Friday, 27 March 2015

My 30 Favourite Apps

I really love using my iPad for school work, the apps do make a big different to me, especially the ones that allow me to edit images.

I don't use PowerPoint anymore, all my presentations are made in Key Note. I also love to use Pages, although I use it more on my macbook air than on the iPad. To make worksheets with lots of images I am not finding comic life really useful and feel I must invest in the newest form of the app.

1. Key note, 2. Pages, 3. Comic Life

I also use adobe voice, explain everything and iMovie a lot. I have got the hang of these three apps and would advise anyone to have a go at make movies for their class. I don't think that explain everything is very easy to get a professional feel, but I have got over this issue now. I do like using my phone for video though as I can clamp it in a clamp stand better than an iPad.

4. Adobe Voice, 5. Explain Everything, 6. iMovie

I have used stop motion a lot with my students and for that we are using Stop Motion, although I believe better apps are available. On my iPhone I have SloPro camera, which has been great for filming science experiments that are fast, like a transverse wave progressing along a slinky or two balls (one projected horizontally, one dropped) hit the ground at the same time. I also have Lapse It, which I have used several times now to make time lapse videos of experiments. Chromatography and Diffusion are two favourites.

7. Stop Motion, 8. SloPro, 9. Lapse It

When it comes to making content using images I love over, iDraw, Rhonna design, Canva, Moliv, Repix and Snapseed. Quite a few of these are on my phone to save space on my iPad.

10. Over, 11. iDraw, 12. Rhonda Design, 13. Canva, 14. Moldiv, 15. Repix, 16. Snapseed

I am finding Genius Scan very useful for scanning in notes from pieces of paper, I can tag them and find them easily.

17. Genius Scan

A lot of colleagues are finding inkflow very useful to use with students as an alternative to a mini white board. I am enjoying using Paper 53 and the accompanying Pencil 53 instead for making quick notes meetings.

18. Inkflow, 19. Paper 53

I find the apple apps of calendar and iBooks really important. I organise myself through the calendar and have all my specifications in iBooks.

20. Calendar, 21, iBooks

I also use dropbox and carousel to back up the videos and images from my iPad, which I have found very useful to help ensure there is space on it to develop new projects.

22. Drobox, 23. Carousel

I love social media and have pinterest, twitter, blogpress and youtube on my iPad. I also use feedly for following blogs and pocket for saving links to read later.

24. Pinterest, 25. Twitter, 26. Blogpress, 27. YouTube, 28. Feedly, 29. Pocket

Lastly, I am a physics teacher so I need a calculator app.

30. Calculator

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

iPad in teaching and learning

I love my iPad. I thought that I would be able to manage with a laptop and an iPhone, but I can't be parted from it.

Our school has an 1-2-1 iPad scheme, so I was really excited today to attend the iPad teaching and learning day at Rachel Jones' school Kind Edward School in Southampton. It was free, and it was in our holidays so three of us went from my school.

This has been one of the few external training events I have been to with colleagues. That was great. I know that science learning centres research says that training courses have more impact when more than one person from the same school attends and I certainly felt that was true from today. 

For my birthday I got a pencil 53 from paper 53. I was feeling inspired by the sketchnote pins I have seen Lucie Golton put on pinterest, and wanted to try this approach in recording the conference. 

I found the comments from Bob Allen the deputy head at King Edward VI School the most interesting. He obviously did a lot of research into the aims of introducing a 1-2-1 scheme. He explained the errors that were made in looking more into WHAT? than HOW? and WHY? He discussed that WHY? should have been the most important. 

Does a 1-2-1 scheme reduce the amount of paper being used? (This is one of the aims at my current school), does it reduce the number of ICT suites needed in a school? (Not the experience of KES). Does it enhance learning? Is there another reason to introduce a scheme, such as SLT thinking iPads are cool as they are shiny and new? After the introduction of our scheme I wrote a blog post about ICT savvy students. I think that the aims need to be related to giving students the ICT and digital skills necessary for when they leave school. The things that formal qualifications don't currently teach.

Over the course of the day the theme that came up was 'TIME and SPACE'. KES staff had four training days with time devoted to the implementation of the 1-2-1 scheme. Bob Allen explained that during this lead up time the enthusiasm of staff rose and fell.  The support for staff at KES was flexible, and included training by experts. Throughout the implementation SLT were honest with staff, admitting mistakes. The school consulted and engaged parents, even running 10 sessions for them. 

In Bob Allen's later session I was impressed by the amount of knowledge he had regarding iPad implementation.  What I was interested in was that he was connected to many other schools and following their implementation journeys with interest. I do think that this type of network is important in the implementation. Learning from the experiences of each other can only be a good thing. 

I have to say that I didn't do any doodling on my iPad during Rachel Jones' session as we were using nearpod, so I was looking at my screen and engaging through the feedback activities. However, I was interested by this diagram:

It is important now to ensure that teachers have knowledge of how to use technology in lessons as well as their subject and pedagogical knowledge. I suppose my question is what does this technological knowledge look like?

