Friday, 27 April 2012

Who gets to say what makes a good teacher?

Last day at my current school today. The group I have taught for 4 years (with a few substitutions, but more or less the same) have gone to extreme lengths to send me off in style.

I don't usually consider myself to be an outstanding teacher. (I haven't been held up as being a shining example, and no one from management has said anything about me being a good teacher that has left a lasting impression).

However, all of that is irrelevant because today I discovered that the students I teach appreciate what I do. I have managed to inspire and make physics fun for the students and hopefully hold their engagement to the end of the course. That is all the matters.

What makes a good teacher? Positive relationships and enthusiasm.

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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Lesson Observations and "grades"

I have recently read a blog post by a twitter colleague teachgr, about how he misses the observations that were frequent during his PGCE and NQT years.

It makes me reflect that I used to enjoy observations, doing them and having them done to me. It really was an opportunity to reflect and discuss my practice with another teacher or expert.

When working in inner city Bristol the LA consultant, the behaviour support team (not a criticism, just a fact that behaviour is tough in Bristol schools), the head of department, ASTs and senior management would come and observe regularly. It wasn't a bad thing it was great to get so much feedback on what I was doing well and ideas and suggestions to improve. I was able to bring up how I struggled with levels and the LA consultant helped me, a member of senior management supported me in dealing with students who constantly wanted to go to the loo, and an AST boosted my confidence by complimenting my questioning technique.

Even in my second school there were no judgements given after lesson observations. They weren't supportive though, more an exercise in allowing those in a senior position an opportunity to bully you, but observations were not a competition and those of us at the bottom of the pile all felt the same about them. The school had an observation room and we were encouraged to watch other teachers who were timetabled in that room. But those timetabled were the management favourites, (and we all knew it) and getting the key to sit in the office where you could watch was a Herculean effort. We didn't make use of the opportunity.

In my current academy the observation is about collecting data. Feedback is a form that gets placed in your pigeon hole and it consists of a few sentences. A grade is given and for me it causes resentment and competition amongst staff. I hate and dread observations.

I really hope that in my next school, (one week until I move) I can return to the times of an open classroom with supportive, constructive observations. Moreover, as a leader within the faculty I hope that I can gain as much from observing as I have done in the past from being observed.

I can also recommend the lesson observation pocket book for some good ideas and techniques for observations.

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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Are Levels my Crutch?

I read in this month's copy of "Education in Science" that levels are unlikely to feature in the new re-write of the national curriculum.

There are so many issues with levels and grades. Firstly that students think that they are a failure if they don't get a certain level or grade. Parents too get hung up on grades. Secondly there are teachers who don't know what it means for a student to be at a certain level and what that level looks like. This knowledge gets even less confident at GCSE.

I have already written a blog post about using APP to help students to engage in their learning. Moreover, levels have helped me to understand the progression of students, the subtleties of what I am teaching and how I am teaching it.

I can't imagine teaching without levels; it will be a big shift, but not necessarily for the worse.

Using personal mobile devices in the classroom

I work in a school where there are no rules other than "respect each other, respect yourself and respect the environment". Covers most things, but nothing is clear cut, "respect" basically means that each teacher can interpret things in their own way and the consistency isn't great. However, we have fantastic students who want to learn and most of them thrive in an environment where independence is allowed to flourish.

I don't encourage my students to use their mobile devices in lessons for their learning. However, I know staff who do in my school and in other schools. I think the phrase is "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

My partner used mobile devices to help personalise lessons and engage students. He helps them to show their independent learning skills by using their mobiles or choosing to use a textbook to find something out.

Alessio Bernardelli has shown me socrative, an online quiz room where you set the questions and the students can use their own devices to answer the questions and ultimately get a picture of how the group is doing. This type of interaction is the power of mobile technology to me.

I visited my new school in the Easter holidays and was nicely surprised by their positive attitude to ICT. Starting in September post-16 students will have the opportunity to use the school computers virtually on their smart phones, net books, tablets or computers. I am massively impressed by this. I am aware the technology has been around for a while, but I haven't heard of it being implemented in a school before.

Whether this will mean that students are able to use mobile devices in their lessons, I am not sure. At the moment the school rules are such that students are not allowed mobiles during the school day. However, I have seen them out in a class where students were videoing their dissection. So I hope there is a level of discretion.

