Whatever it is they’re peddling, it sure ain’t Physics!

[Note: I have posted again on this in more detail here]

Here is the latest offering from the DfE on what teachers and exam boards should be teaching and assessing in science at GCSE – you know the rigorous qualification where 5+ is needed for a good pass!

Last year the DfE released their draft GCSE subject content for combined science which resulted in a rather frustrated post about the mistakes in the document.

And tonight, they’ve released their GCSE_combined_science_content final draft. Turn to page 37….

Wrong again!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wrong again!

This is after they fixed it last time.

Hat tip to @hrogerson for the spot.

And @alby has noticed that Physics isn’t in the table of contents. Well I refer you dear reader back to the title of this post!

More on the Royal College of Teaching

In which I discuss some of the reasons for the College of Teaching, as I see it, as well as a suggestion for a membership structure.

On valid criticism


Anton Ego © Disney/Pixar

For some reason, it always seems harder to come up with positive and useful plans for any project than it does to criticise and complain about decisions made. For example (some valid) criticisms about Building Schools for the Future were made by politicians in the early days of the last parliament and most of the projects were scrapped without much apparent thought for the effect this would have on schools, schools’ budgets, and schools’ places (see, there’s another criticism; I said it was easy). The government through the DfE decided to concentrate on developing the Free Schools programme assuming it would provide the places instead of handling the places allocation directly themselves or through LAs. It is easy to criticise this decision too, and yet, as was pointed out to me last night, it’s a complicated process to ensure that places are ready for the future; it requires a lot of effort, communication and collaboration to develop the optimal solution. The same is true for encouraging enough people to join the profession through an appropriate training and qualification route, or providing an appropriate method of assessing practical work in Science qualifications. It’s easy to criticise decisions but much harder to come up with good, credible and robust solutions.

Some, or perhaps most, of the criticisms of the proposed Royal College of Teaching have been well founded. It was indeed frustrating that one of the first consultations for the Royal College of Teaching took place at the start of a new school year during the working week. The idea that £12 million (over 5 years) is to be given to a new professional body with apparently no questions asked when it isn’t yet backed by the majority of teachers appears to many to be a frivolous use of taxpayers money. The idea that membership should be open to all seems like an own goal and could turn the Royal College of Teaching into a club for everyone with no mandate from or for practising teachers. The potential conflict of interest of the four groups that are running this initial consultation can be criticised. That there has not been enough communication to teachers outside the social media bubble is a real problem. Teachers had the universally disliked General Teaching Council thrust upon them, so it’s an easy leap to suggest that this isn’t going to be any different.

There are more questions (see Helen Rogerson’s post for a whole host) than answers at the moment: Who can call themselves a teacher in the College of Teaching? Why do we need a new College of Teaching anyway – what’s the Royal College of Teachers (est. 1846) been doing all this time? What is the Royal College of Teaching for? Wherefore Royal (or not)? I don’t have answers to all these questions and I only have a few responses to the criticisms (remember, it’s hard to come up with solutions).

If we keep looking going over the history there is the danger of not making any progress at all. So what I want to do is make a suggestion on the question of membership and what I see the College of Teaching is for.

Held to Account

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

I have been speaking to my uncle recently, who is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (for England and Wales) and has been all his working life, and I have asked him what it is about the membership model that makes it work? The bodies which look after the professionals that are able to call themselves Chartered Accountants are well respected and have a well established model of membership, training and regulations. An accountant or bookkeeper doesn’t need to be a member of an Institute of Chartered Accountants (for example ICAEW, ICAS or CIMA) in order to practice as an accountant, but if they are members, and are eligible, then they can advertise their Chartered status. The status defines their professional expertise, but also provides a level of prestige within their trade. The Institute of Chartered Accountants accepts membership from students, trainee accountants, practising accountants, as well as those who train accountants (most of whom are themselves practising but not all) and the retired.

