Sunday, 13 December 2015

Tracking and Evidence

When I started teaching we'd all give our students tests at the end of a topic. They'd get 18/24 and we'd would add this to a spreadsheet. My head of department would use testable to level each question and this would help us develop a level system whereby 17 on this test gave a lower level outcome than 15 on the next. (Rather like raw to UMS scores in public exams).
Sound and Moments always came out skewed too high, Simple Chemical Reactions too low but otherwise it wasn't too bad. Using levels helped to make homemade tests equivalent. At the end of Year 9 when students would do the SATs exams our method usually under predicted what they would get by up to half a level, but this is not enough that we were concerned. We tracked the students and were reasonably happy with the quality of the evidence and we also had grades for reports. We did lots of tests and if a student missed a test they didn't need to re-do it, this gave plenty evidence about the child's attendance too.
No where in the previous paragraph do I describe formative assessment.
Fast forward twelve years: I thought that getting rid of the levels was to put the focus onto formative assessment. Not how you move from level 3 to 4, but how you really improve that individual piece of work or your knowledge about what is going on in a chemical reaction. That ray diagram you have drawn about refraction, do you really understand it? Can you identify the normal? Can you measure the angles? Can you explain how and why the ray bends? 
I have seem some projects and work (in primary) that are putting the focus on formative assessment. Using examples of real work as tracking and as a starting discussion for developing the teaching and learning of science within the school. 
But, others it seems have to track EVERYTHING. Is it reasonable to know if a child in year 7 got mixed up between a chloroplast and the cytoplasm. If in year 8 they wrote oxide instead of oxygen? Does this information really help? Is it useful? If a child did know the difference between exothermic and endothermic reactions in year 8, will they still know it in year 10 anyway? What am I really going to do with all the data that tracking every learning intention will generate?
Would we be better off keeping the actual work rather than transferring it to a spreadsheet? Would that tell us more, with no extra work?

Friday, 6 November 2015

In a GCSE curriculum change spiral of despair

I am so pleased that I decided (all three science subjects decided) to stay with the same A-level examination board. There are subtle differences in the content and I have at the back of my mind that I have to do a decent job of the core practicals in order to help the students gather enough knowledge to access the questions in the exam paper that will be around practical work. I have actually embraced the chance to reflect on my A-level teaching and think carefully about how my lessons and schemes support the students I teach and what I can be doing differently. I am including more technology and making more of an effort to investigate different practicals and demonstrations that I might include in my lessons.

However, the department are also working through our key stage 3 changes. Some of it we love. Some of it we find lacking (the homework) and some of it needs a bigger solution (the end of topic assessments). We really need time to discuss the changes, divide up the work, upload what we have created independently to the platform and make notes for the schemes of work to stop us from making the same mistakes next year. But we don't have that many opportunities to do any of that because we're working on year 12 now.

We also teach Year 6. Luckily, I have bought an excellent scheme of work. But it is not perfect. Again, homework isn't great and I spend three hours per week preparing for one hour of lesson because I have to make presentations and often have to make equipment or set up my classroom to be ready. Teaching Year 6 needs a lot more thought with respect to classroom management/organisation that teaching year 11 does.

So adding yet another curriculum change to the mix is distressing me. I can't describe myself as feeling any other way.

When I was teaching the final year of the old key stage 3 and making resources I didn't feel I was wasting my time. I figured that key stage 3 is flexible so I might teach that content in that way again. When I was teaching the last year of the previous A-level specification and making resources I felt the same. But GCSE teaching is the majority of my timetable and even though I am teaching the final year of a specification I am still making resources. Resources that will be unusable in their current form in the new specifications. Resources that are very specific to lesson P3f (for example) of the Gateway specification.

Why am I making resources? I am making them because the students now have iPads and I feel that I need to embrace the new technology we have to ensure that the girls are using them and their parents investment is not wasted. I am making them because (in the case of video) it genuinely does improve the educational experience of the girls. But I know I am putting effort in for the students I teach now that is not going to be laying a foundation for the future.

So this time next year I will have an even greater amount of work than I would have if there had been no new curriculum changes. Not only will I still be trying to perfect the key stage 3 and 2 schemes, and ensure we have key stage 5 schemes that prepare the students for the longer more integrated terminal examinations I will also be starting from scratch on a totally unknown GCSE where I will be able to use very few of the resources that I have spent the last 10 years developing without some level of adaptation. Add to that the uncertainty of how practical skills will be assessed and what the grading 1-9.

Understandably within school we are grappling with the best procedures and timings to deal with all the changes. The changes that not only impact science. If the drama performances or geography field trips have to change then what impact does that have on the time pressures on students and my teaching time in science? If examinations are longer, how does that impact our mock examination weeks and internal assessments? How do we change our reporting at key stage 3 and 4 to reflect the new GCSE changes? The options booklets and curriculum descriptions all have to be changed, the parental handbooks regarding revision and coursework have to be updated (twice, once saying this is provisional and again when the changes are confirmed). Etc etc, all little things that add up to a lot of administration work we need to do.

Not having a settled school environment and knowing this is going to be the case until at least 2018 is filling me with dread. I was told when I started teaching that after six years of teaching I would have my resources and be able to get a decent work life balance. I would not be working until 1am just to keep my head above water.

To have every aspect of my working life affected by the shear volume of change being created by the previous and current government is distressing enough, but knowing that it we are not being given a decent length of time makes me extremely angry. Knowing that the Science GCSE specifications will not be ready until February, 6 months after some people have started teaching it is unacceptable. For me is a yet another straw. When will the camel's back break?

I am overwhelmed by the changes, by the swirling mess of knowing that everything I am doing, every aspect of my working life is on shifting sands and there is no end in sight.






Friday, 17 July 2015

Nurture 14/15 Update.

1. Writing with purpose
My blog needs more attention and direction. I would like it to show what I feel and my vision and I don’t believe that it does. I have strong feelings about things and I want to be able to describe them in a rational way. 

When I go to my blog, one word stands out: "draft". I have written a lot of posts about education. But most have been too angry to publish. Nothing that is really constructive and adds to the educational landscape. However, we now have curriculum change and a reason for me to write about the things that I am doing (particularly post-16) and share the progress of the things that I put in place. After Christmas I hope to look more at GCSE. 

2. At home
We only have one plan for the this year - getting Richard qualified and ready for Paris-Brest-Paris in the summer. It really is the culmination of ten years of cycling so that he is ready for this challenge. My main hope is that some of his colleagues recognise the achievement, it will mean so much to him. I doubt it though. We did say that we would take Richard’s daughter to Oxford to see the city and to go to the Imperial War Museum as we haven’t been for a while. When Richard is out cycling I want to work on things around the house and get over my fear of gardening. 

Richard has qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris. I haven't got over my fear of gardening. The over growth is winning every battle. I really want to let it win the war. However, in the house I am doing better. The recycling pile is increasing and I am being ruthless. We did take my step-daughter to Oxford, it's a really lovely place. A trip to London is planned for the summer. 

3. Bringing a conference/an event to Westonbirt
The head has seen me help organise activities outside of school and has invited me to replicate this in school. We certainly have the space. I need to think about this in order to bring together something valuable. It is a real compliment to be trusted with this. 

Still in the planning stage. 

