Funding a Science Ed Project

A quick appeal for help: I’ve got a cunning plan and would love to see it happen. But I’m going to need some help.

I’ve written before (see the second half of this post, which I’ve cannibalised below) and complained on Twitter about finding science teaching resources. It’s hard. And, frustratingly, it’s harder than it needs to be. Quality control comes at the expense of  accessibility. Good resources take time and money to produce, and then they need to be kept somewhere. There are some great resources which most people know about; Practical Physics (and the biology and chemistry equivalents, naturally) for example. There are good directories which make an effort to organise materials so they can be found; the eLibrary from STEM comes to mind.But could we do better?

Brief

  • links to resources, rather than hosting them all
  • sortable by key-stage, topic, type of resource
  • some kind of meaningful review/curation/approval process
  • free to use without login

The last one is probably the sticking point. Who would spend the time and money to produce something like this, without then harvesting your details so they can sell you something? (And yes, I know a login allows you to make personalised lists of resources – but that should be an optional extra, not a requirement.)

I’d like to make this. I think it would be useful; an evolving resource which any science teacher could use to find useful stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity cost lately, and any time spent searching for resources, or reinventing a powerpoint about the motion of a wheel, is time that could have been spent on something better.

I’m not suggesting that time creating resources is necessarily wasted. We personalise what we do, we match it to students, we use it to clarify our own thinking, and we diagnose problems when we see how students (mis)use it. But what if you could check, once, if someone’s already done it?

What I’m imagining comes in two distinct phases. I put a smaller version of this together for Martin Reah when he was involved in a ‘Science SOW in a day’ last year. But if we wanted to do something larger-scale, I’d need significantly more help.

Crowdsourcing Phase:

  1. Get a domain and matched Google accounts so everything is in one place.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Set a deadline or a threshold when a certain number of submissions have been received, and publicise the project as widely as possible.

Curation Phase:

  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. Make the spreadsheet freely available, or ideally build it into a website with the messy data behind the scenes.
  4. Return to Crowdsourcing Step 2 above.

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. If you think this looks like a good idea, you can help me out:

  1. Make suggestions of improvements in the method above. What’s wrong? What could be better?
  2. Share this post however you like so other people can make suggestions.
  3. Pass it on to people with budgets to spend on science education projects which can be open-access. As a community, we have the knowledge and the skills. What we don’t have is cash.

 

 

 

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2016: Looking Ahead

2015 was a pretty busy year. Lots going on – not that life with three kids is ever any different – and it didn’t always feel like there was a chance to breathe. So now I’m taking a moment to write what I’m hoping to get out of 2016.
Professionally, I’m hopeful. The day job is going well, I think, and I’m looking forward to sharing more ideas with colleagues. I’m hoping to collect some data on the classroom impact of what I’ve been doing with ‘my’ schools, which will possibly lead to an article with my name on it. I need to start searching more systematically for freelance work, delivering CPD or getting involved in the textbook and resource side of things. I think my blog can be a good way to showcase what I do, so I’m planning to schedule days to build it up each month. I’d like to get some more classroom time, with real students, but supply work is both hard to fit in and really badly paid, so it will probably be in small chunks in my partner schools.
As ‘payment’ for a recent review piece I scored several education texts, so the reading will form a fair bit of my own CPD over the coming months. I plan to share highlights and insights on here as ever. Plus I got What If? just before Christmas, which will get a post all of its own. (Summary: it’s great.) I was hoping to make at least one day of #ASEconf but my wife and I are both shattered as smallest person is doing a lot more teething than sleeping. I’ll have to look out for something later on in the year. Suggestions?
Due to circumstances beyond our control – persistent bullying by pupils, and a lack of willingness to deal with it coupled with deeply unprofessional behaviour on the part of the school management – we’ve taken our eldest out of school. He’ll be finishing his year 6 being educated at home, which has its own set of challenges but also opportunities. To start with, he’s missing the huge ordeal of SATs. They had already started doing practice papers, in November, showing how disproportionate an effect external testing can have. So instead he’s learning to cook, improving his photography and gymnastics skills, and developing his computing by designing and building a website for our child-minder. Plus regular maths practice, book reviews and comprehension exercises based on articles from chicken care to architecture. The good news is that by September he will also have all the skills I’ve so often seen lacking in Year 7 science students, if it kills me. Which it might.
Illness on my side of the family – Dad’s very much past his best-before date, and it shows – means we’ll be making the trip south on a fairly regular basis. Several hours stuck in a car with a crying infant now constitute a hot date for my wife and I, sadly. This is probably one of many issues that have encouraged the return of my personal ‘black dog‘, so apologies for frequent silences and grumpiness on Twitter. More running might help. I need to sign up for some events – I won’t call them races because I’m only competitive with board games – to motivate me to get out and train. I got out climbing with the boys last week, which reminded me of just how much I ennjoy it and just how out of shape I’ve become. Less chocolate. More climbing. Repeat.
I’d like to get into the habit of baking bread. I want to get at least one more tattoo, and I’m still playing with some science-inspired ink designs. Drink good coffee. Read good books.
And to all my loyal readers… all the best for the coming year.

