Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Using an ipad in science lessons

Back in June, I was loaned an ipad.  Since then I've been trying to use it in lessons.  I'm still waiting for a cable to connect it to the interactive whiteboard, have no wifi in my classroom and all the apps I've tried have been free - hopefully something here will be useful if you are starting out.

This is a really useful app for collecting all those pictures and video clips you see on the internet and want to show your classes.  You add contacts (many of mine have come from twitter) and you can see what they have "pinned", add it to your boards and by clicking on the picture, go through to the webpage.  I know some teachers set up boards that their classes can access and add things too.  I think you need an invite to join pinterest - shout if you want one and I'll try and find out how I can send it to you.

Again, someone on twitter put me onto this.  You set up a teacher account and it allocates you a room number (that doesn't change). Pupils in your class log in using that room number, using a PC or their own mobile phones.  You can then orally ask true/false questions, short answers or multiple choice ones - the pupils respond on their devices and the app sends that information to you - it displays as a bar chart for the true/false and multiple choice ones, and shows you exactly what was typed for the short answers (which you can then ask the pupils to vote on). Using it in this way takes no preparation.

If you have a bit more time then you can write and save your own quizzes. TES also has a collection of them which you can easily search for by typing in "socrative".  A great way to use these quizzes is in the built in Space Race - groups or individuals can be allocated colours and they race space ships across the teacher's screen - the more they get right, the further their rocket moves.  This function will also email you an excel spreadsheet of who said what in response to each question, it even colour-codes it for correct and incorrect.  I got one of my classes to write quizzes for me as part of their revision, which I could then use with other classes, and for them in a later lesson.

There is also an exit ticket section - pupils put their names in and answer basic questions about what they understood in that lesson and what they might need more help with.

iMotion HD
Love this. I've enjoyed using it so much in lessons that it's now installed on the school itouches and lots of other science staff are using it too.  It allows you to make stop motion animations - the possibilities are endless - I've used it to get classes to explain how enzymes work, what happens to atoms in a car engine, phagocytosis, explaining how natural selection takes place....

Lots of amazing apps available, I need a cable to really use these in class. Try Spacecraft 3D if you haven't already.

I use this more than anything at the moment - I like to photograph the work that pupils do - recently year 7 made egg landers, so I took a picture of them before they dropped them, printed them out, and they are in their books as a record of what they've done.

The thing I'm going to be using it for the most over the next few month is to video my own teaching. Up until last week I'd never seen myself teach! It was a bit scary but I could look at it later and I could see things I needed to do to tighten up my teaching (like, how did I not spot that kid doing that thing they shouldn't have been doing?!) It was also good to share with another teacher (who teaches a different subject to me) so he could provide feedback without having to miss his own lesson.

I'm interested in hearing how other people use ipads in teaching and what their favourite apps are.

Questioning and other tips

Way back, earlier in the year, I had some whole school training on questioning.  School had paid for Mike Hughes to come in and run three sessions and it was great! I asked Mike at the end if it was ok to blog about the day, and he agreed, so long as I put a link to his website - here

He talked about a lot of things, and my notes are sketchy, but here are the main ideas...

General things
  • Try and get a balance of open and closed questions.
  • Wait after you ask a question. Answers can take time.
  • Provide advanced warning - "In 2 minutes I am going to ask you about..."
  • Get pupils to discuss answers in pairs and groups before feeding back to the class (like "Think, pair, share")
  • Take three answers and then get the class to vote on the best one.
  • Don't be scared to reword questions to make sure pupils fully understand.

Improving communication skills

  • Demo things to small groups of pupils who then go back to their group and describe or demonstrate it to their peers.
  • Get a pupil to commentate on your demonstration - what are you doing and why are you doing it?

What can you do in lessons to show understanding?

  • Collect information
  • Share information
  • Enlarge on it
  • Explain (make more challenging by removing keywords)
  • Change the form the information comes in (see also active learning)
  • Arrange it into an order or sequence (try hexagons)
  • Reduce the information (What is the most important part/word? (see Marketplace))
Planning lessons

  • Where are they now?
  • How do you know?
  • Where do you want them to be?
  • How will you/do you know?
Writing questions

Mike gave us a table to use.  The first column contains starter words - what, where, when, who, why, how.  Along the top is the next word in the question - is, did, can, would, will, might.

