#rEDrugby 2/2

Following up yesterday’s reflective post, my typed up bullet points of the afternoon sessions. As before, my thanks to the organisers and presenters and a promise that I’ll update these posts with links to the actual presentations in a week or so.

Do They Really Get It session by Niki Kaiser (@chemDrK)

  • Session was a development of a post on Niki’s blog.
  • Students gave correct answers by imitation, not based on deep understanding, as shown by discussions of ions in a solution vs electrons in a wire; I wonder if the demo showing movement of coloured ions during ‘slow’ electrolysis would help?
  • Threshold concepts guide the teacher when choosing what to highlight, what to emphasize in lessons. There should be no going back from the lightbulb moment. If so, why do we need to constantly return to these misconceptions where students rely on folk physics despite explicit refutation work with us?
  • It is worth making explicit to students that these are challenging (and often abstract) concepts, and so time to understand them is both normal and expected. In Physics we make this clear with quantum work but perhaps it should be a broader principle.
  • Teachers will do a lot of this already, but we need to be more deliberate in our practice, both for our students and for our own reflection. This is how we improve, and is particularly important for us as experts to put ourselves in the position of novices. This is part of what we refer to as PCK.
  • “Retrace the journey back to innocence…” a quote from Glynis Cousins in a 2006 paper (this one?) which is about better understanding where our students are coming from. I would use the word ‘ignorance’, but like ‘naive’ there are many value judgments associated with it!
  • It’s not properly learned unless students can still do it when they weren;t expecting to need to.

Singapore Bar-Model session by Ben Rogers (@benrogersedu), blogged at Reading for Learning.

  • Developing ideas from previous posts on his blog.
  • The bar-model is an algebraic way of thinking about a situation, without using algebra explicitly. This means it is compatible with better/quicker approaches, rather than being a way around them like the formula triangle.
  • Uses principles from CLT; less working memory is needed for the maths so more is available for the physics.
  • Suggests (emphasizes this is speculative) that visual rather than verbal information is a way to expand working memory. This is also an example of dial coding and presumably one of the strengths.
  • Compare approaches by using different methods with two halves of a class. Easiest way is to rank them using data, then ‘odd number positions’ use one approach to contrast with ‘even number positions’ for the other. Even if the value of the measurement used for the ranking is debatable, this should give two groups each with a good spread of ability/achievement.
  • Useful approach for accumulated change and conservation questions; could be difficulties for those questions where the maths makes it look like a specific relationship, such as V = E/Q, as this reinforces a unit approach rather than ratio.
  • A Sankey diagram, although a pain to draw, effectively uses the bar method. The width of each arrow is the length of the bar, and they are conserved.
  • Some questions are harder than others and the links may not be obvious to students, even if they are to us. Be explicit about modelling new ‘types’ (and discussing similarity to established methods). This sounds like a use, deliberate or otherwise, of the GRR model from Fisher and Frey.

Memory session by Oliver Caviglioli (@olivercaviglioli)

  • Reconstructing meaning is how we build understanding. Although this process is by necessity individual, it can be more or less efficient.
  • The old idea of remembering seven things at once is looking shaky; four is a much better guideline. If one of those things or ‘elements’ is a group, however, it represents a larger number of things. Think of this as nested information, which is available if relevant.
  • We need to design our lessons and materials to reduce unproductive use of the limited capacity of the brain.
  • Two approaches are the Prototype (Rosch) and Sets (Aristotle). Suspicion that different disciplines lean more towards different ends of this spectrum. Type specimens in science are an interesting example. My standard example is of different Makaton signs for ‘bird’ and ‘duck’ and the confusion that follows. Links to discussion on twitter recently with @chemdrK about how we need to encourage students to see the difference between descriptions and definitions (tags and categories) when, for example, talking about particles.
  • Facts can be arranged in different ways including random (disorganised), list, network (connections) and hierarchical. By providing at least some of this structure, from an expert POV, we save students time and effort so recall (and fluency) is much more efficient. Statistic of 20% vs 70% recall quoted. Need to find the source of this and look into creating a demonstration using science vocab for workshops.
  • The periodic table is organised data, and so the structure is meaningful as well as the elements themselves. Alphabetical order, or the infamous song, are much less useful.
  • Learning as a Generative Activity, 2015 is recommended but expensive at ~£70.
  • Boundary conditions are a really important idea; not what works in education, but what works better, for which students, in which subjects, under X conditions. This should be a natural fit for science teachers who are (or should be) used to explaining the limitations of a particular model. This is where evidence from larger scale studies can inform teacher judgment about the ‘best’ approach in their setting and context.
  • Bottom-up and top-down approaches then become two ends of a spectrum, with the appropriate technique chosen to suit a particular situation and subject. To helpfully use the good features of a constructionist approach we must set clear boundaries and outcomes; my thought is that for a=F/m we give students the method and then ask them to collect and analyse data, which is very different to expecting them to discover Newton’s Laws unassisted. It might, of course, not feel different to them – they have the motivation of curiosity, which can be harnessed, but it would be irresponsible to give them free rein. From a climber’s perspective, we are spotting and belaying, not hoisting them up the cliff.

