It feels like a very long time since I blogged… and that’s because it has been a long time. The last year, almost exactly, has been pretty difficult. Over last Autumn and Winter I went through a major depressive episode, family illness, personal illness, accepted a new (exciting, but stressful) role at work… and then something really crappy happened.
I got a call at Cubs that our youngest, then aged 4, had been bitten by the neighbour’s dog. By the time I got home the ambulance crew were already there, making plans to head to Birmingham. When I caught up with them in A&E, he was dosed up on morphine and the consultant asked if I was squeamish before showing me the photos. It was only my previous clinical experience that let me hold it together.
Waiting while he was in surgery for hours the next day was hard, but during the afternoon he started to improve. Family and friends came to the rescue in dozens of ways, large and small. Both workplaces told us to forget everything except our child and each other. Nurses found us food and coffee and the Ronald McDonald House around the corner found us a room with a shower long after midnight.
A few days later and he was doing really well, wandering along the ward in between doses of painkillers and raiding the chocolate I’d brought in for his Mum. We took him home less than a week after he’d arrived, with boxes of fresh dressings and a balloon. Pretty much every member of staff went out of their way at some point, and we saw them doing the same thing for long shifts with every child on that ward, helping every tired and lonely parent. They were amazing, and we wanted to do something to say thank you.
So this is why I’m writing; as those of you who follow me on twitter will know, I’ve been training for a running event. In just under three weeks I’ll be doing the Great Birmingham Run, a half-marathon, in aid of the Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity. The kids are running various smaller events on the day, and probably laughing at my face as I struggle to the finish line. But what would really help is if some of you might like to sponsor us.
Thank you for reading, and to everyone who at various points in the last year have offered moral or practical support during tough times.
TL, DR: I’ve been blogging for years, and although it’s led to many great freelance opportunities I’ve never asked my readers to send cash my way. (Admittedly, I have linked to fundraising for Humanists UK, MIND and a few other charities.) This is, I hope, the last time I will be asking that if anything I’ve blogged, tweeted or otherwise shared has been useful, that you could say thank you with cash.
Now, the advert and links and so on are at the end of this post. But first I wanted to write a little about the process, which arguably is more relevant for most teachers.
When I was asked to write this, I was given a very specific brief. The format for a revision guide is very structured, which can be both helpful and frustrating. It’s helpful because you have a clear place to start, with lots of small parts that will in time come together to form sections and chapters. It’s frustrating because, inevitably, that structure doesn’t fit every subject perfectly but it must be followed for consistency. I now know better which questions to ask, how much to write before getting some comments and why that format is necessary to avoid complications at the later stages. And I know how to get asked; be recommended by a colleague who has shown he or she is confident to work with you. Thanks to Carol Davenport aka @drdav for being that colleague for me.
Every teacher has written summaries of particular topics. We know that some are easier than others. One challenge I had was trying to focus on a summary, without including too much teaching. Using worked examples, for instance – is that useful for recall? To illustrate a definition? And how do you explain the less typical but still important cases, without getting sidetracked?
Another complication was the need to follow the structure of the matching textbook, which had been written – as is almost always the case right now – to follow the specification. Now, honestly, I have my doubts about this approach. I’d love to be involved in an exam-board-agnostic project, with a textbook matched to practice books (SLOP anyone?) and, importantly, a teachers’ guide which delves into the pedagogy specific to each aspect. In a dream world. this would be a print-on-demand project where you would add a chapter on your exact specification, with checklist and paper breakdown, to the subject-led approach. But enough of utopia. (Unless you want me to work on it, in which case email me.)
I wrote one chapter at a time, broken down into headings with diagrams specified as I went. These went to the editor, who sent versions back with queries or suggested revisions. It was not unusual to be writing one chapter – each took about a week of evenings spent slaving over a hot laptop – while revising another. And then there were the questions and answers, plus exam-style questions and accompanying markschemes.
Editing and Proofs
This was the stage that surprised me, even having contributed to a book before. There are so many people who need to see, comment and suggest changes. Some were simple corrections; we all make spelling mistakes or cut and paste errors while rephrasing paragraphs. Some picked up on ambiguous wording, or suggested alternate examples. Sometimes I followed the suggestions, and sometimes the original text was adjusted in a different way. The diagrams and photos each needed to be checked, sometimes amended or redrawn. At one point I was receiving editorial suggestions from three different people about different versions of the same text, at the same time as trying to trim it down for length. The consolation was getting to see my words in print, as the proofs came out on paper each time to scribble on.
After the work being signed off in July it’s finally published, ready for the year 11 students who will be sitting their exams this coming summer. My author copies arrived yesterday, and apart from the one I’ve promised to my Mum – as pointed out on Twitter, I’m going to have to send her a very strong fridge magnet – I’m going to offer them to parents in the Home Ed facebook groups, for a donation to charity. If you’re teaching the Edexcel IGCSE course, have a look below for some links.
