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

Learning Toolkit

After a Twitter discussion I realised I’d never followed up my Learning Journey blogpost with the printable material I was working on, so here it is. These form the basis of a display (with examples, ideally using students’ own work) of a ‘toolkit’ which can help pupils to be more independant. It links well to L2L concepts (see this page from @teachitso for a quick justification), for obvious reasons, and you might like to use individual pages or the whole thing. If you’re in a school which allows mobile devices, why not add a QR code to those which could do with more explanation?

My vague hope is that these ideas will turn into a separate website at some point in the future – a version of this blog, aimed at students to use independantly of teachers. Thoughts, comments, suggestions?

I’ll update this post at some point in the future, but I should really get on with (a)work and (b)ASE conference write-ups. Let me know if any of this is useful.

learningtoolkit as pdf.

Getting Easy Marks (AQA P2 June 2011)

Ah, the indescribable joy of marking mock papers. It’s not all bad, admittedly – some of my students have done rather well. But as is my usual habit, one of the activities they’ll be using after the holiday is to look for the easy errors. These are, as I tell them, the marks that pretty much everyone doing higher tier should get most of the time. It’s a mixture of straightforward recall and simple methods, and it can be useful both for able students (who make careless errors just like everyone else) and those who are hoping to get a B grade rather than a borderline C (who can be reassured with these improvements).

Getting Easy Marks June2011 as ppt; click on the image above for the A4 pdf version.

How you approach this depends on individual style, but I like to have students add asterisks to their completed revision checklists (as seen in an earlier post) to highlight ‘fixable’ issues. I then have them taking turns teaching each other, as most have one or two questions they did very well on and which they can explain to their peers. For trickier questions, I often discuss examples of weak, reasonable and excellent answers, sometimes having them consider a flowchart of successful approaches. Rehearsing model answers can be particularly effective, for example in the regular ‘padding material in an impact situation’:

  1. Any kind of padding/crumple-zone/helmet/etc increases impact time…
  2. …so the rate of momentum change is less (using delta mv/t)…
  3. …which means the average force is reduced.

On the June 2011 paper this was on Question 7, but any similar question can be answered using this kind of generic answer. It would have to be better than the student in my class who suggested that an insulating material stops injury because of electric shock after electrons have been rubbed off by friction as the motorcyclist slides over the road surface. Really, I despair sometimes.

Students could look for revision material online to match their specific weaknesses (some links are described here) or write questions to test each other on particular areas. As well as doing more practice papers in exam conditions, I’ve blogged before about varied methods for using papers. It is perhaps a little late to start producing new mind maps and so on, but a short maths exercise in class will show students how quickly 20 minutes per day adds up to give a fair chance of gaining a half-dozen or so marks – and potentially several grades.

Last year’s version of this post (with the June 2010 paper similarly dissected) is here, along with my resources for students on the difference between foundation and higher tier. Hope some of it is useful; I’d love to hear how you’ve used the materials, if at all.

Links for Revising P1 (AQA Science A)

EDIT: Obviously someone at the BBC is reading my blog – Bitesize has now updated their information so all of the links to ‘old’ Bitesize resources now point at the wrong stuff. Sigh. Perhaps next time they could be smart and organise ‘new’ resources in a ‘new’ folder rather than messing around every single website that pointed to existing material? If I get the chance, I’ll edit the list, but I’m trying to catch up with ASE conference material at the moment…

I quite like the new specification for AQA Science A. There’s lots of good physics in it, for example. So far there are two major downsides:

  1. Because the government keep meddling, we’re left not knowing how long it will be even vaguely modular so the timing is horrendous, rushing to get stuff done before the January exams
  2. Partly because of 1 above, nobody’s producing good resources for it online because they don’t know how long it will last.

I have some sympathy with problem 2, as we’ve written a scheme of work that we might have to rewrite after only a year. It’s depressing enough when they last four years. But online stuff shouldn’t be a big deal to adjust, you’d think, because the resources will still be useful, it’s just the index which you’d have to mess with. But what do I know?

Enough complaints – how about something useful, I hear you ask. So here it is.

downloadable: links for revising p1 as a pdf

Despite being a pdf, this is not a printable, for reasons that will shortly become obvious. The page is a quick guide to revising P1 online for students. There are a few tips about best use of resources (like, don’t waste your time by just reading them) and then catalogued links from a few sites I recommend to my students. This way students can find what they need by thinking through the new specification, even though the websites are mostly organised according to the older qualification. I decided this saved the hassle of producing shortlinks (for example via bit.ly) for them to type in. An alternative would be QR codes, I suppose, but I wanted to cut out the middleperson.

