How I (Want To) Mark

After joining (read: barging in on) a Twitter discussion on marking between @HThompson1982 and others, I thought it might be worth blogging a little. I wanted to think through what marking should be, what it is, and how I personally try to bridge the gap between them. Basically, you see, blogging is my chance to reflect on what I’m doing, what’s working and what isn’t; that you people also read my wittering is just a bonus.

thanks to @mrgpg for making me aware of this stamp

What it should be

There are many purposes and many ways to mark, but in the end it should come down to just two reasons.

  • To help students get better at what they do.
  • To check that they’re actually doing what we expect of them.

I suppose you could add a third reason – because my HoD tells me to – which is fairly depressing, when you think about it. It’s more likely that department or school policy will influence how you mark, which is not always according to best practice. Like most of us, I don’t enjoy marking but try not to get too behind.

What it should do

A lot of research – familiar to anyone who’s read work by Black, Marzano, Hattie – has shown that students respond best to comments that don’t include a grade. I found the discussion in Alfie Kohn’s article The Case Against Grades particularly interesting. A grade distracts students from the comment – which is where the formative assessment lies.

This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t consider the level of a students’ work. It just means that giving that level at the time is counterproductive. That grade is only a snapshot anyway, of what students achieved on one task, perhaps with help, perhaps rushed over breakfast. What is much more useful is to give students an overall assessment, regularly, but emphasizing that this is an overview. I dislike the word holistic, but I gues that’s what I mean. Grades for individual pieces may be recorded, but should be detached from the comments.

The point of marking is almost always formative assessment. It should tell us how they’re doing, add to our overview of how the class is doing (and by implication, how well we have taught a particular aspect), and guide the next steps for student and teacher. far too often we note what is wrong with work, students skim it, then make exactly the same mistakes next time. Because there are no consequences.

Different settings have different rules on what we should look for while marking. You will have your own opinions on what matters most. In general, I would see five categories of mistake that will need some kind of feedback:

  • Content – where students show by their answers that they have failed to understand the science
  • Maths – equations, arithmetic, standard form, graphs…
  • Literacy – misplaced apostrophes are my personal obsession, but spelling can also be a never-ending task
  • Presentation – yes, it does matter, if students are to read their notes and learn/revise from them
  • Effort – missing, incomplete, rushed or plagiarised work may reflect misunderstanding, but is still a choice by the student

You may find it challenging when ‘expected practice’ in your setting is not the same as the best evidence-based practice around. Ideally, raising the evidence within your department or during INSET – perhaps offering to lead some CPD – might have a positive effect. Be wary of subverting accepted policies if you are not in a position of responsibility/power. Or start looking elsewhere.


When work is marked in class, using ideas from the students and as a chance for students to see each other’s work and wording, part of the activity should always be to make it better. Too often, this doesn’t happen when we mark folders or books. Students should understand the expectation that they will learn from what we have written down. We should not have to repeat ourselves, any more than we would in class when telling them something. Feedback is the start of a conversation, where students show by word or action that they have taken on board what we suggest.

Ideally, we could identify the problem, perhaps provide a hint and let them figure out the remedy. This might be by reminding them of a page reference, formula or agreed layout (“working?” for example). We could refer them to a board display, or a checklist they (should) have to hand. Giving them a direct instruction may not be as effective, as it means they can be obedient without understanding why. This means there’s a higher chance of repeat offending. If we need to make the same comment the next time their work is marked, something hasn’t worked. If they make progress, then as well as getting better at our subject they’ve learned how to improve how they learn.

I try to include a time limit on actions; this may be implicit, for example by the next time work is marked. I’m experimenting with a feedback page at the back of folders, where students add a summary of what they need to do, change or remember based on my comments. The aim is for them to refer to this, a personal checklist of past errors, before attempting future work.