The accounting professional landscape is very complex, and there are only a few similarities to teaching; for example there are many routes into accounting with many different qualifications that can be taken before an accountant might take on clients. One of the ways that accountants are held to account within their profession is they have to pass a practising certificate in order to be able to perform certain activities within their professional role – such as performing an audit. Teachers have a certificate system that enables us to practice, which is our Qualified Teacher Status (your mileage may vary). The right to practice as a Chartered Accountant can be removed by the ICA for defined reasons. In the teaching profession, the responsibility for administering the training of new and existing teachers in England and regulation of the teaching profession is currently handled by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, a government agency. The new Royal College of Teaching would not/should not be in a position to take on this role. And yet it’s been given a lot of money (£12 million would pay for 50-100 nurses over 5 years) to provide something for the teaching profession; but what?

The raison d’être

The conversation I had with my uncle, where he asked many of the same questions that other have posed over the last few months, revolved around what the purpose of this professional association is going to be. The initial proposals for the College of Teaching have suggested (see the FAQ sheet):

  • Challenging professional standards with validity, portability and accreditation
  • Professional recognition and status
  • A robust, respected portfolio demonstrating teachers’ development
  • Guidance and support from a College Mentor
  • Access to up-to-date research evidence to support more effective classroom practice
  • Access to professional knowledge that will draw upon academic research. Members will have the opportunity to contribute to a growing knowledge base that will help all professionals
  • Being part of a College that is recognised by schools who are committed to accessing professional learning, accreditation, sector-led standards and peer-to-peer review
  • Work towards better outcomes for young people as they enter an ever-changing and challenging global job market.

As I see it the primary objective would be to provide me, as a member, with the ongoing training and professional development support that I will continue to need throughout my profession. Why did my training, access to research on teaching, and certification suddenly stop after my PGCE (and QTS year)? Sure, my school has provided me with training on certain aspects of my practice, but there’s nothing really to take with me apart from what is in my head, or written down on my professional development record. I want something more, that I can measure myself against and commit to working towards as part of my professional development. Now, I could do this by myself or through my school, but not necessarily in a way that will mean my development is valued across the professional field. If, and when, I move jobs, what aspects of my professional development are transferable? I see the College of Teaching as an avenue for providing me with the resources and the development route throughout my career.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

One main sticking point is membership. I’ve written about membership and what defines a teacher before, and while there are those who feel my argument suffers from the continuum fallacy, others see the teacher question as a key point.

My suggestion to help smooth the impasse is that at its inception the College of Teaching should have a membership structure that identifies practising teachers, but not to the exclusion of others who would be able to contribute to the College’s raison d’être. To not include people who teach or train teachers in the College of Teaching seems to me to hobble the College in being able to give the development I want it to provide.

Here is what I propose (loosely borrowed from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales):

  • Membership should be available to anyone training to be, currently practising or having previously been a classroom teacher.
  • Associate membership should also be available to anyone who provides ITT and ongoing training for teachers.
  • There should be a number of faculties that members and associate members can join starting with, but not limited to:
    • Practising Teacher
    • Trainee Teacher
    • School Leadership
    • Development and Training
  • Membership of a faculty should confer specific voting rights to you as a member with Practising Teacher faculty members having most privilege. I suggest that College of Teaching members who are not members of a faculty would have no voting rights.
  • There should be a number of special interest groups that relate to the sector / subject area that members can join including by way of example, but not limited to:
    • EYFS
    • Primary
    • Secondary
    • Maths
    • Science
    • English
    • Humanities
  • There should be the opportunity for members of affiliated teaching associations and unions to join the College as part of their other association membership (e.g. Association for Science Education) with the same faculty rules applying.

Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting – improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again

These are my suggestions only – I offer them out to be critiqued and criticised without fear or favour as I’m sure they will be.

I also think if we stick religiously to the plan outlined in the initial proposal by the Claim Your College cohort or even the membership structure I suggest here, that we will come unstuck. It’s not currently an optimal solution but with bottom-up adapting and experimentation with these structures as the College takes shape we should get a solution that is.

All aboard?

