Sunday, 29 December 2013

Nurture 13/14

I am trying to get a better balance of work and the rest of my life, so I hope my nurture 13/4 post reflects this. Science teaching is a passion, but I want to be more than just that.

13 reflections on 2013

1: LEL
The best thing about 2013 was the summer holiday. During that time Richard cycled the epic cycle ride from London to Edinburgh back to London in 112 hours. There was a lot of building up to it. I tried to be as supportive as I could during the year. I paid for his dynamo hub wheel at the start of spring, and I was glad that I did as it came in useful and meant Richard could afford to buy a GoreTex jacket. At the time his was riding I was very nervous as I wanted him to complete the ride inside the time limit, and also be safe. It was such a massive achievement for Richard, stepping up from cycling 400km once before to deciding to cycle 1200km, and I was incredibly proud that he did it. My only disappointment was how upset he was that his achievement was largely ignored by his senior colleagues at his own school.

2: Gromit Unleashed
During the summer Bristol and the surrounding areas had a Gromit trail. (a) I found all 50 Gromits, which I was more pleased with than I should be at 33. (b) The Gromit trails also meant that Lucie and Dominic had an excuse to visit, it was great to see them and drag them around Bristol. (c) And another group of twitter friends met up to search for the Gromit statues in central Bristol and we ended up in zero degrees with Karen getting a tour so she could explain microbreweries to her year 11 triple science class. This was great fun. (d) My mam also came to stay and we also went Gromit hunting. I don't see her enough and it was lovely to be able to show her Bristol. (e) Part of the hunt also meant we had an excuse to go to London for the day as a family to see the one at Paddington station and go to the science museum.

3: Joanna Lumley
At the end of the 2012/13 school year Joanna Lumley spoke at our school speech day. She was everything I expected her to be. She told the girls to "be beautiful, be brave, be kind, be clever, be happy". Qualifying all these with descriptions. The last piece of advice was for the girls not to be slaves to the mobiles. (That advice fell on deaf ears!) It was good for me, the parents and girls to hear that exam results aren't everything. As a school it is what we believe, and hope to produce well rounded young ladies with an interest in the world.

4: ASE conferences
I have been to 3 ASE conferences this year. I helped to organise the regional one. I really feel they are the best CPD a science teacher can have. Apart from the sessions, the ASE conferences are an opportunity to network with the best people in education. I am terribly grateful to the ASE that through their conferences I was able to talk to Brenda Naylor (Keogh - the concept cartoon lady). I am responsible for upper key stage 2 science (despite being a secondary science teacher) so I asked her "what is primary science all about?". Brenda was so sweet to me and answered me so concisely, but helpfully and inspired me to do well and see the importance in teaching my Year 6 class science. This is just one example of the power of the ASE conferences. Rest in Peace Brenda, you touched a lot of people and having only had two conversations with you I can see why you were such an important part of primary science education.

5: New Head Teacher
In January we got a new Head Teacher. The year has been interesting as a result. She is the best Head I have worked for. However, it hasn't all been plain sailing. It is fantastic to be lead with someone with such passion for the development of the young people in our care, they are her focus. We came runner-up recently in a ranking of pastoral care. My focus continues to be STEM education as we need to produce the female engineers and scientists of the future, but I know that I have the support of the Head in this (although she perhaps doesn't know the extent of my passion!) and I feel it isn't at odds with the Head's aims.

6: Laptop
One of the worst things this year was my laptop dying. I haven't been able to afford a new one yet. I use my iPad as my main computer now, but it isn't easy and I feel my efficiency slipping.

7: Car
The other really bad this was that my car needed £2500 spent on it in April. The head gasket. Savings cleared out.

8: Escapism
While Richard can escape his problems by riding 300/400/600/1200km through the day and night, it is not my cup of tea. I look to more sedate activities. As a student and young teacher I used to go to the cinema on my own every week. (for a year with my friend Naomi). I stopped when I got together with Richard and after a couple of years I got frustrated and forced ourselves to get back into the habit. I am pleased that we have been to the Curzon cinema in Clevedon about 12 times in 2013 (and other cinemas on top of that). Reading is also something I enjoy, so last Christmas Richard gave me a kindle, and I have read 31 books using it since then. I love it and have already pre-ordered quite a few books for 2014. I have never read quite so much as last year.

9: Step-daughter
I am delighted with the way that my step-daughter is growing up. Year 8 was hard for her, she was bored, bullied and unhappy in school. She can draw (and explain) electron shell diagrams, she is reading Tolstoy, yet her teachers didn't recognise it. However, she didn't allow her negative experience of school to put her off learning, and now she is in Year 9 her love of school is returning. The thing that impressed me most about her this year was when we went to visit my friend Vivienne in Scotland. We walked up the side of a mountain (a big hill anyway) and she didn't complain one bit because that evening she wanted to go out in Viv's sea Kayak with Matt, Viv's boyfriend whom she had never met. Her determination to try new things is so strong that she is an inspiration to me.

10: Controlled Assessment
I am pleased that I took the advice of those who said we should do controlled assessments with the students in one whole day. We have done this three times now and it makes a huge difference to the time management, focus, preparedness and results of the students.

11: New Appointments
This year I have appointed a new chemistry teacher and a new technician. Very exciting appointments and the chemistry teacher especially is a fantastic edition to the school. She is an inspiration to me and spurs me to be a better leader and teacher.

12: Extra-curricular science
I hired an incubator and eggs before half term. It was so exciting to see little lives come into the world and the girls loved it. The girls and staff were extremely supportive, a community pulling together. I recommend it to everyone. In March we put in place some activities to celebrate science week, and it was a great success with the girls, especially the assembly. In June year 9 completed science projects and presented them to the head and other teachers, which was great fun.

13: Exam results
After a full academic year working at my school and leading the science department the results came in. I was worried, what if the controlled assessments were marked too highly? (They were in planning but not enough to pull down our results overall). What if the final exam had high grade boundaries to pull down the percentages of students passing? However, our results were great. Not all students were delighted, but no results were lower than I expected and many were higher than I expected. I take no credit for this, the girls at our school work hard and have high expectations for themselves. However, it was a great validation of the work that I am doing and my importance to the success of the department.

There is more, there is so much more. Eating out, going for long walks, trying a new recipe every month thanks to the Waitrose recipe cards and using the slow cooker we got for Christmas last year to good effect, seeing my brother pick his life up after hitting rock bottom, having good friends move into the village, buying some beautiful new dresses, my uncle doing better after cancer, the birth of my cousin's new baby girl, meeting sex education Alice, talking with Christine Harrison, reading '' and trying new teaching ideas out, instagram, #ASEchat, Sarah and Ali who run ASE in the west with me, being able to spend quality time with Dr Dav, Andy Murry and Chris Froome and all the other great sporting moments of 2013, Diane my supportive Assistant head at school, my department who are great fun, Joan and Cat who are the Year 7 team with me, the school Christmas party, the winter wonderland lights show at Westonbirt Arboretum, attending the October Science Museum lates, going to Slimbridge and buying binoculars, every time I go to Folyes in London, Alwinton Show, the inspiration I get from the York Science project, the ideas and resources of Lucie, the positivity and friendship of Karen, the science TV and radio guide, research Ed 2013, teachmeet Clevedon, teachmeet Wilts, Ed Walsh's keynote at the ASE west conference, the Cheltenham Science festival, the Bristol festival of nature, Rev Alice's assemblies, staff choir, the girls performances in lunch time concerts, all the EAL girls at the school adding to my life experience, school in general as it is such a happy place.

