only remaining dilemma is the Thursday 11.30 time slot. There are four sessions I like the look of. At the moment I am thinking of going to the John Lewis lecture, but I also want to go to "teaching science, what works" and meet Brenda Keogh.

Chemical magic
Thursday 11.30-12.30
Palmer G10

Teaching science - what works?
Thursday 11.30-12.30

Applying to a Russell group university
Thursday 11.30-12.30
Palmer 106

John Lewis Lecture: challenges in predicting climate and the weather
Thursday 11-30-12.30
Henley business school G11

I think on Saturday morning I will make time for a Frontier lecture, a great part of the ASE conference. My dad kept Bees and was always concerned for their future.

Frontier science: bees
Saturday 9.30-10.30
Henley business school G10

But it does clash with another session that looks interesting as I continue with a personal quest to improve the literacy in my classroom.

Let's talk about science
Saturday 9.30-10.30
Henley Business School 201

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Location:Marine Parade,Easton-in-Gordano,United Kingdom

Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012 - review of the year

Biggest revelation:
Going to the ASE conference in January. I discovered that CPD sessions could be worthwhile. (I also found out there were still advisors out there making a practical difference to teaching and learning in the science classroom. It is a pity so many are gone).

Biggest change:
Moving school on May 1st. It is great working in such a positive environment. I am just settling in, and really look forward to working at my new school and learning more about being the best possible teacher I can be.
I was worried that I had done the right thing, but I am happier there now than I was in my last school and I know I have the opportunity to build a great faculty.

Biggest surprise:
Being elected to the ASE assembly. I told my regional committee I would apply as the previous member from our area was taking a step back. I didn't really expect to be elected. I am really looking forward to the next 2 2/3 years working with the rest of the ASE assembly and hopefully moving the ASE forward so we can meet our aims.

Biggest challenge:
I did find leaving my previous job hard, but the biggest challenge was dealing with a student teacher while I was still there. The guy was really nice, but couldn't take advice making it a challenge to support him. He didn't pass the course in the end. I felt bad, but teaching wasn't right for him and it wouldn't have been fair on the students.

Biggest compliment(s):
The best evening of 2012 was the Year 9 parents evening where both the students and the parents thanked me for reigniting their enjoyment of science. It was really worth it.
On the last day at my previous school I was given a great send off by my Year 11 class and paid some nice compliments in my 5ft Velma card.

Biggest award:
I am proud of myself for achieving my RSci status this autumn. I hope I can gather evidence for CSciTeach in the coming year.

Biggest discovery:
Eventbrite. I had used this website as a attendee of an event, but never used it to run an event. At my suggestion we used it to enrol people to the ASE West of England November conference, which seemed to go well.

Biggest inspiration:
Continues to be #asechat and the teachers who share their ideas there. Going to York during the summer to meet some of these teachers face to face was a great experience. Positivity filled the room and it gave me a lot of confidence in myself.

Biggest development:
Is in progress. I am continuing to adapt my teaching and lessons to adapt to the new demands of the 2011 science GCSEs, in particular literacy, processing information and thinking skills.

Biggest event:
Going to the Olympics and Paralympics, and sitting on my sofa watching what I couldn't see live. I have loved the Olympics since I was a kid, but really got into it in 1996 when I altered my body clock to Atlanta time to make sure I saw it all! I hope there is a legacy from the Games, but I don't see a lot of evidence yet.

Biggest realisation:
I have something to give. It still surprises me that I have knowledge that I can share with others. Maybe that is a good thing and prevents the development of arrogance. Hopefully if I start to spout rubbish someone will tell me.

Biggest support:
My partner, Richard, still provides the most support and inspiration for me. I worry about how he is treated (or mistreated) at his school, but despite all that he continues to do his best to support his colleagues and the students in his school. I hope his new head will grow to value him as I do.

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I have posted previously about pinterest.

I am enjoying using it, although I can find the mobile app a little restrictive and not as functional as using Pinterest in a full web browser.

Getting started (these are mobile app instructions)

Sign up or sign in, depending on whether you have an account already.

When I sign in I am presented with this, or something similar:

If you do not follow anyone this space will be blank.

The menu to help navigate is on the top left. Click it and click search.

I find that connecting to people I am interested in using pinterest is so much more difficult than on twitter, facebook, google+ and tumblr. However, following people is really useful as you can share ideas easily.

The search allows you to find boards, pins and people of interest. By searching by board you can inadvertently find people you might like to follow.

I searched for someone I know, Lorna. She has some great science education related pins.

You can also use the menu to search for education related pins/images.

I often look through these pins. I find them based on primary education, but there is often a gem or two. If I find an image that I like the look of then I can "like" it, "share" it, or "repin" it.

Click on the image you want to repin/like/share and it will increase in size.

I decided to repin this image, so clicked on the repin button.

My images are divided into "boards", usually with the name of the units I teach, but also some more generic ones such as literacy, how science works and funny. I want to pin this image to "literacy" and not "funny".

So I click on the button that allows me to select the board to pin to. A draw pops out and I can scroll to find the appropriate board, or even create a new one.

Before I click on the red button to pin it to my literacy board it is possible to change the notes at the bottom describing the pin.

I am also able to add a comment and see who else has repinned that particular image/pin. These users might be people I would like to follow if they have similar interests. I can also add a comment to the pin.

You do not have to follow all the boards from a particular user. For example discovery education. I am not interested in "arts and crafts" so I only follow the "science board". I don't want my home page to be filled with pins that are not relevant to me.

To upload a pin using the mobile app it is easiest to have the image already saved to your mobile device. Use the menu and select camera. Then choose the image you want to upload, which board to upload it to and add a comment.

I think pinterest has massive potential I helping to share resources and ideas in education.

Happy Pinning!

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Friday, 28 December 2012

ASE conference - what should I go to?

I am going to all four days of the ASE conference - mainly because I can this year. It only cost £132, before the hotel.

There is a lot of choice at the conference. I want to get the balance right! Policy, science, STEM, the future of the ASE and pedagogy. Here are the events I have picked out so far:

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

In school teachmeets

Is it sad that we have to have the idea of in-school teachmeets either subject specific or whole school?

Why weren't schools already encouraging and allowing all members of staff to share good practice? Do we need to have a teachmeet or could we have just used meetings or even gatherings?

Can the sharing of good practice and ideas occur by another means than someone standing in front of a presentation and recycling an idea? I would hope so.

In the first school I worked in we discussed classes, ideas, strategies. There was no competition between staff for favour of the management so we were happy to share and support each other. More than that we had a layer of middle management who wanted to improve the experience for the students and also support other staff: They didn't want to get an assistant associate vice championship league division 2 head teacher position. The ideas didn't need a acronym and they didn't need to be celebrated during morning briefing, there was no mention of "boosting your CV".

In the third school I worked in it was all about point scoring. Young staff who saw possible positions on the management team, usually via a head of year position. There were no organic sharing of ideas only attempts to get the management to favour you. Discussions were not about pedagogy, they were about organisational matters. Re-writing schemes were about filling in boxes in order to look "innovative", not about ensuring best practice were embedded first. More over there was no learning for peers because everyone had to appear as the expert, no one was allowed to be humble as that was a weakness.

Maybe the schools that intend to do in-school teachmeet need something to kick start the sharing of practice. But I worry. The only time I was happy to "show off" at an in school teachmeet situation was when the management appointed someone over me and I was happy to use the opportunity to show that I was by far the better candidate(!), and I had the opportunity because no one else wanted to volunteer. I spoke every other week at the departmental teachmeet. Not the best motivation for sharing practice!

So what is the answer? A culture where teachers are allowed to seek support from each other and are happy to share their ideas. Not immediately easy, but a few key characters who naturally talk about their lessons help to spread this culture.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Paying compliments to staff

I was given advice by the "improving behaviour in Bristol schools" team in 2003/4. The main idea they put across is that you praise the behaviour you want to see from the students. Nothing is too small. Other advice included praising 5 time more than you criticise.

All through my career teachers have listened to this advice and tried to apply it in their classrooms and when using school behaviour systems. All the time bemoaning the lack of consistency in the way that teachers are treated by school mangers. Where is the 5:1 ratio in praise to criticism when dealing with staff?

Is it patronising to be told "well done, you have marked your books"? Maybe, but it does make a difference. I was told this in 2008 and it was nice to hear.

Last term my head teacher complimented me on knowing my tutor group well. To me it is part of my job to know my tutees, but it is also nice that someone realises you are doing your job.

A few years ago (2007) my head of department complimented me on my imagination and problem solving in his Christmas card. It was appreciated after another hard and miserable term in that school. The staff were constantly on edge in case we were summoned by the head and it was never for a good thing.

When moving schools I wrote various schemes of work, contributed various ideas and pointed numerous teachers and managers in the right direction. I wasn't made to feel valued: Going from a school where no thanks were given to a one where every element of WWW is only given so it can be followed by EBI has made me unable to take praise gratuitously and I also struggle to give it out. (Which is the worst aspect of it).

I spoke to my out going head teacher at her leaving party about this. Apologising for the ungracious way that I accept her praise. She exclaimed that it was her role to give out praise and maintain morale and the next head better do the same!

We shouldn't have to give out praise to sugar coat bad news. Praise should be natural and an every day part of our teaching. More praise please, I like it!

The written examples of praise from my line mangers are below:

I really like that Joy uses the word "commitment". I can't remember that being used for me before, even though I am nothing if not committed.
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Location:United Kingdom

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

What is the lesson about?

My current favourite starter activity is "What is the lesson about?". Best demonstrated by some examples in the images below:

Pinterest as a teaching tool

I saw an infographic, tweeted by @PookyH, about Pinterest. The link is here:

I like pinterest a lot. I use Delicious for social bookmarking, but I think that Pinterest has more potential. I like the idea of being able to group the images into categories. The organisation in folders means that it is much easier to find the resource.

I plan to use this resource with students so they can find links to help them if they miss lessons or need to recap aspects of topics.

However, to really make the most of pinterest I need to make my own infographics and videos to upload to ensure that all the areas are covered.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Improving your work in science

I haven't had a good experience with key stage 3 schemes of work in the past 5 years. (Until I came across Segue and Wikid from Upd8). I was happy to learn that at my new school, we use the QCA units in my department.

However, now that I am now teaching from the QCA schemes again I am not particularly happy about them. I am won over by the themes and how the UpD8 schemes allow progression of skills and thinking and do not cause the teacher (or me at least) to focus on knowlegde. I think that this helps the student develop into a scientific thinker during key stage 3.

We are not supposed to use levels at school. Dylan William has been listened to and levels are not to be given out. I rely on them see: "are-levels-my-crutch" I need the APP grid to help me give advice to help the students improve. I don't just want to teach content. Science changes, an analytical mind will be capable of working things out, if it is able to develop at school.

So how do I help my students go from "I want to remember lots of things" to "How can I explain this in a more detailed way"?

I have tried. The presentation below contains examples of level ladders that I asked the students to use. But they found it very difficult, and I am not entirely sure why.

I know that now I need to use my questioning and dare I say "academic mentoring" to move the students on towards more independence in their thinking.

I can't get away from using levels. Even those that use SOLO are assigning a level, it just isn't a number, to their students and/or their work. The levels are labels to help us as teachers, and it helps lad mark the progression.

My previous post shows the type of activity I am doing at the moment. I hope that by using APP explicitly I can help the students to realise that only be thinking and adding detail to their answers can they improve in science.

It worked before, can I get it to work again?

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Trying to develop thinking in the classroom

This is an activity I did with 9.1 on Monday and will try again with 9.1 tomorrow.

The idea is that they can write the answer to varying degrees of depth and I can use questioning to help them realise the thinking involved. This should have the desired effect of bringing on their metacognition and hopefully improve their approach to both learning and answering exam questions.

On Monday the class were very clingy and unwilling to give it a go without me checking their work every moment and reassuring them they were correct. I also had a handful that use the opportunity to not get on with the work whilst I was helping others. I think that their confidence levels need to be improved, but hopefully by doing these sorts of activities it will do just that.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

ASE West of England Conference 2012

On Saturday we ran our annual regional ASE conference.

The main discovery was the Eventbrite website. It is a fantastic resource, allowing delegates to automatically sign up and I would recommend it to anyone running an event where they want automatic replies and automatic collection of information to help with sign-in.

The day started with the lecture by Aude Alapini- Odunlade, Exeter University. We invited her because Allison and I from the committee had seen her talk before and were REALLY impressed, the description is here: Aude left a small selection of resources, all of them were snapped up quickly.

Then the delegates went into the first set of workshops. I stayed on the desk, ready to help anyone who arrived late.

As I walked around the workshops there was a great atmosphere as the people who had given up their time and money to get some CPD engaged fully with the workshops.

At break there were opportunities for networking and I witnessed a delegate make useful connections to the IoP and get some ideas of where to go for support for A-level physics. This made the morning for me as I believe that connecting people should be a main aim of the ASE.

The delegates went into their second set of workshops and back to learning.

Of the 100 people who signed up 31 didn't show up, which was dissapointing. I think that I will try to find out if the IoP have the same sorts of issues with their South West Physics conference, and again with the Chem Labs conference. I know that people get ill, but 30% seems quite high, especially when the conference was fully booked. I didn't want to risk adding more people as if they had all turned up then we would have had too many for the space to watch the key note.

Whether charging would make a difference is another question. I personally don't want to charge members, when we are able to cover the cost of the conference from the money we get from non-members. (Costs are tea and coffee and the travel expenses of the key note speaker).

Lastly we went to the planetarium for a very quick ABM, at which I was elected to chair-elect! Sarah has done it for 6 years so far, I don't see why she doesn't want to do it for a 7th. Then we watched the planetarium show aimed at key stage 3/key stage 4. I did learn something, as I didn't realise that black dwarf stars were purely theoretical and that the universe wasn't actually old enough to have produced any yet. I just read my Physics for You text book and accepted what it said.

We haven't yet had time to analyse the opinions of the delegates. I really hope that they liked it as it is quite an effort to put on.

We did have a few people decide to join the ASE that day, and I hope that is because the committee put on a good show for the association. The issue now is to provide those new members with the same support and community that was available on Saturday throughout their membership of the ASE.

Roll on 2013.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What having a "supportive" SLT means

I had the "dreaded" exam analysis interview with our head of curriculum. It turned out to be a fantastic meeting with a lovely manager that I feel I can really learn from.

I asked if I can be candid and she said yes. I explained I am more of a glass half full sort of person, and that it meant that I wasn't happy with my teaching - I am doing OK, but I am a better teacher and once I know the students better I will prepare and teach better lessons.

In terms of managing the department I know that I need to look at certain areas and I am monitoring, but I am not making massive changes to move things forward. Yet.

Her questions were probing, she was very well versed in the issues in the science department, yet she was gentle. Most importantly she didn't use my lack in confidence or negativity against me. (Which I am used to). Instead she gave me somewhere to start and offered her time if I need it, then she told me that as far as the management were concerned they knew it would be difficult and would take time to move the department forward. I truly believe that my management want to development me and support the improvement in the department.

I know what it feels like to have a supportive SMT. Now I need to get used to it.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Direction for the ASE?

I am an assembly member for the ASE and have been thinking a lot lately about how best the ASE can support its members.

There are a lot of voices saying the ASE can't do this or that because others already are. But we have to do something to survive.

"Outstanding teaching and learning" is where ASE have to come in. Creating a community where members can support members and share practice. CSciTeach and RSci being a badge of quality and committed teachers and the start of a network - the register allows us to know where they are and who they are.

As teachers we have had the support network of advisors and consultants removed and there are a lot of new initiatives being put in place by the government. ASE members have to be there to collaborate and support with each other to see us through this difficult time.

It is sink or swim for the ASE, but we can only swim if we bring other science teachers along with us. Altogether we are strong and the association and science teachers can both benefit.

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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Glass half-full

I am definitely more of a pessimist than an optimist. It means my self-publicity is not fully operational.

I am constantly surprised when parents say things like "I am so glad you are my daughter's teacher".

All this means I don't believe my own hype. I don't ever believe I am a good teacher. I can't describe anything I do as being inspirational.  I had a meeting with a member of senior management today and she asked me how things were going. All I could say were the bad things. 

Is this a good thing? Or is it possible to change?

