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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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...

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Why the ASE conference is important to me

I am so excited about my attendance tomorrow at the ASE conference. It has become one of the highlights of my year and if I could only choose one CPD event to attend it would be this one.

Firstly, it represents great value. Three days at the ASE conference is still cheaper than one day on a course lead by the CPD companies out there. To visit only the exhibition is free, and this represents a useful day out as there is the open conference and other talks going on in there too.

Secondly it provides variety. I can learn about literacy strategies in key stage 3 and a workshop on microscale chemistry in the morning, then attend a lecture about the development of bilingual children and take part in a debate about practical assessment in the afternoon. There is so much on offer. Some might say too much.

Thirdly, everyone is there. This year I need to talk to exam boards about A-levels. I want to know where the pitfalls of the new A-levels will be, what the exam boards think schools will do about As level entries and what they know about what universities will expect. I want to meet publishers and discuss the discount I am getting for the new books I will be buying in September! More than that though I want to talk about resources that I want to see. Giving my opinion may mean that the gaps I see might be filled. If I don't ask about something I want then I won't get it.

This year I need to meet the Pearson book rep and find out who they are. I will probably by buying A-level resources from them. I want to see what I can get. I also want to talk to the OUP/Nelson Thornes and tell her how much I love kerboodle and ask about the likely updates to Advanced Physics for You and Calculations in A-level Physics. I also need to see the Hodder rep about the future of the little white revision guides. From all of them I want to see what support they will have for practical activities.

I want to see the A-level Physics boss from Pearson as I am confused about how we prove the radioactivity skill when it isn't included in any of the practicals.

I could spend a day just in the exhibition learning about science education by talking to the people there.

But more than just companies the experts within science education are there and I can hear from them and talk to them. I might even be staying in the same hotel as them. (I was in the same hotel as Michael Reiss and Prof Hal two years ago). Alice Roberts, Paul Hardaker, Martin Rees, Michael Riess, Tim Oates are all people I have heard speak. This year Fran Scott, Simon Mayo, and John Holman will be speaking.

Fourthly, I want to know what I don't know. Last year I spoke to Julie from Practical Action and it resulted in Year 6 having a great time making flood proof houses. It has actually really fired me up regarding the importance of renewable energies. Two years ago Brenda Naylor was kind enough to talk to me about primary science and Stuart was as helpful last year.

You go with aims, but you learn so much more.

Lastly, I get to see my friends and colleagues. I do think that the ASE conference is better because I am involved in the ASE. Taking a colleague is great and meeting up with people is even better.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Tetbury,United Kingdom

Friday, 2 January 2015

Pass/Fail practical assessment part of 2015 GCSE science

I have been kind of whining about the fact that we shouldn't have the whole idea of tracking practical work throughout Year 10 and 11 and then deciding if students pass or fail at the end of that. I understand why people think it will be a better system than we have now.

What I think is that it won't improve it enough to be useful.

Either you are a teacher who believes that practical has an important place in science teaching and learning. That allowing students to experience investigations and make discoveries in an authentic way is valuable to the development of students understanding. Or you are in a position where practical work is not, well, practical for whatever reason.

Either you are going to do practical work because of its value. Or you are not. And if, as I suspect, you are not going to be moderated every year then either you are going to do practical work because you feel it is valuable or you are going to do just enough to cover your backside just in case.* You will find a way that involves the least amount of effort (this is not about laziness) and tick the boxes. My conclusion from this is that there is little value in the pass/fail addition to GCSE science.

A far better way to encourage practical work in science, if indeed that is what we want is to create a curriculum that lends itself to valuable practical work. (When I say 'we' I mean the exam boards as the curriculum is now in place).

