AQA P1 Revision Checklist

And it’s back to the usual routine of teaching kids. In the process of them learning loads and being enthused by science – stop laughing at the back – we of course need to prepare them for the exams they’ll have. In the case of my setting, this means AQA A followed by Additional for the vast majority, and a course which may only last for one cohort. Thank you, Mr Gove. The content isn’t bad, so I actually quite like the idea of terminal exams covering the ideas. Something I often do is to issue a revision checklist to the students. This has two purposes:

  • So they can check their progress.
  • To break it down into small headings so revision can be ‘chunked’.

I then ask them to produce revision materials (or even better, study materials from the very beginning of the course) which use the small sections to highlight key areas. This means they can organise their ideas quickly and simply – one less reason to procrastinate as the exam is approaching. I’ve blogged about this before, but a few quick thoughts on ways to use the headings (and of course explaining why these methods work ticks the L2L box):

  • revision cards.
  • cover and complete definitions.
  • mind maps (paper or electronic).
  • headings for a ‘blank’ power point that they then fill in and save to their phones.
  • ‘If this is the answer what is the question?’
  • how it works/how it’s used.
  • Pictionary or Taboo cards.
  • Cornell notes sections.
  • pages for a wiki that the class then builds throughout the course.

I’m going to produce a summary sheet – probably about half an A4 page – which students will then be tested on. Simple recall, no applications or understanding at first. My plan is that after the first, they will work together to produce a similar amount of material every fortnight, and then I’ll test their recall of a random page weekly. This is following up the fourth #SciTeachJC article, a very interesting piece on how testing recall is better than rereading for retention. If I’m organised, I’ll post the summary pages here as well to build up a library for anyone who wants to try something similar.

Printables: P1 Revision Checklist as docx :  P1 Revision Checklist as pdf

I’m linking an editable version for anyone who wants to mess with it, and a pdf just because that’s how I normally do it. Please feel free to edit or adapt, but if so please remove the footer with my web address. If you’d like me to host equivalent checklists for other parts of the course (or other science ones I guess) I’m happy to, although I’d point out TES Resources or Guardian Teachers will get much more traffic (or start a blog and host it yourself).

I’d love to hear how useful you and your students have found it, if at all…

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Entering the Virtual Staffroom 2/2: Twitter

It was probably from Alom Shaha that I first ‘heard’ the term virtual staffroom to encompass the ways in which Twitter and blogging can help teachers improve their professional practice. I’m not the only person who likes the concept, and there’s some excellent discussion elsewhere about the benefits it can offer. I’ve mentioned some of these ideas in passing before, and I’m not going to try to tell you that you must blog about teaching, or why Twitter will change your (professional) life. But I’ve gained enough from both that I thought it was worth highlighting a few things.

Twitter

If you’re not already on Twitter, your impression of it may be that you have to spend your whole time reading every detail of Stephen Fry’s day. In fact, although I first got into it to let people know about this blog (blame Alom again) I now use it for all kinds of things. I’ve blogged about this before TK but in the context of professional practice it seemed worth revisiting.

I follow lots of teachers, both science specialists and those of other subjects. I follow lots of people involved in science or science communication. These people share ideas and links that I find useful at work – from discussions about the recent (possibly) FTL neutrinos story to classroom management strategies I hadn’t thought of. (I also follow some authors I like, a few media, some atheism/secular tweeters, altmed debunkers and a few random others, which are less useful professionally. Because I am a real person as well as a teacher, despite what my kids may think.)

I started off tweeting mainly work-related stuff, and I hope it still makes up a fair bit of my output. However, it’s a good way to share comments and links to media or websites that aren’t about (science) teaching, but are interesting – religion, liberty, politics often come into these tweets. Conversations about particular topics can get started, which is where Twitter can be a really useful CPD tool, just like teachers gossiping over a coffee about good practicals, ways to structure a lesson or the best ICT tool for a particular job. Using hashtags avoids half of your 140 characters being used with the twitter handles of the other people involved.

