Energy Language Thoughts Part 1

I was thinking ‘out loud’ on Twitter about the ‘new’ energy language, discussions prompted in part by science teachers applying the changes in their classrooms. I know I’ve blogged about energy before, but thought it might be time to have another crack at it. I’m not writing here in an official IOP capacity, although I’m also swapping these ideas with colleagues. All thoughts, responses, criticisms and offers of coffee accepted. And if you add the comments here it will be easier for others to join in, as twitter replies get lost after a while. Alternatively, as the responses to a twitter poll led me to post it in chunks, you might want to wait until it’s all done. I’ll crosspost the complete thing to TalkPhysics as well.


  • Resistance to change – teachers as much as students!
  • Students who have learned one approach in KS3 and are now being told something different for KS4.
  • The exam boards can’t seem to agree on which stores to use and which to omit, which has knock-on effects for textbooks.
  • Teachers don’t know which answers will get marks in the exams, so don’t know what advice to give students.
  • Existing resources are incompatible with the new language – but with enough similarities to make it look like they’ll work (like a false friend in language teaching, which gives you confidence while misleading).

I don’t have answers for these. To be honest, nobody does! What I can say is that many people are trying to figure out the best way to make these changes work well for everyone. It is, in my personal view, unfortunate that they are coming in with both a specification and a grading system that are new. It’s worth noting the stores and pathways model hasn’t been recently  invented by the IOP to annoy teachers. For example: Robin Millar, Practical Physics.

There’s lots on the Supporting Physics Teaching resource from the IOP, but one place to start is this suggestion about useful things to keep in mind.

Hopefully Helpful Thoughts

A good thing about the ‘new’ language is that it encourages – pretty much demands – more attention on the actual physics. That’s the point. What is happening? So let’s start there; in any example, what process is involved? Some materials/sources call these pathways, but the idea is the same. Let’s not get hung up on labels for them, but on descriptions of actual events. It may help to emphasize to yourself that they are verbs, not nouns. They can happen fast or slow. But they involve actual physics, forces and EM and heating and so on (obligatory link to the Big Ideas of Science Education, because it’s awesome. When I rule the world every school science lab will have a huge poster of these.)

Now, these processes will change something. It means we can measure something which is different after this process compared to before. We’re not interested, right now, in how quickly this change has occurred – just that it has. This is a change – maybe a temperature increase, a greater separation of two objects, whatever – in a measurable quantity. This is associated with what we call a store. Different kinds of store have different equations, which link the measurable quantities together along with some constants. The result of that equation is a value for the energy associated with that store.

If we pay closer attention, we find that (at least) two stores have changed. What’s really interesting is that if we’re really careful, when we compare the equations, we find that the numbers are the same. An increase in one store is always balanced by a decrease in the other. The equations work as an exchange rate, showing how temperature rise in one part of the system is ‘worth’ faster movement in another part.

This, of course, is the principle of conservation of energy. Energy isn’t lost. But we can lose track of it. Sooner or later, the processes end up heating up the entire universe. Because the universe is pretty big (no, bigger than that) the change in temperature is effectively immeasurable.

So there we are; a very brief introduction to the ‘new’ model. More posts coming up, hopefully one per day. The sooner you comment, the more likely I can address your suggestions in the course of the series!

Variations on a Theme

It turns out that I’m really bad at following up conference presentations.

Back in early June, I offered a session on teachers engaging – or otherwise – with educational research. It all grew out of an argument I had on Twitter with @adchempages, who has since blocked me after I asked if the AP Chem scores he’s so proud of count as data. He believes, it seems, that you cannot ever collect any data from educational settings, and that he has never improved his classroom practice by using any form of educational research.

But during the discussions I got the chance to think through my arguments more clearly. There are now three related versions of my opinion, quite possibly contradictory, and I wanted to link to all three.

Version the first: Learning From Mistakes, blogged by me in January.

Streamlined version written for the BERA blog: Learning From Experience. I wrote this a while back but it wasn’t published by them until last week.

Presentation version embedded below (and available from if you’re interested).

I’d be interested in any and all comments, as ever. Please let me know if I’ve missed any particular comments from the time – this is the problem with being inefficient. (Or, to be honest, really busy.) The last two slides include all the links in my version of a proper references section.