14 things for 2014

I don't think that I can write properly about 2014 until I have been to the ASE conference in January, but here goes.

1: Richard will be 50 in 2014, I want to mark the occasion appropriately, but I don't know what that is yet.

2: I have some tickets for the commonwealth games in Glasgow, I am really looking forward to them as I love watching live sport. I hope we can see some world cup track cycling too, and we aim to see the Grand Depart of le Tour.

3: We moved into our house in 2011, and we still haven't decorated our bedroom yet (any of the upstairs in fact). I want to at least strip the awful wallpaper in 2014!

4: I want to make more of an effort to visit Westonbirt Arboretum more often. I drive past it each day and I have never been during autumn. I must rectify this in 2014.

5: In 2013 I managed to lose 6lbs during the summer, I have put 2 back on, but I want to lose another 10-12lbs during 2014 to get back to the shape I was once proud of. Will power is necessary!

6: I need to save money in 2014 to be able to buy myself a new laptop. I would love to save enough to be able to afford a trip to Hong Kong, but I think this may be beyond me.

7: The new national curriculum provides an opportunity I want to make the most of, I just don't known he details yet!

8: I really hope my A2 physics students get the results they need to get to university.

9: The more involved I get in the ASE the more I realise its power and importance. I want to continue to contribute to it, and I will.

10: I keep finding white hairs in my brown ones. 2014 is the year that I am going to have to face doing something about them.

11: I am organising to take the whole school to the Big Bang Science Fair and I hope that the trip is a success that puts science week onto the school calendar as a permanent event. I want to start the engineering education scheme up in school in 2014/15 with year 12. I want to put STEM on a stronger footing within the school and attract more post-16 students who want to student STEM subjects at university. To me the value of studying science is clear and this is something I want to ensure comes across in my teaching and the teaching of the rest of the department.

12: I have no more excuses not to apply for my CSciTeach accreditation in 2014. I should be working on the application instead of writing this.

13: I want to be more organised, my time, my resources, everything! I want to be organised enough to make the most of all the opportunities I am given.

14: In terms of improving my teaching practice and making resolutions for my department I will wait until after the ASE conference. The event always inspires me and connects me to the right people to point me, my teaching and my department in the best direction. I am especially looking forward to seeing Mary and talking York Science!

Life in 2013 was busy, but I had a good time. I hope 2014 is another good one. There is so much more to look forward to.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

On blogging....

Laura McInerney wrote a blog post about the perceived lack of women bloggers here:

I didn't make it to the list that Old Andrew wrote in his comment.... Oh well.

I can't speak for other women, as the initial image of Laura's blog post shows, I think that it is unfair to generalise the experience of one/some women to that of many, in the same way that if I said the male bloggers all come across as trying to sound clever by quoting international eduction researchers it wouldn't be fair either as I read many blogs by men that don't.

Personally I feel that arguing the toss via blogs and twitter is a waste of my time, and I should be planning/marking/enjoying my life etc. Perhaps many women feel the same. I read with interest (and some alarm) this blog post: and found the debate thoroughly ridiculous and totally irrelevant to me.

As a member of the science teaching community I have a voice via the ASE and SCORE back into government. I know many of the people personally who represent me as a science teacher, and make decisions on my behalf. I trust them. You only need to see the work that Ann and Brenda did on the primary curriculum to know that faith is not misplaced, and have heard Stella Paes from AQA say at the ASE summer conference that the UK had the world's experts in science education.

I am content with the purpose of my subject and know that there are very many people out there who know much much more than me. You only need to be in a room a short while with Ed Walsh, Christine Harrison, Pete Robinson, Robin Millar, Sally Howard, Jane Turner, Mary Whitehouse, Steve Marshall, Chris Colclough, Linda Needham, Ann Goldsworth James Williams and Stuart Naylor to know that anything I would write should not be accepted as an authority.

I don't blog to make myself feel like I have a voice and that I am influential. I don't blog to share my authority in my subject. I don't blog to justify my teaching style. I don't need to care that I didn't make it to Andrew's list.

Why do I blog? I blog to share what I have done, what I am thinking and what is challenging me. I hope that my posts support others and support me.

If you are a woman, who doesn't think they can blog because they are a woman, you surprise me. If you have something to say then set up a blog and go for it.

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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Levels: tracking attainment or supporting progression

After reading through the tweets that arose from this tweet I start to see why a lot of people are happy with the demise of levels.

I am really upset that levels have gone in the new national curriculum. I used 'identify, describe, explain, use key ideas, link key ideas' in the first 7/8 years of my teaching career, and now I use the APP grid.

However, I am not using the levels to report on the attainment of students but to help them progress. And I am very confident it works (for me).

I see and accept all the possible issues around using levels in reporting and the inconsistency from one teacher/subject/school to the next. However, I still want level descriptors to help me understand the increasing complexity of the work I set students and their explanations of it.

I know many readers will say that I can still use the APP grid or 'identify, describe, explain, use key ideas, link key ideas' as nothing us stopping me, others will use SOLO taxonomy etc.

The issue that concerns me is what will everyone else do? Are heads of department expected to understand the progression in challenge of ideas individually in order to separately support their staff in knowing how to improve the work if their students?

Maybe it is intuitive to everyone else, but as a student teacher and NQT it was not to me. It also wasn't to the AST I worked with in 2006, to who 'identify, describe, explain, use key ideas, link key ideas' was something she learned outside our school and brought it back to us. (I was astounded as I knew from my previous LA advisor). It wasn't to those who developed a key stage 3 scheme in my previous school either.

My question is this: without level descriptors how will teachers successfully support the progression of their students? And don't say 'SOLO taxonomy', a) isn't that just levels without the numbers and b) how will everyone know it is there as a tool?

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Saturday, 2 November 2013

2014 Key stage 3 national curriculum - working scientifically

I have had a lot of people looking at my blog for my interpretation of the draft version of the national curriculum. It is over a month now since the final draft has been published, so it is about time that I commented on that too.

In the images above I have coloured the comments green that are the same as the draft version and made the changes yellow.

I am delighted with the first change. It represents an acknowledgement to the language of measurement book from the ASE that the examination boards all use now too. I am grateful. Even if we might not like the definitions, everyone using the same ones does make life easier.

I think that most, if not all, science departments were trying to develop the use of this language into their key stage three schemes as preparation for GCSE, so it doesn't represent a major change.

I really like the 'scientific attitudes' section, and I am pleased that this part of the national curriculum isn't just about investigations, so we haven't lost the element of how science works that was introduced in 2008.

The next question is how to develop these skills in our young people and what the desired outcome at the end of year 9 would be. And of course how to assess it.

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Friday, 1 November 2013

Teaching Schools Will Solve the Problems the DfE Create (apparently)

I read today that teaching schools are to help us approach out implementation of the new national curriculum. Oh joy of joys. It seems to me that if there is a problem that has to be solved by schools (usually created by the DfE) then it is teaching schools that has to do this. Why I am so sceptical?

I started my career working at the worst school in the worst local authority, we knew we were dreadful teachers because the deputy head that was appointed from the LA in order to rescue us told us that the reason the school was failing was because of us, the teachers. I must have been a terrible teacher.