I have no intention of working out my hourly rate. Like anything in educational publishing, being an author is not a rational decision in terms of money earned. But I’m still glad I did it, and once I’ve completed my masters course I’d be happy to look at similar projects (HINT). Plus, well, a book. With my name on it. Apart from anything else, I’ve learned to be a lot more patient with published books and their authors. With so many steps, and so many people involved, some mistakes are inevitable. And they’re even more frustrating for the author than for the reader, I promise! I understand the limitations, either practical ones or because of industry norms, better than I did. And there are several areas of physics I now know better than ever, because I’ve had to think of every way an explanation could be misunderstood, and do better. For that reason, I’d recommend any experienced teacher tries writing for publication, because it prompts us to give the best we can, with the time to think it through that is rarely possible in a classroom.
Following up yesterday’s reflective post, my typed up bullet points of the afternoon sessions. As before, my thanks to the organisers and presenters and a promise that I’ll update these posts with links to the actual presentations in a week or so.
Do They Really Get It session by Niki Kaiser (@chemDrK)
Threshold concepts guide the teacher when choosing what to highlight, what to emphasize in lessons. There should be no going back from the lightbulb moment. If so, why do we need to constantly return to these misconceptions where students rely on folk physics despite explicit refutation work with us?
It is worth making explicit to students that these are challenging (and often abstract) concepts, and so time to understand them is both normal and expected. In Physics we make this clear with quantum work but perhaps it should be a broader principle.
#rEDRugby my thoughts on @chemDrK‘s “these concepts are hard”: we need to share that with kids so they don’t think it’s them. They’re using brains evolved for arguing about fruit for a totally different task.
Teachers will do a lot of this already, but we need to be more deliberate in our practice, both for our students and for our own reflection. This is how we improve, and is particularly important for us as experts to put ourselves in the position of novices. This is part of what we refer to as PCK.
“Retrace the journey back to innocence…” a quote from Glynis Cousins in a 2006 paper (this one?) which is about better understanding where our students are coming from. I would use the word ‘ignorance’, but like ‘naive’ there are many value judgments associated with it!
It’s not properly learned unless students can still do it when they weren;t expecting to need to.
From @chemDrK: “not learned unless they know it when not waiting for it to be tested”
Me to @DSGhataura : “*Nobody* expects the Chemical Inquisition!”#rEDRugby
The bar-model is an algebraic way of thinking about a situation, without using algebra explicitly. This means it is compatible with better/quicker approaches, rather than being a way around them like the formula triangle.
Paraphrasing @BenRogersEdu: a formula triangle is an alternative to algebra, the bar model is a step towards it. Compatible with development ie learning. #rEDRugby
Uses principles from CLT; less working memory is needed for the maths so more is available for the physics.
Suggests (emphasizes this is speculative) that visual rather than verbal information is a way to expand working memory. This is also an example of dial coding and presumably one of the strengths.
Compare approaches by using different methods with two halves of a class. Easiest way is to rank them using data, then ‘odd number positions’ use one approach to contrast with ‘even number positions’ for the other. Even if the value of the measurement used for the ranking is debatable, this should give two groups each with a good spread of ability/achievement.
Useful approach for accumulated change and conservation questions; could be difficulties for those questions where the maths makes it look like a specific relationship, such as V = E/Q, as this reinforces a unit approach rather than ratio.
A Sankey diagram, although a pain to draw, effectively uses the bar method. The width of each arrow is the length of the bar, and they are conserved.
Some questions are harder than others and the links may not be obvious to students, even if they are to us. Be explicit about modelling new ‘types’ (and discussing similarity to established methods). This sounds like a use, deliberate or otherwise, of the GRR model from Fisher and Frey.
Reconstructing meaning is how we build understanding. Although this process is by necessity individual, it can be more or less efficient.
The old idea of remembering seven things at once is looking shaky; four is a much better guideline. If one of those things or ‘elements’ is a group, however, it represents a larger number of things. Think of this as nested information, which is available if relevant.
We need to design our lessons and materials to reduce unproductive use of the limited capacity of the brain.
Two approaches are the Prototype (Rosch) and Sets (Aristotle). Suspicion that different disciplines lean more towards different ends of this spectrum. Type specimens in science are an interesting example. My standard example is of different Makaton signs for ‘bird’ and ‘duck’ and the confusion that follows. Links to discussion on twitter recently with @chemdrK about how we need to encourage students to see the difference between descriptions and definitions (tags and categories) when, for example, talking about particles.
Facts can be arranged in different ways including random (disorganised), list, network (connections) and hierarchical. By providing at least some of this structure, from an expert POV, we save students time and effort so recall (and fluency) is much more efficient. Statistic of 20% vs 70% recall quoted. Need to find the source of this and look into creating a demonstration using science vocab for workshops.