4. More curriculum change
The next task at school is to embed the changes to KS3 and do more to look forward to the changes at KS5. I think that the department will need some help to develop the idea of a lab book as will the students. The changes at GCSE concern me greatly, I don’t think that the specifications will be ready towards the end of 2015, again giving teachers and publishers less and less time to prepare a good scheme of work. 

I am really pleased with how well Year 7 have done this year with the new scheme of work we have. We're teaching less in Year 7 than we used to and I think this really helped them. I worked hard on revision with them and as a result the test results were extremely high. 
I am teaching them as Year 8 in September, so I can continue to work on the new schemes. All of the curriculum change is a work in progress otherwise. 

5. What is next?
I love my school and working there. But I also feel the pull of a new challenge. I don’t know what that is yet and I fully expect to see myself working at Westonbirt in a year’s time, partly because I want to see through the curriculum changes and develop my use of 1-2-1 devices in the classroom and partly because it is a fabulous school and I believe in what we do. But I need to prepare myself for what is next. Would I get an assistant head position from where I am? Do I want one or do I want to stay more closely tied to science education? Would being an assistant head affect that? Am I good enough? Do I want to stay as a teacher?
But I also think that to look to the future I also need to consolidate. Think about what we/I/the department do really well and make the most of those things. Ensure they stand out as excellent and don't get lost amongst all the change. 

I have spent some time this year talking to my colleagues in other departments. I think that it is important to understand the pressure and commitments of other subjects if I am going to have whole school responsibility in the future. However, I am still really enjoying thinking about my own subject and working with my team. I want to work on the current set of curriculum changes and I am enjoying working on the 1-2-1 iPad scheme. I also enjoy being able to tap into the expertise within the ASE, the professional learning conference reaffirmed it's usefulness to me last week. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

ASE Professional Learning Conference 2015

Back in January Joanna Conn, chair of NAIGS (which is the advisor and consultant subgroup of the ASE) suggested that anyone with an interest in teacher CPD should attend the NAIGs/ATSE (science ITT tutors group of ASE) conference in the summer. The date was set for after I finished my term, and I do organise conferences and have an interest in teacher CPD as part of what I do in my own department, on twitter and where my career might go, so I thought that I would go.

The first session was by Prof Shirley Simon, entitled 'CPD, what does it really mean?' This was definitely my favourite talk of the two days and the one I took the most away from. Prof Simon was obviously an expert, her talk was pitched very well for me though. It was understandable, yet also thought-provoking. (I was very glad she delayed her holiday a few hours to give us her time).

She said that moving from 'surviving in the classroom' to 'teaching for learning' (I love this phrase) was a life time's work. I have to agree. Even now, 11 years in there are occasions where my lessons are about getting through the hour and hoping the students have a positive experience, rather than knowing what I am going to do will be valuable and result in progress. I suppose the positive I take away from that is that I do know the difference. I always get the impression others are planned and perfect all the time, but I have a way to go until I am organised enough to be brilliantly prepared for every single lesson I teach.

Prof Simon said that for valuable PD it was important to learn from outcomes, that collaborative learning was important as well as critical reflection, and teachers need time to change. To support teachers in this they need relevant classroom activities, accessible strategies and the opportunity to reflect.

At the time I was struck. I should know these things, I do know them. I suppose it is just the right time in my career to hear them? I am thinking about moving to senior leadership, but more on the curriculum, procedural side (time tables, exams, policies, that sort of thing), but on hearing this I decided that despite my lesson than perfect performance in the classroom perhaps I would have something to give a teaching and learning role.

Is what we do in schools transformational to the way that teachers develop their teaching? I don't think it is. When I consider the way that CPD has been delivered in schools I have worked in over the past 11 years of my career I feel that it is far from being transformational and collaborative.

Prof Simon went on to describe some of the projects she is involved in, listening to the way that she works with teachers, schools and other organisations was very interesting. It made me hope that one day I can work more closely with a university researcher to improve my practice. Her analysis of why the work she was doing had more impact on some teachers than others was interesting too, again going back to reflection and collaboration.

Next was a session by Paul Clark who examines international qualifications for Edexcel. He went through examples of exam questions that require students to have done the practical. I am more confident that students who have done the practical work and learned from it and about it, will have a greater advantage than those who haven't in the new qualifications. It also made me acutely aware we need to discuss practical skill development with Year 9 students when we start in September. I would also advise any reader to have a look at the examiner reports of international qualifications.

I wrote the following questions at the end of the session.

  • can students apply their theory in context?
  • do students know how to use pieces of equipment appropriately?
  • do students understand practical concepts or are they learning them by rote?
  • just because a student has an A, do we assume they have a good grasp of all topics?
The next session I went to was excellent. It did assume more knowledge of how to deliver good practical work than I really have, so the conversation went slightly too quickly for me to make good notes in places. Prof Paul Black and Prof Jonathan Osborne both spoke about the importance of practical work. 

One set of statistics that I wrote down, and I hopefully remember the context correctly was also about the importance of practical work in increasing understanding. Prof Paul Black said that in a study involving three groups of students one group was given a list of equipment during their learning, another pictures of the equipment and the third group was given the actual pieces of equipment. In the assessment of the work those that were given the list 15% got top grades and 72% got the bottom grades, the group that got the pictures 32% got top grades and 54% got the bottom grades, and as you can guess those that were able to use the equipment 48% got top grades and 33% got the bottom grades. That sold the importance of practical work for me.

Jonathan Osborne spoke about the obsession there is about practical work, and that it is only a small piece of what we do in science education. He talked about the importance of the practical coming from what we do before and after it. He refuted that practical work itself was motivational, but that the motivation came from answering a question. His talk was compelling and makes me need to go back to the work of Abraham and Millar on good practical work. Jonathan Osborne's article in SSR is also worth a read if you are an ASE member or know one. 

The final session of the day was from Tony Sherborne. I love hearing from Tony, everything he does is so considered and rooted in theory. He talked about a mastery curriculum as he is working with AQA to develop this idea at key stage 3. He talked about assessing students before teaching the topic so we know who needs extending and who needs intervention and we can do something about it. He talked about ensuring that students get the support they need. This is something that has been going around my mind for some weeks now (after doing the future learn AfL MOOC) but I don't really have a practical way that I can accomplish it - yet. Some of the advisors in the room were slightly more sceptical than I. I saw mastery statements, that helped breakdown the key stage 3 curriculum into steps that we can use to help students achieve this mastery then move onto excellence. 

In the evening we had a great conference dinner. The social aspect really helping to make the conference something special. It was time for reflection and to meet people that I only know virtually. It was also great to be able to talk to Liz Coppard and Stuart Naylor about the day and get that opportunity to reflect. Stuart is a real joy to speak to, everything he talks about is backed up with examples and rooted in his vast understanding of classroom practice. He asks challenging questions in very non-challenging ways. Through my interactions with him I have learned a lot over the past few years. I also have to mention Liz Lawrence, Andrea Mappleback, Briony (PriSciGeeks), Chris Harrison and Pete Robinson, who were brilliant company too. 

The second day started with a presentation by Sir Andrew Carter of the Carter review. A very charismatic man, with a lot of positive things to say. However, I do believe after that presentation that he is not the person to be able to sort out the recruitment crisis in education and that power hungry heads should not have to have been given power over ITT routes in order to make schools pay better attention to the quality of teachers on entry to the profession. The whole thing made me worry about teachers.

