Jim Al-Khalili as guest lecturer

Like me, you may have just watched the repeat of Chemistry – A Volatile History (Episode 2) on BBC4. By a happy coincidence, my Year 8 class are currently studying the periodic table (They already love The Elements Song) so I now plan to have @jimalkhalili in as a guest lecturer this week. Just watching something is a pretty boring (not to say ineffective) way to learn, so thought I’d share a few ideas and the questions I’m planning to use, on the off chance someone else might find them useful. Below are some ideas pinched from my earlier blogpost ‘Constructive Laziness‘:

  • Give them the questions first.
  • Provide a list of key terms (out of sequence) and ask them to note down definitions and/or examples.
  • Ask them to produce summary notes, perhaps using a Cornell blank.
  • Have them write a review for the BBC Bitesize website.
  • Ask them to choose headings for a Powerpoint that they can then write for homework.
  • Give them handouts using Powerpoint that have titles, but no content. This is another way to give them the framework for the notes. (Differentiated versions easily produced.)
  • Tell them it is old or out of date. What mistakes can they spot? How would they script an improved version?

For this episode, a few notes that are easily copied, then turned into a handout of questions, copied on to a whiteboard (leave up as the starter and see how many they can answer afterwards, no writing allowed), or just read out. All times are approximate, jotted as I watched, scribbled questions and scoffed my tea. A lot of these are fairly trivial, and I’d suggest using only a selection – perhaps as a stimulus to inspire students to write their own, more useful questions. (I’m probably going to try out the Question Formulation Technique as described in @totallywired77’s blog post.)

I’d suggest skipping first 2.5 minutes (until credits) as it spoils the surprises.

Up to 15min: Dalton and atomic weight

1 How many elements were identified at the early part of the century?

2 What was Dalton’s main social hobby and when did he do it?

3 What did Dalton call the particles we call ‘atoms’?

4 Which colour balloon drops quickly and why?

5 What does STM stand for?

6 How hot is the glass used to make the round bottomed flask?

7 What is the most common element in the Earth’s crust?

15-30min Patterns

8 How close was Berzelius to the true weight of chlorine?

9 How many elements were in each group suggested by Dobereiner?

10 What is the second element tested in the water?

11 How many elements were known when Mendeleyev started to investigate?

12 In which year did John Newlands present his ‘octaves’ idea?

13 Which 2 gases does the presenter say smell similar?

30-40min Mendeleyev

14 What fraction the books in Mendeleyev’s study are about chemistry?

15 What did Mendeleyev call his card game?

40-50min Spectroscopy

16 How did Rubidium get its name?

17 How did spectroscopy help to confirm Mendeleyev’s table?

18 What is the atomic weight of the gas first discovered in the spectral lines of the sun?

50min-end Inside the Atom

19 What was Bohr’s chosen sport?

20 How many electrons in the first ring/shell/orbital?

21 Which was the heaviest known element at the time?

22 Which three metals does the presenter test?

23 What particles did Moseley count in the nucleus?

24 How old was Moseley when he died?

  1. 55
  2. bowls, Thursday afternoons
  3. ‘ultimate particles’
  4. yellow, because it contains (dense) Krypton
  5. Scanning Tunnelling Microscope
  6. About 1000 degrees Celsius
  7. Oxygen
  8. a fifth of a percent
  9. three (triads)
  10. Sodium (Na)
  11. 63
  12. 1866
  13. Chlorine and Bromine
  14. A tenth
  15. Chemical Solitaire
  16. The spectrogram shows a ruby red light
  17. Elements that filled the gaps in the table were discovered, matching Mendeleyev’s predictions
  18. 4 (He)
  19. Football (goalkeeper)
  20. 2
  21. Uranium (U)
  22. Copper, Rubidium, Molybdenum
  23. Protons
  24. 26

Behaviour Management by Flapjack

This isn’t quite as weird as it seems. Last year I had a very talkative (but good-natured) year 9 class. They weren’t malicious, but they just couldn’t be quiet; frequent interruptions and conversations, which were irritating even though they were often on-topic. So I started to write the numbers 10-1 on the board. Each time I had to repeat a request for quiet, or they interrupted me or each other during whole-class discussion, I rubbed a number off. I explained that we would only have time for a ‘fun’ plenary if we finished above 5. Down to zero would mean a silent lesson next time – I never had to use this, not once. But if they managed three ‘perfect 10’ scores in a term, I would treat them to something, and they suggested home-baking (it seems I had a reputation through older brothers and sisters who had done DofE). I should point out that this was in addition to dealing with individuals, by all the usual methods, who showed themselves to be persistent offenders.

