Thursday, 29 December 2016

Nurture 16/17

Sorry, I can't keep it short! 10/10.

Review of 2016.

We didn't get on holiday abroad, mainly because I spent my money on fixing my car instead.

  1. Family wise, the main thing this year was my step-daughter Esther's GCSE results and she really did herself proud with the number of A*s As and only one B that she got. She also got an A in AS English Language. She's coping OK with the academic demands of A-levels, but has set her sights on Cambridge and we are worried about how much pressure she is putting on herself to be perfect.  I also forced Esther to go to Wimbledon with my mother this summer. She had to get the train to London all on her own and meet mam at Kings Cross. Esther did have an amazing day despite 'not being sure that she could go' and now she's very keen to go again. A little taste of independence has spurred her on to do more. Richard now has a permanent job at a school that is hard work, but he likes the students and they have some level of respect for him. A teaching job is never going to feel permanent for him, but he's also prepared to move on if necessary. We bought a new TV because I was fed up of not being able to watch all the olympic coverage on the old CRT one, and we also bought a new sofa.
  2. Another personal target has been my appearance. I am not that vain, honest! I have managed to lose a bit of weight in 2016, my eczema is more under control and I am getting my hair dyed every 8 weeks or so (£££). I feel so much better about myself. 
  3. BREXIT. I am STILL angry about it. A lot of people will write about the number of famous people who have died this year, my dad was an undertaker, this doesn't affect me at all. But voting to leave the EU was ridiculous. I think it was more stupid than electing Trump, as least the US can get rid of Trump in 4 years. 
  4. In school a major hurdle has been the resignation of our science technician. There is a blog post in there about coping for a week without a technician: it wasn't fun. We have a new one now and she's great, luckily we really landed on our feet. However, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been so proactive about working out how to find a technician when the normal routes weren't working? There is a yet another blog post there about being a middle manager and not leaving everything to those above you to sort out: I learned just how important it can be to take control of your own area. The situation taught me a lot about myself and about managing an impossible situation. I was sick to my stomach and unable to sleep properly trying to work out how to deal with a situation that had no solution. It did make me realise just how seriously I take the responsibility to supporting those who I line manage. The problem is solved now though, so I now need to get with ensuring our current technician has the skills to do the job. I have to add just how great CLEAPSS are, following their documents has really helped her get to grips with the job. 
  5. In September I also took on responsibility for key stage 4 across the school. I am finding the pastoral position a little strange. I am used to just being left to get on with things as head of science. I get upset when science related things don't go through me and to be honest I can only think of a few times that this has happened. It's not the same pastorally. Information doesn't flow through me, it flows around. I am finding this hard to deal with. However, I have patience and a thick skin and I will slowly adjust the systems to ones that work for me. Looking at it practically I am not sure I wouldn't be overwhelmed if all the information went through me anyway; while I am learning the role in all likelihood I would be a block to that information getting to where it needs to be. I am keeping a diary to make notes of the issues that crop up so that hopefully second year through things run smoothly. 
  6. The curriculum changes are looming large still, as they have for the whole of 2016. All key stages really, but GCSE in particular. As a department we haven't had time to discuss the changes, and I don't see when we're going to get it. Which is really frustrating. It has also meant that the time I have to devote to ASE has decreased. A lot of effort goes into the marketing of the events we run and I am not up to it at the moment. I am not allowed to go to the ASE conference for all three days this January, (even though I always pay for myself), and it's going to make getting to grips with the curriculum changes even more difficult. 
  7. I have to add the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition to the list of achievements for 2016. I found out about it at the ASE conference and the dates fell nicely inside of activities week so I entered the ballot for tickets and got some. The event was fantastic. Girls who I would never have put as being interested in science had an absolutely brilliant morning and as staff we learned an awful lot too. The only issue with the day was that we planned to go to the Natural History Museum in the afternoon, but it was on the same day as the teacher strikes so the minibus got stuck on the other side of the march and when we'd finally walked to the Natural History Museum the queue to get into it was massive so we went in the V&A instead. 