As you go along the top, the questions become more open and demanding, eg what is this compared to what might this be used for?

This has really helped me think about what types of questions I ask, and I've also had some of my classes use it to write questions for each other at the end of a topic (to show understanding).

Another great idea was to sketch a graph when observing a lesson, with time along the x-axis and the type of question on the y-axis (either higher and lower order, or the "is", "did" etc). You can also draw a line on the graph to show where that particular class should be working. During the lesson you plot what type of question is asked and when in the lesson it is asked. I've found it very useful for PGCE students, when we start to focus on questioning skills.  If someone does it for you, hopefully you can start and end on a higher order question to really get your classes thinking.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hexagons and respiration

It's been a while since I got the hexagons out, and yesterday's lesson with year 12 where they were revising respiration seemed the perfect time.

They spent the first five minutes of the lesson brainstorming the twenty key words we'd been trying to use since we started this topic (we've done wordsearches, crosswords, bingo, taboo cards...) and used them as a basis for the hexagons.  Once they got started they found it easy to make the links - respiration was a good topic as the process breaks down into step-by-steps anyway.  It also helps that they've used these a few times now, some of them in their AS Chemistry lessons, and they've got the hang of how they work.  They were able to discuss with each other why words went where they were put and in some cases argue for and against something being included or moved.  I'd probably encourage groups to do more colour-coding in the future - perhaps getting the correct number of ATPs in one colour to highlight them, the same for the carbon dioxides.

The final twenty minutes of the lesson were used getting the pupils to write 100 word summaries of respiration, again using as many of the key words as they could.  This allowed them to identify the stages they were really confident in as well as the stages they still struggled with.  It also forced them to be concise and to make sure they really wanted to use a word before committing to it.  They swapped summaries with each other and did a spot of "Pimp my Answer", adding to someone else's work and praising each other when they saw good ideas.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Wizards, Dwarfs and Giants

This has been my discovery of the week.  I take no credit for it - I found it tucked in the back of The Teacher's Toolkit as a tool to help develop teamwork in a class.

I've used it for lower ability year 11 boys to get them working together, for twitchy year 9s who need to stop and do something else in the middle of the lesson and for year 10 who were about to go off to their science mock exams.  They've all loved it. Give it a try.

You need to split your class into two teams, boys versus girls worked well.... Each group then has to decide which character they are going to be, a wizard, a giant or a dwarf - I found cartoon images of these and projected them up on the board, along with the rules.  (From here on in it's a lot like "Rock, paper, scissors")

Wizards beat giants by casting spells
Giants beat dwarfs by stamping on the ground
Dwarfs beat wizards by tickling their feet.

I mimed these for the class to demonstrate....

On your count ("1......2.......3.......") everyone in the team has to do the action that goes with the character their team has chosen - wizards put their hands out in front of them and wiggle their fingers, giants put their arms above their head and dwarfs crouch down.

The suggestion is that a team gets two points for a win and one for a draw, and the first to 10 points is the winner.  I've been doing "best of three" as an end of lesson thing.

Oh, and you get to giggle along with every kid in your class as they pretend to be wizards....

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Interviewing potential PGCE students

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be on the interview panel for prospective PGCE science students at Leeds University.  The University regularly asks for us to go along, they like to have a university tutor and a teacher doing the interviews, but some schools are reluctant to let staff out, with all the cover implications.  I was lucky, I had a class that could be left to get on with some work and a year 12 class who were loaded down the day before with past examination questions, so cover was minimal.  So off I went....

I met up with the university tutor about half an hour before the start time.  Again, I was lucky, one of my ex-colleagues and lovely friend works in the school of education, and I was paired with her for the afternoon.  We caught up on a lot of news in between things!

There were four candidates, two for chemistry and two for biology.  Obviously I can't say what each of them was like, or what the outcome was but I can say that their passion and commitment to science and teaching was amazing.  Obviously they were a bit naive-sounding at times, but nearly all had spent at least two weeks in a secondary school and knew what they were expecting in terms of workload.

