Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Misbehaviour and Disengagement

I read this tweet from Joe Bower, a Canadian teacher and it struck a cord with me.

I recall the start of my second year of teaching and the introduction of a new deputy head. I was working at an inner city school with very low GCSE results, lots of behaviour problems and poor leadership and management. During my first year the management had made it clear that any bad behaviour from students was because our lessons were not engaging enough. I had passed my NQT year and everyone was telling me good things, but I wasn't very confident that my teaching skills were good enough to "engage" the worst behaved students. On top of that ofsted were constantly being mentioned and I didn't feel that I could teach anything other than an unsatisfactory lesson due to the afore mentioned poor behaviour. Our school would go into special measures, which would be hell, and it would be my fault.

Up stepped our new deputy who used his first address to the staff to tell us all that the state of the school was because the teachers were not putting in the effort and he was appointed to sort us out! Not really a confidence booster.

The school was turned around. Not by this deputy head, but by a new building, new management team focusing in on student attainment in year 10 and 11 and a suitable curriculum that included vocational courses. An appropriate curriculum.

While I was working at this school there were members of staff who tried to put in place an appropriate curriculum. It was obvious to them that GCSEs were "failing" the students and they needed different courses and forms of assessment.

It was plain to us that the students were disengaged and badly behaved often because they couldn't access the curriculum and didn't have the skills to be successful. But our students were anything but stupid. They knew that they weren't doing very well, so didn't want to try for fear of failure.

I have a brilliant partner who is a teacher and has spent the last twelve years working in this school through difficult times for the school and difficult times for him. Through it all he has made it his mission to ensure that his students feel confident to learn and make progress. In recent years he has used APP as a tool to help students. I watched him during one difficult year where his timetable was made up of maths - a subject he doesn't have an O-level in - struggle to support two very challenging groups and improve their behaviour by increasing their confidence and therefore improving their engagement with their learning. He didn't do this by making lessons exciting or performing to them, but by helping them overcome academic difficulties.

If a student has behaviour problems it isn't always possible to solve all the problems they have. It is important to remember that there is no magic bullet. Just small steps.

Monday, 29 October 2012

ASE West of England Newsletter

I am not sure if this will make it to the ASE members in the West of England. Just in case it doesn't here is the issuu version:

Difference between attainment and achievement

"attainment is related to standards, achievement to progress"

Thanks Linda! 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

As physics - developing thinking skills

We have completed our first test and I have decided on an aim for the future iterations of my physics schemes of work. I must include more opportunities for the students to work on problems of the type they might encounter in an exam.

I use the teaching advancing physics resources, which do have problem solving activities. However we follow the edexcel specification, not the OCR advancing physics, so not everything is covered by the tap resources.

My students are good at wrote learning, so have picked up the formulae and facts well. However, as with many As students, they are struggling to workout how to answer questions.

I believe I need to help them visualise the problems and workout what relationships are needed to extract the answers. I am confident once the students have an idea of what they need to do they will be able to.

My students don't speak English to a technical level so I need to ensure my activities allow them to think internally without relying heavily on English. At least at first.

Another aim to add to my action plan.

Location:Quintrell Downs,United Kingdom

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Head's Roundtable?

I will be very interested to see how long this interest lasts.

About 7 head teachers and 3 others are trying to set up their own body to represent their views. Their aim: "We are a non-party politcal group that wants to influence national education policymakers so that education policy is centered upon what is best for the learning of all children."

Perhaps the heads think they will be listened to? But I imagine that if they feel the need to set something like this up then they are not be listened to at the moment.

I hear that the government are not listening to any organisations or looking at the positives of English education. What can a few heads and 1000 followers on twitter achieve? Getting something trending on twitter does not fix the problem.

Do these heads genuinely have a shot at getting the ear of Gove and making a difference? Only time will tell. I do predict it will be difficult though.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Teachmeet Clevedon - what I found out

I rarely feel "inspired" or have the inclination to describe something as "inspirational". The verb and adjective are both overused in education in my opinion. I often feel like replying to someone who says "such and such is/was inspirational" and asking how? and why?

However, parts of teachmeet Clevedon 5 did inspire me. (I won't say everything did for the reason given above).

The first teachmeet I went to was also at Clevedon and it was less formal than 20th October. The presenters were varied quality and the transitions were less slick. I enjoyed it though, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive and that makes a change from some schools and re-energises you.

"Learning Rocks" however, was a very slick evening, the transistions between presentations were improved by having a running order and someone off screen queuing the presentations so your PowerPoint was ready for you as you arrived at the podium to begin your talk. Time limits for presentations were kept to close as possible to 5 minutes so that the evening ran to time and stayed good natured.

The slightly different format of the evening included a seminar slot between the key note and the presentations. 

