#CSciTeach Application

As part of my application for #CSciTeach, I’ve had to put together a professional review. This is about demonstrating masters-level thinking in terms of actions, evidence and reflection. After putting it together I realised that the members of the board would be looking at a paper copy, so all my hotlinks would be, sadly, wasted.

Oops.

So here it is, with links, in the vague hopes that

  1. The board might be able to find everything I was trying to point at in one place, and
  2. that the rest of you might find it vaguely interesting.

I have been teaching for the last nine years and in that time have taught across the ability and age ranges, from 11-18. Ofsted regard [my setting] as an Outstanding school with results well above the national average. I have no paid responsibility role but for the last three years have been the Radiation Protection Supervisor for the Science department. I have also worked closely with several of the student teachers we have hosted.

Professional Knowledge and Understanding

I read a variety of blogs and websites to keep up with discoveries and news in science; books let me look in depth at ideas which seem particularly relevant or interesting (most recently The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Packing for Mars). This has provided me with a range of material to use in lessons, from new applications to lively anecdotes. In particular I have developed my teaching of biology by reading about natural selection and genetics; this has allowed me to help students doing GCSE or A-level biology despite being a physicist by training. Some books get added to my ‘library’ shelf, a mixture of fiction and science books I loan out to students. Most come back and although the content is not always relevant to exams several have credited the challenge with helping their overall understanding and performance. I watch less TV but documentaries have been useful at times, despite the difficulty of saving parts or whole programmes to use in class; fortunately radio is often be easier to share, as I found with a recent Inside Health programme.

The same two approaches – websites and books – serve me well for developing my pedagogy. Of course as a member of the ASE I read SSR and EiS, as well as Science in School and the SCORE monthly email. It is difficult to keep up with educational research without paying a great deal for the privilege, but these are a good starting point. My reading on the use of testing as a method in itself for improving recall led me to introduce regular mini-tests for several of my classes; their KS3 test results have improved over this time. Participation in a trial of online CPD with the Science Learning Centres gave me the skills and confidence to improve the use of maths methods in science lessons. I have shared these ideas with colleagues within and beyond the science department; students now complete a workbook and refer to these examples when needed. My current focus is on the two complementary approaches for content and practical skills, the 5/7Es and Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) models. As I develop and update schemes of work – I am currently producing material for A2 Physics – I am using these principles to share concepts with colleagues.

I have found Twitter a valuable resource for both science and teaching information. This has involved sharing ideas with other science teachers informally and as part of the organised discussions #asechat and #SciTeachJC. Over the past year I have been engaging more with primary research by planning sessions for the Journal Club, defining questions and summarising afterwards. The most recent discussion has led me to think about how to more thoroughly assess the discrete teaching of skills for ‘doing science’ at an early stage. We already use this approach in my current setting but I am looking forward to developing this further in the future. The recent interest in evidence-based practice has been gratifying and I’m looking forward to attending ResearchED2013 this September.

Professional Practice

National changes in exam specifications have given many opportunities to develop schemes of work within Science. As part of this I have had responsibility for several sections at Key Stages 4 and 5, as well as developing a new approach to the Space topic for Year 9. Practical and demonstration activities have been developed to better support students’ learning. I have been particularly keen on the use of the Predict Observe Explain cycle, which I am now developing into Predict Because Observe Describe Measure Explain. This has been effective in helping students completing the current controlled assessments.

This is one of many tools I have shared with students for effective investigative learning, including a display board which has been emulated in other labs. The focus of this is to enable students in their own learning, accurately describing their own level of achievement and recognising next steps for themselves. Checklists are useful for practical approaches and versions for exams allow them to plan their own revision, choosing from a range of explicitly taught methods. Students with more insight now recognise that this balance is important not just for their development in Science but in taking mature responsibility across all subjects.

Working to ensure radiation protection has resulted in two distinct roles; the surveys and purchases of equipment have encouraged me to check my own knowledge, and this has led to me producing both teaching and instruction materials for my colleagues. This ensures all GCSE students have the chance to see actual radiation demonstrations rather than simulations; colleagues who are not physics specialists now have a clear point of contact and so are more confident with this equipment.

I’ve spent the past two years trying out an electronic markbook; in the absence of a school-wide approach it’s been mainly individual trial and error. Next year’s will be significantly better and allow me to track pupils’ progress more closely against specific targets, using models from APP. I hope to combine this with classroom displays so that they find it easier to identify successful strategies for their individual strength and weaknesses. It has already made it easier for me to feedback to parents and complete reports, but I would like it to record and support more frequent formative assessment.

The positive response of my students last year to their involvement in I’m A Scientist was very encouraging. They were able to use their chat sessions to get a better idea of ‘hands-on’ research projects and apply the mindset, if not the details, to their own investigative work. 19 of the 32 students met their upper quartile GCSE target. It is hoped that this kind of project will continue to support our excellent numbers for AS level science in general and Physics in particular, following my action research project into progression of able students. We are currently expecting just over 40 students to start AS Physics in September.