Thoughts from the presentation

Slide 8: it’s ironic that science teachers, who know all about using models which are useful even though they are by necessity simplified, struggle with the idea that educational research uses large numbers of participants to see overall patterns. No, humans aren’t electrons – but we can still observe general trends using data.

Slide 13: it’s been pointed out to me that several of the organisations mentioned offer cheaper memberships/access. These are, however, mainly institutional memberships (eg £50/yr for the IOP) which raises all kinds of arguments about who pays and why.

Slide 14: a member of the audience argued with this point, saying that even if articles weren’t open-access any author would be happy to share electronic copies with interested teachers. I’m sure he was sincere, and probably right. But as I tried to explain, this assumes that (1)the teacher knows what to ask for, which means they’ll miss all kinds of interesting stuff they never heard about and that (2)the author is happy to respond to potentially dozens of individual requests. Anyone other than the author or journal hosting or sharing a PDF is technically breaking the rules.

Slide 16: Ironically, the same week as I gave the presentation there was an article in SSR on electricity analogies which barely mentioned the rope model. Which was awkward as it’s one of the best around, explored and endorsed by the IOP among many others.

Slide 20: Building evidence-based approaches into textbooks isn’t a new idea (for example, I went to Andy’s great session on the philosophy behind the Activate KS3 scheme) but several tweeters and colleagues liked the possibility of explicit links being available for interested teachers.

HALT means Stop

Number one rule in discipline is never get irritable. Forgive easily and forget. Easier if you aren’t in a mood…
— Miss Smith (@HeyMissSmith) August 9, 2015