I think that "bring your own device" is how education will move. Bringing a personal device will becomes as common as bringing a pen to lessons. It will mean teachers and schools will have to become more imaginative on how we use the devices as making a PowerPoint won't become as easy, it will also be necessary to have networks that can cope with the hundreds of devices.

In terms of teaching and learning, teachers will have to develop their ability to support students' research skills. And they will have to consider carefully whe technology can support instead of hinder learning.

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Maths and Science 2012

I have just received my Science Activity Books from Maths and Science 2012. I am massively impressed with the books and the way they link curriculum based science to the Olympics.

I think that it is vital we support our young people in seeing the relevance of science and maths in their everyday lives. This book helps to do this a lot. the website is also excellent with resources and videos linking maths and science to the Olympics.

If you haven't seen there is an e-book version along side other activities on the maths and science 2012 website:

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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Review of the academic year 2011-12 part 1

The first part of my year was put into shadow by the death of my father and also included the start of the new head of science at my school.

Our 2011 GCSE exam results had a few disappointments, the chemistry results were lower than expected due to the scaling of the top coursework marks. Unfortunately the moderator asked for two examples that were marked by the same person, and over marked. In physics there were more D grades than expected, due to poor coursework performance by one class. In biology there were less As and A*s than desirable, but nothing significant procedurally to explain this. The main disappointment with biology is usually the number of U and E grades at As.

This all causes me to reflect. How do you ensure good standardisation and therefore consistent marking of controlled assessments? And how can you support staff who resist it when carrying out controlled assessments?

It was very disappointing that the new head of science was neither aware of nor supportive of these issues. He didn't spot them and he didn't ask me about identifying them. The issue with the chemistry standardisation was clear to see, but this has not been addressed in a formal way by him in 2011-12 in order that the faculty avoid the same issue.

At the start of 2011-12 academic year the science faculty, yet again, was promised a refurbishment. This has been on the cards for the last four years as I remember it. We have had three rooms knocked into one as the first stage of this. Poorly planned and badly executed. All the refurbishment we have had is a wall put up to divide these classrooms. Rushed and badly constructed. It makes one of the rooms too small to do certain activities safely and had an impact on the ICT, which was eventually rectified.

The refurbishment of labs isn't happening in 2012 and probably won't happen in 2013. All the faculty can hope for is that the head technician will be able to gain the support of the new head teacher and put this ongoing promise back on the agenda.

My father died on 28th September 2011. I took two weeks off work as he was dying and to help prepare for the funeral and help with other arrangements such as my mother's pensions and benefits.

At the end of October 2011 I applied for as was appointed the Head of Science at a small independent school in Gloucestershire. I was delighted, and as I approach the time when I will start the new job my excitement increases every day.

During the autumn term I was having less and less input to the running of the science department. The department I have made my life for four years previously. Do I fight with the emerging leadership? I think my decision to leave shows my lack of sentimentality.

I was unsure before the start of this academic year if I was ready for faculty leadership. I asked myself the questions regularly if I had the ability to be proactive in order to anticipate issues and smooth transitions to the new GCSEs and eventually the new national curriculum. However, I am happy now that the answer to that question is that I am at least above average. This knowledge must have come across well at interview, giving me the appearance of someone who the school can have confidence in to take the science faculty forward.

The Christmas term ended with unpleasantness from my regarding the amount of time off I had had. Not unexpected, but confirmed that my decision to leave was right and I was no longer welcome in that school.

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,Bristol,United Kingdom

Prof Alice says "how science works"

A friend tweeted to me that Professor Alice Roberts was giving a public lecture as the key note to the Bristol University "Children of the 90s" conference. So I signed myself and my partner up.

As those who have seen Professor Alice's TV programmes will know she gave a very engaging talk about the evolution of humans using evidence from fossil and ancient skeleton remains. The talk was entitled: ‘Nariokotome Boy: How can a one-and-a-half-million-year-old skeleton of a young boy shed light on what it means to be human?’

It was fascinating. I was particularly taken with the aspects showing how ideas have changed in my lifetime. Finding new pieces of evidence has forced scientists to consider even more deeply evolution. An interesting story was concerning scientific thinking about a skeleton named the Nariokotome boy. She said that his spine and ribs seemed to be very different from humans today, or at least scientists thought that until they found a plastic bag with further remains. Using these remains they ended up with a better picture of the boy and his anatomy.

