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.



Sunday, 15 February 2015

If you can't back your opinion up with research then your opinion doesn't count?

I get the impression that the education world is jumping onto the research bandwagon. I use that word deliberately.

While I like the idea that teachers may avoid taking onboard strategies that don't work or in fact have a negative impact. I do worry that if you haven't read the book, if you can't quote the latest thinker, if you can't back up your statements with a research study then what you say can be too quickly dismissed.

Is that fair?

I taught interference to Year 11 for the sixth time in my career a couple of weeks ago. All the other times I didn't teach a lesson I was satisfied with. With this in mind I was aware that my current class might not be happy at the end of the lesson, so the previous night I thought long and hard about how I would explain the concepts, what demonstrations to do, what images and animations to show. At the end of the lesson they were comfortable in their knowledge of how a path difference equivalent to an odd number of half wavelengths means there will be destructive interference. Whether they really understand it enough to carry to June and the exam I don't know, but it was and improvement on previous lessons.

It was my experience of the other 5 lessons that helped me teach a good lesson this time. Not a research paper, not a book.

Perhaps alongside the depth of a reading list we could also remember to value the knowledge acquired from experience, particularly when it comes to dealing in specifics.

Then again, perhaps a research paper on teaching interference exists and I would have done a good job first time if I had read it.

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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Filming Instructions for Science Lessons

In April 2014 I attended a training day run by teachit about making videos. I was inspired by James Rolfe from Judgemeadow School and his use of video.

Since then I have made quite a few videos of instructions when I have felt it extremely useful. Some of them are on my YouTube channel, a few are not. All of the. Have had an incredible impact on the way practical work has gone in my classroom. My practice has changed in a way that it hasn't been before.

The first one I made was instructions on how to do a onion cell prep for Year 7. I made it using my iPhone held up in a clamp stand. Although I had to have a couple of goes as I was interrupted by the technician during filming. It wasn't easy to hear my own voice or see myself on the screen when I showed it to the class. The lesson went so well, the girls got on with the practical with little assistance in the procedure and I was able to discuss what they were supposed to be learning instead of correcting mistakes with the practical technique.

I have a 30 minute lesson with year 10 on Monday last thing. By making videos I find it quicker to give instructions, and the girls do the experiment more efficiently then if I give a worksheet or do a demonstration. This means they can get more done in that time.

I decided to get Year 6 to test for vitamin C, it involves weighing and squashing fruit then dissolving it in 100ml of water, adding 5ml of starch and counting the number of drops of iodine added until it turns black. Easy for a ten year old to follow? I made a video, they watched it and carried out the experiment without fuss. The bits they found hardest were the bits I didn't put on the video like wearing safety glasses. http://youtu.be/z4wpSUVoRzg

I have used video in other ways too. For example I have created videos using explain everything to run through worked examples for suvat and momentum equations. The girls like them. The information appears on the screen and there isn't a teacher's arm blocking the view like when I write straight onto the board.

I have also been using Adobe voice to talk over slides, this allows me to make short videos for revision.

Yesterday Year 7 carried out a titration to neutralise two unknown alkalis. I videoed myself again. It gets easier to hear yourself. My voice has got softer, I can cope with what I look like.

I am now on half term, but I have brought home lots of electricity equipment as I intend to make more videos ready for next half term.

If you find yourself having to explain an experiment to each group even though you have demonstrated it then I throughly recommend filming yourself giving instructions. My descriptions are clearer, more concise and the large visuals projected onto the board mean everyone has a clear view.

Initially it takes time to put videos together, and hard to hear your voice, but after making a few it gets a lot quicker and easier. Give it a go.

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Friday, 6 February 2015

We can't Consider Practical Work Issues in Isolation

I once saw Tim Oates speak about assessment in school science. I didn't understand much of that lecture, but I could tell that practical assessment as part of the grading for GCSEs and A-levels was about to vanish.

This is not what I want to talk about, however. One thing that he did say was that in an ideal world we would build the curriculum and then workout how to assess it. This was not happening at the moment as arbitrary restrictions like the percentage of a course that can be internally assessed and moderated are dictating the assessment.

This idea keeps coming back to me.

What would really good science teaching that includes practical work look like? If we start from there then maybe we can get an assessment system that works for us?

Firstly I think that we do need to ensure students have a wide variety of different practical experiences using the widest possible variety of equipment. I say this a lot, but we need to ensure that the taught curriculum provides genuine opportunity for this. The reason I don't do much practical at the moment is that there isn't much point in doing it with the topics I teach. What topics can students study where their engagement with practical equipment will help their understanding of concepts?

Secondly I think we need to ensure students have the opportunity to investigate a scientific hypothesis in such a way that they have to manipulate and evaluate genuine data.

I really hate the controlled assessment in OCR gateway, but I also really like them at the same time. What I hate is that students are not allowed to redraft. I am not allowed to discuss and draw out ideas about the data. I can't use it to help students learn or carefully consider the implications and issues around what they have done. What I hate is that they are so time consuming and high pressure. It takes half a term to complete and the curriculum simply doesn't allow time for that. What I like is the imaginative contexts they give and that some experiments give very different results per group. I like that there is a degree of freedom for the students and that in part comes because I am not allowed to guide them directly. I can only give generic, non-specific advice.

This second part is going to be really missing from the new courses at both key stage 4 and 5.

How do we build an assessment system that allows for both types of practical work?

I don't think we can at the moment. With high stakes testing, ofsted 'outstanding' to aim for and budget cuts, the type of chaotic lessons that would be involved in allowing students to do their own investigations, the curriculum time that would be necessary for it (detracting from drilling for tests - now dressed up as 'deliberate practice') and the cost of having good technicians and plenty of working equipment means that only very few schools would be able to really enter into the spirit of practical and investigative work. In which case it becomes a burden and practical work is contrived to suit the local circumstances and we need to consider that too. Particularly with science teachers are in short demand.

For me the new proposals mean I get rid of a large bureaucratic burden that is controlled assessment.

I can only conclude that the whole system needs a shake up and looking at practical work in isolation is simply not enough.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Adobe Voice

A useful app for creating short videos using their extensive graphics library and also adding sound. See the example. This has been embedded into the blog.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

ASE conference - practical science

The unofficial theme of this year's ASE conference had to be practical work and how to assess it. It seemed to be the topic on everyone's lips.

I was really excited this year to be asked to be part of a panel debate on the topic of the royal societies 2035 vision for science and maths education. I was asked to speak for three minutes, I managed to say what I wanted in four. I was really pleased to be invited as it helped me clarify my thinking about the report and its importance to the future of science education. It might not be perfect, but it is a great deal better than what we have got.

Afterwards I was able to talk to Tanya Demster, who is the ASE field officer in the East Midlands. I found myself being encouraged to send in my CSciTeach form (which I have written, but not sent). She suggested that if I achieved it I could be presented with it in assembly. Which I thought was a great idea. As someone who is supportive of the professional learning journey model I suppose I should get my act together. I see CSciTeach accreditation as a useful CPD reflection tool on a personal level as well as a sign post of potential quality and knowledge of a teacher to senior leaders.

This image below shows the model, at the Wellcome Trust reception on Friday, where the post it notes show where we were invited to comment. I wondered what professional skills are, and whether subject knowledge is actually harder to come by than subject pedagogy? (I know of too many teachers not passionate about their subject).

From the point of view of the ASE and other science education bodies, where does the relationship between the ASE and the teacher go when the teacher moved into senior leadership? I don't know the answer, but I suspect cracking it would help retention of members.

The Thursday afternoon debate has become a 'must' attend session for me. Last year it was about research this year about practical assessment. I feel we must do something that empowers teachers to see the benefits of practical work in their own practice. It is a good experience to hear the range of opinions from around the room and different angles.

Jane Winter spoke passionately at the debate, I think I want to be a reception teacher!

I think a really important part of the conference is the exhibition. The stands with the biggest crowds and that I enjoy visiting are ones like SAPS and the RI. Hands on tasks and wonderful science to look at is more inspiring than a leaflet.

I did manage to catch up with OUP, (I didn't see Deb, but got the rep to label my for, for her attention! A new version of advanced physics for you should be heading my way). Collins, Pearson and Hodder. The exhibition was quiet at 9am on Thursday so managing to do my school focused visited so quickly was a real bonus.

Another session that was very useful to me was by Natasha from OCR science, taking about the changes to GCSE science. I was really shocked to hear that the exam boards have to use the national curriculum as their specification. I was expecting them to be able to put a twist on it that would improve what we've got. I really do think this is a mistake by the government. If we should trust teachers, then we should also trust other educational professionals like exam board staff.

I did hear during this talk that one of the main issues with controlled assessment in science is that it is predictable, and assessment should not be predictable. I like and dislike this idea. I want to know where the goal posts are when teaching my students...

I was interested in the talk by the Lord Speaker, Baroness De Souza (not that one). She seemed very shocked when one lady expressed concern over the fear that teachers feel during their every day lives. As a friend said 'does she not read the papers?'

It was fabulous to see the practical hub, sponsored by AQA so busy during the conference. If practical work is dead thanks to the changes then this part of the conference proved to the contrary of that. I went to hear from Gemma Young and Tony Sherborne about engaging science, a new set of resources using a tool to help with the delivery. I was interested to hear that Tony is delivering training to go along side it. He is right that giving resources without supporting people with the pedagogical approach means often they can't make the most of what you are trying to achieve.

On Saturday I went to see Fran Scott blow stuff up using computers.

To be fair, she said a lot of really interesting and useful things about how to engage young people. Fran really makes an effort to understand the science she is demonstrating during 4 minutes on TV.

She showed us three attempts she had to explain Archimedes principle and her reflections on each one. The third one being one that obeyed her rules above and ultimately was nominated for a children's BAFTA.

Her talk made me think about how I might start to consider if I understand my own subject well enough (could do better) and how I help students understand.

I have to say the main thing about the conference is the chance to talk to like minded educators outside of my own school. Swapping ideas and feeling the positivity.

Well done to the ASE conference team.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Embedding a Pinterest Board into a Website: A test

Follow Association for Science Education (ASE)'s board ASE Teaching & Learning Board on Pinterest.

I just wondering about the benefits of using Pinterest to collaborate and share links for organisations. But I suspect that because you have to be a member of Pinterest to see boards these days that it is not useful.

I also don't think that it is practical to search within a pinterest board.

I am after something that can allow us to share links very easily, is collaborative and searchable...