Things that came up during the day that I had not considered were age related apps. Some apps are rated 18+ because of the content that students might be able to reach through it. I didn't know about buying apps in bulk. I didn't realise that students could buy their iPads through the company stormfront and that buying 50 iPads gives 1 day of training. I didn't know there was an app for printing "paper cut". I had never considered the importance of students backing up their iPad. I really liked the idea of students being able to charge their iPads in the library at lunch and also being able to borrow battery packs during the day.

I know that Rachel was super proud of her digital leaders. They came to talk to the room at lunch time. From even just a short meeting it was possible to see the impact of them within the school. I hope that at some point our digital leaders can reach the same level of engagement with the 1-2-1 iPad project.

It was fairly obvious from all the presentations that the school had thought carefully about the roll out of iPads and staff were embracing the technologies (although to varying extents). It was also great to see how the school had learned from mistakes and were going forward. Rachel's energy for the project was obvious, but I think we already knew that.

My next steps are to look more closely at workflow and how to mark electronic work and give feedback. I would love students to send me their work electronically and the day has given me some ideas on how to do that. Firefly, Google classroom and Showbie were all mentioned as solutions to this. The way that firefly linked to the MIS looked really useful, so it can be used as an online student planner. We all went to useful sessions on workflow in the afternoon and I think that this will form a large part of our discussions back at school.

Thank you to all at King Edward VI School. A very useful, interesting and informative day. It was well organised and well pitched to reach a wide audience. It was also very generous of you to share your school and experiences (good and bad) with others of us on a 1-2-1 iPad journey, we appreciated it.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Literacy in Science - a few comments.

Those that have been to an ASE conference have probably come across William's Words. William Hirst has assembled a dictionary of 13,000 words and phrases necessary for key stage 3 science. That is a lot of language to cover!

When I am teaching I use a lot of video, images, simulations, demonstrations and animations to try and get across abstract ideas. Part of this is because I will admit that my clarity when talking off the top of my head isn't the clearest and the other is that I can't afford to let my students' understanding of science be held back just because they don't grasp the language.

And it is often obvious to me that students are not held back by it in my class. When I ask questions my students will have the answer, but sometimes not the words. 'Thingies' might feature, hand waving to show a wave or fists coming together to show the movement of particles, hands parting to show the spread of energy or whatever it is. There are very abstract ideas building in the students' minds that they are not quite able to express - yet.

But with practice it will come. Until then I will be pleased that they don't refuse to answer just because they don't have the specialist vocabulary and delighted that they are getting to grips with abstract ideas.

As science teachers we can't ignore the fact that we have to introduce the vast vocabulary. The words that are specialist to science have specific meaning and why would we use the description when we can be much more concise and use the word.

"Threshold of human hearing" vs "The highest frequency a human ear can detect". 
"Vacuum" vs "Absence of particles" vs "space that doesn't contain anything".
I went to a session at the ASE conference in Liverpool in 2012 about literacy run by advisors at Camden and Enfield LEA. It was interesting that in their work with lower ability groups they did not only teach students about key scientific language, but used techniques to look at words that described size and scale and words that described varying confidence levels related to a scientific conclusion. It added another dimension to the literacy that we must approach when teaching science. They did also show that time spent working on the literacy of a class and putting in the ground work when approaching tasks does pay off in terms of the quality of the student work.

They also introduced the idea of nominalisation to me. This is where students use the word that describes the process, rather than try and describe it in more words. It is incredibly useful in helping students write concisely. In this case, it is important that students have the specialist vocabulary in the first place.

Something else they mentioned, which had also been brought up many times at my school, was allowing students to talk over ideas before they write. Talk is far less formal, but it allows you a chance to sort your ideas out. By doing this students can organise their thoughts before having to think about their writing. Discussing with your partner and thinking out loud is something that I model regularly in my teaching these days.

Learning science when you are low vocabulary student poses a particular difficulty. EAL and deaf students who may only pick up a few words could easily be confused by the topic of the lesson when they don't understand new vocabulary. My husband attended LEA training on literacy and spoke to a teacher who worked at a deaf school. The teacher explained that images were vitally important when teaching low vocabulary students so that they could understand what the lesson was about even if they could not grasp all the language in your first explanation. When teaching EAL students with particularly low vocabulary a while ago I try to start my presentations with an image and always use images throughout presentations that relate to the topic.

Then we have the words that have every day usage and scientific meanings. I have a student who likes to talk about momentum, what is momentum I ask?  When is power appropriate and when is energy a better word? What about the difference between current and voltage? Weight and gravity is a  particular difficulty. I find this a particular difficulty in physics, but is is not restricted to that subject. I find myself correcting the difference between gene and allele a lot. Yield and rate seem obvious to me, but less so to some students. When is an atom and ion, and why can't it be both?

Ultimately though students are going to be tested on their ability to communicate science through their writing.