I then went to a session by OCR about the new practical endorsement. OCR are officially my new favourite exam board. I took away that I really need to get my head around the practical endorsement, lab books, teaching and recording. But that there is a lot of work being done by exam boards - especially OCR, so we are not alone. More importantly we can be positive about practical.

If you get the opportunity to hear Brain Cartwright speak then take it. I know others who have been invited for biscuits at ofsted feel that there are good people in the organisation and I feel that Brain is one of them. 

He outlined what inspectors do when they come to a primary or secondary school to look at science and why they might do that. (The data from the school shows there is something going on in science that is different from the rest of the school). And that he is looking for evidence that the students are being taught the national curriculum, including working scientifically. He does this by looking at the work the students produce, visiting lessons and by talking to students. He also looks that schools are following the best health and safety advice. A lot of new schools are not part of CLEAPSS and as a result do not always get it right. Ask yourself, have you read maintaining curiosity and have you read the purpose of study section of the national curriculum documents? This is what ofsted are looking at. Brian's presentation was hopeful. The issue over grading lessons was wiped from my mind, he didn't mention about looking for progress in the lessons he visits, he talked more about looking for evidence of the type of experiences the students have and the the outcomes for the students, including them speaking confidently, being proud of their work and enjoying science. 

After an amazing lunch. I heard Alan Edminston talk about the update that is being given to the CASE materials. He told us that CASE is very popular still and that a few years ago a very small charity was set up to try and update the resources. The charity have now been given money from EEF  to work on let's think secondary science. I was very alarmed and interested to see the comparison (and apologies if you are not familiar with CASE as this will make little sense) between the results from the volume/density CASE test II from the students in the 1970s and the students involved in the new study. The results show a drop in the cognitive ability of our modern students. Alan's hypothesis for this was that young people don't explore the world in the same way anymore. However, we await the outcomes of the trail, which are due in the winter of 2016. 

The final session was on the SAILS project. It's about assessing inquiry learning in science. I remember sitting through the presentations by both science teachers involved and hearing their enthusiasm and wondering if that was really coming from working as part of a project that forced them to reflect and collaborate (bringing me back to Prof Simon's initial talk). The open endedness of the inquiry that the teachers had allowed the students was inspiring though. Every teacher should be working with a researcher on something, it would help all of us to continually improve. 

As the session was being lead by Dr Christine Harrison I suspected that there would be an element of participation. She asked us to come up with questions that we might ask the students at each part of an investigation. I was absolutely thrilled (and tongue tied) when Prof Paul Black complimented one of the questions I came up with! The reflection on what questions I can ask during scientific inquiry was very useful. How much time is spent telling the children what to do rather than eliciting their ideas about why they have done what they have done. Something to consider for the future. 

Then I grabbed a taxi back to London and had some food and great conversation with Andrea Mapplebeck. So useful to be able to talk to others about CPD. I know that Science learning centres have evidence that two people from the same school going on a course has a greater impact on return than just one, so being able to talk to another colleague and friend about the experience of the conference was very valuable. 


Jo and Caro (Chair's of NAIGs and ATSE) did a great job of putting together a strong conference that helped me to reflect on my role in helping the rest of the department (and myself) continue to improve. I am beyond the point now where I need to be told what I should be doing in the classroom. I am at the point where I need help to ensure that I implement it. My continued engagement with the people of ASE and the conversations it allows me to have with people who support and challenge me.

If you are a head of faculty and are research engaged, then I do suggest you look to try and attend the professional learning conference and engage with ASE.



Friday, 26 June 2015

Do the DfE care?

After the department for education posted ANOTHER dreadful version of the GCSE science subject content I am left feeling even more bereft than previously.

Do they care about what we teach? Does anyone there understand anything about science? Does anyone there have the passion to get science education in England 'right'? 

At the moment it really doesn't feel like that. 

Let's face it they have made too many changes in too short a time frame and teachers are left pushing round pegs into square holes and hoping ofsted don't notice. But even if the curriculum that has been decided on is quite a distance from perfect it is a massive insult that they couldn't even get the science in it right. 

More care and attention required. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/436828/GCSE_combined_science_content.pdf

Friday, 5 June 2015

Improving and Organising my A-level teaching

My aim for A-level this year is to make sure that students are working and learning the basics right from the start.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a great teacher at the school I worked in and I told him how it was my opinion that to 'get' A-level physics students had to first know all the individual pieces of information, but that would only get you so far, an E or a D. To get a higher students have to apply their knowledge, which requires lots of practice.

So next academic year I want to make sure that I scaffold my students from the start to learn the key knowledge they need to start the journey through A-level physics. With this they can hopefully recall it quickly to be able to answer questions. I know that this will only get them so far, application and creativity are required to make the journey up through the grades, but it should help build confidence and get them working and in good habits.

Firstly key words, I have a quizlet list of key words for them to learn on the topic of materials: https://quizlet.com/_trag3 And I have made longer lists with just the words for them to do themselves https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HzzFw0lSrelUn7JWZE_8Udcv3k7sc-OXqiRIFafNUAM/edit?usp=sharing. (I will check what they have written).

Secondly checking over their class notes. I have been thinking about this since pedagoo south west, and want my students to write Cornell Notes so that they can review them by writing questions and summarising. I think the will take time to practice, but I hope using this structure will mean that it is more obvious on how to actively review notes.

I want to make sure that the homework/prep that I set is accessible and covers all the basic information they need to answer exam questions. I have made some summary knowledge question sheets for students to do. I hope to give these out when the students get to the end of the section in the specification. This means that even if they can't do the exam questions from the start (and many can't as they are not used to dealing with many pieces of information at once) they can still begin picking up pieces of information that they will need later.



I am also writing the time that I want students to spend on each homework task so that they get the idea that I want them to work for an hour after each lesson (four hours per week) and give the option for more. I hope to encourage them to organise when they will do their physics prep (and I will work with their timetables in what I set).

Again, in an effort to prompt my students to go over their work and revise it I want to set them regular tests. To do this I have been setting up quizzes in socrative that test basic knowledge like SOC #: 16472046. This would give automatic feedback and allow me to keep a record of their errors. It will also be easy to resit. I want to use scores in multiple choice quizzes that cover the basics to keep a record of who is really struggling to get to grips with the basics so that we can intervene. I have written the points at which I want to do them into my scheme of work to help me ensure I find the time and can give the students plenty of notice.

I am also using past papers to set up examination level socrative quizzes like SOC #: 16471038. This will then help give an idea as to how far the student has progressed from learning the basics to being able to answer exam questions.

There are a lot of people out there doing great work on A-level changes. Two brilliant examples are linked in the tweets below.

Their resources have loads of practice for skills that the students will need.

This site is very useful for resources for the core practicals: http://practicalalevelphysics.thomascarlpion.co.uk which I have to work on next.

Hopefully I can strike the right balance, using routines to promote working independently.

This is all done so far, so my next step is to work on the core practical requirements, ensuring that we map the skills that will be examined into the practical work we do. I also want to have mapped the mathematical requirements against the specification topics and resource the practicing of the relevant skills. Then do the same thing for the waves topic.

As an aside, I am using Trello to keep a note of the activities I am doing as part of this project. Which I am finding useful.




Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pedagogical Aims for A-level


Totally stolen from Tom Sherington I have put together the list of things I am working on for A-level. 
http://headguruteacher.com/2015/05/25/teaching-better-my-pedagogical-to-do-list/

I do usually do something like this in my improvements note book for each class at the start of the year.



