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.

Planning for Progression

"Planning for progression is an important aspect of any curriculum development. Effective planning involves carefully and deliberately sequencing the curriculum content and experiences that teachers ... intend learners to have. These plans should build on previous learning and achievements to promote future learning." From

During the last few weeks I have had to think about these points a lot. Firstly I have had to write a year 6 scheme up to Christmas with nothing but the word "underground" as a stimulus. And now I am back I am teaching the dreadful OCR Gateway chemistry specification that doesn't allow any progression through it in terms of difficulty - in fact I would suggest it gets easier.

If you have any books from the "teaching secondary..." range from the ASE the concepts and ideas are arranged in such a way that they allow learners to progress in difficulty and understanding. This is what I interpret "planning for progression" to mean.

The long term plan introduces the core concepts and ideas that students need to base their knowledge of the next set of concepts and ideas on. The methods and abstract models that are introduced early in the scheme allow students to access the ideas later and the complexity and difficulty of the topics being covered increases through the curriculum.

It might be that this plan is across key stages; what concepts have to be grasped at key stage 3 in order to support progression to key stage 4. It may be within a key stage, for example teaching particles in year 7 means that students can grasp ideas in the atoms and elements and sound modules in year 8. 

However, there is also planning for progression in the short-term. For example in a single lesson. The 5E method of lesson planning allows this, by eliciting the ideas students will need, allowing them to use these to explore something else and then using what they have found out to make connects to something further shows short-term progression.

In the medium term a module might allow progression of ideas. For example in acids and alkalis, the progression is from "there are such things as acids" to "there are such things as acids and their opposites alkalis" and move on to "acids and alkalis have different strengths you can measure using pH", to "acids and alkalis can cancel each other out".

SOLO taxonomy is a useful guide to working out if the tasks being asked of pupils are more difficult than the ones before. Or using national curriculum levels, as looking at the way topics have been arranged by their QCA unit there is clear progression in difficulty from year 7 to 9, and it is increasingly possible to access higher levels in the majority of lessons in year 9.

I hate the new GCSE courses and in a lot of ways I believe that this is because they reduce the opportunity for me to do any "planning for progression" in the medium term. I hope that the new curriculum will brig this back. Although I do not expect my wishes to be heard.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Controlled Assessment Graphs

I really want my triple science students to get maximum marks from their graphs.

It isn't going to be easy.

What constitutes a "complex mathematical technique"? And once you've used one how do you demonstrate "quantitative uncertainty"?

I know year 13 students who would struggle to do this independently.

The success will be when they do it successfully in their controlled assessment.

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Location:United Kingdom

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I realise I am not bothered (much)

I was initially upset that there would be no national curriculum at secondary level and one exam board for science gcse.

But I can put a positive spin on it: no national curriculum is better than what they are getting in primary, and will effectively mean no change. The most popular key stage 3 science scheme is exploring science so this is what England will effectively continue to use. How Science Works was never fully embedded so losing it won't make a difference to the teachers who didn't understand it anyway.

I hate the new science controlled assessments, and won't be sad to see them go. I will still do practical work when it helps students to learn.

The exam boards are probably much better placed to write a specification than the government and ofqual. Competition may make the whole qualification well thought through.

I suppose what I am saying is "it can't get any worse". Can it?

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Teaching Secondary Physics

I am reading "teaching secondary physics" at the moment. (Mainly because I have ordered "teaching secondary chemistry" and I want to get an idea if it will be useful to me).

In a lot of ways how I teach, or at least the curriculum I use, is strongly influenced by the various commercially available schemes of work and the QCA schemes. Which is not necessarily bad. However, it is refreshing to read a book with ideas about how to structure the teaching order. I am interested to see that that newer GCSE specifications don't follow these suggested teaching structures. I struggle teaching the newer specifications and I wonder if this is because of the order of the introduction of the concepts. Is one way of introducing ideas better than the others?

"Teaching Secondary Physics" is a useful book for anyone thinking of writing a scheme of work.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Getting to know your class

I have to admit that I am finding it a bit harder to teach at this time of year. I don't really know my classes that well and it is affecting the communication and advice that I can give during a lesson.

