Friday, 26 June 2015

Do the DfE care?

After the department for education posted ANOTHER dreadful version of the GCSE science subject content I am left feeling even more bereft than previously.

Do they care about what we teach? Does anyone there understand anything about science? Does anyone there have the passion to get science education in England 'right'? 

At the moment it really doesn't feel like that. 

Let's face it they have made too many changes in too short a time frame and teachers are left pushing round pegs into square holes and hoping ofsted don't notice. But even if the curriculum that has been decided on is quite a distance from perfect it is a massive insult that they couldn't even get the science in it right. 

More care and attention required. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/436828/GCSE_combined_science_content.pdf

Friday, 5 June 2015

Improving and Organising my A-level teaching

My aim for A-level this year is to make sure that students are working and learning the basics right from the start.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a great teacher at the school I worked in and I told him how it was my opinion that to 'get' A-level physics students had to first know all the individual pieces of information, but that would only get you so far, an E or a D. To get a higher students have to apply their knowledge, which requires lots of practice.

So next academic year I want to make sure that I scaffold my students from the start to learn the key knowledge they need to start the journey through A-level physics. With this they can hopefully recall it quickly to be able to answer questions. I know that this will only get them so far, application and creativity are required to make the journey up through the grades, but it should help build confidence and get them working and in good habits.

Firstly key words, I have a quizlet list of key words for them to learn on the topic of materials: https://quizlet.com/_trag3 And I have made longer lists with just the words for them to do themselves https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HzzFw0lSrelUn7JWZE_8Udcv3k7sc-OXqiRIFafNUAM/edit?usp=sharing. (I will check what they have written).

Secondly checking over their class notes. I have been thinking about this since pedagoo south west, and want my students to write Cornell Notes so that they can review them by writing questions and summarising. I think the will take time to practice, but I hope using this structure will mean that it is more obvious on how to actively review notes.

I want to make sure that the homework/prep that I set is accessible and covers all the basic information they need to answer exam questions. I have made some summary knowledge question sheets for students to do. I hope to give these out when the students get to the end of the section in the specification. This means that even if they can't do the exam questions from the start (and many can't as they are not used to dealing with many pieces of information at once) they can still begin picking up pieces of information that they will need later.



I am also writing the time that I want students to spend on each homework task so that they get the idea that I want them to work for an hour after each lesson (four hours per week) and give the option for more. I hope to encourage them to organise when they will do their physics prep (and I will work with their timetables in what I set).

Again, in an effort to prompt my students to go over their work and revise it I want to set them regular tests. To do this I have been setting up quizzes in socrative that test basic knowledge like SOC #: 16472046. This would give automatic feedback and allow me to keep a record of their errors. It will also be easy to resit. I want to use scores in multiple choice quizzes that cover the basics to keep a record of who is really struggling to get to grips with the basics so that we can intervene. I have written the points at which I want to do them into my scheme of work to help me ensure I find the time and can give the students plenty of notice.

I am also using past papers to set up examination level socrative quizzes like SOC #: 16471038. This will then help give an idea as to how far the student has progressed from learning the basics to being able to answer exam questions.

There are a lot of people out there doing great work on A-level changes. Two brilliant examples are linked in the tweets below.

Their resources have loads of practice for skills that the students will need.

This site is very useful for resources for the core practicals: http://practicalalevelphysics.thomascarlpion.co.uk which I have to work on next.

Hopefully I can strike the right balance, using routines to promote working independently.

This is all done so far, so my next step is to work on the core practical requirements, ensuring that we map the skills that will be examined into the practical work we do. I also want to have mapped the mathematical requirements against the specification topics and resource the practicing of the relevant skills. Then do the same thing for the waves topic.

As an aside, I am using Trello to keep a note of the activities I am doing as part of this project. Which I am finding useful.




Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pedagogical Aims for A-level


Totally stolen from Tom Sherington I have put together the list of things I am working on for A-level. 
http://headguruteacher.com/2015/05/25/teaching-better-my-pedagogical-to-do-list/

I do usually do something like this in my improvements note book for each class at the start of the year.



1. Building a bank of key words using quizlet 
In order to get to a grade E in physics students have to know all the basic definitions, there is no way around this. Last year I spent a long time laminating key word definition cards for my ELT students. This year I have done the same thing on quizlet, but really I want my students to do it for themselves. This will help me because I will be able to see their understanding in their definitions and help them practice phrasing their ideas succinctly. What I need to do is draw up the list of words I want my students to know to ensure they cover them all. 

