I‘ve written before about William’s Words in Science (here) and his resources for cells (here) and food/digestion (here). While at was at the ASE annual conference last month I met the author, Dr William Hirst in person. I was pleased to see him selling his excellent resources at his stand, and more importantly I was pleased to see other people buying them. If you haven’t seen his resources, read my reviews linked above and visit William’s site (if you buy anything, be sure to tell him I sent you – note I don’t receive any commission or financial kickback, I just happen to rate his resources!)
More importantly while I was at his stand I discovered that William has many free resources that are available for any one to download from his site. These resources showcase the strategies that are used in his books and can be used to drop into your lessons. I would like to hope that some of my readers will try the resources and feed back to William (contact details are available on his site).
If you want an idea of what is available, William gave me permission to host a selection of these resources here – alternatively bookmark his site which will be updated more often than this blogpost.
With the promotion of maths and science (together with technology/engineering) as STEM subjects, no one can deny the links between science and maths and the importance of maths within science. The question arose “How are you developing the numeracy of your students?” which was posed to ASEchat participants.
Cleverfiend (who was leading the discussion) opened by saying he got positive feedback from Ofsted for using mathematical terms and units when talking about lungs. MrsRWood shared her numeracy placemat https://www.dropbox.com/s/5vc7q58pbne83a9/Numeracy%20Placemat.pdf which met with universal approval from all taking part. MrsRWood explained that it was extremely useful when having to explain what the mean is for the 100th time! A publication was mentioned as a useful resource – “AKSIS Getting to Grips with Graphs” for those who are able to access a copy, perhaps at work. ashl3ylaw said they are working with the maths department to create a similar resource working with the maths department. Others reinforced the importance of collaboration between maths and science departments.
No matter what discipline you teach there is no getting away from maths, ViciaScience pointed out that ratio and proportionality are the bedrock of some biology topics whilst others referred to statistics in A-level. DrDsScienceDays pointed out that orders of magnitude are useful all the way up to KS5. Ange_K1 pointed out that lots of students could use a calculator but forgot to press = at the appropriate points so made mistakes, others saw that too in their lessons.
The topic changed to graphs and what level in maths would include the skills of choosing axes and labels etc for drawing a graph in science. Hrogerson said that drawing a graph every lesson had helped improve grades for one group.
NeedhamL56 referred to an app from @NPL about fundamental physics constants. TeacherChemist said “I like to get students to draw graphs by hand to appreciate scaling rather than relying on Excel”. Ashl3ylaw gives the maths department some real data to use when they teach the skills in their lessons. A_Weatherall referred to the triangles that are used when teaching formulae saying he doesn’t like them because they hide the underlying maths, and other chat participants agreed.
There was discussion over lines of best fit in science and maths, and whether they should be curves or straight lines. Again it was agreed that maths and science departments should be talking to each other.
The final word comes from ashl3ylaw who says their solution is to have a physicist teaching maths and a mathematician teaching physics!
Before I talk about the book I wanted to give a little background about myself that might put the review into perspective. I like reading and I read a lot of books, but nearly all fiction. I find non-fiction and research material tedious and slow going. I’ve had a number of books about assessment in schools sat on my shelf waiting for me to start reading them – and I’ve never got more than a chapter or two in. This could have influenced my view of the book, as could the fact that there are lots of ideas in the book that I either use already or can’t use in my setting.
Anyhow on to the book. I decided to order a copy of this book because my twitter stream was full of people who had purchased the book. Others were saying how they had used some of the ideas from the book and had good observation feedback as a result. I decided to part with my cash – opting for a paper copy rather than buying for my Kindle (I think reference material is better on paper).
The book arrived and the first thing that struck me is the size – it’s a compact paperback with small print. The pages aren’t full of text but instead the main text flows down the centre of the page in paragraphs with ‘tips’ and the odd hashtag (yes – hashtags in a paper book!) down the sides.
My initial feeling when flicking through the book was one of disappointment – I didn’t think the book lived up to the ‘hype’ on Twitter, although you can’t fault the book for that. When I go on CPD I always look for things packaged up that I can take away with me and slot straight into my own teaching. I did like some of the ideas in this book but the majority of the book left me feeling distinctly unimpressed.
If you follow lots of teachers on Twitter (like I do) then you come to pigeon hole some of the more prolific posters into certain stereotypes. Reading this book made me think of the ‘trendy’ teacher, using ideas and terminology that is in fashion. That might just be my opinion (I am getting a little long in the tooth now and my teaching styles are starting to look a little old school) but a review is an expression of one’s opinion. The title also made me think that the book would be 100 teaching ideas but instead some the ideas relate to the culture you build that leads to outstanding learning – an important but subtle difference.
