Thursday, 29 December 2016

Nurture 16/17

Sorry, I can't keep it short! 10/10.

Review of 2016.

We didn't get on holiday abroad, mainly because I spent my money on fixing my car instead.

  1. Family wise, the main thing this year was my step-daughter Esther's GCSE results and she really did herself proud with the number of A*s As and only one B that she got. She also got an A in AS English Language. She's coping OK with the academic demands of A-levels, but has set her sights on Cambridge and we are worried about how much pressure she is putting on herself to be perfect.  I also forced Esther to go to Wimbledon with my mother this summer. She had to get the train to London all on her own and meet mam at Kings Cross. Esther did have an amazing day despite 'not being sure that she could go' and now she's very keen to go again. A little taste of independence has spurred her on to do more. Richard now has a permanent job at a school that is hard work, but he likes the students and they have some level of respect for him. A teaching job is never going to feel permanent for him, but he's also prepared to move on if necessary. We bought a new TV because I was fed up of not being able to watch all the olympic coverage on the old CRT one, and we also bought a new sofa.
  2. Another personal target has been my appearance. I am not that vain, honest! I have managed to lose a bit of weight in 2016, my eczema is more under control and I am getting my hair dyed every 8 weeks or so (£££). I feel so much better about myself. 
  3. BREXIT. I am STILL angry about it. A lot of people will write about the number of famous people who have died this year, my dad was an undertaker, this doesn't affect me at all. But voting to leave the EU was ridiculous. I think it was more stupid than electing Trump, as least the US can get rid of Trump in 4 years. 
  4. In school a major hurdle has been the resignation of our science technician. There is a blog post in there about coping for a week without a technician: it wasn't fun. We have a new one now and she's great, luckily we really landed on our feet. However, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been so proactive about working out how to find a technician when the normal routes weren't working? There is a yet another blog post there about being a middle manager and not leaving everything to those above you to sort out: I learned just how important it can be to take control of your own area. The situation taught me a lot about myself and about managing an impossible situation. I was sick to my stomach and unable to sleep properly trying to work out how to deal with a situation that had no solution. It did make me realise just how seriously I take the responsibility to supporting those who I line manage. The problem is solved now though, so I now need to get with ensuring our current technician has the skills to do the job. I have to add just how great CLEAPSS are, following their documents has really helped her get to grips with the job. 
  5. In September I also took on responsibility for key stage 4 across the school. I am finding the pastoral position a little strange. I am used to just being left to get on with things as head of science. I get upset when science related things don't go through me and to be honest I can only think of a few times that this has happened. It's not the same pastorally. Information doesn't flow through me, it flows around. I am finding this hard to deal with. However, I have patience and a thick skin and I will slowly adjust the systems to ones that work for me. Looking at it practically I am not sure I wouldn't be overwhelmed if all the information went through me anyway; while I am learning the role in all likelihood I would be a block to that information getting to where it needs to be. I am keeping a diary to make notes of the issues that crop up so that hopefully second year through things run smoothly. 
  6. The curriculum changes are looming large still, as they have for the whole of 2016. All key stages really, but GCSE in particular. As a department we haven't had time to discuss the changes, and I don't see when we're going to get it. Which is really frustrating. It has also meant that the time I have to devote to ASE has decreased. A lot of effort goes into the marketing of the events we run and I am not up to it at the moment. I am not allowed to go to the ASE conference for all three days this January, (even though I always pay for myself), and it's going to make getting to grips with the curriculum changes even more difficult. 
  7. I have to add the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition to the list of achievements for 2016. I found out about it at the ASE conference and the dates fell nicely inside of activities week so I entered the ballot for tickets and got some. The event was fantastic. Girls who I would never have put as being interested in science had an absolutely brilliant morning and as staff we learned an awful lot too. The only issue with the day was that we planned to go to the Natural History Museum in the afternoon, but it was on the same day as the teacher strikes so the minibus got stuck on the other side of the march and when we'd finally walked to the Natural History Museum the queue to get into it was massive so we went in the V&A instead. 
  8. I am eternally grateful to OUP how have given me the opportunity to write assessment materials for the new AQA mastery curriculum. This has given me a great insight into curriculum design. It has made me put my money where my mouth is in terms of producing resources and has been hugely enjoyable. 
  9. The Olympics. I just love it, roll on 2020. 
  10. In 2016 I finished paying off my student loan. 
Looking forward to 2017. 
  1. I have always made and taken opportunities presented to me and I will continue to do that in 2017. 
  2. In my professional life I during 2016 I made the decision that I am ready to move into management. I am enjoying Andy Buck's book 'Leadership Matters' and it is helping to give form to my ideas about being a senior leader. In 2017 I need to continue to refine and develop my understanding of being part of senior management so that if I do get the opportunity I am ready. 
  3. My aim in 2017 would be to find that new role in SLT. But a massive difficulty is the lack of roles for someone with my experience in my area. The only job I have applied for had over 70 applicants and I wasn't selected for interview. Another post I have seen wanted someone with recent experience of schools in difficult circumstances, I haven't had this in the past 10 years. I am certainly considering just putting my CV out there and see what happens. I need to improve my linkedin profile, just in case someone is looking. I have remained on the fringes of #womened and I haven't committed to any coaching. I am not sure why to be honest. I don't want to become someone who CV builds, rather I do the job in front of me that way that works for the situation, but I am prepared to do that if that is what it is going to take. I would consider a deputy head role if AHT positions remain scarce, and I may even have to take a side step to get into a MAT to find the opportunities. I don't know what this means for my link to the big picture of science education and the ASE.
  4. I will join the College of Teaching. I have had huge benefits from being an ASE member and I hope that the College will be a help in the same way. I am looking forward to the networking that it will allow and I hope to get to some events. I hope that it doesn't conflict with anything else. 
  5. Within the department we are slowly crafting a curriculum that works for our students from Year 5 to Year 13. It's been almost three years since we started, and by this time next year it will almost be over. On the rare chance we do have to meet on the first day back after Christmas I will start the discussion about how our teaching and learning strategies at key stage 4 are going to help us overcome the issues we've identified. I want to put in place something stable so that we can concentrate on teaching and learning and refining what we do. I have never believed in making great changes for the sake of it.
  6. I also need to work on my understanding of how my key stage 4 role (Head of Upper School) can make a difference to students and colleagues alike. I know that my colleagues are happy with my leadership in this role and very supportive, but I also know that I can do better. It is my aim to. I hope that Year 11 have a good run in to their GCSEs and Year 10 build a firm foundation.
  7. Esther learning to drive is the family target for 2017. I am worried about how we'll afford the insurance after she passes her test. It's going to be an extra £1000 per year and I don't have that spare. It's wrong to hope she fails her test a few times isn't it? She's also got to get that UCAS form and personal statement completed in 2017. Leaving home and going to university is becoming a very real prospect. 
  8. Always in the year we have small treats that we look forward to. This year I want to go up the Shard; it will be expensive, but we are going to do it as a birthday present to me. We also have tickets booked to go to the paratheltics and world athletics in London this summer. I am looking forward to the Cheltenham Science festival, Fame Lab heats, the festival of physics and all the other science communication events I can get to this year. 
  9. Richard is riding London-Edinburgh-London again this summer, or at least hopes to. I will volunteer at one of the checkpoints. Having this on the horizon is great for us as an aim keeps him positive and I can keep the conversation off politics, education and work. 
  10. I think that this year I will have to consider marking exam papers. I want to apply to do A-level physics and I have applied to mark the Year 10 new gcse mock papers. See 2017 target 7 for the reason! 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Knowing what you are supposed to be doing is not enough