The periodic table is organised data, and so the structure is meaningful as well as the elements themselves. Alphabetical order, or the infamous song, are much less useful.
Learning as a Generative Activity, 2015 is recommended but expensive at ~£70.
Boundary conditions are a really important idea; not what works in education, but what works better, for which students, in which subjects, under X conditions. This should be a natural fit for science teachers who are (or should be) used to explaining the limitations of a particular model. This is where evidence from larger scale studies can inform teacher judgment about the ‘best’ approach in their setting and context.
Bottom-up and top-down approaches then become two ends of a spectrum, with the appropriate technique chosen to suit a particular situation and subject. To helpfully use the good features of a constructionist approach we must set clear boundaries and outcomes; my thought is that for a=F/m we give students the method and then ask them to collect and analyse data, which is very different to expecting them to discover Newton’s Laws unassisted. It might, of course, not feel different to them – they have the motivation of curiosity, which can be harnessed, but it would be irresponsible to give them free rein. From a climber’s perspective, we are spotting and belaying, not hoisting them up the cliff.
Missed Opportunities And My Jobs List
As you might expect, there were several sessions I would have loved to attend. In my fairly limited experience this is a problem with most conferences. In particular I was very disappointed not to have the chance to hear the SLOP talk from @rosalindphys, but the queue was out of the door. The presentation is already online but I haven’t read it yet, because then I knew I’d never get my own debrief done. This applies to several other sessions too, but it was only sensible to aim for sessions which could affect my own practice, which is as a teacher-educator/supporter these days rather than a ‘real’ teacher.
After some tweeted comments, I’m reproducing my jobs list. This has already been extracted from my session notes and added to my diary for the coming weeks, but apparently it may be of interest. In case you’re not interested, my customary appeal for feedback. Please let me know what if any of this was useful for you, and how it compares with your own take-away ideas from the sessions. And if I didn’t catch up with you during the day, hopefully that will happen another time.
Talk to Dom about CPhys course accreditation
use references list to audit blended learning prototype module
add KS3 circuits example showing intrinsic/germane/extraneous load to workshop
review SOLO approach and make notes on links to facts/structured facts part of CLT
check with Pritesh if subject associations have been (or could be) involved with booklet development
read Kristy’s piece for RSC about doing your first piece of ed research
check references for advice on coding conversations/feedback for MRes project
search literature for similar approach (difficulty points scores) for physics equation solving
share idea re reports: a gap in comments may itself be an implicit comment
check an alert is set with EEF for science-specific results
use Robin’s presentation links to review roles for a research-informed school – might be faster to use Niki’s Research Lead presentation
build retrieval practice exercise for a physics topic that is staged, and gives bonus points for recall of ‘earlier’ concepts
TILE livestream from Dundee Uni; sign-up form?
follow Damian Benny
share ionic movement prac with Niki
add Cousin, 2006 to reading list
write examples of singapore bar model approach for physics contexts – forces?
pre-order Understanding How We Learn
use Oliver’s links as a way to describe periodic table organisation – blog post?
find correct reference from Oliver’s talk, AGHE et all 1969 about self-generated vs imposed schema changing recall percentages
You’ll have to check in with me in a month to see how many of these have actually been done…
Going to a conference isn’t good CPD unless you reflect on the new information and apply it to your own practice. (This isn’t an original thought, of course; @informed_edu probably put it best a while back.) So although I found the day in Rugby really interesting – and all due congratulations to @judehunton and the team for a great day – if I want to make it worthwhile I need to think about it a little more. The same as feedback should be more work for the student than the teacher, reflection should be more intense for the participant than speaking was for the colleague leading a CPD workshop or talk.
The notes I take during a talk are quite straightforward; I use a modified Cornell notes structure, adding key terms on the left before I leave to sum up, and tasks at the bottom I can tick off when completed. The bullet points for each session are from my notes, with italics marking out my thoughts and responses. Many of the speakers will be blogging or sharing their presentations, but I’ll update this in a week rather than waiting.
It’s not listed below, but one of the most valuable things for me about the day was talking to colleagues about their responses to the talks, how they planned to use the ideas and how I might get them involved in my projects. I was particularly touched by several colleagues, who I’ve ‘known’ through Twitter but not met before, who made a point of saying how they appreciated particular things I’ve done over the past few years. Always nice to be appreciated!
Emphasized that CLT (from John Sweller) is a really useful model but is disputed by some.
Load = intrinsic (which will vary depending on student and their starting point) + germane (which builds capacity) and extraneous (distractions or ambiguities which we as experts know to ignore but students worry about)
Being concise with instructions reduces extraneous load so they can focus on what is intrinsic/germane. This might involve training them for routines early on.
