The First Rule

The first rule of Journal Club – is do talk about Journal Club.

Journal clubs aren’t a new idea – as I understand it, their most wide spread incarnation is within medicine. A bunch of professionals get together to argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. #TwitJC from @fidouglas and @silv24, is just like that, but on Twitter. I seem to remember reading it had been mentioned in the BMJ, but now can’t find a link. Correction – have been told is in Nature News.Html Suffice to say it’s had lots of positive attention and comments.

So now we have #SciTeachJC, run by @alby and @alomshaha. The idea is for professionals to get together and argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. And no, that’s not a typo – I’m deliberately putting this in the same context as that of medical professionals. This isn’t to try to start a pissing contest with medics, but to challenge my teaching colleagues to see themselves as part of a profession, not just a job. My misquote at the start is to make the point that the more people are involved, the better the outcomes will be. We need to tell our colleagues about it – maybe even look at the same papers ‘in-house’, before or after the sessions – and encourage professional organisations to take part. It isn’t something that needs huge budgets or large amounts of time, but what better way to demonstrate that teachers are engaged and enthusiastic than taking part in their discussions? (All welcome, even Michael Gove.)

Two Purposes

From my point of view – and I’d love to hear alternative perspectives in the comments below, or via twitter if you’re feeling lazy – there are two main reasons to be involved with something like #SciTeachJC. One is to provide a prompt to the bigger ideas that are so easy to lose sight of in the daily routine of lesson planning and marking – perhaps it’s a way to ‘reprofessionalise‘, as @informed_edu puts it? And the second, if course, is that you finish the session, or read through the archive, and pick up things you can apply pretty much instantly to your own practice. I guess that most CPD, if it’s going to be worthwhile, should aim to tick both these boxes. Any readers with military experience (other than being outnumbered 30 to 1 on a daily basis) will recognise this as a distinction between strategy and tactics.

Big Picture

A teacher could get their planning down quickly and easily by doing the same old thing all the time. Of course kids vary, but after a few years you do tend to see a lot of the same attitudes, hear a lot of the same complaints and questions. You could ignore the exceptions, if you chose to. I try not to, but we all have bad days and busy weeks – I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we claimed to always be working at 100%, because we’d kill ourselves. Engaging with more challenging ideas, thinking about our professional practice, is really valuable for it’s own sake. It makes us ‘conscious teachers’, in the same way that we want our students to be thinking about the how and why of their learning, not just the what. There are many ways to trigger these ‘professional attitudes’ – perhaps get involved with Purpos/Ed, start blogging or just run a weekly ‘ideas swap’ in your workplace. Or you could try reading a challenging academic paper, and then spend some time discussing its implications with colleagues, near and far. Hence SciTeachJC.


This is – and I hope nobody takes this as a criticism – how I approach #ukedchat and #asechat, when I can make it. (That pesky real life thing.) I want ideas that I can use pretty much straight away. It’s always good to get a fresh, often contrasting perspective. That said, it’s great when people tell you that they like, and intend to steal, your ideas; there’s nothing like a little validation!

I’ve babbled for longer than I planned – but I think it was worthwhile babble. This post was intended to be just about the ideas I’ve picked up from the first #SciTeachJC (full archive and participation graphic also available). So my actions and ideas to takeaway were:

  • A reminder that girls often don’t see themselves as having potential in science, or careers that depend on it. (Also covered in the IOP Girls In Physics report of course.)
  • Made me wonder (and since then, check my reports) – am I guilty of seeing boys high marks as indicative of ability, and girls’ (equal) achievement as reflecting hard work?
  • Plan to do work in class contrasting the action of ‘doing’ science, with ‘being’ a scientist. This will give me a new way to use the ‘Spot The Physics’ worksheets I did as well as getting kids to look at the Hidden Science Map or the IOP’s Once a Physicist feature (behind paywall). Aim will be to help them to realise that scientific skills are widely applicable.
  • Get myself organised to apply for I’m A Scientist… and Cafe Science to allow students to meet ‘real’ people who use science in their careers, overtly or more subtly.
  • Several discussions flagged up the difference between ‘science for (future) scientists’ and ‘science for citizens’ – not sure what influence a humble classroom teacher can have, but still! Should we be considering ‘being science literate’ as a skill that can be demonstrated across subject areas, like ICT techniques?
  • Need to emphasize to kids that scientists are creative in suggesting hypotheses to test, methods to try, approaches to investigation.
  • Consider writing or organising a regular review (book, film, TV) to go on the VLE/noticeboard which will look at the science used or abused in something kids may have seen or read.