2. More opportunities for longer answers
My students, and I can't imagine I am alone, don't feel confident approaching exam questions where there are a lot of blank lines to fill in. I need to make this part of their experience in class so they are not so nervous in approaching this type of question in an examination. What I really want for inspiration are paper 6 questions from the pre-2008 specification. But I am not sure where I can find them now. This is probably the most under developed idea for next year, at the moment I rely on past exam paper questions and development of this skill between Easter and May when they are working to complete papers, it needs to get embedded. 

3. Low stakes testing at regular intervals
I have tried to do this before with a groups of students I was trying to move from U to E and it wasn't successful as it didn't make a difference to their learning of the basic facts (they still did no work between lessons no matter how accessible I made it). However, I think that my current students would respond well to this. It will help to encourage them to learn the facts they need to be able to start to access the A-level materials and give them confidence that they are making progress. I want to test the uni structural/multi structural knowledge students need. I have made lists of closed questions for the materials topic and will do the same for waves topic during the course of this half term. Answering them will then form part of their prep. I have also created some socrative quizzes that should be 'easy' to check knowledge at certain points in the course, such as : SOC #: 16472046  It will mean I can track failing students and hopefully work with the pastoral teams to intervene early. 

4. More practice in maths basic skills, building to multi step questions
For the first time 2/3 of my physics class won't be doing A-level maths along side their physics A-level. I have discovered this year from one student that this can pose quite a confidence problem. I aim to make sure that I am explicitly considering the mathematics I am asking my students to do. Currently I am mapping the mathematics skills in the back of the specification to the units that I am teaching to ensure I teach them too. I find that students struggle with the prefixes to unit and standard form the most, and I know that I must teach calculator skills. I have bought some resources to help.

5. Hands on practical wherever possible to encourage problem solving
I know a lot of people don't like this idea, but I did read an article about how 'experts' learn by solving problems and 'novices' need to be told something. After reading this I taught an A-level physics lesson and it rang true. I want my students to ask questions and search for answers and doing practical work brings up those questions. I feel that if students ask the questions themselves they will engage more with the answer (particularly given it has a context) and will build a better understanding. They will need to think widely about a topic to answer exam questions and learning to question is part of this. I will have a group of up to a maximum of 6 students so I can manage discussions and ask questions to get students to the conclusions I want without talking at them for an hour. In the past I have not been as good as I could be at using practical work with A-level students and I want to change that. 

6. Opportunities to work with authentic data and draw conclusions
I don't know what the new exam questions will be like, but I know that they should include working scientifically. When we do the core practicals I want to ensure I am taking more care than I have previously on making the most of the practical activities to ensure students understand how to process data and evaluate it. 

7. Develop lab book skills
I want to create a course book and have the students use it to keep a record of their core practicals. I will be relying on Alex Weatherall to lead the way here! The shape of what I want to make is still in development and very much in note form in my note book. 

8. Increase context by reading around subjects
I want to copy the idea of Sarah Pannell and develop a journal club for the science post-16 students (and perhaps some Year 11s who are keen). I also have students who have ambition to apply to some very high caliber universities. I want to make sure I am helping them in their applications by giving them a helping hand in learning beyond the specification. More than that though, physics exam questions have contexts to them, and learning more about the context of physics should help to expand the vocabulary of EAL students and practice thinking about physics in different situations for the others. The Salters Horners course does help to do this, but I would like to go further. 

9. Using prep to instil good study skills from the start of the course
The amount of work you do for a single subject at A-level is a big increase (four times) than what you would do at GCSE. In some cases turning up to your GCSE lessons is sufficient to pass a GCSE. It isn't enough at A-level. I need to get my students into the habit of working 3-4 hours per week on their A-level physics work, but it isn't easy at the start. I still haven't got this right yet. Students struggle with the questions because the amount of knowledge we expect them to use to answer an A-level question is far beyond that at GCSE. For example, changing the unit they are using, understanding standard form, rearranging a formula, knowing what letters mean, remembering a formula, understanding the context of the question (is it under compression or tension) etc etc. I need to consider the develop of my students from the demands of GCSE to the expectations of an A-level student. 

10. Use video to help give clear explanations
I want to try and expand the number of videos I have made for the students. So far I have only made resources for GCSE, but I would like to support any A-level students who need to refresh their know of a skill or key idea by being able to watch a video of me. I find this an excellent way of explaining things clearly as I can have numerous goes until I am satisfied the explanation is clear and uses key language appropriately. Hopefully I can encourage the students to do this too using showme to explain how they are doing calculations so I can see their thought processes, which will be useful assessment. 