Some of the chapters were of little use to me – for example the chapter 23 is called #bananas. After a page full of text we learn that it might be useful to use your marking to inform planning (perhaps next a chapter about teaching your granny to suck eggs?). Another chapter talks about the gherkin in a burger. I read this expecting some tangy tasty tip I could throw into my lesson – but the chapter concludes with a short list suggested by tweeting teachers about lesson planning.
Other chapters that I didn’t find useful referred to strategies and ideas that I already use like mini-whiteboards (these are hardly new, they appeared with the National Strategies). A chapter is devoted to Bloom’s taxonomy which all staff at our school use when planning (we starting to move out of special measures). Another chapter refers to Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (which Dylan Wiliam explains well here) which I’ve run training on in my own school.
I’m painting rather a negative picture of this book and that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to others (and Twitter will bear witness to this). My setting (special education) means that some of the ideas in the book aren’t relevant to my teaching, and the nature of my students means we do a lot of hands-on practical activities.
If you are the type of teacher who needs to be told how to use a TA (perhaps by involving them in planning…) then this could be the book for you. I’ve tried returning to this book several times in case my opinion changed and unfortunately it hasn’t. I have several teachers and school leaders in my family and when we were catching up over Christmas the topic of this book came up. I wasn’t sure if to be relieved or disappointed that we shared the same opinion of it.
Don’t let this review put you off – I’m in a different position to lots of teachers having accessed and run CPD for teachers, ASTs and school leaders I doubt I fitted into the target audience for this book. I will continue to flick through this book and share it with my colleagues at work who might find it more useful than I did.
If you have bought or read this book then please do tell me which parts you found useful so I know which bits to revisit. Alternatively I’d love to hear from you if didn’t find the book useful.
I know some of my internet connected colleagues are like me and their tendrils reach all over the place. For those of you who are less connected these updates are worth being aware of.
The first is a pair of blog posts by twitter celebrity @OldAndrew who comments on Ofsted and their work. I’ll leave you to read the full text of his posts (post 1, post2), but OldAndrew has picked out some very useful information from the recent update to the Subsidiary Guidance, published to support the Ofsted Inspection Framework. The tone of the guidance suggests that Ofsted may stop looking for certain styles of learning, and that they may be more accepting of traditional teaching like teacher talk (in certain circumstances). The full text of the subsidiary guidance can be found here
The second update is the re-release of the Ofsted subject guidance which is used for school subject surveys. Whilst these are not intended for normal section 5 inspections, they are still useful to read and be aware of. I have read about discrepancies in the tone and content of these when compared to the new framework and subsidiary guidance, but read them and file them as a useful reference material.
The final update is a little older, but may have passed many science teachers by. In November Ofsted released a report titled “Maintaining Curiosity” which was a survey into both primary and secondary science. For those who want a brief read, a summary is available so you don’t have to read the full report. Experienced science teachers will not be surprised by many of the points made!
I’ve seen MyMaths in action and was impressed by the usefulness and flexibility of the package. I wondered if there was a self-marking system for science. The best tool I found was Educake which offers self-marking questions testing content from AQA Science. The pricing structure is very reasonable and gives departments the opportunity to try the package before committing.
Getting students to register seems to be a little bit of a hurdle and is the one aspect of the site that requires improvement. Students are provided with a link that lets them sign up and links their account to that of the school. I used bitly to shorten this address to make it easier to distribute to students. There is a requirement that students have an email address and that they use this to sign up. In an ideal world the teacher would create the signups by importing a CSV from the school’s information management system like SIMS. I could see a potential safeguarding issue if students signed up using a personal email address (as the site encourages) and then this is available to teachers through the student management pages. Teachers can reset student passwords so the email address could easily be removed by a small amount of recoding.
Setting a test is quite easy (if you are familiar with AQA topics from the specification) and questions are graded in three levels of difficulty. You can assign the tests to different groups of students and set a deadline if required.
The tests are a good idea but assume that students have fairly good literacy skills. Further work to improve the accuracy of the marking algorithms would stop errors like evaporate being refused where the system was looking for evaporation (although I can accept this would depend on how the question was worded).
Statistics are available at the end that show how the students have done, and give you an idea of areas that you might need to revisit. The ability to export results is available in paid versions of the website.
