Tag Archives: education

Alom’s Dream School

I tweeted this from the ResearchEd 2014 conference last Saturday, and I meant it*. The conference was packed with the kind of dedicated, thoughtful, intellectual, passionate teachers that any school ought to kill for, to have on their staff. We rarely hear of teachers being poached from schools. I don’t understand this. If I was a head teacher, and I needed a new science teacher, I’d hunt down someone like Tom Sherrington and make him an offer he couldn’t refuse…

Tom was just one of the amazing teachers I met on Saturday. I’ve just read his book, and, as I have written in my review of the book over at the amazon site, I found myself envying his colleagues and students. I have to confess though, if I was a headteacher putting together my “Dream School”, Tom would have to be second-in-charge of science – I’d want Mary Whitehouse as my head of department and hope that Alby Reid, Ian Horsewell, Alex Weatherall and Joe Wright would all fall in line under her leadership.

I’d hire Tom Bennett to remind us science teachers that science isn’t the only way of making sense of the world, and put him in charge of the school’s behaviour policy. Then I’d leave Tom, who’s also the brains behind the ResearchED movement, to do the rest of the recruitment while I sat in my office twiddling my thumbs – that’s what head teachers do, isn’t it? 😉

*I appreciate that there might be ethical issues around poaching staff from other schools. It is highly unlikely that I will ever be in a position to hire teachers, let alone poach them from other schools. I wrote this blog post instead of doing a bunch of #FF tweets this morning.

The science of (science) teaching

Can education research help us be better teachers? It depends. Education research is difficult to conduct for lots of reasons and is often very flawed, but I think engaging with it can, at the very least, help us reflect on what we do and why we do it.

I recently spoke at the ResearchED2014, organised by teachers who claim to be “raising research literacy in the teaching profession, busting bad science and building links between people from the ground up”. I think they’ve got the right idea and, judging by the attendance at the conference and the plans to hold similar ones around the world, they are succeeding.

For me, the conference showed me the best of the profession – teachers who were giving up their own time and money because, in most cases, they want to be better at what they do, they want to do better for the students they serve.

I was asked to give a talk, but I tried to have a discussion, which got rather lively at points. I’m not sure everyone liked my approach, but I’m not a huge fan of talking at people as a way of engaging with them about ideas. I’m pleased to report that at least one person wrote to me to say “I really enjoyed it even though you made me sweat about why on earth I was doing practical work dissolving sugar”.

A few people have asked me to share my presentation slides, but I’m not going to do that – my slides alone wouldn’t make much sense because I prepared them only to help emphasise key points and as a prompting device. My view is that it defeats the point of a live talk or discussion if a slide presentation contains all (or even most) of the information you’re trying to convey.

The short film at the top of this post summarises the key points I aimed to make in my talk. I’ve written elsewhere about the research into the effectiveness of practical work but if you want to look at the research for yourself here are some good places to start:

A Review of the Research on Practical Work in School Science

Does Practical Work Really Work? A study of the effectiveness of practical work as a teaching and learning method in school science

Practical work: making it more effective

[Edit: See also DEMO: The Movie. — Ed.]

That was quick

Last month, I linked to a New Yorker story about managerial and regime failings in a US school, though I was more interested in the ‘infatuation with data’ angle than the ensuing misconduct. On Twitter, several people commented that they were worried we’d eventually hear similar stories out of the UK.

In today’s Observer:

Academies run by a superhead praised by the government for producing schools that “outperform the rest” of the state sector had secret advance notice of Ofsted inspection dates.



Royal Society Vision for science & maths education

A quick post as I head out of the door this morning: the Royal Society have published their document on what they think STEM education should look like by 2030, and how they think we should get there.

They’re doing #ASEChat on Twitter next Monday (8-9pm BST), and in the autumn they’re planning a bunch of discussions about responses to the plan, and how it might be implemented.

I’ve only had chance to skip through the PDFs, but my first impression is: blimey, that looks expensive. I guess I’m not sure whether to cheer the sense of ambition or grouchily snark “Good luck with that.”

I’ll be interested to hear opinions as the discussion develops.

Final two hours for Mirobot!

Yes, yes, I know I’m a stuck record about this, but: you only have a couple of hours left to back Mirobot. The Kickstarter hit its last stretch goal last night, so the full package now includes the line-drawing robot, obstacle detection, line following and a speaker.

I’m delighted for Mirobot’s creator Ben Pirt, and looking forward to the production run later in the year.

UK Science is not going to be killed by the changes to practical work in schools

It’s understandable that many in the science community are alarmed about the changes to the assessment of practical work in A-level science subjects, but as a Physics teacher working under the current system, I don’t think it is a “totally, unequivocally shit idea”. And I’m not the only teacher to think that.

Proclaiming that Ofqual have sounded the “death knell for UK science education” betrays a lack of understanding and knowledge of the realities of school science lessons and of how broken and corrupt the current situation is. As my friend and fellow Physics teacher Alby Reid puts it, “The removal of coursework from A Level science is only “a death knell for UK science” if “UK science” depends on your ability to plagiarise”.

The decision by Ofqual to remove the contribution of practical work to A-level science grades may be a cop-out in terms of dealing with the problems of the current methods for assessment, but it is undeniable that the current forms of assessing practical work are deeply flawed. In my opinion, they’re actually detrimental to the quality of practical work that gets done in schools.

It’s possible, then, that the changes may ultimately lead to an improvement in the quality of practical work that is done in schools. I would suggest that it is the responsibility of the learned societies and others making a fuss about this to take practical steps towards ensuring that happens. By, for example, providing high quality resources to help science teachers integrate good, pedagogically sound, practical work into their schemes of work. Like this, perhaps?

I’d encourage those who care about science education to develop an appreciation of the complexities and realities of how practical work in schools is currently carried out, and of how much work is needed to ensure that practical work is genuinely doing all those things we’d like it to do for children’s science education.

Freezing Garlic

It’s the end of half-term and I haven’t really had a break. Jonathan and I spent the first three days of this week in Cambridge, working on a set of films for the lovely people at SAPS. I’ve spent the rest of the week doing some much needed re-decorating of my bedroom and, of course, marking stuff ready for the return to school.

The picture above is of garlic, which I peeled and chopped (in a blender thingy) earlier today, before freezing in an ice cube tray. It took me about 30 minutes to do this (while faffing about on Twitter and listening to music) and I’m glad I had the time to do it because that garlic is going to make my life just that little bit easier over the next couple of weeks.

I love cooking and I use a lot of garlic when I do – everything from a whole bulb in my dal to a few cloves fried with chilli in oil to make the simplest but most delicious of pasta sauces. But I hate peeling and chopping garlic and having it pre-peeled and chopped in this way removes the one part of many recipes I don’t like doing. (I know you can buy it like this in jars but, I swear, none of the stuff from the shops is as good as this, nor as cheap).

This little act of preparation, of being organised and ready for cooking in the future, really does make a huge difference to my enjoyment of cooking.

I think it’s the same with teaching – I always enjoy it more when I am prepared and organised to teach.

Precision vs pedantry

Over the last few years, making all these demo films, I’ve found myself thrust back into the world of school education. It’s a bit of a shock. I’m young enough to have taken GCSEs myself, but old enough to have been in the first year to sit them. Much has changed.

One thing I find slightly baffling is the obsession with extremely precise terminology. There’s a natural inclination to precision in the sciences, but some of what I’ve seen veers towards the obsessive. It’s not precise, it’s pedantic. And it’s nerve-wracking. I can’t write a sentence of script without the fear of somehow mis-stepping, of treading on some unseen toes and bringing down some unrelenting diatribe about how you can’t use that specific word there, only this one.

Now, I’m old enough and weary enough to battle through such pressures. There are also times when I can dimly recall enough of the physics I once did to be reasonably certain that not all of the advice I receive is… umm… correct.

But if I find myself staring at an explanation with that stomach-knotting dread of you’re doing it wrong, how is a twelve year-old supposed to cope? Respect due, we’re raising them tough these days.

My assumption is that pedantry has crept in because it’s quicker and easier to assess whether the student can recite rote-learned material accurately than it is to judge their understanding against the examiner’s (also-flawed/incomplete?) knowledge.

But that really is an assumption. So, some questions:

  1. Am I right that school science is increasingly pedantic?
  2. Does being able to parrot a very particular definition demonstrate understanding?
  3. …or am I falling into the category of “people who don’t know much about education, but inexplicably think their opinion has some value anyway”?

I’ll show you impact

Ah, the joy of modern media. You can publish a film one week, and the following week you see a tweet from a teacher who’s incorporated ideas from it into their lesson. Even better: they post a photo of their students exploring ideas around air pressure via the approach in the film.

Photo above from Tom Sherrington, @headguruteacher. Huge thanks for allowing us to repost, Tom – it’s a delight to see this stuff getting used.