My friend gave them a quick introduction to the course, and then they were sent off to do a written test, a reading test and prepare a two minute talk on some effective teaching they had seen.  We interviewed two candidates and then got them back together for the presentation and group discussion part, and then did the remaining two interviews.

I learnt a lot. I was worried about whether I would know what to say or do - again, interviewing is another new thing for me this year - but I had a list of questions to follow and did a lot of encouraging, reassuring nodding and smiling.  Above all I enjoyed it. I loved meeting these enthusiastic people and trying to find out if they had the personality and skills to train to teach.  Apparently I was calm and confident, and I got an answer out of one candidate that might have sealed it for them!

Some top tips then if you're thinking of applying:

  • Get into a school. Get into several different types of school. You're looking for at least a fortnight.  Spend time with staff and pupils and make sure this is really what you want to do. 
  • Go into it with your eyes open, yes teaching is rewarding but not all the time.
  • Remember, your experience as a kid in school is probably very different to what happens for most kids in most schools.  Not everyone is going to want to, or be able to do A level sciences and save the world from global warming... what do these kids do?
  • See a range of subjects. You might really want to teach biology but what does your average pupil do in maths and english? How is science different?
  • When you see good teaching try and work out why it was good. What was the teacher doing? What type of person was the teacher? What were the pupils doing?
  • Obviously you will want to prepare for an interview but please get off your script. Rehearsed answers that you've learnt off by heart sound just like that and don't allow your personality to shine through.  You won't be able to script all your lessons.
  • Read up on things about teaching, for example in the news.  You might want to look at some educational policies but be careful - chances are the interviewer knows more than you do and you don't want to get things really wrong.  If you know it all now, why do you need a place on the course?
  • Good luck.  The PGCE is possibly the toughest year of your life, there will be highs and lows like you rarely experience anywhere else.  You will always be tired and there will never be enough time to do everything you want to do (let alone need to do). You will survive and the staff in your placement schools have all been there too - we all want to help you.

My first go at leading training (and my second too!)

My Head of Department asked me to organise some training a few weeks ago.  I've never been asked to do anything like that before, so I was a little nervous.  I  know that I need to be more of a leader, even though I've no official responsibility or role, so it was good to start with something I'm enthusiastic about.  The brief was basically something on teaching and learning, based on the Passport to Outstanding programme, to take place during our weekly departmental meeting, and I also had to get three more colleagues involved (who were ace!). There was a bit of emailing went on, and a couple of conversations grabbed at lunchtime, but we got there in the end.

One borrowed the school ipods and showed us how to generate QR codes as well as explaining what all the mysterious ones around the department were for (a great year 9 revision quiz). We practiced using the ipods to read the codes we were given, and then followed the instructions - a few were turned into paper aeroplanes, a few given to someone else in the department and so on.  I liked this website for putting pictures in the middle of the codes.

Another colleague talked us through how to run a Marketplace activity, something that she does a lot, very successfully. I think they can be a bit worrying the first time you try them so having someone talk you through is really useful.  We've also been trying to use this type of activity more as it's felt that it can increase literacy skills, something we're focusing on at key stage 4.

My other amazing colleague talked about how she has been learning to "let go" more during lessons, letting the kids get on with activities and not feeling that she has to control every aspect of the hour.  It doesn't sound much, but it's very difficult to do, and I know I'm guilty sometimes of wanting it all my own way during a lesson.

My little bit of training took me hours to prepare! I finally got round to getting some hexagons laminated so I spent the evening before cutting them all up....  I gave them to my colleagues with the challenge to pick a topic (they used particle theory, the nervous system, electricity, space) and write out the key words onto the hexagons (using whiteboard markers). Then they organised them into the patterns to show the links.  It was amazing to see adults go through the same out-loud thinking process as the kids do - "I'll put this one next to this one because..."  Since then at least one colleague has been back to me several times to thank me for showing her this - she is using it with lots of classes and has started to turn it into a memory game, snap, and even making one massive class-sized pattern.

The best thing was that I really enjoyed doing it, showing other people a new thing, and then having them come back to me once they'd tried it to tell me how useful it was to them.