During questioning prof Alice was asked about "aquatic ape theory". She commented that she didn't think much of it because scientists shouldn't come up with a theory and find evidence to support it, instead they should come up with a theory and find evidence to refute it, that is how science works, have a range of theories and as evidence is collected one will rise to the top.

I almost cheered when she said that. It really backs up what I am trying to do as a teacher of science.

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Long term absence - what is the solution?

Currently in our school two members of staff are on long term sick. Neither of them know exactly when they will be coming back, although both know that they are not coming back in the short term.

So why are we using cover supervisors and supply teachers to cover their lessons? Are there really no supply teachers available in my area that would work week to week and are capable of taking on a timetable including the planning time?

I personally think that this stance by our management team puts pressure on the sick member of staff and pressure onto the reaming staff members, causing resentment between members of a team.

On top of all of this at my current school absent staff are expected to set their own cover. Should a long term sick person be expected to do that? Should any member of staff who is sick be expected to do more than give an idea of the topic or objectives.

Interestingly another poorly (short term, it is flu) colleague is having an issue with setting cover work that is not being completed by the covering teachers. This high lights another issue with the sick and absent staff member trying to monitor their own groups via email from home.

Management teams need to be aware of how the decisions they make affect staff members and middle managers need to fight their corner to ensure their team are minimally effected and that learning is unaffected as much as possible by an absent staff member. Staff are important and how you treat them when they are at their lowest is a mark of how a school respects them.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Using APP (badly) to improve engagement in my classroom

This year I have been teaching a course called Segue to my year 9 students. I have used Wikid before, a course from the same people for year 7 & 8, but I haven't been as impressed by that as I have by Segue.

For those who don't know the course consists of two or three lessons followed by an APP assessment. The lesson plans are thorough and included objectives that give a detailed picture of the ideas the students should be using.

After the first few teaching cycles my students latched onto the APP level criteria from the assessments. They wanted to get better. On top of this one of my groups starting getting upset and put off science because they were "the bottom set". So I started sharing APP levels with the groups in every lesson by writing them on the white board during my break or lunch before the lessons.

I would pick a stand of one of the assessment foci and write up the level 3-6 or 7 sentences corresponding to that idea.

Yes, the students were still interested in numbers: "does that make me level 6?" was asked quite a lot. "Could you do that independently?" is my reply to that question, followed up with "but now you know what to do next time to get to level 6".

By using APP in this way I was able to engage my groups, increasing their motivation and confidence. It has been an incredibly useful tool encouraging students to ask "what do I need to do to get better", and this was a regular question in my lessons.

There are a lot of statements in the key stage 3 APP grid; I just keep a laminated colour copy in my teaching files. I have started to pick up patterns and find strands that I like, but still don't know it that well. I have to plan the assessment into the lessons, but the rewards have been well worth it.

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Monday, 9 April 2012

What should the aims of a key stage 3 science curriculum be?

After being asked by a colleague via twitter what the aims of a ks3 scheme should be I reflected that although I have complained within this blog about the quality of the key stage 3 schemes at my school I have not written anything about what the schemes should be like.

When considering what key stage 3 should develop in my students I wrote a list of skills:
Investigating skills -
Drawing a table
Calculating averages
Drawing graphs including, choosing scales, picking the right sort of graph, drawing a line of best fit
Identifying patterns in data and in graphs
Identifying anomalies
Following a procedures/methods
Choosing equipment
Identifying variables, including ones to investigate, measure and control and the language associated with variables and fair testing
Describe how to make an experiment a fair test
Carry out a risk assessment
Using measuring equipment appropriately
Recognising the value in repeats
Understanding the vocabulary especially reliable, reproducible, repeatable, precise, valid, fair, sensitivity, and range
Evaluating procedures
Evaluating data
Comparing primary and secondary data
Making predictions and hypothesises, generating questions to investigate
Construct arguments/conclusion using evidence
Identify primary and secondary data
Communication skills -
Correctly using the language such as bias, theories, laws, principles,
Recognising bias in science articles
Using secondary sources
Identifying the work of a scientist and different types including how they work together
Describe how ideas can be developed
Use Internet and books to carry out research
And thinking skills - grouping, ordering, prioritising, classifying, identifying relationships, probability, using sizing, ratio, using abstract models

However, the vast majority of this can be found on the APP grid. (As much as this is disliked by many).