Curiosity drives attention so ration it through the lesson!
Explicitly providing subject-specific structures to pupils means they organise knowledge into an effective schema. The process of making those links itself adds to the cognitive load, which is something to be aware of but not avoid.
This feels a bit SOLO to me; meaningful connections themselves are a form of knowledge, but one which is harder to test.
Acknowledged that his setting (Michaela) get a lot of attention from media/twitter and tends to polarise debate.
Spending time as a team on building a shared curriculum means more efficient use of that time; this is supported by school routines eg shared detentions.
Starting with the big ideas, break down content to a very small scale and then sequence. Bear in mind the nature of each facet; procedural vs declarative, threshold concepts, cultural capital, exam spec. One of my thoughts was that this must include knowledge about the subject, such as the issues described by @angeladsaini in her book _Inferior_.
Sequencing is a challenge when the logical order from the big ideas is contradicted by the exam spec order, which is supported by resources from the exam boards.
Booklets used which are effectively chapters of a self-written textbook. Really interesting approach, I’d love to see how students use these (write-on? annotate?) and the sources of explanations, links to learned societies etc.
Some really interesting ideas, but my concern is that this is only possible if the whole school follows a very clear line. This is much harder to ensure with existing schools rather than a new approach from scratch. So it may not be scalable. Researcher/Teacher role session by Kristy Turner (@doc_kristy)
0.6 Uni lecturer, 0.4 school teacher (plus freelance)
Teachers in school were slow to adopt evidence informed practice, so an attempt made to do some research looking at historical data (therefore no ethical issues)
Coding phrases from reports was a challenge. Codes were based on ideas from the A-Level Mindset book. I need to adapt this approach to analyse the reflective comments on workshops etc that will form the basis of my own MRes project.
Results showed that, rather than science, Physics teachers were the outlier (along with Music and Russian) about how often innate characteristics were praised.
Lots of the comments were vague, and this will itself inform report-writing. Many could be interpreted in different ways, and this is worth remembering for parents. My immediate thought is that some parents will be able to decode the comments much better than others (social issue?), and we as teachers may recognise that an absence of a comment may itself reflect a judgment eg if no comment about working hard, they may be lazy.
An ongoing study is looking at student answers to ten chemical equation Qs, scored for difficulty by teachers based on values of coefficients, number of elements etc, comparing them before and after summer break. Some evidence that older students do better (‘year 9 into 10’ vs ‘year 8 into 9’) even without explicit balancing equations work in that year – is this because of increasing maturity, drip-feeding chemical equations over the year or something else?
I need to look for an equivalent test (or write one) for physics equations, with the equations assessed for difficulty in the same way.
Research-Informed Schools by Robin Macpherson (@robin_macp)
We need to start with a model of teacher competency which is reflective, not deficit-based. Research-informed practice is often time-effective, but the ‘informed’ matters because it is always adjusted/filtered by our own approach and setting. Professional judgment is key!
Paraphrasing @robin_macp: as all contexts vary, asking your own questions might be better than looking for someone else’s answers. #rEDRugby
the gap between research and practice is where weird ideas get in, and these are what cause us problems. I remember comments, years back, that some knowledge about ed-research is a vaccine against BrainGym and similar.
Building in ideas from, for example, Dunlovsky can be as simple as making sure there are bonus points on tests for questions relating to earlier topics. We’re making explicit that we appreciate and reward recall going back further than last week.
Not all ideas turn out to be useful. Differences in mindset seem to be real, but there’s growing evidence that these differences are slowly accumulated and not something we can change by displays or interventions.
My take on @robin_macp‘s comments on growth mindset: it’s a measurable difference, that helps, but it can’t be provided. Cc pattern of exercise vs pills for blood pressure. #rEdRugby
A Research Lead will have many jobs to do, including but not limited to curation, distillation, signposting and distribution. (These words are my paraphrasing.) Making a school research-informed is a slow process, 5-10 years, not an instant fix. One link shared was TILE for good practice examples.
I’m flagging with lack of coffee and so will post the afternoon’s sessions tomorrow. Or maybe the day after!
I have a full-time job, although ironically I’m not managing to blog nearly as much as when I was a classroom teacher, which was noticeably more than full-time. I’m fielding a lot of queries about physics teaching concerns on Twitter, which is fine, but I thought it might save me a lot of hassle if I put the same links here. Over a third of those teaching physics topics, according to data reported on p2 of this report from Wellcome, are not physics specialists. This matches the data I’ve seen through my day job at the Institute of Physics.