Of course, some hashtags are used for planned, organised and moderated conversations, rather than spontaneous chats. #ukedchat is a well-known example of this, although I don’t take part as often as I’d like. I’m more likely to find time for #asechat, the science-teacher-specific version (my summary here) or #SciTeachJC, focussed on discussing academic papers. These can be confusing and busy sessions, but they are certainly a good way to get you thinking about CPD.

So why not try it? Try tweeting each day about a lesson that’s gone particularly well or badly. Give a link to a resource – an iPlayer clip, a concept cartoon, a New Scientist article, an academic paper – that might be useful to colleagues (shortening with bit.ly or similar if needed). Start a hashtag for topics that others might be interested in. Follow people who have interesting things to say, and use their #ff tweets to build up your own ‘personal learning network‘. Twitter is about sharing, so share.

A cautious note to finish on – it’s very easy to forget that Twitter is an open forum. Unless protected, or sent as DMs (direct messages), anyone can read a tweet. They show up on search engines and may be taken out of context. Just as staffroom conversation can be negative and unhelpful – it’s easy for it to turn into a whingefest at the end of a long day, when you’ve really had enough – Twitter can seem like a good way to let it all out. That might be constructive, when colleagues or friends rally round to offer support and suggestions. But it can be easy for complaints or issues with political aspects, which don’t have a resolution, to get passed around and around.

Never tweet anything you would be worried about coming back to you in the staffroom, especially if you’re logged in under your real name. Be cautious about how you phrase criticisms, and never be insulting about pupils or mention anything that could identify them or their class. Remember that students or their parents could follow you, and you might find it useful to check how your school’s social media policy applies to Twitter. I choose to tweet pseudonymously, but I hope never unprofessionally.

As with my previous ‘virtual staffroom’ post, I recommend the relevant posts on the Creative Education blog. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts about uses of, or attitudes to, Twitter I’ve not mentioned.

Jim Al-Khalili as guest lecturer

Like me, you may have just watched the repeat of Chemistry – A Volatile History (Episode 2) on BBC4. By a happy coincidence, my Year 8 class are currently studying the periodic table (They already love The Elements Song) so I now plan to have @jimalkhalili in as a guest lecturer this week. Just watching something is a pretty boring (not to say ineffective) way to learn, so thought I’d share a few ideas and the questions I’m planning to use, on the off chance someone else might find them useful. Below are some ideas pinched from my earlier blogpost ‘Constructive Laziness‘:

  • Give them the questions first.
  • Provide a list of key terms (out of sequence) and ask them to note down definitions and/or examples.
  • Ask them to produce summary notes, perhaps using a Cornell blank.
  • Have them write a review for the BBC Bitesize website.
  • Ask them to choose headings for a Powerpoint that they can then write for homework.
  • Give them handouts using Powerpoint that have titles, but no content. This is another way to give them the framework for the notes. (Differentiated versions easily produced.)
  • Tell them it is old or out of date. What mistakes can they spot? How would they script an improved version?

For this episode, a few notes that are easily copied, then turned into a handout of questions, copied on to a whiteboard (leave up as the starter and see how many they can answer afterwards, no writing allowed), or just read out. All times are approximate, jotted as I watched, scribbled questions and scoffed my tea. A lot of these are fairly trivial, and I’d suggest using only a selection – perhaps as a stimulus to inspire students to write their own, more useful questions. (I’m probably going to try out the Question Formulation Technique as described in @totallywired77’s blog post.)

I’d suggest skipping first 2.5 minutes (until credits) as it spoils the surprises.