  8. I am eternally grateful to OUP how have given me the opportunity to write assessment materials for the new AQA mastery curriculum. This has given me a great insight into curriculum design. It has made me put my money where my mouth is in terms of producing resources and has been hugely enjoyable. 
  9. The Olympics. I just love it, roll on 2020. 
  10. In 2016 I finished paying off my student loan. 
Looking forward to 2017. 
  1. I have always made and taken opportunities presented to me and I will continue to do that in 2017. 
  2. In my professional life I during 2016 I made the decision that I am ready to move into management. I am enjoying Andy Buck's book 'Leadership Matters' and it is helping to give form to my ideas about being a senior leader. In 2017 I need to continue to refine and develop my understanding of being part of senior management so that if I do get the opportunity I am ready. 
  3. My aim in 2017 would be to find that new role in SLT. But a massive difficulty is the lack of roles for someone with my experience in my area. The only job I have applied for had over 70 applicants and I wasn't selected for interview. Another post I have seen wanted someone with recent experience of schools in difficult circumstances, I haven't had this in the past 10 years. I am certainly considering just putting my CV out there and see what happens. I need to improve my linkedin profile, just in case someone is looking. I have remained on the fringes of #womened and I haven't committed to any coaching. I am not sure why to be honest. I don't want to become someone who CV builds, rather I do the job in front of me that way that works for the situation, but I am prepared to do that if that is what it is going to take. I would consider a deputy head role if AHT positions remain scarce, and I may even have to take a side step to get into a MAT to find the opportunities. I don't know what this means for my link to the big picture of science education and the ASE.
  4. I will join the College of Teaching. I have had huge benefits from being an ASE member and I hope that the College will be a help in the same way. I am looking forward to the networking that it will allow and I hope to get to some events. I hope that it doesn't conflict with anything else. 
  5. Within the department we are slowly crafting a curriculum that works for our students from Year 5 to Year 13. It's been almost three years since we started, and by this time next year it will almost be over. On the rare chance we do have to meet on the first day back after Christmas I will start the discussion about how our teaching and learning strategies at key stage 4 are going to help us overcome the issues we've identified. I want to put in place something stable so that we can concentrate on teaching and learning and refining what we do. I have never believed in making great changes for the sake of it.
  6. I also need to work on my understanding of how my key stage 4 role (Head of Upper School) can make a difference to students and colleagues alike. I know that my colleagues are happy with my leadership in this role and very supportive, but I also know that I can do better. It is my aim to. I hope that Year 11 have a good run in to their GCSEs and Year 10 build a firm foundation.
  7. Esther learning to drive is the family target for 2017. I am worried about how we'll afford the insurance after she passes her test. It's going to be an extra £1000 per year and I don't have that spare. It's wrong to hope she fails her test a few times isn't it? She's also got to get that UCAS form and personal statement completed in 2017. Leaving home and going to university is becoming a very real prospect. 
  8. Always in the year we have small treats that we look forward to. This year I want to go up the Shard; it will be expensive, but we are going to do it as a birthday present to me. We also have tickets booked to go to the paratheltics and world athletics in London this summer. I am looking forward to the Cheltenham Science festival, Fame Lab heats, the festival of physics and all the other science communication events I can get to this year. 
  9. Richard is riding London-Edinburgh-London again this summer, or at least hopes to. I will volunteer at one of the checkpoints. Having this on the horizon is great for us as an aim keeps him positive and I can keep the conversation off politics, education and work. 
  10. I think that this year I will have to consider marking exam papers. I want to apply to do A-level physics and I have applied to mark the Year 10 new gcse mock papers. See 2017 target 7 for the reason! 






Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Knowing what you are supposed to be doing is not enough

I have been thinking about whether teachers knowing more about research into science education will make a significant difference to what we do in the classroom. It's not straightforward.

Recently I bought "Enhancing Learning with Effective Practical Science 11-16" edited by Ian Abrahams and Michael Reiss. It's new, and even has 2017 as the publication date. I am familiar with the work of Prof Ian Abrahams in the area of practical work in science and wasn't surprised to read the first chapter which talks about how practical work doesn't have the all the effects on learning that most science teachers would suppose it should.

The second chapter talks about the 'hands on, minds on' approach that Reiss and Abrahams advocate. They offered training to teachers to help them improve their teaching approaches. The training didn't have a great deal of impact in primary schools as they found that in primary science this is done quite well already. However, the training was of very variable impact in secondary schools. For one school it had a fantastic impact because of the personnel, time, support and buy in from the department and school management. This example got me thinking again about the impact of CPD on teaching.

In 2014 I heard from Prof Shirley Simon on the conditions that teachers need for CPD to be effective. It was a real eye opener for me. It wasn't anything I didn't already know, but I suppose sometimes information comes along in such a way that it is at the right time and the right message to have an impact. I knew from a project I did back in 2011with the Science Learning Centre that one day of training isn't enough to change practice and I experienced it myself. Online training over the course of a few months made me make a change because I knew I was going to be asked about it. Doing the AfL MOOC wth Futurelearn made me change what I did for a while, but it took discipline to do what the course was asking, the prolonged nature of the course was a real help.

Do we take time to let changes to our practice embed? There is a lot of talk in education about practices being 'embedded', but what does this really mean? Is it enough to know what research says or to hear about a pedagogical approach? Does knowing about something help to make it happen in the classroom? I don't think so.

As a profession we are becoming more research aware and while I think this is a valuable and important step, it isn't going to have a swift and deep impact on the way we teach. Mainly because it is hard to change what we do in the classroom.

This is something for the College of Teaching to consider. It's something for any organisation that is involved in CPD to consider. How do we convert knowing into doing?

Prof Simon said we need, time for change, relevant resources, activities and strategies to implement in the classroom, critical reflection, collaboration between colleagues and 'professional learning' should be focused on outcomes.

Even action research, which starts to address these five areas isn't a strong model. What happens after a year when the teacher has worked on a project. If it is part of your performance management and you claim there has been no impact? Or what about if there is an impact, do the whole department implement it?

I am aware of my limitations and I know that I find it difficult to implement even great ideas I hear about at one day training courses in my classroom. I wonder how difficult others will find things. Especially if they are contradictory or in conflict with school and departmental processes.

We certainly need a different atmosphere around how to change practice if we do what things in teaching to change in any way.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Practical Work in Science

NB: borrowed heavily from the work of Abrahams, Millar, Reiss and Osborne.

There are a lot of reasons to do practical work in science lessons. Lighting a Bunsen burner is a right of passage. 'Blowing stuff up' is something that primary students look forward to when they come to secondary school. But does it do what we think it does? Does the way that we teach it have the effect we would like?

(Spoiler: not everything, but that doesn't mean we should give up on it).

Does it promote interest and motivation towards science? It makes lessons more 'fun', but doesn't do a lot to promote motivation towards science long term. My anecdotal evidence would agree with that. I did mathematical physics at university because I really didn't like practical work. I didn't like it because I already knew what I was going to find out from it. When I got to university the practical physics lecturers were dismayed - practical physics is the 'truth' (for want of a better word) and the mathematical things that describe it are contrived by humans. Oh. I find that students often long for the 'fun' of doing a practical and when there are not many sometimes can be turned off by the lack of the anticipated excitement.

Does practical work help to develop skills? It depends what is meant by skill. If by skill it is meant 'manipulative skill' of using the equipment, then yes it does make a difference. If you are learning to do something or use something then doing it helps. The real challenge here will be to the GCSE examiners in writing papers that test this. If we are talking about transferable problem solving skills or creativity then practical work does not seem to have an impact here either.

Does it enhance the understanding of scientific ideas? Not very well. The use of practical does not improve the performance of students in pen and paper tests. Although students carry out investigations, following instructions well and even making appropriate observations, they often cannot link the practical to the subject being learned.  There have been a lot of projects trying to improve teaching using practical work. http://www.gettingpractical.org.uk But of course it is extremely difficult to change the practice of science teachers and projects like this haven't had a great impact.

Does practical work develop understanding of the nature of science? Hopefully with the new GCSE it can, but prior to that we students were looking for the 'right' answer and this isn't how science (should) works. We often teach about experiments and theory in such a way as to confuse students about the interplay between the two. Practical work in school is not representative of the way that scientists really work.

So should we bin practicals?

No. We should get better at them.

Firstly, we are required to do practical work at GCSE and A-level. As educators we would be in trouble if we did not give our students the opportunity to do the required and core practicals. This is to ensure that students do have the manipulative skills that practical work does teach. Universities are keen that students arrive being able to use equipment and the best way to teach this is through practical.