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Location:United Kingdom

Monday, 5 November 2012

Why tweet?

I don't usually like to write blogs posts about twitter. It all gets a bit circular when your main audience for the blog are people you connect with via twitter. However, over the weekend I have been gradually feeling the need to put something in writing.

Why are we tweeting? Really, honestly, deep down, why do we feel the need to go on to social media and make a comment?

I started with the TES forums. I was looking for a new job and miserable in my current role. I was also quite lonely. So I would read the job hunting forums and pay and conditions. I then grew to know members of the community and they became my "friends". Then I registered for a facebook account. This type of social media I do like; it helps connect me with my family (who are far away) and the friends I don't see very often.

I am not sure why I moved to twitter. I tried it because my partner was using it, but I didn't like it. Then I decided to have another go and found cleverfiend and teachingofsci, who I recognised from the TES forums as helpful people. The community of science teachers and other teachers grew.

The twitter community is on the whole very positive and it is full of teachers who want to improve their practice. But I am a glass half empty sort of person and I find it hard sometimes to deal with those who seem to self-congratulate and self-publicise.

But am I doing that too? Am I one of the twitter users who does it for personal gain?

I hope not.

My aim is to connect science teachers and make science teaching the best it can be. This is on a personal level, school level, regional level and national level. Because I am a science teacher and believe in teaching balanced science to all English school children.

It is bigger than me.

Twitter allows me to connect with the people I need to even be able to start to reach my aim, but it isn't the only thing I do because I am a member of the science teacher body the ASE and that is much more important that retweeting the thoughts of someone I believe will give me a "leg up".

So today I look at two sets of hashtags. The one that I feel part of #asechat and think that yes, I am making a difference and supporting science teachers (as they are definitely supporting me). The hash tag is a community. The people there are tweeting to share what they know and add to the knowledge floating in the ether, and in the knowledge that when they need support the community will give back.

And I look at another and think, why tweet? No community, no support, not adding anything new to the educational knowledge of followers, nothing but sound bites being put into a computer database, (adding to global warming). A lot of contributors tweeting for the sake of self-promotion.

But then, I am missing the point. Twitter is a microblogging site. It is there to allow you to say. "I am at a cafe drinking coffee", and the teachers collaborating was never the intention.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

When ideas and resources come back around...

Over the past few days I have been sorting my paper resources and last night I was doing some planning for the term ahead, thinking about what I would be teaching and looking through my "soft-copy" resources. I found quite a few that I like and posted them on twitter directly and via tumblr.

One reply that I received was from my partner. The conversation is above. This is true and I didn't mean to take credit for designing the resource, only physically printing and laminating it. Oops, sorry Richard.

I understand why Richard would be possessive of his resources. We have both been very happy to share our work with each other over the years. Between 2002 and 2005 his school (let's call it school B) re-wrote their key stage 3 units and between 2004 and 2007 a school I worked at (let's call it school D) re-wrote ours. A lot of Richard's resources ended up in my scheme of work.

In 2008 I moved to a new school (lets call that school C) with a different scheme, so I just shared my resources created in school D, with the department in the folder "Helen". So now three schools have access to Richard's resources. Although in school C they were only used by a few people as we had a far more "innovative" curriculum and resources. (For "innovative" read "poorly thought out and rushed").

Richard then didn't work in the science department of his school (B) for a couple years as the school cancelled key stage 3 science (and most other subjects) in favour of a whole school project based year 7 and 8. Richard's resources were no longer required and were lost.

In 2011 a teacher who was working with me at school C applied and was appointed as key stage 3 science coordinator at Richard's school. At the same time project based learning was scaled back and Richard was now required in the science department again to make up numbers for the timetable.

The teacher who moved from school C to school B was required to over-see the re-write of key stage 3 science and took with him the folder named "Helen" containing resources made by Richard. (As you can imagine as there was now a key stage 3 science course where there hadn't been one in the previous few years).

The first I know of it is when Richard is checking out the resources in the scheme of work written as an example by his new key stage 3 coordinator and he is being slightly rude about a resource made by me!

Then a colleague came to him asking for support with how to interpret and use a resource that has a great big code over the corner. (This code was added in school D by me, but in the corner not over the content of the resource - blame Word for that movement). The colleague did not realise that Richard was in fact the original author of this resource.

This whole post was inspired when I noticed that an ex-colleague from school C who had "favourited" one of my tweets with a photo of one of my resources from the aforementioned "Helen" folder.

While at school B they have and are re-using all the resources that Richard and I have created and collected over the years at school C they are not.

I think that the whole complicated blog post and story shows that you can never be sure where ideas come from and they might even just be there under your nose.

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Friday, 2 November 2012

Great, so now we all have to cheat!

I haven't read the ofqual report. I think that I will though!

However I am furious over the comments in the newspaper by the head of ofqual.

We did our controlled assessments under controlled conditions. Probably too controlled. But the work was 100% our students. The moderation report came back saying our marking was on target. Great!

But, when our results came back the controlled assessment grades were way down on the exam grades.

I noticed that the OCR gateway controlled assessment average grade was well below the average grade for the exams.

Reading Ms Stacey's comments: I am
deeply upset.

I seems that me and my students have been punished because Ms Stacey and her colleagues at ofqual believe all schools, or very nearly all schools, were cheating in their controlled assessment.

What about those of us who didn't?

Some advice for Ms Stacey: find evidence of centres cheating and punish them. Do not force those of us who didn't cheat to cheat by telling us we are a minority and punishing us because our raw marks were lower. (and breath).

To say I am furious is understating it.