Up to 15min: Dalton and atomic weight

1 How many elements were identified at the early part of the century?

2 What was Dalton’s main social hobby and when did he do it?

3 What did Dalton call the particles we call ‘atoms’?

4 Which colour balloon drops quickly and why?

5 What does STM stand for?

6 How hot is the glass used to make the round bottomed flask?

7 What is the most common element in the Earth’s crust?

15-30min Patterns

8 How close was Berzelius to the true weight of chlorine?

9 How many elements were in each group suggested by Dobereiner?

10 What is the second element tested in the water?

11 How many elements were known when Mendeleyev started to investigate?

12 In which year did John Newlands present his ‘octaves’ idea?

13 Which 2 gases does the presenter say smell similar?

30-40min Mendeleyev

14 What fraction the books in Mendeleyev’s study are about chemistry?

15 What did Mendeleyev call his card game?

40-50min Spectroscopy

16 How did Rubidium get its name?

17 How did spectroscopy help to confirm Mendeleyev’s table?

18 What is the atomic weight of the gas first discovered in the spectral lines of the sun?

50min-end Inside the Atom

19 What was Bohr’s chosen sport?

20 How many electrons in the first ring/shell/orbital?

21 Which was the heaviest known element at the time?

22 Which three metals does the presenter test?

23 What particles did Moseley count in the nucleus?

24 How old was Moseley when he died?

  1. 55
  2. bowls, Thursday afternoons
  3. ‘ultimate particles’
  4. yellow, because it contains (dense) Krypton
  5. Scanning Tunnelling Microscope
  6. About 1000 degrees Celsius
  7. Oxygen
  8. a fifth of a percent
  9. three (triads)
  10. Sodium (Na)
  11. 63
  12. 1866
  13. Chlorine and Bromine
  14. A tenth
  15. Chemical Solitaire
  16. The spectrogram shows a ruby red light
  17. Elements that filled the gaps in the table were discovered, matching Mendeleyev’s predictions
  18. 4 (He)
  19. Football (goalkeeper)
  20. 2
  21. Uranium (U)
  22. Copper, Rubidium, Molybdenum
  23. Protons
  24. 26

Entering The Virtual Staffroom 1/2: Blogging

It was probably from Alom Shaha that I first ‘heard’ the term virtual staffroom to encompass the ways in which Twitter and blogging can help teachers improve their professional practice. I’m not the only person who likes the concept, and there’s some excellent discussion elsewhere about the benefits it can offer. I’ve mentioned some of these ideas in passing before, and I’m not going to try to tell you that you must blog about teaching, or why Twitter will change your (professional) life. But I’ve gained enough from both that I thought it was worth highlighting a few things.

Blogging

I started with a blog because I figured it was a shame that other people couldn’t learn from my mistakes – after all I’d made so many of them! Partly it was disappointment with the poor quality of the resources available through Memory4Teachers, which seemed a good idea blighted by poor execution. I’ve seen several benefits:

  • For me blogging provides a sounding board – sometimes it doesn’t even matter if anyone else is reading it. Reflective practice is really important and after training it’s easy to lose the habit of writing out what worked and what didn’t, and why, and how you plan to improve. Have a look at the NQT Bloggers  to see what I mean. And as you gain an audience, comments can really help you with new ideas or different viewpoints. (To any readers who habitually lurk rather than commenting, you have no idea how much it would be appreciated…)
  • Having that audience really encourages me to raise my game with resources, just like students improving their presentation because their friends will see it. Because I don’t produce anything I don’t plan to use at work, I can spend extra time without resenting it so much. I’m not encouraging style over substance, but those few moments probably do help.
  • Actually writing blog posts often gives me new ideas; because of explaining something, or trying to find a good example, I understand it better myself. Making the posts readable encourages me to break the ideas down so they really make sense. This is why writing a paragraph summary of any INSET session is worthwhile, by the way – it makes you focus on what matters and why.
  • As people start to read your blog, it’s hugely encouraging. Just the traffic is nice; WordPress gives you stats, and I’ve carefully never tried to figure out how much is bots. Comments are fantastic feedback, whether positive or with suggestions. Even better are those who tell you that what you’ve written has made them think, given them ideas or solved a problem. If you tweet (see below) then you’ll see people mentioning your blog or thanking you online, which is a huge confidence boost. Getting a mention from some people can have a huge effect; it’s a little pathetic how much I treasure the literally hundreds of hits I got after links from Ben Goldacre and Ed Yong.

