Monday, 5 December 2011

Creating Your Own CPD Opportunities.

During the past four years I have worked in a school where there have been very limited CPD opportunities for me up until a few weeks ago. This has very disappointing in the light of there being three different management courses run by the school at different levels and there were and now are again opportunities to do courses with the National College for School Leadership, but only for favourites of the management.

It was most distressing when I came to fill in a job application form and all of my training is from four years ago. I decided to put things right for myself. CPD is available if you look for it and are prepared to use your own time.

Science teachers have/should have good access to training through the science learning centres. Unfortunately, despite the courses being paid for by bursaries this was still blocked for me.

I joined the ASE, which gives me access to School Science Review. Although not all the articles are of use to me on a day-to-day basis, I have found something in each addition that is of use or interest. Membership of the ASE has also given me access to two local events. The West of England Science Teacher Conference and a visit to Slimbridge on one summers evening. (I really enjoyed seeing a water vole, the Otters and a Spoonbill). Both of these events were outside school hours so I could go along.

I started using twitter for connecting with other teachers. Reading other blog posts and asking for ideas has been very useful. But more useful has been the positive community; I have connected with people who want to be better practitioners, who want to build a strong education system and have pride in their classrooms. For the first time in a long time I am more satisfied with my teaching and happier inside the classroom.

I have read books and continue to add to my library. The two I have really engaged with are called "Thinking for Learning" and "How Science Works". Both have made me reappraise my practice and what education is for. Whenever I visit London I go to Foyles as their education section is the best I have found.

In the South West the science learning centre and @Bristol hold free twilight events about 3 times per year to encourage teachers to come and use the facilities. There is always something to learn from these events.

I am on various mailing lists: STEMNET, National Science and Engineering Week, Edexcel, OCR, @Bristol and more. They send useful information so I don't need to search for it.

I have attended one teachmeet and contributed to another via video. Even taking part in distant teachmeets via watching the twitter hashtag gives something to reflect upon.

The National Big Bang Science fair occurs each March. I took my partner and step-daughter (you have to take a child) to the family day on Saturday. This was great CPD as almost all the companies related to science education were there, but not those trying to sell textbooks or online assessment packages. I am going again with a group of students and two members of staff. I really hope that they get something out of the day, I am sure they will.

I am planning to take part in an online training trial for the Yorkshire and Humber Science Learning Centre, although I haven't committed yet.

I am registered with the Schools Network and with TEEP, so get emails from them and can access their resources while I work at an affiliated school. I am also registered with the National College for School Leadership; there are a lot of good resources on their site and enough discussions to pose some questions and raise issues.

Lastly, as described in another blog post I too matters into my own hands and asked to be released by school to attend the ASE conference in Liverpool. I asked as early as possible in the year so there would be money available and I was granted permission. It was worth every penny and what I discovered will impact on my teaching for a long time to come.

Making your own opportunities does require a time commitment, but it has been worth the effort for me.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Blogging with my class - I am stuck!

I know via twitter that lots of primary classes use blogs to help improve literacy and engagement with their classes. I thought that I would try the same with a year 9 group I have.

Firstly I checked with a member of senior management whether it would be OK. He said that I should teach the students not to use their full names, not to post images that included their faces, and to make sure comments didn't reveal where students would be at a future time. All of these rules seem to make a lot of sense to me.

I started a blog. There is advice on their page on how to set up the blog and educate the students how to use it. I have taken their advice and I only allow students to comment on the posts that I make. So far. After the students have learned to contribute quality comments they are allowed to write their own posts. Then it is possible to allow students to have their own blog, which is something I am not keen on.

I am still at the point where I write the blog posts and the students comment. The class seem to enjoy this, but I am struggling to get them to do more than write very simple comments and they don't respond to each other. I wonder if my issue is that I am not giving them enough time to complete the work. However, even groups who finish first don't automatically read and reply to others. I would like to see this happen.

It goes back to the classic issue of getting students to look back over their own work and act on the comments that the teacher makes. I have always struggled with this when we seem to move through topics and themes at a high rate, particularly when you might have one 2.5 hour per week.

I am pleased that I am managing to consistently use the blog with the students, once per week for half an hour.

My Year 9 blog can be found at

Monday, 7 November 2011

Teaching Outside the Classroom: the corridor as a learning space

I have taken my classes outside the classroom four times so far this year to do science experiments or observe something that would help them link the abstract with an application. This is a much bigger number than in the past, but I still really don't like it.

Taking students out of the classroom is a good way to attract the attention of management. Some teachers love that, they thrive on a public "well done". I am not so confident in attracting the attention of management when I go outside; I worry about the negative and it makes me tense.

Will the students stay in the area I want them to. Will they bring their worksheets with them? Will the class behave as expected in the classroom, or more like they do at break and lunch? Will my group disturb the learning of other groups? How do I ensure they are doing and learning something when I don't have the same number of the behaviour management techniques available to me?

