The Chimp Paradox – why school leaders at all levels should read this book


I heard Professor Steve Peters speak at the ASCL conference about his work and his book.  As well as being a very entertaining speaker his ideas seemed to make sense, essentially a model for how your brain works and how to learn to work with the primitive aspects to the brain.

I’ll confess I didn’t read the book in the traditional sense but I listened to the book, read by Prof Peters himself (courtesy of my Audible subscription).  I find non-fiction books hard to read and thought an audio book would be easier than reading.  With a hundred minutes in the car each day the audiobook was indeed better than a paper copy although I did have a tendency to let my mind wander (probably because you don’t get the same kind of imagery in your brain as you do reading a fiction book).

The first few chapters of the book covered the material Steve used in his talk about the chimp, the computer and the human in your brain (SEN teachers will be able to relate to the concept of the chimp being in control!).  As well as giving a model to explain how your brain works, the purpose of the book is to train you how to program the brain, replacing the things that happen instinctively with things that you would prefer happen.  This is then extended into target/goal setting for yourself and for working with others.

The book avoids using terminology that would bamboozle readers and keeps things simple, explaining why you have to set and follow the strategies set if you want to succeed (and some excellent advice about finding a partner).  I would recommend this book to people from all walks of life who want improve their lives by achieving success, happiness and confidence!


How to make your Science class more exciting?

This is a guest post.  Please use the contact me section at the top of the page if you are interested in writing for fiendishlyclever.

One of the most common problems educators face, especially when dealing with younger students, is how to make their classes more exciting and fun? In a post by the Daily Mail, a member of parliament, said in a press conference that science has become boring, which makes student disinterested when it comes to the subject. However, a change in the curriculum is expected soon to encourage more students to join STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) professions, especially concerning females. But, how can do you transform your Science class into an interactive and fun environment? In this post, we will show you three effective ways on how you can innovate your class.

Go out and explore
The best Science lessons are taught by encompassing the outside environment for a change of scenery. Encourage your class to explore outside the four corners of your classroom and maximize all the resources. Set up a field trip if necessary and visit the nearest Science museum in your area.

Click here to view the top Science museums in the United States.

If your school has a well-preserved garden or located near a park, you can take your class there and take photos of various plants and flowers, animals, and insects.At the end of the day, you should expect your students to be filled with stories that they want to share and discuss with other students, which is a good interactive way to get their attention.

Flip the classroom
A new type of a blended learning strategy has been introduced recently to educators, which is called the Flipped Classroom experience. It is the process wherein it reverses the traditional educational procedure by providing learning materials to students for them to watch or read at home, then they will be engaged in an activity related to the topic when they get back in class the next day.

In a traditional classroom model, the instructor is the central focus of the discussion where they discuss and respond to the questions of the students. However, with the flipped classroom it is more learner-centred, in which students are provided with the learning materials which they will discuss the next day while the educators administers the activities, either a debate, experiment, seatwork, etc.

Maximize smartphones and apps
With the increase in the consumption of online resources and ownership of mobile devices by students, it is forecasted that smartphones and tablets will continue to be significant technologies in the classroom. A study by McGraw-Hill Education reported that from 2013 to 2014, college students using mobile devices to study rose to an unprecedented 81%, which is expected to climb higher in the coming years. Smartphones, in particular, appear to be more convenient to students as it allows them to make and receive calls and texts, while accessing apps and online references from a single device. Today’s handsets are highly powerful, too, such as the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S6. The former, based on a feature post by O2, has a huge screen at 4.7-inches, with 64-bit processing power, and a battery life that can last for up to 24 hours – making this handset one of the ideal smartphones for students and even educators on the go.

Smartphones also offer professors and students a convenient way to collaborate even while on the go, via video conferencing apps such as Google Hangout or Skype, and via cloud storages such as the Google Drive, the Skydrive, or the Dropbox. There are also apps that can help make your class more interesting.

• Video Science is a collection of videos by science educator and adviser Dan Menelly that runs from 2 to 3 minutes.
• Moon Globe HD allows your class to view 3D high definition photos of the moon from your location, and even interact with it virtually by spinning the digital moon on the screen while exploring every nook and crater.
• Frog Dissection is an app that allows students to virtually dissect a frog via their device by following a step by step instruction of the voice-over.
• Science360 is an interactive app for iPad users that presents mosaic images of various topics and branches of science with stories and discussions.