If you are going to blog, there’s loads of advice around. There are several teacher-specific aspects you may wish to consider.

  • Stay professional. Everyone grumbles, but don’t say anything in a blog post you would be ashamed to hear a colleague say in public or to read in a newspaper. Never name a student or be specific about a class or colleague. Take care with the language you use to describe bad days or challenging students. If you use photos of resources and/or demonstrations, ensure pupils are not visible. You may wish to check these guidelines on blogging about work or check with a union rep, or ask a member of your SMT. Most policies cover social networking in general rather than blogging in particular. Alternatively…
  • I blog and tweet under a pseudonym. I think of this as working discreetly, rather than secretly – it would not be hard for a determined reader to figure out who I am. It allows me the freedom to blog without it affecting my school, colleagues or myself. (Partly this is because with an unusual surname my students would find the blog on a casual Google search.) This may be particularly important if while blogging you end up discussing how outside issues – perhaps family events or illness – affect your professional practice. Of course I will have to ‘out’ myself if I want to use the blog itself, rather than describing benefits I’ve gained from it, at interview in the future!
  • Think about resource sharing. What you produce could also be shared through the TES or Guardian resource sites, stored locally, linked through Google Docs or sites such as Dropbox, or Slideshare (which allows live presentations to be hosted on your blog). There are lots of possibilities, some of which may mean setting up a blog-specific or pseudonymous account. Plan ahead and be systematic.

As a final thought, I’d strongly recommend the Creative Education blog for lots of ideas, on blogging and other stuff. In particular, the article on Writing Blog Posts has lots of good, sensible advice. I don’t always follow it, but if not I usually regret it.

EDIT: @dannynic has a great blog post on starting a blog with more practical advice, well worth a look.

Part 2: Twitter now online.

Resolutions, Targets and Aspirations

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who’s started the term with a whole load of ‘New Year Resolutions’. We make the point to the kids that this is their chance for a fresh start, and many of us do the same. A recent #ukedchat discussion was on just this topic. What I’d like to do is think ‘out loud’ for a moment on the difference between three very different kinds of aims.

Resolutions

We all make mistakes. One of the best things I found about moving on after my PGCE was leaving behind the horrendous errors in my placement schools. Each school year is a good chance to reflect on what has gone before and make something generally better. These are the things we know we really should have done already, our guilty secrets. Maybe we know we reach for the DVD library too readily. Perhaps we rely too much on oral feedback and not enough on written marking. Or we’re always forgetting to monitor our form’s reading books. Whatever it is, these bad habits are things we want to address.

It’s easy to have really big ideas about what you’re going to change. Making them happen is harder. I’m trying to get my marking more systematic; an electronic markbook, with prompts and automatic scoring, will make it much easier for me to be organised. The trick is to identify what is stopping you from doing things the way you want, and change the situation. Like we tell the kids, doing the same thing in the same way gives the same result. Saying “I’ll just do better/work harder/mark for longer” is a recipe for further failure.

Targets

There are probably some of these on your performance management already. They often involve percentage of students in a class meeting a particular standard, or attendance on a course that can feel like it is more for the school than the individual. But they’re also the chance to get professional development that you (and your mentor/performance manager) identify as useful. Whenever possible, get courses or concrete changes written in as part of your performance management review. Targets should, of course, always be SMART, just like we tell the kids. It may be useful to check out @informededu‘s new directory of education CPD when it’s up and running.

Be wary of targets that rely on other people, either staff or students. In the end, a teacher can only do so much for a class. They sit the exam, they write the coursework (in theory). In a class of 25, each student is worth 4%, so a small real difference in C grades can make a huge difference in ‘your’ results. This is the problem with school statistics – we are judged by much smaller groups, affected by many more confounding variables, than would ever be accepted in true science.

