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.

Data Analysis Questions

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently been doing some freelance work in a local school. The role is short-term and has an interesting mix of aims, but one part is to work with Year11 students on data analysis questions. Now, obviously I’ve taught these skills before. But I’ve not previously used the OCR B specification before, which features a final data question worth ten marks. I know this is running out soon but thought it might be worth sharing what I’ve created.

Firstly, a plea to all exam boards. When you release Examiners’ Reports – which are really useful, please keep doing it – can you combine them with the markscheme for easy reference? It’s something I’ve done for a while but it would make much more sense for you to do it.

2014

2013

Specimen

Predictably, the specimen paper isn’t a great example to use. I’ve not included the 2015 paper because many schools will be using it for preparation in controlled conditions. The links above are to my own copies in case OCR rearranges their site with the new specifications, and I’ve added the Section D page details to the filenames to make life easier for colleagues.

It seems a good time to remind you all that in the past I produced quite a few resources for looking at past exam papers, mostly AQA. The tags on the right should make it fairly easy to find them.

When we used these in class, one of the outcomes was that students put together a list of “things to try if you’re stuck”. Now, for many pupils this will have been built in to their teaching, but we all know that kids don’t always absorb what we’re hoping they will. I think the real value of this is to generate a list with your own students, but for your interest:

  1. Highlight or underline numbers in the question
  2. Draw lines from the axes at specified values so you can find the corresponding value
  3. If the question is about differences, you’ll need to add or subtract
  4. If the question is about rates or uses the word ‘per’, you’ll need to divide or multiply and you might need to think about gradient or slope

Comments and suggestions welcome, as always.

 

 

Payment by Feedback

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

Power Stations

“Okay, class… everybody… I’m not going to teach you about power stations. You need to know all the features but you’re going to be teaching each other. In groups of three you’re going to be putting together a presentation on one of the energy resources…”

Hands up if this sounds familiar? I’ve used variations on this theme for years, partly because I’m lazy but mainly because it works. I’ve fine-tuned it, of course; I now start off with two example presentations, one reasonable and one awful, and have the students tell me what they need to avoid.

If you can’t be a good example then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

Catherine Aird

But it doesn’t always work very well, even if you give them a energy resources blank table to complete as they listen. This year I’ve ended up trying out some different approaches and thought it might be worth sharing them.

Small changes

For chatty groups, how about having the presentations put together in the same way, but then present as part of a circus or marketplace activity? Students only need to speak to a handful of classmates at a time, and they get to rehearse it too. They can complete the same blank template as they work and ask questions they might not check if in a larger group. The downside is that you can’t listen in to correct misconceptions; I had students email their presentations first, then gave feedback before they shared with each other. Afterwards, of course, the powerpoints can be added to a shared drive through school. If you’ve the resources, kids could be videoed presenting for long term storage.

Roleplay

In small groups, students could identify viewpoints for and against different power stations. This risks being more about emotion than explanations, but doesn’t have to take a long time in the classroom. Choose good roles and after each discussion they can add + and points to a whiteboard; this can be photographed for later recall. Offer bonus points for students able to identify bigger patterns such as ‘fossil fuels all contribute to climate change’ or ‘renewable resources are often unreliable’.

Top Trumps

Some groups love the idea of choosing four or five categories then scoring each power station from 10 (fantastic) to 1 (awful). Some kids struggle with the arbitrary nature of the scores, while others get bogged down in irrelevant squabbles. I found that using the category definitions as a starter got them more or less focussed. Dissuading them from spending the majority of the time drawing pictures was an issue! This led me to a slightly different approach, which I tweeted.

Effectively I gave the students a power station scorecard listing the main ways in which two power stations could be compared. In pairs they had to choose one each, then discuss which ‘won’ each round. Finally they had to choose an overall winner. To make life more complicated, simply give the class a new location every five minutes. More able swtudents will recognise that these factors do not have equal weighting – you could discuss with them that a long-term view might award double points for ‘winning’ some of the rounds.

deathmatch1

Review

The cards ideas above are both good for reviewing content – you could also allow more time but provide resources like textbooks or laptops (or BYOD). To quickly review the content, it’s easy to produce a simple card sort which students can arrange into renewable/non, thermal/kinetic, carbon contributors/neutral and so on.

