Saturday, 30 June 2012

Bath in Stone Walk

At ASE west we use the expertise of Elizabeth Devon from the Earth Science unit a lot. Her training sessions are always excellent and her knowledge is vast.

We found out that she does walks around Bath looking at the rocks and explaining their geology. As it was a walk for science teachers we could do it for free!

Elizabeth gave us all hand lenses and we started with a brief description of the geology of the area. She used a sponge with the layers represented in colour and a removable chunk to represent the way the river had worn away the layers to form the bowl Bath is in. The top layer is the famous Bath stone.

Then we set off around Bath to find examples of different kinds of stone.

The Podium in Bath is built from Bath stone from two different quarries. You can see the different colours.

Bath stone is a limestone and was formed in the Jurassic era when the British Isles were very much further south than they are now. The same conditions exist in the Caribbean today. We examined the Bath stone on the obelisk in Queen Square and saw the tiny round holes that once contained ooids.

This paving stone shows that it was formed in a river bed. The asymmetrical ripples show there was water and it was moving in one direction. It is known as Pennant Sandstone.

These curb stone are igneous rock as you can see the crystals. It is granite.

The light mark in this cobble stone is known as a devil's toenail and is a little fossil.

You can see from this image where cobble stones have been replaced with a different type of stone.

It is fair to say that I had never considered the paving stones as telling us much about Geology.

Besides the sedimentary Bath stone, there is also a lot of good examples of igneous rocks to be found in Bath.

These stones have been made from volcanic ash, although it is hard to tell as it is too fine to see any crystals. The marks are known as volcanic bombs and the shape indicates the stream it was formed in.

Light coloured, large crystals, means we have an igneous rock formed from the continental plate and it is granite.

These images of granite show that there has been two rates of cooling. It is known as shap granite and is from Cumbria.

The talk was so interesting, but I didn't have to make note as Thematic Trails have published a guide which we were able to buy. Below is an image of the walk you can do. We did a big section, but not all in 1.5 hours. It felt like 20 minutes.

What was fantastic is that Elizabeth was modelling the types of questioning we could use with students. For example: "Can you see the crystals? What colour is it? What conclusions can you draw?"

I would recommend anyone to have a look at the local geology and use it as a teaching tool when approaching earth science units.

A great evening!

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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bristol Community Radio

Through my twitter activity, I have been invited on to the Bristol Community Radio show called Love and Science. (As it is hosted by Malcolm Love and is about science).

I was very nervous about going on the radio. Even though I knew that no one I know listens to the show.

It was interesting to meet the other guest Miranda Adi, who is the regional officer for the IoP. She was discussing all the outreach activities the IoP (institute of physics) have during the year. One that sounded interesting was the link between comedy and research, where researchers are given training in comedy and they interact with the public by doing stand up. There is an event in Bristol in the summer. I was interested and will keep and eye out in the local IoP news letter for that.

In the middle off the show Malcolm invited a young boy to discuss the experiment he had done at home. He split the stem of a flower and put half in red water, half in blue and watched as over time the petals changed colour. A simple experiment, but nice to know someone got some joy from it.

I don't feel that I was discussing science very much, more politics of education and science. But I like giving my opinions.

The one question I was asked that I couldn't answer was what one thing would I like to make a difference to science education. I should have said more time - that is what all teachers want. But really I don't know. Should I have an answer to that?

An interesting experience.

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Location:St George,Bristol,United Kingdom

Election to the ASE Assembly

I am delighted to be able to announce that I am now an elected member of the ASE assembly. So I am able to input the direction of the ASE and to science education, representing the needs and views of our members.

I really hope that through this involvement I will be able to support science teachers all over the UK and beyond.

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Student Voice

An ex-student of mine is part of an organisation known as Student Voice UK. As I write this they are representing themselves at the Time Education Festival and will be running a workshop.

The ex-student went to a talk by Claire Fox who was pretty patronising about students and pretty negative in her opinions about student voice.

This got me thinking. I am nervous about student voice in some respect. I think that it is because I worry that a personality clash between myself and a student may end up in reflecting very negatively on me. I really don't like the idea of things like ratemyteacher, where an anonymous student can make an opinion on me for the whole world to see.