Try to choose targets that you can easily demonstrate will be useful for students, academically or otherwise. Raising awareness of science careers, keeping a ‘science news’ noticeboard up to date, and links with other departments are all useful. Perhaps someone in English could talk to students about views of science as demonstrated in fiction, from Frankenstein to Brave New World – if they were asked. Beware of being set targets, rather than setting them yourself – always arrive for the meeting with ideas and be prepared to justify them.

Aspirations

I think sometimes the targets we set ourselves are a little ambitious. It’s perhaps better to ration yourself a a small handful – perhaps one to focus on each term – and consider them as things to aspire to, not require. Ideally these will be self-chosen, and will benefit yourself professionally as well as your students. These are the things that will help you stand out a little at an interview. Perhaps your corner of the school VLE is currently a dry list of resources and homeworks set. Turning it into a place where kids swap ideas, use study guides and direct their own learning, using links to both support and extension material, will help them and sound good at interview. But it’s not something you’ll finish in a day, or even a week. Other, longer term ideas might be to start or run a science club, or to blog about teaching (to see how this benefits your students, see forthcoming blog post). But it’s important to remember that aspiations are sometimes too challenging. If you succeed every time, you’re probably not setting yourself challenging enough objectives.

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?”

Robert Browning

 

Not Continuing Physics?

I posted almost a fortnight ago about some data I’d like to collect about students who have chosen not to continue with Physics into sixth form. I got a few responses, which I’ve used to adjust the Google form. The questionnaire is now sorted (I hope) and I’d love to get as many responses as possible, so I’m inviting everyone to be involved. Unless there’s a good reason, I’ll close the form at the end of September. I’ve included a field for the institution postcode, so each school or sixth form should be able to get personalized data without messing around with different invitations or codes from me. The questionnaire is primarily aimed at students who:

  • have started AS courses after GCSEs.
  • achieved highly at GCSE, either in Core/Additional or separate Science courses.
  • haven’t started AS Physics.

I’m especially interested in those students who were capable, but chose other subjects. Attitudes to Physics for all students would of course be interesting, but it’s the ‘missed opportunities’ I’d like to know about – those students we wish had chosen ‘our’ subject. I know lots has been done on this before, but Google forms gives us as teachers the chance to collect data to use in our own schools and collate it all.

The link for the form is:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?hl=en_US&pli=1&formkey=dFJYS2FFS2ttdjVjUzUyZmFIaEFhelE6MQ#gid=0

I’d love for this to be shared with students starting AS courses this month. Please feel free to pass this on to colleagues or friends who teach, and I’ll be regularly flagging it up on Twitter. Drop me a line there or via email (teachingofscience@hotmail.co.uk) if you have any questions, suggestions or whatever. I’ll certainly blog about the results (if any) and it may become an article if any of the teaching magazines or journals are interested. Hopefully I’ll figure out some way to make the results searchable for individual institutions – make sure your students are entering the correct postcode.

Thanks for your interest, and in advance for your assistance!

Setting the Scene

The first lesson with a class is always a challenge. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, I think – you’re still aware of the need to make a good first impression. Because in many ways it’s the first few lessons – what Bill Rogers and others call the ‘establishment phase’ – that set the tone for the rest of your time together. I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to do too much in my first hour with a class is counter-productive. After swapping some ideas on twitter about what the first lesson should cover (although I’m sure there are many other suggestions out there) I wanted to blog my own routine. As tends to be the case, the summer has gotten away from me so I’m now doing this in a rush, but so it goes. Whether you already use some of these ideas, or think they’re crazy, I’d love to read some comments below.

Of course, in some schools (including my own) some classes will have a ‘pep talk’, perhaps including some statistics or previous rsults, to inspire the students to do well. How constructive you think this is will of course vary.