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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Misbehaviour and Disengagement

I read this tweet from Joe Bower, a Canadian teacher and it struck a cord with me.

I recall the start of my second year of teaching and the introduction of a new deputy head. I was working at an inner city school with very low GCSE results, lots of behaviour problems and poor leadership and management. During my first year the management had made it clear that any bad behaviour from students was because our lessons were not engaging enough. I had passed my NQT year and everyone was telling me good things, but I wasn't very confident that my teaching skills were good enough to "engage" the worst behaved students. On top of that ofsted were constantly being mentioned and I didn't feel that I could teach anything other than an unsatisfactory lesson due to the afore mentioned poor behaviour. Our school would go into special measures, which would be hell, and it would be my fault.

Up stepped our new deputy who used his first address to the staff to tell us all that the state of the school was because the teachers were not putting in the effort and he was appointed to sort us out! Not really a confidence booster.

The school was turned around. Not by this deputy head, but by a new building, new management team focusing in on student attainment in year 10 and 11 and a suitable curriculum that included vocational courses. An appropriate curriculum.

While I was working at this school there were members of staff who tried to put in place an appropriate curriculum. It was obvious to them that GCSEs were "failing" the students and they needed different courses and forms of assessment.

It was plain to us that the students were disengaged and badly behaved often because they couldn't access the curriculum and didn't have the skills to be successful. But our students were anything but stupid. They knew that they weren't doing very well, so didn't want to try for fear of failure.

I have a brilliant partner who is a teacher and has spent the last twelve years working in this school through difficult times for the school and difficult times for him. Through it all he has made it his mission to ensure that his students feel confident to learn and make progress. In recent years he has used APP as a tool to help students. I watched him during one difficult year where his timetable was made up of maths - a subject he doesn't have an O-level in - struggle to support two very challenging groups and improve their behaviour by increasing their confidence and therefore improving their engagement with their learning. He didn't do this by making lessons exciting or performing to them, but by helping them overcome academic difficulties.

If a student has behaviour problems it isn't always possible to solve all the problems they have. It is important to remember that there is no magic bullet. Just small steps.

Monday, 29 October 2012

ASE West of England Newsletter

I am not sure if this will make it to the ASE members in the West of England. Just in case it doesn't here is the issuu version:

Difference between attainment and achievement

"attainment is related to standards, achievement to progress"

Thanks Linda! 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

As physics - developing thinking skills

We have completed our first test and I have decided on an aim for the future iterations of my physics schemes of work. I must include more opportunities for the students to work on problems of the type they might encounter in an exam.

I use the teaching advancing physics resources, which do have problem solving activities. However we follow the edexcel specification, not the OCR advancing physics, so not everything is covered by the tap resources.

My students are good at wrote learning, so have picked up the formulae and facts well. However, as with many As students, they are struggling to workout how to answer questions.

I believe I need to help them visualise the problems and workout what relationships are needed to extract the answers. I am confident once the students have an idea of what they need to do they will be able to.

My students don't speak English to a technical level so I need to ensure my activities allow them to think internally without relying heavily on English. At least at first.

Another aim to add to my action plan.

Location:Quintrell Downs,United Kingdom

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Head's Roundtable?

I will be very interested to see how long this interest lasts.

About 7 head teachers and 3 others are trying to set up their own body to represent their views. Their aim: "We are a non-party politcal group that wants to influence national education policymakers so that education policy is centered upon what is best for the learning of all children."

Perhaps the heads think they will be listened to? But I imagine that if they feel the need to set something like this up then they are not be listened to at the moment.

I hear that the government are not listening to any organisations or looking at the positives of English education. What can a few heads and 1000 followers on twitter achieve? Getting something trending on twitter does not fix the problem.

Do these heads genuinely have a shot at getting the ear of Gove and making a difference? Only time will tell. I do predict it will be difficult though.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Teachmeet Clevedon - what I found out

I rarely feel "inspired" or have the inclination to describe something as "inspirational". The verb and adjective are both overused in education in my opinion. I often feel like replying to someone who says "such and such is/was inspirational" and asking how? and why?

However, parts of teachmeet Clevedon 5 did inspire me. (I won't say everything did for the reason given above).

The first teachmeet I went to was also at Clevedon and it was less formal than 20th October. The presenters were varied quality and the transitions were less slick. I enjoyed it though, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive and that makes a change from some schools and re-energises you.

"Learning Rocks" however, was a very slick evening, the transistions between presentations were improved by having a running order and someone off screen queuing the presentations so your PowerPoint was ready for you as you arrived at the podium to begin your talk. Time limits for presentations were kept to close as possible to 5 minutes so that the evening ran to time and stayed good natured.

The slightly different format of the evening included a seminar slot between the key note and the presentations. 

I missed the keynote presentation by Vic Goddard from Passmore's school, the one featured in Educating Essex. The opinion in the room was that he spoke very well and many were enthused by what he had to say.

I did arrive in time for my seminar slot. I went to hear John Wells the Head Teacher of Clevedon School speak about the journey the school had been through. It is clear from the talk that John has a clear vision for the improvement of the school and he doesn't lose sight of the things that have gone before. Being someone who likes diagrams I liked the way that the improvement of the school could be represented as concentric circles showing the layers of pedagogy that have been introduced in the school. I do always wonder with these things if everything is as well embedded as the senior management say it is, but I liked that idea that pedagogy (and not curriculum change) was at the heart of the school improvement.