Three years later I found myself working in a school that was to become a teaching school. David Hargreaves addressed us. He told us that we were the best group of staff he had come across (or at least that is what I heard).

Hang on, I thought, how can I go from being one of the worst teachers in the country to one of the best?

We can have a debate about what makes one school better than another. That is not what I want to consider in this post, my question is what makes one body of staff better than another? Who is to say that the staff body in a teaching school is the best place to go to for information about curriculum change?

I worry about this with good reason. When I worked in a teaching school we were praised by our management for 'innovation'. In reality the decisions that were made regarding the science curriculum were at best poorly considered at worst disastrous for our students. I would not have wished any of those ideas onto another school.

In my final year at the school I managed to undermine sufficiently the appalling key stage 3 curriculum (although I can't take much credit myself, the other staff saw the results in the poor ability of the GCSE students). They were then going to re-write the key stage 3 curriculum. I didn't see the results, but again the outline plan was not something that I would want to impose on another school. Am I an expert? No. My opinion about the curriculum that this school may or may not have is irrelevant and it is probably working well.

If I were still working there my opinion would be relevant. It would be sought by schools in the area and my interpretation of the new national curriculum would be sold to others schools as being a good one on the basis that I work at a teaching school.

What makes the opinion of the teacher at the worst school in the worst LA worth that much less than the teacher at an outstanding teaching school, when the change between the two is one job application away?

Monday, 21 October 2013

Review of This Half Term (or the reasons why I am so very tired).

I didn't set myself specific targets at the start of this academic year, which is unlike me. However, I did promise myself that I would take opportunities that were presented to me and I would try out some new things in my teaching.

The term started with a lot of things on my to-do, some of which are still there!

I started behind and I have never really caught up as, the first week was extrememly busy in school, doubly so because I am a year 7 form tutor. The term started on Sunday night with a parent's drinks reception. Throughout the week I spent a lot of time talking to parents and checking the girls were where they were suposed to be. It was a positive time, with the Year 7 girls' enthusiasm rubbing off on me.

I also went to Research Ed 2013 at Dulwich College on the 7th September and came into school to enjoy a walk with the girls on the Sunday of the same weekend and have been exhusted ever since.

The first thing that I wanted to do was give 'destroy' a try. Rachel Jones challenged myself and Karen DW to try the activity and I promised that I would at the earliest opportunity. Do have a look at my blog post with a link to Rachel's if you want to know what 'destroy' means. I think that this went rather well as the students didn't want to leave to go to lunch! And, most importantly the work was excellent. I arranged for three certificates and sweets to be given out in assembly for the work. The activity was completed on a Saturday morning, (all staff teach on three Saturday's per year), again making me more tired as I live 45 minutes from work so the 7.00am wake-up wasn't welcome after the previous busy weekend.

My colleague found the RSC photography competition and we spend two weeks with students wanting to carry out experiments during break and after school in our labs, this was time consuming, but as a head of faculty really positive too. Firstly, I was really happy that a member of my department wanted to contribute to the extra-curricular provision in the department, and secondly that so many girls were keen to give up their time to do an activity in science.

In lessons I used confidence grids for the first time with my Year 11 class. I really like using them, but discovered later in the term not to add too many ideas.

At the end of September my partner and I went to the Cycle Show at the NEC, it was great to get out and do something different.

At the start of October was the As-levels Choices evening with our Year 11 students. I was pleased with the number that were considering science, especially chemistry (as this is what I teach to Year 11). There were a few who were thinking about physics (even better as this is my subject at A-level) and a handful thinking about it seriously. I just hope that they will continue at my school as we have fantastic students.

On 4th October the school hosted their termly lecture. It was by David James who also works at the school filming material for publicity. He was a solider in Afganistan and returned there to live and work. It was fasinating gainin the insight into the people and their problems and how the international intervention is struggling to make any sort of difference and in some cases holding the country back.

In the middle of all this I picked up on a literacy lesson that Clare Nelson (twitter) had taught and asked her for the details. I then made my own physics related version of the lesson. It was to help the students approach 6 mark questions, which they do struggle with. I still have to write a blog post on the activity and do another similar lesson on a different topic to see what impact it will have on the attainment and approaches of the students.

From Monday 30th September to Monday 14th October I hired an incubator, brooder and eggs from, both for my own classroom and the Year 6 classroom. The GCSE and A-level students loved it, particularly during the days they were hatching. This was an exhusting time, as I barely got out of my room for students coming to see the eggs and chicks. However, it was worth it especially in building relationships with the Year 6 students.

The second weekend in October is a time I visit Northumberland to help with Alwinton Border Shepherds' Show. A long weekend, with very little time for sleeping (bed at 1am on Friday, up at 6am and then on my feet all day). I am still feeling the effects and it will take some time in the holidays to catch up!

The Saturday just past was the first ASE assembly meeting of the year. A productive meeting, that has put a lot more onto the ever increasing to-do list. (If you don't get time to do it, then it will only get longer).

I have also carried out three performance management meetings (not including my own) and observed three lessons by the department (all very strong outcomes and giving my a lot of faith in my team). I have booked Year 7-10 and any post-16 students who would like to come, into the Big Bang Fair in March and arranged for myself to visit the ASE conference for three days in January. I have completed mock tests with year 10 and 11, and used iSams to complete a progress report on all but 5 of the students that I teach. (If you use iSams then you will know how laborious a process completing reports are). I have also written the annual report on our summer examination results, (which was positive so something that I enjoyed doing for once!).

The last few weeks of term have seen me try some of @kolhmand's ideas from her great blog: Year 9 have writen on flags and used that work to be publically critqued (work to be done here),,  and Year 11 have been doing a 'come dine with me' activity to get across the main ideas about percentage yield. I shared the paper plates/come dine with me activity with the department and they really liked the idea.

On Thursday I attended a lunch with the governors, who are very keen to support the increase in the use of ICT in the school. Then on Friday my family and I joined forces with three Year 10 girls to compete in the parents association annual quiz night. (We did OK).

I feel like I deserve to be tired, and that the pace of the term has been frantic. There is still more that I would have liked to have achieved and will strive to be more organised with lesson planning to allow me to have more time to do the things that I would like to do.

The term isn't over though. I have two days more of teaching and I plan to attend the teachmeet at the Clarendon Academy in Trowbridge on Thursday (only possible because it is half term for me).

I am ready for my break.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Lovely piece of advice from Christine Harrison: if must give grades for pieces of work then first give comments and only grade the redraft of the work.

This means that the students still have to take on board the comments you make.

So simple! Why hadn't I though of this before?

Another suggestion was that you prepare example pieces of work, a high, middle and low. Then get the students to compare their work against them. Ultmately placing their work on the continuum and being able to explain why it would fit there.

This last suggestion is certainly something that I will try after the half term break in order to try and get my students to improve their writing.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Confidence Grids. Mixed reviews: but I like it.

I have been inspired by the York Science project ( ) to use diagnostic questions with my students. York Science have already produced lots of examples for key stage 3, but after a suggestion about using examiners reports on their blogs I decided to change my attention to GCSE classes.

I made some over the summer as examples for the department, but yesterday and today was the first time that I tried them with a GCSE class. I gave the question in the image above to both my year 11 chemistry classes. It was a review of the last section where they learned about using temperature to change the rate of reaction.