1. Building a bank of key words using quizlet 
In order to get to a grade E in physics students have to know all the basic definitions, there is no way around this. Last year I spent a long time laminating key word definition cards for my ELT students. This year I have done the same thing on quizlet, but really I want my students to do it for themselves. This will help me because I will be able to see their understanding in their definitions and help them practice phrasing their ideas succinctly. What I need to do is draw up the list of words I want my students to know to ensure they cover them all. 

2. More opportunities for longer answers
My students, and I can't imagine I am alone, don't feel confident approaching exam questions where there are a lot of blank lines to fill in. I need to make this part of their experience in class so they are not so nervous in approaching this type of question in an examination. What I really want for inspiration are paper 6 questions from the pre-2008 specification. But I am not sure where I can find them now. This is probably the most under developed idea for next year, at the moment I rely on past exam paper questions and development of this skill between Easter and May when they are working to complete papers, it needs to get embedded. 

3. Low stakes testing at regular intervals
I have tried to do this before with a groups of students I was trying to move from U to E and it wasn't successful as it didn't make a difference to their learning of the basic facts (they still did no work between lessons no matter how accessible I made it). However, I think that my current students would respond well to this. It will help to encourage them to learn the facts they need to be able to start to access the A-level materials and give them confidence that they are making progress. I want to test the uni structural/multi structural knowledge students need. I have made lists of closed questions for the materials topic and will do the same for waves topic during the course of this half term. Answering them will then form part of their prep. I have also created some socrative quizzes that should be 'easy' to check knowledge at certain points in the course, such as : SOC #: 16472046  It will mean I can track failing students and hopefully work with the pastoral teams to intervene early. 

4. More practice in maths basic skills, building to multi step questions
For the first time 2/3 of my physics class won't be doing A-level maths along side their physics A-level. I have discovered this year from one student that this can pose quite a confidence problem. I aim to make sure that I am explicitly considering the mathematics I am asking my students to do. Currently I am mapping the mathematics skills in the back of the specification to the units that I am teaching to ensure I teach them too. I find that students struggle with the prefixes to unit and standard form the most, and I know that I must teach calculator skills. I have bought some resources to help.

5. Hands on practical wherever possible to encourage problem solving
I know a lot of people don't like this idea, but I did read an article about how 'experts' learn by solving problems and 'novices' need to be told something. After reading this I taught an A-level physics lesson and it rang true. I want my students to ask questions and search for answers and doing practical work brings up those questions. I feel that if students ask the questions themselves they will engage more with the answer (particularly given it has a context) and will build a better understanding. They will need to think widely about a topic to answer exam questions and learning to question is part of this. I will have a group of up to a maximum of 6 students so I can manage discussions and ask questions to get students to the conclusions I want without talking at them for an hour. In the past I have not been as good as I could be at using practical work with A-level students and I want to change that. 

6. Opportunities to work with authentic data and draw conclusions
I don't know what the new exam questions will be like, but I know that they should include working scientifically. When we do the core practicals I want to ensure I am taking more care than I have previously on making the most of the practical activities to ensure students understand how to process data and evaluate it. 

7. Develop lab book skills
I want to create a course book and have the students use it to keep a record of their core practicals. I will be relying on Alex Weatherall to lead the way here! The shape of what I want to make is still in development and very much in note form in my note book. 

8. Increase context by reading around subjects
I want to copy the idea of Sarah Pannell and develop a journal club for the science post-16 students (and perhaps some Year 11s who are keen). I also have students who have ambition to apply to some very high caliber universities. I want to make sure I am helping them in their applications by giving them a helping hand in learning beyond the specification. More than that though, physics exam questions have contexts to them, and learning more about the context of physics should help to expand the vocabulary of EAL students and practice thinking about physics in different situations for the others. The Salters Horners course does help to do this, but I would like to go further. 

9. Using prep to instil good study skills from the start of the course
The amount of work you do for a single subject at A-level is a big increase (four times) than what you would do at GCSE. In some cases turning up to your GCSE lessons is sufficient to pass a GCSE. It isn't enough at A-level. I need to get my students into the habit of working 3-4 hours per week on their A-level physics work, but it isn't easy at the start. I still haven't got this right yet. Students struggle with the questions because the amount of knowledge we expect them to use to answer an A-level question is far beyond that at GCSE. For example, changing the unit they are using, understanding standard form, rearranging a formula, knowing what letters mean, remembering a formula, understanding the context of the question (is it under compression or tension) etc etc. I need to consider the develop of my students from the demands of GCSE to the expectations of an A-level student. 

10. Use video to help give clear explanations
I want to try and expand the number of videos I have made for the students. So far I have only made resources for GCSE, but I would like to support any A-level students who need to refresh their know of a skill or key idea by being able to watch a video of me. I find this an excellent way of explaining things clearly as I can have numerous goes until I am satisfied the explanation is clear and uses key language appropriately. Hopefully I can encourage the students to do this too using showme to explain how they are doing calculations so I can see their thought processes, which will be useful assessment. 


I will try to follow up with the sum of my preparations during July.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Considering the Practicalities

I have had aspirational blog posts come under my nose recently and they have made me think, not about what if... but how?

How do we really tackle issues in a school so that there is improvement?

I have been exposed to a lot of improvement ideas over the years I have been teaching, it doesn't feel like many of them have stuck. A few have come around again though. It is the 'innovative' ones that I dislike the most.

I will start with Ken Robinson and his message about creativity in schools (despite not really in a position to comment having only really watch one of his videos). About 5 years ago we had a federation in service day and one of the Head Teachers showed a video of Sir Ken talking about schools killing creativity. I remember thinking how I did agree that some students really didn't fit into the structure of normal schooling and it would be much better if we could inspire them/facilitate them into doing something else constructive with their time like ballet dancing. (Which I believe was his example). But in this video there were no practical ideas about what this would look like. I remember thinking "all well and good, but how" and then going on to think that perhaps the children of East Bristol needed more than just a place to learn how to dance and if they didn't engage in art or history lessons dance lessons would probably represent as large a challenge. To be fair to Sir Ken, my confusion at the lack of practicalities wasn't directed at him, but the academy leadership whom I felt had never got beyond Ken Robinson the great orator. I can't think of a single thing that changed as a result of seeing that video and that group of schools seems to have swung in a very different direction. Sir Ken talks about revolution not evolution in schools, yet fails to explain the practicalities of where the money would come from to fund such a change in the way students would be educated. (Forgetting whether or not you agree with him in principle).

Classrooms without walls. Has anyone, anywhere, actually worked out the practicalities of teaching in a classroom without walls? I have tried. I taught my previous school's competency curriculum in a large classroom without walls for a 100 minute lesson per week (The majority of the students' timetable was the competency curriculum). There were three of us teaching 90 students. At the start I moved tables, organised groupings, created resource packs and basically planned to an inch of my life for this lesson. At the end of the year the three groups were taught in different areas as if they were three separate classes. (Not my decision, but of the other people who taught those lessons as students spent most of their week on the competency curriculum). Practicality wasn't considered. In science we were given three classrooms with no walls between them. That lasted just over a year. The practicalities of the timetable killed that.

