From the Classroom Up

So we had a Journal Club.

Getting on for 200 tweets from a small (but dedicated) group of Science teachers, with some tentative conclusions as Storified elsewhere. Although participants commented on the weak results from the case study – unavoidable with small groups on a single site – it certainly seemed interesting.

Could we show improved understanding, and hence achievement, by moving away from HSW skills integrated with content, and instead start KS3 by teaching these skills discretely? Enquiring minds want to know. If only there was a way to expand an interesting case study to get more reliable and/or generally applicable results. If only there was a general move towards gathering more evidence at a classroom level that could be widely shared in the profession…

“Hang on, fellas. I’ve got an idea.”


 Where We Are

An interesting case study has found a benefit from one approach (discrete teaching of Sc1 skills at the start of KS3) over another (gradually introduced over the year). A small sample was involved at one school.

What We Could Do Next

As several people pointed out, we need more data before proceeding to a full trial. The next step would be collecting information about schools which use these two approaches and how well they work. How do schools assess students’ understanding of the language and methods? A Googleform or similar would be an easy way to acquire the data without a high cost at this stage.

Trial Design

I should possibly leave this to the experts, but the whole point of this teacher-led approach is to get us involved. (Alternatively, the DfE could press release a huge study but not tell us what they’re actually investigating.) As I understand it, we’d need to

  1. Get an education researcher to co-ordinate design/timetables/data analysis.
  2. Produce standard resources to be used either all together (discrete unit) or spread through the year (integrated learning) – this could be based on CASE or similar approaches.
  3. Design outcome measure, ideally something cheap and non-intrusive.
  4. Recruit participant schools.
  5. Visit schools during trial (in both arms) to observe delivery, consider deviation from ‘ideal script’, and also raise profile of organisation/idea.
  6. This provides good ‘teacher/researcher’ links and could be used as a way to observe CSciTeach candidates perhaps, or at least accredit ‘teacher-researchers’.
  7. Collect data on outcomes for both groups. Tests need to be blinded, ideally marked externally or by computer. Workload!
  8. Data analysis – which approach gives the best results? Is this correlated with some characteristic of the schools?
  9. Share results widely, provide materials and best practice guidance based on evidence.
  10. Plan the next RCT, perhaps looking at the materials used.

Funding and Support

I’ve a few ideas, but they’re probably way off. I don’t know how much it would cost, either in terms of money or time. The EEF is focused on attainment of particular groups, so I don’t know how relevant it would be to their aims. (But their funding round closes in October.) The ASE, I suspect, would have the organisational skills but not the money. Might the Science Learning Centres have a part to play, if we consider this from the point of view of teachers developing themselves professionally while conducting research? It would also nicely complement some of the aims of YorkScience. And we shouldn’t forget the original author, Andrew Grime, although I don’t think he’s on Twitter. (We probably should have tried harder to get in touch with him before the Journal Club session, come to think of it…

I’m sure there are many other questions that could be answered in UK Science classrooms. But the question should be, which one shall we try to answer first? Instead of complaining from the sidelines, teachers should, ideally through coordinated projects and their professional associations, get involved. This seems like an ideal chance to make the most of the Evidence-Based Teaching Bandwagon and could perhaps be launched/discussed at ResearchED2013. If we want to make something of it.

Do we?


An apologetic postscript: sorry to followers of the blog who got spammy emails about a post which wasn’t there. This was because I hadn’t read the fine print on Storify about not being able to embed the material on a blog.  It’s the same Storify I link to above, now happily live at the SciTeachJC site.


The First Rule

The first rule of Journal Club – is do talk about Journal Club.

Journal clubs aren’t a new idea – as I understand it, their most wide spread incarnation is within medicine. A bunch of professionals get together to argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. #TwitJC from @fidouglas and @silv24, is just like that, but on Twitter. I seem to remember reading it had been mentioned in the BMJ, but now can’t find a link. Correction – have been told is in Nature News.Html Suffice to say it’s had lots of positive attention and comments.

So now we have #SciTeachJC, run by @alby and @alomshaha. The idea is for professionals to get together and argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. And no, that’s not a typo – I’m deliberately putting this in the same context as that of medical professionals. This isn’t to try to start a pissing contest with medics, but to challenge my teaching colleagues to see themselves as part of a profession, not just a job. My misquote at the start is to make the point that the more people are involved, the better the outcomes will be. We need to tell our colleagues about it – maybe even look at the same papers ‘in-house’, before or after the sessions – and encourage professional organisations to take part. It isn’t something that needs huge budgets or large amounts of time, but what better way to demonstrate that teachers are engaged and enthusiastic than taking part in their discussions? (All welcome, even Michael Gove.)