I missed the keynote presentation by Vic Goddard from Passmore's school, the one featured in Educating Essex. The opinion in the room was that he spoke very well and many were enthused by what he had to say.

I did arrive in time for my seminar slot. I went to hear John Wells the Head Teacher of Clevedon School speak about the journey the school had been through. It is clear from the talk that John has a clear vision for the improvement of the school and he doesn't lose sight of the things that have gone before. Being someone who likes diagrams I liked the way that the improvement of the school could be represented as concentric circles showing the layers of pedagogy that have been introduced in the school. I do always wonder with these things if everything is as well embedded as the senior management say it is, but I liked that idea that pedagogy (and not curriculum change) was at the heart of the school improvement.

Then we moved onto the presentations. I had volunteered to do one on the 5Es of lesson planning. You can find the presentation elsewhere on this blog as well as other posts about them. On entering the hall I discovered I was 16th out of 17. A lot of time to get nervous!

Gavin Smart spoke first @gavinsmart about the use of an expert (his Grandad) talking to the class. The project went well and the students and his Grandad enjoyed it. This has given me confidence, because while I cannot skype my Grandad from my year 7 science class, I would like to get real scientists more involved in what we do at school. It is something on the back-burners at the moment, but a real aim.

Dave Gale spoke about the ultimate maths faculty - a meeting of like minded maths teachers who use a hashtag to communicate via twitter. Again, I was pleased to hear that and feel that we have that supportive community already built up and using the #asechat hastag. I hope other science teachers joining twitter can feel confident about joining in too.

I was inspired by Dave Stacey's presentation. He talked about re-booting his teaching. I can really empathise with that. I have been a better teacher in the past and I know how to be a better teacher, I just need to find the focus to do it and maintain it. It was great to hear from Dave that it is possible to improve your practice and you aren't stuck as the teacher you are at the moment for the rest of your career.

I always enjoy Kat Crocker's presentations about what you can do during tutor time and I have already used the Guardian Eyewitness site with my tutor group.

Alessio's presentation about priezi was not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. How can we use presentations during lessons to support thinking and not just a quick way of giving information. This is something I will consider during the holidays.

A lot of the presentations were about on-line ICT, which we just can't use. But that is what I like about teachmeets, there is something for everyone.

Great evening, and well done to Mark Anderson and the Clevedon Team.

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When colleagues leave...

A fantastic colleague of mine is leaving today and I feel really sad. Usually I am not emotional about these things, perhaps it is my age but I think it might be due to the circumstances. She is leaving because her husband's job takes her to a new country and the whole family are to relocate.

When I move from a school it is because I am ready to leave and it means I am looking forward to the next steps in my teaching career. And the same has applied to people who leave my school; I am pleased for them as they are going to bigger and better things.

This is different. Not only is my friend and colleague moving to a distant continent, but I don't feel she reached her potential in our department or impacted on it the way that she might have done. It feels unfulfilled.

However, I wish her and her family well and hope that they have a smooth transition to their new lives.

What would gcse be like if I wrote it?


The answer to this question could be very involved, with the topics I like, but I don't think the content is entirely relevant. I don't believe we can (or should even try to) teach young people all the science they'll need for the rest of their lives. But I do believe we need to prepare young people for the science they'll experience in the rest if their lives.

This applies to the students who will go onto be future scientists too.

However, the difficulty is always how to assess that and write a specification for it that is clear to all who read it how they must teach to achieve scientifically literate students.

Would it be better to invest (I don't necessarily mean money only) in educating teachers in the importance of scientific literacy?

I would like to see controlled assessment scrapped however, and a long independent project by students brought in. Of the sort you would get a bronze crest award for. Although it would be terribly stressful for teachers of unmotivated students...

Perhaps this is a topic I will have to revisit! I am glad of being a classroom teacher and not someone who has to write a curriculum or specification.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Using food in science lessons - some ideas.

I enjoying teaching the Edexcel Physics units called Good Enough to Eat and Spare Part Surgery. As I teach in an all-girls school I want to ensure that my practicals appeal to the girls and using food to illustrate physics principles manages that.

During this term I have used golden syrup to calculate viscosity and strawberry laces in a Hooke’s Law investigation. Using Crunchie bars to represent bones is also part of the scheme of work. The strawberry laces doesn’t need to be restricted to an A-level scheme of work, and could be used to extend Year 7 or primary students too. If you find the strawberry laces are not strong enough on their own then it is possible (if a bit sticky) to plait them to make them stronger. Of course, this also leads to a second possible experiment finding the relationship between ultimate tensile stress and number of strawberry laces used.

Some of the students I teach are from Hong Kong. Using sweets as props to go over the key language relating to material science has been very useful. One student explained to me that tough, strong and stiff all have the same meaning when using her translating device.