Making it easier

This is yet another one of those areas which work much better if there is a unified, consistent approach. Students need to know from you – and from your colleagues, in your department and others – will expect them to act on feedback. The progress they make, or fail to make, should result in appropriate consequences. How you work this is up to you, but notes home for positive progress – even a line in a HW diary – can have a huge impact. You wouldn’t make a kid wait until parents’ evening to pass on the bad stuff, so why fail to recognise the good promptly? Like most teachers, I need to be better at this. It all takes so much time, doesn’t it?

Save time by getting kids into good habits early. Give time in lessons for them to act on feedback, proofread work, transfer comments into reminders in a personal checklist, refer to a dictionary or borrow a ruler for that table. Make sure they know that the changes will help them, that they are not for the teacher’s benefit. There’s a lot going round at the moment about marginal gains, and this is a good example.

Comments that you need to write a lot – about graphs, perhaps, underlining titles, or praising good use of detail – can be printed on stickers (or stamped, see above) for speed. This saves longer comments being abbreviated when you’re rushing, or being completely illegible. Each time you mark work, write yourself a prompt in your planner to speak to a couple of kids, in detail, individually – different ones each time. Each half term this will give you a mini-tutorial with every child in the class.


So, this is your chance to practise what you preach. Choose one aspect of your marking that could be better. Spend a few minutes figuring out a way to make it better – perhaps steal some ideas from a colleague, at your school or online. Ask if you can flick through someone else’s marked books for tips. Then focus on that every time you mark work for the next month. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments below!

This is what I’m doing at the moment; my October target was to improve my marking so that students got more out of what I did. I’m setting myself a different aspect of my work every month to improve, looking at evidence and tweaking what I do. Which, after all, is what formative assessment is all about…

5 Es or 7?

A recent #SciTeachJC was spent discussing a paper extolling the virtues of the 5Es. It’s also known as the 7Es, slightly confusingly, and many teachers will be familiar with the process if not the vocabulary. It was pointed out during the session that both CASE and Wikid follow some similar principles. I thought that as it’s the season for (re)writing schemes of work, that it would perhaps be useful to put together a quick ‘how to’ guide. Linked resources are going to be mostly science-related, so apologies to teachers of other subjects.

If, of course, you are involved with York Science you may already be using this approach! If you’re not, I strongly recommend you check it out – I would still be contributing if I had time, but I’ve managed to over-commit myself with all kinds of teaching-related stuff. Oops.

Anyway, the 5/7Es. The original version, as put together by an American curriculum development group, started with the backward design concept. They identified five useful stages for a lesson which contributed to effective learning. These – or the overlapping seven Es, if you prefer – can be used as a checklist for a scheme or lesson which works. Here’s my interpretation of it, apologies for any misunderstandings/oversimplifications (and please comment to identify my mistakes!). Ideally we as teachers should start at the end, asking ourselves the question:

How will my students demonstrate to me and themselves that they understand this idea?

EDIT: A simplified, quick-reference version of this quick-reference post is now available in a single page pdf – Hope it’s useful!

Engage (and Elicit)

Get their attention and find out what they know. This will mean in some way making it relevant to them. Invoke curiousity, excitement, wonder. Make them feel as well as intellectually recognise the relevance. It will often mean identifying pre- or mis-conceptions. This will probably be your lesson starter, perhaps in the twin stages of setting the scene and gauging their current level of understanding.

  • video clip, perhaps from BBC Class Clips or similar.
  • quick demo, ideally one with a surprising outcome (eg dropping a nearly empty and a full water balloon from the window to test the ‘heavier objects fall faster’ assumption).
  • This is the equipment, what might we be doing today?
  • This is a scientist who did this experiment, what might have been his/her reasoning?
  • Label the apparatus and identify the control variables.
  • Two minute discussion of how X idea links to Y (mobile phone, internet, what they had for lunch…)
  • Surprising statement to make them question something (eg diagram of atom labelled ‘This is a lie’)
  • Unusual prop (radioactive rock, rusty nail or a brick with a piece of string attached for them to prove isn’t ‘alive’)
  • Question and three answers for them to grade as Good, Okay and Wrong, then justify choices and/or correct mistakes.

