Being a Stimulating Physics Network partner school

Last summer term, we signed up to become a SPN partner school and today we had our first session with our SPN contact.

In our department, I am the only Physics specialist although struggle with the practical ‘tricks’ to hook students. We needed some good ideas. 

We were shown how to model electricity for KS3 and none of them were ways I’d seen used before, all new to us. 

  • The penguin race game (that I’ve found for sale on Amazon) to teach about potential difference was great. Very hypnotic to watch and made perfect sense. Cheap too, we’ll get one of these!
  • Electric energy balls (also here on Amazon) opens up all sorts of questions about circuits, what’s needed for them to work, showing series and parallel circuits. They work when hold hands and forming a bigger loop so good for including the whole class.
  • A loop of rope to demo current and again showing series and parallel circuits. 

All of these we’d take away and could use straight away.

Then there’s everything else included. SPN wil come and run revision classes, AS taster classes – great for us as no sixth form, working on gender imbalance in education, more CPD sessions for us (we have five more booked), free Summer CPD residential courses, tours of talks, Yr9 exoplanets club, whole day activities and more. Best of all, it’s all FREE.

A resource definitely worth having.

Image from Flickr.


Exam marking

This year, in a bid to raise funds for our wedding next year, I applied to mark exams. I was offered a Physics paper (perfect) and, after preparing myself for endless hours of time lost to marking, here is what I’ve found out throughout the process:

  1. How to mark properly: When I learned that the training was going to take two hours online, I groaned inwardly. However, I learned LOTS throughout this session. The many different types of question, what good and poor question answers looked like, what it means to ‘ignore’ an answer, what it means to be underlined, in bold or in brackets. I’m not new to teaching, or marking papers in school but just this training alone was immensely helpful and will improve my practice in future.
  2. It makes you a better teacher. As I marked each question, it was clear to see which responses were common amongst students and, most importantly, commonly incorrect. Certain areas of the specification were not answered well and this will help me teach those areas better in the future.
  3. Marking online is brilliant. When I mark exam papers in school, I always mark a question at a time and this is exactly how marking for summer exams was completed. I find it helps me to get in the flow and I get better marking the question. 
  4. It’s quick. Especially the short answer questions of course but even the dreaded six mark questions I managed to get through in a reasonable amount of time whilst remaining accurate. I find when marking hard copies of papers so much time is lost to adding up markings, writing question totals, adding these up etc. and this is removed when marking online.
  5. You’re not left to it. My lead examiner was very supportive and always available to go through any tricky questions I struggled with.
  6. It’s fairly flexible. You have your quota and a deadline but I managed to get through these in plenty of time. I certainly didn’t have to shut myself away for two weeks to get it done. Once the deadline had passed, there was an opportunity to complete extra and, seeing pound signs, I completed as many more as I liked. There was no obligation to keep going though.
  7. It is monotonous. Whilst I valued the experience hugely, and the extra funds will be gratefully received, marking exams is mind numbing at times. I needed regular breaks and had to set myself mini goals to keep me motivated. This, for me was the only negative.

If anyone was considering marking exams, it is something I would recommend as I learned a lot and will hopefully be offered more marking next year.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Who our department couldn’t be without

After reading @MrsJMasters blog on Science technicians, I thought mine deserved their own reply.

Teaching is a tough job but if I think about all the extra or technicians do for us, it could be so much tougher. 

First of all there’s the job, and I’m sure ours go above and beyond what actually their job requires. There’s the prep, generally in the Thursday before the week it’s required but there’s never once been a time we’ve crept in just before the school day to ask for an emergency practical and been told no. Or taught a lesson for which the prep has been ready for days to ask if it could be kept just a little while longer (I have a surfactant practical that has been waiting patiently in the prep room for two weeks now). I know of teachers in other schools who will mess up a trolley of prep to make it look like it’s been used in case they get told of for not having used it! Not ours though.

The photocopying… Anything we ask, all controlled assessment materials, all trial exams. This literally saves us hours of our time.

Demonstrations… One of our technicians is a retired chemistry teacher and is still very much the showman. Any of the risky demonstrations we’ve not tried or big bangs that I’m a bit wimpy about he’ll come and do complete with full on explanation. I’ve learnt a huge amount from him. If we request a particular practical, he usually has something bigger and better up his sleeve we can try out and is always willing to put it together and go through it with us. 

One of our technicians deals with any first aid issue we send her way, however silly it might be. I think sometimes the pupils ask to go for something simply because they like the attention they get! A bit of TLC goes a long way and the same goes for us. This technician is an expert at reading us; when we’re grumpy, sad, happy or tired and will always get a smile back on our faces (except for the time I was delivered a secret Kit Kat during a year 10 lesson after a particularly horrid morning and I responded to this by promptly bursting in to tears!). Even today I was offered help to prepare the moderation sample. Not her job at all but we were very, very grateful for the help

There are the things they do that keep us sane, the weird YouTube clips, hearing about the dancing that goes on, roller skating through the labs dressed as Santa at Christmas, the gossip from around the school.

I could go I forever about how marvellous they are, the list is endless. Good technicians are worth their weight in gold, and ours are 24 carat. 

Becoming a happier teacher

This blog post rings so true for me at the moment. I also gave up duties this year to get some time back. I also like the idea of only doing the ‘fun’ work at home, which for me is lesson planning and data. The book marking can forever stay at school.

Reflecting English

tharby feedback listening

Image: @jasonramasami

I’ve just finished reading behaviour and public policy expert Paul Dolan’s marvellous Happiness by Design. Originally it shone out invitingly from the shelves of Waterstones, but I didn’t take the bait until Mark Healy recently recommended it in this blogpost. I have often thought that we teachers are very adept at making ourselves needlessly unhappy – at work and in life generally – and this book has helped me to conceptualise this and find some potential solutions. For me, at least.

I am going to simplify Dolan’stheory as it is difficult to do it justice in a blog post, especially as I am no psychology expert. Essentially, Dolan redefines our understanding of happiness: he divides it into two separate parts, pleasure and purpose. Happiness through pleasure – fun, enjoyment, relaxation, etc – is not a new definition, but considering happiness through the medium of purpose –…

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Walking Talking Exams – Part 2

Last week we ran our first walking talking trial exam for year 11. The purpose for running it were to Improve upon certain points:

  1. To boost confidence in exams – A large number of our Year 11 were feeling demoralised after poor trial exam results.
  2. Improve exam technique – subject knowledge was not the main issue but students were evidently not answering exactly what the question asked.
  3. Application of knowledge – students avoided questions that included any content they hadn’t learnt about. They couldn’t see past this and identify exactly what the question was about.
  4. Model long answer questions – students often ignore these completely but we weren’t sure why (time, perception of difficulty, effort?)

It being the first time we’d tried anything like this, we weren’t sure how it would run. Here is how it ran:

  1. We had a PA system set up so that students could hear us loud and clear.
  2. A projector screen ran a countdown clock so we, and students could easily keep pace.
  3. Students were told that normal exam conditions applied, that we would read the questions and then explain our thought process.
  4. We still had invigilator as this helped students to take it as seriously as any normal trial.
  5. Students were encouraged not to move on without waiting for us.
  6. We read each question and gave the students pointers, not answers, to answering the question.
  7. We identified the area of the specification the question related to and reminded the student the answer could only be something they have been taught about. This was especially important with applied questions.
  8. We allowed the timer to run continuously allowing 1 minute per mark as in the exam.

What we have found out since the trial:

  1. The majority of students found it helpful and asked for more walking talking mocks before their real exams in the summer.
  2. Results were improved, significantly in a number of cases.
  3. Students have felt more confident about their examinations in the summer.
  4. Considering the guidance students received, areas where knowledge is lacking is more clearly obvious and so wil help us to focus revision in the coming weeks.
  5. Some students said they ran out of time because we were talking for too long. Taking this in to account, more time may be needed for a walking talking mock exams if we run more.
  6. It has helped us as teachers understand the exam process more clearly and helped us to give better revision guidance and support.
  7. It reminded us just how important the examiners reports are.

I would recommend walking talking trials to any school. For us, it has been the boost we all, students and teachers, needed to help us all feel more confident about the summer.


Walking Talking Exams – Part 1

I love this (and pretty much everything else that is posted on this blog). Will be using this in the Spring, a little late for trial exams that start this week.

Class Teaching

The 15 Minute Forum tonight was led by science teacher, Jody Chan.  The idea of ‘Walking Talking Exams’ (WTE) came from a PiXL meeting, attended by my Deputy Head colleague, Jane Squires.  Their approach to it is described in this article from The Guardian, and a quick search on Google revealed that you can even find videos of ‘Walking Talking Exams’ in action, such as this maths one.

I wouldn’t suggest you watch the whole thing – but it gives you a flavour of the process.

Jody has adapted the process for her classroom.  She felt that whilst her students had good scientific knowledge, they were losing too many marks, due to poor exam technique.  So she saw this strategy as a good way of supporting students to develop this.  In the past, like most teachers, when it came to practice exams, Jody set them the exam, the students did it…

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