Two Purposes

From my point of view – and I’d love to hear alternative perspectives in the comments below, or via twitter if you’re feeling lazy – there are two main reasons to be involved with something like #SciTeachJC. One is to provide a prompt to the bigger ideas that are so easy to lose sight of in the daily routine of lesson planning and marking – perhaps it’s a way to ‘reprofessionalise‘, as @informed_edu puts it? And the second, if course, is that you finish the session, or read through the archive, and pick up things you can apply pretty much instantly to your own practice. I guess that most CPD, if it’s going to be worthwhile, should aim to tick both these boxes. Any readers with military experience (other than being outnumbered 30 to 1 on a daily basis) will recognise this as a distinction between strategy and tactics.

Big Picture

A teacher could get their planning down quickly and easily by doing the same old thing all the time. Of course kids vary, but after a few years you do tend to see a lot of the same attitudes, hear a lot of the same complaints and questions. You could ignore the exceptions, if you chose to. I try not to, but we all have bad days and busy weeks – I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we claimed to always be working at 100%, because we’d kill ourselves. Engaging with more challenging ideas, thinking about our professional practice, is really valuable for it’s own sake. It makes us ‘conscious teachers’, in the same way that we want our students to be thinking about the how and why of their learning, not just the what. There are many ways to trigger these ‘professional attitudes’ – perhaps get involved with Purpos/Ed, start blogging or just run a weekly ‘ideas swap’ in your workplace. Or you could try reading a challenging academic paper, and then spend some time discussing its implications with colleagues, near and far. Hence SciTeachJC.


This is – and I hope nobody takes this as a criticism – how I approach #ukedchat and #asechat, when I can make it. (That pesky real life thing.) I want ideas that I can use pretty much straight away. It’s always good to get a fresh, often contrasting perspective. That said, it’s great when people tell you that they like, and intend to steal, your ideas; there’s nothing like a little validation!

I’ve babbled for longer than I planned – but I think it was worthwhile babble. This post was intended to be just about the ideas I’ve picked up from the first #SciTeachJC (full archive and participation graphic also available). So my actions and ideas to takeaway were:

  • A reminder that girls often don’t see themselves as having potential in science, or careers that depend on it. (Also covered in the IOP Girls In Physics report of course.)
  • Made me wonder (and since then, check my reports) – am I guilty of seeing boys high marks as indicative of ability, and girls’ (equal) achievement as reflecting hard work?
  • Plan to do work in class contrasting the action of ‘doing’ science, with ‘being’ a scientist. This will give me a new way to use the ‘Spot The Physics’ worksheets I did as well as getting kids to look at the Hidden Science Map or the IOP’s Once a Physicist feature (behind paywall). Aim will be to help them to realise that scientific skills are widely applicable.
  • Get myself organised to apply for I’m A Scientist… and Cafe Science to allow students to meet ‘real’ people who use science in their careers, overtly or more subtly.
  • Several discussions flagged up the difference between ‘science for (future) scientists’ and ‘science for citizens’ – not sure what influence a humble classroom teacher can have, but still! Should we be considering ‘being science literate’ as a skill that can be demonstrated across subject areas, like ICT techniques?
  • Need to emphasize to kids that scientists are creative in suggesting hypotheses to test, methods to try, approaches to investigation.
  • Consider writing or organising a regular review (book, film, TV) to go on the VLE/noticeboard which will look at the science used or abused in something kids may have seen or read.

And Finally…

I really enjoyed the session, and plan to ‘attend’ the next one. I’ve even printed off the next paper, although I’ve not read it yet. I wonder if we’ll all get more out of it if we can be a little more focused – although giving useful feedback and ideas in 140 characters is obviously a limitation of the medium, not our span of attention. I’m going to look more closely at the suggested questions list, and perhaps even be organised about finding some references online beforehand to make it easier to keep up.

And this brings me to the final advantage of something, anything, like #SciTeachJC. It’s easy as a teacher to stay in our comfort zones. This means it’s easy to forget how our students might sometimes feel. I found the first paper challenging – I scribbled in the margins, checked my understanding, had to go back and reread some parts. Feeling a little out of my depth made me appreciate how our students sometimes feel. Even without the ideas, the discussions, the chance to ‘meet’ other teaching professionals, that empathy would have made it all worthwhile.

So remember the first rule of Journal Club… and maybe I’ll catch up with you next time?