I’m in the process of putting together a powerpoint for these starters to cover every topic in KS3. It’s ongoing, for obvious reasons, but by adding a bit a week I’m making something with a variety of activities that wil be there as a back-up. It’ll stop me having to invent a question on the spur of the moment


The ideal method for students to learn science is by discovery, right? Hmm. Well, I’m not disagreeing – but it’s very important to remember that we need to give our classes just the right conditions so that they ‘discover’ the right things. If you doubt what I’m saying, think about the times you’ve had to finish a practical with “And what was supposed to happen was…”

Nevertheless, all good science teachers will try to make sure that as much as possible, students are exposed to real-life situations which demonstrate or illustrate scientific principles or facts. Of course they can’t ‘see’ everything with their own eyes during their own practicals. But we give them tasks which allow them to explore the ideas, with as much ‘hands-on, minds-on’ activities as possible:

  • designing and carrying out their own investigations
  • taking part in demonstrations
  • considering hypothetical situations (thought experiments)
  • discussing advantages and disadvantages of methods or technologies
  • observing the natural world
  • describing events and experimental results
  • drawing conclusions from recorded material, whether sample data, industrial processes or BBC documentary footage


Our role is to help them put these facts into a useful context. As much as possible, we should not be giving them answers – instead, we give them the language to describe what they have found out. This might be the literal words, such as current or evaporation. It might be more figurative, helping them to turn the patterns they have identified into clear mathematical relationships. This is scaffolding, supporting the students – who will demonstrate a wide range of understanding in most classrooms – to turn facts into knowledge. We relate it back to previous lessons or topics, hopefully drawing these connections from them whenever possible by the questions we ask and the reminders we offer. We may reword their ideas to produce a ‘class definition’, or have particular students share their explanations (which we have discreetly checked while they’ve been exploring).


Using the constructed understanding – a synthesis of what they have explored, put in the context and language of our explanations – students check that they grasp the concepts. This may consist of straightforward exercises, or more open questions. It could be something more imaginative – to explain their ideas in a podcast or video, or produce a poster summing up the main points. To challenge them this should include parallel examples which require them to base their examples on concepts, not just words or mathematical methods. During this time some will realise that they don’t understand it as well as they thought, and will (or should) ask for help. You may use the 4Bs method here to encourage independant problem solving, or have some students assigned as mentors. Further explanations may be needed and sometimes you may have to pause their work to give more examples to some or all of them.

Homework can be an effective way to continue this checking, but if they have not been able to identify difficulties with you there thay may hand in a blank sheet of paper. This is where encouraging self-assessment and being clear about feedback in terms of steps to progress, rather than scores, is essential.


In many ways this should be the focus of the lesson (or series of lessons, more often). Students should be able to describe their progress, and tell you how they can measure their improvement. A ‘split-screen’ plenary where they can comment on both content and methods means that they start to consider how they progressed, not just whether they did. I find it useful to have them grade themselves in terms of confidence and competence – the latter based on data. This can be particularly powerful if they started the lesson with a similar self-assessment, so can articulate their progress. This automatically tells them what they need to do next, setting themselves targets for further lessons.

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 for more information.

Demonstration or Class Practical?

It’s always a tricky one, isn’t it? Do we show them the experiment, knowing that a half-dozen or so will be messing around at the back or comparing nail varnish with their friends? Or do we let them loose with glassware and clamp stands, waiting for the crashing noises or the blank looks to begin?

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A bit. But for most of us, it’s probably taking a bit of time to think about the kinds of practicals we do, and why. Are we focused enough on what the students will learn from it? Or are we doing a particular practical or demonstration because it’s in the scheme of work, or because we’ve always done it?