It turned into such a hit that the following week I tried to get the department onto twitter to show them all the great cpd they could access (asechat, ukedchat and so on).  I think this might have been less successful, possibly because it requires people to use their own free time in the evenings, and some are already swamped in marking and planning.

All I need to do now is think of the next great thing to share...

Thursday, 16 February 2012


I got this idea from @totallywired77 over on twitter.  He has this thing called SOLO learning that I've not got to grips with yet, but I did see this activity with it, so I borrowed it to try out.  This is part of what my top set year 7s did for revision on the topic of "Aliens" (basically space and forces).  They had to come up with a list of key words about the topic, which I did by standing the whole class up, getting one pupil to name a word and then asking them to "bounce" it to another pupil.  The last pupil standing got Vivo Miles (our reward scheme...) to offset the possible "left-out" feeling, and to make up for the fact that words were running out by then so it was harder.

The class then cut out their own hexagons from a template (I'm going to get loads made up and laminated next half term so I can reuse them and save some time), and working in ability pairs, selected the words they wanted to use.  Then they arranged the hexagons so that if the words touched they could explain a link between them.  This gave me lots of opportunities to ask open-ended questions and the quality of their explanations were excellent.  The class also got to go and visit other groups' patterns and question each other about the links.  What was surprising was how some pupils were putting words down to fill in the gaps, so they were having to come up with even more key words.

It was a fun lesson, and I enjoyed it so much that year 10 separate biology also did it for their revision on hormones and the menstrual cycle (it really helped them to sequence their ideas and then link it into the nervous system), and year 12 biology used it for key words about DNA and genetics.


Monday, 6 February 2012

My classroom, or lab.

I've been very lucky for the last few years in that I've had my own lab/classroom.  This means that as well as avoiding being a mobile teacher (with all the delayed starts to lessons and wondering where that piece of paper went that comes with that), I've been able to add things to the walls and ceilings to get pupils interested.  I decided today to take a load of photos and share them. Sorry some are a bit blurry, I was using my mobile phone... Is there anything I need to add?

There's an ever changing selection of pupils' work on the wall, or hanging from the ceiling.  Here you can see year 10's celebrity/cartoon offspring, year 11's guide to active transport, diffusion and osmosis, a carbon cycle mobile and some of the "science in the news" stories I've collected.

Big cupboards at the back of the room. One has different textbooks in that
pupils are welcome to use to help during lessons.  
The Learning Wall.  As donated by @teachingofscience. My year 12 and 13 are working on the Four Bs currently. Year 10 love the Carl Sagan quote.
The Blob Tree.  This is stuck to the back of my classroom door.  Every so often I ask pupils on their way out of the lesson to reflect about how well they did in that hour. Their honesty is sometimes surprising and it allows me to get into a conversation with them about why they think they are where they are, and how they can improve. It also really helps with confidence boosting when I can tell a pupil that they are really higher up than they are.  I have a Blob Classroom too - great for allowing pupils who struggle with behaviour to recognise problems that might have arisen.
The Twitter Challenge. A great plenary to really get pupils thinking.  I have pre-printed grids to help them keep count, and I've found that higher ability pupils like to try and get 140 characters exactly.

I have A, B, C and D corners in my lab.  These get used for  AFL activities during the lesson. If you have Boardworks then they're great for those summary questions at the end, and I've also used them for multi-choice exam questions.  They're very engaging as pupils have to move to the correct corner to give their answer - they don't follow each other as often as you think! It's also good for leading into questions such as "Why have you picked that answer?".  The traffic light is one of three (there's an amber and a red too). I use them right at the end of a lesson (or midway through if they're a fidgety class) to see if they have achieved the lesson objective/outcome.  Again, they're a bit more active than using coloured card or cups.

The "What I learnt today" area.  This is an easy plenary, just hand out some post-it notes and let them loose!  It's also a nice one for those pupils who just need to get up and move around.  I tend to make the post it notes into little booklets towards the end of the topic, so they are there for classes to look at as revision.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


I've been trying to add something new to my teaching every fortnight this academic year.  It works well in this time frame as my school operates on a two week timetable, so I tend to see KS3 classes six times, KS4 five or six times and KS5 four or five times.  The last couple of weeks I've been doing the Marketplace activity (see below) pretty successfully.  Year 13 Human Biology taught themselves homeostasis, year 11 (target grades C-G, and all boys) did really well with radioactivity revision (they amazed themselves with how much they learnt in the space of an hour, and enjoyed how quickly the lesson went) and I combined revision and new material for top set year 9 about hormones and IVF (for an observed lesson, rated "good"!)

This week I have been using placemats, aka a template for pupils to write their own notes into. They were recommended to me, and as I've spoken to colleagues who trained since me, it seems to be something they knew about all along.

The format I've been using is with a topical photo or picture in one corner, along with a title, then a series of boxes/shapes with levelled/graded questions in, usually based on the syllabus.

My first attempt was with year 13 who used them as a bit of a quick test - could they fill in the boxes with things they remembered about homeostasis.  It was a nice followup lesson to the Marketplace, allowing them to put notes on paper (this seems to reassure them, even though they have a textbook). Year 10 Biology liked the outline about smoking, again done along the lines of "Describe...", "Explain...", "Analyse data about..." to differentiate.  They also used them to show progress by filling in what they could at the start of the lesson and then adding to it in a different colour at various mini plenaries during the lesson.  I could also see them being used to share information with others as they move between groups.  Again, my year 11 pupils really took to them when we did about the doppler effect and red shift today.  They decided to draw diagrams to explain what the doppler effect is rather than write something - this is something they've learnt to do from the Marketplace activity.

I'll need to be careful using placemats I think.  They take hardly any time to prepare, and mean that I can leave some classes to research material rather than me being more involved in questioning and showing them demos or doing practicals.

I would be interested to know if anyone else uses anything like this.  Do they count as active learning or lazy teaching?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

ASE Conference 2012

After being a member for a few years, this year I finally got the opportunity to go to the annual conference.  Luckily I'm only a couple of hours away by train so I planned to go on the Friday just for the day.  As others have said, this is great CPD - I wish I'd known exactly how it works before I went so I could've planned my time there better and maybe stayed for another day.  I really want to go to next year's now, I know I could get a lot more out of it.

I spent a fair bit of time in the Exhibition Area, yes collecting free pens, but also talking to people from the Science Museum, the Met Office, the RHS and various exam boards and publishers about the resources they have for teaching science.  There were plenty of places to spend some serious money (new lab benches, fume cupboards and glassware...), and there was a lot of technology on display (it seemed that every stand had at least one iPad...)

I was able to meet up with some of the great people from Twitter too.  They've provided me with help, ideas and support for a year or more, so it was good to put faces to names and have a chat about how teaching is the same and difference in FE, and in other areas of the country. Thank you!

After lunch I went to a talk about Active Learning for post 16, mainly to get some reassurance that the things I have been doing with my classes have value and to get some new ideas too. I've always loved the idea of encouraging independence in 6th form pupils, after all if they plan to go onto higher education then they need to know how to study for themselves.  Unfortunately, all too often, year 12 and 13 become all focused on exam results and just want the information they need to pass handed to them.  Some top tips were:

  • Don't read practical instructions to pupils.  Make the method available to them before the lesson (via homework or moodle for example), and then they arrive at the practical ready to start.  This leads onto the next one...
  • Let the pupils fail. They learn from this, they'll read the instructions the next time
  • Encourage pupils to buy science dictionaries, or make their own.
  • Develop self and peer assessment
  • Brainstorming sessions - a pupil writes down what they know and this is passed to another pupil to correct and add to, before being passed on again, and so on.

There was a bit of discussion about entering year 12 pupils for exams in January.  There's the idea that they don't know how to learn at that stage of the course, so underachieve versus the wake up call they can get from a poor result.

I also liked the self-evaluation form - I scribbled down the main headings for this, so I'll get that up here as soon as I put it into a document.

Other active learning ideas included:

  • Making models, eg of muscles and cells
  • Dominos with question and answers.
  • Matching cards
  • Sequencing cards, eg the cardiac cycle
  • Finding a picture or diagram and getting pupils to write about it
  • Marketplace

The Phillip Allen book, "Friday Afternoon Biology" was recommended as it has many of these activities already prepared, as was "The Teacher's Toolkit".