Hope some of these ideas are useful – please let me know if so!

B2 Revision Activity

Another short and sweet post, aimed mainly at teachers of AQA Additional Science or Biology. I put together a (mostly blank) summary booklet for my students, and perhaps yours might find it useful too. I see it mainly as a starting point, and emphasize that this should then lead to more detailed, interactive resources for them. A good way to use it might be to split students into six groups and then have them produce two or three resources per table; a mindmap, a set of questions and answers, a 2minute presentation and so on. If they produce things electronically, they could then share them all and everyone gets the benefit.

B2 summary activity as .pdf

Anyway, you could simply hand it out and ask them to start by filling it in. Let me know how it works out and if you want an editable version (in .docx format) you’ll have to leave a comment. I’ll aim to email it out by… say Wednesday 24th? Seems fair.

 

P2 Summary Activity

A very short post this one, as it’s time to get the kids in bed and make sure I’ve an ironed shirt for tomorrow. But as I’ve done this for my students, it seems only fair to make it available to you guys* too…

This booklet/activity is the same idea as the one I posted a little while back for B1. I dislike giving revision notes; that’s why they have a revision guide. Equally, if you don’t give them some kind of structure they’ll surely make a mess of it. As before, page references are to the excellent CGP guides, although others are available. I teach the AQA Additional Science spec, although this will also fit in to triple/Physics teaching.

Download P2 summary activity as a .pdf (Add a comment below if you want the .docx version)

Please let me know if it’s useful, or if you spot any problems with it. I’d particularly appreciate comments below (not just on twitter!) if you use it in your own settings, as sharing this kind of thing is one of the ways I’m building up evidence for my CSciTeach accreditation.

 

*’guys’ used in the same way as I do in my classroom, as a non-gender-specific yet informal address

Using Mindmaps to Revise

I’ve blogged before about using a concept map for revision and I suspect that most of what I have to say is not news for most teachers. However, I was putting together some resources for my classes and thought I might as well share them here too. I have a sneaking suspicion that I am spending more time on this than my students are.

Mind maps are good, but pupils can get hung up on the wrong bits. These are a few suggestions I give to help keep them on the right track.

  1. Start in the middle and leave lots of space – a concept map is never really finished.
  2. Basic principles or ‘headings start near the middle; work outwards towards the fine details.
  3. Colours don’t matter unless they add meaning. If red is used to mark ‘dangers’, or green for ‘examples’, great. Too often students reach for coloured pencils to avoid thinking.
  4. Bubble writing is a waste of time.

Just because it’s easy to give students mind maps doesn’t mean we should. Copying them, however, is pretty much a waste of time. So how can we make sure that what they produce is worthwhile?

  1. Give them the material (or some of it – differentitation opportunity!) on file cards and ask them to arrange them in a concept map.
  2. Ask each student to write three key ideas on a post-it and then have them make the concept map on a table. Introduce an extra step by having them start by making one in groups, either the whole topic or one part of it.
  3. Give each student or group a specific range of pages in the revision guide, or from their folders, as their source material. Tick (perhaps with a pencil) the notes as they are ‘translated’ into the concept map.
  4. Divide them into groups and have them reproduce a printed mindmap in short bursts – each team member has 20-30 seconds to look at the original, then 2 minutes to write down what they remember. The rest of the team can prompt and suggest but not write in that time. More able groups may be organised enough to each focus on a different branch. Alternatively, let them all look at the same time as see how far they can get together.
  5. Give them a mindmap  but photocopy it with blank areas. Can they fill in the gaps? Can they improve what’s there or add connections? They can use this as an audit to check what they are confident with and what they need to focus on. You could aso give students the main headings so they have some structure, perhaps witht he next link if you think they would benefit.

I think it’s very important to help the students realise how varied concept maps will be. Three people will produce very different maps, even if they have the same headings to start with. This is true for three able students, or even three teachers – it’s not about ability or knowledge but about how we show the links between concepts. Having members of the class compare their mind maps and give constructive feedback to each other can be very interesting – especially if you then have them add comments to the board, divided into ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’. They could be shared electronically through a VLE or mailing list, if you use them with your classes.