But before I say too much, let’s start with a disclaimer: what’s on my blog and on twitter from me is not official IOP policy or approved content. The IOP doesn’t care about the music I listen to, the political views I share, the arguments I have about gun control, mental health support or how to spell sulphur. (Well, maybe that last bit.) When I blog and tweet, I speak for myself. I’ll do my best to explain the IOP approach, for example with energy stores and pathways or the best way to support gender balance, but my bosses will only care about what I send from my work email account on work time. They’ll defend me on that – or not, as the case may be – but my off-duty self is not their problem.
Detailed and in-depth discussion of pedagogy is broken down into 5-11, 11-14 and 14-16 topics on the Supporting Physics Teaching site. If you’re after something specific you may want to drop me a line on Twitter, but the content is evidence-informed and referenced. Great material for when you have a little time to think and plan.
The Improving Gender Balance project grew out of the Girls in Physics report. Lots of resources are available and my colleagues are always happy to talk to schools interested in applying these ideas. The last set of data showed that in around half of UK state schools not a single girl carries on to A-level physics; the imbalance in some subjects is even worse.
For hands-on advice the IOP supports the Practical Physics site. This grew out of the Getting Practical materials and is well worth exploring, with guides to pass on to technicians. You may also find the Teaching Advanced Physics (TAP) site useful, not least because some of the concepts are now covered in the GCSE curriculum as well as A-level.
If you’re an established physics teacher, the chances are that you do some informal coaching of colleagues even if you don’t have an official role. This is what my day job is all about, so please give me a shout so I can steal your ideas discuss the sharing of good practice. You may also be interested in Membership and applying to be recognised as a Chartered Physicist, and I have supporting materials that could help.
I may be biased but I think the IOP materials are a good start. There are, of course, other places to look! I’ve been involved with a couple of these but others I know from using them with students or colleagues.
There are simulations available at PhET and the Physics Classroom. Understandably they take an American approach at times, but they’re well worth checking out. Double check suitability before setting for homework, as some will need Java installing or updating so may not play well on mobile devices. Both include pedagogy discussions for teachers as well as simulations for students.
STEM Learning – what I still think of as the eLibrary, and linked to the physical library at York – has loads of great resources, including versions of some of those linked above. Two collections in particular may be of interest, which organise the resources according to a curriculum: 14-16 science resource packages and A-level science resource packages. Bizarrely, the topics within each subject are alphabetical rather than logical, but that’s pretty much my only criticism. A free sign-in is required.
I do some freelance work with Hodder Education. The textbooks are obviously worth a look, but I’m not here to advertise. One project you can get for free is the Physics Teacher Guide. This is matched to the student textbook and online (subscription) resources, but may be useful even if you don’t have the budget to get for your workplace.
As an ASE member, I get the journal and magazine regularly. You shouldn’t need a login to access the Physics resources, which are an eclectic collection. I highly recommend the free downloads from the Language of Maths in Science project. Heads of Department might find membership worthwhile simply to access the Science Leaders’ Hub.
You may already pass these on to students – or have opinions about why that is a bad idea – but I think SchoolPhysics (from the author of the Resourceful Physics Teacher), HyperPhysics (concept maps linking physics ideas, probably best for A-level) and Physics and Maths Tutor (for past paper) are worth a look. Several of the above links, of course, may also be useful for them too.
EDIT: I was prompted about IsaacPhysics, which of course is a great site and one I recommend to colleagues. Questions are organised by linked topics for the spaced retrieval practice we all know is so important. Thanks to @MrCochain for the reminder. They also have funded places for a residential bootcamp this summer for students in England between years 12 and 13 who meet one or more criteria eg in first generation going to uni.
Please share any broadly useful resources via the comments; I’ve deliberately not started listing teacher blogs because I’d be here for ages. Maybe that can be a later post? But I have several others on my list, including materials to support the learning of equations and a review of an old science textbook. There’s never enough time…
I write. I proofread, change a few things and add the links. And then I press ‘Publish’ and my words appear on this site, for all the world to read.
(Okay, ‘all the world’ may be a slight exaggeration. But my site gets visitors, and I’m pretty sure some of them are actual people. The comments are hugely appreciated, honestly.)
So almost a year ago, I was halfway through that process when I paused. I read through my text again, about a way to teach mathematical relationships that wasn’t so, well, mathematical. And then, instead of putting it online, I sent an email wondering if it might, with editing and improvement, be worth submitting for publication.
And I was told that yes, I should consider it.
I want to emphasize that the following process was worthwhile. The end result – which is linked below – was far better than the first draft. It was better worded, the language was clearer, the ideas were better reasoned and better explained. The examples were improved and expanded. I’m really happy with it and proud to be published.
But it took so long: eight months from first draft being shared to publication. I didn’t keep a clear record of each step, which I now wish I had. (Did you know that you can name versions in Google Drive to summarise the changes? I do now…) The points below are a rough idea of what happened, not a precise timeline.
First draft of ‘Maths Narratives’ shared in April 2017: is this worth submitting?