Overall then, I'd absolutely go again because I got so much out of it, even in a few hours. Thanks to the ASE for organising this great CPD.

Other people have also blogged about the things they did:

@teachingofscience - here
@Bio_Joe - here
@hrogerson - here

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What's in the box?

I saw these at the ASE Conference and whilst chatting to the lovely people I was with, and the person manning the stand, I could see how they could be used in a "How Science Works" lesson.  I could also see that they could be home-made so I asked the science technicians at work what they could do. This is the result:

As with the set you can buy, I have no idea what is inside the boxes - only one of the technicians knows, and he isn't saying!

This video has given me some idea of how to use the boxes for more than a starter in a lesson.  A colleague also suggested that the pupils could design further experiments to provide more evidence, for example, finding another one of the suggested object and weighing it to compare.  I plan to at least give them to year 13 to have a play with at the start of a lesson, and they'll be great for that class where only half ever appear on time.  I definitely want to have a go at a whole lesson, maybe with year 7, this week.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Year 8 homework - volcanoes

This is some of the homework my year 8 class did.  We're doing a topic called Catastrophe, lots of things about how volcanoes are formed, how scientists can predict lava flow and how rocks are made.  These are some of the highlights (sorry the formatting is rubbish)


Still to come this week - year 9 are going to write CVs for the hormones in the menstrual cycle!

Active Learning, post 16

On my flying visit to the ASE Conference I went to one of the seminars/talks about active learning for post 16 students.  This is something I've been interested in for a while - we have a course at KS3 (Upd8 Wikid/Segue) that uses a lot of class discussion, peer assessment and working in groups, and some of these skills have been carried forward to KS4.  It seems that once the kids make it to KS5 they become so focused on passing exams that they demand their teachers stand and lecture them so they get the information they need to pass their exams.

Unfortunately for the classes I teach, that isn't my way.  I expect pupils to engage with the material and will set homework that requires them to make a presentation to explain something to the rest of the class.  I've had a lot of success with class-made revision guides or "Everything you need to know about parasites" booklets...We all know that research shows that we learn better if you do something with the material rather than passively sit and have it spoon fed to you.

The ASE talk referred to an activity called "Marketplace", found in "The Teacher's Toolkit" (p122 if you have it handy!) Today I tried this for the first time, with my year 12 biology group.

It took me about 15 minutes to prepare for - I wanted to get them started on Unit 2, the parts about DNA and meiosis, so I pulled the key facts out of that section of the (AQA) syllabus, and turned them into 12 questions.  There were basic themes: structure of DNA; function of DNA; replication and meiosis - I colour-coded the questions, and pre-typed them onto an interactive whiteboard page. The questions were displayed for the first 10 minutes or so of the lesson (as the class arrived and got themselves organised...). I didn't refer to them until I was explaining what they were going to be doing.  The second slide of the chart was a basic list of instructions about how the lesson would flow.  I managed to differentiate by appointing a team captain for each group, basing this on how taxing that theme was.  I let the team captain pick three other people for their group. In future I would control the groups more, two pupils struggled as they ended up in the more complicated topics.

The activity gives the group 15 minutes to make a poster about their topic, without having the questions to look at.  They can only use 10 words and that frustrated and amused them in equal parts.  They used their textbooks and some other A level books I had in my room to carry out research, and one enterprising pupil used his smart phone!  I used groups of four and this worked well - one pupil seemed to do all the writing, one did the research and the other two swotted up on things they might be asked by the others in the group.

The part where they moved around went ok, some made decent notes and were able to teach this to the others in their groups when they returned.  The stall holders could only answer questions and this mixed ability group struggled at times to know what to ask and understand the answers they were getting - they need more practice.  The teaching was variable too, in future I'll send some off to see the other posters and swap them over with the stallholders, and then give them group discussion time.

The sneaky bit of the lesson is the return of the questions from the start of the lesson in the form of the quiz at the end - they all got more right at the end than they said they would've done at the start. There were a couple of good explanations of how DNA replicates and why this is important.  I'm counting this as a result.  I also had some past paper questions lined up as extension/homework/confidence builder and we had a quick look at how they would have to apply their knowledge to a question.