I’ve uploaded some printable mind maps below, for AQA Additional: P2.  This is the exam my students are (theoretically) preparing for. I produced them using MindMeister (exporting as gif files works better than pdf I’ve found) as I find this more useful for me; my students tend to prefer Bubbl.us which is really quick to use. I’d really welcome any suggestions or ideas for (free) software or weblinks as I feel both sites have weaknesses.

printable: p2 mindmaps as pdf

Bad Surveys make Bad ‘Research’

NB The title of this has altered but the permalink remains unchanged so people can still find it.

Printable: fishy research as pdf

Adverts lie. This is not a big surprise. A hint of the truth, of course, makes an advert much more believable. Advertising is about what they don’t say, much more than what is explicitly stated. Now, as much as I can accept this (being allegedly grown up and everything – adult, if not mature) it doesn’t mean I should accept it when they use or abuse science to help them mislead the audience.

A recent post on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science site – to be exact, a brief entry on the delicious miniblog which appears to demonstrate his uncensored stream of consciousness – caught my attention. Although I’m not on Mumsnet myself I had heard about the site and Ben’s comment suggested that some dubious research had used the brand to get attention. The weblink didn’t work, possibly because once Ben was on to them the company decided to pull the press release, but I found another one [EDIT, which they also pulled – copy now found here, and if you go here you’ll find the text of it in case they get it removed it again]. The ‘research’ was into the taste and health benefits of an Omega-3 (fish-oil) supplement for kids. A little more work found two posts on Mumsnet, one asking for participants and another listing their feedback. Comparing the data (I’m assuming that the feedback posts comprise the total of the data collected) to the press release, a few things caught my eye.

  1. The participants had to already use omega-3 supplements or have tried them in the past; this means any ‘evidence’ collected in the second (health effects) stage is even more worthless than the average survey.
  2. Because earlier survey answers are visible, surely this means that people are more likely to follow previous trends? I remembered reading about experiments showing an extreme case of this by Solomon Asch, a social psychologist in the 1950s .
  3. The comments in the feedback did not, on first glance, seem to be as positive as the press release had suggested.

A little time spent tallying responses confirmed this last impression. The press release claims that 93% of parents had said that the product didn’t taste of fish. Of the 42 responses I found, seven said it did taste at least slightly fishy while 35 said it didn’t. The only way I can get that to be 93% is by taking that as 7 Yes answers out of 100 responses – even though the question was about the kid and/or parent. This is either sloppy or deliberately deceptive.

They ask the question very carefully – they ask if it tastes of fish. By quoting this (slightly mangled) statistic, they can ignore the large number who said it tasted bad (the word ‘vile’ came up more than once). This seems to me to be a good example of a carefully selected proxy outcome (explained nicely in the fantastic How To Read Health News article, found on the NHS Behind The Headlines site).

They also claim that over half of the parents would recommend the product to a friend, while I counted only 14 Yes answers of the 42 who responded – exactly a third.

Well, what else should a science teacher and long term reader of BadScienceBlogs dowhen faced with something like this? Produce a lesson activity and post it on his blog, of course! The printable activity (downloadable as fishy research pdf) has several possible approaches.

The ideal in some ways would be to give your students the tally sheets and weblinks, asking them to total up the answers to each question. There’s a page you can give them access to with the links they need. Alternatively, there’s a page with an extract from the press release, a sample answer and my totals. I’ve only gone through this once myself, so please let me know if my counting is off. I am confident that although I may be off by one or two either way there’s no way the data says what they claim in the press release. The only other possiblity, of course, is that they collected data directly as well as through the forum. Of course that must be it. Silly of me to suspect anything else.

Either way, the last page is a (write-on) worksheet, with questions which will lead them through the ideas I have covered here and a few more. Students will have to compare the data to the press release and comment on possible reasons for the differences. They are invited to consider the phrasing of the questions (it specifies a fishy taste rather than a bad taste) and speculate on how the process could have been rather more rigorous. Finally, they will be asked to consider a brief summary of the evidence for fish oil for ‘average’ children and suggest how the popular ‘brain boosting’ hypothesis could be best tested.