Missed Opportunities And My Jobs List

As you might expect, there were several sessions I would have loved to attend. In my fairly limited experience this is a problem with most conferences.  In particular I was very disappointed not to have the chance to hear the SLOP talk from @rosalindphys, but the queue was out of the door. The presentation is already online but I haven’t read it yet, because then I knew I’d never get my own debrief done. This applies to several other sessions too, but it was only sensible to aim for sessions which could affect my own practice, which is as a teacher-educator/supporter these days rather than a ‘real’ teacher.

After some tweeted comments, I’m reproducing my jobs list. This has already been extracted from my session notes and added to my diary for the coming weeks, but apparently it may be of interest. In case you’re not interested, my customary appeal for feedback. Please let me know what if any of this was useful for you, and how it compares with your own take-away ideas from the sessions. And if I didn’t catch up with you during the day, hopefully that will happen another time.

  • Talk to Dom about CPhys course accreditation
  • use references list to audit blended learning prototype module
  • add KS3 circuits example showing intrinsic/germane/extraneous load to workshop
  • review SOLO approach and make notes on links to facts/structured facts part of CLT
  • check with Pritesh if subject associations have been (or could be) involved with booklet development
  • read Kristy’s piece for RSC about doing your first piece of ed research
  • check references for advice on coding conversations/feedback for MRes project
  • search literature for similar approach (difficulty points scores) for physics equation solving
  • share idea re reports: a gap in comments may itself be an implicit comment
  • check an alert is set with EEF for science-specific results
  • use Robin’s presentation links to review roles for a research-informed school – might be faster to use Niki’s Research Lead presentation
  • build retrieval practice exercise for a physics topic that is staged, and gives bonus points for recall of ‘earlier’ concepts
  • TILE livestream from Dundee Uni; sign-up form?
  • follow Damian Benny
  • share ionic movement prac with Niki
  • add Cousin, 2006 to reading list
  • write examples of singapore bar model approach for physics contexts – forces?
  • pre-order Understanding How We Learn
  • use Oliver’s links as a way to describe periodic table organisation – blog post?
  • find correct reference from Oliver’s talk, AGHE et all 1969 about self-generated vs imposed schema changing recall percentages

You’ll have to check in with me in a month to see how many of these have actually been done…

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#rEDRugby 1/2

Going to a conference isn’t good CPD unless you reflect on the new information and apply it to your own practice. (This isn’t an original thought, of course; @informed_edu probably put it best a while back.) So although I found the day in Rugby really interesting – and all due congratulations to @judehunton and the team for a great day – if I want to make it worthwhile I need to think about it a little more. The same as feedback should be more work for the student than the teacher, reflection should be more intense for the participant than speaking was for the colleague leading a CPD workshop or talk.

photo of a notebook page from ResearchED Rugby

The notes I take during a talk are quite straightforward; I use a modified Cornell notes structure, adding key terms on the left before I leave to sum up, and tasks at the bottom I can tick off when completed. The bullet points for each session are from my notes, with italics marking out my thoughts and responses. Many of the speakers will be blogging or sharing their presentations, but I’ll update this in a week rather than waiting.

It’s not listed below, but one of the most valuable things for me about the day was talking to colleagues about their responses to the talks, how they planned to use the ideas and how I might get them involved in my projects. I was particularly touched by several colleagues, who I’ve ‘known’ through Twitter but not met before, who made a point of saying how they appreciated particular things I’ve done over the past few years. Always nice to be appreciated!

Cognitive Load session by Dom Shibli (@ShibliDom)

  • Emphasized that CLT (from John Sweller) is a really useful model but is disputed by some.
  • Load = intrinsic (which will vary depending on student and their starting point) + germane (which builds capacity) and extraneous (distractions or ambiguities which we as experts know to ignore but students worry about)
  • Being concise with instructions reduces extraneous load so they can focus on what is intrinsic/germane. This might involve training them for routines early on.
  • Curiosity drives attention so ration it through the lesson!
  • Explicitly providing subject-specific structures to pupils means they organise knowledge into an effective schema. The process of making those links itself adds to the cognitive load, which is something to be aware of but not avoid.
  • This feels a bit SOLO to me; meaningful connections themselves are a form of knowledge, but one which is harder to test.

