Friday, 18 January 2013

ASE conference session: Online models of CPD

I was invited to this session by Emily Perry at the Science Learning Centres, along with other teachers who had taken part in a trial of online CPD. Three of us were at the conference and able to attend.

I have written about it in blog posts previously, here and here

The first section of the session was about Experiences and expectations of CPD
There are lots of ways that teachers can experience CPD. The question was posed: Does online CPD get put into its own category? Should it?

Online CPD can take all sorts of forms. If you are reading this, then it is online cpd. Twitter is often claimed to be CPD. It is possible to for articles and pedagogy ideas online as well as using YouTube and TED. However we were interested in online conferencing and discussions; face to face, but not in the same room.

We were asked the following question: What describes the best CPD? (Any type)
The words we came up with as a group were: Relevant, reflective, new, Stretching, useful, problem solving, socialising , strategies.

Socialising was interesting, I shall return to that point.

I thought that an excellent quote about the merits of CPD in general was: "If it doesn't solve a problem then I don't want to be involved in CPD". It is a great message to any manager or teacher about the usefulness of taking part in cpd.

Before going on to explain the projects carried out by the science learning centre we were asked to consider the rhetorical question: Does "face to face" mean different things now - what does it mean?

The Two Examples of Online CPD

This section of the session was started with an overview about why the SLCs were interested in online methods of delivering CPD.

They find it is:
-difficult to get teachers out of school,
-difficult to get the SMT to prioritise subject specific CPD,
-and really difficult to get teachers out for subject knowledge/contemporary science.

With this in mind investigating online models seems a very sensible idea.
The SLC found a good thing about video conferencing they used is that it is managed by JANET, the academic network, and very stable, good quality audio and video. But that skills are needed to manage the online dialogue.
Initially the two trial projects were:

Science without walls:
Involving 6 scientists in 6 different sessions communicating with science teachers in hour long sessions which involved discussions and questions - dialogue.

The sessions had to be carefully managed because "socialisation" is important part of online CPD as it is harder than face to face.

It was a really interesting sounding project, brining scientists to schools and teachers without either having to move great distances.

And Teaching Challenging Topics
This project was the one I was involved in and had both synchronous (video chat/meetings) and asynchronous (web forum) activities.

The online "face to face" sessions were done using the adobe connect software.

Again using the video conference software presented challenges when managing meetings as there are less body language cues from participants when all you can see are their head and shoulders.

As mentioned the project also use the hub between meetings to upload resources and have forum discussions.

Outcomes from the teaching challenging concepts programme:
-Content that was found and developed by the SLC to support the teachers teaching that particular challenging concept.
-Getting to know other teachers and teachers in other contexts
-Using the online tool became part of the CPD

Next steps in developing online CPD
Socialising is important in CPD
Reviewing CPD sessions periodically.

I really enjoyed revisiting this project and it brought back a lot of the good points. Working with people online made me a much more proactive and reflective practitioner, and I liked to think that I was those things already. It has slipped though so the session was very useful in reminding me how it felt to deeply consider what I was teaching and the impact.

The theme throughout the session was about socialising being an important part of CPD. I hadn't considered that before. However, the social side of the ASE conference itself was very beneficial to me. I think I got more out of it because there was more of a social side for me, it made me comfortable and confident.

Both in interacting both with people I do know and people I don't, by swapping ideas in the context of our schools, allows us to reflect on what will and won't work.

Before taking part in the "teaching challenging topics" online CPD I had never considered in this level of detail what it takes for CPD to be worthwhile. There are a lot of levels to it.

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Location:Online models of CPD

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

ASE conference session: Literacy in Science

I really enjoyed this talk by Chris Haines of Essex LA. I don't think that any of the things he said were a surprise to me, at least they shouldn't have been, but they did make me think.

Firstly Chris showed us a list of criteria from other GCSE subjects (including Maths). All of them required quality if written community (QWC) to be measured. This shouldn't have been a surprise to me, as it would be obvious that writing would be important in an essay subject such as history.

Literacy is important to every subject as ultimately the students are going to be assessed through their writing.

Then he gave us a list and asked us to put them into "English", "literacy in Science" or "both" in the form of a Venn diagram.

To be honest all of the things should have been in the "both" section. Just because we don't explicitly teach verb tenses in science doesn't mean that we shouldn't ensure that the students in our classes are using them correctly or challenge them if they get it wrong.

I often find tenses a challenge when writing an investigation. The plan should be in the future tense, but the evaluation in the past tense. Encouraging children to write in the third person is also difficult, but I do try and do it in lessons.

