Sunday, 23 November 2014

Conferences on a Saturday

On Saturday 15th November the ASE West committee (I am the chair) ran their half-day science conference at Bath Spa University.

An excellent conference, if I do say so myself. I am proud that we held it on a Saturday and I proud that we were able to make it free to members and only £10 to everyone else.

Around the same time OldAndrew was having an outburst about Wellington College moving their Festival of Education wholly into the week. I can see both sides of the argument.

From Wellington College's point of view I know that it is easier to get speakers and attendance is higher during the week. Despite what Andrew and others might feel there are a lot of teachers out there who will not give up their own time for conferences and other CPD. A lot. The ASE conference is not well as attended when it falls in the holidays from time to time, for example.

However, we need events to be held on Saturdays and in holidays.

If you are restricted in the CPD you can have access to at school then you need another avenue. I have certainly been in this situation. SLT favourites able to go to courses and feedback at Thursday evening sessions you have the 'option' to attend. In house CPD thought to be all you need, because it is important to stick to the ethos of the academy, which is sufficient apparently. I don't want my CPD to be restricted by an agenda that I am not consulted on.

I don't really have the answer though. If the motivation is to reach more people and therefore earn more money then the needs of those teachers who want to search for their own CPD in their own time, with their own money, are not a priority.

To teachers: if you are reading this and thinking "I won't be allowed to go, it is during a school day", ASK. Ask and you might be surprised. I have been and continue to be. I have been able to go to the ASE conference for the last three years and I am going again this year. But if I had not asked then no one was going to offer.

To conference organisers: please do consider those of us who are coming to your event independent of our school What we gain will be fed back into the system and the fact that we came at the weekend probably makes it more valuable to us. If you can afford it please think about your potential audience, their budget, location and time.

To Andrew: sorry, I won't be signing your petition Wellington College have a point if their intention is to have more visitors.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What Does an ICT Savvy Student Look Like?

I need to start thinking about where I am going regarding the use of ICT in my classroom and not just about solving the issues in front of me. Within science education I feel that I have moral purpose and understand the place of my subject within the curriculum. But what about the other parts of my job; the pastoral side and (prominent for me at the moment) the ICT side.

As I have said before our school have asked the students to each bring their own iPad to school. There are a few students who haven't, but they usually do have devices of some sort. As predicted by a lot of the articles about BYOD that I have read there is some issues over the level of use of the devices within lesson. I agree that as a parent I would be concerned if my child had a £400 device and was not using it effectively. But what does using it effectively mean?

When the scheme was first announced by the chair of governors at a speech day he spoke about 'skills for life'. Our Saturday lesson programme has been transformed for key stage 3 into PHSE lesson taught by the pastoral staff in the hope it will give them skills and knowledge for life. The iPad 1-2-1 scheme is also supposed to give the students the 'skills for life' in an increasingly technological world.

I actually like this idea better than introducing iPads to improve learning. I read all the time that there is no evidence that ICT will make much different to the learning. For many members of staff incorporating ICT into lessons is going to be a stretch. On top of all the curriculum change embracing new technologies and creating the resources to go with them is going to be a lot to ask.

For me technology is a great way to keep myself organised and I hope that the students will pick this up too.

So what does a tech savvy student look like?

I did some research about the use of ICT in business. The vast majority seem have stories about the transformation of their business by being able to reach customers better. The others seem to say that by designing an app helped communication within the company. That didn't seem to apply to the students.

Instead I wrote the following aims: students live in an increasingly technological world, where businesses, organisations and individuals are using advances in ICT to communicate, collaborate and organise. Students need to be aware of the benefits and risks of this as well ash the practicalities of using technology.

In no particular order, a 'technologically advanced student' will be:

  • using RSS feeds, twitter, social networking apps, instapaper, read later, to collate potentially useful information and resources for later use. They may even do this in collaboration with others
  • accessing alternative forms of media such as podcasts, video and blogs. They will probably do this in short chunks. This may be related to work, but also related to the interests of the students.
  • sharing, communicating and collaborating on work projects over distance and time using electronic devices. This may be communicating with other students, but also will be communicating with teachers.
  • organising time, resources and work using shared calendars, email and folders that sync across several devices and maybe shared with many others.
  • able to manage their workflow
  • aware of their own digital footprint and act according when using social media.
  • able to produce a range of media to be consumed inside and outside school. This maybe in conjunction with school work, charity work, social work or to raise awareness of an issue. This will involve blogging, video, podcasts, documents, images, infographics, websites, GIFs, and presentations. 
  • supporting others in their use of electronic devices.