Practical advice seems to have been very thin when it comes to my career. Speaker talking in ideals and emotion. "Get the children thinking", "empathise with your colleague", "use creative approaches", "raise aspiration", "encourage GRIT", "have high expectations", "close the gap", or any of those sound bites. Even things like "use more literacy strategies" are not that helpful without practical ideas suited to the context. I have read many education books that really don't help me understand how I can improve in my classroom, they just give the big idea. I need the nitty gritty.

What I want to hear are changes and plans that are practical. I need to understand their benefit and outcome and I need to be able to fit them into what I already do or directly replace something. I want to know what it looks like in practice. I need the structures and routines that the changes will mean for both me and my students.

I want management teams I work with to consider the effect on staff when they introduce a new strategy to their school. It can be confusing and patronising to be told the bigger picture without the practicalities. "Have high expectations of your students" is one. Apparently, when I started teaching my low expectations was part of the reason why students were not getting C grades. I didn't expect them to misbehave, I expected them to love learning, it didn't help one little bit. In fact it made me feel worse to think if I believed something enough it would happen, so I obviously couldn't.

Growth mindset is a good example. If all that happens is a few motivational posters and being told about the background then there is little point. (In my opinion). If there advice encouraging a change from staff praising cleverness to praising effort then this is both practical and can be implemented successfully and with understanding. If we understand that as a staff we are looking for evidence that students are spending more time on their learning as a result then we can start to realise the benefits. Moreover it can then be treated as a long term change within the school, with continual reminding and refining. If you believe that it is the right thing now, then surely it will still be the right thing in ten years time, not something to change again next September?

Perhaps I am not really cut out for the management game, but I can't just make hypothetical changes. I can't just motivate, engage, or whatever. I can't embed within the next couple of weeks and I will never tick a box by putting up a poster or creating a space in a lesson plan pro forma. I feel there is no point making a fundamental change that relies on the timetable, or on the skills of one member of staff. (Doesn't mean it isn't worth doing). The problem the change addresses will just have to be tackled again later. Finally I really don't like a strategy that requires a fanfare. There are so many variables involved in education that I don't believe that many of the things we do will cause a great shift forward.

So lets consider the practicalities in what we do in education.
(Notice no practical advice on how to be practical - how frustrating and hypocritical).


Friday, 27 March 2015

My 30 Favourite Apps

I really love using my iPad for school work, the apps do make a big different to me, especially the ones that allow me to edit images.



I don't use PowerPoint anymore, all my presentations are made in Key Note. I also love to use Pages, although I use it more on my macbook air than on the iPad. To make worksheets with lots of images I am not finding comic life really useful and feel I must invest in the newest form of the app.

1. Key note, 2. Pages, 3. Comic Life

I also use adobe voice, explain everything and iMovie a lot. I have got the hang of these three apps and would advise anyone to have a go at make movies for their class. I don't think that explain everything is very easy to get a professional feel, but I have got over this issue now. I do like using my phone for video though as I can clamp it in a clamp stand better than an iPad.

4. Adobe Voice, 5. Explain Everything, 6. iMovie

I have used stop motion a lot with my students and for that we are using Stop Motion, although I believe better apps are available. On my iPhone I have SloPro camera, which has been great for filming science experiments that are fast, like a transverse wave progressing along a slinky or two balls (one projected horizontally, one dropped) hit the ground at the same time. I also have Lapse It, which I have used several times now to make time lapse videos of experiments. Chromatography and Diffusion are two favourites.

7. Stop Motion, 8. SloPro, 9. Lapse It

When it comes to making content using images I love over, iDraw, Rhonna design, Canva, Moliv, Repix and Snapseed. Quite a few of these are on my phone to save space on my iPad.

10. Over, 11. iDraw, 12. Rhonda Design, 13. Canva, 14. Moldiv, 15. Repix, 16. Snapseed

I am finding Genius Scan very useful for scanning in notes from pieces of paper, I can tag them and find them easily.

17. Genius Scan

A lot of colleagues are finding inkflow very useful to use with students as an alternative to a mini white board. I am enjoying using Paper 53 and the accompanying Pencil 53 instead for making quick notes meetings.

18. Inkflow, 19. Paper 53

I find the apple apps of calendar and iBooks really important. I organise myself through the calendar and have all my specifications in iBooks.

20. Calendar, 21, iBooks

I also use dropbox and carousel to back up the videos and images from my iPad, which I have found very useful to help ensure there is space on it to develop new projects.

22. Drobox, 23. Carousel

I love social media and have pinterest, twitter, blogpress and youtube on my iPad. I also use feedly for following blogs and pocket for saving links to read later.

24. Pinterest, 25. Twitter, 26. Blogpress, 27. YouTube, 28. Feedly, 29. Pocket

Lastly, I am a physics teacher so I need a calculator app.

30. Calculator


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

iPad in teaching and learning

I love my iPad. I thought that I would be able to manage with a laptop and an iPhone, but I can't be parted from it.

Our school has an 1-2-1 iPad scheme, so I was really excited today to attend the iPad teaching and learning day at Rachel Jones' school Kind Edward School in Southampton. It was free, and it was in our holidays so three of us went from my school.


This has been one of the few external training events I have been to with colleagues. That was great. I know that science learning centres research says that training courses have more impact when more than one person from the same school attends and I certainly felt that was true from today. 

For my birthday I got a pencil 53 from paper 53. I was feeling inspired by the sketchnote pins I have seen Lucie Golton put on pinterest, and wanted to try this approach in recording the conference. 

I found the comments from Bob Allen the deputy head at King Edward VI School the most interesting. He obviously did a lot of research into the aims of introducing a 1-2-1 scheme. He explained the errors that were made in looking more into WHAT? than HOW? and WHY? He discussed that WHY? should have been the most important. 

Does a 1-2-1 scheme reduce the amount of paper being used? (This is one of the aims at my current school), does it reduce the number of ICT suites needed in a school? (Not the experience of KES). Does it enhance learning? Is there another reason to introduce a scheme, such as SLT thinking iPads are cool as they are shiny and new? After the introduction of our scheme I wrote a blog post about ICT savvy students. I think that the aims need to be related to giving students the ICT and digital skills necessary for when they leave school. The things that formal qualifications don't currently teach.

Over the course of the day the theme that came up was 'TIME and SPACE'. KES staff had four training days with time devoted to the implementation of the 1-2-1 scheme. Bob Allen explained that during this lead up time the enthusiasm of staff rose and fell.  The support for staff at KES was flexible, and included training by experts. Throughout the implementation SLT were honest with staff, admitting mistakes. The school consulted and engaged parents, even running 10 sessions for them. 

In Bob Allen's later session I was impressed by the amount of knowledge he had regarding iPad implementation.  What I was interested in was that he was connected to many other schools and following their implementation journeys with interest. I do think that this type of network is important in the implementation. Learning from the experiences of each other can only be a good thing. 

I have to say that I didn't do any doodling on my iPad during Rachel Jones' session as we were using nearpod, so I was looking at my screen and engaging through the feedback activities. However, I was interested by this diagram:


It is important now to ensure that teachers have knowledge of how to use technology in lessons as well as their subject and pedagogical knowledge. I suppose my question is what does this technological knowledge look like?

Things that came up during the day that I had not considered were age related apps. Some apps are rated 18+ because of the content that students might be able to reach through it. I didn't know about buying apps in bulk. I didn't realise that students could buy their iPads through the company stormfront and that buying 50 iPads gives 1 day of training. I didn't know there was an app for printing "paper cut". I had never considered the importance of students backing up their iPad. I really liked the idea of students being able to charge their iPads in the library at lunch and also being able to borrow battery packs during the day.