However, my experience using sweets doesn’t stop there. My step-daughter’s history teacher asked the class to create a model of a castle, she created one out of cake and biscuits, as cooking is turning into a big hobby of hers. This particularly caught my imagine when I saw the same thing being done by  science teachers when asking students to make a model cell cell cake via a link on pinterest and again when a student of a friend brought to school a “sweet” pathogen model. I am reliably informed that asking students (and indeed student teachers) to build models helps to bring out misconceptions. 

I have also seen “sweetie” blood produced by teachers in the past, a recipe I found on the internet suggests the following:
To represent plasma use water
To represent ions use sugar, salt, oil and protein shake mix 
To represent red blood cells use red jelly beans
To represent white blood cells use mini marshmallows and
To represent platelets use white rice.

A colleague has also used sweets to create models of the atom, including strawberry laces for electron shells. A different version is shown in the image to the left.
I have been using golden syrup in other ways to demonstrate the movement of plate tectonics using biscuits on golden syrup. This is an idea from the website:

I feel that it shows brilliantly how the tectonic plates move slowly as it is difficult to see the pieces of biscuit move, yet taking a photo on a digital camera before and after can show the the pieces of biscuit do move. I have used this demonstration already this year with a group of Year 6 students who are following the theme of “underground”.

Physics Experiments
Asking colleagues and searching the Internet has revealed a huge number of science experiments that either involved food directly or have an alternative that uses foodstuffs and sweets.

Several colleagues use skittles or (chocolate) M&Ms to model radioactive decay. This is especially useful if the school doesn’t have enough dice to share between the students and overcomes the issue of students putting the dice that have “decayed” back in with the “unstable” dice, as the students will eat those that land writing-side up. An alternative is to use ditalini pasta, which students would not be as keen to eat and disrupt the lesson.

Measuring the speed of light is possible using a microwave with the turntable turned upside-down to disable the turning effect. For those who haven’t seen this experiment, the standing waves inside the microwave cause two melted spots on a slab of chocolate (cheese slices can also be used). The melted spots are half a wavelength apart. The frequency of the microwaves can either be found in the manual or on a sticker on the back. Speed of light = frequency x wavelength.

Putting marshmallows into a vacuum flask and pumping out the air is a great way to demonstrate the effects of air pressure.

The National STEM centre has a great video explanation by Alom Shaha of the jelly baby wave machine here: A brilliant way to demonstrate transverse waves and their properties.

Not quite sweets, but I also love demonstrating the luminescence of tonic water under UV light, tap water doesn’t glow.

Lastly in my list of possible physics experiments a colleague has suggested using Oreos (as an alternative to jaffa cakes) to model the phases of the moon.

Creativity in Biology
During my career I haven’t taught many biology units, so I turned to my colleagues and friends for ideas of where sweets can be used during biology practical activities:
It is possible to create DNA from sweets as the image above shows. There are various different methods for this activity.
It is possible to use gummy bears in osmosis experiments by measuring the gummy bear before and after immersing in water and salt water.

An example I have used is using sweets as san object for Year 7 students to use and write keys about in their classification modules. Quality street are good for this, or Dolly Mixtures if you are on a budget. It gives something a little more interesting than lab equipment or pictures of aliens. 

A popular experiment with interesting results is investigating the effect of pH on chicken bones. 

A lot of my biology teacher friends talk about “Reebots”. The Reebops activity helps to demonstrate how genetics is responsible both for similarities and variation among members of the same species. There is a worksheet here: and the practical biology website has a good example too. 

Chemistry Practical Activities
If you use the Wikid scheme of work in Year 7 then you will be aware that there is an entire scheme of work dedicated to food called “Cook”. Some of the topics covered relate to heat transfer and change of state, but students also get to make ice cream, investigate British vs American pancakes and look at cooking in the context of physical and chemical changes. I am a big fan of the majority of the wikid scheme.

Using food as a context for science is not just restricted to key stage 3. I teach the OCR Gateway specification at GCSE and there are sections of the first chemistry module dedicated to the chemistry of cooking. 

One of the examples involves baking powder. Instead of heating and showing the decomposition of sodium hydrogen carbonate, it is also possible to make sponge cakes in the microwave during a lesson with and without baking powder to demonstrate the purpose of adding baking powder when baking cakes.

I love carrying out the experiment where the students boil potato and see who it’s consistency changes with time and I demonstrate cooking pieces of potato in a microwave. I enjoy it because the potato usually gets so dry it sets on fire in the microwave, which excites the students. 

The scheme of work also involves students using egg white as an emulsifier.

