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Assessment without levels



National Curriculum levels were consigned to the history books last September or so was the intention of the government when it launched its new curriculum.  I’ve been in contact with science teachers all over the country and most are still gathering information about what assessment should look like and formulating a way forward.

I’ve attended CPD events and read articles and blog posts in an attempt to see what everyone else is planning and to make sure I’m on the right track.  The change is so fundamental to everything we do as science teachers that we want to make sure that we are on the right track.

We’ve known that levels have had their faults for years.   We know that schools place more emphasis on their worth than they should.  We know that they can stigmatise children who compare their levels to friends and family.  We know that progression doesn’t always happen in a linear way through the national curriculum levels (or through sub-levels if you use PIVATS and B-Squared in special schools).   Students are expected to make a certain number of levels of progress over a key stage and are tested over and over again (tracking and assessment windows anyone?) to make sure they are on target.

So what comes next?

We’ve been discussing quality assessment within our regional committee for the ASE for several months now.  Models used by members within the committee have a similar feel although the language differs between them.  Some schools have three tiers, some four etc which replace the old levels.  An example is given below

Competencies Embryonic/ Developing Achieving (expected) Exceeding


Other professionals use language like beginning, developing, enhancing crafting, crafting, perfecting, mastering and so on.

The idea is simple – you develop (although let us be honest, most schools will be looking for a system to adopt from outside) a system where for each topic/lesson teachers have identified what students will be expected to achieve and worked backwards/forwards from this point.  Of course having a set of statements is only the beginning of the journey, using them for formative and summative assessment will take a little more time to get right.

Sticking with the old national curriculum levels is fine for now but long term is likely to be considered bad practice.  They are likely to be a starting point in developing a new system that better reflects the new national curriculum.

As a school leader I have a new set of questions that come up every time I think of assessment.

Tracking over the key stage – will we expect set targets based on the targets (for example 80% of students reaching the expected standard).  Will we track individuals towards their target like we do now?  How will we track progress towards the target (hopefully sublevels are well and truly dead).

Comparability with other subjects – will we easily be able to compare science with other subjects to see how students are doing (or if we can’t do this does it matter that we can’t?)

Ofsted – what will they be expecting to see and will inspectors have been trained on the changes? I know some have been asking questions about assessment and levels since they stopped being statutory.

How will our system compare to mainstream schools – very few of our students may make expected progress and we don’t want to create a system that is as demotivating as what we have now.  It also needs to be appropriate for groups of students that span a wide range of levels under NC levels.

So where are we now?

I’m still gathering my thoughts and doing my research.  I know that Activate (the scheme of work I’ve bought in as a starting point) has started moving in the right direction but I’d be interested to hear from those that are further along the journey than I am.  Hopefully I’ll manage to get my head around assessment at KS3 before the changes to GCSE come in and that changes too!

#ASEchat summary – putting the science back into science teaching


The topic of the chat was “putting the science back into science teaching”.  Although no-one owned up to voting for this topic it was a clear winner.  The first part of the chat concentrated on unpicking why we need to put the science back into science teaching.

There were some different opinions about what this topic meant.  One interpretation was that there is too much time spent assessing and testing science rather than actually teaching the content.  Another interpretation was that we don’t teach enough “how science works” skills and that we should be doing this.

The talk turned to AfL and the misconception that because many of the materials referred to the old curriculum that AfL doesn’t apply anymore.  @NeedhamL56 and @stuartphysics pointed out that AfL is not subject specific but is part of pedagogy.

Talk turned to CPD and how teachers can keep abreast of the latest science (so to put the science back into their teaching).  Some excellent links were shared including

  • http://isaacphysics.org/#9a92da58-1c1d
  • http://www.opalexplorenature.org/surveys-research-results
  • https://isaacphysics.org/mission

@Viciascience spoke of using Pocket to save and read his science information later.  @Cleverfiend said he uses it with IFTTT and has written blog posts about some of the tools he uses.

A full transcript of the chat can be found here.

Improve your productivity with IFTTT


In my last post I wrote about how to use Feedly to keep your subject knowledge up to date.  Feedly and similar services become much more powerful when you link them together with IFTTT.   IFTTT has a number of triggers which can happen on any of the sites it supports.  You can then assign an action that will happen after a trigger.  To make the system even more powerful, there are Android and iOS apps that have their own actions too (although the iOS app lacks some of the more useful features of the Android one).

So how do I use IFTTT?

I mentioned Feedly last week and I have several recipes (triggers and actions) associated with Feedly

snip1 snip3

When I mark an article as “save for later” from the iPad app, the two recipes above will save the article into Pocket and add a bookmark to my delicious account.  If you have a client that lets you add Feedly tags (for example the website client) you can have separate tags that save to Evernote (my saved for later tags go here too) or Microsoft OneNote.  You can even send files to cloud storage like One Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox.