I know that Rachel was super proud of her digital leaders. They came to talk to the room at lunch time. From even just a short meeting it was possible to see the impact of them within the school. I hope that at some point our digital leaders can reach the same level of engagement with the 1-2-1 iPad project.

It was fairly obvious from all the presentations that the school had thought carefully about the roll out of iPads and staff were embracing the technologies (although to varying extents). It was also great to see how the school had learned from mistakes and were going forward. Rachel's energy for the project was obvious, but I think we already knew that.

My next steps are to look more closely at workflow and how to mark electronic work and give feedback. I would love students to send me their work electronically and the day has given me some ideas on how to do that. Firefly, Google classroom and Showbie were all mentioned as solutions to this. The way that firefly linked to the MIS looked really useful, so it can be used as an online student planner. We all went to useful sessions on workflow in the afternoon and I think that this will form a large part of our discussions back at school.

Thank you to all at King Edward VI School. A very useful, interesting and informative day. It was well organised and well pitched to reach a wide audience. It was also very generous of you to share your school and experiences (good and bad) with others of us on a 1-2-1 iPad journey, we appreciated it.




Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Literacy in Science - a few comments.

Those that have been to an ASE conference have probably come across William's Words. William Hirst has assembled a dictionary of 13,000 words and phrases necessary for key stage 3 science. That is a lot of language to cover!

When I am teaching I use a lot of video, images, simulations, demonstrations and animations to try and get across abstract ideas. Part of this is because I will admit that my clarity when talking off the top of my head isn't the clearest and the other is that I can't afford to let my students' understanding of science be held back just because they don't grasp the language.

And it is often obvious to me that students are not held back by it in my class. When I ask questions my students will have the answer, but sometimes not the words. 'Thingies' might feature, hand waving to show a wave or fists coming together to show the movement of particles, hands parting to show the spread of energy or whatever it is. There are very abstract ideas building in the students' minds that they are not quite able to express - yet.

But with practice it will come. Until then I will be pleased that they don't refuse to answer just because they don't have the specialist vocabulary and delighted that they are getting to grips with abstract ideas.


As science teachers we can't ignore the fact that we have to introduce the vast vocabulary. The words that are specialist to science have specific meaning and why would we use the description when we can be much more concise and use the word.

"Threshold of human hearing" vs "The highest frequency a human ear can detect". 
"Vacuum" vs "Absence of particles" vs "space that doesn't contain anything".
I went to a session at the ASE conference in Liverpool in 2012 about literacy run by advisors at Camden and Enfield LEA. It was interesting that in their work with lower ability groups they did not only teach students about key scientific language, but used techniques to look at words that described size and scale and words that described varying confidence levels related to a scientific conclusion. It added another dimension to the literacy that we must approach when teaching science. They did also show that time spent working on the literacy of a class and putting in the ground work when approaching tasks does pay off in terms of the quality of the student work.

They also introduced the idea of nominalisation to me. This is where students use the word that describes the process, rather than try and describe it in more words. It is incredibly useful in helping students write concisely. In this case, it is important that students have the specialist vocabulary in the first place.



Something else they mentioned, which had also been brought up many times at my school, was allowing students to talk over ideas before they write. Talk is far less formal, but it allows you a chance to sort your ideas out. By doing this students can organise their thoughts before having to think about their writing. Discussing with your partner and thinking out loud is something that I model regularly in my teaching these days.

Learning science when you are low vocabulary student poses a particular difficulty. EAL and deaf students who may only pick up a few words could easily be confused by the topic of the lesson when they don't understand new vocabulary. My husband attended LEA training on literacy and spoke to a teacher who worked at a deaf school. The teacher explained that images were vitally important when teaching low vocabulary students so that they could understand what the lesson was about even if they could not grasp all the language in your first explanation. When teaching EAL students with particularly low vocabulary a while ago I try to start my presentations with an image and always use images throughout presentations that relate to the topic.

Then we have the words that have every day usage and scientific meanings. I have a student who likes to talk about momentum, what is momentum I ask?  When is power appropriate and when is energy a better word? What about the difference between current and voltage? Weight and gravity is a  particular difficulty. I find this a particular difficulty in physics, but is is not restricted to that subject. I find myself correcting the difference between gene and allele a lot. Yield and rate seem obvious to me, but less so to some students. When is an atom and ion, and why can't it be both?



Ultimately though students are going to be tested on their ability to communicate science through their writing.

When I first used the SEGUE and taught lessons according to the 5E lesson structure I was forced to allow students the opportunity to write about their own ideas in their own words each lesson. The results were dramatic. Students wanted to write more, and write more deeply. They welcomed feedback and their confidence developed.

Strangely I now see the importance of introducing the 6 mark questions into GCSE science. It has made me increase the number of long writing opportunities I create for my students in key stage 4. I have created many exit tickets and square questions that give the students the space to write their own ideas and link them. It has opened my eyes to how important this is to highlight misconceptions and misuse of language. Although I do think that some 6 mark questions are on the strange side and not entirely clear on what they expect from the students.

At GCSE it can be difficult to find opportunities for students to develop their writing and talk, but http://www.engagingscience.eu/en/ resources looks like a great set of resources to help.

It is important that we don't allow any of the difficulties to distract us from the vital important of teaching students the language of science. We have a duty to ensure that students appreciate the precision needed when communicating science ideas. Without that it can be easy to misinterpret the science being communicated. Although I hate that GCSE is often about students learning to use the right words in the right order, I also appreciate that this is a skill scientists require.

We can't allow all our scientific decisions to be made solely by scientists, but in order to have a dialogue with them we need to understand the words they use.

What I Want to Know About the College of Teaching

I have seen the aims of the College of Teaching and I think they are laudable, they really are. Once in a lifetime chance to change teaching for the better etc etc.

I still don't know HOW this new organisation will do that. I realise that this is something that needs to be worked out by trustees, who are not in place yet. I am waiting until then to judge properly. 

I have the following questions, however:

How will the college communicate with members? How often, how relevant? Who will have the opportunity to speak at events? Who will decide what goes into journals? Will there be print materials? What form will they take?

How will the college of teaching overcome all the issues that already exist in preventing teachers from engaging in their own CPD?

How will the college ensure all members get an equal say? Or will it be lead by a vocal minority? How will the college feel about members using it for personal gain? It will happen.

How will members be able to contribute to the college? How will the college monitor whether it is representing the views of teachers? What will it do if the majority view of teachers is contrary to what best practice is?

What subgroups will exist? How will people become members? How will they contribute? How will the college empower people to raise their concerns/ideas?

How will members identify each other? How will members be stopped from sharing college resources with non-members for free?

How will the college work with other organisations, including government? Will the college have subject sub groups and how will they interact with subject associations? How will the college work with the college of school leaders? How will the college work with exam boards and other private companies working within education? How will the college balance the corporate and individual members?

How will the college fund itself in the long term? How will it ensure that it is value for money? Members will expect to see their money working for them. How many full time members of staff are reasonable? How will the college's structure ensure that full-time staff work to represent and seek the views of member and not work to their own aims? What will the membership cost be?

How will the college communicate with non-members? If it is to get the bad practices and ideas out of teaching then sending a monthly email to the one converted member of staff in a rural school is not going to do much to change things.

