Jobs For The Summer

New planner? Check. New timetable? Check. New class lists? Well, depends on how well organised your school is. Pile of coursework to mark? Probably. Schemes of work to tweak ready for September? Probably.

Now think carefully about this one. Have you got the important jobs sorted out?

Yes, I know those jobs are important. Like you, I spend a day during the summer gettting into my September mindset; filling in my first fortnight’s timetable, making sure I’ve identified top end and struggling students, rearranging seating plans. This year life will be much easier as I’ve evolved my electronic markbook (Excel, if you care) into something more fit for purpose. Mainly by eliminating the mistakes I made this year. But there are things that are more important, parts of the bigger picture which you should be thinking about too.

Assuming you know what you’re teaching in the new term, could you find the resources and links for one outstanding lesson for each group in that first fortnight? Use some of your gained time in these last few days to try out a new practical. Save the video files to your ‘September’ folder. Turn the questions into a gameshow format. It doesn’t matter what – just be ready to enjoy that moment when a new class is in the palm of your hand, hanging on your every word.

Do you have your summer reading ready? Each year I invest in a couple of interesting-looking education books – this is as well as the popular science I consume on a more regular basis. Right now I’ve got Better Learning Through Structured Teaching by Fisher and Frey, bought through the Book Barge; I’d like to see about applying the GRR model to practical skills in my lab. I’ve also downloaded the Perfect Ofsted English Lesson to my Android, and plan to blog about my reflections on David’s ideas and how they relate to Science lessons. Alternatively, you might like to put a few relevant research papers to one side. Or does your school have a professional development bookshelf? If not, why not?

Of course, a great way to find things to reflect on is to do something teaching-related. I’m attending an AQA stakeholder meeting in July and the #YorkTU in late August. Between them – the arguments at the first and the presentations at the second – I’m sure I will find new things to mess around with. Like the books, this sort of thing costs money. Think of it as investing in your own development, more to add to your CV as well as helping you do your current job better.

Have you identified your areas for development for the next year? How well these match up to your official performance targets will depend on your setting, but it would be good to choose things that you want to change. Pair up with a colleague and agree that you’ll informally observe each other, swap ideas and prompt each other during thr rough patches. Maybe you want to work on questioning techniques, or find ways to improve the quality of your feedback to students without tripling your workload. Write a list in next year’s planner and spend some time coming up with approaches. Change/Observe/Reflect can be the start of an action research cycle if you want to think of it that way.

What’s wasted time over the past year? What problem do you wish you could solve? For me it’s coming up with good starters; the ideas are interesting and get kids engaged, but there’s no enough variety of method. So my project is to produce three ‘starter schemes’ in powerpoint. This doesn’t mean all whiteboard activities, but that the instructions or prompts will be there ready for me and my students. I want to get a few ready for each topic now, and by the end of the year I’ll have varied, challenging, interesting activities organised into KS3 Biology, Chemistry and Physics. My plan is to put them on Google Docs too, perhaps so online colleagues can help put them together. (Yes, I’m lazy.)

It’s always really tempting to take time off completely. Time with kids, family holidays, a respite from marking all mean that it’s understandable. But like we tell the kids, a small amount of preparation can go a long way. I don’t expect to manage all the things on my ‘to do’ list. But anything I do manage will make my job better in September, and make me better at my job.

Not bad for a holiday.

Setting the Scene

The first lesson with a class is always a challenge. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, I think – you’re still aware of the need to make a good first impression. Because in many ways it’s the first few lessons – what Bill Rogers and others call the ‘establishment phase’ – that set the tone for the rest of your time together. I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to do too much in my first hour with a class is counter-productive. After swapping some ideas on twitter about what the first lesson should cover (although I’m sure there are many other suggestions out there) I wanted to blog my own routine. As tends to be the case, the summer has gotten away from me so I’m now doing this in a rush, but so it goes. Whether you already use some of these ideas, or think they’re crazy, I’d love to read some comments below.

Of course, in some schools (including my own) some classes will have a ‘pep talk’, perhaps including some statistics or previous rsults, to inspire the students to do well. How constructive you think this is will of course vary.