As stated, I have taken the students out of the classroom to learn four times this year:

The first to find the focal length of a lens. There are no plain walls in my classroom to project the image onto. We didn't go far, just into the corridor outside my room. We did disturb the next class, but everyone did the task and everyone came back when I asked.

The second to the dark room to observe Tonic Water under UV light. Instead of that the group ended up getting told off for poking each other, screaming and turning the light on and off. They were impressed that their school uniforms were glowing. Whether any member of the group will remember that UV can make some objects fluoresce, I am not confident.

The third time was the most risky. I took a group to reception to have a look at how the automatic door won't open if you stand still. Reception, where the head's office is and important people like the chair of governors come through. Fortunately the receptionist and the visitor thought the antics of the group were hilarious: obviously a group of 16 students were unable to stand still and the constant flow of other people through the doors meant that we had to have quite a few attempts to prove my point. Definitely worth it though, I will be doing that activity every time I have to teach the Doppler Effect from now on.

The most recent reason to venture outside the classroom was to measure the speed of the students walking down the corridor. How hard can it be to measure the corridor, mark points at 10 and 20 metres and then time yourself walking that distance? I discovered it can be very hard. The poor assistant head, who's office we were working outside of never complained, but he cannot have got any work done. I let the group take as long as they needed to get the results. I would have been easy for me to do it myself and give them data. I did have to do a lot of managing if their experiments though.

In the new ofsted framework will they see me taking the students out to make real measurements as risk taking and like it, or will they see off task students struggling and misbehaving and see a poor lesson? Should I worry about what others think or just do what I think is best for my groups? The students have requested we go out and measure the corridor again, so they seem to like it.

I don't think that I am brave enough to take my groups outside the classroom to a location with no walls yet though.

Location:Rudgleigh Ave, United Kingdom

Saturday, 5 November 2011

An Educational Philosophy?

On Tuesday 1st November I was set the challenge by @jwputt of writing my educational philosophy during the #addcym discussion on twitter.

In the past, when writing job applications I have split the personal statement/supporting letter into sections with sub-titles. One of those sections was entitled "philosophy". I would write:
I believe that learning is an invaluable skill for anyone to have. I actively encourage students to enquire about their subject matter; striving to make my classroom to be an atmosphere of “how?” and “why?”
I have worked tirelessly to promote a learning environment where students take responsibility for their own learning. This improved attitude has shown itself in the respect students' show to their class work and homework. I have used high expectations so that the students in my classes have a strong impression of what is expected of them both academically and behaviourally.
A major challenge obstructing achievement at the school I currently work at is low-self esteem. In order to combat this I make the students in my class feel valued and positively encouraged through the use of praise and impressing my unwavering belief in what the children can achieve.
In order to effectively learn, students require a solid foundation in numeracy, literacy and ICT. I plan lessons to involve opportunities to develop and build on these skills. The learning of key words is a main focus my teaching. I use ICT regularly within my teaching to help the students appreciate the applications of ICT beyond playing games.

I don't think that I ever considered why I taught science specifically, or the particular importance of my subject when I chose to become a teacher; I wanted to work with young people and not work in a profit motivated organisation. However, my main motivators have changed during my career: most recently I read James Williams' book called "How Science Works" and it changed my slant on teaching from seeing it only about helping young people but also recognising the importance of learning about science specifically. In between I have been inspired by learning to learn and teaching thinking skills and they skill colour what I do.

My current educational philosophy is to help young people understand the world around them. To do that I believe they should find things out for themselves, and experience the nature of scientific exploration. Teaching young people about the nature of what science is seem to me to be vital in an increasingly technological world. Solving the problems that humans have created for themselves is going to take people who can understand the science behind claims being made and their validity as well as people who have thinking skills necessary to solve problems in creative ways.

At the back of my mind when planning my lessons is how what I am doing helps my students understand the nature of science a little bit more. By doing this I hope I can build into them a natural curiosity that will help in more contexts than purely science.

What I learn from this reflection is that as I continue to teach my ideas and opinions grow and evolve. My next practical task is to understand STEM: how can maths, science and technology really work together to effectively, and more to the point, do they need to?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Twitter and the PLN...

I come to blogging because of twitter. Many teachers on twitter have blogs and it is a very good way to share practice that cannot be described through 140 characters.

I had a twitter account for a long time before I started tweeting, but quickly got into it once I started following the right people. Now I follow anyone who is a teacher or trainee teacher and a lot of people who are related to education. Mostly I like to follow those in the UK, but there are a few very inspiring North American teachers who have twitter accounts too.

I have become good at filtering through the thousands of tweets in my twitter stream per day, usually only looking back over the past hundred or so. I can spot the avatar of the people and organisations that I am most interested in and tune into their tweets, gradually building up the people I follow has helped with this.