Attributes

As a teacher I aim for my students to Enjoy, Learn and Achieve; in fact this is how I start the school year. Most have told me that although they may not be as enthusiastic about science as I am (they used the word ‘geek’ for some reason) they do feel my lessons help them to see the relevance of the ideas to their lives.

I find that the freedom of my blog has allowed me to reflect more openly on the successes – and ‘learning experiences’ – in my lessons. My evolving CPD tracker allows me to identify specific points from both formal CPD and less structured activities. Comments and feedback from colleagues near and far, as well as the direct experience in the classroom, have allowed me to tweak activities for better learning. I have applied the same approach to educational research, aiming to apply it to classroom methods when relevant. Applying ideas on better demonstrations and enhanced use of practical work – I discovered Ian Abrahams’ work following a workshop with Alom Shaha and David Sang at the 2012 ASE conference – mean that my students give better descriptions and propose more detailed explanations than in the past.

Although I have not sought a leadership role in Science I am recognised as a colleague with a strong interest in the research base behind professional practice. I have led shared INSET days with colleagues across [my city], most recently on approaches to enthuse gifted and talented pupils. I have also attended and presented at teachmeets, reporting on one for the Guardian. I find these an excellent opportunity to share quick ideas with fellow teachers across the curriculum, and so give familiar topics a fresh edge.

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Why Creative Commons?

I recently tweeted about the copyright rules for a resources site which charges for membership.

I’d like to take this chance to clarify – as I already have done to several of the editors of the site – that this was not intended as a specific criticism of them, but of the industry standard which makes distributing, sharing and finding resources so difficult. I’ve blogged about this before, but this seems like a good opportunity to explain how I aim to get my resources ‘out there’ using Creative Commons Licences, and to share a possible future approach – albeit a utopian one.

EDIT: I’ve swapped a couple of very good-natured emails with people at the site, and promised I’d add a couple more facts. Firstly pdf versions of resources, where relevant, are free to all users after registration. It’s only for interactive or editable versions that a paid membership (individual or school) is needed. Royalties are paid based on number of resources, not popularity, with the remainder of income going to pay for the editing and curation costs associated. An exclusive licence is needed (ie you can’t upload your material if it’s on any other site), and it still means searching is done within a walled garden.

(I’d also like to make it clear that I don’t make a financial profit from this site. It’s a fairly cheap hobby in terms of cash, but not in time. If anyone wants to say thank you, they can buy me a coffee, or I can put a link to an Amazon wishlist if you’re feeling generous.)

CC-BY-NC-SA

You may have seen the above letters on my resources, or the logo which does the same job. If so I’ve tried to make sure there’s a link back to the human-readable explanation of the full legal licence. Basically, it means you’re welcome – indeed invited! – to use my resources, as they are or after editing (CC), as long as you don’t make a profit out of it (NC). That’s a bit of a grey area, as teachers technically get paid to teach, but I think most people would understand that if you changed a few words and sold it on, I’d be annoyed. You’re also supposed to credit me (BY), simply by including the links I build in is fine, and if you make something share it (SA) with the same kind of licence, or at least expectation.

cc-by-nc-sa

It’s a legal statement and, I suppose, a philosophical viewpoint. I like sharing. I’m in the process of going through all my resources, adding the code where needed, and trying to make sure I’ve not accidentally used images that aren’t CC-registered. From a community-spirited point of view, I’d like to think people are using my resources to make their teaching lives easier. And selfishly, it gives me a huge ego-boost when I find out someone is. 🙂

Utopia

Loads of teachers share loads of resources, often without expecting anything back. (Although comments are appreciated, I promise.) The following is recycled from a proposal I put together a while back. It wasn’t picked up, but I still think the idea has some potential. It certainly explains why I think sites like TeachIt Science are perhaps not as useful as they could be, in an ideal world.

There are some fantastic materials – worksheets, videos, presentations, activities of all kinds – available on the web, much of it free. TES and the more recent GuardianTeachers site work in effectively the same way, although much of the material is produced by individual teachers. There are many others, but each works as its own walled garden. Current sites use one of two business models; paid membership, or based around the advertising revenue, which in turn depends on the number of people visiting the site. Either way, the problem isn’t a lack of resources. It’s finding what already exists.

At the moment, if a teacher is to find what they are looking for (or more importantly, what they weren’t looking for but would be really useful) they have to trawl an awful lot of sites. The biggest issue is that each time a new resource site is set up it tries to replace what already exists. As is often the case, XKCD has something useful to say:

xkcd-standards

For producers of content – in many cases working teachers – it means yet another place to upload our material. There is a fairly limited market (although I suppose the percentage of teachers looking online for resources is increasing) so the sites are competing for a fairly static number of
‘customers’. Why should we as teachers take time uploading our resources to commercial sites, which then make a profit from what we have done?