This term Year 7 have been studying Acids and Alkalis and there are a lot of links to food in the this topic. Whether it be eating foods to establish that acids are sour, to investigating the perfect sherbet recipe, my students have found the link between chemistry and real life interesting at this early stage in tehir secondary education. I also really enjoy the lessons where students test different vegetables to see which one makes the best indicator. (I really like Ribena, but it isn’t as fun as making indicator using red cabbage).

Of course there are lots of “kitchen chemsitry” experiments that involve food, from volcanoes to making invisible ink and creating crystals with sugar. See for more ideas.

A big favourite of a chemistry teacher colleague of mine is making elephant dung using concentrated sulphuric acid and sugar.

Practical Investigations
A colleague told me of an experiment she carried out with a class to establish if a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit. Cakes get drier as they get older and biscuits go soggy. 

Using food is a great way to engage students in science.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The 5 E lesson cycle

Here is me talking at teachmeet Clevedon.

And this is the presentation:

I will blog later about the rest of my TM Clevedon experience.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Writing a development plan

Where do I want my department to be?

I have to sort my departmental development plan. But I also want to make sure that I am doing more than plastering over the cracks. I want to move the department forward.

However, I realise moving the department forwards isn't any good if it is the wrong "forward". I need to have a destination.

What kind of department do I want? How will I know when I get it?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I am a SCIENCE teacher

I hear the quote "I don't teach X subject, I teach children" a lot. I don't like it. I prefer "I help children to learn in the context of science lessons". Pedantic?

I know the most important thing is that we produce well rounded individuals that are able to make good decisions while living their lives. It is vital as teachers that we support the development of young people. But I also think teaching students about the nature of science is important too.

More and more I realise the importance to society that children understand science and the nature of science. I understand the importance of teaching science more than at anytime in my career.

My concern over what the government will do to the curriculum heightens my awareness of the importance of teaching science. Science lessons need to help students understand how science works and that is is continually changing and involving. Few is any problems have a "correct" answer, just an accepted one and that this can change. I don't want my students ending their science education thinking it is a body of facts to be remembered and recalled.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Using blogs to share practice

I was visiting my mother this weekend and found myself with a little spare time, so I opened my RSS reader app to read what other teachers have been doing.

It occurred to me then that blogging is a great way to share practice. I knew it already deep down, but it hasn't occurred to me just how powerful blogging could be. IF people engage with it.

There are examples of school blogging projects (involving staff writing about teaching). I am undecided about them, thinking of the context of the previous schools I worked in. Favourite staff would be asked, staff wanting to blow their own trumpet would push themselves forward and the quality of what is shared wouldn't be managed.

However, I am benefitting hugely from reading the blogs of other science teachers and it brings ideas to my mobile phone. Moreover it is bringing practice and ideas to me from across the country, not only within my own school.

Having worked in 3 inward looking schools I realise the importance of looking at the practice elsewhere and being ready to accept that others have useful interpretations of how to teach best. Moreover others have experience that we could learn from when implementing new ideas.

By sharing ideas and learning from the experiences of others we can improve our own practices. Blogging allows me to learn from people I wouldn't usually connect with and taken on board many more ideas than would ever have been possible.

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Location:Hepple,United Kingdomg

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Aims of the curriculum

I teach across four key stages: Our department has responsibility for science teaching from year 5 to year 13. (Although I personally teach year 6 to year 12).

As I review what we do it leads me to the question: why is it that we do what we do? What do we want our students to achieve and gain from their experiences in science?

A major aim for me this year is produce a plan of the aims for our students I can plan a curriculum around in the coming years. Particularly as the national curriculum changes or vanishes.

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Monday, 1 October 2012

I think that I "get it" now

Pinterest for interesting images
Delicious for interesting and useful websites
Blogger for my learning journey, leadership, politics and pedagogy
TES resources for my resources
Tumblr for my teaching ideas
Facebook for my friends
And twitter for talking to other teachers

Year 6 parents evening

I really think it is important to build positive relationships with parents as well as students. The best schools I have worked at have had support and engagement from parents. Although sometimes it isn't the fault of the school that parents won't engage and sometimes it isn't the fault of the parent they can't find a way to be involved.

Tonight I took my first steps in getting to know parents by attending the year 6 parents evening at the near-by prep school. I really hope that by meeting some of he parents of the children I teach that I can foster useful relationships that will help make connections the students I teach can benefit from.

I have always thought having a group of useful parents, whom can be candid to you, is useful for a head of department. I was asked at an internal interview what I would do to build relationships with parents and I was taken back, offended almost. I had always previously done what I could to communicate with parents about what was going on in the science department and they often engaged with me when they needed support too. (At that point I gave up on getting that role as it was obvious that they ha no idea of the work I had done previously).

Parents are an under used resource in the schools I have worked at before now and I want to make sure that I don't under-use them here.