They may go further and:

  • produce their own app
  • learn how to code
  • investigate computer networking
  • build their own computer
  • use ICT in another enterprising way

I would admit that it isn't necessary for students to be able to do all of these things for their learning, or even their life. But I do think that it is important that students are aware of all the implications and ways that ICT can be used.

The next steps are working out how we get there? Do we use technology for learning? Should we be restrictive and prescriptive about the way that technology is used in lessons? What about outside lessons and in extra curricular activities? Will practice change as a result of technology and what will the behaviour of our students in lessons look like? How will these changes impact on their employability? Is it even possible?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Nicky Morgan and Workload

In this article it is stated that Nicky Morgan wants teachers to spend more time teaching and less time on paper work.

This statement scares me.

What I want is to spend less time teaching so I can spend more time preparing and marking. I don't do any unnecessary paperwork, I can't remember a time when I did.

I need schemes of work. I need time to prepare the 7 years of new ones that will be coming in within the next three years. I need to time to ensure we are properly risk assessed for each of these - unnecessary paper work?  I need time to set up the new trackers for the new assessment that will come with the new changes. I need time to work on the appraisal of staff that has become more important now that it is linked to pay and all that entails. I need to complete forms about students with statements, I need to give information about students who are applying for access arrangements. I need to give information for UCAS references. I need to fill in written lesson requests. I want to complete a planner and mark book. I want to complete a review of the exam results and I feel I should have a plan of action for the year to work from.

I want to teach less. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy standing in front of my class. I enjoy talking to them about their learning. But I enjoy it more when I am properly prepared. I enjoy it more when I can think and speak because I am not surviving on 5 hours sleep per night. I enjoy it more when I know the tasks I have prepared are meaningful and not just being used because they are all I have. I don't want to have to tailor my lesson to a CGP sheet just because its the only resource I have with the time available. I want to have the time to adapt my resources given what I know about my students' learning from the previous lesson.

Teaching is exhausting. Teaching when you are under prepared is stressful and exhausting.

If Nicky Morgan thinks that the answer is Pearson Co writing schemes of work we can all buy into she couldn't be more wrong. I estimate it will cost £250 per year group per GCSE subject and £300 per year group per A-level subject to buy into the subscriptions for schemes of work. Somewhere in the region of £20,000 per year on schemes of work that aren't actually very useful. Even with online testing it doesn't take away from the fact that the teacher still has to mark work and review what the child has done. Open questioning cannot be marked by a computer. Writing of schemes will still have to be done - especially in science, where we need to have thought about the risk assessment for what we are doing in our own context.

I want is for government to consider how they bring in changes to the curriculum. Does it all need to be thrown up into the air? Can it be changed in small chunks where need is identified? This would mean a couple of lessons could be rewritten and resourced rather than 7 years worth of teaching in the space of three?

But I also want is for government to consider the length of PPA time. How many hours should I teacher be working in a week? How long should it take to plan a lesson, and how long should it take to mark work? Input all of this and workout how many hours per week a teacher should teach for.

Something like, if you teach a class for two hours per week it probably takes a hour to mark their books, and another 40 minutes to plan the lessons. (If you already have a great scheme of work). Add to that 50 minutes per week spent in staff briefing, one hour spent in a staff meeting, 40 minutes per week spent on break time duty and hour doing a club after school, with 30 minutes preparing it, and 25 minutes per day of registration. This means we are looking at 6 hours per week unavailable to teaching. If we are to work 40 hours per week 34 is available to teaching and preparing for teaching. By my calculation 55% if that time should be in front of a class, which is 18.5 hours.

This leaves no room for dealing with any pastoral or staff related issues. No time for referencing, exam entries, carers advice, coaching a fellow teacher, CPD, peer observations, report writing, replying to emails from parents, organising rooms for open evening, parents evenings, concerts and plays, organising a tutor group assembly, organising trips and talks.