This tweet really resonated with me, and there’s not a teacher alive who can’t recall a time when they ignored this principle. Tell me you’re the exception and I’ll call you a liar. We all get irritable, often for very good reason. Everyone has different triggers, although some things are naturally more irritating than others. Missing the bus. Finding the milk’s gone off, after you’ve put it in your tea. Spoilers for a good book or favourite TV programme. Jeremy Clarkson. Teenagers in general.
As a teacher, the problem is that kids hold grudges even better than we do. And there’s more of them, so they’ll win in the grumpiness stakes, even if only by weight of numbers. Something that may be helpful is an idea from outside teaching, a reminder of the emotional states that lead to bad decisions. The concept is that we should generally avoid doing something that can’t be undone when we are:
This acronym/mnemonic has more than one claimed source, but you may find the guidance at LifeSIGNS helpful; my interpretations below are obviously a personal take on the subject! HALT means to stop before you do something you may regret.
It’s an easy one, this. Teachers rush. We might skip breakfast, even though we tell kids it’s a bad idea. A couple of biscuits with a cup of tea, drunk too hot when the bell goes, is all we get at break. Lunchtime might happen, in between kids explaining why they haven’t done their homework and a manager admitting that the deadline for predicted grade entry was yesterday and he forgot to email. Then a parents’ evening after a canteen baked potato, somehow burnt on the outside and nearly raw in the middle.
Like we tell our students during science topics, we shouldn’t divide food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Instead, we need to think about ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ foods. In the long term, yes; we should eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (LINK) But in the short term, we are better off eating something than going hungry. You could buy the cereal bars that are edible, but that don’t have enough chocolate to be a treat. Add packet soups to your emergency stationary drawer. Keep some bottles of water and dried fruit in the car, so when you’re running behind the traffic lights are a chance to eat as well as a source of huge frustration.
Anecdotally, NQTs either gain or lose five kilograms during the year. Now, this isn’t evidence-based, apologies to Tom Bennett. But there is probably enough truth in it to bear in mind when you’re shopping for break-time snacks you can eat between students.
They’re really good at pressing our buttons, aren’t they? Sometimes I don’t know what’s more irritating; teenagers who are honestly completely oblivious about their thoughtlessness, or those who are deliberately choosing to aggravate. I don’t mean those who tease about your football team losing, but the kid who tells you, absolutely seriously and sincerely, that they don’t understand why you don’t “just kill yourself and make life better for everyone.”
Yes, I’m quoting from personal experience.
There’s no cure for anger, wherever it lies on the ‘mild annoyance’ to ‘burning rage’ scale. An author I like, Spider Robinson, has a character in one of his books suggest that “Anger is fear in drag.” Whatever the cause, it’s rarely a bad idea to pause. If a kid was visibly angry, you’d remove them from the situation (or remove the situation from them). So this is where you repeat the instruction and specify consequences, allow take-up time and go to do something else. Go talk to a student you know you’ll be able to praise. Fetch a replacement board pen. Step around the prep room door and snap a pencil in half (don’t let the kids see, or they’ll treat it as a game). Longer term, there are things you can do, and should. In the short term, the aim is just to take a breath and respond, instead of react.
I think this – along with holidays vs term-time workload – is one of the biggest misconceptions non-teachers have about our profession. Despite being part of a team, often with dozens of colleagues and several hundred students, it can feel very isolated. Being a teacher means being responsible for thirty human beings, what they do and what they learn. The staffroom can be very lonely, whether you’re new to a school or you’ve just had a bad lesson despite years of experience. It’s remarkably depressing when you say that this class or that student was challenging today, and there’s a chorus of “They’re not like that for me…”
You shouldn’t be alone in the school – but it’s understandable you might feel that way. Like being a parent to a young child, it can be hard to make time for adult conversations. Try. Put it on the timetable that one lesson a fortnight you’ll go and talk to a colleague about teaching ideas. Make it positive and make it a regular commitment. Some colleagues can seem very negative, and where possible they’re the ones you need not to talk to!
You can also find colleagues, support and ideas outside of school. If you’re an early career teacher of Physics I’d recommend the SPN mentoring programme, for example! (The day job is working as part of the IOP.) Twitter can be great, although I’m taking a little time out for the moment, and you’ll be able to find ‘virtual colleagues’ who can help both professionally and emotionally.
All the problems of the classroom are easier when students recognize they’re dealing with a team, not an individual teacher. The positive experiences students have tend to be about our strengths; when things are difficult we need to rely on each other, on institutional standards and policies, to make up for our personal weak moments. Because we all have them, but we shouldn’t have to deal with them alone.
Lesson 5 on a Friday, anyone? After a parents’ evening on Tuesday and a Wednesday twilight INSET on the correct way to administer an EpiPen? How many of you have already started to think about your DVD selection? I know I would be, because sometimes it’s better to aim for a small amount of learning than risk catastrophe.
There as as many reasons for being tired as there are teachers, but some things are predictable. Make sure your personal calendar is visible when you do your long-term planning. Be reasonable, because if you try for every lesson to be all-singing, all-dancing, outstanding according to Ofsted… you’ll probably last a fortnight. It’s not sustainable unless you’re prepared to take a part-time salary and work full-time on planning and marking. Make your school life easier.
  1. Choose one lesson per group for the fortnight which will be impressive. Star it on your timetable, max one per day. Consider scheduling a ‘planned low impact’ lesson on the same day.
  2. Choose a template for activities which you use for a certain amount of time. Maybe you can use a structure so that the first lesson each fortnight with a class starts with a picture. The second lesson begins with three multiple choice questions. The third… you get the idea.
  3. Investigate pre-made and customizable activities which are ready to print and use. You might have some in house; you may find one site or library works well for you. (See the second half of this post on the difficulties with finding resources)/
  4. Passive activities can be made active with a relatively small time commitment. Turn copied and pasted notes from Bitesize into a ‘spot the mistakes’ exercise; no copying for the kids, but a chance to use the magical red pen. Have students answer questions after watching a video, or even better generate them for each other. Provide a template for research lessons and share the best examples as student notes.

I’m afraid there are no magic solutions to tiredness; the average teacher has a lot more work than week. Anything you can reuse from past years, ‘borrow’ from colleagues locally or electronically, find at one of the many resource sites, gives you more time. I like the idea of time assets and debts, which you could sum up with a simple example. If I can spend an hour in August Doing a job that will save me just two minutes every week in term time, I’ll be ahead after a year. If it saves me two minutes each school day, I’ll have gained five hours by next summer.

So tiredness can’t be solved except by the boring approach of sleeping more. But we can use our waking hours better, just like we tell kids in exam season who would rather complete Call of Duty that revise.

Time to HALT?

I’d be really interested in any feedback on this – maybe it’s obvious, but writing it helped me get some things straight in my own head. As I said, I’m off Twitter for a bit, but feel free to share – just remember you’ll have to comment here if you want me to know what you think.