Secondly, we should be allowing students to experience scientific phenomena for themselves. Experimental work is an important feature of science, after all observations are what we are trying to explain. However, the science is often counter intuitive and therefore you cannot understand everything from observation. The teacher is needed as a mediator.

Thirdly, we should use practical work to help students understand enquiry. However, again this is not something we do well. How many of us have the time to allow students to work through an entire investigation and analysis of the results? Before an investigation it is important that students have a good understanding of the question they are asking and are able to select from the different types of enquiry which is the most appropriate. How many teachers know what the five types of enquiry are? (Other than fair testing).

And finally, we can do better at teaching students about science phenomena through practical work. But we have to be clear about our expectations for the outcomes for students, both from the practical work and what they can do and apply afterwards, particularly at secondary level.

Further reading (may need to be an ASE member to access all of these).
May 2015 School Science Review (practical work theme): http://www.ase.org.uk/journals/school-science-review/2015/05/357/ 
September 2009 School Science Review, Millar and Abrahams, Making Practical Work More Effective: Practical work: making it more effective (warning may download directly)
Abrahams and Reiss Effective Practical Science (Bloomsbury) Amazon Enhancing Practical Science
Abrahams: Practical Work in Secondary Science (bloomsbury) Amazon Practical Work in Secondary Science
December 2010 School Science Review, untangling what teachers mean by the motivational value of practical work. Untangling what teachers mean by the motivational value of practical work (warning may download directly)
Article about the 5 types of enquiry: IT'S NOT FAIR - The Association for Science Education (warning may download directly)
Education in Chemistry, Practical Work a New Opportunity: https://eic.rsc.org/cpd/practical-science/2000009.article
Getting Practical: http://www.gettingpractical.org.uk





Sunday, 20 March 2016

New GCSEs in Science: teaching them!

The new science GCSEs are starting to be accredited. This is a relief, but not good enough. We should have had these specs a year before first teaching. What makes matters worse is that pretty much everyone is accepting that we need to start teaching them in Year 9. So very many schools are teaching unaccredited specifications right now. I know the argument about the content being fixed, but it's the principle.

There are several things that I am considering currently as I plan how to get the best possible outcomes from the new GCSEs.

The first is the non-spiral curriculum. Pre-2006 when I first taught edexcel modular GCSE and it was spiral I didn't like it at all. And to be be honest even now I am not a huge fan. However, I have learned to make the most of revising ideas to revise what I have taught previously. I want to consider how I am going to help students remember previous ideas. I do hope that teaching a topic as one will help better conceptual understanding though.

Electromagnetism is a good example of this. At the moment I teach generators and transformers independently and with no reference to electromagnets and motors. I don't even tell the core science students how a transformer works unless they specifically ask. When I do I certainly don't get them to write it down. What I want to do is what I did pre-2006 when I taught the AQA specification. Teach electromagnets and how to make them stronger. Then teach motors (effectively that two magnets attract or repel, but one is an electromagnet, and knowing how to make it faster is easy if you know how to make an electromagnet stronger). Then teach generators because physics works backwards as well as forwards, the idea of generators translates well to transformers then.

I feel like low stakes testing is another answer to this. Multiple choice tests using zip grade to check what students know and what they are, in general struggling to remember from topic to topic. We will need to identify fundamental ideas that we want all students to remember. I suppose the things that I feel will have to be taught well. Hopefully by reviewing the previous topic during the current one will keep the learning fresher than it would otherwise. However, too much time doing low stakes tests will impact on the second issue.

Secondly, I am struggling slightly with the format of the specification. During my teaching career I have always found the GCSE specification to be useful in setting the level of expected understanding. Teaching the post-2006 specifications has always felt like an exercise in ensuring the students were using the right words in the right order. Whist it looks like we are stepping away from that, I would imagine that we won't be in reality. There has to be a 'right' answer. Even A-level physics has that. A-level physics has a lot of past-papers though to help with the wording of an expected answer. (At least help the teacher). This is issue will be on going. I hope that the GCSE textbooks we have going back to when my husband started teaching will help. But if GCSEs are getting more difficult then old textbooks might not be useful... I will be looking at all the specimen assessment materials to help establish level of difficulty.

Now, you can argue that we should just teach the content to the most difficult level we can. This is exactly what I have said in meetings in the department. But, I still want an idea.