As always, I’d be very grateful for any feedback on the activity. In this case I’d be especially grateful if you can let me know if my arithmetic isn’t what it should be! I know I haven’t especially focused on the evidence, or lack thereof, for the brainboosting effects of fish oil. I figured I’d leave that to the professionals. I’m a teacher – I’ll stick with teaching. If you like this activity, you might like to check out my previous post (and associated scheme plus resources) on homeopathy. I will leave you with one last quote.

“Advertising is about making whole lies out of half truths.”

 

Actions in Context

This isn’t a post about How Science Works, and how as teachers we need to ensure that all our little darlings always understand the relevance of the material to their lives. I mean, we should. But that’s not what this is about. This post grew out of a conversation I had with a colleague about how I try to keep myself organised. Some of it duplicates ideas to be found on the Organisation pages, as well as many other places online.

Actions flowchart

During the course of a day I tend to get half a rainforest’s worth of paper. Verbally, by email or in briefings I also get jobs to do, some of which are quick and easy while others are clearly going to be very time consuming. I’ve modified some of the ideas of David Allen (via summaries such as this one on Lifehacker) to suit the way I work and teach. Hopefully, the flowchart above makes sense and I’m not going to try and explain it in text – the whole point of a flow chart is that I shouldn’t have to! I will explain a little about the Inbox and the different kinds of Actions.

Absolutely everything should go through the Inbox. Jobs get forgotten when you’ve been told about them, but it doesn’t really register. His ideas about Getting Things Done revolve around the idea of ‘ubiquitious capture’, which is a fancy way of saying everything must be recorded in the same place. Like most, I struggle with this and effectively run two parallel Inboxes, one electronic and one on paper. I’ve found it works well to have an A4 plastic folder, attached to my planner, so I’ve got somewhere to put all the various bits of paper until I can deal with them. Anything not on paper either gets written down and stuffed in the folder, or written straight on my weekly To Do list. In the interests of work-life balance I have a separate notebook that I use for non-school stuff (like this blog), which has it’s own weekly lists. But anyway.

Allen is very specific about Actions but what it boils down to is that it must be a single action (one job) that doesn’t require much in the way of thinking. There will be a concrete result and ideally they should be phrased as something which has been completed (e.g. ‘Year 7 book numbers copied to database’). I tend to write them as active verbs (e.g. ‘copy Year 7 book numbers to database’) but I agree with his reasoning that being as specific as possible makes it easier to get them done – they then require time, but not judgement. The idea is that ambiguity (e.g. ‘book numbers’) leads to confusion and/or procrastination.

If it turns out the job needs more than one Action he then calls it a Project. This will have a series of simpler jobs, each of which will need to be added to the To Do list separately. Completing them individually still gets the whole thing done but makes it much more achievable. Keeping track of ongoing progress is important because otherwise I’ve found that Projects end up drifting. Think about students doing coursework; if they don’t have a series of interim targets then they won’t have anything worth handing in the day before the deadline.

At opposite ends of the spectrum are the items which can be done in a couple of minutes (i.e. less time than writing them on the list would take) and things which are ideas, rather than concrete objectives. These last should be reviewed regularly (I go through mine each term, for example) but not on a daily or weekly basis.

Contexts

The end result is that new items get added to my To Do list each day. To help keep myself productive I use another of his ideas, which is effectively the same as tags in Twitter. Most items will have a key word next to them, one of several specific contexts that tell me where I will need to be to get them done. Instead of jumping from one place to another, I can save them up until I’ve got enough work to fill the time available. These will be different for everyone, but for what it’s worth:

  • @PC for things to do when I’ve access to the school network.
  • @phone for things that are best done verbally.
  • @home for anything I’ll need to take with me at the end of the day.
  • @lab marks jobs for my own teaching area and the neighbouring technicians.

To be complete, I’ll add that the notebook I try to use to keep my non-teaching life in order (a vain hope – I have two kids) has a couple of extra ones:

  • @work for things I need to take from home.
  • @town for jobs to do while out and about
  • @study for the room with my desk in.

Once a week (and more often if I get the chance) I clear out my Inbox, add a bunch of items to my To Do list and make sure I’m not getting behind. I check my Calender for the week ahead and move one job from each Project on to my To Do list.

Or that’s the theory, anyway…

printable: Actions as a pdf

Job Descriptions

A break from revision ideas – at least partly because a large part of me suspects that I’m spending more time on it than half my students. Instead I’d like to describe my solution to a perennal problem in science, a lack of meaningful engagement with practical work.

This may seem a surprise. After all, practical work is one of our subject’s selling points, surely? Everyone loves messing around in the lab. And yet time and again it can be so easy for practical lessons to degenerate into chaos. I’ve identified two categories of difficulty, partly guided by the ideas in the IoP Report Girls in Physics.

  • Some students rush in without thinking about the ideas they are investigating. This means details are missed and so data may not be meaningful.
  • Some students prefer not to handle the equipment, lacking confidence that they can apply the instructions, or feeling that their understanding will not allow them to design an experiment that answers the question.

It would be simplistic to suggest that this is purely a gender issue, but I think many colleagues would recognise that boys are much more likely to fit into the first category, while girls are more likely to match the second. In some ways this does not matter, as long as we recognise that students can be overenthusiastic and sloppy, or underenthused and less involved. In the classroom we respond to individual students to address their issues, rather than dealing with them as averages.

My first attempt to solve this issue was to require my students to work in mixed groups. Rather than specifying them myself, I allowed them to choose by themselves, only intervening when they could not manage to form groups composed of both boys and girls. In retrospect, perhaps I should have been able to predict the result. A couple of lessons later, I looked across my classroom, groups all working well… then realised that at every single experiment, the boys were (constructively) messing around with the equipment and the girls were sitting back with their folders open (to record results).

Hmmm.

Scene: same class, a week later. I’d have managed it sooner but getting the chains took a few days. (Not as bad as it sounds.) As the students discuss the starter, I walk around giving them badges. Each badge tells them what job they will be doing and is a different colour. They are told to put the chains around their necks and keep them on all lesson – the key words will remind them what their responsibilities are. They are then asked to get into groups of four, including one of each job. Only then do a few of the brighter students realise that they’ve been stitched up. The jobs of ‘equipment set-up’ and ‘measurements’ have mostly been given to girls, while most boys have the ‘quality control’ or ‘scribe’ roles to fulfil. They must work together, but this forces (‘encourages’ in my longer description for colleagues) the boys to sit back and think while the girls need to engage with the more ‘hands-on’ aspects of practical work.

I don’t use the badges for every lesson or every practical, but they are surprisingly popular with the students. They work best with longer, more investigative-style practicals. There are some issues, primarily with boys who sulk at not being allowed to touch the equipment (in some lessons – it’s obviously important to rotate the roles according to some kind of pattern). Some girls struggle to take the initiative, to solve problems with the equipment, but this is precisely why they need to do it! On the whole I can see several good points with this (or a similar) system.

  • As a teacher you can require those who normally take over practical work to take a back seat.
  • Girls can take their time with figuring out how to work an investigation without someone more confident over-ruling them.
  • Those who do understand need to explain their ideas to classmates clearly and concisely.
  • As you rotate roles, there is the opportunity to address some of the areas of APP.
  • The job of ‘quality control’ includes appropriate use of investigative key terms (accurate, reliable etc) which means it actually gets addressed!
  • Investigative work (after a few teething problems) goes more smoothly as students take responsibility for ‘their job’.

 Even my older students – I first tried it with Year 8 – seem to get a lot out of it. I’ve deliberately left my Year 10 kids out of the trials so far, as they are going to be guinea pigs for something more detailed. We’ll see how they cope with them in a few weeks time.

I’d appreciate any comments, especially if you’ve tried something similar or have used the printable badges and descriptions (below) with your own classes. Like all the resources on my blog, all I ask for is some feedback so I can improve them.

printable: job descriptions as pdf