I believe that it took me a while to get into using twitter because I didn't know who to follow. I was trying to use the twitter recommendations and only found NASA and BBC news. Finding real people is much better.

So if I could only follow 10s of people instead of 1000, who would I follow?


Would be my list of real people. They are all scientists and contribute to #asechat on Monday evenings.

There are another group who are ICT based and very much into blogging with their students. @ICTEvangelist, @ianaddison and @fraserspeirs would be a starting point.

There are also organisations on twitter. This is the part that I find the most useful: following what their latest ideas are and keeping up to date with the data being pushed to me rather than me having to look for it.


There are others, such as the department for education and the schools network. One can even follow Toby Young.

However, any science teacher new to twitter who starts with these lists should be able to build their "personal learning network" up quite easily from these starting points, and have no trouble in learning or re-learning something related to science education.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Five Year Plan for the ASE

I am a member of the ASE (association of science education). I joined because the advice and collaboration that existed during the time of the national strategies has dried up, but the need to change and re-interpret how we teach hasn't. I am never too proud to seek advice and guidance to ensure that I am giving my students the best possible science education I can.

The ASE has been around for nearly 50 years and the present moment in history is not its strongest. The ASE seems to have lost touch with its membership as the numbers slowly slip downwards. The current financial situation doesn't help.

It is vital at this time that the ASE is restructuring and thinking about the future, not just because its own survival depends on it, but also because science education needs a body to stand up for it and keep science education relevant for both the students and industry.

The chief executive of the ASE Annette Smith writes a blog to keep members up to date with news affecting science education and the ASE in general, In her most recent blog post she asks:

  • What is the purpose of ASE?

  • What should ASE’s mission statement be?

I hope that these two questions can spark debate, helping the association understand the needs of science teachers and then in turn positioning the association so it can support them. However, with the diverse education systems and schools within the UK and the falling membership reducing the capacity of the ASE I still see tough times ahead.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Making and Sharing Resources

I have recently been re-inspired to make resources by the Times Educational Supplement offering £1000 to the five resource contributors that generate the most interest (OK, I am not quite sure how they are going to decide who gets the prizes, but I believe that quality and quantity are involved).

I have re-written key stage 3 resources four times in 9 years and I am on my fourth or fifth re-write of key stage 4, thanks to moving schools and changing exam boards twice on top of the specification changes in 2006 and 2011. I find it gets tedious. I would rather add to and adapt than be forced to change everything to the new subtleties of a different exam specification.

And I have found it necessary to change: "Miss, how do you answer question 3?" "Oh, that's right... Class you can either listen to me explain question 3 or leave it out as you don't need to know about isotopes in this part of the specification." I subscribe to the idea "teach some of it well, rather than all of it badly", so I am keen to teach extra content just so they can do a worksheet I made/acquired several years before.

So what does make a quality resource?

The presentation: published resources always look better than home made ones. I put this down to the graphics around the titles, the footers at the bottom of the page completing the work so the content "ends", the spacing between lines of text and blocks of text, and the quality and alignment of the images used. Published resources all seem to fit to a layout that pulls all the scheme together and makes them seem polished.
It is possible to copy the themes of published schemes to make your own work look good. Choosing a sans serif font and using 1.3 line spacing helps. So far mine still look more "high street" equivalent to the "designer", but better than most!

Ease of understanding: too many of the in-house resources I have come across are not sensitive to the literacy levels of students in the target age group. How much text will a student engage with? (Usually not much.) How many key words should be used? I find many badly phrased questions in resources, and unfortunately published revision guides with questions can be amongst the worst offenders.

Adaptability of the resource: a key feature in my opinion. Is it possible for the resource to be used in a variety of ways by teachers with different styles? Often PowerPoint Presentations found in shared drives on school servers are tailored to the class of the teacher who wrote it. This is fair enough, we should personalise our lessons to the needs of groups, but is the personalised version the right place to start and share?

Meeting the learning objectives: most importantly does the resource support the learning of the students? Does it make them think? Does the resource fill time or move on the understanding of the learner? Does the resource support the self-assessment of students? What is its purpose, and it is evident looking at the resource?

I am probably most fussy about how a resource looks. Mainly because I believe this is the most difficult to get right. Not every teacher has an eye for what is aesthetically pleasing. (Deleting the bullet point from a PowerPoint and removing the indent from the first line in the paragraph, yet leaving the indent in the other lines bugs me).

Despite finding re-writing tedious and frustrating and finding the urge to moan about OfQual and others, I know that I would rather rely on the resources I make. So I return to my PowerBook and put together GCSE lesson plans and resources to support the development of how science works skills (newly emphasised) through the context of speed, acceleration and forces. While also hoping to create activities and worksheets that will help students pass exams too.

The £1000? That would be a fantastic bonus, if and when I get round to sharing them via the TES.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad