Advice for teaching electricity (from #ASEChat)


I’ve advocated #ASEChat on Twitter before as a source of excellent CPD.  If you want to know more about #ASEchat then check out  my guide here and look at the official #ASEchat page here.


Last night I moderated (if that is the appropriate term) a discussion about teaching electricity which made for very interesting reading.  I’ve posted a summary of the chat below, and as with all #ASEchat sessions, the official archive and summary can be found on the official #ASEchat page.  I maintain an unofficial archive of #ASEchat transcripts on Google Docs in spread sheet format which allows you to sort by contributor, highlight links etc.  The electricity chat can be found here.


Summary of Topic 24 – Teaching Electricity

I chose this topic as a biologist because I’m not sure I always do it justice. I wanted to hear from experienced and creative physicists how they introduce the concepts and any models they might use. I’ve listed some of these below:

  • The Rope Model: recommended by the IoP and several ASEchat participants, the rope model can be used to model flow of charge around the circuit (several participants didn’t like the phrase ‘flow of current’). For those who haven’t seen this model before, this video captured at a regional ASE workshop (featuring Helen Pollard from the IoP) demonstrates how it works.
  • The penguin rollercoaster was mentioned more than once (similar to this one) in which @gwiff explained the penguin is the charge, the height is the voltage, the current is the penguins going past, the resistance is the friction and finally the battery is the escalator.
  • Several teachers said they introduce the term coulombs early on in KS3 and to specifically avoid referring to electrons. @Lethandrel said “Coulombs given joules each (EMF) Mission give them all away (pd is each charitable donation) Must do it in conga line” and shared an image of her own furry coulomb.
  • Several teachers pointed out that many of the models have flaws in them (credit to @alomshaha and @informed_edu for pointing out the flaws in the rope model). All is not lost however as other contributors suggested that discussing models and their limitations fits in very well with ‘how science works’. In fact @alomshaha points out “It was while struggling with electricity as a student myself that I first really understood what a model was in science”.
  • Primary teachers have a part to play in teaching electricity. Advice included avoid referring to electrons, don’t teach students that current decreases round a circuit, make circuits and test for breaks in these circuits, testing different sized batteries.
  • Finally the question was asked if electricity is taught poorly in many instances, are we not better off leaving teaching electricity until KS4 so it can be taught by subject specialists. The response was mixed, however physicists are in short supply and many schools don’t have this luxury, so good models and explanations are essential for all teachers.

Top tweets

ViciaScience: Is teaching electricity just about understanding how bread is transported from bakery to supermarket?

Lethandrel: Avoid talking about electrons – kids end up obsessed and can’t think of electricity without them

Lethandrel: I talk about coulombs per sec and joules per coulomb, cute furry creature with bag of jewels/joules nice visual to hang it on

Agittner: have we all seen John Travoltage on the Phet simulations?

informed_edu: pet hate: "current flows round the circuit"

informed_edu: @Bio_Joe Charge flows around the circuit. Current is the number of coulombs flowing past each second.

alomshaha: @asober The IOP’s rope model is inadequate. Does not explain potential difference or drop in P.D across resistor

Useful links mentioned in the discussion

PhET Interactive Simulations –

Squishy circuits –

Teaching Science for Understanding (Electricity) –

Klunky Schematic Editor –

Switched On Kids –

Hilary Osoko has advice for Primary teachers –

Making sense of children’s ideas

What does the new Ofsted framework mean for heads of science and science leaders.

Shortly before the summer holiday I went on a briefing session on the new Ofsted framework for school leaders.  I’ve tried to tease out some of the most important issues for heads of department – as you read below remember that I’m not an Ofsted inspection and that I’m commenting on notes that I made during the briefing session.

The Ofsted Framework is changing early next year (subject to Royal Assent) so what does that mean for teachers and school leaders.

What is changing?

Ofsted is trying to make the framework more manageable, simplifying and streamlining the inspection process.  The number of key judgements will be reduced to four, plus an overall judgement.  The new judgements will be:

  • Achievement
  • Quality of teaching
  • Leadership and management
  • Behaviour and safety

The overall judgement will take account of the four judgements above and also how well the school promotes pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

What does this mean for the classroom teacher?

I’m told that the classroom teacher won’t notice a huge difference over previous inspections.  There may be more lesson observations as inspectors try to get a handle on achievement, teaching and behaviour, and there could still be part-lesson observations.  There may even be bespoke observations, for example if there is belief that there is insufficient challenge in maths, starts of lessons/activities could be sampled instead.  Teachers will still receive feedback at the end of an observation.  Joint observations will still be conducted (to help moderate judgements about teaching and learning made by the school as part of the self-evaluation process).

There will also be a greater focus on the teaching of literacy across the school, and inspectors will be looking to gather information about the impact that teaching has on learning over time.  Progress (as well as raw attainment) will be important as well.

What does this mean to subject leaders?

With the culling of key judgements and abolition of the compulsory SEF, it may be time to look again at your own self-evaluation procedures, perhaps focussing more attention to the four key judgements (as listed above).

There will be a greater focus on reading and literacy so if you haven’t already embraced literacy across the curriculum, now might be a good time to start putting this into effect.  Whilst there is no separate judgement for literacy, it will be looked at as part of the key judgements.  Pilot schools recommend that there is a literacy component to lesson planning pro forma.

There will no longer be judgements for special educational needs (SEN) and school specialisms but they will be looked at as part of the new key judgements.

Behaviour is more important than ever, with the message coming both from government and from Ofsted.  The inspection team will try to collect evidence to show what behaviour is typically like rather than just the behaviour they see during the inspection.  This could include pupil or parental feedback and exclusion records.

There will no longer be reference to contextual value added (CVA) figures, and inspectors will revert to using value added measures as in the past.  Tracking information and baseline data will be very important to help demonstrate progress and justify the school’s approach.  Make sure as a department you have a good handle on progress and can demonstrate this if asked.

Inspectors will also be looking to see more of focus on formative assessment and it may be worth revisiting this in departmental meetings.  Inspectors will want to see the impact teaching has on learning over time, and may look at student work and corresponding data.

School leaders will be focussed on improving outcomes and narrowing the gap.  Self-evaluation, monitoring and teaching, capacity for improvement and compliance with statutory requirements will form part of the leadership and management judgement.  Departmental leaders will be expected to have in place strategies, structures and approaches which are bringing about improvement, and to show how barriers to learning are overcome.

It is also worth mentioning that inspection teams will only have Raiseonline data and the last inspection report, any other information will be provided by the school (and in a format of the school’s own choice).

That’s the crux of it! I’m no expert but I’m happy to try and answer any comments or respond to feedback below. 

Image © Blue Square Thing on Flickr

Differentiation–what does it look like in a mainstream classroom?

‘Differentiation is the process whereby teachers meet the need for progress through the curriculum by selecting appropriate teaching methods to match the individual student’s learning strategies within a group situation.’

Visser J, Differentiation and the Curriculum, Birmingham, 1993, University of Birmingham

Differentiation is the responsibility of each and every teacher and should be a routine part of planning. Only the teacher can differentiate their own lessons – it can not be delegated to the Learning Support department or simply copied out of a book.

Types of differentiation

Differentiation by outcome

Giving all students the same task (and any supporting resources) and letting students attempt it at their own level. E.g. create a poster to show…


For Against

•Easy for the time pressed teacher

•Can be controlled in lots of different ways (e.g. setting a restriction on number of words for more able students)

•Suits assessment activities – e.g. level assessed tasks in science

•Frowned upon since for many it’s the easy option

•Still needs careful planning to make sure those at the top of the ability range are stretched

•Can lead to behavioural problems as weaker students finish a task quickly (or perceive it as too hard)


Differentiation by support

Giving all students the same task and teacher directing more attention to specific students/groups of students. Could also be giving weaker students supporting materials for a task or specialist apparatus (e.g. a digital thermometer)


For Against

•Requires very little set up and planning time

•Can challenge and stretch students more than just differentiating by outcome

•Groups can be given less support rather than extra

•Can involve teaching assistants

•Can be hard to spread support or give where needed

•Can be used to avoid setting a suitable task in the first place


Differentiation by grouping

Putting students in groups chosen by the teacher. Could be grouping by ability, gender, interests, social/behavioural groups or mixed ability.


For Against

•Easy to organise

•Can promote behaviour and classroom management

•Mixed ability groups allow activities to take place that might not otherwise be possible (and more able students can benefit from this approach too).

•Need to know your group

•Need to set clear ground rules and promote a culture of cooperation in your class


Differentiation by resources

Giving all students a similar task but giving different resources. For example a students doing an experiment and then one group of students given a scaffold to support their investigation whilst another group might only get a list of equipment.


For Against

•Good for practical subjects where students may be working on the same task.

•Could be as simple as giving a number line to a group of students in maths

•Allows all students to achieve & progress.

•Takes more teacher time setting up than some techniques e.g. differentiation by outcome

•Can create a management problem where some groups perceive work as being different to/easier/harder than that of their peers

Differentiation by task

Giving students a different task to do based on their ability, interests or aptitude.

Could be as simple as getting each group to present the same information in different ways e.g. a scene in Shakespeare – a poster, a comic strip, a story, a play or an essay

Could be setting a different task for students – e.g. working on different sets of maths problems, working on different texts, reading different stories/plays etc.


For Against

•Can greatly reduce risk of failure for SEN students and challenge G&T students

•Allows all students to make progress

•Promotes engagement

•Can tailor lessons to strengths of individuals

•Much more teacher intensive

•Needs careful management to avoid students opting to do another groups work or seeing it as easier/more desirable than their own

•Assessment can be harder for the teacher

Where to start?

•Learning objectives – all/most/some or levelled objectives

•Knowing your students – subject assessment data, reading ages, CATS scores etc

•Be organised – teachers need a work-life balance. Throw in drama activities etc that require little marking, use peer marking & self assessment


This post is taken from a presentation I gave at a mainstream school recently.  Is there anything you’ve done that you’d like to add – if so I’d love to hear your comments below.