I have been thinking about whether teachers knowing more about research into science education will make a significant difference to what we do in the classroom. It's not straightforward.

Recently I bought "Enhancing Learning with Effective Practical Science 11-16" edited by Ian Abrahams and Michael Reiss. It's new, and even has 2017 as the publication date. I am familiar with the work of Prof Ian Abrahams in the area of practical work in science and wasn't surprised to read the first chapter which talks about how practical work doesn't have the all the effects on learning that most science teachers would suppose it should.

The second chapter talks about the 'hands on, minds on' approach that Reiss and Abrahams advocate. They offered training to teachers to help them improve their teaching approaches. The training didn't have a great deal of impact in primary schools as they found that in primary science this is done quite well already. However, the training was of very variable impact in secondary schools. For one school it had a fantastic impact because of the personnel, time, support and buy in from the department and school management. This example got me thinking again about the impact of CPD on teaching.

In 2014 I heard from Prof Shirley Simon on the conditions that teachers need for CPD to be effective. It was a real eye opener for me. It wasn't anything I didn't already know, but I suppose sometimes information comes along in such a way that it is at the right time and the right message to have an impact. I knew from a project I did back in 2011with the Science Learning Centre that one day of training isn't enough to change practice and I experienced it myself. Online training over the course of a few months made me make a change because I knew I was going to be asked about it. Doing the AfL MOOC wth Futurelearn made me change what I did for a while, but it took discipline to do what the course was asking, the prolonged nature of the course was a real help.

Do we take time to let changes to our practice embed? There is a lot of talk in education about practices being 'embedded', but what does this really mean? Is it enough to know what research says or to hear about a pedagogical approach? Does knowing about something help to make it happen in the classroom? I don't think so.