The idea of addressing literacy in science lessons isn't new, but after a push in the early 2000s it is becoming increasingly more important in schools. (Maybe to do with ofsted and QWC in exams, but I don't think that any reason to improve and expand the teaching of our own language can be bad).

Some of the points I wrote down from Chris were:

All teachers must teach literacy - this is included in new teaching standards. Are we teachers of English or science? (Both) Including literacy in out teaching is also part of the ofsted criteria (and numeracy). As literacy is a common thread across curriculum - QWC Required in most subjects - we are supporting each other by teaching it. It is also important to note that there is an increasing demand of literacy with increasing grades.

Finally he asked: Is there a difference in demands between key 3 and 4? This is something that I am not sure about, although I am sure the answer would be yes!

Chris pointed out some major questions that need to be asked in a science department in order to assess how well literacy is being taught.

Will teachers need support?
How will you transfer skills between subjects?
Do your students show the same level in their writing in science as they would be expected to do in English?

He said when writing an action plan:

Find out what you need to do,
Find out where you are,
Find out what you need to do to get there.

Words I am finding useful, not just in addressing literacy but a lot of the developments in the science department.

The question to ask myself is "Where do you find the support?" I have already approached my teaching and learning assistant head teacher who also happens to lead English about this and she is keen to support me.

Chris went on to say that quality written communication is not the same as getting the spelling, punctuation and grammar correct. But about structure, coherence and use of key words too.

He said we should think about how key words are introduced, e.g look at how MFL introduce new vocabulary. He suggested a book called "mucking about with sentences" and using the old strategy resources.

He also suggested departments provide students with rich tapestry for reading. I have mentioned Alex Weatherall's Science Library in a previous blog post and I think that Chris's comments mean that it is something all science departments should take notice of.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Moving from aims to implementation

In a previous blog post here: I talked about the aims of science education.

I settled on three sentences from the ASE Guide to Secondary Science Education and they are:

1. A grasp of the "big" ideas that enable active participation in decisions involving science and technology 
2. A basic understanding of what science is, how it works and what are its strengths and limitations 
3. The ability to continue learning

My new Head Teacher had asked: "What is it that we are delivering? And what do we need to change/move forward? What it is that we could do better if we could" on her first meeting with the staff.

I think that I would like to remove "big" from the first sentence. It is vague, and while I want to keep the aims unspecific and therefore able to move with the times, I also don't want to highlight it.

Do the science GCSE courses we offer seek to achieve all these aims? Certainly the policitcal edge to the topics we teach in year 10, crude oil, plastics, diet, endangered species, generating electricity, using chemicals from the Earth and such like would indicate that we have a course, at GCSE at least, that meets aim 1.

The OCR gateway core science course is described in the specification as emphasizing explanation, theories and modelling in science along with the implications of science in society. So in fact we have bought into an intended curriculum that should meet aim 1 and to some extent aim 2. Meeting aim 2 fully and aim 3 at all will depend on how we deliver the curriculum as well as other factors.

At post-16 it is less clear that what we do and teach that reaches any of the aims above. In physics we only cover a few of the developments of ideas, such as the photoelectric effect and event then we might not mention the issues around it. I used to teach the context-led approach, in which the accompanying textbook had applications of the physics and discussion around the development of ideas. But mention of these were left to the students' reading or passing comments. Perhaps, that is enough?

Which leaves what we do at key stage 3. This is both the most practical key stage at which to make changes to achieve the aims above, but also the most difficult. As an independent school I don't need to consider the upcoming changes by Michael Gove to the the key stage 3 curriculum, but I do need to prepare my students so they are ready for their GCSEs.

(A colleague in a previous school once said the students don't learn anything at key stage 3, so it didn't matter what we did - I would say that is a massive concern and should have been addressed!)

Even though key stage 3 is the most practical and a good time to develop the learning skills we want to see in our students, it is a long time between the end of year 9 and the end of year 13 when the students go off into the "real world". Adapting what we do at key stage 3 is important, but it isn't enough.

Of course I have missed an important part of the curriculum: the extra curriculum. It is in this time that it is possible to develop a lot of the inter and intra personal skills students need for life. I will always remember fondly doing the STEM challenges with a group of students who came together from across the school and produced a fabulous presentation. Time for these things are always squeezed, but it would be great to spend the next few years developing an extra curricular programme that will enhance the development of the students to the three aims above.