I’ve used among other sources David Sang and Alom Shaha’s workshop at the ASE Conference and materials from Getting Practical and SCORE Education to produce a checklist (downloadable below, simply click on the image). The focus is about the benefits of a demonstration or a class practical. It’s an easy way to think about what can be added to an activity, or ways to tweak it to improve outcomes. Simply sharing with the students what they might be trying to gain from a practical is worthwhile – although in some cases as a plenary to avoid spoiling a surprise or insight. Simply take a moment to read through the lists, and see if you can justify the activity in terms of learning. If you’re not sure, what could you change?

There’s loads of good ideas online – the National Stem Centre eLibrary is of course one place to look – and it’s often possible to convert a practical into a demo or vice versa. For example, I demonstrate heat transfer in fluids using the two chimneys apparatus and a convection square, plus hot and cold water with food colouring in gas jars, which I first saw in ‘Nina and the Neurons’. By the third demo the kids can predict and ex0plain what’s going to happen quite well. I then give them coloured ice cubes to float in water, and to predict, explain, describe and explain again (PEOE) what they see. Bonus points for a commentary that uses key ideas such as ‘density change’.

I hope this kind of reminder is useful, for experienced teachers as well as those more recently joining the profession. Feedback would be very much appreciated, as this is my 100th post and I’ve had less than 1 comment for each on average…


Demonstrations (#aseconf 2/3)

I managed to make it to the 2012 ASE Conference for just one day, the Saturday. My plan is to blog it in three chunks for the sessions I attended, in order. We’ll see how it goes. These will be edited versions of my Evernote summaries of the sessions and my commentary (in italics), although I’ll link to other resources I’ve since found that I think are relevant. Apologies if I mix up any names or misquote any of the people involved. I really enjoyed the sessions and the social side, but will cover this in more detail in the third post.

Presented by David Sang (among many other roles, editor of the Practical Physics site) and Alom Shaha (teacher, film producer etc)

In an electricity and magnetism public lecture, Oersted noticed compass movement during public demo – real public science.

I’m now thinking about reenacting this for the students, perhaps as a plenary after more ‘interactive’ work.

  • Use webcam to make it visible.
  • Mark north/south without magnet, make sure kids see change, note alteration.
  • Show range of effect, compare strength of wire and earth magnetic fields.
  • Equal strength when at 45degrees.

A demo has many possible purposes, but should always – like everything we do in a lab or classroom – lead to a better understanding of some of the ideas. It can be used as a stimulus for them to do investigative work. While explaining the demo, we can give differentiated possibilities. A useful mantra should be ‘hands-on, minds-on’.

For any demonstration, there are some things to consider:

  1. Visibility/clarity
  2. Preparation and practice, e.g. clamps and where you stand
  3. Prepare for failure, be ready with explanations
  4. Ensure kids focus on important aspects – what are we changing, what is happening
  5. Involve students in practical (holding equipment, readings, recording data)
  6. Contextualise (history, application, consequences, possibilities for the future)
  7. Predict, (explain), observe, explain. (I already used this myself but now I’ve added a prompt poster to my wall)
  8. Q&A are a standard way to check ‘takeaway’ understanding (why not ask students to ask their classmates a question?)
  9. Extend (possibly via Q&A)
  10. Give correct explanation, try not to give misconceptions (although this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use appropriate levels of model)
  11. Good opportunity to repeat the demo, perhaps with more involvement or explanation from students (giving commentary?)
  12. Summarise (giving a summary as part of a L2L split plenary would work well)
  13. Safety – nobody died.

For this one in particular (link between magnetism and electricity) can show same principle with generators, generator handles, cheap wind up torches. A wind up torch vs cell/switch/bulb would nicely demonstrate different energy changes (classic misconception is that closing switch is KE) in energy circus.

Why not do demos?