When I first used the SEGUE and taught lessons according to the 5E lesson structure I was forced to allow students the opportunity to write about their own ideas in their own words each lesson. The results were dramatic. Students wanted to write more, and write more deeply. They welcomed feedback and their confidence developed.

Strangely I now see the importance of introducing the 6 mark questions into GCSE science. It has made me increase the number of long writing opportunities I create for my students in key stage 4. I have created many exit tickets and square questions that give the students the space to write their own ideas and link them. It has opened my eyes to how important this is to highlight misconceptions and misuse of language. Although I do think that some 6 mark questions are on the strange side and not entirely clear on what they expect from the students.

At GCSE it can be difficult to find opportunities for students to develop their writing and talk, but resources looks like a great set of resources to help.

It is important that we don't allow any of the difficulties to distract us from the vital important of teaching students the language of science. We have a duty to ensure that students appreciate the precision needed when communicating science ideas. Without that it can be easy to misinterpret the science being communicated. Although I hate that GCSE is often about students learning to use the right words in the right order, I also appreciate that this is a skill scientists require.

We can't allow all our scientific decisions to be made solely by scientists, but in order to have a dialogue with them we need to understand the words they use.

What I Want to Know About the College of Teaching

I have seen the aims of the College of Teaching and I think they are laudable, they really are. Once in a lifetime chance to change teaching for the better etc etc.

I still don't know HOW this new organisation will do that. I realise that this is something that needs to be worked out by trustees, who are not in place yet. I am waiting until then to judge properly. 

I have the following questions, however:

How will the college communicate with members? How often, how relevant? Who will have the opportunity to speak at events? Who will decide what goes into journals? Will there be print materials? What form will they take?

How will the college of teaching overcome all the issues that already exist in preventing teachers from engaging in their own CPD?

How will the college ensure all members get an equal say? Or will it be lead by a vocal minority? How will the college feel about members using it for personal gain? It will happen.

How will members be able to contribute to the college? How will the college monitor whether it is representing the views of teachers? What will it do if the majority view of teachers is contrary to what best practice is?

What subgroups will exist? How will people become members? How will they contribute? How will the college empower people to raise their concerns/ideas?

How will members identify each other? How will members be stopped from sharing college resources with non-members for free?

How will the college work with other organisations, including government? Will the college have subject sub groups and how will they interact with subject associations? How will the college work with the college of school leaders? How will the college work with exam boards and other private companies working within education? How will the college balance the corporate and individual members?

How will the college fund itself in the long term? How will it ensure that it is value for money? Members will expect to see their money working for them. How many full time members of staff are reasonable? How will the college's structure ensure that full-time staff work to represent and seek the views of member and not work to their own aims? What will the membership cost be?

How will the college communicate with non-members? If it is to get the bad practices and ideas out of teaching then sending a monthly email to the one converted member of staff in a rural school is not going to do much to change things.

How will the college of teachers ensure good member rates in rural areas? How will the college of teaching market itself so that membership grows in the initial years?

What will be considered as successful outcomes for the college in the first few years? How should this evolve? Are there any examples of what the college could have done to avert past issues if it had been in place? How will the college know if it is making an impact? How will this be communicated to members? What will change for members/other teachers if the college has a positive impact?

What will the college do to address issues in teacher workload? How will the college react if it finds its output is being used punitively against teachers. 

Why should I contribute my own money? What do I get back, other than a warm fuzzy feeling?

I appreciate that none of these questions can be answered before the trustees are put into place, but I wanted to write about them as I feel confused about the college because the answers to these questions are not clear. I think we need the College to have practical outcomes that we feel as teachers if we are to embrace it. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

16 practicals at GCSE

I have stated that I would like to see a curriculum where the content would lead to good quality practical work. There is no point in stating that students should learn about reproducibility if there is no content that lends itself to this sort of experiment. 

The question is do students have to do the experiments to best understand the content? Possibly not in quite a few cases. 

I do think that the statements could be clearer about what they mean. I know that it sounds like a good idea to make things flexible so schools can decide how to meet the criteria, but if an aim is also to ensure that schools do fund practical science appropriately then why not state exactly what is expected? 

To me chemistry seems fair enough, I think my biology knowledge is lacking and this is why I am struggling with this set of topics. There is a statement in the physics section I don't understand, I have highlighted this is red. 

Even before we think about how to assess this skills I think I have to think about how to give the students the opportunity to develop them. I would like to avoid hoop jumping and help students explore science ideas through practical work. I imagine that time pressure and the drive for results will mean that time on practicals will be bumped for time doing paper based questions.

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Biology:
  • use of appropriate apparatus to make and record a range of measurements (to include mass, time, temperature, volume of gas produced, distribution of organisms);

  • use of a Bunsen burner and a water bath or electric heater for heating;
This would be covered when doing experiments to discover the optimum temperature for enzymes. I do think it is important to understand why animals and plants usually live in certain temperature zones and those that don't have adaptations. It is useful to understand limiting factors in photosynthesis too.