Introduction

Some students will know who I am, by reputation or by having been taught by me before. I still introduce myself and explain my specialism (Physics), and tell them that I’m looking forward to working with them over the next year.

Seating

I use a seating plan with my classes, which I aim to mix up fairly regularly. In practice it often takes a while, as it helps to provide some stability to start with – and makes learning names easier. I use targets and SEN info to help me plan the seating, so that I can readily assist (or have TAs within reach of) those students who are likely to need support. This will usually need modifying, as I find I’ve inadvertantly sat deadly enemies next to each other, or that I have an entire row of effectively silent students. But it’s a start.

Administration

There are some really boring jobs that still need to be done sooner rather than later – a bit of thought will help them to go more smoothly. Folders may need to be issued and names written on the front, perhaps textbooks (and the numbers collected in), dates of exams flagged up, targets issued and recorded. I try and use this time to pick up a few names, especially for those students at the top and bottom of the ability range. It’s also a chance to praise kids who can listen to the instructions (which ideally should be on the board/IWB as well), so setting a precedent. If you’re new to a school, ask someone who isn’t about tips and tricks for what matters most, where book numbers are recorded and so on. Trying to catch up at Christmas isn’t fun.

Routines

How you tell students about what is expected of them will vary between teachers and between schools. If there is a school code of conduct, it’s perhaps worth discussing how this will be applied in the science lab. I’ve posted before about how I try to negotiate the wording of the rules, so that students feel ‘ownership’. It’s important they understand that teachers as well as students are bound by the agreement. Some teachers will have students sign a copy for display; others will save an electronic version, and return to it from time to time. I find emphasizing that the lab is for learning, and asking students how we can make that happen, is a useful approach. Learn, Enjoy, Achieve are three separate aims that cover most of it, and students find it hard to object to these goals. Be prepared for questions from the students about consequences for those who don’t follow agreed rules, and be ready to emphasize that right now they all have the chance to leave bad habits behind them. I sometimes have them write out the agreed rules and underline the one they think they’ll have most trouble with themselves.

Trailer

If at all possible, you want there to be something in the lesson telling the kids what the subject is going to be like. This doesn’t necessarily mean a flashy demo – it’s a pain to set up and might set expectations a little high. Talking about what science is all about can be useful; I’ve emptied out my pockets on to the demo bench (a nice way to show you’re human, too) and talked about how the coming topics are applied. Credit cards (chips and magnetic strips), mobile phone (EM, materials, electricity), keys (metals, chemical reactions), karabiner keyring (forces), pocket torch (light, energy), chocolate bar (nutrition)… all kinds of possibilities.

This year I plan to use the “I know a place” speech by Phil Plaitt, who among other things writes the Bad Astronomy blog. If you’ve not read this before, I really think you should. I’m hoping that this will set the scene nicely for my students in terms of telling them what science is all about. Of course I’ll also tell them the topics for the next year, how they’ll be assessed and all that. But it’s the big picture that I want them to have, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the universe.

EDIT: @alomshaha has reminded me of his Why Science? site, with all kinds of useful introductions to the best subject in the curriculum. 🙂 I’d probably use small sections for this purpose rather than the full version, but I should emphasize that’s about time constraints!

If you want/need to start teaching content, remember a few basic things. You’ll be pushed for time. They’ll want to catch up with friends more than they want to make a good impression. Some won’t have pens or pencils. Several will swear blind they’ve never covered the material you know they did last year. So if you must, I’d suggest an assessment exercise, auditing previous knowledge. This could be a comprehension piece, perhaps with some HSW elements or, as Lauraj987 suggested, a research activity where they use textbooks to remind themselves of what they’ve already done. That way those with good memories don’t have a particular advantage.

Enjoy it. Get off to a good start in September and life will be much easier in March. I don’t agree with the old “Don’t smile until Christmas” rule but it’s much easier to relax later in the year than get stricter. You’ll be with these kids for at least a year, perhaps two – make the most of it.