  • Safety (rarely for most – see guidance e.g. CLEAPPS)
  • Unreliable
  • Technician time/materials cost
  • Prefer to ‘learn by doing’? (NB see evidence for/against this)

All worth considering, but use them as prompts to improve quality rather than going straight for a video.

Why do as class practical?

  • Small groups can be fun/hands on
  • Practical skills
  • Know/appreciate problems eg ‘messy data’
  • Make (and justify) plans
  • Experience non daytoday phenomena

Best reason to do demo (from Alom)

We can promote ‘awe and wonder’ by showing them something they could not have observed (or perhaps appreciated in isolation) – this is worthwhile. (eg induction with lenz law in copper tube – sleight of hand helps!). This will often involve an unexpected result, perhaps because we set up the situation with an unnoticed or unappreciated ‘tweak’ or ‘cheat’.

Alom: Nobody goes into science because the science was like ‘magic’ – but because they wanted to figure out magic. Emotional engagement is a good thing, and kids link enjoyment to both teacher and subject. This improves performance, recruitment and retention.

My plan is to turn the choices – reasons to use a demonstration vs a class practical – into a checklist or flowchart for a later blog post. If you’ve any particular ideas, I’d love to incorporate them so why not comment below?

Further reading

Learning Toolkit

After a Twitter discussion I realised I’d never followed up my Learning Journey blogpost with the printable material I was working on, so here it is. These form the basis of a display (with examples, ideally using students’ own work) of a ‘toolkit’ which can help pupils to be more independant. It links well to L2L concepts (see this page from @teachitso for a quick justification), for obvious reasons, and you might like to use individual pages or the whole thing. If you’re in a school which allows mobile devices, why not add a QR code to those which could do with more explanation?

My vague hope is that these ideas will turn into a separate website at some point in the future – a version of this blog, aimed at students to use independantly of teachers. Thoughts, comments, suggestions?

I’ll update this post at some point in the future, but I should really get on with (a)work and (b)ASE conference write-ups. Let me know if any of this is useful.

learningtoolkit as pdf.

From Good to Outstanding (#aseconf 1/3)

I managed to make it to the 2012 ASE Conference for just one day, the Saturday. My plan is to blog it in three chunks for the sessions I attended, in order. We’ll see how it goes. These will be edited versions of my Evernote summaries of the sessions and my commentary (in italics), although I’ll link to other resources I’ve since found that I think are relevant. Apologies if I mix up any names or misquote any of the people involved. I really enjoyed the sessions and the social side, but will cover this in more detail in the third post.
From Good to Outstanding (T124)
In theory the slides for this are on the ASE website. I can’t find them so I can’t link, even if they are available to nonmembers. Grr.
What does ‘outstanding’ look like?

OfSted have a video explaining what they are looking for.

  • Over time, look for evidence of themes not just snapshot
  • Main focus will be on checking amount of progress by students, a way to measure impact of teachers.
  • Data also checked, record sharing and tracking, pupil and parent discusions.
  • Minimum aim is ‘good’, not ‘satisfactory‘.

It’s really interesting that we start with how we will be judged – cf Robin Millar’s ‘backward design’ concept.

Nick O’Brian

  • An outstanding teacher covers all areas, one bit at a time.
  • This is (or should be) a corporate, not just an individual aim.
  • Can be easy to focus on one area, often linked to School Improvement Plan.
  • Being more rounded means supporting each other.
Best way to improve is to share outstanding practice in a department, tap into ‘local’ skills.
I’m looking forward to restarting lunchtime ‘skills’ sessions in my workplace. These run informally at lucnhtime, where a few peers meet (discreetly) to swap ideas and suggestions. the aim is to bring to each session one difficulty and one resource or approach to ‘show off’. 

From HOD’s point of view, improving results may be focus. In most useful cases (ie not exam ‘strategy’) this will be via improved teaching. A good way to help with this is to cross reference performance management targets. This allows a department to set up mentors/mentees, so everyone makes the most of each other’s strengths. This could also work online.