I was really pleased with the results. From my point of view I could see who had misconceptions and might write the wrong thing in an exam: those who did not understand English enough to realise why an answer is wrong. For example the answer 'the collisions are faster gave a lot of debate in the class as to why this did not mean the same thing as 'the collisions are more frequent'.

I asked the students afterwards, a few did not like the activity. They did not want to get the question wrong in the first place and found it hard to understand. A few didn't mind the activity. And some were pleased as they liked that you could see the sort of statements that wouldn't give you marks and therefore know how to avoid them.

I think that this is a great activity to use with a class, and will aim to use them more often.

Thanks a lot to Mary Whitehouse and the York Science Team.

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

"They don't learn anything at key stage 3 anyway"...

I was was reminded of this quote by the high flying key stage 3 coordinator at my last school during a conversation about the new national curriculum this week.

I rarely speak out during the heat of the moment, preferring to swallow my disgust or horror at what people are saying. Mainly because I often say things I don't mean as I fail to express myself clearly during discussions. Many times I have regretted it.

At my previous school we had the most ridiculous key stage 3 scheme or work. Its main aim was for the students to have fun. I am not sure that is a great place to start when designing an entire curriculum. High expectations and clear progression would be my starting point.

It was dreadful and I remember discussing some of the issues around progression from easier to harder ideas and how the curriculum inhibited this.

"They don't learn anything at key stage 3 anyway", from the head of key stage 3 science. My, in my head, not out loud response: "it is your JOB to make sure they learn something at key stage three, not to put in place schemes that mark time".

How I regret not saying anything.

I think those that believe that their students do not pick up learning at key stage 3, need to consider two things: why teach them at key stage 3 at all? Why will it be any different at key stage 4?

The last time I heard this high flying key stage 3 coordinator was a deputy head. I hope his attitude has changed some what.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Variety is the spice of life... /Exit tickets 2
I have written before about exit tickets. I have been using them once per week for my GCSE classes. the current year 11 took to them well, and the current Year 10 have been happy to do them too.

I find it very useful. While I mark them formatively, I do record a brief mark I think they would get into my mark book and through last year I noticed an increase in the scores that I was awarding. More than that though it helps the students to consolidate disjointed ideas within a topic. And I learn a lot about where the students are going wrong with ideas and exam technique.

These are my resources for OCR Gateway:


However, despite this success, I am concerned that overkill with exit tickets will damped their positive effect if students get bored with them. I fear this because I want to introduce them to my department as a positive activity.

How else can I present 6 mark style questions without calling them such? I don't want to have to mark them out of six and I don't want student to fear them on the exam paper making them a big mental block. Not much to ask?

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,Bristol,United Kingdom

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Destroy Enrichment

During the summer Rachel Jones challenged me and Karen DW to try and be more creative by setting up a 'destroy' homework. Please do look at her ideas and work here:

Karen and I both agreed that we could do famous scientists related to our topics.

I did think that I would set this as the first homework of the year for Year 10 to introduce them to some of the scientists they would come in contact with during their GCSEs. However, in my school we have to teach Saturdays, so last Saturday I decided to set this activity as work for year 10 to do during the morning session instead.

To introduce the topic I showed them a video of Rankin's 'destroy' project for Youth Music to give the students the idea. Then I showed the students some images I found by searching on google, such as this image of Kylie.

The first thing the student did was research a famous scientist. One from a list or one of their own. I offered a concept map containing a list of who, what, where, when, why, how, questions on it to help structure ideas and condense them from Wikipedia!

The students printed images they found on the Internet that they could cut up later and destroy.

The students has access to printable transparencies, coloured sugar paper, plain paper (A2/3/4), pencils, felt pens, foil, string, cotton wool, glue and scissors. The printer is a colour photocopier, so they could use colour.

The students had about two hours to create the images you see above and below. Some didn't finish and have taken them home to complete.

The students were asking why science lessons were not like this all the time!

Overall, a great experience. I would reccomend this as a way of creating images and posters that tell you something, but do not involve much writing. The students did learn about the scientist and enjoyed themselves too.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

"We already do that" and "Teacher Proof"

I am 56% of the way through Tom Bennett's book teacher proof.

I have to say that I am feeling smug. It seems to me that I have been a teacher the same length of time that he has, give or take. However, as a member of a science department I have never found myself taking on board any of the ideas Tom is dismissive of. Mainly thanks to cynical heads of department and lack of enthusiasm once part of the science teachers (including me).

Imagine the science staff meeting.
"Is everyone here?"
"Angela hasn't got her cup of coffee yet, she's coming though"
"I'll start without her, she'll catch up. I have been asked by the deputy to add initiative X to the agenda, but I think that we already do that".
"Yeah, coz we do practical work so do learning styles/group work/multiple intelligences"
"We definitely do the nature multiple intelligence because in year 8 we go outside and count daisies."
"And we do data logging, so we already get students ready for the 21C"
"We do CASE" *furtive look as we no one actually does the CASE lessons* "so we are doing thinking skills and learning to learn".
"So what about thinking hats?"
"I wrote it into the lesson about whether we should build a nuclear power station in the middle of town, so we have it in a scheme".
"Right, so I can tell the deputy that we do all this stuff?"
"yes", "definitely", "yup", "yes".
"Great, carry on as normal".

And we did. It seems to me the "we do practical work" defence has protected many science departments from trying to implement a terrible initiative.

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Friday, 19 July 2013

I am a science teacher, I have joined twitter, now what?

You've signed up to an account.

Choose a @ name that isn't too long. And get a twitter app on your mobile device.

Now follow some people. I recommend @viciascience, @needhaml56, @lgolton, @kdwscience, @a_weatherall @bio_joe @asober @DrDav @agittner @cleverfiend @stuartphysics @lornamonroe @MaryUYSEG @teachingofsci and @mrsdrsarah as a starting point. Also follow organisations like @theASE @tesScience and @ITEfaraday

There are some lovely people like @hthompson1982 @natkin and @teachingtricks who will do what they can to help other teachers too.

Now start tweeting. But what can you tweet?

Links would be the first suggestion: to an interesting science or education story, to a great website or teaching resource, to a blog post, or just anything that you find interesting.

Photographs and images would be my next suggestion. A funny or interesting science image or cartoon. A photograph of your students work, a display you have made, a slide from a PowerPoint you are proud of. Be wary not to post photographs of your students if you are unsure the school has the relevant releases from parents.

A comment on an incident that has happened to you, particularly if it is positive. A comment on a news story.

Another thing to realise is that you are connected to a network of around 700 UK science teachers and even more abroad as well as numerous science and science education organisations you can ask a question or for help.

And lastly, of course you can retweet the tweets of others and reply to their tweets.

If you want your tweet to have a wider audience than just your followers then include a hashtag in your tweet. I recommend #asechat #scichat or #ukedchat then people who filter ALL tweets by hashtags will be able to see what you have to say.

Do set up saved searches of hashtags like #asechat so you can browse them yourself. You can find new people to interact with that way too.

Welcome to the world to the UK science teacher community on twitter.

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Using a Stick to Make Changes in Education

When it looked like 100% of the assessment of GCSE science was going to be examination based I was dismayed. "Science is a practical subject and we will lose that if the assessment doesn't reflect this".

In 2005 I went to an event for all the science teachers in Dudley and Wolverhampton LAs. I didn't make notes, but I do remember it was someone from York as the National Science Learning Centre was mentioned a lot. The speaker said that assessment is what drives the taught curriculum and that there were issues in how to assess 'how science works' part of the upcoming GCSE science. (The 2006 GCSE where double science was split to core and additional and 'how science works' was introduced). *at least this is what I remember hearing.