For what it’s worth, this grew out of a classroom activity. I provided an electronic copy of the P1 revision checklist to the class, who then chose a few areas, looked online and added URLs. They emailed a copy to their webmail and home addresses, and now have a personalised bookmark list they can access over the Christmas holiday and on their smartphones.

If you’ve got any other suggestions for websites, pages or uses, I’d love you to share them in the comments. Sorry I’ve not been posting much recently, but I’ll try to catch up with a few over Christmas – in between 100+ mock exam papers, 32 ISA scripts, two KS3 tests and a set of folders. Yes, really. Chocolate and encouragement to the usual address…

AQA P1 Revision Checklist

And it’s back to the usual routine of teaching kids. In the process of them learning loads and being enthused by science – stop laughing at the back – we of course need to prepare them for the exams they’ll have. In the case of my setting, this means AQA A followed by Additional for the vast majority, and a course which may only last for one cohort. Thank you, Mr Gove. The content isn’t bad, so I actually quite like the idea of terminal exams covering the ideas. Something I often do is to issue a revision checklist to the students. This has two purposes:

  • So they can check their progress.
  • To break it down into small headings so revision can be ‘chunked’.

I then ask them to produce revision materials (or even better, study materials from the very beginning of the course) which use the small sections to highlight key areas. This means they can organise their ideas quickly and simply – one less reason to procrastinate as the exam is approaching. I’ve blogged about this before, but a few quick thoughts on ways to use the headings (and of course explaining why these methods work ticks the L2L box):

  • revision cards.
  • cover and complete definitions.
  • mind maps (paper or electronic).
  • headings for a ‘blank’ power point that they then fill in and save to their phones.
  • ‘If this is the answer what is the question?’
  • how it works/how it’s used.
  • Pictionary or Taboo cards.
  • Cornell notes sections.
  • pages for a wiki that the class then builds throughout the course.

I’m going to produce a summary sheet – probably about half an A4 page – which students will then be tested on. Simple recall, no applications or understanding at first. My plan is that after the first, they will work together to produce a similar amount of material every fortnight, and then I’ll test their recall of a random page weekly. This is following up the fourth #SciTeachJC article, a very interesting piece on how testing recall is better than rereading for retention. If I’m organised, I’ll post the summary pages here as well to build up a library for anyone who wants to try something similar.

Printables: P1 Revision Checklist as docx :  P1 Revision Checklist as pdf

I’m linking an editable version for anyone who wants to mess with it, and a pdf just because that’s how I normally do it. Please feel free to edit or adapt, but if so please remove the footer with my web address. If you’d like me to host equivalent checklists for other parts of the course (or other science ones I guess) I’m happy to, although I’d point out TES Resources or Guardian Teachers will get much more traffic (or start a blog and host it yourself).

I’d love to hear how useful you and your students have found it, if at all…

Not a past paper again…

“Not a past paper again…”

I bet we’ve all heard that refrain over the past couple of weeks, as the stack of past papers is placed ominously on the teacher’s desk. The exam is a few days away and we’re running low on time, papers and patience. So are the kids.

Or maybe it’s not so urgent for you? Both of my Year 11 classes have their final AQA Additional Science B2 paper on Thursday. (Assuming that they’re not doing Additional Science resits or Core Science module papers in the hope of crossing a grade boundary by iteration, if not dedication.) Perhaps you’ve got longer. But anyway, it seems worthwhile considering a few more imaginative ways of using exam papers.

Please let me be clear – doing practice papers in exam conditions is a very valuable way to prepare. But there are ways to improve their use, as well as to mix them up a bit so that kids don’t burn out too quickly. Some of these methods are also a good way to use individual questions, perhaps from previous specifications, without having to put together an actual full paper balanced between all topic areas.

Full Practice Papers

If students are doing past papers at home, we know that they won’t always be strict about exam conditions. So why not use this? Have them do it three times, but each time having a chance to focus on improvements:

  1. Timed exam conditions, then write a post-it note of weaker areas.
  2. Second attempt after active revision of areas flagged up in 1 above.
  3. Third attempt, with folder/revision guide open.

Of course some will combine 1 and 3 as their first attempt, perhaps with the markscheme, and stop. But others will learn at each stage.

Targeted Questions

Combining revision with exam questions in lessons can be very helpful. Start off by asking students to predict what words or key phrases will show up in revision material on a specific topic. They could do this individually, or in small groups – ideally they should try by themselves then compare ideas with another. (Think-Pair-Share) Then either show them an example (such as these pages from S-Cool), or play podcasts for them; I like using the podcasts produced by the Naked Scientists and available free from BBC Bitesize. They can improve their summary but only in the limited time available. Then attempt a relevant question. What was useful? What did they miss that would have been useful? What facts or methods will they add to their summaries for future reference?