Moving On

So yesterday was the first proper day of the holidays. I say that because the weekends don’t really count, do they? But the first weekday when you get to lay in bed, relax over a cuppa, wear shorts rather than a shirt and tie… now that’s a holiday.

However, it’s a bit of an odd one for me. As you may have realised, depending on whether you caught the tweets or not, I’m moving on from my current job. In fact, it’s a bit more than moving on from the school I’ve been working at. As of September, I’ll not be a classroom teacher at all.

I’ve accepted a post with the Institute of Physics as a Teaching and Learning Coach. I’ll be one of 35 (some experienced and some like me new to the role) across the country. As part of the Stimulating Physics Network we’ll be promoting and helping physics teaching in secondary schools all over the place. My patch will be Derbyshire, mainly up towards Chesterfield, although we’re yet to finalise the specific schools.

For the first time in ten years I won’t be a classroom teacher, although as part of the job I’ll be visiting science labs and hopefully doing some work with various classes. I’ll still consider myself a science teacher, but they won’t be my classes. For the first time in a decade – since before my eldest son was born – I won’t be spending the summer stocking up on red pens. I will however be getting my head round various schemes of work and exam specifications, arguably more than before.

It’s exciting. And a bit scary. (Not least because with this being a part time role, I’ll have to manage some supply and/or freelance writing to support my coffee habit.) But I’m really looking forward to starting and seeing what kind of impact I can have. I suggested at my interview that the informal mentoring I’ve done in schools, and with the electronic staffrooms of blogging and twitter, could be seen as good training. Now to see if I was right.

I’m still planning to blog. I’ll still be tweeting “informally but informatively”, although I’ll be staying away from education policy for obvious reasons. Disclaimers have been added to my twitter profile and about page, making clear that these are my opinions, not those of my organisation. This means I’m now a writer-for-hire, so drop me a line if you’ve something I could be involved with. I’m still planning to join in with twitter chats and so on. All of that will be in my off-duty persona.

Spreading of identities, it’s probably time I formally came out of the closet. It’s not been that hard to link my real name with this account since I started writing elsewhere and linking to this site. So here I am, finally stepping out of the shadows.

I’m Ian Horsewell, and I’m a blogging addict.

The Root Of All Evil?

So I’m little bit broke.

That’s an exaggeration, actually. We’re not at risk of missing a mortgage payment and there’s no danger of us buying supermarket value mince any time soon. But because of several personal changes, which I’m not going to bore you with, we’ll be accepting an income drop this autumn. This is a bad thing.

So I was really tempted a while back when an email arrived from Target Splash Marketing asking if I’d host guest blogs “highlighting companies and products that might be of interest to my readers.” They offered to provide the links and have me write the articles. But in the end I said no because they said I would not be able to label the posts as ‘paid-for content’. I wonder how many other bloggers received a similar email and whether they agreed.

And let’s not even get into the PR company who offered to provide guest posts about BBC Active Video for Learning but stopped replying to emails when I asked about payment.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive. Maybe you think being this picky is ridiculous, rather than ethical. After all, I’m not exactly a professional journalist with standards to adhere to. But at the moment, the only way I make money from this site is from Amazon referrals that I would make anyway. And it’s about a pound a month.

More recently I’ve had a similar offer from a different company, but they’re not objecting to me labelling the paid-for content clearly. The money isn’t much. But it’s still money. So here I am, asking – would you object to occasional posts, once or perhaps twice a month, with commercial links?