I found this quite powerful, and it did/does reflect my practice. I teach to the test. To this day I teach to the test: why would I not look at the hoop my students have to jump through and aim them as clearly as I can in the right direction?

However, it also made me feel like a tiny cog in the wheel. What I do, how I do it and what my students get out of it, is dictated by the skill of exam writers.

At the end of June I went to the ASE celebration conference in Hatfield. As part of that I attended two sessions host by AQA. We were looking at threats and possible solutions to science education in the next ten years. The audience had to suggest policies to address these threats. The topics picked were linked assessment and STEM. As part of the discussions there were suggestions put forward of how to 'encourage' schools to adopt the policy ideas being proposed: the responses were 'ofqual', 'league tables', 'ofsted' etc. All the things that are used as a stick against schools.

So I go back to my considerations about practical work. Is the call for there to be a practical aspect to the GCSE science assessment because it is a genuine skill that scientists need to be ready for a job, university or college? Or is it simply that we are proud in the UK of our practical science culture and want to maintain it through using the stick of assessment. Do either of these reasons really require that we examine practical work?

I would really like to see a culture where we didn't need the stick to enforce a certain type of practice. If it is good for the students then that should be enough reason to do it.

It all comes back to the professionalism of teachers: do we deserve it? Should we be given the responsibility and see if the 'profession' can rise to it?Would practice actually improve for the better because we would be adding things to both to school life and to lessons that would have an impact that is not possible to measure in exams, but will benefit the adult that child will become and the society it will live in.

But, my thoughts always come back to the probability that teaching to the test is so ingrained in teachers that "Science is a practical subject and we will lose that if the assessment doesn't reflect this".

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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Accountability and The Problems Line Managers Cause

I am accountable to myself and I like it.

In my current school I have not had a performance management meeting, targets or a even mentor assigned to me.

I have no direct line manager: I am accountable to as an individual as far as I can tell. As I am a curriculum leader I deal with the assistant head teacher for teaching and learning related issues and the director of studies (who is also the deputy head), for matters involving students. I don't find this a negative, these two members of management are accountable for all the exam results and as a result can be fair when dealing with individual subjects. They are also very understanding and supportive.

I am solely responsible for science, so I don't have someone who doesn't understand what is involved teaching science, or even what is involved in running a faculty, trying to effect the decisions I am making about the running of the faculty.

I have been in post 14 months now and for the first few I was waiting for others to tell me what to do. Nervous that if I made a change I should run it by someone else first. That someone would want to know what I was doing and why I was doing it and then ask me to submit forms. Don't get me wrong there's paper work to do, but I feel that I have autonomy that I have never experienced before.

Another head of science colleague of mine told me about her previous line manager. The manager was quite determined to make decisions that wold help improve Science, but these changes were structural or curriculum based and didn't move the department forwards. Her line manager was constantly asking her to change the make up the groups, mixed ability to setted and back again, change the timetables so new staff were teaching groups, move students from BTEC to GCSE and vice versa and enter students for exams, do mock exams, withdraw students from exams, change the way she was going to do controlled assessment and a variety of other hands-on decisions. Meanwhile the head of science was left spending her time making changes she didn't believe in rather than doing what needed to be done to improve the teaching skills of the teachers.

It is possible to argue that my colleague was not managed correctly. I would agree. But I also can understand why the manager would be so desperate to interfere as she too was accountable for the science department and being able to show the head what was done is always preferable on a personal level to saying we did nothing and we still got the same outcome.

I found the line managers in my previous school frustrating to some degree, but not to the same extent as my colleague.

As Head of Physics my line manager was the Head of Science and also an Assistant Principal. He struggled to balance the two jobs. Having no line manger himself he put in pace crazy schemes and methods of teaching. We rearranged the key stage 3 curriculum into nonsensical order and called it "innovative". The knock on when those students reached year 10 was a halving of the numbers doing triple science. We scrapped Core and Additional GCSE pathway, forcing all students who want to do art or media to choose BTEC, in the end a student was unable to get into her Primary education course because she didn't have GCSE science. Those are examples that spring to mind, there were an awful lot more. Most were not instigated by the Head of Science/Assistant Principal, but by a strong head of biology/key stage 3 coordinator who left before the damage was discovered; however the Head of Science/Assistant Principal tried to make the bad ideas work to save face.

In the school prior to that we all lived in constant fear of our line managers. Bullying was a problem from the very top of the school. I say we all live in fear, when we got a new head of faculty he took a much more relaxed view and was very honest and empathetic with the teachers and post holders in the faculty. He managed by not managing. He let us run with ideas and see where they took us. I imagine he took at lot of flack for not having us on a tight leash.

I appreciate that I am the expert on science education in my school and I am trusted to do my job.

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The aims of the science national curriculum (ks3)

Again I am looking at the proposed changes to the science national curriculum at key stage 3.

My previous blog post on the aims is here:

There has been changes from the February document to the current one.

In February this paragraph was written under the title 'Purpose of Study':

The current draft is exactly the same, however it misses the last sentence.

I still don't like the first sentence of the purpose of study. I think it was wise not to call the separate sciences biology, chemistry and physics as the lines are very blurred, and I think it marginalises geology, astronomy, ecology etc as specific disciplines.

I am also left wondering about the omission of the last sentence. Is it irrelevant as we would teach lessons in the context of application anyway? Or has it be omitted because the wording isn't great: "the specific applications", which specific applications? I do think that it is important that in science lessons we are teaching students about the links between science and their lives, without this we are not preparing them for the science based decisions they may have to make.

The aims of the science curriculum have not changed at all.

In the light of the aims, my concerns about the omission of the last sentence of the purpose seem unfounded as preparing students for a scientific and technological world seem linked to the third aim of the curriculum here.

I think that I would have liked to see 'curiosity' in the aims. Students should not just answer questions, but learn to ask them too.

As key stage 3 is not assessed by an exam the aims do not need to be restricted to things that can be assess using a written exam.

I still like the aims of the 2008 PoS best:

I agree they are wooly, but they are admirable.

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Friday, 12 July 2013

Skills vs knowledge

There seems to be a debate about skills vs knowledge. I don't really want to enter that debate, but it seems that I cannot avoid it.

It is even part of the discussion around the aims of the new national curriculum, with a lot of those responding to the consultation asking for an increased focus on skills in the aims.

Where do I stand? Firmly in the middle. It may well be that it is through indoctrination as much as anything else. But when I reflect, I believe that a balance always has to be struck.

If you want to see my conclusion skip to the bottom. My reasoning is in the middle.

When considering knowledge over skills:

It is not easy to assess all types of skills. Students will be measured and assessed by public examinations for the foreseeable future. I witnessed a debate about this recently, while a good proportion of the room thought they would like to see more teacher assessment in class they also all agreed it is impractical while we have the current accountability system. Can we write an exam that assesses these skills that is also sufficiently different year on year? That is hard. For some skills (collaboration) extremely difficult. So in science we have to teach 'facts' that will make up the majority of the assessment. Writing exams that are sufficiently original that test facts is also not easy. But it is possible.

Also, I have a responsibility to help produce the scientists of the future. The universities are not going to be happy with me and my science teacher colleagues if I deliver students who can read a thermometer, draw a line graph, work in a team and speak in public, but don't know that energy is conserved or Newton's Laws of Motion.

There is much agreement in the science education community that we should teach key ideas, but not what those key ideas are. This was a quote from Robin Millar at the ASE summer conference. I think that it backs up the assertion that knowledge is a key component in the science curriculum.

The biggest indication to the volume of knowledge that science teachers teach must be in key stage 4. The science national curriculum is worth one GCSE and to go on to study further science, you need to have covered at least two GCSEs worth of content. Other subjects (not even English, which is also worth two GCSEs) gets the same amount of curriculum time at GCSE.

A last comment on knowledge: I was asked by a PE teacher if it would be possible to teach the level 6 year 7 students in a group with the level 6 year 8 and 9 students. My instant reaction was 'no'. But why? Knowledge and exposure to topics. Year 7 go though foundation topics on cells, particles, chemical reactions, energy and forces (amongst other things) and the knowledge they acquire then is important to understanding the other topics.

In summary, I have to teach knowledge, and I do teach knowledge. I would never dream of not teaching knowledge.

What about skills?

Science has its own set of specific skills, a way of thinking if you like, that it takes to be a scientist. At least this is what I believe. If not STEM graduates would not be in such demand by other areas and careers. Would it be perceived as hard if it were easy for all to access it? Both logic and creativity is required for science.

I believe that the skills I teach when nudging my students towards being scientists are transferable skills. For example, looking at evidence and drawing conclusions or more importantly the skills needed for inquiry. Whether I teach them in a way that means they are transferable is up for debate, but the intention is there.

I am convinced of the importance of teaching inquiry skills. Human endeavour is defined by inquiry. Striking stones together to make fire, redesigning the vacuum cleaner, calculating g all require the skills related to inquiry. Questioning, trailing, looking at a problem from different angles, analysing, making connections, judging relevance, negotiating.

When the PLTS were revealed to me, I was not unhappy. It did not present a great change in my practice. Constructivist teaching of science already expected and practised many of the skills outlined.

(The independent enquirer skills and creative workers are ones that are needed to do well when it comes to scientific investigations. Team working skills are necessary for carrying out practicals as equipment means that students will often have to work in teams.)

The longer I teach core science, the more I appreciate its value. Core Science is (was) part of the curriculum because we want to give students the knowledge AND skills to be scientifically literate in the 21C. We live in a technologically progressive world and without the skill of being able to analyse media reports or advertising claims about science and technology they may be fooled. I wouldn't describe being scientifically literate as 'knowledge', it is more of a skill, a skill linked to inquiry (asking questions). Although, I would not deny that an underpinning knowledge of ideas such as cells, diffusion, energy, etc is vital to grasping the concepts and making choices also.

I teach skills, I will continue to teach skills and I feel it my duty to teach skills. I do it in the context of the students experiencing real science and gaining knowledge first hand in the way that these discoveries were originally made. (Maybe not that authentically).


At the top of this blog post I wrote that it is not easy to assess skills. What the exam boards write in specifications has to be assessed at least once in the life of the specification: every statement has to be examinable. However, the 2011 science specifications are striving to assess skills.

At GCSE you can pass the exam with only knowledge. 25% of the knowledge if you use my exam board. Although this is becoming less. However, you can also access some GCSE questions with a few skills and little knowledge.

But at A-level you cannot. I can pump you full of all the equations of motion you can take, but if you do not have the skills you will mostly likely fail, or at most expect a D grade. In fact you need a certain level of skills to access the knowledge in the A-level science specifications in the first place.

What skills are they? Firstly you have to be able to read and decode the question. Ask questions about the question if you like. Then you have to be able to relate it to an area of physics, (easier because you can work back to the topics being examined by that paper). Then you need to be able to make an abstract visualisation of what you are doing. Finally you have to apply the laws of physics, which may mean manipulating mathematical equations, it may mean structuring your thoughts and ideas logically.

Example GCSE questions:

Example A-level question:

This type of question is why I agree with the idea and construct of SOLO taxonomy. What are the physics ideas needed, how do they link, how do they apply to this circumstance.

However, as a teacher I not only have a duty to my students to support them in passing an exam, but also to my country in educating young people with the skills necessary to survive in a technologically advanced society. The 21C does change how we approach school education, for example no longer can someone open up a car engine or radio and see how it works.

As a science teacher I feel that teaching knowledge and skills are equally important. I teach skills in the context of the knowledge. The two are inextricably linked.

*Hopefully I have not horribly contradicted myself too many times.

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Confusions in the latest draft of the draft national curriculum

I consider myself to be an experienced science teacher, but the latest draft of the draft national curriculum is still confusing me!

I will write another post later comparing changes, but for now I want to focus on the statements within the national curriculum that I am left wondering what they are getting at.

The reason I want the outcomes to be made stronger is that Gove is asking for us to have more rigour in our national curriculum. If that is the case then the outcomes have to be clear, or we will inevitably try to fit what we have always done into the new framework instead of using the new curriculum as the starting point.


-the structural adaptations of some unicellular organisms.
here, I think it is my subject knowledge that is at fault. I don't really know much about unicellular organisms other than they exist. Perhaps This statement is linked to them having to digest food outside the cell and then absorb the broken down chemicals and things like that? Perhaps it is to do with the size of the cell to give optimum surface area to volume ratio! Or perhaps it is linked to where they can be found? Perhaps this links to bacteria? Hopefully it will make sense to someone.

- biomechanics and the interaction between the skeleton and muscles, including the measurement of forces exerted by different muscles.
This was in the last draft, and I wasn't aware of the practical activity that is described here at that time, and I am still none the wiser to be honest. Hopefully the textbook publishers will know what this means and make a worksheet I can buy.

- reproduction in plants, including flower structure, wind and insect pollination, fertilisation, seed and fruit formation and dispersal, including quantitative investigation of some dispersal mechanisms
It is the investigation part of this statement I am wondering about. Is there an investigation I have not heard of, or is the rigorous national curriculum really suggesting we do a paper helicopters investigation?

- the adaptations of leaves for photosynthesis
- the relationship between structures and functions of leaves, including the chloroplasts and leaves

Is the second statement not covered by the first? Maybe I don't know enough about biology?

- chemosynthesis is bacteria and in other organisms
This is a topic I know little about, so I better get researching so that I can come up with a decent activity for the students. I assume that really what is meant by this is that the government want young people to know that photosynthesis and digestion are not the only way to get the energy and nutrients that we need.

- mineral nutrition in plants, to explain the full role of nitrogen
I am actually looking forward to this, growing plants with and without nitrogen fertilisers to see the difference (if it will work). What I am wondering about is that I have never heard of it called mineral NUTRITION. I think I need to look up the meaning of the word nutrient.

- aerobic and anaerobic respiration in living organisms, including the breakdown of organic molecules to enable all the other chemical processes necessary for life
I get aerobic and anaerobic respiration, they allow us to move and help heat our bodies, what I don't get is what they have to do with the second part of the statement. In fact the second part scares me. As a non-biologist what are all the other processes necessary for life? I might be able to guess as making enzymes in the pancreas and producing hormones to regulate blood sugar levels, and chemicals are needed to get nerve messages to flow in the synapses. But I can't remember any of that having to do with respiration from my A-level biology.

- the importance of biodiversity
I think that this is an obvious one, but I am not actually sure why it is important. I better check on Wikipedia!

-the identification of pure substances
Does this mean generically or specifically? E.g. Does it mean that I should be teaching students how to identify water and carbon dioxide, or how you would use boiling point to identify what a colourless liquid distiller from a mixture might be? It can't be referred to a generic descriptors because above is the statement: the concept of a pure substance. I feel that this statements getting at some kind of practical or investigation, but I am stuck at what.

- the Periodic Table: periods and groups; metals and non-metals
I am not worried about the metals and non-non metals bit. I assume the groups and periods reference means that students will need to know groups go down and periods go across? Above is a statement saying the principles underlying the Mendeleev Periodic Table, which implies that specific knowledge of the properties of the groups is not necessary, but that they have things in common is.

- the chemical properties of metal and non-metal oxides with respect to acidity
What is this supposed to mean? The general pH of metal oxides (some don't dissolve) or that metal oxides act as bases? Non-metal oxides? Well dihydrogen oxide is neutral, but carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides can become acids. But they themselves don't contain hydrogen, so may add a misconception when I get to GCSE and explain all acids contain H+ ions. Except sulphur dioxide though miss, you taught us that in year 8.

- properties of ceramics, polymers and composites (qualitative)
Is this to show that we do have complex materials? I think that there is a lot of scope here and my only concern is knowing the extent to go to.

- the composition of the Earth
(This is different from structure). I don't know the answer to this one either. There is a lot of water and iron is involved. Off to Wikipedia I think. Hopefully Earth Learning Idea will solve this for me.

Oh physics, why so hard?

- energy calculations using measures of change in the energy associated with elastic deformations, moving or vibrating objects, heating materials and chemical changes involving fuels.
There is no mention of equations here, but if students are to have a real feel for these changes in energy then shouldn't they do real energy calculations using real data? In which case they will need energy = mass x specific heat capacity x temperature change etc. in which case this needs to be taught in year 9. Otherwise I believe the energy topic will be boring.

- relative motion: trains and cars passing one another
In relation to what? Should students just know what relative motion is? Or should they be able to explain why a head on accident is more dangerous than a rear shunt?

- work done and energy changes on deformation
Involving calculations? I can't really work out what the students are expected to be able to say/do in relation to this topic. I would guess the students could compare areas underneath the force-extension graphs they draw for one of the other topics.

-potential difference, measured in volts, battery and bulb ratings; resistance, measured in ohms, as the ratio of potential difference (p.d) to current
It is the statement about bulb ratings that is confusing me. Our bulbs have ratings, but really that is to tell you the maximum voltage before they will go 'pop'. Is this what it means?

I want to stress that this is not my full analysis of the draft NC, just the statements that leave me with confusion about what I might actually teach to cover that topic.

What I really want are outcomes, not topic statements. What are my classess expected to be able to do and say? How can we get standardisation if we do not know the depth to go to. I image that it will force us to the publishers to find out what their lesson plans say.

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,Bristol,United Kingdom

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A session from the ASE conference, an update on the new primary national curriculum

This session was run by Brenda Naylor and Jane Turner.
Brenda began by asking what has changed.

Programme of Study:

  • Re-written and rearranged

  • There is an organisational change, but not a change in content

  • Science enquiry has changed. - its not fair project is having and impact as enquiry has expanded beyond just fair testing

  • By the end of year 6 children are asking questions, planning which type of enquiry to use, and plan and investigation. And do it for themselves.

  • We shouldn't be doing science enquiry for the sake of science enquiry.

The other changes are:
  • Evolution introduced

  • More emphasis on outdoor learning

Brenda explained that the notes and guidance have the kinds of experiences that students might have, and gives suggestions of activities. She said that command words are included in the PoS statements.

We were told that the timeline is a bit up in the air. The NC document with score. But despite that the NC is being dis-applied from September for y3 and y4.

What hasn't changed?
The main concepts covered

Science enquiry is central to learning science

Use time to review the sow and develop science enquiry - MAIN MESSAGE

Brenda was keen to highlight the message shown by this image:

Jane Turner then went to talk about Assessment

Throughout the session Jane spoke with this image behind her:

Jane said that the Assessment and Curriculum groups are currently working in separate locations and not together. However, the people in the DfE who write the SATs do care about getting a good SATs paper out.

She told the audience that sample testing will carry on. As for the detail about assessment in the sample SATs: the DfE don't know yet. Sample tests will not be by school, a school will have students selected. There will be 9 sample tests and schools will get a variety of the 9, but one each of biology, chemistry and physics.

Brenda and Jane went on to stress that effective teaching and assessment has not changed.

When you plan a lesson consider what you want the students to learn and how you, the teacher, will know they have got it.

APP is fading away, but maybe still a useful tool without the levels attracted.
Do not throw the baby out with the bath water - we have time to implement change.

Interesting points made at the end of the session: What is more scary students being allowed to challenge their own learning, or students not knowing the content?

Different for those who believe teaching is filling the Child with knowledge.
Have you been in a situation where you and the children both do not know the answer. The new model means that we could be in that situation because students are allowed to be in that situation.

Jane Turner: practical work does not always lead to learning, practical work does not always equate to enquiry. Lesson needs to make the practical purposeful.

A great session, very reassuring and all teachers should remember that the government are not telling us how to teach. Best practice will remain best practice. Thanks to Brenda and Jane for that!

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Itch and Simon Mayo

At the ASE conference I had the please to be in a session where Annette Smith (the CEO of the ASE) interviewed Simon Mayo about his books. The books are about Itch, a boy who discovers a new element.

Annette began by asking Simon why he wanted to write a book with science as a main theme. Simon Mayo replied that while he was working at radio five he interviewed a lot of scientists and gained an interest in science. Then his son (aged 10) became obsessed with science. Simon tried to find something for him to read and found nothing. So Simon decided to write his own story for his son and that became his first book. At the same time, Daniel Radcliffe sang the periodic table song on Graham Norton and this spurred Simon Mayo on to publish as he realised someone else would spot the gap in the market.

Annette asked Simon about science at school. The audience were all science teachers after all. We are interested in learning from the experience of our pupils. Simon Mayo said that no one inspired him in the area of science at school and it is quite a departure to now be going to schools talking to young people about science.

The character Itch is an element collector. Simon Mayo was keen to ensure that the science in the books was real. The characters get themselves into and out of trouble because of the element. Simon Mayo talked to Professor Paddy Regan and Professor Andrea Sella and learned about the theoretical 'island of stability', where elements will reach a size big enough for them to be stable for days, weeks or months. Long enough for the story at least. He also learned he could get away with it if he said the new element was made in a supernova.

Someone did comment to him, that the most unrealistic thing about the books was the speed at which the new element (126 in case you are wondering) got its official name.

Simon Mayo stated that making science cool was not the intention when writing his book, he believes that kids will spot if if you try to trick them into liking science. He just wanted to write a good story.

Simon then went on to describe the session he delivers to students when he visits schools. Firstly, there is augmented reality on the front on the covers. Download the app, point it at the cover and amazing stuff happens!

He said that there was a debate between his editor, agent and himself about how much explanation of the periodic table do you add to the book? He read the section that introduces the periodic table from the first Itch novel to illustrate his point.

Simon said he tried to bring the Itch books back to elements when possible. He was inspired by this banned book on chemistry experiments:

Which Itch is too. It cost Simon £400 on eBay. He said that the kids he visits are often more interested in this boom than the Itch booms by the end of the visit!