But just developing skills is not enough in my opinion. You also have to engage students in science, help them see the relevance to their every day lives. Future morph has great ideas relating science to our every day lives and sources for this, for example:

It is also vital that students get an idea of what science can and can't do; what is meant by science enquiry; and that science idea evolve and change as more evidence comes to light. To often science is taught and thought of as absolute truths, when in reality it is evolving.

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Location:Bristol, UK.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Using journals to help improve my teaching

I am a member of the ASE, which means that I receive the journal School Science Review four times per year.

I am also a member of the IoP and have subscribed for £50 per year to get the journal Physics education that is printed 6 times per year. I was told by the nice lady on the phone that I could get access to the online version of Physics Education via the IoP website, but I knew that already and I had only once logged in to view Physics Education. A paper copy would be much more useful, and it has proven to be.

In January's edition of Physics Education I very much enjoyed the article "The electric vocabulary". In a previous school year I was told to write a research lesson where the students studied the history of electricity and magnetism. The lesson plan was that the students researched a particular person and produced a mind-map/poster about them using prompts that I had given. As a plenary to see how good the research had been I gave the whole class a quiz and they had to find the answers on the posters the others had created. (This lesson was over two hours long). The idea being that by working through the quiz they would see the progression of ideas. However, the article by James Sheilds gave a different slant to the progression of science ideas through the development of electricity. By focussing on the language I would be able to introduce other aspects of literacy to this type of lesson.

I also appreciate the article on "Teaching waves with Google Earth", which gives locations where phenomena such as diffraction has been seen. I plan to explore and see what I can find in the locality and beyond. This should help engagement with waves and allow my students to see the science in their every day lives.

I have written a blog post recently about sharing practice and I find School Science Review useful for finding out about projects that other science teachers and departments have been doing. The first article I used was one about a group of year 11 students learning about environmental science by making their own gardens. We tried to replicate this with a group of year 8s, which was fun.

The latest edition of SSR is themed on space education. I read with interest an article about a school who has based all their year 8 science on space to help improve enjoyment and engagement in science. The article was of interest to me. I have been involved in writing a home-made scheme of work and don't recognise the advantages in the way that the author of the article does, so it was interesting to read. Can I manage to get a department to write a scheme of work and take ownership of it?

I have copied articles for other members of staff, and as a result we have bought mini scale chemistry equipment, taken part in STEM activities and I have learned about implementing AfL. On top of all that that the book reviews are very useful.

The final Journal I subscribe to is Science in School. It is a pan-European journal that covers all science topics. It includes cutting edge science, teaching materials and resources that can be copied for use and interviews with real scientists. Often I find the resources are slightly on the edge of what I teach, but I also like this as I learn from what they write. The journal can be accessed by students as it is laid out more like a magazine, which makes it a potential teaching resource too.

I am not a member of RSC, so I don't get to read education in Chemistry. It is possible to subscribe, but I have decided not to spend the money. Hopefully I will get a copy at my new school, and if not then I may ask the school to pay for the subscription.

I hope that I can pay more attention to the journal articles and as a result they can impact on my teaching.

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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Using Simulations in the Classroom

Due to the AFL strategies and observation foci I am well aware of how I should be using questioning in the classroom; aware of how I should be making learning outcomes clear and comment marking; I am also aware that I should have a variety of activities to engage the Learners. I am also in the process of considering the effectiveness of practicals in lessons as there is some degree of thought that a well designed demonstration is more helpful to learning than a practical.

However, I have never considered the effect and advantages of using simulations. Until now.

I have been involved in a project run by the science learning centres and Sheffield Hallam University, as part of which I have decide to use simulations more and see the impact.

Sheffield Hallam University kindly gave me access to sunflower learning for my students and myself. I used it with year 11 to look at split ring commutators and slip rings on the ac generators. The students accessed the software in a variety of ways. Some using the activities that you can set for the students, others just playing with the software without direction. Those that understood best were ones that I questioned and lead through the activities by my questioning. You can make your own resources for the students to use, and I expect that this would be my next step. It would help me and the students focus more closely on the learning objectives that I feel are best approached using the simulations instead of other teaching methods.