In the specification I follow too many of the suggested activities don't actually teach the specification statements. Why on Earth am I going to take time out of a busy teaching curriculum to teach something that isn't actually going to be examined and might actually distract my students? We'll observe refraction because they need to know about it, we'll look at the relationship between wire length and resistance because it is explicitly written about in the specification. If I am teaching about stars I am not going to make a telescope unless it is important that my students know the composition of a telescope. (They don't in Gateway). I am not going to get the whole class to create wind turbines if my one demonstration will be sufficient.

When we moved to the current specification styles on 2006, I hated it. I hated it for exactly this reason. Bitty, incoherent and no time to go into detail before you moved on. Don't get static electricity? Never mind we're studying half lives now. Practical work was often irrelevant, particularly in core science. (I think I do one class practical in the whole of P2). By the time we get to additional science students are not interested in getting out of their seats in lessons.

If we return to a curriculum where we can teach topics together and the specification builds from simple ideas to those that are more complex we can start to use practical activities more in our teaching. I don't like to run a lesson on sun cream resistance into a lesson on ultrasound to make space for an investigation. However, I would be more inclined to do that if the topics were related.

When I taught pre-2006 AQA specification I was able to decide which statements went in each lesson. In the post-2006 OCR Gateway specifications that has not been practical to do.** If the new specifications allow more flexibility (and because they are terminal they should) then more practical work and more importantly more valuable practical work will be able to be carried out. I am actually quite excited about this.

So lets use the curriculum to encourage practical work, lets give time to teachers to teach students about 'how science works' and lets accept that good teachers need less constraints to do a good job and poor teachers will find ways around them.

*Something that sticks in my memory is an OCR IAU examiner telling a group on a course he was leading that there were many schools whom never allowed the students to do their own practical work in the data task and gave every child the fall back data. There are schools out there doing everything they can to make practical assessment as straight forward as possible for themselves. In a way I can't blame them, it is an administrative nightmare and we should be trying to cut this for teachers wherever possible.

**Partly because both the schools I have taught it at have 70 minute lessons, and I found that 50 minute lessons mean pace in lessons is high, but there is more time to stop and consolidate at a latter date. And partly because the specification is split into 8 sections per module, and each section should take a week to teach.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Practical Work in Science Lessons

In this blog post I wanted to give myself an opportunity to consider practical work and think through the current state of my own practice. I am aware that I am probably better than I think I am at doing all the things that as science teachers we set ourselves to do. However, in that difficult juggling act of teaching I strive to reflect on all areas.

As part of my work in thinking about the key stage 3 curriculum I wrote myself a list of the techniques that I would expect students to be able to do at the end of key stage 3.

I am also reminded of a discussion about the separating salt from rock salt lesson, trying to persuade colleagues that if students get nothing else from the lesson they should be learning about how to draw scientific diagrams. There is no other lesson I can think of that uses quite the range of equipment in Year 7.

I understand from reading I have done and CPD sessions I have attended that it is desirable to have specific objectives when teaching practical skills as well as the objectives you would have when teaching knowledge. So I would like make sure we have an idea of the expectations of what students should be able to do with equipment, and not just general statements like 'fair testing' and 'name variables'.

I cannot be the only teacher who has no trouble when students are asked to use a stop watch. I have taken to repeating 'do not stop the stop watch' over and over during practical explanations, as a result of struggling with Year 9 groups. And I am now finding myself explaining how to read a stop watch after Year 10 and 11 students wrote down things like 00:15.34 as a recording for time. "That's what the stop watch says". Indeed, but what does it mean?

Don't get me started on setting up clamp stands!

Although I am probably only frustrated by one group within a class and only frustrated in a small proportion of lessons it is still enough to get me to think about the issue.

I have worked in a school that had competency booklets. What a blinking nightmare. How can I assess the work of 24 students there are then at the end of the lesson without specifically designing a 15 minute plenary that doesn't require my support while I go round and sign these booklets off with a comment, date and my name? It isn't all the practical in reality. Plus these competences were generic and designed around the parts of an investigation and therefore more subjective.

On top of that we had no scheme of work (quite usual in this school) and therefore matching a skill to a lesson was my choice and not mapped out. Perhaps if I didn't have so much thinking to do in the lesson planning... No one checked, no one talked about them, so I forgot about it.

I think in the 6 years since then technology makes it more practical for students to compile their own evidence of technical ability. And perhaps this could be assessed outside of a formal qualification framework?

I think it is important that students do learn to use the equipment properly and recognise limitations and appropriateness during key stage 3. I want my students to learn science from their practical work and I don't think this will be easy if they are grappling with the uses of the equipment too.

So, isn't what I say obvious? Well, yes. So why can't some of my Year 11 students adequately write down a time from a stop watch?

I think partly because the curriculum taught does not encourage the development and consolidation of practical techniques. One lesson on lighting a Bunsen does not make you an expert on heating for the rest of your school career. And partly because we are already doing too much in one lesson. A lesson on voltage is about making observations and drawing conclusions, interpreting diagrams, creating circuits, drawing circuits, using symbols and having a grasp of what voltage is, as well as using a voltmeter. Sometimes that voltmeter is actually a multimeter - how complicated.

What do I need to do?

Slow down and remember that teaching some of it well is better in the long run than teaching all of it badly.
Focus on the technique students are learning. Use starters and other short activities to establish basics like looking at scales before starting practical work.
Create video tutorials for using equipment to help introduce ideas in a clear way.
Question students during lessons about the techniques they are using, why it is or isn't effective as if that matters.
Encourage the reflection by students on their practical work by including it as part of lessons and takeaway homework tasks.
In the long term consider blogging as a method of keeping practical diaries.
But first I must get to grips with the new curriculum so that I can see the key places for development, consolidating and extending use of techniques.

I do think that practical work is important, not necessarily to help with learning or understanding of abstract scientific concepts, but because students should not take things as face value. It is through experimenting that scientific discoveries are made or confirmed, and students should experience that as authentically as possible.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nurture 14/15

I have thought about this and there is no way I can describe my year in only 5 things without skirting over a lot of things. So I will do 14 and cut down my aims for next year to 5. 

It always seems that I do a lot, but this is because I say 'yes' to as much as possible. 

14 from 2014. 

1. Getting Married. 
We got married on the 30th August. It was quite a surprise when Richard agreed to tie the knot back in January. We have been together since January 2006. It was a lovely day and a fantastic experience to be able to publicly acknowledge our love, which we are not that good at doing. In October we had a blessing in Northumberland followed by a meal in the village hall, that was a really nice occasion with all the people I knew when I was little.

2. Exam Results
I suppose any secondary teacher's year is made (or rocked) by the results students get in the summer. More so when you are a head of department and feel responsible for them all. The GCSE results we got were spectacular. Much higher than I expected. I put this down to the hard work and determined revision of our students. There is talk of 'mastery' in the education world, but my students do aim to achieve it and often strop at my when they don’t understand something. Nothing less is failure to them. It is fantastic, but demanding. A-level results were not as exciting. All the Year 13 students got what they needed to get into university, but I was hoping for two A* grades and there is still work to do with Year 12. I have spoken openly to many people about As results and many have experienced a level of disappointment and feel there has been an impact of the loss of the January examinations. However, terminal examinations made no difference to Year 10, they probably helped improve them!

3. Commonwealth Games, Sport and Glasgow.
We often watch cycling and went to see the UK national road race championships as they weren’t too far away this year. We also went to see the last stage of the Tour of Britain in London, as the stage that came to Bristol finished to early in the afternoon to see it live after work. The Commonwealth Games were a great experience, we saw weightlifting, boxing (I have never see live boxing before), hockey, team triathlon and the marathon. It was a great few days, and we were able to catch a lot of it on TV when we weren’t watching it live. We also really loved Glasgow and had a one day visit during October half term. I really wanted to go back and see the world championship gymnastics next October, but it sold out before I could afford it. All of this sort of makes up for not being able to get to the start of the Tour de France (but not really). We did catch quite a bit of the world cup on the TV, and I loved the winter Olympics and Paralympics.

4. ICT - 1
I really missed the laptop that broke on me in the summer of 2013, and I bought myself a macbook air in January. I wanted to add this to the list because buying a laptop was one of my nurture13/14 aims for 2014. In June I found it necessary to replace my original iPad and I know have an iPad mini on contract when the school asked the girls to each bring an iPad. It continues to be a bug bear of mine that ICT is so vital now to my work, yet it isn’t something acknowledged by schools or government. At school the ICT is not suitable to someone who works in many different locations. I use my laptop all the time, but have to log on to the school server to print and use the MIS as it is internet explorer only. 

5. ICT - 2
In the summer I was really excited by the prospect of the 1-2-1 iPad scheme at school. It seemed extremely timely as I was invited to an event in Bristol about creating video and helping students to create video. It was a light bulb moment and has impacted my practice during the past term. I really feel that I am making massive strides in being able to use the iPads to help learning. Apps such as explain everything, nearpod, iDoceo, quizlet, socrative, keynote, dropbox, evernote, iDraw and iMovie have been extremely useful. The girls at school recognise me as having a strong grasp of ICT and how to use it, which probably means I am above average. Since the summer I have had a good think about what a 1-2-1 iPad scheme really means, and I hope to help guide the school. I have thank my use of twitter and those who connect to share their vast knowledge who have given me the expertise and confidence to embrace the 1-2-1 iPad scheme. 

6. ASE
I continue to be involved in the ASE, and started my final year as an assembly member this September. I am incredibly proud of the conference we put on in November as a region. The most important thing is that our new CEO seems to have a good handle on ASE finances and where ASE fits in the big scheme of things. Hopefully all of this will mean that ASE can do more to support science teachers and science teaching in the UK and further afield. It is interesting that strong subject knowledge has come out as being very important in the effectiveness in teaching. I think this makes part of the case for the presence of subject associations. I wish I had more time to devote to ASE projects.

7. Curriculum Change 
Deciding what to do about the key stage 3 curriculum changes was a big part of my 2014. We are following OUP’s activate scheme and so far we are really pleased with it. I am able to follow it without that much alteration, which means the most to me. If I spend money on a scheme of work I expect it to save the same amount of time. I am really excited though by the online aspect of the activate scheme, once the fibre optic broadband is installed at school it should be much easier for the students to use and we can really get to grips with assessment.

8. Trips
This year I took the majority of the school to the Big Bang Fair. I took ten Year 11 students to Krispie Kreme Donut Factory. I took Year 7 to the Super-league Netball. It is so time consuming to organise trips, even those that are in the evening, however I am planning to repeat the Krispie Kreme and Netball trips in 2015. The Big Bang Fair I will do again, but probably not until 2016 or 2017 depending on the location. These were all in an attempt to get STEM on a stronger footing within the school, I have more to do on this in 2015. 

9. Conferences/Events/Festivals
My year always starts with the ASE conference, which as always was fun and informative as ever. It was extremely useful starting point on my work on the KS3 curriculum changes. I also went to Pedagoo South West, Research Ed West MidlandsResearchEd, the Festival of Education the tweet up at York University in the summer and an event on creating and using video by Teachit. I have hear Jon Butterworth, Alice Roberts (twice) and Ian Stewart all speak. I also helped to organise our own ASE regional event at Bath Spa University in November. For the second year we went to the Cheltenham Science Festival and had another great day and we went to the cycle show at the NEC. 

10. My Kindle
This time last year I wrote that I had read 31 books on my kindle, this year I have 76, so I have read a lot more books. Although probably not more words as last year I read the ‘song of ice and fire’ books and this year I haven’t read anything as nearly as long. Although next year I think I will read the “wheel of time’ series. I LOVE my kindle, it is an opportunity to escape from teaching and make my mind think of other things.  