I will try to follow up with the sum of my preparations during July.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Considering the Practicalities

I have had aspirational blog posts come under my nose recently and they have made me think, not about what if... but how?

How do we really tackle issues in a school so that there is improvement?

I have been exposed to a lot of improvement ideas over the years I have been teaching, it doesn't feel like many of them have stuck. A few have come around again though. It is the 'innovative' ones that I dislike the most.

I will start with Ken Robinson and his message about creativity in schools (despite not really in a position to comment having only really watch one of his videos). About 5 years ago we had a federation in service day and one of the Head Teachers showed a video of Sir Ken talking about schools killing creativity. I remember thinking how I did agree that some students really didn't fit into the structure of normal schooling and it would be much better if we could inspire them/facilitate them into doing something else constructive with their time like ballet dancing. (Which I believe was his example). But in this video there were no practical ideas about what this would look like. I remember thinking "all well and good, but how" and then going on to think that perhaps the children of East Bristol needed more than just a place to learn how to dance and if they didn't engage in art or history lessons dance lessons would probably represent as large a challenge. To be fair to Sir Ken, my confusion at the lack of practicalities wasn't directed at him, but the academy leadership whom I felt had never got beyond Ken Robinson the great orator. I can't think of a single thing that changed as a result of seeing that video and that group of schools seems to have swung in a very different direction. Sir Ken talks about revolution not evolution in schools, yet fails to explain the practicalities of where the money would come from to fund such a change in the way students would be educated. (Forgetting whether or not you agree with him in principle).

Classrooms without walls. Has anyone, anywhere, actually worked out the practicalities of teaching in a classroom without walls? I have tried. I taught my previous school's competency curriculum in a large classroom without walls for a 100 minute lesson per week (The majority of the students' timetable was the competency curriculum). There were three of us teaching 90 students. At the start I moved tables, organised groupings, created resource packs and basically planned to an inch of my life for this lesson. At the end of the year the three groups were taught in different areas as if they were three separate classes. (Not my decision, but of the other people who taught those lessons as students spent most of their week on the competency curriculum). Practicality wasn't considered. In science we were given three classrooms with no walls between them. That lasted just over a year. The practicalities of the timetable killed that.

Practical advice seems to have been very thin when it comes to my career. Speaker talking in ideals and emotion. "Get the children thinking", "empathise with your colleague", "use creative approaches", "raise aspiration", "encourage GRIT", "have high expectations", "close the gap", or any of those sound bites. Even things like "use more literacy strategies" are not that helpful without practical ideas suited to the context. I have read many education books that really don't help me understand how I can improve in my classroom, they just give the big idea. I need the nitty gritty.

What I want to hear are changes and plans that are practical. I need to understand their benefit and outcome and I need to be able to fit them into what I already do or directly replace something. I want to know what it looks like in practice. I need the structures and routines that the changes will mean for both me and my students.

I want management teams I work with to consider the effect on staff when they introduce a new strategy to their school. It can be confusing and patronising to be told the bigger picture without the practicalities. "Have high expectations of your students" is one. Apparently, when I started teaching my low expectations was part of the reason why students were not getting C grades. I didn't expect them to misbehave, I expected them to love learning, it didn't help one little bit. In fact it made me feel worse to think if I believed something enough it would happen, so I obviously couldn't.

Growth mindset is a good example. If all that happens is a few motivational posters and being told about the background then there is little point. (In my opinion). If there advice encouraging a change from staff praising cleverness to praising effort then this is both practical and can be implemented successfully and with understanding. If we understand that as a staff we are looking for evidence that students are spending more time on their learning as a result then we can start to realise the benefits. Moreover it can then be treated as a long term change within the school, with continual reminding and refining. If you believe that it is the right thing now, then surely it will still be the right thing in ten years time, not something to change again next September?

Perhaps I am not really cut out for the management game, but I can't just make hypothetical changes. I can't just motivate, engage, or whatever. I can't embed within the next couple of weeks and I will never tick a box by putting up a poster or creating a space in a lesson plan pro forma. I feel there is no point making a fundamental change that relies on the timetable, or on the skills of one member of staff. (Doesn't mean it isn't worth doing). The problem the change addresses will just have to be tackled again later. Finally I really don't like a strategy that requires a fanfare. There are so many variables involved in education that I don't believe that many of the things we do will cause a great shift forward.

So lets consider the practicalities in what we do in education.
(Notice no practical advice on how to be practical - how frustrating and hypocritical).


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 http://www.engagingscience.eu/en/ 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.