Yes, but might be worth changing X and Y, and have you thought about Z?
Second version submitted to SSR.
Helpful comments and gentle prompt to refer to submission guidance.
Third version, in house style, submitted to SSR.
More helpful comments, query about word count.
Fourth version, with further improvements, shared with a couple of science teacher friends via twitter.
Fifth version with changes made following (very helpful) comments from those twitter friends.
Feedback from SSR reviewers via email, all very constructive.
Some of the suggested changes were included, some were not. None was ignored; in several cases I changed the text to better explain what I was saying in response.
Resubmitted to SSR.
Final editorial feedback to increase the word count with longer explanations (my piece was now being accepted as an article, not one of the briefer ‘Science Notes’). This meant adding an abstract and other academic features.
Final resubmission, accepted with provisional publication date.
Proof sent to me for checking, legal form from SSR.
Don’t underestimate your work. Being a classroom teacher means that clear explanations and innovative approaches are what you do. If something’s worth blogging, then it’s worth asking yourself if it would benefit from more development and a bigger audience.
Trust your colleagues, near and far. Every single person I approached for opinions, all of whom were busy and overworked, were supportive, helpful and made good suggestions.
Expect it to take time. Lots of time. No, more time than that.
Recognise that some of the stages will make no sense to you. It’s just the way academic publishing works. Recognise that the boring tasks are the price you pay for the support that lets you improve what you’re making.
Usual appeal for feedback
It’s possible I may have been procrastinating. I have loads to do, with the conference I may have accidentally agreed to lead starting tomorrow. But I’m glad I took this half-hour out, partly to calm down and partly because it’s long overdue. I’m proud of what I wrote, damnit. (I considered sending a copy for my Mum to put on her fridge…)
I’d really appreciate some responses to this, on two levels. Firstly, have you considered turning a blog into an article – or are you thinking about it now? And secondly, please let me know what you think of the ideas in the paper itself, PDF linked above for those of my readers who don’t have access to SSR.
This was supposed to be a really quick job. For something I’m working on, I was looking at the equations students need to recall for the GCSE Physics exam (specifically AQA). And it annoyed me that they weren’t in a useful order, or a useful format for testing. So I’ve made a testing sheet, with pages for Energy, ‘mostly Electricity’ and Forces.
There are four columns, which are blank in the first three pages (for students) but completed in the answer sheet version. Because I’m good to you.
I’ve given the word, not the symbol – thoughts? (Could/should that be another column?) I’ve removed a couple of what I see as duplications, and missed out momentum because I was thinking of this as for everybody. Plus it would have mean adding another row and I was sick of messing with formatting.
Which variables are involved?
For students to write in the variables in words, as a starting point. The idea would be that you can give partial credit for them getting part way there, because we should recognise the early stages of recall. You may off course have them skip this bit later on.
What are the symbols?
If they know the variables, can they write down what they will look like in the equation? This would be the other place for them to show they know what the ‘equation for…’ variable could feature in symbol form.
Formatted as best I can, in a hurry in Publisher. I’ve used the letters as listed on the formula sheet, p95 of the specification. Even when I disagree.
As ever, please let me know if/when you spot mistakes. Because it’s in Publisher I can’t upload the editable version here, but drop me a line in the comments if useful and I’ll send it your way.
I recently got involved in a twitter conversation about getting back into the classroom, and what to do between jobs to make yourself more attractive to schools. This post is based on the email I put together, and I’m going to start with the same warning I gave my correspondant.
I should point out I’m no expert on recruitment; I’ve never held a promoted post in school so this is based more on conversations with colleagues and in prep rooms that I’ve had because of my day job.
It’s got to start with supply (and cover supervising). This is always going to be a pain, but the good news is that you get to check out the school in advance. Different schools will have different rules about supply, but linking up with the HoD will help. There are ways to make that link – more in a moment. And exam invigilation, although less of an issue with fewer modules or AS, would still be a possibility.
You could plan to do some tutoring for now. The money isn’t great but the time commitment is fairly low. It’s best through word of mouth, but getting started with a few notices on community noticeboards and the coffee shops near colleges and sixth forms where students hang out can be effective.
The other choice is some kind of freelance publishing, possibly starting with TES or similar. If you have time, this is a good way to brush up on your pedagogy and stay familiar with specifications. Producing some generic resources on HSW or similar will be a useful thing to take with you when on supply, as it shows you’re a competent specialist. Other publishing stuff comes up online from time to time, but the hourly rate is fairly low.
Now’s the time to bring your CV up to scratch and work on phrases that will go into a cover letter. Review the CPD you’ve done and summarise responsibilities, so all the dates are to hand. Scan your certificates then put them all in one (electronic) place. Make sure you have up to date referee details, hopefully with a couple of spares.