I do want to look more closely at questions that require application of ideas in the current specifications and for other exam boards. I do think that this has been done well in the current gateway specification, but our students have also found it challenging. It is an area that we need to look at and improve in our teaching. However, it is easier said that done when I consider the shear vastness of the content.

Then there is the pace we'll be teaching at. The content is vast. Our students are not happy when they don't feel they are confident in an idea. I imagine we're not alone. But we're going to have to keep going if we are to get through the content. I do agree that it is better to 'teach some of it well than all of it badly'. I actually hope that the non-spiral nature of the content will help with this. I can spend more time on the basics if necessary and the should help understanding of the more difficult concepts. (Even if the more difficult concepts end up having to be taught by chalk and talk due to time). Hopefully I can use my pre-2006 experience to pick the concepts that will allow students to access maximum number of marks.

I will plan out a lesson by lesson break down of the content to ensure that it fits within the time we have to teach it. A tight rota will be necessary to ensure we can keep on track. Hopefully there will be the chance to build in some slack in case of absence for class or teacher. We need to be allowed to be ill.

As part of homework/prep I would like to encourage students to think about the topics and concepts they should have met at key stage 3 so that when they come to the topic we can quickly review the underpinning knowledge and then move on to new concepts. This won't be straight forward as I can imagine that there will be a lot of 'I didn't understand it' and a few excuses. But hopefully by setting the expectation they will see the benefit and it will be easier to enforce as time goes on.

I also want to encourage the students to make Q&A flash cards as we progress through the course. This will hopefully allow them to spend time revising and reviewing rather than copying when we get  to Y11 mock time and Easter of Y11. I think giving a selection of questions will help scaffold this activity.

This holiday I am going to evaluate our key stage 3 offering to ensure that we are getting across the key ideas that will be fundamental to the new GCSE. I hope that OUP are doing the same!

Lastly is the practical aspect. The monitor who visited for the A-level practical endorsement suggested having some fold out information sheets in the back of the practical books with advice. I want to do something similar for GCSE. I have been looking at the GCSE specification and what is expected. I think if we get the students into habits it will help.

These would be making a prediction, writing a results table, drawing a graph identifying anomalies and writing a conclusion. Yes, we'll need to look at practical techniques and evaluations too, but I think that I want to teach that for each experiment rather than make them come up with things totally independently. The worksheets that we use for the A-level practical endorsement have instructions to follow and questions at the end that make the students evaluate the specific data collected and methods. Something like that would be useful. It probably means we will have to try all the experiments.

To make practical work efficient I will probably create instruction videos for the practicals. (Without giving away the conclusions if I can possibly help it. I usually try and obscure the readings during filming or speak over still photographs). It is very satisfying watching the student watch and pause video instructions. I have said this, but it does make a difference.

We are debating if we get students to only 'write-up' the PAGs we have to do in a practical book, or all the practical work. Or whether it should just be in their files.

The GCSE changes are becoming pretty real now.






Monday, 4 January 2016

Nurture 15/16

When I sat down to write this blog post I felt that my 2015 wasn't as busy as previous years (especially 2013), but it seems that I have still been busy.

The greatest defining points of my year have again revolved around my husband. I am just used to calling him that as we have now had our first wedding anniversary. Of course on the actual date he was cycling!

1. Paris-Brest-Paris: In the summer Richard cycled 1000km in 87 hours (three of them sleeping) from Paris to Brest and back with thousands of other randoners. He absolutely loved it.

2. New job: The main cloud hanging over us this year has been Richard's job. In the spring he was put in a position where his only option was to resign without a job to go to. However, he has a new job and is a lot happier and making good headway with very challenging students.

But the whole experience has been crushing on my opinion on the people involved in education. I naively thought of teaching as a job for life, but now heads are now able to give a couple of observations and destroy 25 years of a career that you thought you were good at and don't expect your colleagues or union to be able to support you.

I fear to go back and work in the state sector. To see so many good and hard working colleagues fall is heartbreaking and I don't want a part of it.

3. Curriculum change: My job is defined by the changes that are going on at the moment. After the October half term I had a real wobble about the new GCSE and the amount of work it will create for me.