If you want to view more applications that you can maximize in class, here is a list of the best STEM apps for teaching.

Turning Science into a fun subject depends on the educators’ capability to adapt to changes and find innovative ways on how to capture modern students’ attention. It will be helpful to have an open discussion with your class to gather their ideas on what they expect to learn from your Science class, then apply those ideas to your curriculum this school term. How do you turn your Science class into an interactive one?

Microsoft Office add-ons that everyone should know about


Microsoft Office Remote
I’ve got a clicker in my drawer but it’s a bit hit and miss, and unless you can see your screen you never know what slide is coming next.  The first of my tools is a solution for this.  Available for Android and Windows phone, Microsoft Office Remote is a remote control for Office.  The most obvious use is as a smart clicker in PowerPoint but it can also be used to scroll through word documents and even change between sheets in Excel.


This application requires a small install on your bluetooth-enabled PC (downloaded from Microsoft) and the app on your phone ( Android and Windows phone versions available).

Office Lens

My second apps is a useful tool for teachers who use whiteboards a lot or who need to capture hand-written text.  Also from the Microsoft stable, Office Lens is an app that captures, trims and stores photos and then converts them into a format that you can edit further (including using OCR).  This has a variety of uses from simply capturing text on a white board to be distributed as revision notes, to editing and building on these notes back on the computer.  There are versions available for Android, Windows phone and iOS.

Leave me a comment if you found either of these tools useful.

When did I stop thinking of myself as a science teacher and become a school leader?

Coming back on the train from the ASCL conference yesterday I sat reflecting on my weekend with heads and school leaders and my own position in school.


In the past I’ve always thought of myself as a science teacher and that’s how I’ve introduced myself.  I’m a regional secretary of the ASE and heavily involved in the promotion of good quality science education, I’ve blogged about science teaching and people associate me with science teaching.

I’ve been doing my current job (albeit with a number of titles and contracts) for nearly three years now so perhaps the change has been gradual.  I still teach science (my current teaching commitment is two days including PPA) and when I stand in front of a class I’m their science teacher.  When I sit down at the weekend to plan I’m a science teacher and my focus is on planning science lessons that allow my students to make progress.

So what’s changed?  What’s the difference?  I spend more of my free time thinking of whole school issues like data, Ofsted, curriculum and exams and I spend less of my time thinking about science teaching.  I’m also aware of the expectation that I lead by example so when I’m lesson planning I have high expectations of myself, higher when I was just a science teacher.   The biggest change is how I see myself rather than how others see me (they took less time to get used to the stripes on my shoulders!)

Does this make a difference to how I do my job? No but it does make a difference to how I use my time and in future it will make more of a difference to who I chose to follow and interact with on Twitter.  I’m still here to answer questions and I hope that people still get in touch with me as they always have if they want to ask me about science teaching and SEN.  Maybe my site will take a new direction as I am able to write about more of the problems I face as a school leader and how I’ve gone about tackling them.


Activate science – half way through the first year


I’ve been using Activate for six months now so I thought it was time for an update.  I have seen much discussion on #ASEchat and I know schools out there are considering the switch.

I’ve used Activate as a structure on which to do my own thing.  I’ve kept to the topics, the lesson content (roughly) but that’s where it stops.  I use the teacher guide if I need help with levelled learning outcomes or ideas for a topic.  The rest of the information given for each lesson is probably useful to new teachers but as an old-timer I find most of it superfluous.

Kerboodle.  What can I say about Kerboodle?  The first thing is that I won’t be subscribing next year.  I know that will take away updates and interactive materials but as I haven’t used them this year, I won’t miss them next year.  The resources on Kerboodle seem to be intended for schools that have an unlimited photocopying budget and a desire to use up the forests of the world.  I’ve not used many of the resources for this reason – yes my students have SEN but quite honestly I can knock up better while blindfolded and using my nose to work the trackpad…

I’ve not used any of the interactive and assessment materials on Kerboodle and don’t think the subscription fee is worth it for these.  (I didn’t set it up because I knew I wouldn’t be using it next year).

I’ve not taught the year 7 units so I can’t comment on these, but the year 8 modules are ok.  The content flows and students have enjoyed the activities (although I’ve probably inserted in a few extra practical activities of my own).  I’ve not used the text books with students at all, and I managed to cancel my order of class sets which has helped keep my costs down.  Year 8 have certainly enjoyed their science – the only downside (which comes with covering the curriculum in two years) is the fast pace of the content.

This brings me to year 9.  I’ve tried to think of something positive to say about this but I can’t.  It is clearly written for more able and engaged learners but a lot of the content is dry.  Very dry. I managed to plod through genetics but the new technologies section is what finally killed it for me.  If I want to go to sleep just reading the overview, there is little hope of engaging my learners.  I found it so dull that I’ve dropped it already and moved the group onto KS4 early.

So there you have it.  I would suggest that schools should develop something that suits their learners and use Activate as a starting point rather than a definitive scheme.  If you have good access to IT either at home or school (or preferably both) you might find the Kerboodle subscription useful but I didn’t (apart from not having to carry home the textbook to help me plan).

How did you find Activate?  Have I been too harsh or do  you agree with me?  I’d be interested to hear your comments below.

Where did your free teaching resources go?


You’ve probably come to this post because you are wondering where did my free resources go?  The good news is that I haven’t stopped sharing them, the bad news is that I’ve had to change the way I go about doing this.

Unfortunately technology moves very quickly and the wordpress plugin that I was using hasn’t been updated for several years and poses a security risk to my site (and in turn to visitors of my site).  This means I have had to look for a new way to make these files available.

The files are now hosted on Microsoft OneDrive in which I have plenty of storage.  More importantly it allows me to easily embed folder links into a WordPress page, and to update these folders without having to tinker with the site.  This isn’t as easy for Google Drive or Dropbox (who require a paid upgrade for the functionality I require).

Unfortunately I can’t just share my working folders as these contain copyrighted materials (from bought in resources) and modified versions of other teachers work (for example downloaded from the TES) that I am unable to give credit for.  I’ve taken the opportunity to group resources together and simplify the categories under which they are grouped. I realise that the new system is not as convenient as the old but there a limited number of free plugins available on WordPress which provide the functionality I need.

If you have any questions about the change, or you think you know a better way of sharing my resources then please let me know by leaving a comment below.

British Values – what it looks like in my special school

We are expecting Ofsted soon so it may be that we spend more time thinking about our provision than other schools do.  British Values is a political hot potato at the moment, and I have heard confusion from teachers in other schools about what it actually means.  The good news is that a big chunk of the content just happens, delivered as part of normal schooling by conscientious teachers.  Of course that makes it harder to track.

What I’ve done is taken the British Values as defined in DFE/Ofsted publications and then added a few supplementary ones of my own (we are a special school and there are more values our students need to learn).  I’ve mapped our assembly programme against the British Values (although this is fairly fluid as assembly rotas change for a variety of unforeseen circumstances).  I’ve also mapped our PHSE days on the same grid, so that there is an at-a-glance view of where British values are planned for.


Of course there are lots of places in the curriculum where British values are taught, and it isn’t possible to map and evidence them all.  It’s easy to say where these values are being taught, but how do you know if you are being effective?  How do you measure impact?

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to see your students in the future, speaking on National TV about the minimum wage or visiting a polling station on election day.  You can hold mini-elections and debates, putting these skills into use but how do you know if what you see is down to  your teaching?

I’m a scientist and I work with data and evidence.  I’m also a bit of a geek which is where I get my evidence from.  I looked at the categories of behaviour linked to tolerance and respect and filtered out other types of behaviour (this is especially important in a special school where something as simple as a change in routine can cause an incident of non-cooperation to be recorded).  By adding a trend line to my data it is possible to see a downward trend in negative behaviour points, or in other words an improvement in behaviour.  It isn’t possible to say if this is down to our work on British Values or just a coincidence but I look forward to discussing this data with Ofsted should they ask about impact of British values.


I would love to hear from others who have an interest in British Values.  If you have any questions or information to share, please leave a comment below.