And Finally…

I really enjoyed the session, and plan to ‘attend’ the next one. I’ve even printed off the next paper, although I’ve not read it yet. I wonder if we’ll all get more out of it if we can be a little more focused – although giving useful feedback and ideas in 140 characters is obviously a limitation of the medium, not our span of attention. I’m going to look more closely at the suggested questions list, and perhaps even be organised about finding some references online beforehand to make it easier to keep up.

And this brings me to the final advantage of something, anything, like #SciTeachJC. It’s easy as a teacher to stay in our comfort zones. This means it’s easy to forget how our students might sometimes feel. I found the first paper challenging – I scribbled in the margins, checked my understanding, had to go back and reread some parts. Feeling a little out of my depth made me appreciate how our students sometimes feel. Even without the ideas, the discussions, the chance to ‘meet’ other teaching professionals, that empathy would have made it all worthwhile.

So remember the first rule of Journal Club… and maybe I’ll catch up with you next time?

8 thoughts on “The First Rule”

  1. Thanks for letting me know about this, I think its really a great idea.

    Personally I don’t really see a distinction between a job and profession, all work requires skills. I also think money isn’t equal to virtue and high wages of ‘professionals’ isn’t equal to high quality.

    An amateur can be a great teacher, I think the important thing here is evidence based practice. I think its important in all jobs (and life in general – just not love…)

    All doctors, nurses etc. have to do courses on evidence based practice. I think a similar course for trainee teachers would be far more useful than those silly skills tests.

    1. An amateur what, though? I’d see professional practice as a commitment to certain standards, including – but not limited to – continuing development of individual skills and knowledge, and those of colleagues. That expectation, and its recognition by those who are not teachers, is a worthy aim.

      1. perhaps it’s more difficult but I believe that an amateur can have the same commitment to continuing development of individual skills and knowledge, and those of colleagues, whatever their title, perhaps it isn’t really important.

        studies by behavioural economists suggest that old ideas about work and why we work are pretty wrong

  2. Re your third bullet: I was just saying to @alomshaha that reading PD Smith’s Doomsday Men has made me think about how very impersonally science is taught at the elementary and secondary school levels. You do all these experiments that have been done millions of times before. You do them without any context being supplied at all (why would I care what the melting point of moth balls is, really? what skill was I supposed to be acquiring there that I hadn’t already learned in home ec? or, you know, Brownies or summer camp if the point was to teach me how to use an open flame). History of science isn’t taught till the post-secondary level in North America. And yet personalizing science by giving students glimpses of who scientists really are would probably go a very long way towards engaging those who, like me, were not uninterested but very frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t getting any of the ‘why do we have to do this?’ in science classes.

    And re the fifth: I think it’s asking too much of people to demand science literacy. I like Dr. Stuart Clark’s recent suggestion in an interview that we instead try to get people to become science appreciators in the same way there are art appreciators (who don’t ever necessarily try to paint but are taught to look at paintings in a different way). We’re already expected to be literate, numerate, computer literate, financially literate – now you’d like me to recite the 2nd law of thermodynamics too? Fine – as soon as you list the 12 major fiction plots for me. 😉

    1. I’d argue that there are different levels of scientific literacy. Of course relatively few students will go on to design the next generation of mobile phones, but not many of them won’t own one. We need to give them the skills they need to understand the basics – that signals travel as EM, that the battery stores energy that is probably converted from fossilized sunlight and that current evidence says there are much more significant cancer risks. Call it literacy, or call it appreciation – the main thing is that *all* kids need at least a little science.

      1. second that, and as Carl Sagan said through most of our history most of us have been scientifically illiterate and perhaps in the scheme of things it wasn’t a problem. However, technology today has become so powerful we are in danger of destroying ourselves. If we continue to submit to superstitions and reject reason it’s far more likely we’ll have a poor democracy or even wipe ourselves out.

      2. p.s. if people want to continue using 125 kWh/day of energy then the second law of thermodynamics is central our lives.
        we are not facing an energy crisis (energy can’t be created or destroyed!) but an entropy crisis 🙂

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