I’ve enjoyed using Educake and my students have too (despite the initial teething troubles). I look forward to continuing to use it over the rest of the year and will post updates as it develops and improves.
I’ve done most jobs in the school over the years from cleaning up sick to being the school lead in an Ofsted inspection. I’ve settled into my current job now as second in the school, with three days of teaching and responsibility for teaching, curriculum, examinations, staffing and child protection. School days are long and I’m out of the house for 12 hours on the average school day. Working in a small school brings its own set of challenges are there are fewer members of staff to pass on the ever increasing list of tasks that need doing.
Prior to stumbling into school leadership (stumbling seems like an apt term as I never applied or chose to be a school leader) I was an advanced skills teacher. Through my work as an AST and an influential tweeter (according to the Guardian and the DFE) there have been high expectations of my teaching. I’ve blogged on here about my Ofsted observation, and working in a school in special measures means that all staff are subject to a high level of scrutiny. This combined with the continual bar raising from Ofsted means that lesson observations feel they have the potential to make or break careers.
I was observed recently as part of a quality assurance trawl. I wasn’t overly worried as my observations have always gone well, but I hadn’t spent as much time preparing as usual having had my dog put to sleep at the weekend. It wasn’t the best lesson for demonstrating progress but I don’t believe in changing schemes of work or lesson sequences just to boost my observation grade. Needless to say my timings were out (that’s nothing new!) and so the end of my lesson rushed from practical to written activity without sufficient scaffolding. This meant my lesson was judged to require improvement for the progress strand… Needless to say I went home that night questioning my future in the profession and wondering if I was still up to the job.
I’ve been observed again since and my lesson was good. However I still have doubts about my own abilities as a teacher, and if I want to teach in a system where the pressure to perform (or conform) is relentless. I wonder if there is a better way to measure the performance of a school and of individual teachers than we have at the moment, but with an Education Secretary and Chief Inspector of schools that thrive on conflict I may have a long wait for change.
Although a similar topic was discussed only a few weeks before, the issue of the new national curriculum and what will replace the levels as a progress and accountability measure is still worrying lots of science teachers.
@cleverfiend referred to his recent visit to the DfE and their relative surprise that teachers won’t do much planning for the new curriculum until they know how they will be measured. Unfortunately whilst assessment shouldn’t lead the curriculum, Ofsted does lead the practice that happens in schools. @cleverfiend went on to say that his worry is that someone will come up with a model and everyone will adopt it (like with PIVATS/B-Squared small steps documents used in special needs education) and the NAHT is working on a possible model with schools.
@Viciascience asked why we need levels and there seems to be two answers. To inform what happens in the lessons and to provide accountability. Some teachers are asked to report in sublevels (some to 1/10 of a level) for school tracking data. @NeedhamL56 wondered if SOLO taxonomy could be used (as it has advantages over Bloom’s) and this point was reiterated by several other teachers as the discussion progressed.
@Cleverfiend mentioned the issue of time to prepare and many teachers agreed that we don’t have much time to prepare, especially if waiting for more information on assessment (chat participants pointed out that the new GCSE grade descriptors haven’t been published yet so no one knows what constitutes grades 1 to 9).
Some teachers admitted not having really got a good grasp of levels, and parents find the language of levels totally confusing. Reference was made to the old national strategy materials and how useful some of the resources could possibly be in terms of structuring a new curriculum.
There was also a worry that many schools are waiting for publishers to do the work for them, and that most of their work would consist of just adopting a new text book. Several chatters including @hrogerson and @HThompson1982 pointed out that a scheme of work should be adapted for each setting.
@Cleverfiend asked if we should wait for GCSE and plan backwards (especially if reporting requirements are to be loosened at the end of KS3). This prompted lots of discussion with teachers talking up the merits of a five year curriculum plan, and a continual scheme of work rather than a discrete KS3 and KS4. There was a lot of consensus that this could be the best way to approach planning a new curriculum although ideas for assessment were a little more divergent.
@Geol_2008 pointed out that we would still need a mechanism for reporting progress to parents. There was suggestion of a curriculum map or gaps in knowledge being highlighted in reports. @Cleverfiend reported on some Primary school training at the weekend from @nicolabeverley1 and the idea of continuing themes running across the key stage.
Curriculum development is still in a very early stage with the final versions of the national curriculum only just having been released to the public. Many teachers said they will wait for more information before moving forward with new schemes.
What can the ASE do to support members in developing a world class science curriculum that meets the aims and requirements of the new national curriculum? I’d be interested to hear your comments (and I’ll pass them on to the ASE)