The selection committee for the first board of trustees is being nominated for the Royal College of Teaching. For what it’s worth, the wheels are being set in motion. There is a lot money from the taxpayer being put on the table to push this body forward (that I would argue is largely unnecessary; I do want to know more about how this money is to be spent and whether it actually needs to be). The four groups who have set the initial course have said they will step out the way to let the College follow the route these trustees and the members wish to take. I know I want to be along for the ride, The question is: who else does?

Some recent reference posts:




How much mathematics should be examined in GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics

Schools Week has reported on the GCSE Science Consultation response from Ofqual with a comment from Richard Needham @viciascience on the proposed percentages of maths examinable content: 10% Biology, 20% Chemistry and 30% Physics.

Now I don’t know the full mechanics behind developing exam questions and how these percentages will correspond to marks however it seems to me that these percentages are biased unnecessarily towards Physics.

Physics is traditionally thought of as being the subject with the most mathematics content due to the number of formula required, and in the new GCSE content, this requirement has become much stronger with an increased number of formula, and requirement to commit most of these to memory. However once a formula has been recalled or selected the use of it doesn’t require any extra mathematical knowledge to use it (except perhaps rearranging, and more complex formula with squared terms).

Contrast this will biology where students have to have an understanding of statistical techniques which aren’t used in the other two single science subjects.

Here is the breakdown of mathematical requirements and how they contribute to the subject content at GCSE. There are 19 requirements for Biology, 18 for Chemistry and 20 for Physics. They seem evenly distributed and this doesn’t correspond to the 10%,20% and 30% split.

I am interested in your opinion of how import you feel each requirement is to the individual subject? I have prepared a questionnaire to collect this information, which I plan to share with Richard and use to form some collective response from #ASEChat teachers to the consultation.

It will take some time – but I would appreciate it if you would spend some time thinking about it.

The questions are all the same for each requirement – Rate how important it is to examine this aspect within each subject. Please rate from 0 – Not important (i.e. it’s a general mathematical skill, no special reason to examine within this science subject) to 4 – Very important (i.e. it underpins aspects of scientific understanding within this science subject).

I realise this is a big ask during your Easter Holiday. I estimate it will take around 15 – 30 mins depending on whether you leave extensive comments.

Here’s a link to the form or you can fill it in below:

WHAT IF: We took baseline data at reception and used it to research learning…

wpid-sketch14234654-1.pngI got quite a lot of positive feedback from my first What If post – but very little further interest (I’m still intrigued to know what ideas people have about using PP funding for developing the cultural aspects of a school – in order to improve educational and life experiences for students who are less likely to get same outside school).

This week, the baseline test providers were published by the DfE and a lively debate has been asking what the point of the baseline tests will be, how will schools be held to account with it and whether schools might purposely engineer the tests so they are biased towards the lower end, thus making it easier to show better progress over time.

I tweeted my opinions on the subject:

Now, a caveat. I’m not an expert on cognitive development at reception – I’ve read about cognitive development theories when studying to become a teacher, but a lot of the popular stuff seems to be discredited or superceded. So I bow to anyone’s superior knowledge on this sort of thing, but the way I understand it is that there is a high level of variability in development during the early years <4 that is highly dependent on both environment and genetics.

So I see the situation simply as this:

  • 30 (ish) children come into a reception class and they are baseline tested.
  • That is their baseline for the rest of their school educational lives.
  • Schools will be judged on that!?!

Why do I think this is a problem (Leaving aside the schools using a bias to their advantage argument made by Michael Tidd)

  • No normalising effect of the new environment will have taken place. It’s received wisdom that August children on average have a disadvantage because they enter school younger than everyone else but at the same time teachers report that they tend to catchup after about 6 months. The environment and adjustment to it will affect children in very different ways.
  • The baseline tests are from 6 different providers – how can they be comparable?
  • The noise in the small sample of a school year group at the start of reception will be huge.

So do I think we should have baseline tests? Possibly, yes.