Write The Markscheme

I suspect this is similar to what many colleagues already do. We all know – and point out to our students – that a lot more appears on the markscheme than students are expected to write. It will point out traps and make distinctions between correct answers and those that are in the right ballpark. So why not have them, in small groups and with their materials handy, write a markscheme to a question? Even better, give them each a different question and as a class they can finish the job. Perhaps a chocolate-based prize could be offered to the closest match to the official version? Their suggestions can also be tested against the next approach.

Mark The Teacher

This is often very popular. I produce sample answers to a full exam question, often parts of it based on student attempts from the past (suitably adapted) or illustrating common mistakes or misconceptions, e.g. osmosis vs diffusion, all genetic diseases are recessives and so on. I then challenge pupils to mark these answers as if they had been written in an exam, and improve them. (It’s particularly useful to give D-grade answers that can be brought up to a C, or A/B grade working that need fine-tuning to get the highest marks.) More able students can explain to others why particular answers are better than others.

Improve the Question

I like having students write their own exam questions but this can often be a little daunting. They can usually cope if you ask them to produce a simple factual question with one unambiguous answer, but anything more leaves them struggling. (Although giving them a range of structures can help, especially if they can see how it is based on ‘common’ exam questions.) So why not have them change one part of a question, or add on a more challenging section to the end? Alternatively, they could convert a Foundation question to one more suited to Higher tier, or the other way around.


I’m sure colleagues have many other approaches – I’d be particularly interested in quick and easy ways to use exam questions in a more active way. Please add your comments, ideas and suggestions in the comments below. Hope it’s not too stressful before they finish…

MORSE Code for Revision at #tmm11

Yesterday I attended my first TeachMeet in Lutterworth. The colleagues at TeachMeetMidlands11 (#tmm11 on Twitter) have given me loads of ideas – which I plan to blog about in a few days when I’ve had a chance to think about them – and I was also brave/daft enough to give a presentation. I like the idea of a teachmeet as an ‘unconference’ where most attendees give either a 2 or 7 minute presentation as well as meeting and swapping ideas. Like many teachers I often find the informal parts of CPD the most useful ones, where teachers swap ideas or chat between ‘organised’ sessions. Sadly I couldn’t stay for the food but the afternoon was still well-spent. @oliverquinlan summarised each presentation on Posterous here and the whole thing was also livestreamed and saved (I strongly recommend the whole thing, but for reasons of vanity am also linking directly to my bit.) Thanks to @squiggle7 and @mikemcsharry for organising it.

Lessons I learned from my Presentation

  1. Double check that you’ve got the presentation on your memory stick – then put it in the cloud anyway.
  2. Put a clock where you can see it – I think I was rushing.
  3. Ask questions – I really should have been more interactive but think I was worrying about the timing.
  4. Give myself a longer lead time to make it easier to include pictures/videos of students’ work.

The MORSE Code for Revision

I’ve blogged about this before and effective learning and revision feature regularly in my posts. The presentation I gave (also downloadable below in case I’ve not set up SlideShare properly) is adapted from ones I’ve used with students and focuses on the many varied ways revision can be made more active, and so more effective. As always I’d really value any feedback and/or suggestions.

MORSE Code for revision as a ppt.

Printable Blanks

There are several of these elsewhere on the site (have a look at Cornell Notes for Revision or check out the printables category for all the ones I remembered to label) but here are a couple I produced this week. The idea is that students should be able to fill these in with the ideas covered in lessons. I suppose they might work well as plenaries too, perhaps partially completed by the teacher. I’d also suggest students could use them to test each other, as I did during ‘speed dating revision’.

  • Inspired by Mock The Week among other things, Answers And Questions (saved as pdf) reverses what students expect. Given a list of ideas, key words or examples they need to suggest one or more questions that result in those answers. Obviously there are many possibilities. To make it more challenging they should mix up the questions, at least two for each answer, and challenge a classmate to match them up correctly.
  • Concepts Cues Consequences (saved as pdf) is a variant of the Good/Bad/Interesting approach to ideas. Students not only suggest a few reminders for basic concepts (possibly while looking at markschemes or their notes) but then suggest a couple of real world uses or implications.
  • I like concept maps but it can be tricky to use the finished product for testing. I produced Quarters Revision (saved as pdf) as a way to guide a mind map so that one quarter can be covered easily and a student – the author or a classmate – can then try to reproduce/predict what is underneath.