As well as TES, make sure you’ve registered with local teacher agencies and the council recruitment page. Bookmark possible schools and their current vacancies pages. If there’s a standard LA application form – less common these days, but still possible – you might like to save a personalised copy with your information already added.
Brief digression: why the hell is there not a standard, national, teaching professional profile form? Because all the information the schools want is the same – just every form has a different, badly formatted order. Create a form, then insist every school uses it, with a one page ‘local supplement’ which teachers can then fill out. More time to spend on the cover letter…
It might be worth looking for the kind of post you’re after nationally, just to get a look at the kind of things that show up in job descriptions and person specifications. Then you can think up examples of times when you’ve done the kind of thing that matches up. This is how you can show that although you might cost more than an NQT, you’re much better value for money. (NQTs: this is where you look for non-teaching examples showing similar responsibilities and experience.)
Try to see the time as an opportunity; a sabbatical, if you like! Explore subject associations and membership options. If there’s a local group, check out teachmeets and similar. If there are gaps in your skills that the CV check showed up, address them. Have you considered things like Chartered status? Even if you don’t go through the process, looking at the requirements might help inspire your next steps. And if travelling for conferences is possible, they are a great way to build your skills and knowledge. The Association for Science Education(ASE) is the obvious first choice, being teaching-specific, but don’t forget IOP/RSC/RSB either.
Quite a few universities and organisations offer free online courses – STEM Learning in particular. You can add these to your CV, of course! TalkPhysics is an example of a forum for teaching discussion where you can swap ideas, if you’d like something less structured. Or borrow some science pedagogy books, read and reflect. A nice talking point at interview…
You might like to contribute reviews on the books, or posts with developed resources, on a blog or similar. UKedchat welcomes guest posts, for example. These will start arguments and get discussions going; you might even get lucky and score some free review copies!
A different way to keep your skills up to date would be volunteering. Secondary schools sometimes want reading volunteers, but I’d also suggest looking at local primary schools. How about offering to do a primary science club for a half-term? I did this in my local primary, using the RI ExpeRimental activities, and found it really interesting. The IOP’s Marvin&Milo cartoons would also be a good starting point for accessible yet interesting activities. I had a whole new respect for primary colleagues too! You might already be a youth leader, but that’s also a possibility. Fancy running the Scientist badge for local Cub or Brownie groups?
It’s not something you want to do in September, but if you’re still looking in a few months then doing some development work gives an opportunity to get into school science departments. Choose a topic where teacher opinions would be useful or interesting, eg what resources would they use, or a survey of how they use animations in lessons. Do your research ahead of time. And then write a letter to the HoD, asking if you can visit and talk to the department to collect some anonymous data. The article will be interesting – you could even try submitting it to Education in Science or similar – and you get to talk to colleagues, sound out the school, and leave your contact details for when flu season hits…
As I said at the start, I’ve never been in a position of power when it comes to hiring, so I’d really appreciate corrections, additions and suggestions from those who have. What can Teacher X do?
It’s always useful to have a few popular science books available for interested students. These make great summer extension work for some, and even less enthusiastic pupils may dip in and out of good prose. Adding magazines and a selection of science blogs is always worthwhile, of course…
The book follows an established format; each edited by an expert in the field, and broken down into topics with small sections. In some ways it is the ultimate expression of a textbook with a double-page spread for each idea! It is, however, much briefer in detail but wider in scope. It’s worth noting that each topic is illustrated with a full-page picture, many of which owe more to artistic design principles than scientific diagrams. This is sometimes a missed opportunity.
Most of the text would be accessible to able GCSE science students and above; any who find particular ideas challenging can refer to the ‘three-second thrash’ on each page. If more detail is needed, there is a hint to further study, page references to related topics and brief biographies of relevant scientists. Each of the six sections includes one longer description; the usual physics suspects appear.
I’m not sure if the would supply useful extension work for specific topics but could be a good way to encourage students to consider links to the ‘Big Picture’. Because the text is accessible, selected bits would also work well to challenge able students at the upper end of KS3. Depending on personal preference, it could also be loaned out to students who might prefer to dip into something briefly rather than digging into something meatier.
One cautionary note; the pages on Energy are, unsurprisingly, aligned with the ‘types and transformations’ model rather than ‘stores and pathways’. This would not even be noticed by most parents, but students may find the reversion to a model no longer recommended for school teaching is confusing. The physics, of course, is fine – it is just the way the equations and processes are described in words that may cause difficulties. And as a physicist, I think the lack of equations on the pages is a shame; I suspect the average reader would consider it a benefit!
Overall, I’d recommend this as a good starting point for a classroom bookshelf but most interested students will soon move on to books on more specific physics topics. It would be a great for interested parents so they have a clue about what their children are encountering in lessons.