11. Discoid Eczema  
I have really failed to look after my skin this year. At the start of the year my eczema meant that I could hardly bend my fingers. If I didn’t go home to reapply the emollients then I wanted to itch my legs all night and my back is often red, itchy mess as I can’t see it to know when it needs extra treatment. I don’t want to use the steroids all the time, but at the moment it seems that I can’t avoid them. It has really been a big feature of my year as it has made my life so uncomfortable and it is such a pain that I can’t use soap of any kind.

12. Step-daughter
We continue to be delighted with the progress of Richard’s daughter. She started Year 10 this year and seems to be thriving. She informs us that she had the joint best report in the whole of her year, (with her two friends). At the moment she wants to go to Cambridge to study Linguistics. Although she is considering St Andrews. I bought her a book of short essays on the subject of linguistics, which she read in a week and it is being passed around her friends apparently. We are so relived that she is interested in things and making her own mind up about everything including her social life (a Eurovision party where she designed a menu based on foods from around Europe).

13. Last years resolutions
Err, not so good. The house still remains undecorated, my hair has an increasing number of grey streaks and I am not yet 9st 7lbs. I didn’t go the arboretum enough and I can’t describe myself as organised. Although I did get a laptop, Year 13 did well, went on the trips and we enjoyed the commonwealth games. 

14. Being Opinionated
My blogs on the Royal Society Vision and on the new arrangements for the assessment of practical work have got me noticed. A blog post on the financial commitment a teacher makes also got retweeted by the Guardian and viewed many times. I have been interviewed over the telephone for various things too. I do find myself quite negative and miserable, though. Although being asked to present to the governors at the end of the summer term was a great opportunity to be positive about all the things that we did as a department. I got a hug from the deputy head, so I must have been good. 
It is always a surprise when people want to hear what I have got to say, I hope that I represent science education in someway as I anticipate others face the same struggles. Although mainly I just want to represent myself. 

Aims for 2015

1. Writing with purpose
My blog needs more attention and direction. I would like it to show what I feel and my vision and I don’t believe that it does. I have strong feelings about things and I want to be able to describe them in a rational way. 

2. At home
We only have one plan for the this year - getting Richard qualified and ready for Paris-Brest-Paris in the summer. It really is the culmination of ten years of cycling so that he is ready for this challenge. My main hope is that some of his colleagues recognise the achievement, it will mean so much to him. I doubt it though. We did say that we would take Richard’s daughter to Oxford to see the city and to go to the Imperial War Museum as we haven’t been for a while. When Richard is out cycling I want to work on things around the house and get over my fear of gardening. 

3. Bringing a conference/an event to Westonbirt
The head has seen me help organise activities outside of school and has invited me to replicate this in school. We certainly have the space. I need to think about this in order to bring together something valuable. It is a real compliment to be trusted with this. 

4. More curriculum change
The next task at school is to embed the changes to KS3 and do more to look forward to the changes at KS5. I think that the department will need some help to develop the idea of a lab book as will the students. The changes at GCSE concern me greatly, I don’t think that the specifications will be ready towards the end of 2015, again giving teachers and publishers less and less time to prepare a good scheme of work. 

5. What is next?
I love my school and working there. But I also feel the pull of a new challenge. I don’t know what that is yet and I fully expect to see myself working at Westonbirt in a year’s time, partly because I want to see through the curriculum changes and develop my use of 1-2-1 devices in the classroom and partly because it is a fabulous school and I believe in what we do. But I need to prepare myself for what is next. Would I get an assistant head position from where I am? Do I want one or do I want to stay more closely tied to science education? Would being an assistant head affect that? Am I good enough? Do I want to stay as a teacher?
But I also think that to look to the future I also need to consolidate. Think about what we/I/the department do really well and make the most of those things. Ensure they stand out as excellent and don't get lost amongst all the change.