How will the college of teachers ensure good member rates in rural areas? How will the college of teaching market itself so that membership grows in the initial years?

What will be considered as successful outcomes for the college in the first few years? How should this evolve? Are there any examples of what the college could have done to avert past issues if it had been in place? How will the college know if it is making an impact? How will this be communicated to members? What will change for members/other teachers if the college has a positive impact?

What will the college do to address issues in teacher workload? How will the college react if it finds its output is being used punitively against teachers. 

Why should I contribute my own money? What do I get back, other than a warm fuzzy feeling?

I appreciate that none of these questions can be answered before the trustees are put into place, but I wanted to write about them as I feel confused about the college because the answers to these questions are not clear. I think we need the College to have practical outcomes that we feel as teachers if we are to embrace it. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

16 practicals at GCSE


I have stated that I would like to see a curriculum where the content would lead to good quality practical work. There is no point in stating that students should learn about reproducibility if there is no content that lends itself to this sort of experiment. 

The question is do students have to do the experiments to best understand the content? Possibly not in quite a few cases. 

I do think that the statements could be clearer about what they mean. I know that it sounds like a good idea to make things flexible so schools can decide how to meet the criteria, but if an aim is also to ensure that schools do fund practical science appropriately then why not state exactly what is expected? 

To me chemistry seems fair enough, I think my biology knowledge is lacking and this is why I am struggling with this set of topics. There is a statement in the physics section I don't understand, I have highlighted this is red. 

Even before we think about how to assess this skills I think I have to think about how to give the students the opportunity to develop them. I would like to avoid hoop jumping and help students explore science ideas through practical work. I imagine that time pressure and the drive for results will mean that time on practicals will be bumped for time doing paper based questions.

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Biology:
  • use of appropriate apparatus to make and record a range of measurements (to include mass, time, temperature, volume of gas produced, distribution of organisms);

  • use of a Bunsen burner and a water bath or electric heater for heating;
This would be covered when doing experiments to discover the optimum temperature for enzymes. I do think it is important to understand why animals and plants usually live in certain temperature zones and those that don't have adaptations. It is useful to understand limiting factors in photosynthesis too.

Volume of gas produced might include the bubbles from pond weed caught by the funnel under water. 
  • measurement of pH and oxygen levels using a variety of techniques such as indicators, a pH/oxygen meter or a pH/oxygen probe and data logger;
Does this include pulse oximeters when studying health? Or the levels around a plant to judge when it is photosynthesising? Does pH mean changing the pH of soil like we used to do in Year 9? Or is it related to enzymes? I suppose it could relate to environment and ecosystems and how the oxygen levels of water affects the 
  • use of qualitative reagents to identify biological molecules;
As enzymes are part of the specification students could test to see if the enzyme has broken down the starch. Again they could test leaves for starch as part of the photosynthesis topic. I am not really sure what else can be tested for outside of food tests? Perhaps testing for carbon dioxide would be included in this. 
  • measurement of rates of reaction by a variety of methods such as production of gas, loss of mass, uptake of water, colour change of indicator;
Transpiration could be included in this. But I am back to enzymes again. I am at a loss to see where loss of mass fits into biology. 
  • choice and use of appropriate laboratory and field apparatus for a variety of experimental investigations;
Ecosystems does appear in the national curriculum so doing field work will be linked to the curriculum, it states: "methods of identifying species and measuring distribution, frequency and abundance of species within a habitat", which would link directly to that statement above and below.
  • use of sampling techniques in fieldwork to investigate the distribution and abundance of organisms in an ecosystem;
  • safe and ethical use of living organisms to measure physiological functions and responses to the environment;
The woodlouse choice chamber experiment could be done here as students do need to know how factors affect communities. My limited biology would say the two are related, just about. I do think that this one could be done better through case studies and not by practicals, especially as choice chamber practicals can be difficult without strong technical support. 
  • use of the light microscope at low and medium power;
Using a microscope would fall into the section on cells. It would be nice to have alternatives to onion and cheek cells though. But it is possible to buy examples of sides already made. 
  • production of labelled scientific drawings from direct observation of biological specimens. 

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Chemistry:
  • use of appropriate apparatus to record a range of measurements (to include mass, time, volume of liquids and gases, and temperature);
  • use of a Bunsen burner and a water bath or electric heater for heating;
  • measurement of pH using pH charts and digitally;
  • collection and identification of products of reaction and measurement of rates of production;
  • safe and careful handling of gases, liquids and solids;
  • careful mixing of reagents under controlled conditions using appropriate apparatus to prepare substances;
  • use of a range of equipment to separate chemical mixtures: to include evaporation, filtration, distillation, crystallisation, chromatography, electrolysis;
  • collection and analysis of products from a simple electrochemical cell;
  • use of appropriate apparatus to determine relative concentrations of strong acids and strong alkalis. 
I believe that the chemistry techniques link the national curriculum much more easily. It lends itself better to practical experiences.

Practical techniques to be demonstrated by Learners in Physics:
  • use of thermometers and electrical measuring instruments, with heating and cooling devices, to explore energy transfers as temperatures change and to explore phase changes;
Traditionally at key stage 4 we would look more closely at specific heat capacity and revisit the methods of heat transfer. Perhaps here students could investigate insulation and cooling curves and compare situations that would allow conduction/convection and those that would reduce it. They could also investigate the colours of cans that are loosing heat. Energy transfers could be investigated using E=VIt to work out the energy supplied by a heater and this can be related to specific heat capacity and ultimately the efficiency of the system. A series of lessons on energy transfers involving heat could help students to understand that heat is transferred from areas of higher temperature to areas of lower temperature and an appropriate model could help students appreciate the relationship between kinetic theory, temperature and heat. 

Ideally this would be possible in core science, but we only get a few lessons to teach this, will it be possible to really explore this in the new curriculum? 
  • use of measures of weight and direct and displacement methods for measuring volumes to determine densities of solid and liquid objects;
I am pleased to see that upthrust is part of the GCSE curriculum, otherwise there would be little point in this. I don't see how you can teach this and help the students to grasp it conceptually without putting objects in water. I like to plot volume (cm3) against mass (g) and see the relationship between the objects that float and those that sink - think about it. Then calculate density and see what it means. I hope that density is in the new specifications as I do think that it is an important concept to grasp. Teaching this after teaching particles will help as it is easier to see 'less particles in the same space = less density" than think about mass, which is a slightly abstract concept. 
  • use of instruments to measure distances and times: to determine speeds and accelerations both in laboratories (for example, motion of a mass down a slope, or of a mass projected by a compressed spring) and in everyday motions (for example, walking, running and cycling); 
I find this deadly dull. Timing yourself walking or timing a ball rolling down a slope is not my idea of fun and I also don't think that students really need to do this to understand and it detracts from teaching time. I always find students working out acceleration tricky too. I can see some of the vernier iPad applications being useful for this though, and that might peak the interest of students more. Perhaps the ticker time needs to be brought out of the back of the cupboard? Hopefully not, but a class set of data loggers is expensive for once per year. 
  • to explore transmission and reflection of sound waves;
Does this mean that the have to go outside and make an echo? I don't get it. 
  • measure speeds of both sound and of waves on water, and the wavelengths and frequencies of waves on water;
I have never done this as a practical, are my students missing out? I have recently discovered a thing ripple tank, perhaps I should be buying a class set. Although I can see gratnel trays and lamps being used, or simulations and demonstrations.  
  • use of low-voltage power supplies, ammeters and voltmeters to explore the characteristics of a variety of circuit elements;
I am glad this is making a return to GCSE, I love making circuits and helping students to understand models within electricity. 
  • construction of both series and parallel circuits from circuit diagrams using DC power supplies, cells and a range of circuit components, including those where polarity is important; representation of the circuits used with conventional symbols;
I was slightly concerned by this as the national curriculum does not mention diodes, but the GCSE criteria does, so this is possible. Time to do V vs I graphs for bulbs, diodes and wires might need to be found. I usually do one as a practical and demo the rest. 
  • connection, or checking, of the three wires for an AC mains plug and checking of the way these wires are connected to a domestic device;
Really? Still? It is actually quite dangerous if you can't trust your class or can't put a rivet through one of the pins on the plugs they are wiring. Easier to copy from a book. However, it is part of the GCSE, which is good and I have the ability to do it. 
  • safe and careful handling of electrical power supplies, experiments involving accelerated and uniform movement of objects, and effects of steady or oscillating light sources;
What on earth is this one all about? Is it three sections or one? 
  • use of springs and strings with weights to explore linear, non-linear, elastic and inelastic stretching;
Compressing and stretching is part of the GCSE content. 
  • use of iron filings and magnetic compass to explore fields of magnets and of electric wires and solenoids. 
I will have to find out if we have a class set of westminster supplies to do this practical with. I HATE iron filings, terrified of getting them in eyes. The practicals are on the practical physics website however, and they do related to the curriculum, which is good.