Over all, worth doing.  It was very active on their part, they had to use group work, research skills and explanations.  I plan to do it again tomorrow to start year 13 human biology off on homeostasis and for year 11 (targets D-G) for radioactivity.

These are their posters....

Friday, 13 January 2012


If you're a teacher you're probably about to say something along the lines of "AFL? You've only just started this?"  I said things had stagnated.

It was getting on for two years ago that a colleague did a presentation at a departmental meeting about something called AFL.  I recognised it as one of the fun things that was missing from my teaching and tried to work out how I could incorporate it.

I went though a list of about 70 different activities and wrote about 15 down in the back of my planner.  I figured that these were ones I could easily do, without any preparation or resources. Then, when I did my weekly planning, I wrote down for every class an AFL activity. I used a different coloured pen (purple if you're interested!) so that it stood out and it made sure I always spotted it there.  I started with easy things - Hangman, ABCD corners, thumbs up/down, red/orange/green cards (already in the pupils' planner which was handy), lining up and giving me a fact before they left, writing something they've learnt on a post-it note, digging out my mini-whiteboards from the back of a cupboard... I became more daring - I threw a ball at a pupil to get an answer, the kids then throw it to other people for their answers (note, I have a low lab ceiling and had a full size football....thirty 16 year olds... I downsized the ball).

My classes loved it. True, all I was really doing was a plenary, but to them it felt like playing. I was working out who understood what.  I've since added some more to my usuals - the Blob Tree and the Blob Classroom work well for lower ability pupils, especially those who struggle with their behaviour, I use a C3B4ME to get higher ability, highly dependent pupils to work more independently, I have random name generators (check out TES for a powerpoint template to do this for you) and sometimes I award counters for good answers or questions. (Classroom Dojo is good for this too, if you can get it to work...).

It's made life easier for me now that it seems I am supposed to demonstrate progress every 20 minutes. I just flip to the back of my planner for an instant idea. I've also borrowed the unused department copy of The Teachers Toolkit for some more ideas...

(Still to come, Bloom, the ASE conference, demonstrating progress....)

Here we go then


I've been thinking about doing this for a while.  I've had a blog over on LJ for years and years now, and I'll keep that up as much as I ever did, but what I've been missing is a reflective place to publicly put all the teaching gubbins that goes on.  Obviously I've no idea how much of an audience this will find.

So, what this blog is for is for me to record all the different things I'm trying out in my teaching.  After a few years of really not feeling like I was any use, various things have caused me to rethink this.  It means I've started trying a new thing every week or two, and whilst I've been putting them in a paper file, this might also be useful for keeping a record.

A bit about me then.  I've been teaching for eight years, this is number nine, after spending my time after graduation doing medical microbiology research, a post graduate degree in law and ending up in charge of purchasing for a university department.  I did my PGCE at York University - I'd recommend it because there were only 35 or so people on my course; this meant we all got to know each other and the lecturers, and getting in was a bit more taxing than it seems to be at other universities.  I'd thought about teaching science for a while but never felt confident enough. In the end a friend took me to school with him for a day and I realised that if someone told me how to put a lesson together there was every chance I would be able to teach.  I've stayed with teaching because I enjoy it - getting to know and spend time with teenagers is fun, passing on my enthusiasm for science and especially biology, the days are never ever the same. Trust me, I did a desk job, it was mind-numbing.  I've been at the same school for seven years, some people would say this is too long for career advancement, but I've enjoyed building relationships with the pupils over this time, sometimes it's good to have a Reputation.

I think, like a lot of people, my teaching stagnated before this last 18 months or so.  I was taught to teach in a particular way, which I made into more "me" with experience.  I've seen, and mentored, PGCE students and NQTs who do amazing things that are totally new to me yet somehow the up-to-date theories of teaching haven't reached me.

I'm not sure what changed.  Maybe it was someone from the LEA coming in and trying to shake us up. Perhaps it was a colleague who seemed to have discovered a magical thing called AFL, that I recognised was one of the missing pieces from my teaching.  More likely it was laziness on my part, I was getting away with teaching like a lot of people, which was nowhere near what Ofsted seemed to want.

Still, things changed.  This blog is the story of how, and how things are still changing.