Book Swap


Six weeks of summer holiday stretching ahead and I’ve laid in a stockpile of books, both paper and electronic, to keep me out of trouble. I’ve also got a long list of saved articles to catch up on; lesson study is something I want to look into much more closely, for example.

Every term or so I’ve been buying a book that’s relevant to my teaching. These alternate, vaguely, between vaguely popular science and education. I want to be a better teacher and engaging with a good book can’t hurt. I’ve always liked paper copies, because it’s easier to scribble in the margins. (I am looking at ways to annotate ebooks and then share/search main points, but that’s another post.) But this means that I’ve got overflowing bookshelves.

Could you help?

I’d like to start some book swapping. Choose one of the books by adding a comment, let me know your address by email and I’ll post it your way. It doesn’t count as CPD unless you think about it, so when you’re done type something about the book. Good points and bad, ideas you liked or how you’ve put it into practice. I’ll host that as a guest piece and/or link to your own site.

Maybe you’ve got books you’d like to offer as loans to fellow teachers? (If you don’t already do something like this in your own school, can I suggest you set it up first to save postage costs?) If so, include a list of titles/authors, maybe with a few words about who might get the most out of reading, in the comments. It should be really easy for us all to get a couple of new teaching books to inspire us over the next few months, for a few stamps instead of the often high purchase cost. And then the discussion will help us develop the ideas further.

Worth a try? You know what to do.




A Better September

There are some great things about teaching. Changing kids’ lives. Sharing the passion for our subjects. That ‘lightbulb moment’. Showing kids they can exceed their own expectations. Never ever being bored. Great questions and interesting answers.

July and August.

But all good things come to an end and the summer break – where we get time off in lieu for parents evenings, marking, revision sessions, mock exam scripts and all the other overtime  –  will indeed finish at some point. Of course, the shops are already putting up ‘back to school’ displays, which must be as depressing for the students as it is for the staff.



And the summer is followed by September, both anticipated and dreaded by teachers through the land. Anticipated because, no matter what the students think, we actually enjoy teaching. But dreaded because the days are nearly as long as the lists of jobs. Because additional tasks descend upon us from the SMT corridor with a casual “Oh, and we need this done by tomorrow.” Because the exciting introductions and carefully planned demonstrations get trampled by the inevitable timetable tweaks, photograph schedules and welcome assemblies.

So let’s make September better.


  1. Make yourself a cuppa, look back at your planner pages from last September and write a list of the problems that showed up.
  2. Using next September’s school planner, can you eliminate some of these?
  3. Add deadlines now for coursework, reporting and exams. Calendarpedia might be worth a look.
  4. Double check you’ve got access (or copies) to schemes of work, lesson resources etc for the topics in the first month. Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote and so on are your friends.

The rest of these, in no particular order, very much depend on your approach. They’re based on things I do or have thought about. YMMV.

Summer Reading

  1. Find yourself a few good teaching blogs to follow. They could be subject-based or about leadership roles, pedagogy, behaviour… it doesn’t matter. The odds are they’ll be quiet over the summer so you can catch up with old posts and steal some ideas.
  2. Buy a book. Even better, swap your copy with a colleague, with a set of post-its, so you can add annotations and argue about the ideas come September. (HoDs – why not encourage a half-termly book swap for next year?)
  3. Sign-up for emails from a teaching organisation: NFER, SCORE, IoE are just three examples.

Starters/Bell Work

This is likely to be more of an issue in September, as you’re getting to know the classes and they’re getting to know their way around.

  1. Choose four good lesson starter approaches eg pictures/diagrams of apparatus.
  2. Create a Powerpoint with the title September Starters.
  3. For the first week, make slides for all classes using the first idea.
  4. Repeat for second, third and fourth weeks.
  5. Over the year, you’ll probably want more variation, with starters better tailored to the lesson. But this will mean when time is short you have an easier option.


A lot of September is about establishing expectations and making habits, not learning lots of science. How will you make sure that the mistakes kids are making in September aren’t still an issue in July 2015?

  1. Clear expectations and shared checklists for layout and presentation.
  2. Department-wide (ideally school-wide) annotations and format for comments.
  3. If you could print feedback stickers for the ten most common errors (with QR codes to detail if wanted) what would they be? “Use a sharp pencil and ruler for the axes of a graph.” is one of mine.
  4. How will you use praise/rewards/credits for those students who have it sorted quickly to encourage the others?