Curriculum Design session by Pritesh Raitura (@mr_raichura), blogged by him at Bunsen Blue.

  • Acknowledged that his setting (Michaela) get a lot of attention from media/twitter and tends to polarise debate.
  • Spending time as a team on building a shared curriculum means more efficient use of that time; this is supported by school routines eg shared detentions.
  • Starting with the big ideas, break down content to a very small scale and then sequence. Bear in mind the nature of each facet; procedural vs declarative, threshold concepts, cultural capital, exam spec. One of my thoughts was that this must include knowledge about the subject, such as the issues described by @angeladsaini in her book _Inferior_.
  • Sequencing is a challenge when the logical order from the big ideas is contradicted by the exam spec order, which is supported by resources from the exam boards.
  • Booklets used which are effectively chapters of a self-written textbook. Really interesting approach, I’d love to see how students use these (write-on? annotate?) and the sources of explanations, links to learned societies etc.
  • Feedback to students may consist simply of the correct answers. I disagree with this, because which wrong answer they choose may be diagnostic and sharing the process with them may be useful to help them recognise their own ‘wrong tracks’. Also consider @chemDrK‘s post on students giving the right answer by rote, not understanding.
  • Some really interesting ideas, but my concern is that this is only possible if the whole school follows a very clear line. This is much harder to ensure with existing schools rather than a new approach from scratch. So it may not be scalable. Researcher/Teacher role session by Kristy Turner (@doc_kristy)
  • 0.6 Uni lecturer, 0.4 school teacher (plus freelance)
  • Teachers in school were slow to adopt evidence informed practice, so an attempt made to do some research looking at historical data (therefore no ethical issues)
  • Coding phrases from reports was a challenge. Codes were based on ideas from the A-Level Mindset book. I need to adapt this approach to analyse the reflective comments on workshops etc that will form the basis of my own MRes project.
  • Results showed that, rather than science, Physics teachers were the outlier (along with Music and Russian) about how often innate characteristics were praised.
  • Lots of the comments were vague, and this will itself inform report-writing. Many could be interpreted in different ways, and this is worth remembering for parents. My immediate thought is that some parents will be able to decode the comments much better than others (social issue?), and we as teachers may recognise that an absence of a comment may itself reflect a judgment eg if no comment about working hard, they may be lazy.
  • An ongoing study is looking at student answers to ten chemical equation Qs, scored for difficulty by teachers based on values of coefficients, number of elements etc, comparing them before and after summer break. Some evidence that older students do better (‘year 9 into 10’ vs ‘year 8 into 9’) even without explicit balancing equations work in that year – is this because of increasing maturity, drip-feeding chemical equations over the year or something else?
  • I need to look for an equivalent test (or write one) for physics equations, with the equations assessed for difficulty in the same way.

Research-Informed Schools by Robin Macpherson (@robin_macp)

  • We need to start with a model of teacher competency which is reflective, not deficit-based. Research-informed practice is often time-effective, but the ‘informed’ matters because it is always adjusted/filtered by our own approach and setting. Professional judgment is key!
  • the gap between research and practice is where weird ideas get in, and these are what cause us problems. I remember comments, years back, that some knowledge about ed-research is a vaccine against BrainGym and similar.
  • Building in ideas from, for example, Dunlovsky can be as simple as making sure there are bonus points on tests for questions relating to earlier topics. We’re making explicit that we appreciate and reward recall going back further than last week.
  • Not all ideas turn out to be useful. Differences in mindset seem to be real, but there’s growing evidence that these differences are slowly accumulated and not something we can change by displays or interventions.
  • A Research Lead will have many jobs to do, including but not limited to curation, distillation, signposting and distribution. (These words are my paraphrasing.) Making a school research-informed is a slow process, 5-10 years, not an instant fix. One link shared was TILE for good practice examples.

 

I’m flagging with lack of coffee and so will post the afternoon’s sessions tomorrow. Or maybe the day after!

 

Like blogging, but slower

When I didn’t blog

I write. I proofread, change a few things and add the links. And then I press ‘Publish’ and my words appear on this site, for all the world to read.

(Okay, ‘all the world’ may be a slight exaggeration. But my site gets visitors, and I’m pretty sure some of them are actual people. The comments are hugely appreciated, honestly.)

So almost a year ago, I was halfway through that process when I paused. I read through my text again, about a way to teach mathematical relationships that wasn’t so, well, mathematical. And then, instead of putting it online, I sent an email wondering if it might, with editing and improvement, be worth submitting for publication.

And I was told that yes, I should consider it.

Time passes

I want to emphasize that the following process was worthwhile. The end result – which is linked below – was far better than the first draft. It was better worded, the language was clearer, the ideas were better reasoned and better explained. The examples were improved and expanded. I’m really happy with it and proud to be published.