I have also used PHeT with year 12. This was to demonstrate the photoelectric effect. It took longer to log onto the computer than for the students to realise there is a threshold frequency. I wait to see if the students remember this experience more because they found out through a simulation.

Although the project has finished I want to continue to see the impact on my teaching and the learning of others of using simulations. My main issue is that at my current school we have access to laptops making it quick and easy to use a simulation as an activity in a lesson. At my new school I will have access to a computer lab, but using computers for 20 minutes of a lesson is going to be as practical.

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Monday, 2 April 2012

Coursework vs Controlled assessment and "cheating"

The pressure to get high results is overwhelming. There is a level of competition between staff to see who is "outstanding" by getting the best value added for their class. On top of which the school adds pressure for every child to get 5 grades despite their predictions, ability and inclinations.

When I worked in the West Midlands we had a student who arrived on deadline day with a brilliant piece of coursework. We were suspicious, but what are you going to do? Shoot yourself and your results in the foot? So I do agree that cheating had to be reduced, it isn't fair that students can download an A-grade piece of work with no effort.

However, it also isn't fair that I have to spend every night after school supervising coursework. Doing it over and over with students because the grades aren't high enough. Walking on the edge of what is allowed in terms of support.

The ALT published the results of a survey today saying that I am not the only member of the teaching profession feeling the pressure. Infant teachers who inflate grades, and respondents that claim their professionalism is being squeezed by the pressure on results.

I don't envy the awarding bodies getting the balance right under commercial pressure and political pressure. The shifting sands of Gove's educational policies and vision affect all of us in education.

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Location:Cabot Close,Bristol,United Kingdom

Professional Development Targets - what's yours?

We have been recently been asked to fill in a questionnaire about what are professional development priorities are.

I have put that I want to gain Chartered Science Teacher Status, and I also want to work more with STEM related organisations to support students in seeing science in their every day lives.

Other colleagues: HoD, HoF, HoY, SLT etc. only one person I know has answered "to be the best teacher possible".

Is being a teacher about teaching or reaching the top?

I am not sure where my answer puts me!

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Sharing Practice

I am fairly sure there is a page on our internal departmental SEF template that asks how we share practice. It is an excellent question. I am always made to feel a bit guilty when I write my answer as I know the truth is "not as well as we could be".

The first school I worked in had a small science staff room next to the prep room where we would sit at lunch and break. We would share our issues and ideas in a very candid way. The kids were hard work and any support was well received. The push in the school was for better teaching as the management believed that better teaching would mean better engagement, behaviour and results. This is true, but as staff we resented the insinuation that our poor teaching was the cause of all the problems within the school. However, the result was we discussed teaching and learning a lot and ideas and advice were shared freely.

Moreover, in the first school I worked in we had schemes of work and we shared all our resources, we were a team with only a few people on the outside keeping their ideas and resources apart from the rest of us.

In my second school we didn't have an area where we could meet at break and lunch. We stayed in our classrooms. The head didn't like the idea of staff congregating out of his knowledge (at least that was our opinion). We did have an AST though who would arrange training days to ensure we talked about assessment or group work. She ensured that the schemes of work were of excellent quality, with lots of different types of activity and levelled outcomes. This helped to share practice.

In this school, according to our SEF, I use the schemes of work to share practice and we have informal discussions. None of which is that true or particularly consistent when it does it happen. Too many barriers and not enough expectations. The only thing I regularly do is send emails out with ideas and links, or photocopy journal articles and give them to people I think might be interested. Not sure the recipients care, or take in what I send. No one send things back to me.

When I move to my forth I will be responsible for ensuring the faculty share ideas and act on what they learn. I will be the front. I need to get back in the habit of discussing learning and I need to make sure that the department act as a team following my vision and pulling together to help each other improve.

I intend to start with the scheme of work, make sure we include various ideas we have had in them. A "live" document. I also need to look at how we use departmental meetings, are we talking about where we store the clamp stands or something more useful? I know that my new school has policies on assessment, so using policies that support good pedagogy should also help share good practice.

I must use my time in the final term to find out about what goes on in my faculty and build trusting relationships with the staff I work with so that I can have discussions about what is happening in the classrooms without them feeling they are being judged.

I have been able to share in the successes of other teachers via twitter and I hope this will make me more open to giving and receiving ideas on the best practice of science teaching.

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