Following a conversation on twitter about the phonics screening test administered in primary school, I have a few thoughts about how it’s relevant to secondary science. First, a little context – especially for colleagues who have only the vaguest idea of what I’m talking about. I should point out that all I know about synthetic phonics comes from glancing at materials online and helping my own kids with reading.
Synthetic Phonics and the Screening Check
This is an approach to teaching reading which relies on breaking words down into parts. These parts and how they are pronounced follow rules; admittedly in English it’s probably less regular than many other languages! But the rules are useful enough to be a good stepping stone. So far, so good – that’s true of so many models I’m familiar with from the secondary science classroom.
The phonics screen is intended, on the face of it, to check if individual students are able to correctly follow these rules with a sequence of words. To ensure they are relying on the process, not their recall of familiar words, nonsense words are included. There are arguments that some students may try to ‘correct’ those to approximate something they recognise – the same way as I automatically read ‘int eh’ as ‘in the’ because I know it’s one of my characteristic typing mistakes. I’m staying away from those discussions – out of my area of competence! I’m more interested in the results.
We’d expect most attributes to follow a predictable pattern over a population. Think about height in humans, or hair colour. There are many possibilities but some are more common than others. If the distribution isn’t smooth – and I’m sure there are many more scientific ways to describe it, but I’m using student language because of familiarity – then any thresholds are interesting by definition. They tell us, something interesting is happening here.
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny …”
It turns out that with the phonics screen, there is indeed a threshold. And that threshold just so happens to be at the nominal ‘pass mark’. Funny coincidence, huh?
The esteemed Dorothy Bishop, better known to me and many others as @deevybee, has written about this several times. A very useful post from 2012 sums up the issue. I recommend you read that properly – and the follow-up in 2013, which showed the issue continued to be of concern – but I’ve summarised my own opinion below.
Some kids were being given a score of 32 – just passing – than should have been. We can speculate on the reasons for this, but a few leading candidates are fairly obvious:
teachers don’t want pupils who they ‘know’ are generally good with phonics to fail by one mark on a bad day.
teachers ‘pre-test’ students and give extra support to those pupils who are just below the threshold – like C/D revision clubs at GCSE.
teachers know that the class results may have an impact on them or the school.
This last one is the issue I want to focus on. If the class or school results are used in any kind of judgment or comparison, inside or outside the school, then it is only sensible to recognise that human nature should be considered. And the pass rate is important. It might be factor when it comes time for internal roles. It might be relevant to performance management discussions and/or pay progression. (All 1% of it.)
“The teaching of phonics (letters and the sounds they make) has improved since the last inspection and, as a result, pupils’ achievement in the end of Year 1 phonics screening check has gradually risen.”
From an Ofsted report
Would the inspector in that case have been confident that the teaching of phonics had improved if the scores had not risen?
Assessment vs Accountability
The conclusion here is obvious, I think. Most of the assessment we do in school is intended to be used in two ways; formatively or summatively. We want to know what kids know so we can provide the right support for them to take the next step. And we want to know where that kid is, compared to some external standard or their peers.
Both of those have their place, of course. Effectively, we can think of these as tools for diagnosis. In some cases, literally that; I had a student whose written work varied greatly depending on where they sat. His writing was good, but words were spelt phonetically (or fonetically) if he was sat anywhere than the first two rows. It turned out he needed glasses for short-sightedness. The phonics screen is or was intended to flag up those students who might need extra support; further testing would then, I assume, suggest the reason for their difficulty and suggested routes for improvement.
If the scores are also being used as an accountability measure, then there is a pressure on teachers to minimise failure among their students. (This is not just seen in teaching; an example I’m familiar with is ambulance response times which I first read about in Dilnot and Blastland’s The Tiger That Isn’t, but issues have continued eg this from the Independent) Ideally, this would mean ensuring a high level of teaching and so high scores. But if a child has an unrecognised problem, it might not matter how well we teach them; they’re still going to struggle. It is only by the results telling us that – and in some cases, telling the parents reluctant to believe it – that we can help them find individual tactics which help.
And so teachers, reacting in a human way, sabotage the diagnosis of their students so as not to risk problems with accountability. Every time a HoD puts on revision classes, every time students were put in for resits because they were below a boundary, every time an ISA graph was handed back to a student with a post-it suggesting a ‘change’, every time their PSA mysteriously changed from an okay 4 to a full-marks 6, we did this. We may also have wanted the best for ‘our’ kids, even if they didn’t believe it! But think back to when league tables changed so BTecs weren’t accepted any more. Did the kids keep doing them or did it all change overnight?
And was that change for the kids?
Any testing which is high-stakes invites participants to try to influence results. It’s worth remembering that GCSE results are not just high-stakes for the students; they make a big difference to us as teachers, too! We are not neutral in this. We sometimes need to remember that.