Then we moved onto the presentations. I had volunteered to do one on the 5Es of lesson planning. You can find the presentation elsewhere on this blog as well as other posts about them. On entering the hall I discovered I was 16th out of 17. A lot of time to get nervous!

Gavin Smart spoke first @gavinsmart about the use of an expert (his Grandad) talking to the class. The project went well and the students and his Grandad enjoyed it. This has given me confidence, because while I cannot skype my Grandad from my year 7 science class, I would like to get real scientists more involved in what we do at school. It is something on the back-burners at the moment, but a real aim.

Dave Gale spoke about the ultimate maths faculty - a meeting of like minded maths teachers who use a hashtag to communicate via twitter. Again, I was pleased to hear that and feel that we have that supportive community already built up and using the #asechat hastag. I hope other science teachers joining twitter can feel confident about joining in too.

I was inspired by Dave Stacey's presentation. He talked about re-booting his teaching. I can really empathise with that. I have been a better teacher in the past and I know how to be a better teacher, I just need to find the focus to do it and maintain it. It was great to hear from Dave that it is possible to improve your practice and you aren't stuck as the teacher you are at the moment for the rest of your career.

I always enjoy Kat Crocker's presentations about what you can do during tutor time and I have already used the Guardian Eyewitness site with my tutor group.

Alessio's presentation about priezi was not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. How can we use presentations during lessons to support thinking and not just a quick way of giving information. This is something I will consider during the holidays.

A lot of the presentations were about on-line ICT, which we just can't use. But that is what I like about teachmeets, there is something for everyone.

Great evening, and well done to Mark Anderson and the Clevedon Team.

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When colleagues leave...

A fantastic colleague of mine is leaving today and I feel really sad. Usually I am not emotional about these things, perhaps it is my age but I think it might be due to the circumstances. She is leaving because her husband's job takes her to a new country and the whole family are to relocate.

When I move from a school it is because I am ready to leave and it means I am looking forward to the next steps in my teaching career. And the same has applied to people who leave my school; I am pleased for them as they are going to bigger and better things.

This is different. Not only is my friend and colleague moving to a distant continent, but I don't feel she reached her potential in our department or impacted on it the way that she might have done. It feels unfulfilled.

However, I wish her and her family well and hope that they have a smooth transition to their new lives.

What would gcse be like if I wrote it?


The answer to this question could be very involved, with the topics I like, but I don't think the content is entirely relevant. I don't believe we can (or should even try to) teach young people all the science they'll need for the rest of their lives. But I do believe we need to prepare young people for the science they'll experience in the rest if their lives.

This applies to the students who will go onto be future scientists too.

However, the difficulty is always how to assess that and write a specification for it that is clear to all who read it how they must teach to achieve scientifically literate students.

Would it be better to invest (I don't necessarily mean money only) in educating teachers in the importance of scientific literacy?

I would like to see controlled assessment scrapped however, and a long independent project by students brought in. Of the sort you would get a bronze crest award for. Although it would be terribly stressful for teachers of unmotivated students...

Perhaps this is a topic I will have to revisit! I am glad of being a classroom teacher and not someone who has to write a curriculum or specification.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Using food in science lessons - some ideas.

I enjoying teaching the Edexcel Physics units called Good Enough to Eat and Spare Part Surgery. As I teach in an all-girls school I want to ensure that my practicals appeal to the girls and using food to illustrate physics principles manages that.

During this term I have used golden syrup to calculate viscosity and strawberry laces in a Hooke’s Law investigation. Using Crunchie bars to represent bones is also part of the scheme of work. The strawberry laces doesn’t need to be restricted to an A-level scheme of work, and could be used to extend Year 7 or primary students too. If you find the strawberry laces are not strong enough on their own then it is possible (if a bit sticky) to plait them to make them stronger. Of course, this also leads to a second possible experiment finding the relationship between ultimate tensile stress and number of strawberry laces used.

Some of the students I teach are from Hong Kong. Using sweets as props to go over the key language relating to material science has been very useful. One student explained to me that tough, strong and stiff all have the same meaning when using her translating device.

However, my experience using sweets doesn’t stop there. My step-daughter’s history teacher asked the class to create a model of a castle, she created one out of cake and biscuits, as cooking is turning into a big hobby of hers. This particularly caught my imagine when I saw the same thing being done by  science teachers when asking students to make a model cell cell cake via a link on pinterest and again when a student of a friend brought to school a “sweet” pathogen model. I am reliably informed that asking students (and indeed student teachers) to build models helps to bring out misconceptions. 

I have also seen “sweetie” blood produced by teachers in the past, a recipe I found on the internet suggests the following:
To represent plasma use water
To represent ions use sugar, salt, oil and protein shake mix 
To represent red blood cells use red jelly beans
To represent white blood cells use mini marshmallows and
To represent platelets use white rice.

A colleague has also used sweets to create models of the atom, including strawberry laces for electron shells. A different version is shown in the image to the left.
I have been using golden syrup in other ways to demonstrate the movement of plate tectonics using biscuits on golden syrup. This is an idea from the website:

I feel that it shows brilliantly how the tectonic plates move slowly as it is difficult to see the pieces of biscuit move, yet taking a photo on a digital camera before and after can show the the pieces of biscuit do move. I have used this demonstration already this year with a group of Year 6 students who are following the theme of “underground”.

Physics Experiments
Asking colleagues and searching the Internet has revealed a huge number of science experiments that either involved food directly or have an alternative that uses foodstuffs and sweets.

