Sunday, 15 February 2015

If you can't back your opinion up with research then your opinion doesn't count?

I get the impression that the education world is jumping onto the research bandwagon. I use that word deliberately.

While I like the idea that teachers may avoid taking onboard strategies that don't work or in fact have a negative impact. I do worry that if you haven't read the book, if you can't quote the latest thinker, if you can't back up your statements with a research study then what you say can be too quickly dismissed.

Is that fair?

I taught interference to Year 11 for the sixth time in my career a couple of weeks ago. All the other times I didn't teach a lesson I was satisfied with. With this in mind I was aware that my current class might not be happy at the end of the lesson, so the previous night I thought long and hard about how I would explain the concepts, what demonstrations to do, what images and animations to show. At the end of the lesson they were comfortable in their knowledge of how a path difference equivalent to an odd number of half wavelengths means there will be destructive interference. Whether they really understand it enough to carry to June and the exam I don't know, but it was and improvement on previous lessons.

It was my experience of the other 5 lessons that helped me teach a good lesson this time. Not a research paper, not a book.

Perhaps alongside the depth of a reading list we could also remember to value the knowledge acquired from experience, particularly when it comes to dealing in specifics.

Then again, perhaps a research paper on teaching interference exists and I would have done a good job first time if I had read it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Filming Instructions for Science Lessons

In April 2014 I attended a training day run by teachit about making videos. I was inspired by James Rolfe from Judgemeadow School and his use of video.

Since then I have made quite a few videos of instructions when I have felt it extremely useful. Some of them are on my YouTube channel, a few are not. All of the. Have had an incredible impact on the way practical work has gone in my classroom. My practice has changed in a way that it hasn't been before.

The first one I made was instructions on how to do a onion cell prep for Year 7. I made it using my iPhone held up in a clamp stand. Although I had to have a couple of goes as I was interrupted by the technician during filming. It wasn't easy to hear my own voice or see myself on the screen when I showed it to the class. The lesson went so well, the girls got on with the practical with little assistance in the procedure and I was able to discuss what they were supposed to be learning instead of correcting mistakes with the practical technique.

I have a 30 minute lesson with year 10 on Monday last thing. By making videos I find it quicker to give instructions, and the girls do the experiment more efficiently then if I give a worksheet or do a demonstration. This means they can get more done in that time.

I decided to get Year 6 to test for vitamin C, it involves weighing and squashing fruit then dissolving it in 100ml of water, adding 5ml of starch and counting the number of drops of iodine added until it turns black. Easy for a ten year old to follow? I made a video, they watched it and carried out the experiment without fuss. The bits they found hardest were the bits I didn't put on the video like wearing safety glasses.

I have used video in other ways too. For example I have created videos using explain everything to run through worked examples for suvat and momentum equations. The girls like them. The information appears on the screen and there isn't a teacher's arm blocking the view like when I write straight onto the board.

I have also been using Adobe voice to talk over slides, this allows me to make short videos for revision.

Yesterday Year 7 carried out a titration to neutralise two unknown alkalis. I videoed myself again. It gets easier to hear yourself. My voice has got softer, I can cope with what I look like.

I am now on half term, but I have brought home lots of electricity equipment as I intend to make more videos ready for next half term.

If you find yourself having to explain an experiment to each group even though you have demonstrated it then I throughly recommend filming yourself giving instructions. My descriptions are clearer, more concise and the large visuals projected onto the board mean everyone has a clear view.

Initially it takes time to put videos together, and hard to hear your voice, but after making a few it gets a lot quicker and easier. Give it a go.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 6 February 2015

We can't Consider Practical Work Issues in Isolation

I once saw Tim Oates speak about assessment in school science. I didn't understand much of that lecture, but I could tell that practical assessment as part of the grading for GCSEs and A-levels was about to vanish.

This is not what I want to talk about, however. One thing that he did say was that in an ideal world we would build the curriculum and then workout how to assess it. This was not happening at the moment as arbitrary restrictions like the percentage of a course that can be internally assessed and moderated are dictating the assessment.

This idea keeps coming back to me.

What would really good science teaching that includes practical work look like? If we start from there then maybe we can get an assessment system that works for us?

Firstly I think that we do need to ensure students have a wide variety of different practical experiences using the widest possible variety of equipment. I say this a lot, but we need to ensure that the taught curriculum provides genuine opportunity for this. The reason I don't do much practical at the moment is that there isn't much point in doing it with the topics I teach. What topics can students study where their engagement with practical equipment will help their understanding of concepts?

Secondly I think we need to ensure students have the opportunity to investigate a scientific hypothesis in such a way that they have to manipulate and evaluate genuine data.

I really hate the controlled assessment in OCR gateway, but I also really like them at the same time. What I hate is that students are not allowed to redraft. I am not allowed to discuss and draw out ideas about the data. I can't use it to help students learn or carefully consider the implications and issues around what they have done. What I hate is that they are so time consuming and high pressure. It takes half a term to complete and the curriculum simply doesn't allow time for that. What I like is the imaginative contexts they give and that some experiments give very different results per group. I like that there is a degree of freedom for the students and that in part comes because I am not allowed to guide them directly. I can only give generic, non-specific advice.

This second part is going to be really missing from the new courses at both key stage 4 and 5.

How do we build an assessment system that allows for both types of practical work?

I don't think we can at the moment. With high stakes testing, ofsted 'outstanding' to aim for and budget cuts, the type of chaotic lessons that would be involved in allowing students to do their own investigations, the curriculum time that would be necessary for it (detracting from drilling for tests - now dressed up as 'deliberate practice') and the cost of having good technicians and plenty of working equipment means that only very few schools would be able to really enter into the spirit of practical and investigative work. In which case it becomes a burden and practical work is contrived to suit the local circumstances and we need to consider that too. Particularly with science teachers are in short demand.

For me the new proposals mean I get rid of a large bureaucratic burden that is controlled assessment.

I can only conclude that the whole system needs a shake up and looking at practical work in isolation is simply not enough.