I am still not confident about the way that we are recording the practical endorsement and the quicker someone comes to see the better. We're doing the practical activities so I know that even if we get a slapped wrist or have to make changes the students won't be disadvantaged. However, I am happy about the opportunity to reflect on A-level. I would really like another couple of years to iron out the changes that are happening at A-level before the GCSE changes start

We still have work to do on key stage 3, but the students in Year 8 are very positive about science lessons. I fear that key stage 3 - the most important key stage will be neglected because of the impatience of politicians.

At key stage 2 I am delighted with the scheme we are using from collins. It takes a very long time to prepare lessons, but the ideas are excellent, the students love the lessons and I feel like I am doing a good job when I teach these lessons. I just wish I had more free time so I could prepare all my lessons so well.

4. GCSE and A-level results: Again I was delighted with our GCSE results. The A-level results were got on the back of an awful lot of hard work and determination on behalf of the students. They got into the universities they wanted to and are content in their courses. I am very proud.

5. ICT: As a department we have been using kerboodle with key stage 3 and it seems to becoming more and more part of our practice. There are a few girls still struggling, but they are in the minority and as a staff we are getting to grips with all the things it can do. Using iPads in lessons is reaching a peak now and it's 'newness' is wearing off on me. I find it frustrating when students don't bring their devices, can't remember passwords or can't connect to the WiFi properly. I have hit a wall and don't know if I want to break it down when I also have all the curriculum change hanging over us.

6. Drama: I have been given a bigger insight into the workings of the drama department this year. Drama and music are very important to the girls at my school. Last year the production was the Wizard of Oz and because I like to wear red shoes at work I jokingly became the witch that gets squashed under the house for one night of the production. It was interesting to help back stage and see how the cast work together to give us a show. My tutee was Dorothy in the show too. In the summer I helped with the lighting of the play that the drama department took to the Fringe in Edinburgh. Getting to see so many shows and seeing behind the scenes at the fringe was a fantastic experience.



This involvement is partly of my own doing as I try and increase my own knowledge of different areas of the school. If I am to have a whole school responsibility down the road, then I want to be able to have a degree of understanding for other colleagues in other areas of the school.  Of course it is also because I love supporting my colleagues.

7. Extracurricular: This year I have been to Edinburgh with the Drama department,  Weston-Super-Mare and Bath with the Geography department, Cardiff to hear a lecture about Einstein with the A-level scientists, Bristol for the IoP festival of physics with the Y13 physicists, and Thorpe Park with a mixture of students for a great day out. Again we went to see Team Bath play netball and I took a group of Y11 to tour the Krispie Kreme doughnut factory in Bristol. I got the school outside to see the solar eclipse, we had the space odyssey dome in to give shows to the students. In enrichment week the students took the squashed tomato challenge. Year 6 came second in the Great Bug Hunt and completed enough experiments to qualify for a Crest Mega Star Award.





8. Tutees: I have been very lucky over the last 12 months to have two amazing groups of tutees. Working with them is a great

9. GCSE Classics: Esther completed here Classics GCSE a year early and got an A*. Relived and proud are the two emotions. She has set her sights on Oxbridge, so the GCSEs need to be good.

10. CPD, MOOCs and conferences: The year always starts with the ASE conference, which makes going back in January a very positive experience. Speaking to Chris Colclough about being a head of science was extremely useful. Seeing great friends and getting lots of inspiration is the main reason to go to the conference. I don't think that I made the most of last year's ASE conference, but I still took a lot away. I went to two teachmeets and organised another; I always love these events because of their atmosphere and positivity. The iPad training day from Rachel Jones' school KEVI that I went to with a couple of colleagues was brilliant. I also attended Research Ed in September and was able to speak to Nick Gibb, and presented at Teaching and Learning Takeover 15. I also helped organise our own ASE conference in Bath.

The AfL MOOC from future learn, the SLC and Sheffield University was brilliant. Taking place over a period of weeks meant that my practice was changed much more effectively than just attending an event. The live Q&A with Chris Harrison was very good; there is so much to be learned from those people in universities who study education and being able to ask about AfL was very useful.

The CPD highlight though was the ASE professional learning conference. Shirley Simon's talk was a real inspiration to me and it was a real treat to hear Jonathan Osborne speak. Paul Black and I exchanged words! Hearing Brian Cartwright was very useful and I can only describe Andrew Carter as an 'interesting' character. It was great to meet Andrea, Katrina, Bryony, Helen and see Pete, Liz, Chris and Stuart.