Several colleagues use skittles or (chocolate) M&Ms to model radioactive decay. This is especially useful if the school doesn’t have enough dice to share between the students and overcomes the issue of students putting the dice that have “decayed” back in with the “unstable” dice, as the students will eat those that land writing-side up. An alternative is to use ditalini pasta, which students would not be as keen to eat and disrupt the lesson.

Measuring the speed of light is possible using a microwave with the turntable turned upside-down to disable the turning effect. For those who haven’t seen this experiment, the standing waves inside the microwave cause two melted spots on a slab of chocolate (cheese slices can also be used). The melted spots are half a wavelength apart. The frequency of the microwaves can either be found in the manual or on a sticker on the back. Speed of light = frequency x wavelength.

Putting marshmallows into a vacuum flask and pumping out the air is a great way to demonstrate the effects of air pressure.

The National STEM centre has a great video explanation by Alom Shaha of the jelly baby wave machine here: A brilliant way to demonstrate transverse waves and their properties.

Not quite sweets, but I also love demonstrating the luminescence of tonic water under UV light, tap water doesn’t glow.

Lastly in my list of possible physics experiments a colleague has suggested using Oreos (as an alternative to jaffa cakes) to model the phases of the moon.

Creativity in Biology
During my career I haven’t taught many biology units, so I turned to my colleagues and friends for ideas of where sweets can be used during biology practical activities:
It is possible to create DNA from sweets as the image above shows. There are various different methods for this activity.
It is possible to use gummy bears in osmosis experiments by measuring the gummy bear before and after immersing in water and salt water.

An example I have used is using sweets as san object for Year 7 students to use and write keys about in their classification modules. Quality street are good for this, or Dolly Mixtures if you are on a budget. It gives something a little more interesting than lab equipment or pictures of aliens. 

A popular experiment with interesting results is investigating the effect of pH on chicken bones. 

A lot of my biology teacher friends talk about “Reebots”. The Reebops activity helps to demonstrate how genetics is responsible both for similarities and variation among members of the same species. There is a worksheet here: and the practical biology website has a good example too. 

Chemistry Practical Activities
If you use the Wikid scheme of work in Year 7 then you will be aware that there is an entire scheme of work dedicated to food called “Cook”. Some of the topics covered relate to heat transfer and change of state, but students also get to make ice cream, investigate British vs American pancakes and look at cooking in the context of physical and chemical changes. I am a big fan of the majority of the wikid scheme.

Using food as a context for science is not just restricted to key stage 3. I teach the OCR Gateway specification at GCSE and there are sections of the first chemistry module dedicated to the chemistry of cooking. 

One of the examples involves baking powder. Instead of heating and showing the decomposition of sodium hydrogen carbonate, it is also possible to make sponge cakes in the microwave during a lesson with and without baking powder to demonstrate the purpose of adding baking powder when baking cakes.

I love carrying out the experiment where the students boil potato and see who it’s consistency changes with time and I demonstrate cooking pieces of potato in a microwave. I enjoy it because the potato usually gets so dry it sets on fire in the microwave, which excites the students. 

The scheme of work also involves students using egg white as an emulsifier.

This term Year 7 have been studying Acids and Alkalis and there are a lot of links to food in the this topic. Whether it be eating foods to establish that acids are sour, to investigating the perfect sherbet recipe, my students have found the link between chemistry and real life interesting at this early stage in tehir secondary education. I also really enjoy the lessons where students test different vegetables to see which one makes the best indicator. (I really like Ribena, but it isn’t as fun as making indicator using red cabbage).

Of course there are lots of “kitchen chemsitry” experiments that involve food, from volcanoes to making invisible ink and creating crystals with sugar. See for more ideas.

A big favourite of a chemistry teacher colleague of mine is making elephant dung using concentrated sulphuric acid and sugar.

Practical Investigations
A colleague told me of an experiment she carried out with a class to establish if a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit. Cakes get drier as they get older and biscuits go soggy. 

Using food is a great way to engage students in science.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The 5 E lesson cycle

Here is me talking at teachmeet Clevedon.

And this is the presentation:

I will blog later about the rest of my TM Clevedon experience.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Writing a development plan

Where do I want my department to be?

I have to sort my departmental development plan. But I also want to make sure that I am doing more than plastering over the cracks. I want to move the department forward.

However, I realise moving the department forwards isn't any good if it is the wrong "forward". I need to have a destination.

What kind of department do I want? How will I know when I get it?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I am a SCIENCE teacher

I hear the quote "I don't teach X subject, I teach children" a lot. I don't like it. I prefer "I help children to learn in the context of science lessons". Pedantic?

I know the most important thing is that we produce well rounded individuals that are able to make good decisions while living their lives. It is vital as teachers that we support the development of young people. But I also think teaching students about the nature of science is important too.

More and more I realise the importance to society that children understand science and the nature of science. I understand the importance of teaching science more than at anytime in my career.

My concern over what the government will do to the curriculum heightens my awareness of the importance of teaching science. Science lessons need to help students understand how science works and that is is continually changing and involving. Few is any problems have a "correct" answer, just an accepted one and that this can change. I don't want my students ending their science education thinking it is a body of facts to be remembered and recalled.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Using blogs to share practice

I was visiting my mother this weekend and found myself with a little spare time, so I opened my RSS reader app to read what other teachers have been doing.

It occurred to me then that blogging is a great way to share practice. I knew it already deep down, but it hasn't occurred to me just how powerful blogging could be. IF people engage with it.

There are examples of school blogging projects (involving staff writing about teaching). I am undecided about them, thinking of the context of the previous schools I worked in. Favourite staff would be asked, staff wanting to blow their own trumpet would push themselves forward and the quality of what is shared wouldn't be managed.