Volume of gas produced might include the bubbles from pond weed caught by the funnel under water. 
  • measurement of pH and oxygen levels using a variety of techniques such as indicators, a pH/oxygen meter or a pH/oxygen probe and data logger;
Does this include pulse oximeters when studying health? Or the levels around a plant to judge when it is photosynthesising? Does pH mean changing the pH of soil like we used to do in Year 9? Or is it related to enzymes? I suppose it could relate to environment and ecosystems and how the oxygen levels of water affects the 
  • use of qualitative reagents to identify biological molecules;
As enzymes are part of the specification students could test to see if the enzyme has broken down the starch. Again they could test leaves for starch as part of the photosynthesis topic. I am not really sure what else can be tested for outside of food tests? Perhaps testing for carbon dioxide would be included in this. 
  • measurement of rates of reaction by a variety of methods such as production of gas, loss of mass, uptake of water, colour change of indicator;
Transpiration could be included in this. But I am back to enzymes again. I am at a loss to see where loss of mass fits into biology. 
  • choice and use of appropriate laboratory and field apparatus for a variety of experimental investigations;
Ecosystems does appear in the national curriculum so doing field work will be linked to the curriculum, it states: "methods of identifying species and measuring distribution, frequency and abundance of species within a habitat", which would link directly to that statement above and below.
  • use of sampling techniques in fieldwork to investigate the distribution and abundance of organisms in an ecosystem;
  • safe and ethical use of living organisms to measure physiological functions and responses to the environment;
The woodlouse choice chamber experiment could be done here as students do need to know how factors affect communities. My limited biology would say the two are related, just about. I do think that this one could be done better through case studies and not by practicals, especially as choice chamber practicals can be difficult without strong technical support. 
  • use of the light microscope at low and medium power;
Using a microscope would fall into the section on cells. It would be nice to have alternatives to onion and cheek cells though. But it is possible to buy examples of sides already made. 
  • production of labelled scientific drawings from direct observation of biological specimens. 

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Chemistry:
  • use of appropriate apparatus to record a range of measurements (to include mass, time, volume of liquids and gases, and temperature);
  • use of a Bunsen burner and a water bath or electric heater for heating;
  • measurement of pH using pH charts and digitally;
  • collection and identification of products of reaction and measurement of rates of production;
  • safe and careful handling of gases, liquids and solids;
  • careful mixing of reagents under controlled conditions using appropriate apparatus to prepare substances;
  • use of a range of equipment to separate chemical mixtures: to include evaporation, filtration, distillation, crystallisation, chromatography, electrolysis;
  • collection and analysis of products from a simple electrochemical cell;
  • use of appropriate apparatus to determine relative concentrations of strong acids and strong alkalis. 
I believe that the chemistry techniques link the national curriculum much more easily. It lends itself better to practical experiences.

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Physics:
  • use of thermometers and electrical measuring instruments, with heating and cooling devices, to explore energy transfers as temperatures change and to explore phase changes;
Traditionally at key stage 4 we would look more closely at specific heat capacity and revisit the methods of heat transfer. Perhaps here students could investigate insulation and cooling curves and compare situations that would allow conduction/convection and those that would reduce it. They could also investigate the colours of cans that are loosing heat. Energy transfers could be investigated using E=VIt to work out the energy supplied by a heater and this can be related to specific heat capacity and ultimately the efficiency of the system. A series of lessons on energy transfers involving heat could help students to understand that heat is transferred from areas of higher temperature to areas of lower temperature and an appropriate model could help students appreciate the relationship between kinetic theory, temperature and heat. 