If you do, this is your chance to object. If there are enough valid objections, I’ll reconsider. It’s my site so I get to decide what counts as valid. But I promise to respond to any and all comments.

Awards

I got nominated by somebody (thank you, whoever you are) for the #ukedchat Favourite Educational Blog award. Which is nice.

But

It’s all very well being nominated. And I don’t mean to sound grumpy, especially when someone else is doing all the hard work. But it’s difficult to see… well… what the point is.

I love getting feedback on my blog, via twitter or (even better) as actual comments. It’s like when kids leave the classroom arguing about the ideas they’ve just been studying; you’ve made a difference and there’s no better feeling. I’ve recently started asking readers to take a moment to add comments via a Google form so I can build up evidence of any impact I have beyond my classroom. (Thank you so much to those who have done so.) So applause/thanks/suggestions are all welcome. So is coffee. Or used fivers.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a nomination for something I’m never in a million years going to win doesn’t really make much difference. (And I should add, don’t deserve to win.) That’s the fault of how we see awards. Maybe we need to move on a little bit.

Popularity Contest Or Judged?

This award is a straight system: one email address, one vote. (I presume duplicate votes will be picked up anyway.) This means that popularity, or notoriety, will make as much a difference as quality. Putting a shortlist together, itself often based on popularity, has its own problems. Back in 2012 many of the originally nominated entries for the Education Blog Awards had every student or colleague in their school voting for them. That’s kind of missing the point. And if you’re getting people to judge it, who are they? How can you show that they’re both expert and unbiased?

Best at What?

What’s your favourite food? I like chocolate. And coffee. BBQ flavour doritos. Bacon sandwiches. Lemon mousse. Peanut butter biscotti. My own spaghetti bolognese (roasted peppers and a few spoonfuls or porridge oats make all the difference).

Like choosing a favourite book (impossible!) I’d find it hard to pick a favourite education blog. Categories would make it much easier; science teaching, teacher-led, class blog, education policy, sharing resources… how could I compare ideas from a colleague on practicals with reviews of political implications for teachers UK-wide?

There are loads of blogs on loads of possible topics. This means some excellent blogs will be missed because people can’t possibly have read them all, or in some cases have a meaningful opinion on them.

Formative, not Summative

What matters isn’t whether somebody likes what I write or share. What matters is the feedback I get on it. That helps me make it better. It picks up my typos, fixes broken links, gives better references or improved examples. And that means my students get a better education. If they listen, that is.

I don’t care whose blog is the ‘favourite’. I’m pretty sure it won’t be mine. But I do care about why people might choose to vote for me – and why they wouldn’t. I’ll always listen to criticism, and where possible respond. I might ignore the suggestions, but it’s my blog and my choice. But if I can do what I’m trying to do better, I’ll thank you and try to put it into place.

Constructive criticism and praise are the best ways to improve. Those are worthwhile. But a gold star is applause, not feedback. And is that award for a particular post? The last three? The response to comments? According to many views on performance management, I’m only as good as my last observed lesson. Does that mean my blog is only as good as my last post?

How about a project looking at what makes a blog worth reading, then people submitting their recommendations according to those categories? Votes only count if accompanied by comments, all of which are published afterwards. A list of the top five in each category, stripped of numbers of votes, practically writes its own article in the TES/Guardian.

Enlightened Altruism

Blogs aren’t in competition with each other. The whole point, as I see it – maybe you think differently – is to cooperate. When I write and you read, we both gain. And that’s true when you’re the writer and I’m the reader. So instead of voting for me – or as well as if you’re that committed – why not tell me, through a google form, how my blog has helped you.

 

Feed Me Seymour!

I’m a bad person.

This is not because I tell off students (although I do). It’s not because I told my son that revolving doors are powered by mice (and when he doubted me, pointed out that they squeak). It’s not even because I’ve been known to write really depressing poetry (for therapeutic reasons, and usually unshared).

It’s because two days after it was made available, I haven’t managed to watch Demo: The Movie.

I will, really I will. But at work I still don’t have speakers, making watching anything on my desktop an exercise in frustration and lip-reading. And at home I’ve been busy cooking, washing up, child-rearing and taking a mostly-dead mouse back outside, much to the disgust of the cat. So it is as yet unwatched, despite my certainty that it will be interesting, funny and well-produced. With luck it will be watched by me over the next couple of days, so I can (a) blog about it over the weekend and (b)contribute to the forthcoming #asechat. So watch this space. I’m sorry, Alom.