What if:

  • they could a useful formative tool for teachers and schools as they get to know their new students?
  • they could provide the education system with a wealth of amazingly useful data? Imagine the longitudinal studies that could be facilitated with this data. It could support research in education over a long period of time. (I realise consent and research ethics needs to be considered here.)

But they should not be used as accountability measures for progress.

[EDIT : I’ve already had two people remind me that at the end of early years the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is completed. This provides a suitable formative reference for teachers. Could it be used as data for researching progression through school?

I’ll also add a link to @Sue_Cowley’s must read post that delves into the problems with the baseline tests and why we must not tolerate them.


What do you think? Respond in the usual way. Twitter #eduwhatif or comment below.


On the College of Teaching and what defines a teacher


In 2012, just as the celebratory images of how proud we are of the NHS were being beamed across the world during the London Olympic Games ceremony, an unedifying debate on twitter (and beyond) began to ensue. The Sunday Times, a persistent stirrer of the education pot, had thrown a well-timed grenade in order to leak an intended publicising a policy*  from Michael Gove; to remove the requirement for teachers to hold QTS (qualified teacher status) in order to teach in the academy school system.

The horror: how dare the DfE belittle the role of teachers by suggesting that anyone could teach and they didn’t need to be qualified, and why just academies and free schools, etc. The reason why this debate was so noxious, is that it quickly became apparent that the revered QTS was not as ubiquitous amongst teachers as was originally thought. Many teachers who had done their PGCE, for example, but ended up working in F.E. (some through choice, others because that’s where the jobs were), had not achieved QTS, not because they weren’t up to the task, but because what was required for teachers to teach in FE colleges was QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills). Did that mean they were teachers? It certainly made some feel that they shouldn’t teach in schools as FE was different some how. And then there were those FE teachers who couldn’t get QTLS because their college wouldn’t provide them with the mechanism to get it; because the IfL made it non-mandatory for a teacher in FE. Then there were the teachers who have been teaching in schools since before the PGCE, BEd and other ITT routes were dreamed up. They didn’t have QTS either. So the hashtag #NoQTSNoTeacher that went round during and after the opening ceremony was a rather selective and, to some, offensive sieve that created a divide between teachers in different settings and with different qualifications. Arguments were had and feathers were ruffled, but then we all got on with the job of enjoying the Olympics and the rest of the summer holiday.

Why do I bring this up? Well because definitions of what constitutes a teacher have been raised again to support, in my opinion, an idealistic attempt to ensure some control for teachers in the fledgling College of Teaching; it has just announced its next draft of proposals for consideration after a few months of consultation and panel discussions.

I want to make clear that I’m not responding to specific arguments made in some of the posts I link to at the end. I am setting out why I think the College of Teaching needs to be inclusive in the definition of “teacher” and also why I think the people behind the latest proposal have settled on the membership structure they have.

The problem, as I see it, is that those advocating a very tightly guarded membership structure in the College of Teaching for current teachers of school children only (or those within 2 years of a teaching post), are making the same sort of mistake as the #NoQTSNoTeacher tweeters of 2012. Teaching as a profession spans the teaching of children as young as 3 in Early Years settings all the way up to 19 in sixth form, both in school and 6th form colleges. But does it stop there? Some would say yes; some would say that already the net is cast too wide.

Who do I think are teachers? Well I’ll provide some anecdotal examples: My daughter is currently four years old, passing through the last year of the EYFS of her education. It started at pre-school when she was 3 and will continue until she moves up into Y1 aged 5. She is currently taught by a teacher and teaching assistant (who is a fully trained teacher – who has taken a role as a TA). She was taught in pre-school and now in school following the same curriculum and the people providing her education are subject to Ofsted judgements, and so, whilst the setting is different I would argue that the qualified people running the preschool count as teachers; all of the people in this example are teachers in my opinion. Others disagree.

My wife worked at a F.E. college, teaching students Childcare Studies. She was training to be a teacher, following the PTLLS, CTLLS and DTLLS route. She stopped to be a full time mum, but had she not, she would have continued to teach 16-19 year olds as well as the same course to adult learners in the evening. She marked, planned, wrote schemes of work, wrote reports, did parents’ evenings, and taught lessons. This sounds very familiar. She didn’t class herself as a teacher by the time she stopped as she was still in the middle of her training, but had she carried on she would have been a teacher in my opinion.

My PGCE tutor Dr Anne Scott was a Biology teacher for 10 years in state schools after completing her PhD, including being Head of Department in a large state comprehensive school. She has been a PGCE tutor at the University of York for the last 15 years, also undertaking work to develop curricula for Biology for Nuffield foundation. I can testify that she had to mark my assignments as well as provide effective feedback and support through my 1st year of learning to teach. She taught many sessions to her students – she was and still is a teacher (IMO).

Phillip Moriarty is a Professor of Physics at the renowned University of Nottingham. He carries out research, but he also teaches courses to undergraduate Physicists and has a “very keen interest in outreach activities and primary and secondary teaching”. He has told me he would definitely consider himself a teacher (as would I), and depending on the distinction between teachers would possibly join a College of Teaching.

Four different examples of teachers who would possibly not be allowed in the College of Teaching (not Teachers, Teaching!) if some had their way. They would not be allowed to gain from the advantages the CoT proposes to provide.

The proposals are not perfect. I think the membership structure is not yet right. And should anyone be allowed to join as lay members but without voting rights? Possibly, probably not. But I believe the argument about what defines a teacher is one of the reasons the current proposals for the College of Teaching are staged as they are; to allow the sorts of teachers I describe above to join no matter what their status, and to work towards chartered membership should they so wish and if the College leadership decides they fit the bill.

Good luck to them all. I’d be proud to call them fellow members of the College of Teaching.

Some reference posts:

Schools Week overview of the new proposals

Here are two posts that oppose non-teachers joining the CoT by Andrew Old. I agree with his points about the 4 year wait till the chartered scheme gets off the ground, however I think his worry about all and sundry “with a beef about schools” wanting to join the College of Teaching will prove to be unfounded. As such I nominate Andrew to join the selection team for the founding committee members – I hope he’d do it.

The Learning Spy also argues that non-teachers as lay members of the College of Teaching is not a good idea.

A post from David Weston on why he believes in an inclusive College of Teaching.

The panel discussion I took part in with Al Moon from David Young Community College and John Tomsett from Huntington School in York and Raphael Wilkins from the College of Teachers (to be disbanded in order to form the College of Teaching).

*Sam Freedman has reminded me that it was an official announcement during the opening ceremony!

TV and Radio Guide w/c 5 Jan 2015

Well, that’s first of my projects restarted (thanks to @MrsDrSarah for collating the programmes this week):

Science Teaching Library

Light-Trails-2015 2015 is the International Year of Light

Happy New Year. We’re back.

We’re looking forward to a year of Science TV and Radio with hopefully no interruptions to the guide this year. Things to look out for in the next few months are a new series of The Infinite Monkey Cage and StarGazing Live in March to coincide with the solar eclipse.

TVGuide_doc Download the PDF version of the guide to use at school

Picks of the week are:

  • Every Day Miracles: Mark Miodownik on the miraculous nature of everyday stuff.
  • Sky at Night – Chris and the team look at the Gaia telescope which is exploring our galaxy, the Milky Way, in great detail
  • Just So Science – Another chance to listen to how the camel really got its hump and other science based versions of Kipling’s stories.
  • Science Cafe – 2015 is the International Year of Light. Find out about…

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WHAT IF: We spent PP money on providing comprehensive music tuition for every student?


I am reading a brilliant and funny book at the moment called What If? by Randall Munroe, the creator of XKCD, in which he answers absurd hypothetical questions with scientific research and calculation. It is an excellent book and I will review it, when finished, for the Science Teaching Library, which I hope to re-reopen this year.