I would have liked to see reflection and refraction and measuring critical angle in here, but it doesn't seem to be an explicit part of the new GCSE criteria, which I am a little upset by. I think it's important as a foundation for A-level. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ramblings on what to do in Year 9 if you do a three year KS4.

I was asked by Greg Seal what I was doing with my students in Year 9. He told me "and don't say segue". Of course my answer was 'Segue'. It is well known that it is by far and away my favourite scheme of work. 

Both Greg's department and mine use the OUP scheme at key stage 3, Activate. They have a Year 9 course that might be suitable, but it is expensive to buy for only one year of use. 

When I went to the ASE conference in January Mary Whitehouse gave some advice on what to do if schools were starting a there year key stage 4 when there wasn't going to be much out their to support it from September. She said that there was a lot of overlap between key stage 3 and 4, and when thinking about where to start with GCSE start there. 

I have been thinking about this. I wondered what makes SEGUE so good, and I think it is because the writers have thought about which areas of GCSE lend themselves to deep understanding via their philosophy. I love teaching the key stage 4 concepts in such a way that I am concerned about the understanding of the students and not concerned about the mark scheme. 

With this in mind I wanted to look at where key stage 3 and 4 overlap as a starting point and then think about where to go with those topics. It is important to realise that the exam boards don't get to add their own personal touches in the new GCSEs, so you can work from the national curriculum and be happy you are considering all the aspects students will be examined on. 

Thinking about it now, I actually can see an advantage of doing a two year scheme of work for key  stage 3. There is a great deal of cross over, why not hold that cross over and teach it in key stage 4? Having a longer time at key stage 4 could mean the fundamental ideas are covered and learned more securely. 

An interesting aspect to the key stage 4 curriculum document is that each subject area has a summary of the key ideas as an introduction. One idea might be to look at that and ensure that these background ideas are at the heart of what you teach in Year 9 bridging between key stage 3 and 4. 

The key stage 3 biology curriculum is split into the following sections:

Structure and Function of Living Organisms
  • Cells and organisation 
  • The skeletal and muscular systems 
  • Nutrition and digestion 
  • Gas exchange systems 
  • Reproduction Health
Material cycles and energy 
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular respiration
Interactions and interdependencies
  • Relationships in an ecosystem
Genetics and evolution
  • Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes


And key stage 4:
  • Cell biology 
  • Transport systems 
  • Health, disease and the development of medicines 
  • Coordination and control 
  • Photosynthesis 
  • Ecosystems 
  • Evolution, inheritance and variation

With this in mind, it might be useful to use Year 9 to review cells, inheritance and ecosystems within biology? I would guess that the chapters in Biology for You would be a good place to start in devising a scheme of work! Or of course, you could start with the areas that are not in key stage 3...

In Chemistry at key stage three the topics are split under the following headings.

  • The particulate nature of matter
  • Atoms, elements and compounds
  • Pure and impure substances
  • Chemical reactions 
  • Energetics
  • The Periodic Table
  • Materials Earth and atmosphere

The headings at key stage 4 chemistry are:
  • Atomic structure and the Periodic Table 
  • Structure, bonding and the properties of matter 
  • Chemical changes 
  • Energy changes in chemistry 
  • Rate and extent of chemical change 
  • Chemical analysis 
  • Chemical and allied industries 
  • Earth and atmospheric science
Chemical Analysis and Pure and Impure Substances have overlap, Chemical Changes and Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table also has overlap with key stage 3. Climate change overlaps in the Earth Science sections of chemistry also. And energetics overlap, understanding end/exothermic reactions will help when students move onto relating this to bonds. But despite all this I think the most important aspect of Year 9 is helping students to get the idea of atoms and how the rearrange without vanishing/appearing to create a balanced equation and what this means. 

Physics at key stage 3 contains:

Energy
  • Calculation of fuel uses and costs in the domestic context
  • Energy changes and transfers
  • Changes in systems
Motion and forces 
  • Describing motion
  • Forces
  • Pressure in fluids
  • Balanced forces
  • Forces and motion
Waves
  • Observed waves
  • Sound waves
  • Energy and waves
  • Light waves
Electricity and electromagnetism 
  • Current electricity 
  • Static electricity 
  • Magnetism 
Matter
  • Physical changes 
  • Particle model 
  • Energy in matter 
Space physics

At key stage 4

  • Energy 
  • Forces 
  • Forces and motion 
  • Wave motion 
  • Electricity 
  • Magnetism and electromagnetism 
  • The structure of matter 
  • Atomic structure 
  • Space physics

The first thing I would say is that space physics, for a reason I cannot understand, does not involve the big bang or the life cycle of stars. So this might be something to include in Year 9 if you feel you can afford the time. Red shift overlaps nicely with waves so that would give a recap.

Quite a lot of the physics curriculum seems to overlap to be honest. I would use the time to ensure that students have the fundamentals of forces, matter and electricity (because it is my favourite).

Probably more important than the content is the aspects of working scientifically. A lot of these will not be easy to pick up from a revision guide and not necessarily relate well to the topics being studied at GCSE.

If I am honest, this part of the national curriculum does seem to develop from key stage 3 to 4. I might be inclined to look only to the key stage 4 version and work on helping my students work directly towards that. Selecting topics that allow students to appreciate how ideas change over time, that allow analysis of data, that lead into students planning their own lessons, that involve calculations and drawing conclusions would be very useful. Health and fitness is a useful topic for that in biology, electricity in physics and rates in chemistry.

The headings in key stage 3 are:
Scientific attitudes 
Experimental skills and investigations 
Analysis and evaluation 
Measurement

And at key stage 4 are:
1. The development of scientific thinking 
2. Experimental skills and strategies 
3. Analysis and evaluation 
4. Vocabulary, units, symbols and nomenclature