11. Writing: One of my aims was to add more purpose to my writing. I have written a lot during the course of the year, but I haven't published much of it at all. I don't want to get into arguments. I am not all the knowledgeable about education, I only know my own classroom and some of what goes on in that of my colleagues. I don't know enough to be an expert. More than that though I don't want to get into an argument and have to spend a great proportion of time defending my position. I would expect some people not to agree or understand my position, but it makes me nervous that some people appear to not want to let others have their opinion based on their own experiences. I don't want to be part of that, so I fly below the radar thank you. (Actually more about time than not feeling strongly about something and the curriculum change is overwhelming me emotionally).

12. Home: In the summer I sorted out all the accumulated rubbish we had in the spare room. It seems that we had an awful lot more paper and plastic wallets than I thought and a large number of ethernet cables 'just in case'. Several 'very useful boxes' and trips to the dump later and we are at least able to get in there! Next step is to get into the loft and put some boards down so I get move some old CDs and books Richard refuses to art with up there.



13. Event at Westonbirt: This was one of the aims for last year. I will do a teaching and learning team party in the spring I think. It would be lovely to have a small gathering in the library at school with some cake. (The library is a wonderful room).

14. Shaun the Sheep and friends: After finding all the Gromit statues in 2013 we decided to do the same with the Shaun this year. Richard and I went to London and found all 50 there in one day. We walked a marathon that day. Then Lucie and Abi helped us find all the Shaun's in Bristol. It was a great excuse to catch up. It was also brilliant to meet Karen in Exeter for some black Friday weekend sale shopping.



15. Holidays and breaks: I make it my mission to get away and see as much of the UK (I can't afford the world) as we can. This year we had a day out in Oxford and London, went to the Brecon Beacons for a few days, visited Lincolnshire, Northumberland, had a day in Hull, Swansea and Minehead. My brother has bought me a scratch map of the Uk so I can make a record of where we have been.



The year ahead:

To be honest I don't have many plans that haven't a;ready been set in motion by things that have happened this year.

Esther's GCSEs feature heavily and hoping that Richard can get a permanent job. Although no teaching job will ever feel permanent again.

I really want a foreign holiday and we're thinking about visiting the North West when we book our cheep caravan holiday. The Olympic Games will feature heavily in my summer holiday plans.

I am still thinking about preparing myself for management and I want to aim my personal CPD to that. However, I think that it is unlikely I will find anything because school are not advertising for assistant head teachers externally. Budgets and MATS are the reasons I would imagine. However, I still enjoy working at my school and the curriculum changes present me with more than enough challenges!

So mainly next year is about dealing with the changes to the curriculum and trying to get the best possible outcome from them for our students.










Sunday, 13 December 2015

Tracking and Evidence

When I started teaching we'd all give our students tests at the end of a topic. They'd get 18/24 and we'd would add this to a spreadsheet. My head of department would use testable to level each question and this would help us develop a level system whereby 17 on this test gave a lower level outcome than 15 on the next. (Rather like raw to UMS scores in public exams).
Sound and Moments always came out skewed too high, Simple Chemical Reactions too low but otherwise it wasn't too bad. Using levels helped to make homemade tests equivalent. At the end of Year 9 when students would do the SATs exams our method usually under predicted what they would get by up to half a level, but this is not enough that we were concerned. We tracked the students and were reasonably happy with the quality of the evidence and we also had grades for reports. We did lots of tests and if a student missed a test they didn't need to re-do it, this gave plenty evidence about the child's attendance too.
No where in the previous paragraph do I describe formative assessment.
Fast forward twelve years: I thought that getting rid of the levels was to put the focus onto formative assessment. Not how you move from level 3 to 4, but how you really improve that individual piece of work or your knowledge about what is going on in a chemical reaction. That ray diagram you have drawn about refraction, do you really understand it? Can you identify the normal? Can you measure the angles? Can you explain how and why the ray bends? 
I have seem some projects and work (in primary) that are putting the focus on formative assessment. Using examples of real work as tracking and as a starting discussion for developing the teaching and learning of science within the school. 
But, others it seems have to track EVERYTHING. Is it reasonable to know if a child in year 7 got mixed up between a chloroplast and the cytoplasm. If in year 8 they wrote oxide instead of oxygen? Does this information really help? Is it useful? If a child did know the difference between exothermic and endothermic reactions in year 8, will they still know it in year 10 anyway? What am I really going to do with all the data that tracking every learning intention will generate?
Would we be better off keeping the actual work rather than transferring it to a spreadsheet? Would that tell us more, with no extra work?