However it got me thinking… “What If” is an excellent question for tackling some of the wild ideas we have in education: e.g. What If we used meditation in schools (to pick up on a discussion going on on Twitter right now). It’s important that we think about and debate these ideas. But the answers are useless if simply based on opinion or bias. They have to be researched and ultimately put to the test.

So I’m going to try something – I’m going to propose an (absurd?) hypothetical question. And I want you to give me some proposals as to how we could answer it.

Here’s the question:
WHAT IF a school used the money allocated to them for Pupil Premium and used it to (help) fund instrumental provision and music tuition for all students in the school?

This question was prompted by this amazing tweet tonight by @headguruteacher.

He suggested PP money could be used to fund this sort of provision.


I’m adding in some suggestions from twitter #EduWhatIf as well as a video to help trigger reasons for doing this intervention over others.


TED-ED Video – How playing an instrument benefits your brain


The (loose) rules are:
* make suggestions in comments or on twitter with #EduWhatIf
* contributions should ideally have some credibility – either from direct experience or having read and referenced research.
* constructive criticism of suggestions proposed (remember this is a hypothetical question).
* we are trying to identify a theoretical outcome that may well be able to be implemented so try to be realistic with your suggestions.

What would the effect be? Would it meet the criteria for appropriate spending of PP money? Issues? Benefits? What do you think would happen?

Next week: Mindfullness 🙂

2014 Highlights and 2015 Hopes

It’s been a funny year. Things at school have been good overall. Our students got good results in the science department. Lots of goodbyes to old colleagues and hello to new. At home, watching the two girls growing up and seeing Phoebe start school after a nice summer. Becki has run the outdoor playgroup with her friend throughout the year. I’ve enjoyed the education conference sessions, ASE, ResearchEd(s), Northern Rocks and meetups such as Laura McInerney’s touchpaper project, York Tweetup and various teachmeets both in and outside my school. So many positive things… and yet…
I am unhappy. I have been all year – struggling to motivate myself, both in the classroom and at school, and at home with my family and jobs I’ve needed to do around the house. I’ve had support, professional, medical and from my family, and it has helped. I am in a much better place at the end of this year than I was at the start. And yet…
I worry about next year: I have big decisions to make that may mean changes for work. At school new schemes of work to build for example A Level Computing. Outside school projects I’ve started that I need to make progress in or complete such as the TeachMyConcept resource with Michael Slavinsky, bathroom at home (boy that needs to be over), projects I want to start or restart, such as the Science Teaching Library book resource and of course the TV and Radio guide….
So perhaps writing this down – actively choosing and reflecting on the good things from last year, and picking my top priorities and hopes for next year – will spur me on to concentrate on the positive elements of my life, both in my career as a teacher and with my wonderful family.  It certainly can’t do any harm.

5 highlights of 2014

1 – School Days
My daughter has started school and she started when she just turned 4, making her one of the youngest children in her class. The school, a small village one where I was lucky enough to do a two week primary placement before I started teacher training, has been wonderful with the head-teacher adopting a flexible attitude to introducing Phoebe to school life. Legally, she doesn’t need to be in fulltime education until she turns 5, and so we asked if she could attend part-time. The answer was a tentative, but reassuring yes, and since then she has been attending mornings, with a couple of full days a week after half term. The communication from the school and Phoebe’s teacher has been first rate, and I am so pleased she has started so well and with such enthusiasm. I commend the school staff for being so accomodating as I am pretty sure this would not happen everywhere (despite it being allowed).