In this context, it seems a little cheeky that I’m the one asking for feedback. But I wanted to post about my latest hare-brained scheme idea, as suggested in my previous item. I’ve set up a google form, but this time it’s not for me. Instead, I’d invite any and all readers of my blog – and, I suppose, twitter feed – to take a moment to record what I’ve done that has helped them.

feedback

I’ll be including a link in every (non-political) post from now on. My hope is that instead of paying me, you’d be happy to document an ongoing portfolio of my impact outside my own classroom and school. A crowd-sourced testimonial, if you will. You don’t have to leave your name, just a few words about how what I did made a difference. If you’ve blogged about it, I’d love for you to include a link. Tweets are transient, comments on the posts are hard to collect together, but this would really help.

Blog Feedback via Google Form

Of course, if this post inspires you to add your own evidence-gathering Google Form to your site, and you link back here, the internet will quite possibly explode in a frenzy of recursion. So be careful.

Payment by Feedback

It’s safe to say I’m not making money out of blogging. Not directly, anyway; it’s given me a chance to polish my writing, which has meant a few freelance opportunities, and I’ve been involved with resources and reviews. But if I was daft enough to compare the time spent with the financial outcome, it would be even worse than my hourly rate teaching. Which is depressing.
Fortunately, I do it for other reasons. I blog (and tweet) to get my own ideas straight. I share resources to help out colleagues, and because their comments help me make the resources better, or use them more effectively. It means I can complain or moan ‘virtually’ and avoid making the staffroom even more depressing and negative than it is already. Despite my black dog, I aim to make sure my posts are fairly positive, and the responses often make me feel better because I’ve helped someone else out. Selfish altruism, as it were.
I know there’s a lot of discussion about putting teaching content online and how it can be profitable – in terms of money, rather than reputation. Some teacher/bloggers have written books. (Maybe some day.) Some become consultants or providers of CPD (Probably not). There are already some ways to get paid for your resources, summarised in this recent post by @teachertoolkit.
I have issues with letting someone else make money from my work. Some websites charge for access, while others eg TES sell advertising based on how many people come to download the resources. I find it interesting that, for example, Guardian Education now have bloggers who don’t get paid but provide content that goes alongside that of their journalists. In my view this is unpaid freelancing and it’s a con. But that’s my view and YMMV. (I wonder how the journalists feel about being replaced by unpaid amateur writers, too…)
I’m not expecting to get paid. If you want to help out, then follow one of my Amazon links next time you shop, which means I get a teeny percentage. Last year this about balanced the cost of my domain fees for my other, slightly dormant site, studenttoolkit.co.uk. I suggested to Has Bean Coffee that it would be great if I could put a button on my site which would let people apply a nominal contribution, perhaps via PayPal, to help me with my coffee habit. They’re looking into it, which is quite cool. Ed Yong used to have a PayPal tips jar on his excellent blog. Charles Stross explains why he doesn’t have a tips jar and what you should do instead; Cory Doctorow has a similar viewpoint. If you really feel that I’ve helped you more than versa vice, then help the BHA give copies of a good book to UK school kids.
But what I really want is feedback.
“Feedback keeps me at my keyboard and off the streets. Trust me, you want that.”
.sig file from my fanfic days
Tell me on Twitter and comment on the original posts. Share your links. Tell me what was good. Tell me what sucked. I hope it doesn’t need to be said that I will never edit comments to change opinions (I reserve the right to correct spelling, because I’m me), nor remove your comment because of your opinions (unless you’re choosing not to listen, eg chiropractors).
These comments not only help me improve my practice (I used ‘reason’ rather than ‘because’ to make PRODME’ after a comment on my last post) but help me show that what I’m doing is helping colleagues. But I’d like to make it more formal.
Over the next few days, I’m going to put together a google form for feedback. I’ll include the link on each teaching post and prominently on my pages. This will let me build up a list of anyone who has found a resource useful, either with colleagues  or students. There will be the option to paste a link to your own post about it, if relevant.
This will take minutes, if that. It won’t cost you any money. And it will include all the evidence I could ever need about the impact I hopefully have outside my own school. If I’m going to use my blog as evidence of my teaching and a record of my CPD (which needs updating), then I might as well get my readers to build me a list of ‘as used in x school’ testimonials.
Thoughts?