He recommends Pimp Your Lesson and Ginnis’ Teachers’ Toolkit. In his setting this has led to a ‘focus of the week’.
Link this with lunch sessions? It sounds like the aim is to get preproom as supportive as twitter – imagine if you could share the same enthusiasm in there as we see on #asechat or at #SciTeachJC.
If department time is not focussed on teaching and learning, bin it. Requires brave approach and sadly works best coming from the top down. I would love to think that this could realistically include exams.
Refer back to test scores, using them as formative assessment for you as well as students. If kids underachieve, reflect on this and seek advice from collagues whose students have done particularly well. What have they done differently to you?

Identify and tackle groups that are not achieving:

  1. Classroom intervention (over time)
  2. Set or group (sessions, etc)
  3. Back to individuals, but led by department
Open doors, learning walks should have a specific focus. They are not just for SMT!
After reflection, I’m now going to give this a try in combination with the ‘focus of the week’ idea, perhaps modified to a different idea every fortnight. Each time I’ll choose an aspect I want to work on and see if I can observe colleagues for this. We don’t do enough peer observation in my workplace but things will only change if I try things out myself; we are fairly conservative. It might work best if I observe first, then try out myself.
He talked about cards providing quick checks for reflecting on oneaspect of a lesson (we have equivalents for the students, L2L cards which they use to prompt contributions to a split plenary). Use paired observations, self-moderating:

  • What went well?
  • Even better if?
I really like this language and will start to use it with the students.
Only do things in lessons that will allow/encourage kids to progress.
Always ask yourself: How will Monday be different?
Laura Monroe

Explained KS3/4 in Northern Ireland. Sounds much more open than in England, although a few ‘must cover’ areas, eg careers.

  • Do they know about careers in science?
  • What surprises them?
  • Links to syllabus
  • Minimum qualifications
Have kids research for marketplace, then give indirect questions. For some it will be obvious who to ask, some more tricky. Each group gets different questions to avoid collaboration.

Emphasis on women in biology, displays in corridor, people with Nobel prizes, local, inc current/recent. Use key words so kids can link to own learning. Include staff at school, hope to add ex-pupils in future. Steal this idea!

Have kids research then sum up an assigned scientist in a tweet. Have kids set success criteria before doing homework. Alternatively write obituary. Anything like this (careers, literacy, online skills) ticks a lot of outstanding boxes, esp if you start with a hook demonstrating local/contemporary relevance.

Write CVs for anything that shows adaptation – organisms, cells, organelles (eg red/white blood cells) – then kids compete. Judged by peers who therefore need to know both sides. e.g. 8 students, 4 present CVs for white blood cells while other 4 (red blood cells) mark their information, then swap. Worth stealing – pass on to Biology colleagues, add to KS3/4 SOWs.

Essays – write a paragraph, then spend lesson improving with markschemes, glossaries, peer checking, then redraft at end. Very good way to show AfL, and progress in lesson, would work well for split plenary. This isn’t too different from what I do now but would be a good way to practice use of checklists.

Friday afternoon [Subject] Resource pack, fun but relevant AS/A2 packages with markschemes. £90 makes this a department not a personal purchase. Learning without realising it, is best way. Q&A cards can be created and used in a similar way. An online version is ‘Ript’, free software. I’ve found several things that could be this, but there are loads of online flashcard systems available.

Complete Q loops by discussion and make an actual physical loop – much more interactive, especially for the first time. If you use a stopwatch, you can challenge students to beat their previous time. Because they get different cards each time, they gain familiarity quickly.

James O’Neill

Hates paper based activities, but can be useful to boost kids, if you can stop all the cards getting lost.

National Strategies still very useful, but you’ll have to look for them in archives. Especially worth checking out the Ped-Pack. Unfortunately the original resources were all really badly organised; teachfind or similar is a good ‘doorway’. I’m not so sure about this but it could be my misbehaving computer/internet connection.

