Surviving Christmas in Science

My year 11’s just about finished me off today – they’re tired, I’m tired… Tonight I’ve been coming up with my contingency plans for the rest of the week when terminal velocity and parallel circuits just aren’t cutting it:

  • Kahoot. My students love it and I’ve had them creating their own quizzes before. I’ve booked a couple of ICT suites this week as an option. Physics with a bit of Christmas thrown in!
  • A Christmas mix up. I found this on TES c purple of years ago and is great for two lesson with KS3. I’m not sure if the link is to the original one but thanks to those who have shared these resources.
  • Who killed Santa? Ok, not very festive but our two NQTs have spent a lot of time putting is together and laminating resources. Another one to steal, thank you TES!
  • Supervet. At the end of a six period day and after Christmas lunch on Wednesday, this will be a good one I might have to fall back on. Not very festive but the students love it and you can at least watch a whole episode (unlike a film where they only ever see the first half). Also, popular, BBC’s The Hunt.
  • Fire writing. Weirdly relaxing and calming, despite the fire. Using saturated Sodium Nitrate solution, students draw on paper (the blue hand drying paper works great) and when dry, the writing burns away with a glowing splint. 
  • Glue from milk. Another great little practical made Christmassy to create Christmas cards or paper chains. Not a whole lesson but a good filler.

Any other suggestions? 

Stimulating Physics CPD 2

This week, we had our second CPD from the Stimulating Physics Network. This session was on forces. Points I took away with me…

  1. CD’s, balloons, sports bottle caps and blu tac make great hover crafts.
  2. Apples on table are a good place to start when drawing force diagrams, things get trickier when you take the table away.
  3. To remember that everything has a gravitational pull, not just the Earth.
  4. Water bottles with plastic tubing out of the nozzle are great to show pressure in liquids.
  5. Cup cake cases are a good way of showing that the rate at which things fall on Earth isn’t just about air resistance.

Here is my first post on SPN and why I think everyone should sign up to it. It’s great to have a CPD session where you can actually use what you learn the next day.

Image courtesy of Flickr 

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.

Science Club, but something is missing….

Yesterday, our STEM coordinator kicked off this year’s STEM club, with the help of our two new NQT’s. The idea is to run two separate parts. A Science club with a variety of activities each week and those students wishing to complete their Bronze CREST award this year.

We had around 6 students interested in completing their CREST award and left with plenty of ideas to get them going. Our Science prefect will be guiding them through this alongside the teachers.

 The Science club aspect began with maki sparklers, which went down very well with the 20 or so students who turned up to join in, however there is one thing that concerns me. Can you spot the problem?

No girls! Only one year 8 girl turned up towards the end and along with our prefect, this made a total of two.

We have a good record of having almost equal numbers of boys and girls for Science club but not this year. We can’t think why? Engaging girls in Science has historically been a challenge but we’ve never been faced with this at Science club before.

Suggestions anyone?


Atomic structure with Year 9

This week with Year 9 we’re tackling atomic structure, electronic configuration and linking this to trends in the Periodic Table.

Today, I gave a small, brief introduction to sub-atomic particles, a crude diagram of an atom and then asked them to model a carbon atom and label it. 

They worked in groups to put it together and a few bright sparks ran with it. Most needed prompting to use the Periodic Table for a few clues but I’d not yet told them how to interpret each element and its information.

Here are the results…







Aside from a few spelling corrections and not quite the correct number of sub-atomic particles in all of them, I was impressed.

What I picked up on the most though was their attitude to the whole lesson. They were not fazed by this content at all, no one mentioned it was hard or that they couldn’t do it. They took it all in their stride.

Fast forward a year to my Year 10’s who, whilst of a similar ability, would have complained it was too difficult for them to do and would have needed more pointers to get started on it.

Why is this? Is it because they know it’s GCSE content and so automatically have decided it’s hard. The pressure of having to remember it all? Is it because the idea of more content on top of their other subjects is too much?

When I told my year 9’s that they had completed GCSE level work, they were chuffed that they could do it. Electronic configuration should be no problem tomorrow.

And the yellow dinosaur? I was persuaded to include it as ‘dinosaurs are Science too’!



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.

Modelling with Playdoh

Playdoh is one of my favourite bits of kit when it comes to modelling, mainly because you can quite literally model it!

There are many, many concepts in Science that are difficult to visualise and my students find it helpful to be able to produce their own models to ‘see’ what is often too small  observe in reality.

Phagocytosis is just one of those examples. After a very brief explanation for my year 9’s today I then asked them to model what I had told them. For them to work in groups to interpret my explanation and produce a visual model.

Here are a few of the images:

       Given the small amount of time they had to process the information, they all produced their own model, labelled appropriately yet each group interpreted the details in their own way. How they ‘saw’ Phagocytosis happening.

I then encourage students to view all other models, pick out differences, inaccuracies, misconceptions etc. before coming up with an agreed model for them to make a record of.

Using Playdoh for modelling helps to make it real and provides an engaging way of learning new content and if you’ve not tried it, I recommend it.