But it took so long: eight months from first draft being shared to publication. I didn’t keep a clear record of each step, which I now wish I had. (Did you know that you can name versions in Google Drive to summarise the changes? I do now…) The points below are a rough idea of what happened, not a precise timeline.

  • First draft of ‘Maths Narratives’ shared in April 2017: is this worth submitting?
  • Yes, but might be worth changing X and Y, and have you thought about Z?
  • Second version submitted to SSR.
  • Helpful comments and gentle prompt to refer to submission guidance.
  • Third version, in house style, submitted to SSR.
  • More helpful comments, query about word count.
  • Fourth version, with further improvements, shared with a couple of science teacher friends via twitter.
  • Fifth version with changes made following (very helpful) comments from those twitter friends.
  • Wait.
  • Feedback from SSR reviewers via email, all very constructive.
  • Some of the suggested changes were included, some were not. None was ignored; in several cases I changed the text to better explain what I was saying in response.
  • Resubmitted to SSR.
  • Final editorial feedback to increase the word count with longer explanations (my piece was now being accepted as an article, not one of the briefer ‘Science Notes’). This meant adding an abstract and other academic features.
  • Final resubmission, accepted with provisional publication date.
  • Proof sent to me for checking, legal form from SSR.
  • Final proof sent as PDF.
  • Wait.
  • Formulae as Scientific Stories published in December 2017 issue of School Science Review.

Lessons learned

  1. Don’t underestimate your work. Being a classroom teacher means that clear explanations and innovative approaches are what you do. If something’s worth blogging, then it’s worth asking yourself if it would benefit from more development and a bigger audience.
  2. Trust your colleagues, near and far. Every single person I approached for opinions, all of whom were busy and overworked, were supportive, helpful and made good suggestions.
  3. Expect it to take time. Lots of time. No, more time than that.
  4. Recognise that some of the stages will make no sense to you. It’s just the way academic publishing works. Recognise that the boring tasks are the price you pay for the support that lets you improve what you’re making.

Usual appeal for feedback

It’s possible I may have been procrastinating. I have loads to do, with the conference I may have accidentally agreed to lead starting tomorrow. But I’m glad I took this half-hour out, partly to calm down and partly because it’s long overdue. I’m proud of what I wrote, damnit. (I considered sending a copy for my Mum to put on her fridge…)

I’d really appreciate some responses to this, on two levels. Firstly, have you considered turning a blog into an article – or are you thinking about it now? And secondly, please let me know what you think of the ideas in the paper itself, PDF linked above for those of my readers who don’t have access to SSR.

CSciTeach Evidence

It’s odd, in some ways; for a profession which is all about leading and tracking progress for our students, we’re remarkably bad at agreeing any kind of consistent way to record what we do.

Years back I put together a Google Form for me to record what I was doing. The idea then was to match different activities to the Teacher Standards. To be honest, I didn’t use it for very long, although the process was useful in itself. Since then I’ve thought several times that a better way to track what I do is in the context of professional accreditation. For science teachers, who I work with in my day job, there are several things to consider for CPD tracking.

  1. Performance management forms are very specific to institutions, but in most cases having a record of what’s been done in between school-based INSET would help.
  2. There are several ways for a science specialist to become accredited; this is about recognising current knowledge and skills, not jumping through new hoops. CSciTeach is the route I chose, through the ASE (now also available via RSC and RSB). You may also wish to consider the new STEM Educator pathway. I have just completed the Chartered Physicist accreditation, which is available to physics teachers and teacher-trainers with appropriate experience. (I should point out I’m involved with making this better known to teachers/teacher-trainers and more information, exemplars etc will be out this autumn.)
  3. Having this information to hand can only be a good thing when it comes time to apply for new roles. I personally think it’s bizarre that there isn’t a single national application form, universal* with perhaps a single page ‘local detail’ for stuff a school feels just has to be asked. Otherwise colleagues have to waste time with many tiny variations of badly formatted Word forms, rather than their cover letters.

The thing is, who writes down every time they read/watch/observe something which ends up in a lesson? And if you do make a note of it, mental or otherwise, what are the chances of it being recorded in one central place? We end up with a formal record which has a few courses on it, and all the other ideas are along the lines of:

I think I got it at a teachmeet – was it last year? Might have been the one before. I’m pretty sure there was an article, I’ll have a look for it in a minute…

 


 

My Proposed Solution

What I’ve produced didn’t take long, and it’s only the first version – I’d really welcome ideas and suggestions for how to improve it. The idea is to gather information, reflect on impact and be able to refer back to it as evidence of professional practice.