Teachers don’t just need a library; they need a catalogue.

An associated issue, and very noticeable with some of the sites, is that the balance between crowdsourcing and curation isn’t right. Some accept everything and curation only happens by looking at popularity scores. Others commission a small amount of material which they check rigorously and end up being a very niche operation, because the costs of this are unavoidable. For consumers, it takes so long to look in all the possible places that they end up spending as much time as it would have taken to create their own. The web is about sharing ideas, not restricting resources to one group, even if it is free to access.

Commercial sites such as the TES don’t want to routinely send users to their competitors. Google can’t usefully find this sort of content quickly as professional judgement is needed to assess quality. To be effective, a directory needs to reference a wide range of content, use good keywords so it’s searchable (by type of resource, age group, qualification etc), and be graded usefully by quality – not just by users’ star ratings. Fortunately, crowdsourcing and curation could be applied in a much more effective way so teachers can peer review each other’s work.

Crowdsourcing:

  1. Produce a checklist to describe and assess teaching resources. Part of this would be defined fields based on obvious criteria (type of resource, age group etc). Make this checklist – effectively a ‘markscheme’ – public, and adjust it based on comments from the eventual users.
  2. Issue an open invitation for submission of URLs to a GoogleDocs form. Each submission would require relevant keywords from set fields to describe the resource. For example an exam checklist might be tagged with 14-16, AQA, Physics, exams, pdf, CC-BY-NC-SA etc.
  3. Set a deadline, either in time or when a certain number of submissions have been received, and publicise the project as widely as possible.

Curation:

  1. Find a half-dozen subject specialist teachers who are happy to spend a weekend together. Pay them overtime. Provide accommodation and food. Lock them in a meeting room with good ‘net access and lots of coffee. Have a computer technician who can troubleshoot as they review every link, scoring them according to the agreed criteria.
  2. Moderate a random sample of each teacher’s reviews. Ask them to suggest any useful changes to the checklist/markscheme. Every rating is based on teacher judgement.
  3. If you can convince a national teaching body to fund it, make the directory free to all users. The cost would be tiny compared to many projects with less impact. If not, cover the costs with a small fee for access to the directory. I’d happily pay a few quid a year if I knew it would save me time – one login, then all the resources linked (not hosted) from one place. I wonder how many teachers woud feel the same?

This is a high impact approach with a minimal cost.

By balancing crowdsourcing (where individual teachers do a small amount of work by submitting a favourite resource) and curation (where the time commitment means it needs to be paid properly) the strengths of both are acknowledged. The process is focussed on teachers using their professional judgement and being rewarded for it, not consultants who no longer use the resources in a classroom. Teachers would feel ownership in the process and so get more out of the product.

If, of course, it ever happens. Consider this idea to be simple Creative Commons – CC-BY – do what you want. Please. I’d love to see this happen.

TeachMeetMidlands 1/2

Last night – a warm summer evening – I finished work and then travelled into Derby rather than away, so I could attend a TeachMeet. If you’ve not been to one, I strongly recommend the experience; classroom teachers sharing an idea which should be usable more or less immediately. Quick talks (max 7 minutes in theory) and lots of chances to ask questions and share ideas. There’s usually coffee.

I’ll post soonish about the ideas I’ve taken away, although if you’re in a hurry you can see the quick notes I made via my CPD tracker – these are not yet proofed and will be gaining details and links when I get a chance to reflect. This post is my chance to share the resources I talked about there, and the presentation I didn’t end up doing.

Review Templates

I’m not bothering to embed the presentation, although you can have a look if you’re interested. Basically, I like to get students using the ideas to improve understanding, as a stage distinct from revision (although these are good for that too). I’ve spent a bit of time today tidying them up and you can now download a total of eight A4 pages in two sections. (They were a mixture of Word and Publisher originally – anyone know an easy way to stitch two pdfs into one file?)

Cornell Notes, Prior Planning, Fours as a pdf

These Are The Answers, PBODME, Blooms, 5Cs, Quarters as a pdf

Comments, thoughts and feedback welcome as always. The only one that’s not really self-explanatory, Cornell Notes, has its own post on this blog.

CPD Tracker

As the link above shows, I’m trying to better track (and reflect on) my CPD using a Google Form. This has lots of advantages (mobile as well as platform independent) and could potentially be used for accreditation or sharing within a group or department. In fact, I’m hoping it will get looked at as part of my #CSciTeach accreditation, which I will be blogging about soon.

My original post is probably still the most useful to explain, but you may also find the presentation helpful. This is what I would have delivered with more time, but this way I can reach those who care and avoid boring those who don’t!

(If for whatever reason the embedded version isn’t working for you, the presentation can be accessed directly.)

Please let me know what ideas, if any, are useful for you – nice to be able to show impact!