2 – Getting Stuck In
I’d be lying if I said that the odd free ticket to a conference wasn’t part of the incentive to helping out on the door or doing other jobs on the day – my budget doesn’t stretch to 6 conferences a year. But I have to say I’ve really enjoyed being part of the support act to Northern Rocks and ResearchEd. In particular being able to do the programmes for Tom and Helene, knowing that I’m taking a stressful part of the grassroots conference off their hands. ResearchEd – whilst undeniably Tom’s baby – feels part of my achievements over the last 2 years. I organised and hosted the twitter chat based around Ben Goldacre’s education paper that helped kickstart the discussions that led to the conference being developed and I also hosted the original blog until Tom got his website sorted with @Alby’s help. It’s a nice feeling to be a behind the scenes person on such an important movement – going from strength to strength.
It was lovely, also, to meet so many people, both at the REd conferences a nd Northern Rocks. I’ve met people who I like and respect and made a lot of friends. The York REd conference was a particular highlight for me as it brought me back to my first placement school at Huntington, led by the inimitable John Tomsett who is much admired across the education blog and twittersphere.
Talking about getting stuck in, I saw John again when I inadvertantly took part in the York panel for the Royal College of Teaching – I still haven’t blogged about this as I’m waiting for the streamed video to be released. I will be sure to do so.

3. Teaching and Learning
I’m in my 4th year of teaching and I’m loving it. It’s a tough job and I have felt the brunt of it over the last two years due to one thing or another. But I think that being in the classroom helping children develop a love and understanding of science and physics and now computing has definitely been one of the things that has kept me going. It’s a tough decision to leave a well paid job, doing something you like with people you get on well with, and undertake a year and a bit training, in order to start a career again. It’s made tougher, when at the same time, rhetoric from a party who may well win the next election (back in 2010) could put a kybosh on the whole thing (I don’t have a good degree level – there was an element of flunkery during my last year at university that put pay to that). I started teaching at a time of great flux in the political machinations in the education world and following the twists and turns of the output from Ofsted, Ofqual and the DfE (some good, to be applauded; some downright dreadful, to be ridiculed). There are colleagues online who do a fantastic job of keeping these things under check and in perspective and I though I often find myself drawn into the fray, the bottom line is I am here to do a job: to teach students to the best of my ability and help them learn, and grow to be people with an interest in learning more about the world they’re in, whether that be physics, general science, computer programming, music, maths, philosophy, politics etc. I must remember that.

4. Music
I’ve started playing in a band again (though it’s taken a back seat for the winter term). I love playing music, it’s such a release from the trials and tribulations, and it’s a real joy to play with people who can just pick up their instruments and play. I went to school in Greenock, a deprived town, but in the 1990’s the school music scene was amazing. My music teacher Albert Sloan, who was my inspiration to become a teacher, took a thriving orchestra at my school and transformed our school’s music department. We had concerts every year in which the students just learning to play the keyboard took centre stage alongside the orchestra, and windband, and other groups. It was a small school (800) but music was at the heart of it and schools around had the same. Scottish music provision for school age students was nothing short of excellent in the 1990s (I hope it still is).
I may be unlucky, but I have not seen anything like this in the schools I’ve worked at in the last 4 years. There are out of school music groups, and some excellent musicians, but I teach in one of the largest schools in England (2000) and we’ve struggled to put together a orchestra for our school show. This feels wrong to me, but I understand that it’s mainly down to funding across England. Even so, playing music, both at school and in a personal capacity in a band, and with my family will always be a highlight.

5. A new addition
Finding out that I am going to be a father for the 3rd time, has been amazing. Today I saw my new baby wriggling around for the sonographer. Finding out that it might be born on my birthday next July (due date 1 day after) and seeing its strong beating heart was the highlight of the year for me.

Hopes for 2015

1. A happy new year.
It’s been a tough couple of years for me; feeling very low has been a regular occurence but I am glad to say that I feel that I’m getting to grips with my depression. Working through my thoughts and anxieties, finding the positive side to things that happen to me, and prioritising things that are important to me both in work and at home, will be my modus operandi for 2015. I have lots of things to look forward to over the coming year, and important decisions to make; so being positive about them and organising my time to make the most of things is really important. This may mean less time on twitter 🙂

2. Healthy babies
I clearly have something to hope for in July, baby Weatherall III is due on the 16th. We will leave things to chance – as that’s how life works – and not find out too much about the baby. All I shall say is I hope my wife has a comfortable and enjoyable pregnancy, and that the little one is as healthy and happy as possible. I also hope that my big girl continues to thrive at school and enjoys the transition to full time in time for Y1. And I definitely hope that her wonderful little sister continues to be the source of joy that she is to all of us.