If you want to try out the form, then feel free – this link takes you to my trial version and is not linked to the downloadable version below. You can also look at (but not edit) the resulting spreadsheet; note that the ASE guidance is reproduced on the ‘Notes’ tab. Thanks to Richard Needham aka @viciascience for some suggestions.

I’ve used the CSciTeach standards, but obviously (1) you need to do more than this form to be accredited and (2) other accreditation schemes are available.

Slide1

Slide2


Want to play around with your own version, editable and everything? You’re in luck:

1 Set-up

You’ll need a Google account. Go to the responses sheet (starting here means the formatting of the final spreadsheet is preserved.) Select ‘File’, then ‘Make a Copy’. Choose ‘Form’, then ‘Go to live form’; save the form URL as a bookmark on each of your devices. The spreadsheet URL will probably be most useful on something with a keyboard, but YMMV.

2 Capture

The form is set-up to get a few brief details fast, and then gives the option to skip to ticking relevant CSciTeach standards. If preferred, you can add the details of your reflection and impact in your setting at the same time. This completes the entry, but often you’ll want to come back when you’ve had a chance to think or try something out with students.

3 Reflect

Assuming you skip the in-depth reflection during step 2, you’ll want to return to the spreadsheet the form generates. I’ve included a few formatting points to make it work better which should be preserved when you copy it.

  • Column headings are bold
  • Columns are sized so it should print neatly on landscape A4
  • Text is justified ‘left, top’ and wrapped to make the columns readable
  • If empty, the columns for further reflection and impact are shaded red to prompt you to fill them in
  • The standards cells are shaded if at least one in that category has been ticked.

The point of CSciTeach, or any other accreditation is to recognise that ‘doing CPD’ is not a one-off event or course. Instead, it is a process, and one which should have reflection and consideration of measurable impact at its heart. This impact may be on students, teachers or both. This will very much depend on your role.

4 Share

You may prefer to keep the spreadsheet for your own reference only, using it to fill in other forms or complete applications. Sharing a Google spreadsheet is easy enough, of course; that’s the point! Just be aware that if you give ‘edit’ access, whoever it’s shared with can change your details. If you want their input – for example a professional mentor or coach – it might be better to give them permission to ‘view and comment’.

Alternatively, you might wish to search for particular examples and copy the results to a fresh document, depending on context. It would be easy to modify the form so that the Stimulus question was multiple choice, allowing you to categorise different kinds of formal and informal CPD. If colleagues think this would be more useful, I’ll create an alternate version centrally.

If, as a HoD or similar, you want to try something like this collectively, then it would be easy to adapt. Give the form URL to all team members and ask them to contribute. Whether you wish to add a question where they identify themselves is, of course, a more sensitive issue!


 

What Next?

Firstly; tell me what might be worth changing using the comments below. If I agree, then there’s a fair chance a version 1.1 will be shared soon. If you’d rather play around with it, feel free. I’d appreciate a link back if you share it.

Secondly, there are a couple of features which would be great to add. Being able to upload a photo or screenshot would be much better than copying and pasting a link, but I can’t see how to do this with a GForm. Related, if you think this could be developed into a mobile app then I’m sure the ASE would love to hear from you.

Lastly, yes, the SNAFU above* was on purpose. Those readers who understood can feel smug for exactly five seconds.

#ASEslowchat Tuesday: Practicals


I can’t comment on what is happening in my classroom, or my department. Because I don’t have a classroom; instead I work with teachers in their classrooms, supporting their departments. So most of what I’ll be sharing will be at one step removed, but it is based on what ‘real’ teachers have told me is happening in their schools. I’ve played around with the stimulus questions a little.
Which required practicals have you completed with your classes; have you only completed these, or gone beyond them? Why?

I posted a little while back about how I felt the required practicals should fit into a balanced science curriculum. (This was a different post to one from even earlier, based o a draft of the AQA required pracs.) Nothing I’ve seen has caused me to change my mind. The summary is that whether a practical is required or not it should be used in the same way; to support teaching of science content and skills. It might, of course, be worth returning to the required practicals as part of the organised review/revision schedule, because they’re effectively content. Until then, ask the same questions, practise the same skills, as you would for any practical. (And, of course, don’t neglect these aspects if a practical is ‘unrequired’!)

Has the GCSE impacted on the work of the technicians in the department? Have you had any issues with equipment?

Not being in a school full-time, I’m not sure about the workload side of this. I don’t think it’s been a huge issue – certainly compared to lots of ISAs to worry about! (I hope school technicians are being encouraged to contribute to this topic, by the way.) But I have been doing a fair bit about the physics practicals with teachers, in school and by email, so I have a few resources to point to.