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

AQA P2: Foundation vs Higher

As I was producing this for my students, I thought it was possible others might be interested in it for theirs. I was asked how much variation there was between the Foundation and Higher tiers, and this was the result. More revision materials for AQA P2 (mid-January) will be appearing on the blog as I finish them for my students.

On checking the specification, there’s really not a great deal of difference – it’s how the questions are worded. The Foundation tier (unsurprisingly) leans towards more multiple choice guess answers and far less maths. I had my students compare ‘equivalent’ questions and we produced a summary table, linked to ‘how to revise’ notes specific to each tier.

printable: P2 F vs H as pdf.

I’ve always found it tricky to make tier decisions – almost invariably, some of them turn out to be wrong. They can be a self-fulfilling prophecy (you may be familiar with the ‘Pygmalion Effect‘ of high/low expectations), partly because students entered for the Foundation tier may choose, more or less consciously, not to put in any effort. There are often some students who could achieve B grades on the Higher tier but see aiming for a C by doing Foundation as the ‘easy option’. Sadly this is not always the case. I’d welcome any successful strategies colleagues have used to deal with this.

PS As you’ll see on the left, the blog is now on Twitter, as @teachingofsci. Some of it will be about Teaching Science, some will just be me (t)wittering.

3 x 3 x 3 x 3 revision

Yes, I know I’m not posting enough at the moment. Lots happening and a lack of encouragement from any hypothetical readers. As usual, any and all feedback appreciated…

Once more it’s revision time. I actually have two year groups preparing for the module exam (AQA Core Science A, if you’re interested) in ten days. I find it disappointing – although sadly unsurprising – that the Year 9 kids seem more motivated than the Year 10s. I used this activity, with a few modifications, with each group. As usual for any kind of revision activity that’s more varied than past papers, there is a wide variety in possible outcomes.

In the first lesson, students enter the room to find three headings, for three parts of the topic, spread around the room. They’re given a two minute countdown on the IWB and asked to use the laminated A4 boards to write a couple of key words, then stand under the approriate heading. (This could also be done with post-it notes or scrap paper and blu-tack). At the end of the two minutes students return to their usual seats and are told that the key words and ideas will help them with the lesson’s activities – making sets of revision materials that they will be able to use at home. They will produce three resources, on three areas of the topic, using three sources of information (folders, revision guides and me) to use at least three times (in this lesson, next and for the homework in between).

I told them which area I wanted them to start with based on the row they were sitting in. Our last class revision activity was based on human effects on the environment, so the three areas were:

  1. adaptations and competition
  2. natural selection, extinctions and evolution
  3. artificial selection, asexual reproduction and cloning/GM

What I asked them to do was to use a different method for each area, so if they started by making a mind map for adaptations and competition, they had to use a different method for the other two. Another timer, making the (for example) 20 or 25 minute time limit explicit, imparts a sense of urgency. I asked them to produce

  • a mind map/concept map/flowchart
  • a set of between 6 and 8 revision cards
  • a list of between 6 and 8 questions, half aimed at foundation level (basic recall) and half at higher (more complex explanations or uses)

This would work best if you’ve modelled the use and effectiveness of these methods in the recent past – even better if you have exemplar materials, perhaps on a different topic (I used examples from the humans affecting the environment part), where they can see them. Of course which exact methods you use will depend on resources available as well as personal preference.

When the time was up I spent a couple of minutes flagging up particularly good examples, talking about what made them useful, before asking them to choose a second area of the topic and a second method. Restart the timer, leaving myself about five minutes at the end of the lesson for a plenary.

Many already (rightly) suspected that producing the third resource, using the third method, would be the homework. I explained to them, after once more picking out some good examples to demonstrate  successful approaches, that in our next lesson they would be using these resources to revise together.

It will be a ‘speed revising’ approach, where students will swap partners every three minutes. In that time they will have to test their partner using the material they have prepared, and be tested in turn. Although three minutes won’t be enough to ‘use up’ the resources, this will allow them to ask different questions each time. Revision cards and questions offer obvious ways to test, but I will be providing post-it notes so that part of a mind map can be covered and their partner will have to predict what lies underneath.

This is one of those ‘differentiation by outcome’ lessons. Students produce work of a very varied standard, mainly due to varied effort rather than ability. If your group or class includes significantly weaker students it would be worth producing mind maps or revision cards with structured headings, or a list of twenty answers for which they must write eight questions and so on. As usual, students who are able, motivated or both can produce something very impressive, even in a small amount of time. It is useful to reinforce that twenty minutes or so is probably enough time to spend revising without a break for improved concentration.