I can see why ofsted would like to see a good relationship between the class and the teacher. I don't believe that good teaching is about stamping on a class at the start of the year and keeping them "down", more about building relationships and supporting the learning so that students are able to be independent learners and move upwards.

However, I have forgotten what it is like to start in September in a new school and not know the students well. It is hard for someone with my personalised teaching style, but it can only get better.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Newsletters via email and post

I stated in a previous blog post that I had felt the need to take charge of my own professional development as it was falling between the cracks at my previous school.

I joined a lot of mailing lists.

Some of them are:

Snapshot Science
National STEM centre
National Science and Engineering Week
Planet Science
Science Learning Centre
Nuffield Foundation
National College for School Leadership
RI channel

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Excitement over the January ASE conference

The annual ASE conference is 4 months away, but I am excited already.

The preview brochure has come through the post in the last week.

I have been through and highlighted everything I want to go to. I need a Hermione Granger time turner thingy to go to everything I have chosen. And as more is added I may struggle even more.

I know this year that I will only choose a couple of booked courses so I can change my plans as more events are added to the programme.

I really hope that there is a lecture like the in the zone lecture last year or David Attenborough the year before. I will keep my Friday afternoon free just in case.

I would recommend to anyone to go to a frontier lecture, as well as the teaching workshops and debates.

I have other things in my life this term, a trip up North, a holiday in Cornwall and of course Christmas, this just makes my job a bit more entertaining too.

If you are a science teacher you should try to go.

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Aims for the year

I have my personal aims for the year and departmental ones.

My personal aims are:

To try out some of the activities that I see in "science in school", "physics education" and "school science review". Then if I feel they are effective add them to the scheme of work.

To boost the number of literacy strategies that I use in my lessons to support my students develop their ability to write lengthy passages.

Construct a high quality themed year 6 scheme of work based on the 5E form of lesson planning.

Continue to develop my work and support of the work of the ASE on a regional and national level.

All this along side trying to teach the best lessons I can: Those that allow students to explore their own ideas and come up with their own conclusions.

Let's see how it goes!

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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Planning using the 5Es (or 7Es) of lesson planning

The 5Es are engage, elicit, explore, explain, elaborate.

When planning I start with elaborate and engage. I decide what it is that I want the students to be able to say/do at the end of the lesson to show their understanding. Then I will think of how to introduce the lesson. It maybe that I want them to explain fractional distillation, so I will start the lesson with images of products made from oil.

For the elicit phase I think about how what science I need the class to have before we can move on. So for fractional distillation they need to understand boiling and condensing.

Explore and explain are the main part of the lesson. I might refer back to the engage section. The students might complete an experiment like how temperature affects the size of crystals formed, working out the efficiency of a kettle, observing a demonstration of fractional distillation, plotting the locations of earthquakes on a map. Then after the students have investigated something for themselves they explain what they found. It might be as a whole class discussion, it could be a Cloze procedure, but something that involves some degree of teacher input to ensure the students are on the right track in their thinking.

Then they need to apply what they have learned in a context in the elaborate phase. This bit is what the lesson is all about. It allows the teacher to assess that students. This is the bit of the work that I would mark.

Sometimes you can do as perfect a lesson as others.

For example F=ma. I could just tell them the formula and get them to do questions. I know ultimately I want the students to answer questions using F=ma, so that will be my elaborate. I now have to think of a context requiring F=ma that the students can answer questions about that can also engage them. Stopping distances might be one, I have a video clip of Jason Bradbury demonstrating that the stopping distance of a car is more than a motor bike. That could be the engage and the students can explain it and carry out calculations about it in the elaborate phase. Before they can explain stopping distances using F=ma students need to understand balanced and unbalanced forces, so I would question them about it in the elicit phase.

For acid/alkali indicators I would dream up a scenario where the chemist needs to know if the chemicals are acids or alkalis. In the elicit phase I might ask for a common acid and alkali. Then we would make an indicator and test it in the explore and explain phase respectively. In the elaborate phase we would use the indicator to test the unknown chemical and the students can write down what they have found in their own words.

I find using the 5Es makes the plenary of the lesson the most important part and encourages me to teach constructivist lessons.

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