There is a dedicated TalkPhysics group for the GCSE required practicals – obviously just the physics ones. It’s fairly quiet at the moment, but I/we would love to see more teachers on there swapping ideas and answers, for example about specific components for I/V graphs or precise methods for using a ripple tank. If you’re not already a member, you can get a free login in a day or so, and the group is open to all. Technicians and all teachers of physics – not just physics specialists – are welcome. Please join in.

Most equipment issues I’ve heard about have been predictable:

  • Getting a class around a ripple tank is hard. Much of the work can be done in pairs by putting a piece of laminated squared paper in a Gratnells tray – other trays are available – adding a centimetre of water with a couple of drops of ink, then making and timing ripples. Very fast, very cheap, and lots of data to criticise.
  • Dataloggers for a=F/m. As you might expect, manufacturers are trying to log complete systems which will work brilliantly for a week then be a pain to set-up and calibrate. If you can use phones in school, kids can probably use slow-motion cameras to collect some useful data. Alternatively, I’m a huge fan (no commision, sadly) of the Bee Spi V lightgate. It displays either speed or acceleration of an object passing through it. It doesn’t log it, which to my mind is an advantage as it means kids have to do the table/points/line bit themselves. They’re £20 each, run on batteries and don’t need to be plugged into any device.
  • The specific heat capacity practical – assuming you have the kit – has always produced data with, shall we say, lots to comment on. An improved method is available from PracticalPhysics, and it’s easier if you can (a) use a joulemeter and (b)record the maximum temperature, not the temperature at the end of the heating time.

How are you developing knowledge of practical work and investigations in your teaching ready for the examinations? 

‘Required Practicals’ is one of the sessions I run in schools as part of my day job with the IOP. So allow me to invite you to a virtual session, which will require you to imagine all the hands-on sections. There are presenter notes with even more links than in the slides themselves. PNCs will often run their own versions of these, and we do a lot at days and events open to all teachers. Please consider this an invitation.

If in doubt, checking out the work of Ian Abrahams is always worthwhile. He’s got a book out with Michael Reiss fairly recently: Enhancing Learning with Effective Practical Science 11-16, which I will buy as soon as my next freelance cheque arrives. Unless anyone would like me to review it, hint hint. He writes regularly in SSR so you’ve probably experienced a flavour of his work already.

A few years ago, Demo: The Movie was unleashed on an unsuspecting world by @alomshaha and co. It should be required watching for all science teachers and departments, and provides some great ideas about how to make demonstrations much better for learning. He’s got loads of films, some of which aren’t directly relevant but the techniques discussed are great. I reflected on some of the material in a blog post too.

Other resources I’d recommend (there will undoubtedly be some overlap) are collated at STEM Learning (the eLibrary that was, once upon a time). And I always like to put in a word for the SchoolPhysics materials by Keith Gibb, author of the Resourceful Physics Teacher.

Something I’ve chatted about in workshops, on Twitter and elsewhere; you may find it useful to break down the POE approach in a slightly more specific way which I call PRODMEE:

  • Predict: what do you think will happen? (encourage specific changes to specific variables)
  • Reason: why do you think that? (from other science content, other subjects, life experience)
  • Observe: what actually happens? (we may need to ensure they’re looking the right way)
  • Describe: in words, what happened? (qualitative results)
  • Measure: in numbers, what happened? (quantitative results, devices, accuracy/precision, units)
  • Explain: what’s the pattern and does it match the prediction? (digging into the mechanism)
  • Extend: why does this matter? (other contexts, consequences for everyday life)

What resources or advice can you share with other teachers about approaching a specific required practical? What issues and opportunities have you come across when going about teaching the required practicals to your classes?

A few suggestions I’ve made in workshops, often based on conversations with teachers; this is obviously an incomplete list!

  • Density is boring; why not provide a few blobs of blue-tac and have kids plot mass against volume on a graph. Make it more challenging by hiding a ball bearing inside one to provide an anomaly to the line of best-fit. Or can students separate LEGO, Mega-Bloks etc based on density?
  • Hooke’s Law: as the kids have already seen it, why not try using strawberry laces? Alternatively, there’s a simple set-up using copper wire from PracticalPhysics. And you can always use it to hammer home the idea of science-specific vocab, because ‘elastic’ bands aren’t elastic.
  • Acceleration: I mentioned Bee Spi V for measuring earlier. My only other suggestion is to always teach it as F/m=a so you start with the cause (force), shared out because of the conditions (mass) which leads to a consequence (acceleration).
  • Ripples: discussed above, but you can also use a speaker as a vibration generator for some interesting results.
  • Heat capacity: An old experiment uses lead shot which falls a known distance and heats up. Like stroking a metal lump with a hammer, this is a nice example of the idea that the energy in a thermal store can increase without ‘heating’ as we might normally consider it.
  • I/V characteristics are a lot more interesting if students must compare results from a mystery component to standard graphs. This is included in the presentation of my workshop, linked above.
  • Resistance, series and parallel: instead of just reusing the old ISA hardware, why not try taking measurements of different versions of squishy circuits dough?