Ideally this would be possible in core science, but we only get a few lessons to teach this, will it be possible to really explore this in the new curriculum? 
  • use of measures of weight and direct and displacement methods for measuring volumes to determine densities of solid and liquid objects;
I am pleased to see that upthrust is part of the GCSE curriculum, otherwise there would be little point in this. I don't see how you can teach this and help the students to grasp it conceptually without putting objects in water. I like to plot volume (cm3) against mass (g) and see the relationship between the objects that float and those that sink - think about it. Then calculate density and see what it means. I hope that density is in the new specifications as I do think that it is an important concept to grasp. Teaching this after teaching particles will help as it is easier to see 'less particles in the same space = less density" than think about mass, which is a slightly abstract concept. 
  • use of instruments to measure distances and times: to determine speeds and accelerations both in laboratories (for example, motion of a mass down a slope, or of a mass projected by a compressed spring) and in everyday motions (for example, walking, running and cycling); 
I find this deadly dull. Timing yourself walking or timing a ball rolling down a slope is not my idea of fun and I also don't think that students really need to do this to understand and it detracts from teaching time. I always find students working out acceleration tricky too. I can see some of the vernier iPad applications being useful for this though, and that might peak the interest of students more. Perhaps the ticker time needs to be brought out of the back of the cupboard? Hopefully not, but a class set of data loggers is expensive for once per year. 
  • to explore transmission and reflection of sound waves;
Does this mean that the have to go outside and make an echo? I don't get it. 
  • measure speeds of both sound and of waves on water, and the wavelengths and frequencies of waves on water;
I have never done this as a practical, are my students missing out? I have recently discovered a thing ripple tank, perhaps I should be buying a class set. Although I can see gratnel trays and lamps being used, or simulations and demonstrations.  
  • use of low-voltage power supplies, ammeters and voltmeters to explore the characteristics of a variety of circuit elements;
I am glad this is making a return to GCSE, I love making circuits and helping students to understand models within electricity. 
  • construction of both series and parallel circuits from circuit diagrams using DC power supplies, cells and a range of circuit components, including those where polarity is important; representation of the circuits used with conventional symbols;
I was slightly concerned by this as the national curriculum does not mention diodes, but the GCSE criteria does, so this is possible. Time to do V vs I graphs for bulbs, diodes and wires might need to be found. I usually do one as a practical and demo the rest. 
  • connection, or checking, of the three wires for an AC mains plug and checking of the way these wires are connected to a domestic device;
Really? Still? It is actually quite dangerous if you can't trust your class or can't put a rivet through one of the pins on the plugs they are wiring. Easier to copy from a book. However, it is part of the GCSE, which is good and I have the ability to do it. 
  • safe and careful handling of electrical power supplies, experiments involving accelerated and uniform movement of objects, and effects of steady or oscillating light sources;
What on earth is this one all about? Is it three sections or one? 
  • use of springs and strings with weights to explore linear, non-linear, elastic and inelastic stretching;
Compressing and stretching is part of the GCSE content. 
  • use of iron filings and magnetic compass to explore fields of magnets and of electric wires and solenoids. 
I will have to find out if we have a class set of westminster supplies to do this practical with. I HATE iron filings, terrified of getting them in eyes. The practicals are on the practical physics website however, and they do related to the curriculum, which is good.

I would have liked to see reflection and refraction and measuring critical angle in here, but it doesn't seem to be an explicit part of the new GCSE criteria, which I am a little upset by. I think it's important as a foundation for A-level. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ramblings on what to do in Year 9 if you do a three year KS4.

I was asked by Greg Seal what I was doing with my students in Year 9. He told me "and don't say segue". Of course my answer was 'Segue'. It is well known that it is by far and away my favourite scheme of work. 

Both Greg's department and mine use the OUP scheme at key stage 3, Activate. They have a Year 9 course that might be suitable, but it is expensive to buy for only one year of use. 

When I went to the ASE conference in January Mary Whitehouse gave some advice on what to do if schools were starting a there year key stage 4 when there wasn't going to be much out their to support it from September. She said that there was a lot of overlap between key stage 3 and 4, and when thinking about where to start with GCSE start there. 

I have been thinking about this. I wondered what makes SEGUE so good, and I think it is because the writers have thought about which areas of GCSE lend themselves to deep understanding via their philosophy. I love teaching the key stage 4 concepts in such a way that I am concerned about the understanding of the students and not concerned about the mark scheme. 

With this in mind I wanted to look at where key stage 3 and 4 overlap as a starting point and then think about where to go with those topics. It is important to realise that the exam boards don't get to add their own personal touches in the new GCSEs, so you can work from the national curriculum and be happy you are considering all the aspects students will be examined on. 

Thinking about it now, I actually can see an advantage of doing a two year scheme of work for key  stage 3. There is a great deal of cross over, why not hold that cross over and teach it in key stage 4? Having a longer time at key stage 4 could mean the fundamental ideas are covered and learned more securely. 

An interesting aspect to the key stage 4 curriculum document is that each subject area has a summary of the key ideas as an introduction. One idea might be to look at that and ensure that these background ideas are at the heart of what you teach in Year 9 bridging between key stage 3 and 4. 

The key stage 3 biology curriculum is split into the following sections:

Structure and Function of Living Organisms
  • Cells and organisation 
  • The skeletal and muscular systems 
  • Nutrition and digestion 
  • Gas exchange systems 
  • Reproduction Health
Material cycles and energy 
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular respiration
Interactions and interdependencies
  • Relationships in an ecosystem
Genetics and evolution
  • Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes

And key stage 4:
  • Cell biology 
  • Transport systems 
  • Health, disease and the development of medicines 
  • Coordination and control 
  • Photosynthesis 
  • Ecosystems 
  • Evolution, inheritance and variation

With this in mind, it might be useful to use Year 9 to review cells, inheritance and ecosystems within biology? I would guess that the chapters in Biology for You would be a good place to start in devising a scheme of work! Or of course, you could start with the areas that are not in key stage 3...

In Chemistry at key stage three the topics are split under the following headings.