He also told the audience that the hiding place for element 126 is a real place, although he took some poetic licence. The building is no longer a school, but it is in the books.

At the end of the hour Annette gave Simon the 'be safe' book from the ASE bookshop!

An engaging hour, and I can recommend the books as I have read them.

Did you know that if you ingest tellurium you smell of garlic for months.

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Monday, 24 June 2013

Bring Your Own Device

We are planning to launch a bring your own device scheme at school. I work at an independent school so I suppose it s easier to insist on students brining a tablet to lessons.

I can foresee issues where students will not bring their device if we are not encouraging them to use them. But how?

1) If they get the kindle reader they will be able to annotate PDFs. This means I can ask key stage 4 students to download the specification and make notes on each section as to what they understand and things they will need to recap when they revise.

2) Socrative - if all students have devices then it should be simple to use them to complete quizzes using socrative. What I like about this is that an app isn't necessary.

3) Padlet - I like the idea of working collaboratively. Padlet will allow students to give answers/comments on the wall and see those of others.

4) Evernote is a free app, allowing notebooks to be shared and it works cross platform. It is a possible way to share my presentations with students and also a way for them to collate their work on their tablet.

5) Calendars and reminders - I would hope that most tablets come with these applications and they are a good replacement for the paper planners students carry.

6) Social bookmarking - again to help students stay organised. Through, delicious and pinterest.

I hope that these ideas are simple enough to be accessible to all students and possible to use regularly.

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Curriculum for the future

My science faculty is small - 6 teachers - so I don't have the man-power to bring in a lot of change. I also know that the resources produced by the publishing companies will be rushed due to the short time scale. I dont think that the quality of exploring science will be the same! Instead I want to adapt what we have ready for the new national curriculum.

Add to the mix that as an independent school we don't have to follow the national curriculum. But, we do use GCSEs and this is ultimately what we will aim for at the end of key stage 4.

Without a firm idea of what will be in the GCSE science of the future we all have to do a best guess at the focus for the key stage 3 of the future.

At present we follow the qca units. But there are problems with this. Firstly that we don't really have time to go into depth in the units because we teach four weeks less than maintained school. We also miss lessons for trips and other extra curricular commitments. Secondly the teaching of these units could be better.

I want to ensure that the things we do teach our students are secure and they have a good grasp of the big ideas underpinning science, like cells and particles.

My aim is to teach less topics, to allow a greater depth of understanding. Teaching less topics means that we can also do less testing.

Year 7:
Cells; Reproduction; Environment; Particles; Acids and Alkalis; Simple Chemical Reactions; Forces; Energy (types and transfers); Magnetism
Year 8:
Digestion; Respiration; Photosynthesis; Solutions; Atoms and Elements; Compounds and Mixtures; Sound; Light; Electricity.

This leaves health and disease, and inheritance for biology, the reactions of metals and/or acids for chemistry and the more in depth energy (resources) and forces topics in physics.

What I am noticing at the moment is that students are not remembering their work from previous years, I want to ensure that each year we build on what went before.

There is work ahead of me this week to get a model that will work for everyone, staff, students and parents.

Practical Work in Secondary Science - A minds-on approach

During a recent visit to Foyles Book Store in London I bought a book called "Practical Work in Secondary Science - A minds-on approach" by Ian Abrahams.

I haven't read the book fully yet, but I am finding it interesting and challenging my view of practical work.

In chapter one, Ian Abrahams states five reasons why we do practical work:
  • To enhance the learning of scientific knowledge
  • To teach laboratory skills
  • To develop certain 'scientific attiudes' such as open-minded ness, objectivity and willingness to suspend judgement
  • To give insight into scientific method, and develop expertise in using it.
  • To motivate pupils, by stimulating interest and enjoyment

What is interesting is that Abrahams states that studies have found practical work to be at least as effective as other methods of instruction.

However, a lot of these studies are old. Have our methods of teaching moved on?

The question to consider: What does practical work accomplish that could not be accomplished as well by a less expensive and less time consuming alternative?

The book is hard reading, but I don't think that I will be rushing to give up my practical work any time soon, instead I need to reflect on how I use it to best effect. I have read chapter one, so hopefully chapters 2-6 will support my reflections to become a more effective practitioner when it comes to practical work.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 19 May 2013

SOLO Taxonomy: my current position

I came across SOLO taxonomy via a colleague. This colleague is extremely well read and understands a great deal about aspects of pedagogy. I was discussing how I wanted my A-level students to progress so they would ultimately be able to
link their ideas and apply them in new situations.

He photocopied me the page, I read it and decided that I agreed with it.

Greg Seal sent me a copy of Pam Hooke's book about SOLO taxonomy and since then I have used SOLO taxonomy to help me write learning objectives for GCSE classes.

Lucie Golton presented to us at tweet up York about how she shares the SOLO objectives on a continuum. This is something that I now do too with GCSE students.

I also hold it in my mind when developing schemes and lessons for A-level physics. I want to make sure that my students get the first stage before moving on as it will just cause confusion to use V=IR to answer a question about a lightning conductor they don't know what it means.

I often create presentations with the SOLO symbols on them to show what SOLO level the students should be working at.

I have used the SOLO hexagons. But not to great effect. The students either made tenuous links or were unhappy to make links. I wasn't able to get around the groups and ask questions about all the links and thus it didn't help me learn about what they understood or give them feedback on misconceptions.

The next step for me is to use SOLO taxonomy to help write the new key stage 3 schemes of work. I think it explains well the type of progression I would like students to make within science and I can use it to set differentiate learning objectives that I can grade the students against.

SOLO taxonomy is rather like Blooms Taxonomy, it is part of what I do but not all of what I do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Responding to the NC consultation?

Those who have read my blog previous will know that I have spent time reviewing the proposed national curriculum for key stage 3 science and comparing it to the 1999 version.

I have responded to the consultation, as a culmination of about 10 hours of work.

Have I just wasted my time?

I have been urged, and myself urged others, to take the time to respond. I hope that the overwhelming responses to the consultation are words of warning along with specific areas where the new curriculum falls down. Perhaps, like me, others have given ideas and solutions to areas of the curriculum that they consider requiring change.

I feel desperately unhappy with the processes that have been used to construct the new curriculum and do not feel that it can represent an improvement. However, I feel that the DfE will not back down or slow down, which it desperately needs to do.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

When do you know it is time to move on?

When I was working as head of physics and key stage 4 coordinator at my previous school I felt that I wasn't far away from being able to tackle an assistant head position. I took a head of faculty post and now I feel that I am miles from the assistant head teacher role.

I wonder why that is?

I reflect and in all likelihood it is due to how immersed I am in the challenges of my own department, and we have a lot to develop, as well as the culture of the school. In my current school the culture is not one where we are encouraged to covet the jobs of those above us, instead it is one where we try and do the job we have well.

I responded to another blog post about developing young leaders within the school and said that I have seen the leadership development scheme destabilise the school by undermining the management as those being developed believe they should have the jobs of those at the top. I fell into that trap myself as a developing leader.

It is an interesting balance between developing the future leaders an ensuring that people are not stepping on the toes of those above them.

However, at the root of why I am not considering my move to the next position is that I am loving being involved in science education, I am embracing the challenges and opportunities that my school is presenting and that an assistant head teacher position just isn't that attractive to me.