However, I am benefitting hugely from reading the blogs of other science teachers and it brings ideas to my mobile phone. Moreover it is bringing practice and ideas to me from across the country, not only within my own school.

Having worked in 3 inward looking schools I realise the importance of looking at the practice elsewhere and being ready to accept that others have useful interpretations of how to teach best. Moreover others have experience that we could learn from when implementing new ideas.

By sharing ideas and learning from the experiences of others we can improve our own practices. Blogging allows me to learn from people I wouldn't usually connect with and taken on board many more ideas than would ever have been possible.

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Location:Hepple,United Kingdomg

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Aims of the curriculum

I teach across four key stages: Our department has responsibility for science teaching from year 5 to year 13. (Although I personally teach year 6 to year 12).

As I review what we do it leads me to the question: why is it that we do what we do? What do we want our students to achieve and gain from their experiences in science?

A major aim for me this year is produce a plan of the aims for our students I can plan a curriculum around in the coming years. Particularly as the national curriculum changes or vanishes.

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Monday, 1 October 2012

I think that I "get it" now

Pinterest for interesting images
Delicious for interesting and useful websites
Blogger for my learning journey, leadership, politics and pedagogy
TES resources for my resources
Tumblr for my teaching ideas
Facebook for my friends
And twitter for talking to other teachers

Year 6 parents evening

I really think it is important to build positive relationships with parents as well as students. The best schools I have worked at have had support and engagement from parents. Although sometimes it isn't the fault of the school that parents won't engage and sometimes it isn't the fault of the parent they can't find a way to be involved.

Tonight I took my first steps in getting to know parents by attending the year 6 parents evening at the near-by prep school. I really hope that by meeting some of he parents of the children I teach that I can foster useful relationships that will help make connections the students I teach can benefit from.

I have always thought having a group of useful parents, whom can be candid to you, is useful for a head of department. I was asked at an internal interview what I would do to build relationships with parents and I was taken back, offended almost. I had always previously done what I could to communicate with parents about what was going on in the science department and they often engaged with me when they needed support too. (At that point I gave up on getting that role as it was obvious that they ha no idea of the work I had done previously).

Parents are an under used resource in the schools I have worked at before now and I want to make sure that I don't under-use them here.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Do teachers ever switch off?

I am at the cycle show at the NEC. We've just seen a beautiful bike made from copper. What do I think? "I wonder if I could use that as a starter in a lesson!"

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Saturday, 29 September 2012

RRS reader

I can't recommend enough using an RSS reader to read blogs. So simple to use, add blogs and save favourite posts for future reference.

I use google reader and an app on the iPhone and iPad that picks up the feed.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Modelling Electricity

Is it easier to understand electrical circuits by "playing" with batteries, bulbs, leads and ammeters or by modeling it by walking around the room?

If I am honest I think that I wouldn't teach one without the other. I believe that it is important for students to "see" the science for themselves, even if there is an easier way to explain it.

Last week we investigated circuits and revised the concepts students should have come across in year 7. This didn't go as well as I would like: new plan needed!

Today I decided to introduce models to the students instead.

I felt that the students grasped the ideas better. But they did have the "real" experiences from the previous lesson to back up the ideas I was giving them.

At the end of the lesson I asked the group to look at other models. I was impressed with how they managed the task, however their written explanations require work. That's next!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

ASE Conference January 2013

I intend to go to the ASE conference 2013. It is being held in Reading, which is convenient for both my  and my science teacher partner, Richard.

As we are both members and will get the 20% early bird discount it isn't too expensive to stay for all four days, three nights.

I want to go to the international day as I teach a lot of international students and communicating with international teachers will help me to understand the prior experiences of the students and therefore teach them more appropriately.

I know that I want to go to some frontier lectures. I enjoyed hearing about cutting edge science. Sometimes I get so involved in education I forget about "science". I want to take as many opportunities as I can to remind myself.

I will also be careful not to arrange any booked courses on Friday afternoon, as I really hope the ASE can get a key note speaker for that time. Although I would like to go to a literacy workshop at that time.

This year I am interested to hear the presidential address and I want to go to some sessions that relate to the changes happening to the curriculum and the way that GCSE/EBC science will be assessed.

The added bonus of the conference will be meeting a lot of the people I know from twitter. Putting a face to the twitter handle will be great.

Organising Resources

I noticed on a few blogs I've read teachers leaving pages for websites they've found. I use delicious to store links to websites, but I don't often retrieve them, I collect and hoard.

In my department staff use folders with paper and plastic wallets to store schemes of work. Mine are stored electronically these days, but how organised are they really? How useful on a day-to-day basis is the the information stored between the school shared drive, my mobile phone, my iPad, iCloud, Dropbox and my computer?

I am increasingly aware that moving away from paper is not going to be a practical solution. I give out worksheets to the students and if there is spare I don't want to throw them out.

I have decided that I'll use pinterest to organise links, (mainly videos and distinct resources) by the topic I'm teaching. I'll continue to use delicious for all links, but I do want to review the tags I'm using.

I have 100GB on dropbox. I am going to reorganise these files and reconsider the folders I am currently sharing. Leaving the majority. I will move my folders away from being only on my hard drive. I need to sort these folders too. They are organised by year, not only by topic. But should I be using iCloud?

There is so many wonderful resources out there, I do wonder if I'll ever have the perfect way to organise and store them! I suppose the way to do it has evolved over the past 10 years and will continue to.

All this is before considering the various applications available to organise calendars, notes, reminders etc.