As a profession we are becoming more research aware and while I think this is a valuable and important step, it isn't going to have a swift and deep impact on the way we teach. Mainly because it is hard to change what we do in the classroom.

This is something for the College of Teaching to consider. It's something for any organisation that is involved in CPD to consider. How do we convert knowing into doing?

Prof Simon said we need, time for change, relevant resources, activities and strategies to implement in the classroom, critical reflection, collaboration between colleagues and 'professional learning' should be focused on outcomes.

Even action research, which starts to address these five areas isn't a strong model. What happens after a year when the teacher has worked on a project. If it is part of your performance management and you claim there has been no impact? Or what about if there is an impact, do the whole department implement it?

I am aware of my limitations and I know that I find it difficult to implement even great ideas I hear about at one day training courses in my classroom. I wonder how difficult others will find things. Especially if they are contradictory or in conflict with school and departmental processes.

We certainly need a different atmosphere around how to change practice if we do what things in teaching to change in any way.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Practical Work in Science

NB: borrowed heavily from the work of Abrahams, Millar, Reiss and Osborne.

There are a lot of reasons to do practical work in science lessons. Lighting a Bunsen burner is a right of passage. 'Blowing stuff up' is something that primary students look forward to when they come to secondary school. But does it do what we think it does? Does the way that we teach it have the effect we would like?

(Spoiler: not everything, but that doesn't mean we should give up on it).

Does it promote interest and motivation towards science? It makes lessons more 'fun', but doesn't do a lot to promote motivation towards science long term. My anecdotal evidence would agree with that. I did mathematical physics at university because I really didn't like practical work. I didn't like it because I already knew what I was going to find out from it. When I got to university the practical physics lecturers were dismayed - practical physics is the 'truth' (for want of a better word) and the mathematical things that describe it are contrived by humans. Oh. I find that students often long for the 'fun' of doing a practical and when there are not many sometimes can be turned off by the lack of the anticipated excitement.

Does practical work help to develop skills? It depends what is meant by skill. If by skill it is meant 'manipulative skill' of using the equipment, then yes it does make a difference. If you are learning to do something or use something then doing it helps. The real challenge here will be to the GCSE examiners in writing papers that test this. If we are talking about transferable problem solving skills or creativity then practical work does not seem to have an impact here either.

Does it enhance the understanding of scientific ideas? Not very well. The use of practical does not improve the performance of students in pen and paper tests. Although students carry out investigations, following instructions well and even making appropriate observations, they often cannot link the practical to the subject being learned.  There have been a lot of projects trying to improve teaching using practical work. But of course it is extremely difficult to change the practice of science teachers and projects like this haven't had a great impact.

Does practical work develop understanding of the nature of science? Hopefully with the new GCSE it can, but prior to that we students were looking for the 'right' answer and this isn't how science (should) works. We often teach about experiments and theory in such a way as to confuse students about the interplay between the two. Practical work in school is not representative of the way that scientists really work.

So should we bin practicals?

No. We should get better at them.

Firstly, we are required to do practical work at GCSE and A-level. As educators we would be in trouble if we did not give our students the opportunity to do the required and core practicals. This is to ensure that students do have the manipulative skills that practical work does teach. Universities are keen that students arrive being able to use equipment and the best way to teach this is through practical.

Secondly, we should be allowing students to experience scientific phenomena for themselves. Experimental work is an important feature of science, after all observations are what we are trying to explain. However, the science is often counter intuitive and therefore you cannot understand everything from observation. The teacher is needed as a mediator.

Thirdly, we should use practical work to help students understand enquiry. However, again this is not something we do well. How many of us have the time to allow students to work through an entire investigation and analysis of the results? Before an investigation it is important that students have a good understanding of the question they are asking and are able to select from the different types of enquiry which is the most appropriate. How many teachers know what the five types of enquiry are? (Other than fair testing).

And finally, we can do better at teaching students about science phenomena through practical work. But we have to be clear about our expectations for the outcomes for students, both from the practical work and what they can do and apply afterwards, particularly at secondary level.

Further reading (may need to be an ASE member to access all of these).
May 2015 School Science Review (practical work theme): 
September 2009 School Science Review, Millar and Abrahams, Making Practical Work More Effective: Practical work: making it more effective (warning may download directly)
Abrahams and Reiss Effective Practical Science (Bloomsbury) Amazon Enhancing Practical Science
Abrahams: Practical Work in Secondary Science (bloomsbury) Amazon Practical Work in Secondary Science
December 2010 School Science Review, untangling what teachers mean by the motivational value of practical work. Untangling what teachers mean by the motivational value of practical work (warning may download directly)
Article about the 5 types of enquiry: IT'S NOT FAIR - The Association for Science Education (warning may download directly)
Education in Chemistry, Practical Work a New Opportunity:
Getting Practical: