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.

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Funding a Science Ed Project

A quick appeal for help: I’ve got a cunning plan and would love to see it happen. But I’m going to need some help.

I’ve written before (see the second half of this post, which I’ve cannibalised below) and complained on Twitter about finding science teaching resources. It’s hard. And, frustratingly, it’s harder than it needs to be. Quality control comes at the expense of  accessibility. Good resources take time and money to produce, and then they need to be kept somewhere. There are some great resources which most people know about; Practical Physics (and the biology and chemistry equivalents, naturally) for example. There are good directories which make an effort to organise materials so they can be found; the eLibrary from STEM comes to mind.But could we do better?

Brief

  • links to resources, rather than hosting them all
  • sortable by key-stage, topic, type of resource
  • some kind of meaningful review/curation/approval process
  • free to use without login

The last one is probably the sticking point. Who would spend the time and money to produce something like this, without then harvesting your details so they can sell you something? (And yes, I know a login allows you to make personalised lists of resources – but that should be an optional extra, not a requirement.)

I’d like to make this. I think it would be useful; an evolving resource which any science teacher could use to find useful stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity cost lately, and any time spent searching for resources, or reinventing a powerpoint about the motion of a wheel, is time that could have been spent on something better.

I’m not suggesting that time creating resources is necessarily wasted. We personalise what we do, we match it to students, we use it to clarify our own thinking, and we diagnose problems when we see how students (mis)use it. But what if you could check, once, if someone’s already done it?

What I’m imagining comes in two distinct phases. I put a smaller version of this together for Martin Reah when he was involved in a ‘Science SOW in a day’ last year. But if we wanted to do something larger-scale, I’d need significantly more help.

Crowdsourcing Phase:

  1. Get a domain and matched Google accounts so everything is in one place.
  2. Produce a checklist to describe and assess teaching resources. Part of this would be defined fields based on obvious criteria (type of resource, age group etc). Make this checklist – effectively a ‘markscheme’ – public, and adjust it based on comments from the eventual users.
  3. Issue an open invitation for submission of URLs to a GoogleDocs form. Each submission would require relevant keywords from set fields to describe the resource. For example an exam checklist might be tagged with 14-16, AQA, Physics, exams, pdf, CC-BY-NC-SA etc.
  4. Set a deadline or a threshold when a certain number of submissions have been received, and publicise the project as widely as possible.

Curation Phase:

  1. Find a half-dozen subject specialist teachers who are happy to spend a weekend together. Pay them overtime. Provide accommodation and food. Lock them in a meeting room with good ‘net access and lots of coffee. Have a computer technician who can troubleshoot as they review every link, scoring them according to the agreed criteria.
  2. Moderate a random sample of each teacher’s reviews. Ask them to suggest any useful changes to the checklist/markscheme. Every rating is based on teacher judgement.
  3. Make the spreadsheet freely available, or ideally build it into a website with the messy data behind the scenes.
  4. Return to Crowdsourcing Step 2 above.

This is a high impact approach with a minimal cost. By balancing crowdsourcing (where individual teachers do a small amount of work by submitting a favourite resource) and curation (where the time commitment means it needs to be paid properly) the strengths of both are acknowledged. The process is focussed on teachers using their professional judgement and being rewarded for it. If you think this looks like a good idea, you can help me out:

  1. Make suggestions of improvements in the method above. What’s wrong? What could be better?
  2. Share this post however you like so other people can make suggestions.
  3. Pass it on to people with budgets to spend on science education projects which can be open-access. As a community, we have the knowledge and the skills. What we don’t have is cash.

 

 

 

Asking for a friend

All secondary teachers look forward to the summer term. Not just because we might actually get to see daylight before and after work, but for that possibly mythical creature, ‘gained time’. Assuming you don’t end up teaching RE to stroppy teenagers after a colleague collapses in tears trying to reconcile ‘Trinity’ and ‘monotheism’, you might get a classroom to yourself. Without kids. A chance to have a cuppa and finally clear out the bottom drawer of detention forms and credits.

Until you get handed 100 pages of new syllabus and are asked to write a scheme of work for September, that is.

Science teachers across the land are currently going quietly mad about the new GCSE specifications. We’ve lost count of which draft version the boards are on, although rumours abound that they’re going to be properly published any minute now. Even if you’re planning to start in September for a two-year GCSE this is cutting it fine for buying/creating resources, let alone ordering kit for the required practicals and any new content. And if you teach the content over three years, you’ve been having to use a draft specification for real kids. Which is more than a little frightening.

Reciprocal Altruism

I’ve blogged before about the difficulties of finding resources to use without trawling through dozens of sites, each with their own login and categories. Even great sites like the eLibrary (its URL has changed but your login should be the same) can’t have everything. And every time the specifications change, we have to move everything around. If schools can share the planning then the workload can be reduced.

A school in Hampshire is holding a free “Science Curriculum in a day” event in March. Basically loads of teachers building a scheme of work as best they can. It’s organised by @MartynReah who tweeted about it, and I wondered if I could help. I can’t make it down there (although I will be trying to contribute via twitter: #teacher5adayScience ) and I suspect that’s true for many of my readers too. So how about crowdsourcing a resource list instead?

I’ve created a GoogleForm. It should take just a couple of minutes to complete for each online resource you’d like to share. Copy and paste the URL, tick a few boxes so they can be sorted by subject/topic and type of resource, and you’re done. The resulting spreadsheet will be freely available (although it’s currently pretty empty) and be used by those who can attend the day as a starting point.

EDIT: I’ve sorted a couple of bugs so specifying Chemistry topics doesn’t lead you to the Physics list (completely accidental I promise!) and you can now describe something as ‘All Subjects’. No need to repeat submissions but please add to the seven so far!

(I’ve suggested to Martyn that a Dropbox folder would allow colleagues to donate their own offline resources too, and will update this post if relevant.)

Maths

I have, according to WordPress, 132 followers. If each one of those can contribute a couple of links between now and the event, that’s over 250 teacher-recommended resources for a new Scheme of Work. The more people who get involved, the better the spreadsheet will be for us all, on the day or not. Heads of Department, why not ask your teams to add a favourite resource? NQTs, this would allow you to tick the ‘sharing good practice’ box on your paperwork. Fancy helping out?

I’ve even created short links so you can stick it up on noticeboards or in staff meetings. Please share widely. I intend to be tweeting this regularly with a running total of shared resources, so please help get the numbers up.

Form: tinyurl.com/teacher5adayscience

Results: tinyurl.com/teacher5adayscience-all

 

 

 

 

GCSE Practicals

You’ll already know that the assessment of practical work is changing. (I recommend this article by Alistair Moore and this at the RSC from @MaryUYSEG for useful perspectives.) At A-level it’s changed already, as part of many other alterations. The ISAs are gone for post-16, and it’s fair to say that most teachers aren’t going to miss them. At GCSE these changes will be part of the new specification which officially starts in September 2016, and which many schools have already started to use for their Year 9 students. Which is brave, when they’ve not been approved yet! If you’re teaching A-level Physics I’d recommend the resource created by one of my day-job colleagues at the SPN and available to all.
Different exam boards are taking different approaches, but there’s a big overlap. Each has a list of practicals which are required/recommended/suggested, and students will need to have a signed form of some kind which says they’ve done them. This means they’ll have had the opportunity to gain all the relevant skills (according to OfQual) which will be a pass/fail ‘extra’ to the grade. I predict, somewhat cynically, that the vast majority of students will have gained these skills on paper no matter how much their lab work resembles that of Beaker from the Muppets. 15% of the final exam marks will be awarded for students demonstrating in a written exam that they can think like a scientist, probably in a similar way to the ISA papers.
The list of practicals is a minimum expectation – a lower limit rather than an upper one. Most are ones we have always done, in one form or another. Students don’t have to work independently on all of them, or in exam conditions. They need not (and in my opinion should not) do them as a separate unit or topic but as part of their normal experience of science, alongside science content and social context. There is no specific way they are expected to write them up or record their results.
My plan is to create a resource list for each of the GCSE Physics practicals, drawn from AQA, Edexcel and OCR. These are my interpretation and, certainly at the moment, I’m doing them in my own time for no charge. (If anyone would like them sooner and/or to sell, contact me with a price in mind.)

Science Club: Shortlist

My son’s primary school was looking for more after-school activities. My wife was at the meeting where they discussed the possibilities. And I’m a science teacher with a bit of spare time as my current role is both part-time and out of the classroom.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
The shortlist
I quite liked the idea of working with kids directly, but I was very aware that as a secondary teacher I needed help. Besides, reinventing the wheel lacked appeal. I had a look at various ‘bought-in’ structures, for example some of those presenting at the ASE Conference. But they were quite expensive. I checked out ideas through STEMnet, many of which were aimed more at KS3. In the end, I presented the science coordinator with two options I felt would provide interest without a huge workload.
The first, predictably, was via the British Science Association: specifically the CREST Star awards for ages 5-11. (I have fond memories of BAYS from my own school days.) There’s a library of activities and kids gain the award after completing a certain number of them. Depending on the age and ability you choose different themed sessions, all of which have support materials ready to use.
The other was slightly less formal. I was fascinated by the ExpeRimental project from the Royal Institution last year, and blogged about it. The idea of providing materials for parents to have scientific fun with offspring is a great one. The second series of videos looks as enjoyable as the first. And I happen to know one of the people behind it, my good friend and virtual colleague @alomshaha. So it seems a natural step to suggest it for a science club for ages 5-6.
The choice
We’re going with ExpeRimental; partly because it’s free, and partly because it means we can provide easy links for interested parents. But mostly because it looks great fun. I’ll be blogging each week about how it went, good and bad, and sharing a few photos of the results (but not the kids). Hopefully a longer piece about the experience will make it to the RI website once we’ve finished the first half-term cycle. I really feel that many of the activities would work well with older students, too. In fact, I’d argue that some of them would provide a challenge for sixth form students if you simply changed the questions you asked. And isn’t that a great recommendation for practicals built from kitchen cupboard and junk box materials?

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?