Friday, 6 November 2015

In a GCSE curriculum change spiral of despair

I am so pleased that I decided (all three science subjects decided) to stay with the same A-level examination board. There are subtle differences in the content and I have at the back of my mind that I have to do a decent job of the core practicals in order to help the students gather enough knowledge to access the questions in the exam paper that will be around practical work. I have actually embraced the chance to reflect on my A-level teaching and think carefully about how my lessons and schemes support the students I teach and what I can be doing differently. I am including more technology and making more of an effort to investigate different practicals and demonstrations that I might include in my lessons.

However, the department are also working through our key stage 3 changes. Some of it we love. Some of it we find lacking (the homework) and some of it needs a bigger solution (the end of topic assessments). We really need time to discuss the changes, divide up the work, upload what we have created independently to the platform and make notes for the schemes of work to stop us from making the same mistakes next year. But we don't have that many opportunities to do any of that because we're working on year 12 now.

We also teach Year 6. Luckily, I have bought an excellent scheme of work. But it is not perfect. Again, homework isn't great and I spend three hours per week preparing for one hour of lesson because I have to make presentations and often have to make equipment or set up my classroom to be ready. Teaching Year 6 needs a lot more thought with respect to classroom management/organisation that teaching year 11 does.

So adding yet another curriculum change to the mix is distressing me. I can't describe myself as feeling any other way.

When I was teaching the final year of the old key stage 3 and making resources I didn't feel I was wasting my time. I figured that key stage 3 is flexible so I might teach that content in that way again. When I was teaching the last year of the previous A-level specification and making resources I felt the same. But GCSE teaching is the majority of my timetable and even though I am teaching the final year of a specification I am still making resources. Resources that will be unusable in their current form in the new specifications. Resources that are very specific to lesson P3f (for example) of the Gateway specification.

Why am I making resources? I am making them because the students now have iPads and I feel that I need to embrace the new technology we have to ensure that the girls are using them and their parents investment is not wasted. I am making them because (in the case of video) it genuinely does improve the educational experience of the girls. But I know I am putting effort in for the students I teach now that is not going to be laying a foundation for the future.

So this time next year I will have an even greater amount of work than I would have if there had been no new curriculum changes. Not only will I still be trying to perfect the key stage 3 and 2 schemes, and ensure we have key stage 5 schemes that prepare the students for the longer more integrated terminal examinations I will also be starting from scratch on a totally unknown GCSE where I will be able to use very few of the resources that I have spent the last 10 years developing without some level of adaptation. Add to that the uncertainty of how practical skills will be assessed and what the grading 1-9.

Understandably within school we are grappling with the best procedures and timings to deal with all the changes. The changes that not only impact science. If the drama performances or geography field trips have to change then what impact does that have on the time pressures on students and my teaching time in science? If examinations are longer, how does that impact our mock examination weeks and internal assessments? How do we change our reporting at key stage 3 and 4 to reflect the new GCSE changes? The options booklets and curriculum descriptions all have to be changed, the parental handbooks regarding revision and coursework have to be updated (twice, once saying this is provisional and again when the changes are confirmed). Etc etc, all little things that add up to a lot of administration work we need to do.

Not having a settled school environment and knowing this is going to be the case until at least 2018 is filling me with dread. I was told when I started teaching that after six years of teaching I would have my resources and be able to get a decent work life balance. I would not be working until 1am just to keep my head above water.

To have every aspect of my working life affected by the shear volume of change being created by the previous and current government is distressing enough, but knowing that it we are not being given a decent length of time makes me extremely angry. Knowing that the Science GCSE specifications will not be ready until February, 6 months after some people have started teaching it is unacceptable. For me is a yet another straw. When will the camel's back break?

I am overwhelmed by the changes, by the swirling mess of knowing that everything I am doing, every aspect of my working life is on shifting sands and there is no end in sight.