The probability of a class list changing is directly proportional to the time you’ve spent creating lesson plans and organising directed support. Find a system that works for you, and do what you can ahead. This might include:

  1. Printing blank seating plans for your lab or classroom.
  2. Making sure you have photos you can cut/paste into a useful layout.
  3. Creating a board with ‘task groups’ of four pupils who will work together each lesson. (Teams named after scientists for KS3, numbered for KS4.)
  4. Buying a supply of pipecleaners for the fidgety kid to fiddle with.

Stationery and Equipment

  1. Decide now (with reference to school policy) what you’ll do about ‘forgotten’ pens and pencils. Visit Poundland for supplies if needed.
  2. Stickers and/or stamps; do what suits you.
  3. Try not to spend too much of your own money on shiny things. (Moleskines are my own particular weakness.)
  4. Wardrobe audit; clear out old ties and ragged shirts, repair buttons, spend money if necessary.

Personal Life

Over the summer it’s great to be able to catch up with family and friends. This tends to be murder in September, particularly if (like me) you have children of school age.

  1. Spend a couple of days making freezer meals (my son and I will be doing this together) so you have a little variety in September.
  2. Throw away all the takeaway menus and uninstall JustEat from your phone.
  3. Declutter accumulated ‘stuff’, school-related or otherwise, to charity shops, eBay or recycling.
  4. Put a good book to one side for the odd moments in September you’re not actually working.
  5. Try really hard not to be heavily pregnant over the summer (or have a partner who is) so that the autumn has a new baby as well as a new term.



Doing Physics

A recent Guardian blog was from a 16 year old who felt that Physics at A-level had little to offer her. Sadly the Guardian weren’t interested in the response, so I’m posting it here.

It’s a basic principle of science that anecdotes are not data. Sadly the personal story shared by Sarah is one example supported by wider evidence. There are undoubtedly many reasons why students, male and female, drop physics at sixteen. Things are better than they were, since the low point in 2007 when less than 28000 chose it as an A-level subject. But female students still make up only 20% of sixth form physics classes, despite GCSE results that are as good or better. This is frustrating for students, for teachers and certainly for politicians.

So why should anybody, male or female, choose Physics for post-16 study? The reasons are the same as for any subject; for interest and for usefulness. I can’t imagine not finding physics fascinating, but then you could argue I’m one of the success stories.

I start the school year by turning out my pockets and challenging students to recognise the science implicit in our lives. It stretches from the metallurgy of my keys and wedding ring to drug trials for painkillers, from the link between the shape of my lenses and my prescription to the magnetic coding on my credit card. And that’s before we consider the many facets of mobile devices, from electronics via touchscreen engineering to the EM spectrum and orbital mechanics for the satellites that carry the signals. Science really is everywhere, physics certainly as much as biology or chemistry. From the big, abstract picture to the uses we take for granted day to day, physics is mind-blowing.

In practical terms it’s also a hugely useful, facilitating subject even if you don’t plan to use it directly in the scientific, medical or engineering worlds. Yes, rocket scientists (actually usually engineers) need physics. Yes, it provides an important grounding for medicine. But the skills you learn provide many other benefits in a wide range of courses and careers. When able students choose other subjects we as teachers inevitably feel we missed making that clear enough. Sometimes students making A-level choices don’t appreciate that the courses are a stepping stone, not an end in themselves.

There is a big imbalance in the number of male and female students who choose Physics at A-level. This is not new, and it’s not going away by itself. I think – and more importantly, the data shows – that there are several possible causes worth considering. Unsurprisingly, some of these factors are more difficult to address than others. Many subjects have a gender imbalance, some much worse than physics, but as a physics teacher I have a personal stake. I often describe changes in education happening at different levels.