Currently teachers will teach around 22 hours per week. If Nicky Morgan was able to reduce this to 18 hours per week I believe it would make a positive impact on teacher workload.

I can't see it happening though. At the moment an 8 form entry Year 7 group would require 200 hours of teaching per week, which would be 9.09 teachers. Teaching 18 hours per week would be 11.1 1 teachers per week. So £40k per year extra just for Year 7. Multiply that up through 7 year groups and it would be 14 extra teachers. We're looking in the region of £300k per school. Any head got that to spare in their budget? Thought not.

Ah well, Nicky Morgan can expect stressed and tired teachers to complain for a while yet.

Sunday, 28 September 2014


I was recommended Nearpod by a colleague at school who's daughter had suggested it to her. I love it and I think my students really like it too. Or at least the ones that I have used it with. When we get fibre optic broadband installed I will use it with all my classes

It is an app for tablets, but it also works on chrome or safari on a laptop.

What is it?

It is an app and website that allows you to send your presentation to the students' devices. You give them a code and they enter it to find your presentation.

So what?

That's not all, you can add interactive slides where students feedback to you. If you subscribe (and pay) for the premium version you can link to external websites too. For me this is the real power. I explain something to the group and immediately they answer a question that helps me to understand how well they grasped it. I can change my teaching then and there.

For example, I gave a demo of a longitudinal wave then the group copied notes from a slide on nearpod about longitudinal waves. They then answered the question 'what is a longitudinal wave?'. Most of the answers said 'a wave that vibrates backwards and forwards'. True, but not specific enough for GCSE level. I can go back and ask questions about how to improve the answer. I can even then share an example of answer (anonymously) that I have received from the class.

I had a student come in late to a lesson. I whizzed through the nearpod slides she missed at the end of the lesson and she took screen shots to copy up later.

A lot of students struggle copying notes from the board. Having the presentation next to them will help this process. Being able to take screenshots instead of copying will also help. (Although I feel the revision guide is good enough notes, I want my students thinking in lessons instead of mindlessly writing. My students don't agree).

Any drawbacks?

At the moment nearpod isn't working as well as I would like. The adsl internet and the number of switches between my room and the backbone means that there can be quite a lag between me forwarding the slide and it registering on the iPads. Without enthusiastic students I can see the lessons being difficult.

I can't measure the impact, but for me it means less paper and the potential of better transitions. In homework mode (£££) it could encourage independent work and flipped learning. I am excited.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 15 September 2014

Practical work in A-level

I haven't quite taught two full weeks of classes yet, due to INSET and start of year timetable giving out mornings etc. However, I am already thinking ahead to next September and what I will do differently at A-level.

My first year 12 lesson involved using a micrometer and measuring small stuff. We wrote down our measurements on scrap paper as, while using a micrometer is an interesting step forward, the measurements are not needed for future reference. What if I need those measurements next year, how will I get students to record them?

In today's lesson we looked at density (using Archimedes buckets to measure volume - badly) and the impact of upthrust on the value on a Newton meter. We calibrated the Newton meters first. Again, I wrote the measurements on the board and we compared the different values. Realising the volume was the factor affecting up thrust.

In year 13's lesson last Tuesday we spent an hour experimenting using the air track writing the minimum down to calculate change in momentum and seeing how far our conservation of momentum calculations were out. The girls levelled the track, learned to use the timers, set up the light gates and evaluated the issues with the track. Next time year we will need to record it as evidence.

Although I am using practical work to illustrated scientific concepts and help the students see how they are arrived at, the work they write does not illustrate this.

I am going to have to change my approach in September 2015. My first step will be selecting a revision guide I can trust. I won't be writing notes for exam work. I will incorporate reference to revision guides into my lessons, these will be the notes. I will buy transparent post-it notes or some such to help the students annotate their work.

I would like to have a practical write ups in a note book and any practice questions in a file. But what will the practical write ups look like? I have never taught it at a-level, and I don't believe I was taught it myself.

I know everyone else is in the same position. But today's lesson made me reflect. I need to carefully think about how my approach to practical works needs to adapt and change this year to ensure my students get the 'pass' mark they need in a-level physics experimentation.

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Location:Tetbury,United Kingdom

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Research Ed 2014 - a few observations and hopes

I am writing this on the train on the way back from the second national research ed conference.

As I read through the twitter feed I realise that I am not alone in very much enjoying the day and finding it worthwhile.

I remember exchanging a couple of tweets with Hélène after the West Midlands conference about the direction that research ed would take. She didn't give much away, but I felt today that the movement took a massive step. At the previous events I felt I was bombarded with 'teachers must engage with research, but watch out for snake oil'. Telling this message to a few hundred teachers is not enough to make it a reality, the barriers to engaging with valid research are difficult to surmount. However, today I have felt that Research Ed is developing into something that can help bridge the gap. Tom Bennett is right about the momentum building and it is good news that he will be able to work on Research Ed more next year.

It was great to hear from Hilary Leevers from the Wellcome Trust who spoke about the great work Wellcome do in supporting science education. One of the comments she made was about how Wellcome would like to use research Ed as one method for spreading word of their research to real classroom teachers. To be able to interface with Hilary and her team at such events could be really valuable to schools. The EEF are engaging with Research Ed and I hope other organisations will too.

My day started with the talk from John Tomsett, Alex Quigley and Rob Coe about the development of the role of research leads in school. I hope Research Ed can help those research leads make links and contacts as well as informing those of us outside of the project of its progress.

I loved Dylan Wiliam's presentation, extremely engaging. However, it also helped me understand the limitations of research and particularly transferring research to other contexts. This was extremely useful. I am interested to read blogs and perhaps watch video from other sessions with the loose theme of interpreting research.

The session with the most laughs was Bob Harrison's. A useful whistle stop tour through research into the impact of educational technology. Again it highlighted issues related to research and of policy.

I wanted to see Paul Black speak, but the room was too full. So I went to see Jonathan Simons from policy exchange. It was a useful insight into the limitations of government and why policy isn't more thoughtful. I imagine Jonathan was trying to be hopeful when he said we can influence policy though social media towards the end of his talk, for me it was scary.

I know there were other sessions about the media and personal appearances by politicians. This is a useful insight for teachers and I think knowing about what goes on can only be a positive thing, helping the profession reflect on what it can do to limit damage by outside influences, whilst also striving to solve issues within education.

Mary Whitehouse and Carol Davenport's sessions were the type of thing I was interested in. I want to go to sessions where I can find out about research work that others are doing and reflect on how it impacts me. The diagnostic questions that York Science are working on are valuable to me and the gender imbalance research is both fascinating and disturbing. I hope that researchers will continue to use research Ed as a vehicle for sharing their ideas.

An extremely positive day. And although I don't have masses and masses to take back to school on Monday, I have had a glimpse of the future of the way that teachers might better understand and link with research.

I hope Ann Mroz doesn't feel the need to add too much red pen to this blog post.

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Location:Rodbourne Road,Swindon,United Kingdom

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Using QR codes

I first heard about QR codes in 2010. In January 2011 I went to a micro-presentation about them from a lecturer who was using them with his students at university. He explained what they were and a bit about the history. Back then I filed the information away as interesting, but not relevant to me, yet.

Now we are teaching a class that all have iPads, with the possibility of a QR code reader app on them it is possible to start utilising QR codes. The main advantage that I can see is sending students to specific web addresses. Particularly when they are long like the one below.

To get to this BBC bitesize link I would normally put a long list of instructions and things to click on. A QR code allows students to scan it and go straight there.

There are numerous QR code readers in the App Store. I have always used a free one. They usually allow you to both read and create QR codes.

Once you have made a QR code it isn't easy to recognise what it is linking to. However, the app you use to create the QR code will save them. Alternatively, using an app like 'Over' or 'Skitch' or by inputting them to a word document you can add text to them to describe what they do.

Potential uses for QR codes include adding them to displays so students can find extra information. Printing them on the front of exam practice papers with a link to the mark scheme and/or examiners report. Including them on worksheets with links to websites and videos students can find extra information and support. Anywhere a link would be useful.

QR Codes can also include some text, so it is possible to use it to share answers, information or instructions.

Further reading:

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