This was one of their favourite recipes. It’s a hybrid version using a concept from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (‘Nicola’s Zesty Flapjacks’ in the River Cottage Family Cookbook), but starting with a classic Mary Berry recipe.

  1. Preheat oven to 140 C and grease pans (2x 8inch round or equivalent) if they’re not silicone. (And go and buy some silicone pans).
  2. In a large saucepan, melt 225g butter with the zest of a large orange, 225g brown sugar and 75g golden syrup.
  3. Simmer 100g sultanas in a small saucepan with the juice of the orange.
  4. Once butter/sugar mixture is all melted, turn heat down to lowest setting and add 350g porridge oats. Mix well.
  5. Add in sultanas, simmering juice and the secret ingredient, 2tbsp lemon curd. Mix well.
  6. Tip into baking pans, pat down firmly and bake for 20-30 minutes.
  7. They should still be slightly soft when they come out – how long it takes depends on what kinds of oats etc. They’ll harden as they cool so you may want to score them so they cut easily, but don’t chop up until firm. Makes between 20 and 30 pieces.
  8. Add ‘touch and die‘ sign while cooling on a rack.

These do not count as one of your five a day. Sadly. I have a few other variants (maple and pecan, honeycomb and drizzled chocolate) which I can blog if people are actually interested. I’d also love to hear (maybe even see pics?) of anyone’s batches, variations and improvements.

#asechat and #pimpmydemo

#asechat and #ukedchat

It happened completely by accident. I happened to be on Twitter yesterday evening and some interesting posts showed up in my timeline tagged with #asechat. So I joined in.

I already sporadically take part in #ukedchat. If you don’t, it’s worth a look; you may have recently read the Guardian article about it (which they ironically tweeted about without the hashtag). Once a week, on Thursday evenings from 8-9pm UK time a bunch of teachers discuss a topic. It gets crazy, as the 40+ page archive testifies, but it’s well worth the time. The topic is voted on during the week beforehand, then the chat is moderated by some brave soul. You miss lots of stuff – the sheer pace guarantees that – but can catch up with the weekly archive, if you want. When I can make it I come away having picked up a few good ideas and wanting to try them out. I suppose the idea is to provide the same environment as the coffee break during a TeachMeet – also a great idea.

Anyway. So this chat was the first one, a trial run specifically for science teachers and educators to share ideas. You can read the archive, if you want. The name #asechat is a convenient label, but you don’t need to be a member of the ASE to join in. (It’s worth considering, but I don’t think anyone’s planning on pressganging.) All you need to do is be prepared to listen, or even better to join in. It will be much easier if you use a twitter interface with a decent search function; for what it’s worth, I like TweetDeck. (If you don’t ‘get’ Twitter, and you’ve still read this far, check out this video.) The plan is for it to happen each Monday evening from 8-9. Maybe I’ll ‘see’ you there.


A few weeks back I swapped a few tweets with other science teachers about the little tips and tweaks that make demonstrations better. For a while now I’ve been collecting these ideas for myself, like we all do. This has usually involved scribbling on printouts or textbooks, less often an electronic ‘cheat sheet’. I’ve used books like The Resourceful Physics Teacher (out of print I think but he’s now got a website, SchoolPhysics) and there are regular features in magazines and journals. But why, I asked, don’t we share these ideas with each other on Twitter by coming up with a useful hashtag? And so #pimpmydemo was born (probably inspired by the book I’ve seen called Pimp Your Lesson). There were a few dozen responses of colleagues who felt it would be useful, then real life got in the way. During the #asechat I raised the idea again and there was enough interest it seemed worth taking it further. Of course, as it was my idea, I couldn’t exactly pass it on to somebody else…

I’ve set up an archive through a site called TwapperKeeper. The archive URL is http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/pimpmydemo and it should be automatically updating from now. And to be honest, that’s about it. I’m not trying to run anything, or take credit for anyone’s ideas. I’d suggest that if you can’t explain your idea in 140 characters, including a link to a details page would be worthwhile. If it gets going – and I hope it does – I suspect we’ll see links to blogs, sites such as Getting Practical and YouTube. Perhaps people will ask for help, by using the tag, as well as offering it. We’ll just have to see if anyone except me and a couple of others are interested.

If you think it’s a good idea, all you need to do is tell your followers. This isn’t going to happen by me or you putting out a few ideas and waiting for magic to happen. But it would be interesting to see what happens if the idea spreads…