There is more to IFTTT than using just with Feedly.  I make extensive use of the Twitter favorites feature to bookmark favourites and save them to a Google Drive spreadsheet. With the Android app I can save my text messages and call log to (separate) Google Drive spreadsheets which act as a cloud based backup of my texts.


Bloggers can use IFTTT to automatically tweet their new posts or cross-post between services (IFTTT can move content to and from WordPress too).

There are thousands of possible combinations and more services are being added all the time.  Check out the recipes section of the IFTTT website to see what is possible.

Do you have a favourite IFTTT recipe? Why not comment so other readers of the blog can make use of it too!

Gather teaching ideas and keep your knowledge up to date with Feedly

As a teacher I like to read the blogs of other science teachers and read updates from science websites.  I use feedly to manage this for me – and because the service is based in the cloud, it works from any computer or even a phone or tablet.

Firstly visit the Feedly website and sign up.  You can even sign up using your Google or Facebook ID.  Once you have an account you can begin to add content – you can click on the [Add content] button and search by category (for example science).  You can also search for the specific name of a website/blog if you happen to know it (for example fiendishlyclever.com)

Once feedly has a list of sites to follow it will visit the site regularly for you and download updates so you don’t have to visit each individual site.  If you follow lots of sites you might want to organise them into categories.

I read my feedly articles using their app on my iPad which I’ve configured to my preferences (oldest articles first and I like to read across all categories).  Other apps are available that support feedly and they offer a premium subscription service if you find yourself wanting more features.

The real power of feedly comes when linked with other services like Evernote and IFTTT.  Stay tuned for a post about linking feedly to other cloud services that will make it even more useful!

I thought this tutorial might be useful (whilst it is over a year old it is still relevant):

Why not share your favourite science teaching blogs in the comments and let others know what to follow.

Automatically backup your resources on a USB flashdrive to the cloud

USB flashdrives are the life saver of the teacher. They are small, portable and fairly robust (I’ve had several go through the washing machine and survive).  The downside is that they often contain the only copy of the resources saved on it – and failure means a loss of work.

First of all I’d recommend encrypting the drive if it contains anything that might identify you or your school – you can do this easily for Windows machines by using bitlocker encryption.  Any PC running Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8 Pro can encrypt your drive with a password – be sure to store your key and password in a safe place!

So that’s your drive secure, but what do we do to keep the data safe.  My preferred Cloud storage option is Dropbox because it works across all platforms and has the best support from mobile apps and cloud services.  Because school issued laptops are often locked down I’d recommend using Dropbox Portable which is a special version of the software designed to be run from a flashdrive.  Even if your laptop is so heavily locked down that you can’t run software on your USB drive, you can plug this into a laptop that isn’t and still backup your files to your account.  The beauty of backing up to dropbox is that you have another copy on the cloud, and you can share folders for collaborative working.

Setting up is easy – grab the latest version of the software from their site.  If you don’t use the latest version it won’t work!

Install on your flash drive and set up your dropbox by running the software and following the prompts.  If you haven’t got a dropbox account already you can get one by following my referral link which gives you extra storage.    As part of the install process it will ask you a series of questions and download the dropbox software for you.


Add your files to the dropbox folder – you might want to drag the dropbox folder to your favourites section on your Windows explorer.


Running dropbox from a flashdrive is slow – I’d suggest existing users only sync the folders they actively add and  replace documents in – the option you are looking for in dropbox is selective sync.

If you spend your life in Google Documents or you want to sync with the Google family of apps on Google Drive, there is a portable version of their software called syncdocs portable which serves the same purpose.

You can also store your Microsoft Onedrive documents on a flashdrive by default using the built in functionality that comes in Windows 8.  If you do this you can grab extra storage space just by clicking my referral link.  You just edit the location of your Onedrive to your flashdrive and using the right-click menus make it available offline. Unfortunately Onedrive is often disabled on school-issued laptops and since it is built into Windows you are stuck with this limitation.

There are advantages to each platform – for example Office 365 users will want to access their 1Tb of storage and might want the web apps or the iPad apps.  Google Drive users might want to access their files on a Chromebook.


I would also recommend using a Flashdrive with a small profile so you can leave it plugged into your laptop if you want.  Suitable drives include:

Ask by commenting or tweet (including a link to this article) any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them :)


Online testing with @Educake – save yourself time and track progress


I’ve written a review of Educake before but it has moved on a lot since then so an update is needed.  For those of you who haven’t come across it before, Educake is an online testing system.  It runs entirely on https (so none of the moans like the ones I’ve had about my school not being able to make full use of kerboodle that doesn’t!) and so you know your student data is secure. The system is incredibly responsive and works just as well on an iPad as on my laptop, and the large friendly buttons make it a pleasure to use on any platform.

The way Educake is being run and developed means it is growing and adapting to the needs of teachers in a way that other online platforms are not. For example since I reviewed the platform last year it is now possible for teachers to upload lists of students using a spreadsheet which makes adding students even easier.

I’ve grown to love Educake a little bit more after the addition of KS3 questions to the system.  The questions are levelled which helps you pick questions that match the needs of your students.  There are still GCSE questions which are graded to indicate level of demand and are arranged in categories to make selection simple.


This is the simple home screen that you see as a teacher logging into the system.  You can assign a test in a few simple steps.


As you select a unit then a topic the options are displayed clearly as shown above, which lead you to the graded questions.


You can preview questions if you want to check their suitability (handy for SEN students like mine), and deselect questions that you don’t want to include.

Once you have assigned a test to a group, it will show up to those students when they log on.  Deadlines and messages can be included making this perfect for setting homework to test understanding.

When students complete the test they can request a teacher review their mark when they get a wrong answer.  Alternatively (in a feature added at my request – how’s that for responsive) the teacher can review a student’s answers and change the mark if required, in both cases there is the option to leave feedback for the student.


You can tell that this student got the answer right but the system didn’t recognise their response because the student chose not to use their key word sheet.  Fortunately the teacher can award the mark if required.

Of course there are reporting pages to report back this information to the teacher, and paying members can export data if required.  Pricing is a little expensive when compared to Kerboodle but a school running Kerboodle across 5 year groups can expect to be paying £750 a year (with the resources, online textbooks etc) but Educake is priced at £999 after the first year.

I love the interface, I love the information it gives me but more importantly the students like it too.

There are some features I’d like to see like the ability to save a custom test so I can assign it to different classes and perhaps the ability to add questions of my own.  I know that there are lots of exciting developments in the pipeline that relate to evidencing progress, and ways to make Educake even more powerful for teachers and students alike.

I would recommend that you sign up for a free trial of Educake and see if could work for you and your students (you can also invite members of your department to join if you like it!)

Planning lessons using Activate and Kerboodle – the good and the bad

Having planned for two weeks of teaching using Activate I feel I have more of a handle on what the scheme can offer and where the promise falls short.


I’m now in possession of the teacher guides but we still don’t have students imported into Kerboodle because there is still no secure option for importing them.  Unfortunately our school policies prevent using Kerboodle with students until this is fixed so it looks like we won’t be continuing next year with Kerboodle once we have downloaded all the resources.  In this day and age of enhanced awareness around CP issues you would think this would never have arisen…

The teacher guide is the central piece of the Activate puzzle when it comes to planning lessons.  Each double page spread matches those in the student book and gives you lots of useful information.  Levelled information is provided which I find useful in writing our (mandatory) levelled outcomes although I have to work backwards as many topics don’t include statements at level 3.  The same page also has literacy/numeracy links and keywords which are useful in planning for student progression.

The opposite side of the page provides a list of suggested activities – a lesson plan that is planned around the average lesson.  Clearly if you don’t have hour long lessons you will have to do some extra work and decide where to break and join the topics to make them fit your timetable.  The supporting resources can be found in the textbook and online on Kerboodle available for download.  Resources on Kerboodle tend to be worksheets (in word and PDF format) together with an interactive activity (or sometimes more than one) for each topic.  There is a distinct lack of video or multimedia material on Kerboodle and I tend to find myself making PowerPoints to lead my learners through each lesson and link ideas together.  These should have been provided as part of the scheme.

Differentiation is provided for but differentiation usually takes the form of extension activities and the whole scheme seems to assume that level 4 is the baseline for all students.  This was also true for the Wikid scheme I abandoned this year, but I know of lots of students in mainstream settings for whom level 4 is a long way off.  Some lessons have more resources and activities than you will need so you could plot alternative routes through the topic for different learners (provided they are above level 4).  Unfortunately there is little material for children who have SEN (or English as a second language), apart from the odd writing frame and this is a clear area of weakness that teachers will have to plug themselves.

I haven’t used the textbooks with students yet (probably because I’m still waiting for them to be delivered…) but when I do, I’ll be using the textbooks for pictures and extension questions (since the onscreen textbook does not enlarge as much as I would like).  I’ve dipped into some of the resources, taking them as a starting point for resources of my own.  The profile of my students mean I have lots of students at level three/four who have literacy several levels lower.  These are the students that are left behind by this scheme and that need more personalised resources.

I do intend to share the resources I have created to plug this gap with my students, and I do try to playlist any videos that I find that complement the scheme on YouTube.  I will also write another update if Kerboodle updates their site so I can upload student details securely.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have bought into the Activate scheme and how your experiences (with a different cohort) are different to mine.