Tea stained paper and magnets practical shows the field. Can’t find a link to this at the moment.

Emphasize to students that when filling in APP sheet it will be hit and miss, each activity will have a level and will not always meet target over 2/3 years. Conditional formatting in excel can automate feedback by pinpointing themes.

Use of red/orange/green cards for immediate feedback – can assign kids as troubleshooters, go over, stop lesson.

Taboo and wordslap activities are quick and easy to use. Put together powerpoint?

“Who doesn’t know?” – if they stay quiet, they are accepting that they should have an answer.

Use Blooms for objectives in lessons, check out digital version which includes podcasting/tweeting etc.

Ideas I want to try out in the next week/fortnight

  • Linking a ‘focus of the fortnight’ with my own observations of colleagues and trying out one new approach at a time.
  • Having students write CVs – I’m going to try it for power stations (year 10 revision for exam)
  • “Who doesn’t know?” as a way to involve quieter kids.

Getting Easy Marks (AQA P2 June 2011)

Ah, the indescribable joy of marking mock papers. It’s not all bad, admittedly – some of my students have done rather well. But as is my usual habit, one of the activities they’ll be using after the holiday is to look for the easy errors. These are, as I tell them, the marks that pretty much everyone doing higher tier should get most of the time. It’s a mixture of straightforward recall and simple methods, and it can be useful both for able students (who make careless errors just like everyone else) and those who are hoping to get a B grade rather than a borderline C (who can be reassured with these improvements).

Getting Easy Marks June2011 as ppt; click on the image above for the A4 pdf version.

How you approach this depends on individual style, but I like to have students add asterisks to their completed revision checklists (as seen in an earlier post) to highlight ‘fixable’ issues. I then have them taking turns teaching each other, as most have one or two questions they did very well on and which they can explain to their peers. For trickier questions, I often discuss examples of weak, reasonable and excellent answers, sometimes having them consider a flowchart of successful approaches. Rehearsing model answers can be particularly effective, for example in the regular ‘padding material in an impact situation’:

  1. Any kind of padding/crumple-zone/helmet/etc increases impact time…
  2. …so the rate of momentum change is less (using delta mv/t)…
  3. …which means the average force is reduced.

On the June 2011 paper this was on Question 7, but any similar question can be answered using this kind of generic answer. It would have to be better than the student in my class who suggested that an insulating material stops injury because of electric shock after electrons have been rubbed off by friction as the motorcyclist slides over the road surface. Really, I despair sometimes.

Students could look for revision material online to match their specific weaknesses (some links are described here) or write questions to test each other on particular areas. As well as doing more practice papers in exam conditions, I’ve blogged before about varied methods for using papers. It is perhaps a little late to start producing new mind maps and so on, but a short maths exercise in class will show students how quickly 20 minutes per day adds up to give a fair chance of gaining a half-dozen or so marks – and potentially several grades.

Last year’s version of this post (with the June 2010 paper similarly dissected) is here, along with my resources for students on the difference between foundation and higher tier. Hope some of it is useful; I’d love to hear how you’ve used the materials, if at all.

Links for Revising P1 (AQA Science A)

EDIT: Obviously someone at the BBC is reading my blog – Bitesize has now updated their information so all of the links to ‘old’ Bitesize resources now point at the wrong stuff. Sigh. Perhaps next time they could be smart and organise ‘new’ resources in a ‘new’ folder rather than messing around every single website that pointed to existing material? If I get the chance, I’ll edit the list, but I’m trying to catch up with ASE conference material at the moment…

I quite like the new specification for AQA Science A. There’s lots of good physics in it, for example. So far there are two major downsides:

  1. Because the government keep meddling, we’re left not knowing how long it will be even vaguely modular so the timing is horrendous, rushing to get stuff done before the January exams
  2. Partly because of 1 above, nobody’s producing good resources for it online because they don’t know how long it will last.