  • The particulate nature of matter
  • Atoms, elements and compounds
  • Pure and impure substances
  • Chemical reactions 
  • Energetics
  • The Periodic Table
  • Materials Earth and atmosphere

The headings at key stage 4 chemistry are:
  • Atomic structure and the Periodic Table 
  • Structure, bonding and the properties of matter 
  • Chemical changes 
  • Energy changes in chemistry 
  • Rate and extent of chemical change 
  • Chemical analysis 
  • Chemical and allied industries 
  • Earth and atmospheric science
Chemical Analysis and Pure and Impure Substances have overlap, Chemical Changes and Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table also has overlap with key stage 3. Climate change overlaps in the Earth Science sections of chemistry also. And energetics overlap, understanding end/exothermic reactions will help when students move onto relating this to bonds. But despite all this I think the most important aspect of Year 9 is helping students to get the idea of atoms and how the rearrange without vanishing/appearing to create a balanced equation and what this means. 

Physics at key stage 3 contains:

  • Calculation of fuel uses and costs in the domestic context
  • Energy changes and transfers
  • Changes in systems
Motion and forces 
  • Describing motion
  • Forces
  • Pressure in fluids
  • Balanced forces
  • Forces and motion
  • Observed waves
  • Sound waves
  • Energy and waves
  • Light waves
Electricity and electromagnetism 
  • Current electricity 
  • Static electricity 
  • Magnetism 
  • Physical changes 
  • Particle model 
  • Energy in matter 
Space physics

At key stage 4

  • Energy 
  • Forces 
  • Forces and motion 
  • Wave motion 
  • Electricity 
  • Magnetism and electromagnetism 
  • The structure of matter 
  • Atomic structure 
  • Space physics

The first thing I would say is that space physics, for a reason I cannot understand, does not involve the big bang or the life cycle of stars. So this might be something to include in Year 9 if you feel you can afford the time. Red shift overlaps nicely with waves so that would give a recap.

Quite a lot of the physics curriculum seems to overlap to be honest. I would use the time to ensure that students have the fundamentals of forces, matter and electricity (because it is my favourite).

Probably more important than the content is the aspects of working scientifically. A lot of these will not be easy to pick up from a revision guide and not necessarily relate well to the topics being studied at GCSE.

If I am honest, this part of the national curriculum does seem to develop from key stage 3 to 4. I might be inclined to look only to the key stage 4 version and work on helping my students work directly towards that. Selecting topics that allow students to appreciate how ideas change over time, that allow analysis of data, that lead into students planning their own lessons, that involve calculations and drawing conclusions would be very useful. Health and fitness is a useful topic for that in biology, electricity in physics and rates in chemistry.

The headings in key stage 3 are:
Scientific attitudes 
Experimental skills and investigations 
Analysis and evaluation 

And at key stage 4 are:
1. The development of scientific thinking 
2. Experimental skills and strategies 
3. Analysis and evaluation 
4. Vocabulary, units, symbols and nomenclature

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Science Week

There is a real buzz around school at the moment about science. It's great to know you caused that. However, I haven't been home before 8pm three nights this week, with a parents evening tomorrow I can't imagine I will be back much before 8pm tomorrow.

Last Friday we took a group to Team Bath to see the super league Netball. It wasn't designed to be part of science week, the time was a coincidence. But it was a good cross-curricular activity. Friday was a late night. 

Back at school the deputy head, who is also a chemistry teacher gave a science week assembly last Friday lunch time. The students loved it. But then who doesn't love liquid nitrogen and blowing up balloons filled with hydrogen? 

Year 7 started their science week poster competition. 

On Saturday we had an open day at school. We set up a classroom with the classic experiments for visiting students to do. 

On Tuesday Simon from Space Odyssey Domes came in and presented to Years 5 - 10. The students really enjoyed the experience and were talking about it for a long while afterwards. "Awesome".

On the same day we also hosted 80 year 5 from near-by primary schools. (The dome being cover for our classes) The students did colourful chemistry experiments, made string telephones, put their hands into water beads (which are invisible in water), made kaleidoscopes and did experiments with optics equipment. The response from the primary schools was extremely positive.

On Wednesday I took 12 Year 11 students to Krispie Kreme Doughnut factory in Bristol. There are aspects of science in the trip. It is a continuous process, it requires thought about convection currents in the proving ovens, it uses yeast to help the mixture rise, and there is consideration about recycling the doughnuts that don't get eaten. It's a real treat for Year 11. 

This morning I lead a science week assembly with some help from my tutor group. Pretty impressive was the hair of a student who we put on the Van der Graaf generator. We also used slinky, made a circuit using a cosmic ball and all the girls in key stage 3, and made tonic water fluoresce. 

 I carried out a heart dissection of an Ox heart for Year 6. They really enjoyed it. 

I have also taught a Year 12 taster lesson to Year 11 today. They really enjoyed that too. "I think physics is going to be my favourite subject". No pressure. 

I was very excited to see that our solar viewers arrived. It was nerve wracking as they were delayed by parcel force. I have spent some time this week thinking about the best way to view the eclipse. 

The week will end with all the students in the school having the opportunity to view the partial solar eclipse (and a parent's evening). 

