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?