NB: extra curriculum doesn't need to mean a "manned" club, it can be recommending books or events for the students to join in during their spare time. Alex Weatherall and Sarah Pannell's Science Teaching TV Guide is a great example, it is hosted along side Alex's Science Teaching Library recommendations.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

ASE conference session: Leading Science into the Future

The last session I went to at the ASE conference was run by the 11-19 committee and aimed at heads of department about the challenges facing faculties.

Alastair outlined areas of development facing science departments:

Performance management
New system,
local practice,
difficult conversations,
union action (work to rule)

Quality assurance, self evaluation
Identity the areas of strength/weakness - so what?

Who is accountable?

New specification
Why? Evidence, which one? Timescale, resources, sow.

Changes to linear qualifications
Timetable, rota, order of teaching units, revision, mocks,

In house or external?

As I work in an independent school I choose to look at changing to linear. I was glad I did because lots of issues I had not considered came up. I feel slightly glad we are doing OCR Gateway as there are less exams, but there is a lot more to it than the number of exams.

My main concern is getting accurate data and using it to inform intervention and report to parents. After than we have the issue of developing exam revision skills, but I think that will have to developed whole school as all subjects will have the same issues.

Thought provoking session!

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Location:Reading, UK

What is science education for?

What is it that we are delivering? And what do we need to change/move forward? What it is that we could do better if we could?

The questions above were posed by our new Head Teacher on Monday in her initial address to the staff. She wants each department to think about it carefully from an individual area's point of view.

This isn't something new to me.

I have mentioned the book "how science works" by James Williams before. The opening chapter is called "understanding the nature of science". After reading this I realised that this was my main purpose in teaching. While I am teaching students things like F=ma, electrons orbit the nucleus and chlorophyll is a green pigment that they need to pass exams, I need to remember that teaching them about the nature of science is important for the rest of their lives.

I believe there is a consensus that the young people should leave school scientifically literate. (ie able to make decisions that involve science). After the ASE conference lecture by Professor Paul Hardaker (a meteorologist) I realised that even reading the weather forecast requires a level of scientific literacy.

I am more of a "bringer together of ideas" than an imaginative person. I rely on experience over creativity. So in order to write the aims for my department I am not going to be original, but start with the "aims of a good science department" from the ASE Guide to Secondary Education (

They are:

1. A grasp of the "big" ideas that enable active participation in decisions involving science and technology
2. A basic understanding of what science is, how it works and what are its strengths and limitations
3. The ability to continue learning

If you want to know the rationale then you will have to buy the book!

In a previous blog post about a lecture given by Michael Reiss he talks about the purpose of education being the "flourishing of young people". I would hope that science education in my department will aim to do this in the context of our subject.
Professor Reiss also points out that there is an overlap between what students learn in the classroom and outside of it (e.g. From YouTube). It is increasingly important that we help the young people learn to interpret this information critically and correctly. So I believe that aim 3 is a very important point to consider in that context.

(I think about the lecture given by Paul Hardaker where he spent time talking about climate change and the lack of acceptance among the general public.)

Under aim 1 I would want to ensure that students get to experience science theories first hand in an controlled context in the lab, so they can see and believe certain scientific phenomena. I believe that students can't discover scientific ideas through play, but need scaffolding to reach accepted conclusions and understand the evidence behind them.

Of course what the "big ideas" are in aim 1 are up for debate.

I think aim 2 is overlooked by many science teachers, myself included in my early teaching career. See my comments above about the book "How Science Works". For those who are going on to further science studies and those who are not they have to understand that no idea in science cannot be challenged and refined. Science is not a group of indisputable facts, yet it is also not something that can be argued from all sides. It is difficult to give 13/14 year olds experience of this though.

It is easy to take someone else's opinions, particularly when they are written in a published book, and accept them as part of your policies. Easy to do when you are creating policies as a tick box exercise. However, I do believe these three aims and I am committed to achieving them for the students I teach. I won't be adopting them, writing them down and hoping it is what we do, I want to take the next step and embed them in our curriculum, teaching and attitude.

What is it that we are delivering? And what do we need to change/move forward? What it is that we could do better if we could?

On my journey to answer this I have my aims, now I need to look at what we are doing and in what way we meet them.

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Saturday, 12 January 2013

John Lewis Lecture: Professor Paul Hardaker, CEO of the IoP. ASE conference blog post 2

This blog post is an edited version of the things I noted during the John Lewis lecture. They make not make sense as I was gripped by what Paul Hardaker had to say so didn't always have time to type what he was saying.

This lecture and the lecture by Michael Reiss in the previous blog post as ones that have most been useful during the last week at school, which I didn't expect when I went to them!