It's been a busy week. I am very grateful to my supportive colleagues and husband. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Climate for perfect practical work

If I am hard on myself then I would say that I could be more organised. The 'clever' teachers talk about working memory and my experience and own conclusion lead me to agree with the idea you can only remember so much at once, at least it seems to hold true for me. So I have to have routines to help me and if I get out of those I begin to struggle.

As a science teacher I 'have' to hand in my practical requests on Thursday for the following week. This is particularly true for me as our physics technician doesn't work on a Friday. So I need time on Wednesday or Thursday to write my lesson requests. I can change my mind, but it needs to be with appropriate notice depending on the practical lesson. I imagine other science teachers recognise this.

When I started teaching this was a bit of a struggle, especially when I wasn't as familiar as I am now with the structure of the curriculum. Within a year I had developed so that I thought ahead to the next six lessons or so to look at what we were doing. This has always been important to me to help with organisation of myself for practical work.

A good scheme of work really helps when it comes to ordering practical work. It helps to know that the practical being completed is well matched to the learning objectives and that the equipment list in the documentation is complete and detailed. Not having a stirring rod, forgetting to order the batteries, or not being given enough stop watches can cause a problem in real activities.  It helps to know that on Thursday I can write an equipment list without having to deeply plan my lesson as might not know exactly the form it will take (for a variety of reasons) at that point.

I don't always go to the scheme of work, as Keith Gibbs' book has really helped me as a physics teacher, as well as the practical biology/chemistry/physics sites that are hosted by Nuffield which are excellent resources.

A technician who understand what you are trying to do is invaluable to doing good quality practical work in lessons. Anyone who has tried to complete an electricity practical where the majority of the leads don't work or orders sodium hydrogen carbonate and forgets to ask for spatulas is always grateful when the technician adds them to the order anyway or checks the leads before hand. A technician who understands and cares about what happens with the equipment once it leaves the prep room is worth their weight in gold.

The last aspect of the preparation for a practical lesson that is key, is the availability of equipment itself. In the past there have been experiments that I have not been able to do because of a missing piece of equipment. A broken oscilloscope or van der Graaf, a ripple tank with most of the accessories missing, or insufficient leads, batteries, bulbs, stopwatches so the class can't do the experiment. Lessons can quickly descend into chaos with enough working equipment. In the most recent ofsted report group working in science was pointed out as having the potential to allow students to sit back. It is a reality sometimes to work in groups of four, but it is far from ideal. (Working individually also has it's limits when H&S related to space is considered).

I am extremely fortunate to work in a department where the previous head of physics has ensured that we have an wide and varied range of equipment. When I ask the technician 'do we have...?' only once we have not. Sometimes we even have two! Part of this circumstance is due to the attitude of our students, they return the items at the end of the lesson and very rarely is a stop watch or thermometer lost.

Organising practical work is an added dimension to behaviour management for science teachers. There are a few aspects to this. Getting instructions across is probably the second most important factor in ensuring that practical work is valuable to learning. (First being getting the equipment in the first place, without this the rest is irrelevant). To do this well it would be great if teachers had the time to practice all experiments, but that isn't easy. I have said this a lot, but I am finding a video of the demonstration is far more effective than a worksheet with instructions. But it takes time and confidence to prepare.

Deciding how to arrange the room is also a big factor. Again a technician can help with this. Will all the equipment be on a trolley, spread around the room, already sorted into a tray per group? And deciding what students should do when they return equipment is another. I don't find it too much at my current school, but whole experiments left in sinks was a major feature on my first school. (More time for off task behaviour while miss clears up). Often stopping the class towards the end of the practical to give this set of instructions can be more difficult than setting them off. Unsupportive technicians criticising teachers for returning 'messy trollies' also doesn't help. Unfortunately we all have to learn, including teachers learning how to manage practical lessons, putting off inexperienced teachers because the dirty and clean glassware got mixed up does not create the right climate for practical work.

The teacher has to have the subject knowledge to understand the practical work. When an electrical circuit does work, when the trace doesn't appear on the oscilloscope first time, quickly being able to predict the end point of a titration (when you know both concentrations yourself), understanding that shaking alcohol thermometers is a bad idea, realising when a round bottomed flask is more appropriate to a flat one. Those are simple examples. Why does one group get a curved graph, yet another a straight line? Why might a group find a silver beaker cools quicker than a black one?

Without understanding the purpose and science behind the experiment or demonstration yourself it is difficult enough to explain it, but also trying to concentrate on the young people in the room makes it doubly so.

So with a well stocked prep room, a supportive and knowledgable technician team, a good scheme of work, time to practice unfamiliar experiments, strong subject knowledge and strong pedagogical knowledge good quality practical work where students learn and make progress is possible.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Takeaway Homework

After reading this post by @agittner I wanted to give an impression of how I have found takeaway homework.

I have to admit is that I haven't made my list look much like a takeaway menu, but the children have not commented on this or asked about the name.