Nationally, there are some really big issues affecting education across all subjects. Representations of scientists in the media are improving, but Brian Cox isn’t the only reason students choose Physics. The Wellcome Trust raised many issues in their 2011 report about young people’s views on science education. Programmes of study and the exam specifications need to be considered for their impact on a range of diverse students. The type of school makes a difference – although this is nothing to do with academies or free schools. Students with attached sixth forms make up more balanced classes. Girls are more likely to choose physics in independent schools, especially if they are single sex. These findings, along with several of the other links, form the backdrop to ongoing projects at the Institute of Physics to improve UK Physics education. There are often other political choices to be made, from funding of teacher training to rebuilding school facilities. The Royal Society recently published their Vision for science and mathematics education, This is ambitious and far-ranging, considering how we might develop teaching of these subjects over the next twenty years.

School leaders and governers need to consider what affects student choices for A-levels across subjects. The evidence, despite claims to the contrary, suggests that the rapport between teacher and student is generally much more important than the gender of the teacher. Having specialists teaching physics well to younger students also makes a big difference. A school with no Spanish teacher has the option to offer other languages instead, something that doesn’t apply to the sciences. Of course local authorities and academy chains make choices at this tactical level too.

And I can change things in my classroom, with my students. I can ensure examples and textbooks feature male and female physicists. I can make clear links to social implications of the physics we study, something which has been shown to improve engagement for all but girls in particular. I can point out when individuals or the class are making assumptions; for example in a recent question describing the movement of a skydiver, 22 out of 28 in the group used male pronouns for no reason they could explain. I can try out different arrangements of practical groups so boys don’t dominate the hands-on aspect. These aspects are about good teaching methods. At the same time they’re hugely important and completely overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

If I were Sarah’s teacher, I would tell her that Physics is hugely relevant to daily life and always will be. It’s a beautiful subject with fascinating implications. It is a vital part of many careers and studying it provides many future options. I would never criticise a student’s choices – it’s their life, not mine – but I hope their decisions are a truly informed choice. A lot of teaching is helping students to overcome their misconceptions. I hope that we as teachers can do a better job of offering that informed choice to more students across the UK.

Now How Next

I just wanted to share a plenary that I’ve tried out a few times now. I’ve found it quite useful and it works with any topic, knowledge or skills. To be honest, I suspect the title makes it clear but I’m going to quickly explain anyway.


Students gauge their current level of understanding, ideally considering progress from a  starting point. This would often be matched against one or more lesson outcomes. The best assessment will be based on something objective, for example an exam question or score in a vocabulary test. This needs to be about competence, not confidence (although I sometimes find it useful to have them assess that too). Building an ongoing list of science skills that they could have gained might be helpful.


This is metacognition; students describe the methods they have used to make this progress. Can they identify what triggered a ‘lightbulb moment’? Was it about a particular method, peer explanations, examples in a textbook, practical results… don’t overlook simple things like using a glossary.


There is always more to do. Students should be encouraged to identify what they might do, in school or out, to make further progress. Do they need more rehearsal of the technique? Do they need to memorise the key terms to improve fluency? Most significantly, what will they do to make this happen? Can they name apps on their phone or techniques on paper that will help them? Ideally what they do should be visible, by the effect on scores if not directly.

Now How Next

This could be a written exercise in students’ books, or in the form of a modified exit ticket. You could even do this weekly and have a double page spread summarising what they’ve done. Choosing their next area of development would fit very nicely with takeaway homework, something I’ve not tried yet. It’s really a formalised version of what we do anyway, but it’s something we could profitably apply to CPD as well I think. I don’t like to think of myself as aiming to tick boxes, but consider:

  • assessing progress (potentially peer and self)
  • L2L/metacognition
  • target setting
  • differentiation

Worth a go? Comments appreciated, as ever – below or via GoogleForm.

AQA 4/6mark Qs

The shortest post ever (to make up for the 1500word epic of the weekend): I’ve organised AQA questions from past papers with markschemes and examiners’ report comments. The 16 pages of this .pdf have the 4 and 6 mark questions at the front, followed by the relevant marking guidelines and what the examiners had to say afterwards. Last minute but possibly useful today?

6 mark Qs blog as .pdf

Northern Rocks

I had to get up early, on a Saturday.

It rained.

And I missed my train, so it was a really long day.

So in all, I had a fantastic day in Leeds. The speakers were great. The organisation was excellent. The food was good, even though I hadn’t booked anything. The company was funny, enthusiastic and friendly. The site was welcoming, although distinctly damp. The WiFi was highly reliable.

I even got a pen.