The first thing I noted was I that John Lewis (who passed away in autumn 2012) sounded like a truly inspiring man, influencing a lot of positive reforms and changes and I was proud to be in a lecture in his name.

Professor Hardaker started with an image that captivated him. It is below. The photo doesn't do it justice as his version was animated and showed the general weather patterns on the Earth.

At the moment in my lessons and curriculum development plans I am looking to develop the idea that science develops and changes. So I quickly noted the names Fitzroy who Paul Hardaker described as being responsible for bringing science into predicting the weather, and LF Richardson - took the globe and put a grid around the globe to help track the weather, now a days they still use grids, but the grid goes up into the atmosphere and down into ocean too.

Professor Hardaker also explained that collaboration important in weather and climate as 97% of the UK information comes from other countries. I thought that this was a very useful point to make to students about the nature of science in the modern world.

Prof Hardaker describe his perfect Christmas gift: a toaster that connects to the weather forecast and burns the most appropriate symbol to your morning slice of toast.

Weather scientists use models. What you can do is limited by computing resources. Climate models are very large scale, not good resolution. However the local weather does have good resolution so that localised weather issues can be identified.

We were snow an example of requiring good resolution. Each arrow represents a section on the grid. Hurricane Catharina would not have been predictable if the was not the same level of detail/resolution.

The computer models are also run a number of times to take into account as many possible variables as possible. When Michael Fish failed to predict the Hurricane to hit southern England in the 80s, the computer models were not as accurate as they are now. The top image shows what they were able to do then and the bottom one is what we can do now with the same information. Again showing real development of science and technology.

Professor Hardaker then went on to describe the hard work that goes into displaying weather information for the public.

It occurred to me at this point that the weather is the science that the general public interact with every day. And we don't teach it in science!

He showed us the image below as asked which way of displaying weather we like the best. In a room of scientists version 2 was preferred. Professor Hardaker explained that each version got 25% preference in public surveys.

This section of the lecture gave me a sense of purpose for when I am teaching young people to interpret data.

Paul Hardaker then went onto talk about students studying meteorology.

Meteorology is 50/50 male/female. But a lot of these students come from social science, not from science, which causes a problem as the students need maths and physics to access meteorology. Most of the meteorology is taught in geography, so the students don't realise the maths and physics necessary. University students often have to go back and do a masters after their geography degrees to improve their subject knowledge.

Being CEO of the IoP it was inevitable that Paul Hardaker would talk about the recent IoP report into girls studying physics.

We need more female public role models.

Paul Hardaker then finished his lecture by talking about the Greenhouse effect and Global Warming. I took the first image because I liked it. A lot of people don't understand the greenhouse effect and I think this image does a good job.

Professor Hardaker displayed a lot of data about climate change:

The image below shows the temperatures we have had and the lower graph has the computer model for the temperatures without the effect of global warming.

If we double CO2 then temp goes up 1 degree, but the atmopshere can hold more water at this temperature, which causes another 3 derees of change in temperature, and aerosols in the air, ice, snow will also affect temp another 0.5-5.5 degrees.

Professor Hardaker said that storm surges are more worrying than sea level rises in shorter term.

After to using data to prove to a room of scientists that climate change is real he went on to look at the complicated nature of tackling it.

Paul Hardaker asked "Why do we disagree about climate change?" He explained that is was related to how we frame the argument.
-Economic problem,
-Technology problem,
-Global injustice,
-Over consumption (population/prosperity),
-Natural variability and we should just adapt to climate change,
-Perhaps we are at a tipping point so need to geo-engineer with giant mirrors and ships in the Atlantic pumping areosols into atmosphere.

He said that we need to reduce emissions by 80%, but we need to start the journey, and think about how we use energy, even if we don't know the exact solution yet.

The most disturbing slide was the last one.

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ASE conference and the Purpose of Science Education

This is my first blog post about the ASE conference. It is almost a week since I came back and whilst the euphoria I felt during the 3 1/2 days is gone the resolution to be a better teacher and head of department remains.

The first lecture I attended was at 9.30am on Thursday morning. It was by Professor Michael Reiss and felt like a whistle stop tour of all the ideas and policies related to science education and some related to education in general.

The context of his talk was the revision of national curriculum and who will be the awarding body. OCR sponsored the talk: it wasn't biased towards them, but I can imagine that awarding bodies are getting as much advice from people like Michael Reiss as possible to ensure their survival!

He started on a very popular topic for a lot of people in education: Hattie's meta studies of educational research. The list of the most influential 10 factors in order are in the image below.