I have Year 7 three times per week. 70 minutes on Monday, 35minutes on Tuesday and 70 minutes on Friday. I take in their books every Monday and mark them before school on Tuesday to return them to the students. Takeaway homework makes this routine much easier to enforce.

I am very pleased with myself that I have stuck with the idea of takeaway homework as it wasn't a great success with all students from the start. Quite a few failed to complete their homework regularly  or didn't bring their book to lessons. But I think this was more because they are only 11 and were struggling with the routines of secondary school and time management. Now I only have one student who struggles to keep herself organised, but can usually describe her homework in such detail that I know she has done something.

I have been making a new sheet for each topic, leaving many activities the same/similar, but also adding topic related tasks from the activate scheme of work or my own ideas. If the students choose to do questions from the textbook or the kerboodle quizzes then they are practicing what we have done, but I have to admit this doesn't happen very often. However, a few girls are creating crossword puzzles and board games with questions and this is really interesting. I have to admit it is a better diagnostic tool than I imagined it would be.

I have had two textile cells, a jelly cell, cookie pH scale, pH scale poster, hazxard symbol poster, videos of experiments, write up of experiments completed at home, leaflets, crosswords, word searches, menstrual cycle posters, 3D model of forces, 4 board games and many many more.

I am very lucky that we have the 35 minute lesson on Tuesday, I have deliberately not included it in our rota for time, this means it can be used to complete unfinished activities, DIRT, watching Bill Nye (our favourite) and most importantly show and tell of our homework, be it a word search, video or boardgames. I think that this has really helped spur the girls on. They want to share what they have done and impress each other. It has helped to boost the regularity of hand-ins and quality of the work. I have been giving credits for those who have obviously put in extra effort.

While I am faced with the headache of how I convert this creative enthusiasm into determined revision for the end of year examinations.

I am pleased that the girls are able to choose their own tasks and organise their own time. I am pleased by the enthusiasm they now have for science. I am also really pleased by the way that it has helped me to stay organised with homework setting and marking throughout the whole year so far.

I will extend takeaway homework to the rest of key stage 3 after this. I also want to look at it for  key stage 5. I would like to have them use takeaway homework as a way of getting ideas to help them keep on top of past topics through individual work. However, I am not exactly sure how yet.

Lastly, I am really interested that the girls are branching away from the work on my set sheet. I am actually pleased by this, although it does require monitoring. I would really like to think that they are developing independence in their approach to their work, and with maturity they will be able to reflect on what they are doing and continue to choose the most appropriate homework task irrespective of whether they have a sheet telling them what to do.

Great idea, I suggest you try it for a year.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Writing letters between Glenys and Nicky

My tongue is firmly in my cheek here, just in case anyone wondered. This is e reply Glenys should send to Nicky.

Dear Nicky,

Thank you for your letter. I understand totally your shared concern with that of the science establishment. I can quite understand why you are writing to me about this after your discussions with Prof Russel Group and Lord Engineering Inc. It is a concern that science teachers and myself share, but we also recognise the realities of the situation.

Unfortunately in the current climate science practical assessment is untenable and for the reasons why you need to look at your own office.

I am sure you have seen the data showing that practical assessment does not properly differentiate the achievement of students in the same way that an exam does. This is partly because practical assessment is not unpredictable, even with new tasks being set every year this goal has not been achievable. And it is also because the pressure on schools to compete for grades and league table positions is out of control. This is not the doing of ofqual, but the government. Allow teachers the freedom to be honest in their preparation and assessment of students and practical assessment within science will become a possibility again. To do this you must reconsider the league tables and science's position within them. The new progress8 measurement increases the importance of science considerably so cheating and gaming can only increase.

I also refer you to the work of SCORE on the resourcing of practical in schools. The 10% budget cut that schools are faced with will impact practical science many more times than the practical assessment. Again there is nothing that ofqual can do about that. I suggest that the government look at the ways in which they can encourage schools to properly resource science departments and ensure that school science departments have good technical support to back it up. Not enough schools do and this has a huge impact on practical work.

Lastly, I refer you to the pressures on schools due to ofsted. Are practical science lessons the most efficient way to obtain a high value added and GCSE A-C percentages? The continual professional development of science teachers and their line managers needs to be a priority. Empowering them to teach effective practical science lessons by ensuring that schools are obliged to look to external, research based training will mean better outcomes for students. Monitoring the work of ofsted to make sure they realise the place practical work has in science education and making sure this information filters through to Head Teachers looking to cut back on science laboratory space and capitation. How many science teachers are being discouraged through lack of facilities and head teachers who perceive practical lessons as chaotic and requiring improvement? Government should be supporting teachers to improve their practical science practice, not discouraging it.

Working with science teachers, schools and ofsted will outstrip the stick that is practical assessment within qualifications in ensuring the place of practical work in England's schools. Teachers really want to deliver good practical experiences for their students, creating a climate for that lies in your hands as much as mine.

You deliver this Mrs Morgan and I will deliver on practical assessment.