3. Practice
My teaching practice needs to improve, I know it. I am reaching that plateau that David Weston so eloquently describes in his lectures on CPD. My motivation to improve is high, but my energy levels have been low. I am going to go back to  school next week having had some rest and with a renewed vigour for improving my practice. I am responsible at school for a trial of peer-support observations that need to be reviewed within the first few weeks in the new term. I am pleased that school have been happy to trial such important changes and to let someone from the grass-roots lead on it. I hope it’s a positive change for CPD for everyone at school. I will be concentrating my efforts on more effective feedback with my students and more effective use of time in and out of the lesson to consolidate learning – no point in doing either of these if it doesn’t benefit the students so my focus will be on impact on all my students – I already collect feedback on my teaching from them, a very useful gauge.

4. Projects
Ahhh. Projects. Those little ideas that form in the back of your mind, that turn into the thing that occupies your every waking moment. I have projects:
some are at home – I have a bathroom to finish, rockery to build;
some are at school – the CPD trial, my classroom walls, the physics corridor, teachmeets, computing schemes of work, etc;
some are for me – writing music, getting a bit fitter, the raspberry pi needs to be played with;
some are just there – concept mapping the entire curriculum!, weekly science TV and Radio guides, the Science Teaching Library book reviews, and more…
I hope I do them 🙂
An addendum to this – I also hope the College of Teaching project continues to pick up steam, I have already a strong interest in this and it has to be a positive change for teaching.

5. Ch..ch..ch..changes.
Next year my life at school is going to change, there’s no two ways about it. Curriculum changes in A Level physics, Computer Science curriculum changes. Lots of decisions to make about what I want from my career as a teacher with an extremely tempting curve ball thrown in last month. I didn’t go for a Head of Physics job at school last year as I didn’t feel ready for it, but the amount of work I am going to be doing preparing for next academic year requires me to step up to the next gear. A role with responsibility for the curriculum and assessment is one I relish as I already have my head firmly stuck into the new curricula for the upcoming years (as well as for the TeachMyConcept project I started last year). It’s vital we are ready for the GCSE and A Level changes, whether I’m (just) a classroom teacher, or someone with more responsibility, I consider it important I’m on top of these changes. Watch this space…

The Longitude Prize 2014

Science Teaching Library

John Harrison - Longitude Prize 1714 Winner John Harrison – Longitude Prize 1714 Winner. (Source: Wikipedia)

It’s not every day I write a post for a specific programme to watch for the Science TV and Radio guide, however as I collated the programmes at the weekend I became intrigued by Horizon on Thursday (22th May) evening which was about a reboot of the Longitude Prize.

The Longitude Prize has been interest of mine ever since I read the brilliant book Longitude by Dava Sobel about the prize and the man who won it, John Harrison. The controversy and the fighting over the right to claim the prize are a fascinating tale of the competitive drive that prizes like this can instil. But the huge advances in scientific knowledge and exploration simply because accurate timekeeping at sea was now possible are not to be taken lightly.

Just one example: Captain James Cook, who is another scientific hero of mine, confirmed Edmund…

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Could we crowd source concept maps for what we teach? #ResearchED #Touchpaper


At ResearchED Birmingham last weekend, Alex Weatherall and I used our presentation to sound out the delegates on an idea that stemmed from our previous discussions on Touchpaper Problem 4: determining the complexity of a concept. Many thanks to everyone who attended and listened to us. Even more thanks to those who have since been in touch with reviews, comments, questions and suggestions.

Physics concept map

I have blogged previously about why a concept map is a useful thing:

  • … it makes you think about the order you do things in as a teacher.
  • … it helps you pitch work at the right level for your students.
  • … you can become more confident in sequencing units of work.
  • … it identifies gaps in your own subject knowledge.
  • … it provides you with a diagnostic for correctly identifying your students’ misconceptions.
  • … it can help you pre-empt difficulties.
  • … it involves identifying threshold…

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