However, the opinion of the students in my classroom is important to me. I do ask them what support they need and try (sometimes not successfully) to support a student in the way they want. I know better than them, I have more experience than them, but I am willing to learn from them. They see more lesson than I do. Most importantly an unhappy class group is not going to be easy to teach.

I also support student leadership in schools. I think that it is useful to have students who want to aim to be prefects (or prefect equivalents) and represent what is best about their school. Do we expect them to do that role without contributing back into the running of the school and having an opinion?

What I don't like is contrived student councils. Groups of students discussing toilets. Having to think of something during tutor time that the rep can bring up. Always these topics having to be negative. Often the representative from the tutor group being coerced by the tutor.

And I definitely don't like student observers. I think it is totally unfair. I do not think that the joint adult observer should be able to use the opinion of the student against you. I have 25-30 observers in my room already, ask them for an opinion if you need one.

Learning should not only be about the adult knowing it all and the student being bored, but putting up with it as the teacher imparts knowledge . I believe that learning is a partnership between students and teachers and supporting student in understanding their education and asking them about their experience is an important thing. Don't get me wrong I don't think that students should have it all (or even mostly) their own way, but they can't be ignored either.

In my opinion system we have is not ready to deliver effective student voice, that is not intimidating to individual teachers, and as a starting point we need more than a tick box student council approach.

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Location:South West, UK

IoP Stimulating Physics South West Conference

At the moment I don't have any lessons on Fridays, so my request to go to the south west physics teacher conference was readily accepted by management. The conference is held in Exeter, and this was the third one.

Finding St Luke's Campus wasn't hard, I just drove straight into Exeter from junction 29 of the M5. I did miss the long stay car park on the right though. The drive only took me just over an hour despite the bad weather.

On registering I got the current pack from the science learning centres. This is always expected and gives a list of the cpd programme for the Autumn term and the advertising literature from @Bristol as well as the free pen and note pad.

The leaflet that was of most interest to me was for the festival of contemporary science. It runs on Saturday 7th July and is a series of workshops and lectures given by researchers. It looks like a fantastic day.

The introductory lecture was given by Dr Alastair Hibbins. He is the admissions tutor for Exeter University Physics Department and told us that undergraduates at Exeter can expect to do original research and should look to the research groups at the university to find out if the would enjoy it. He talked about the his research into warping electromagnetic space. I always enjoy finding out about physics at the cutting edge.

My next session was supposed to be on the topic of materials, but the session leader was delayed in traffic. So Iain Davidson from data harvest stepped in. I have never used their data logging equipment and was pleasantly surprised. What I really enjoyed was the passion of Iain for how data logging can improve the experience and understanding of students. It was infectious.

At lunch I was able to meet up with an ex colleague. The only other person I recognised as coming from a Bristol School.

After lunch I went to the IoP workshop "make and take cloud chamber". The stimulating physics network run this workshop on regular occasions and I would recommend anyone with a passing interest in particle physics and radioactivity to go along to a session. There are instructions on how to make one in May 2012's physics education journal.

The final lecture was of great interest to me. I want to run an astronomy club in school during the winter term and this give me a vast number of activities that I could use, without having to worry about using my own imagination. The lecture was called "hands-on astrophysics".

The suggestions were:
1. Day time star gazing. Print a big image of stars (eg a Hubble deep field image) and use a telescope inside a very large room to look at it. It will be the students the chance to practice using the telescope.
2. Stellarium Software. Another idea that I liked was using stellarium as you can fast forward time and see the night sky. This would be great as you could send students off with an idea of things to look for in the sky that night.
3. Showing the Formation of Galaxies. You can model the formation of the shapes of galaxies by adding fine sand to a bowl of water and stirring the water to create a vortex above the sand. When the water slows the patterns look like the shapes of galaxies.
4. The Colours of Stars. It is possible to use a CD and cereal box to create a homemade diffraction grating and look at the spectra from different bulbs and natural light.
5. Parallaxes. We were shown images of how a star might appear to change position, then how you could use a long piece of string and the type of protractor you would use on a white board to measure the angles involved in the parallax.
6. Modelling Planets. It is a common activity to model the size of plants, it can be done with fruit as an example. However we were also shown modelling of density by filling balloons with things like rice and sand. It can surprise students to see that Jupiter and Saturn can float. It was suggested that a hooller hoop can be used to model the size of the sun.
7. Exoplanets. It is interesting to include extra-solar planets in our models of planets. 750 have been found so far.
8. Top Trumps. A game of top trumps is useful to round of a lesson on planets.
9. Asteroids. It is possible to buy meteorite samples and show they are magnetic.
10. Meteorite Impacts. Using flour and a sprinkle of cocoa powder over the top it is possible to drop marbles and see the size of craters and how material is kicked up from underneath.
11. National Schools Observatory. Images can be found on the national schools observatory website and it is also possible to request for specific images to be taken especially for you.