 

 

 

 

Energy Language Thoughts Part 4

Parts 1 (Introduction), 2 (Pathways/Processes) and 3 (Stores) are all available and will help make this more useful. Please continue to comment, on whichever post seems most relevant, if you’ve any queries or suggestions. Thanks to those who have already done so.

Practical Approaches

stores-or-pathways

The IOP guidance begins by taking snapshots before and after an event and describing the changes to various possible associated stores. The alternative is to think about the physical processes – which will be variably familiar to students, depending on age – and thinking about the effect they have on parts of the system. YMMV.

The famous energy circus can be used, but be cautious! Some make much clearer examples than others. In most cases you will need to be very specific about the start and end points you wish the students to consider. I recommend checking out the SPT guidance. In particular, the ‘one step at a time’ diagram shows why chains of energy can cause problems. The suggestion there, which I endorse, is that you:

  1. start with the idea of fuels ie chemical stores
  2. make clear that fuels limit effects, they don’t by themselves cause the effects
  3. give high, hot and stretched objects as equivalents, but as they’re clearly not fuels we associate them with
  4. gravitational, thermal and elastic stores respectively

Explained at SPT

I’d suggest looking at your energy circus for clear demonstrations of these to begin with. Next would come a kinetic store, probably as an endpoint. A gyroscope or Newton’s cradle is a nice example of a kinetic store which lasts long enough to be plausible.

Approaches to consider

You could have a first round to develop some basic ideas, then a second with more complex snapshots (either more than one store involved at the end, or the same kind of store but associated with different objects).

Have students identify just the stores to begin with, discuss them as a class, then come back and add descriptions for the processes. This could be split between lessons; that way you can provide correct stores in the second lesson and concentrate on processes. In some cases, such as the classic filament bulb, two similar pathways will be needed.

  • From: thermal store of filament
  • Via: heating by visible radiation, heating by IR radiation
  • To: thermal store of air in the room

If you want them, here are energy-circus-cards as pdf (includes example and blank cards)

Provide sets of laminated cards with stores, and arrows for the descriptions of processes. Labelled arrows are of course an option, but be aware of limitations and I’d include some blanks.

Again, cards-for-energy-v3 as pdf to save you a few minutes.

An extension could be to suggest measuring equipment and/or units for the relevant stores in each situation. If returning to these examples at GCSE, then recall of the equations are the natural next step.

Consider including actual photographs for some situations that cannot be easily reproduced in the lab; this would be a good way to introduce some examples from biology and chemistry. A food chain in biology might, for example, be described so:

  • From: chemical store of lettuce
  • To: chemical store of rabbit

Then

  • From: chemical store of rabbit
  • To: thermal store of rabbit, kinetic store of rabbit, chemical store of fox

And finally

  • From: thermal store of rabbit, kinetic store of rabbit
  • To: thermal store of air

For chemistry, exothermic reactions will involve heating by particles and/or heating by radiation pathways. If the material explodes (which in my experience is the preferred result) then there is some kind of mechanical working too, yes? Be prepared for questions about state changes; the best approach is that latent heat means the thermal store is not only identified by the temperature change. Which, yes, is a complication.

It’s probably worth adding notes – mental or otherwise – to the other science topics so you can remind students of the new language. If you have particular queries, drop me a line in the comments or, for a more considered answer, join in with the discussions on TalkPhysics.

This seems like a good chance to consider the Big Ideas in Science Education. Which should be up anyway, somewhere, but it’s always nice to have a reminder.

Exams and Textbooks

This is where I must admit defeat. I know – in fact I started the first post in this series with this point – that teachers want to know what will get marks and what won’t when it comes to the exams. Sadly, I don’t know. At least one board used the old language in the sample papers originally made available. The list of stores is not consistent between boards, though I hope that makes more sense after Part 3. And so on.

I’m sure we’ll all be happier once we see more examples of possible questions, but I’m not involved much with the boards so I have no insight. My advice – which isn’t official IOP guidance, nor is it specially informed – is that if your students can explain the mechanisms behind the transfers, they shouldn’t need to worry about the language, either pathways or processes. For the stores, it’s probably more important that they can identify the equations that are relevant and be able to do the maths – that, of course, hasn’t changed! I’ve recently discovered that Richard Boohan is putting together some materials; I shall be watching with interest.

Whether students will be penalised for talking about light energy, sound energy, electrical energy – that I don’t know. I also don’t know how much emphasis will be placed on this language by those marking biology and chemistry questions. So I’m not much good, really. Sorry!