I have some sympathy with problem 2, as we’ve written a scheme of work that we might have to rewrite after only a year. It’s depressing enough when they last four years. But online stuff shouldn’t be a big deal to adjust, you’d think, because the resources will still be useful, it’s just the index which you’d have to mess with. But what do I know?

Enough complaints – how about something useful, I hear you ask. So here it is.

downloadable: links for revising p1 as a pdf

Despite being a pdf, this is not a printable, for reasons that will shortly become obvious. The page is a quick guide to revising P1 online for students. There are a few tips about best use of resources (like, don’t waste your time by just reading them) and then catalogued links from a few sites I recommend to my students. This way students can find what they need by thinking through the new specification, even though the websites are mostly organised according to the older qualification. I decided this saved the hassle of producing shortlinks (for example via for them to type in. An alternative would be QR codes, I suppose, but I wanted to cut out the middleperson.

For what it’s worth, this grew out of a classroom activity. I provided an electronic copy of the P1 revision checklist to the class, who then chose a few areas, looked online and added URLs. They emailed a copy to their webmail and home addresses, and now have a personalised bookmark list they can access over the Christmas holiday and on their smartphones.

If you’ve got any other suggestions for websites, pages or uses, I’d love you to share them in the comments. Sorry I’ve not been posting much recently, but I’ll try to catch up with a few over Christmas – in between 100+ mock exam papers, 32 ISA scripts, two KS3 tests and a set of folders. Yes, really. Chocolate and encouragement to the usual address…

Improving ISA Scores (Ethically)

Many teachers struggle with the boundaries for ISA preparation, both at GCSE and AS/A2. ISAs, if you don’t teach science, are a bizarre crossbreed between coursework and a practical exam. As professionals we recognise the importance of students being adequately prepared, and we have experience (or advance sight of) the paper they will sit. This is a dangerous combination, even without deliberate intent to provide an unfair advantage. (Arguably, senior colleagues might sugest, it can’t be unfair if it happens everywhere else.)

However, there are ways to let students improve their own scores, which are within the rules. You could argue – as I did to my class – that in ‘real’ science research you would never be expected to remember all the facts between measurement and analysis. I answered a question from a student, my answer developed into a homework, and I’ve adapted their ideas to produce the document available below. It’s intended for AS/A2 Physics, but they’ve already told me they intend to use the ideas in their other science subjects, and I’m thinking about how I can adapt it to use ith my younger students. Ideas on this welcome, as always, in the comments.

The ISA has a standard structure:

  1. Preparation of appropriate theory (in class).
  2. Students use a task sheet to produce a results table, do a practical and draw an appropriate graph, all under exam conditions. All work is collected in.
  3. At next opportunity, they sit a written exam, using their results and graph to answer questions in two sections. The first focuses on their experimental data and methods, the second on a similar situation or real world context.

The main issue is that it’s easy to forget details of what they have done and how they did it in between practical and exam. They may have been able to answer the questions (for example about acuracy and precision) while doing the practical, but they’ve been asleep since then. In a lesson with me they designed their own practical and wrote their own ISA paper. We discussed how the questions are often similar, and therefore predictable. I suggested we add a stage 2.5. What if, as soon as their work was handed in, they wrote down everything they could think of about the practical? What if they used their (entirely legal) knowledge of likely questions to make sure they had the facts they needed in a form they could revise and check? Even better, what if they wrote a set of prompts for themselves to use so nothing got forgotten?

And so that’s what they did.

All this does is formalise the recall that otherwise would have been patchy. I’m providing no feedback, or advance knowledge of the exam paper. They can discuss their ideas with each other, but that’s within the rules. It’s a way for students to manage and reflect on their own learning, as well as provide an insight into effective exam technique. What this does is allow students who are prepared to put in extra time and effort to have a better chance of achieving well in the exam, based on their own understanding. I like it. I hope you do too.

Printable: isa postprac as pdf.