Anyone based in the south west should strongly consider asking to go to the south west physics teacher conference. Useful information and a great positive atmosphere.

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What is Refractive Index?

The first lecture during the South West Physics Teacher Conference was entitled "Warping Electromagnetic Space: The Quest for Invisibility" by Dr Alastair Hibbins from the University of Exeter.

Dr Hibbins is part of a team trying to build metamaterials that will hide objects or make them more visible. To do that he has to use elements on the surface of materials to alter the refractive index.

What is the refractive index?

When I teach this at secondary school I just teach that light slows down in a different medium, and this is what causes the wavelength to change. There is a complicated proof involving drawing a diagram with lots of lines and comparing angles using trigonometry that generates snells law.

The idea that waves just slow down has never sat well with me. I haven't considered what really causes the effect of refraction; I didn't study this at university.

Dr Hibbins described refraction as the change in phase speed of the wave cause by the electrons in the medium being forced to vibrate by the incoming electromagnetic wave. A vibrating electron generates another electromagnetic wave, which is out of phase to the incoming wave, these two superimpose and give a wave with a shorter wavelength.

This would explain why different frequencies have different refractive indexes.

Something else that I had not considered is that you can prove snell's law using momentum as well as differentiation and how I would normally demonstrate it via trigonometry.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Developing the data analysis skills of students - attempt 1

In my year 9 lesson today (Wednesday) I am going to use a "Bad Science" resource from the Collins scheme of work. The topic is called "bad news" and in the task students have to use the same set of data to come up with evidence to support varying points of view.

To my mind the task as written in the scheme of work is not structured enough. However, it isn't that much harder than what is asked in GCSE questions. And the less structure the less scope for saying a point of view is right/wrong.

I plan to show the students how the marks for an individual science GCSE are divided up. The explain that 5% of those marks are for a "skills" question. Then I plan to give the students the "how science works" questions from the specimen OCR gateway paper, and allow the class to work on it in groups for a short period. Allowing them to see that this is a difficult topic and involves them being able to apply their skills in a variety of contexts.

This will be the focus for the next couple of weeks in lessons. (I only have them once per week). In the first lesson I plan to only use my questioning to help structure the ideas of the students and see how imaginative and logical the students are for themselves. This will give me an idea of where the students are struggling and areas of strength to base our interventions on.

The previous piece of my post was written before the lesson.

During the lesson the students attempted the past paper question and found it very difficult. They weren't best pleased by the questions and the vagueness of them. I would say that they are very hard to comprehend.

I gave them a set of data that could give rise to a variety of conclusions and each group had to make a different conclusion. They were happy to have a go at the task and come up with a variety of points of view. In order to do this they drew on their scientific knowledge and showed a good grasp of the science they have learned. However, very few were naturally looking to the data to help back up their claims.

When moving through the room and questioning the students about patterns in the data they struggled to break down then information into small enough chunks they could process and draw conclusions from. Only a few students could pick out general patterns and link them to a conclusion.

My task now is to develop activities to help these students and future year groups develop their data interpretation skills, ready for their GCSEs and for the rest of their life.

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The Language of Measurement

What does precision mean to you? Exactness is what it means to me. I think of precision engineering and I imagine things that need to be made to exact measurements with a low margin for error.

What about accuracy? To me, if something is accurate then it is both exact and true. But is there really a great distinction between accurate and precise?

Repeatable? Repeatable means that I can do something again, but does it mean that I get the same results each time, it does in science education.

I find the language stifling. The fact that during the nine years I have been teaching It has changed three times and that prior to 2011 there was no consensus on the use of terms shows what a difficult topic it can be.

I worry that there is too much emphasis on using certain, contrived, key words to score marks when we should be concentrating just as much on the thoughts of the student as on the accurate way they communicate them.

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Location:South West, UK

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Do facts stifle science education?

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that science is considered to be an undisputed list of "facts". Rigid and stuck.