Introduction

Some students will know who I am, by reputation or by having been taught by me before. I still introduce myself and explain my specialism (Physics), and tell them that I’m looking forward to working with them over the next year.

Seating

I use a seating plan with my classes, which I aim to mix up fairly regularly. In practice it often takes a while, as it helps to provide some stability to start with – and makes learning names easier. I use targets and SEN info to help me plan the seating, so that I can readily assist (or have TAs within reach of) those students who are likely to need support. This will usually need modifying, as I find I’ve inadvertantly sat deadly enemies next to each other, or that I have an entire row of effectively silent students. But it’s a start.

Administration

There are some really boring jobs that still need to be done sooner rather than later – a bit of thought will help them to go more smoothly. Folders may need to be issued and names written on the front, perhaps textbooks (and the numbers collected in), dates of exams flagged up, targets issued and recorded. I try and use this time to pick up a few names, especially for those students at the top and bottom of the ability range. It’s also a chance to praise kids who can listen to the instructions (which ideally should be on the board/IWB as well), so setting a precedent. If you’re new to a school, ask someone who isn’t about tips and tricks for what matters most, where book numbers are recorded and so on. Trying to catch up at Christmas isn’t fun.

Routines

How you tell students about what is expected of them will vary between teachers and between schools. If there is a school code of conduct, it’s perhaps worth discussing how this will be applied in the science lab. I’ve posted before about how I try to negotiate the wording of the rules, so that students feel ‘ownership’. It’s important they understand that teachers as well as students are bound by the agreement. Some teachers will have students sign a copy for display; others will save an electronic version, and return to it from time to time. I find emphasizing that the lab is for learning, and asking students how we can make that happen, is a useful approach. Learn, Enjoy, Achieve are three separate aims that cover most of it, and students find it hard to object to these goals. Be prepared for questions from the students about consequences for those who don’t follow agreed rules, and be ready to emphasize that right now they all have the chance to leave bad habits behind them. I sometimes have them write out the agreed rules and underline the one they think they’ll have most trouble with themselves.

Trailer

If at all possible, you want there to be something in the lesson telling the kids what the subject is going to be like. This doesn’t necessarily mean a flashy demo – it’s a pain to set up and might set expectations a little high. Talking about what science is all about can be useful; I’ve emptied out my pockets on to the demo bench (a nice way to show you’re human, too) and talked about how the coming topics are applied. Credit cards (chips and magnetic strips), mobile phone (EM, materials, electricity), keys (metals, chemical reactions), karabiner keyring (forces), pocket torch (light, energy), chocolate bar (nutrition)… all kinds of possibilities.

This year I plan to use the “I know a place” speech by Phil Plaitt, who among other things writes the Bad Astronomy blog. If you’ve not read this before, I really think you should. I’m hoping that this will set the scene nicely for my students in terms of telling them what science is all about. Of course I’ll also tell them the topics for the next year, how they’ll be assessed and all that. But it’s the big picture that I want them to have, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the universe.

EDIT: @alomshaha has reminded me of his Why Science? site, with all kinds of useful introductions to the best subject in the curriculum. 🙂 I’d probably use small sections for this purpose rather than the full version, but I should emphasize that’s about time constraints!

If you want/need to start teaching content, remember a few basic things. You’ll be pushed for time. They’ll want to catch up with friends more than they want to make a good impression. Some won’t have pens or pencils. Several will swear blind they’ve never covered the material you know they did last year. So if you must, I’d suggest an assessment exercise, auditing previous knowledge. This could be a comprehension piece, perhaps with some HSW elements or, as Lauraj987 suggested, a research activity where they use textbooks to remind themselves of what they’ve already done. That way those with good memories don’t have a particular advantage.

Enjoy it. Get off to a good start in September and life will be much easier in March. I don’t agree with the old “Don’t smile until Christmas” rule but it’s much easier to relax later in the year than get stricter. You’ll be with these kids for at least a year, perhaps two – make the most of it.