Professor Reiss pointed out that most of these factors are under the control of the teacher, not the curriculum. I found this point very interesting, I have taught some terrible schemes of work, that I firmly believe hampered my students' learning, so it takes a leap to believe that curriculum doesn't factor directly in the top 10.

Michael Riess then went on to describe work by Tim Oates on factors that control what students learn. I didn't get the opportunity to take a photo or write everything down, but a selection is below:

1. Curriculum content, (awarding body and the text book)
2. Assessment
3. Inspections
4. Institutional forms and structure
5. Funding

Curriculum is one of a vary large number of things that affect what is taught. This related well to a blog post I wrote about the intended, taught and learned curricula - all of which are different!

Professor Reiss then went on to discuss what it meant to be "True to Science".
He said science was: reaching science conclusions, gathering imperical data, creating and using models, testing. And went on to comment that science is different to other subjects in the way that it concerns all three of mathematical, ethical and aesthetic knowledge.

He also said that as educators we are not good at getting across at school that the way of working in science is also applicable elsewhere, eg geography, history, archaeology.

Teaching science in school is very important because The school lab can simplify the model of science, as it is complex. Youngsters cannot learn science by simply experiencing it. In schools science we are trying to get students to understand different levels: context, macro, invisible and model

A point I found interesting was that the top performing countries in the PISA rankings tend to have more direct assessment of the practical work than UK. As we move even further away from assessing practical skills this is a very interesting point to note.

Michael Reiss then went on to talk about outsider art and what he called outsider science. I wasn't sure why. But I have since been told that he believes that the people with "outsider" opinions shouldn't be dismissed, but respected if not agreed with.
Outsider art: art produced by people who are not trained artists.
Outsider science: creationism, climate denial, alien abduction, 400,000 people believe they have been abducted by aliens, astrology, conspiracy theories.

As Professor Reiss started to wind up his lecture he moved from the topic of science education to what education is about in a wider sense. I found interesting his comment that "overall aim of education should be the flourishing of students. At the moment the curriculum starts with the subjects".

(I know of schools who have tried to develop skills based curricula, but not that have really had a massive impact outside their school and some, I might even say most, that have been scrapped.)

Professor Reiss then described the skills that people call for in school leavers:
1. Cognitive skills
2. Interpersonal skills e,g, communicate to another, articulate thoughts in variety if ways
3. Intrapersonal skills e.g. Adaptability and self management

Relating this general overview to science education he outlined some factors that are "True to science education":
1. Formal and informal learning
2. Lifelong learning
3. Both academic and vocational science
4. There is more permeability between what we do in the science laboratory and what you can experience outside of the school e.g. You tube

Michael Reiss also talked about double award vs triple award. He posed the interesting question: are students put into a two teir system if they do double? Particularly if you consider that students who do triple archive half a grade more at a-level than those who do double award science.

Finally he talked about what influences students to study science and maths at university. He talked about a study that interviewed about 60 students all of whom had the a-levels to do physical sciences or maths as a degree, half chose to do so and half who didn't.

The conclusions are in the photo below.

And a story indicating this is shown in this photo.

I am very pleased I attended this lecture as it gave me a lot to think about. Lectures like this are an important part of the ASE conference, when else would a regular science teacher be able to hear the thoughts and ideas of a Professor of Science Education from the IoE? Thank you to ASE and OCR, as well as Michael Reiss. (Factiod: he was staying at the same hotel as me!)

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Location:Rudgleigh Ave,,United Kingdom

Monday, 7 January 2013

Supporting colleagues

This morning our new Head teacher started work.

It may have been a throw away comment, but in the first introduction she asked staff to be supportive to each other. (Amongst other things) I believe her to be genuine because her whole talk was considered and based around a philosophy of learning and developing the students as people.

The request that we support each other really struck a cord with me. Of course we should support each other, but this isn't a culture embedded in every school I have worked in. Some schools are competitive and nasty. Staff use other teachers by throwing them to the lions to cover their behinds. Staff feel their colleagues are people to be stepped on as they rise up the ladder.

My school isn't like that, we are a team. The whole school working together. It was very nice of the head to recognise through her words the importance of this. I hope I remember it too; I intend to.

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Location:United Kingdom

Saturday, 5 January 2013

New Years Resolutions 2

1) use socrative with a class this year to see how practical it is in my circumstances
2) teach my year 6 students with the main aim that they get to discuss and come up with their own ideas. I will do this by setting them problems.
3) use an adapted form of the ks3 strategies planning sheets from Ed Walsh to support students plan lessons
4) look at my questioning and how they help students reach the desired outcomes via York Science
5) boost the participation of members in the west of England with the ASE by remembering relationships are key

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