This is not correct, the ideas behind science evolve and change and jump forward. So does teaching science "facts" stop children understanding what science is? At primary school does it stifle the enjoyment of students in their science lessons?

Do children need to learn to explore and experiment to give them more of a basis for learning science? I like my lessons to be about having a go and making observations. Even if the child can't form the explanation, they can at least experience the discovery first hand.

Part of the reason for becoming a science teacher was so I could allow the students to see the experiment first, rather than use experiments as a way to check the theory we have just been told. Rushing through the syllabus at the expense of exploration and discovery does a disservice to science in my opinion.

But I still teach plenty students who will just ask "tell me", or "will you write that on the board".

I believe that we don't teach science so that people leave education knowing Newton's second Law, I believe that science education is about shaping the curiosity of the next generation and science education should not be about indisputable facts that must be remembered.

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Location:South West, UK

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Teaching as you were taught

I was reflecting about what it is that I do while I am teaching that I have learnt from teachers I had as a youngster.

I distinctly remember being in my physics classes at GCSE and chemistry classes at A-level and wondering why we were doing the practicals when the teacher had told us what would happen or I could quite easily predict. I was quite happy to learn that way as I was often tired due to my long bus journey to school, but it didn't help inform my opinion of practical work. Now, I rarely teach the topic before doing the practical. Sometimes I don't even demonstrate the practical before letting the students investigate.

However, I do owe some of what I do in the classroom to my own teachers. Mrs Sykes taught me how to be methodical in my approach to questions and I pass that on to my students, she also taught me to have high expectations of myself. Seeing the Science Geeks videos made by my old physics teacher Mr Prince, I can also see that a lot of my outgoing teaching style is due to his influence on me.

As a teacher I hear "you teach like you were taught" a lot. I think that my teaching style has moved away from that of my own teachers, but I will always be influenced by the memories of the people who inspired me in science.

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,,United Kingdom

Monday, 18 June 2012

New, Draft, Primary Science National Curriculum

Primary Science Draft Curriculum Link

Reading the draft version of the new national curriculum only proves to me how much I don't understand about primary science.

I don't particularly have an issue with the topics that are in the primary curriculum with a few possible exceptions, for example the evolution of the human skeleton and respiration. There seems to be enough for the students so they don't get too bored repeating topics.

I am from the generation of teachers who stuck closely to the QCA units when teaching key stage 3. As a result I will admit that I prefer someone else (a company/outside body) to write my schemes of work for me and I will improve them afterwards. With that in mind as a possible limitation, I am struggling to visualise the transition from the intended (draft) national curriculum proposed by the government and the attained curriculum. This is because I feel the words "identify", "describe" and "explain" a misused so it isn't clear what the students should understand about the topic in the end.

There is also confusion in my mind about the principle that the students must all know the aspects of the curriculum before the class can move on. What will this look like? What happens if you inherit a group from a teacher who didn't manage this?

The other two questions I would like to ask are: How does the national curriculum allow for differentiation? With levels we can teach the same topic to different depths and, to my mind at least, using levels encourages teachers to develop thinking during lessons. And how does AfL fit into the new national curriculum? Again I like the levels, and in particular the APP grid, to help me and my students have a consistent approach to knowing what to do to get better. Although I can probably still do what I have been, just avoid using numbers.

There seems to be quiet a lot of prescription of the activities: The notes are guidance are quiet detailed. This brings me to wonder if the curriculum has been written not from the point of view of what the students should understand, but from the activities that the government would like to see students doing. The worst schemes of work are put together this way, in my experience.

Is it world class? Above all, I don't think that the primary national curriculum is a significant improvement on what we have. To me it does not appear to produce students who will be significantly better than the students I currently inherit from primary schools.

I am quite nervous about the key stage 3 & 4 national curriculum.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Why don't as many girls study science and in particular physics as boys?

I read with interest a letter in the June 2012 edition of School Science Review about the topic of addressing the lack of girls in physics.

Do girls dislike physics because we don't teach a curriculum that appeals enough to them? Should physics include more references to the way that it can help people and be less about nuclear bombs?

I would agree in my experience girls do find physics less relevant to them and their lives. The context of the forces module in OCR Gateway is transport; we often use firing guns as an example of momentum. Is it fair to constantly link physics with these more traditional applications? What are the alternatives?

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