Distractions are easy to find. In fact, they seek us out – now more than ever. I’m sure I’m not the only person who found that exam season at university was when the bath really needed cleaning. One of the issues with encouraging students to revise effectively is that they are more vulnerable to distractions than we realise – and perhaps more so than they realise too.

I was alerted to (ironically, while I should have been doing something else) this great graphic from InformationIsBeautiful (click for link to the original, used and attributed via CC):

This got me thinking about whether students really understand how important it is to be able to focus on revision. I do a lot about how to make active learning effective, both in lessons and at home. (See new project The Student Toolkit for examples) I’m just not sure that kids who are used to ‘background’ noise/distractions keep track of the problems it causes. This links nicely to things I’ve read about the ‘always on’ culture.

So I decided to run an activity to help them consider it.

The idea for this was for students to make their own hierarchy about distractions. They can add any particular issues, or discuss subtle differences: Is someone else’s music better or worse? What about instrumental opposed to vocals? Which social networks are hardest to ignore for them?

You could extend it by asking them to log, for an hour of doing homework, how much of that time was ‘stolen’ by other activities. You could ask them to complete a simple task in the lesson under different distractions – a nice exercise in HSW if you involve them in the planning! It’s the sort of lesson that could be nicely started with a video of the classic experiment about selective attention.

There are many ways to get students thinking about making the most of their study or revision time. Of course, we can’t make them do it. But by forcing them to make an informed choice, we can at least ask them to take responsibility for their own actions, leave their phone out of the way and switch off the TV.


Integrating Science

I know the title sounds like some dreadful policy statement, or yet another course which promises high scores for the league tables without any dumbing down, nudge nudge wink wink. But it’s not. Instead, it’s a simple activity you could do with any science class. It would work well during Science Week, and I think the results might be worthy of a display. Even if it started as a joke on Twitter:

Why not start with your preferred version of this, and see what kids can suggest about the real links between science topics? This would be an interesting review activity towards the end of KS3, for example. Electron shells are both physics and chemistry, as are proton numbers – but can students write in the overlapping regions how it works? What about the chemistry of aerobic respiration (or is that physics because of the energy change)? Geology can be considered as what happens when physics (convection, fluid dynamics, expansion/contraction etc) meets chemistry (minerals, rock composition, acids). I’m imagining large circles drawn on a demo desk, and students adding post-it notes with their ideas in the appropriate gaps.

I like the idea of having students spot and explain the links between what are so often seen as completely different regions of the subject. I used this with my year 13 students recently, when we discussed how a melting ionic compound is breaking both chemical and physical bonds. Making these connections between subjects help to improve both understanding and recall. I’d love to hear how other students – and teachers – integrate the varied science topics into a Venn diagram in their very own way. Links in the comments, perhaps?

(I should add a thank you to @PookyH for her description of how to embed a ‘live’ tweet’.)

And I’d like to apologise to regular readers for the long pause between posts; I’m in the middle of several new projects, one of which is just getting off the ground. Check out studenttoolkit.co.uk for more information.