Last appeal for comments, feedback, criticism… please let me know what you think of these four pieces. At well over 3000 words I appear to have accidentally written an essay. I hope that if you’ve waded through it, you feel it was worth your time. Please do give me a shout if there’s something I can do to improve the time spent vs time saved ratio.

Energy Language Thoughts Part 3

As you would expect, this follows on from Part 1 (Introduction and Summary) and Part 2 (Pathways/Processes). Even if you’ve read them, you might want to look back at the comments readers have made  – many thanks to everyone who has been able to take the time.

Descriptions vs Labels: Stores

The stores are not simply renamed ‘energy types’. A lot of them use similar words, but that’s because they’re trying to describe the same physics. They represent the changing properties of a part of the system, caused by it gaining or losing energy. When a steel block undergoes physical processes, it changes in a measurable way. It might change shape. Its temperature might change. It might be moved away from the Earth’s surface. It is a shame that exam boards are taking different approaches, but the eight suggested by the IOP are:

  • chemical store
  • thermal store
  • kinetic store
  • gravitational store
  • elastic store
  • nuclear store
  • vibration store
  • electric-magnetic store

More details at SPT

Like the processes, there are sometimes more than one way to consider what is happening. If a gas is heated, the change could be considered in terms of the measured temperature change (thermal store), or in the increased movement of the particles (kinetic store). Realistically, there are not many situations where two stores will seem equally appropriate. And when they are, this is actually a strength. The two approaches will give values for the energy change which are the same. Energy is energy, whether it is considered in the context of a thermal or kinetic store. The whole point of using energy as a ‘common currency’ is that is translates between contexts.

The stores, as discussed in my introductory post, are each a way of considering a physical measurement and an associated equation. The idea is that you consider the ‘before’ and after’ situations for relevant stores, as snapshots. (The exception, for school-age students at least, is a chemical store where the values are found empirically.) I produced, based on some ideas from IOP colleagues, some energy store ‘bookmarks’ which bring together the different aspects. They wouldn’t take long to put together, but you’re welcome to my version:

stores-bookmarks as pdf

Common Variations

The vibration store can be considered as a kinetic store which oscillates. The easier measurement is not speed but amplitude and time period. Imagine trying to find a meaningful value of the speed of a swinging pendulum, for example. But some boards are omitting it, which is fairly easy to justify.

I’m less happy that at least one exam board (AQA) miss out the nuclear store entirely. This seems like a huge mistake to me as it uses the one equation pretty much everyone knows from physics, E = mc2! It would also make it impossible to start with the sun, which makes most biology a bit tricky. (From nuclear store via particle heating processes to sun’s thermal store then via radiating processes to Earth’s thermal store and biomass chemical store)

The electric-magnetic store – not electromagnetic – is about the position of objects within two kinds of field. Now, I know they’re related – Maxwell’s equations and all that – but I think for most students it’s a lot easier to consider two separate stores, the magnetic and the electrostatic. The upside is that this means you can clearly link them to gravitational stores and so cover fields as a ‘meta-model’. The downside is that it makes the stores list look even more similar to the old approach. If you take this tack, make sure you emphasize that it’s an electrostatic store to clearly distinguish from the electric current pathway.

Which brings me to…

What about light/sound/electricity?

The SPT resources have some very good explanations on this. My reasoning is that they are processes which only have meaning if we think about duration. To describe them in numbers, we use power in Watts rather than energy in Joules. So they are, obviously, real physics effects. But they fit best into this model as processes shifting energy between stores, rather than stores themselves.

Disclosure: my issue with this is that a very strict interpreation of thi would seem to rule out kinetic stores as well. The snapshot approach – comparing the change to stores in between two static frames – makes it hard to reconcile a moving object with a single instant. Hmm. Although we have no problem with considering momentum at a moment in time, yes? Contrariwise, students may have an image of light as being made up of photons as moving objects, or when older the equation E=hf. Hmm again. And what about latent heat? This is best considered as a special term of the thermal store, but it’s not obvious. (Thanks to my colleague Lawrence Cattermole for reminding me of this today.) Of course, no model is perfect. The test is whether this approach is better than the ‘types’ of energy approach that has been so pervasive.

‘Better’, of course, is not a very scientific term! It is more accurate when describing the physical processes. The words are a closer narrative match to the equations students will need to use as they develop their physics. The model is different to what we and our students are used to, but objecting to it on that basis seems short-sighted. As I originally said, you could argue that the timing is unfortunate, with new specs and grading systems, but I don’t think we’d ever be at the point where all science teachers welcomed a change with open arms.

As always – please comment, respond, shout angrily at me using the field below.