This is not going to be comprehensive, obviously. Every attendee will have been to a different conference, with different speakers, picking and mixing to suit themselves. As I did. So all I can do is give a flavour of the day, share links to my rough notes and write about how the day will change what happens for my pupils. In the end, as several speakers pointed out, this is the whole point of what we do.

(Comments in my notes and on here are paraphrases and summaries, in my words not theirs. Please let me know if you feel I have misrepresented the views expressed or points made during the sessions.)

Opening Panel

The speakers were interesting, and in many ways seemed to be in broad agreement.

  • Ofsted is a real problem, getting worse because it is being viewed as more and more political.
  • We need less politics in running schools an less interference in specifications.
  • Teachers work damn hard and we need to make sure it’s time well spent, on things that matter.

Differences became clearer when questions probed:

  • how we could ensure high standards without some form of central organisation – I found Dominic Cummings‘ answers about a market-led approach seemed to miss the point, and his insistence that Gove etc had tried to move away from centralization unconvincing when we consider phonics as a fundamental part of teacher standards, and all authority for a school leading to the DfE. But maybe that’s just me.
  • what we should do about the difficulties with Ofsted; most felt that we still need accountability but that, perhaps, a pass/fail approach would be more constructive. Dot Lepkowska was one who agreed that we need to completely remove political access and involvement with Ofsted, to avoid perception that it is being used for political motives.

Click here for my rough notes.


David Weston aka @informed_edu on Teacher Development

Chair of the Teacher Development Trust (see also: National Teacher Enquiry Network, The Good CPD Guide)

One of the main things I took away from David’s talk is how ineffective most CPD is – and for reasons that we can only change if schools are prepared to adjust their approach. He gave the example of watching bad TV, learning/confirming that we should eat more healthily – but nothing changes. A longer-term approach is needed, fewer ‘bits’ of CPD on topics that have nothing to do with student progress. 

David’s slides / My rough notes

My action points:

  1. Every CPD session should be explicitly focused on the effect it will have on student outcomes. Reflect and ask!
  2. Use the idea of 3 colleagues at different career stages in the same CPD session. These are  my ‘case colleagues’, and I should consider how each of them will take away different ideas; makes the concepts more ‘stract’ (my word, not David’s!)
  3. Spend more time on (teaching) diagnosis skills, rather than just interventions.
  4. Review characteristics of effective CPD and blog about how to build them into small group sessions about science teaching


Tim Taylor aka @imagineinquiry on the Mantle of the Expert

In many ways I wasn’t the right audience for this session, as the techniques have been much more widely explored in primary. I like the idea of a pervasive imaginary world that students can step in and out of; as a parent I’m very familiar with this! (I’ve a very clear memory of my eldest telling his brother earnestly, aged 7 and 3: “Quick, we need to escape from the Chickens of Doom!”). And the ideas of humans being wired to respond well to narrative approaches is one that resonates with me partly from reading about the concept of us being Pan narrans, the story-telling ape, in The Science of Discworld series.

Students taking the role of experts who are commissioned to complete particular tasks, involving cross-curricular learning, is fascinating. It will inevitably be less engaging in secondary when it can only take a relatively small part of the curriculum unless the timetable and teachers can make it work. It is something that I have used working with Year7 using the upd8 WIKID scheme, which can be great but has some very confusing sections. It’s a step up from role play as it links imagination and skills development more closely.

Tim’s presentationMy rough notes

My main thoughts:

  • Limited use across timetable in secondary without major timetable considerations and enthusiasm from management.
  • It would be interesting to examine whether these ideas were deliberately used for WIKID.
  • Develop role play for guest lessons, making clear need for teacher to take a subordinate role to encourage students into a more assertive one.
  • Review/rewrite current roleplays using the immersive principles described – Teaching as Story Telling, recommended by Tim, would be interesting to read if money/time permit.


Dr Jo Pearson aka @jopearson3 on Research Considerations in School

I’ve done a little formal action research and I think most teachers have at some point asked themselves, “What will happen if I change this?” This was the only session in which I was asked to do something, looking at the questions that previous students had wanted to use on a Masters unit. The discussion of ethics was interesting, as Jo made the point that we should perhaps consider this kind of formalised, evidence-driven reflection as a normal and necessary part of our jobs (she still encouraged us to check the BERA Ethics guidelines though). I found myself strongly agreeing with the idea that failing to share what we learn is an ethical failure all of its own.

My rough notes

My action points:

  • Use a wider definition of data eg pupil work decoded, recorded conversations
  • Try using Cogi app with classes during discussion and planning to assess understanding
  • Improved questions for research need to be much more specific, local rather than global. Teachers I work with need to be encouraged to look at much smaller aspects over a small timescale.
  • Buy the book if at all possible: Inquiring in the Classroom


Dr Phil Wood aka @geogphil on Lesson Study

This session was fascinating and is something I intend to spend more time on. Phil was very dismissive of the idea of judging a teacher, or a lesson, based on a brief observation and the cycle he described seems like a much more constructive approach. Basically, several colleagues plan together, predicting how different aspects will lead to outcomes for three ‘case students’. One delivers the planned lesson, while another observes the students, and afterwards they reflect together. Ideally this reflection involves student interviews and/or a second (tweaked) delivery to an equivalent class. And so the cycle continues.

philwood slide-6-638

I like that this is a much more collaborative approach, and Phil described how more and less experienced staff were all able to contribute. The pressure and judgement is removed and instead different approaches are trialed in a safe setting. “An expert teacher understands wider policy, and the micropolitics of the school, so they can subvert these contexts in the interest of learning.” (my wording)

Phil’s session slides / My rough notes

 Action Points:

  • Reading required: need to look into this topic and the varied formats of collaborative planning/deliver/reflection cycle
  • EDIT: really interesting description of using this in science teaching on @headguruteacher‘s blog.
  • Blog about the cycle in more detail, seeking comment on how used by classroom teachers (especially ASTs/HoDs?)
  • “Once you use a ticklist, you miss what isn’t on the list.” – how can I apply this to markschemes and my teaching?
  • Put together timescale – perhaps using distance collaboration tools – for ways to use this cycle in coaching.


Final Session

Probably the less said the better, although the activities were… interesting… and the music was great. It was a really positive event and it was followed by coffee. Hoorah.

As I hope the points above make clear, the sessions I was able to attend (and there were three times as many I would have liked to see, hopefully some of which I’ll catch up with from the recordings) are the start, not the end. I suspect the ideas will feature in future posts and hopefully the impact on students is something I’ll be able to see.

In all, Northern Rocks was a great day and I’m sure the other participants thought so too. Huge thanks to Debra and Emma, as well as the presenters and those behind the scenes. Blogs about the day are popping up everywhere, and with 500 attendees I have no intention of trying to link to them all here. Please do comment with any thoughts about these sessions, in particular if you’ve got resources or links to point me towards. Because I’m lazy. 🙂

Waves Revision (AQA P1)

Another quick one, but hopefully useful for those helping students prepare for GCSE Physics; our specification is AQA and the exam is P1, but I hope it will be more generally helpful than that.

waves bestof3

Download waves bestof3 as .ppt

Starter: Choose three words to define

You could have students write down their ideas, include some hints or simply Think/Pair/Share. I like to have one student share their idea, then have another try to improve it, or say what’s good about it. The words are in alphabetical order but you could easily differentiate this activity explicitly if preferred.

Main1: Best of 3

Each slide shows three possible statements or answers to a question. I give students a minute to choose a particularly good or bad answer by discussion. They must be able to improve it and I then ask for suggestions before moving on to the solution slide.  They do not all have one good, one indifferent and one bad answer. There are obvious links to grade progression here and you could use mini whiteboards to ensure all are involved.

Main2: Drawing diagrams

By now students should be seeing these points as a reminder, hopefully ideas they’re familiar with from thorough and careful revision cough cough. Based on their answers and difficulties I would then split them into groups to practise individual elements, from rehearsing fundamentals to more challenging diagrams. I’ve credited the sources of the diagrams, all CC-licensed I think.

Plenary: umm…

I’ve not included one on the powerpoint but returning to key definitions would seem a good plan; ask students to state something they understand better now than they did at the start perhaps? Alternatively finish with a past paper question so they can demonstrate what they are now capable of.


Before You Go…

As usual, if you find this resource useful, or adapt the idea to your own teaching, I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to add to my portfolio. Simply follow this link and tick a few boxes, no names necessary. Many thanks.