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My thoughts on adapting resources

On Saturday, I gave a talk on minimising teacher workload. As part of this, I briefly mentioned adapting resources & differentiation implemented badly. And I have thoughts. Lots of thoughts. I could have talked about this at *much* greater length but was limited by time.

(If anybody is interested in watching a replay of my talk then it is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFWfjZUkBWA from around 2 hours 17 minutes in).

Primarily, many of my thoughts arose after this twitter poll:

Now, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this poll. But I found the results interesting. I’m going to start by being contrary:

I use the same “resources” (be it powerpoint/booklet/whatever) for a set 1 where I’d expect the students to get grade 8s/9s as I do for a set 4 where I’d expect 3s/4s.

Sounds mad, right? Let me explain why I don’t think it is.

The core knowledge to what we teach a “top” set is identical to what we teach to a “bottom” set (excluding differences in foundation/higher & combined/separate content). The same.

I therefore don’t feel the need to endlessly tweak my resources to fit the group in front of me. The stuff I’m teaching is the same.

Now I don’t quite know how people have interpreted my phrasing in the poll above, but if it’s been interpreted as adapt the resource itself (i.e. powerpoint/booklet) then I think 81% is wayyyy too many adaptations and way too much addition to workload. I’m going to repeat this a million times; but the content we’re teaching is the same. Same kinetic energy equation. Same units. Same knowledge needed. I worry that the feeling of needing to adapt a lesson comes from wanting to “differentiate” the lesson for different groups.

Now if the poll has been interpreted as needing to adapt delivery of the lesson then I think that’s spot on. But I’m worried this is not how it’s been interpreted and teachers feel the need to endlessly tweak a lesson resource over and over again.

What do I mean by adapting delivery? Well I mean that I’d model a *lot* more for a lower prior attaining class. I’d give a lot more worked examples. I would question a lot more and only when I’m absolutely sure that all students have understood what I’m teaching, would I then let them start a task.

Now, I *could* adapt my resources for this. But I don’t. Remember that your lesson resource is not the lesson itself. Your delivery is the lesson. You are the differentiation between classes and indeed between students within a single class.

Now for those of you that use my resources; you’ll know that I have one big task that is ramped in difficulty from basic, medium and hard. These tasks are designed on purpose to allow student progression through them. The basic questions *should* prepare students for the medium ones and, in turn, then medium questions *should* prepare students for the hard ones. (At least if I’ve made them well).

And I guess this is the second thing I want to push back on. Don’t have students doing lots of completely different tasks. It’s hard for your own workload in putting them together & also incredibly difficult to monitor.

Instead, I’m a big believer in “ramping” of difficulty. It:

  • Is easier to manage.
  • Doesn’t set an arbitrary limit of what a student can achieve.

Let’s say I make the decision to give a “bottom” set only the basic questions from one of my sheets as that’s what I think they can achieve. That sets a limit on what they can achieve. They can’t exceed that as that’s all I’ve given.

Instead, by not setting a limit, they can exceed this and move onto the harder questions and achieve at a higher level. This is vital. “Differentiate” up. Not down.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had a lower set outperform a higher set. The ramping of a task allows this and, in my experience, these students *love* getting to the harder questions and feeling like they’re doing really well.

So there we have it. Don’t feel like you need to tweak your resource all the time. But definitely tweak your delivery.

Unnecessary workload begone!

Managing teacher workload

“Let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow”.

I saw that quote recently. And, well, doesn’t that just summarise that workload crisis in teaching?

I’m not going to “sacrifice” myself for my teaching. Being a teacher is a job – a job that I will do my very best to do well at – but still a job. It is not a moral obligation to prioritise your students’ needs over your own.

This blog is on what I think is one of my strengths as a teacher/HoD; managing teacher workload. It hasn’t always been a strength of mine; but I think it is now. If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on this in person then I’m talking at Teachmeet Science Icons in Manchester on Saturday the 26th of February. Free tickets available here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tmscienceicons-2022-tickets-201746668717

Now I made a *lot* of mistakes very early in my teaching career; I marked terrifyingly late into the evenings. I spent most of my weekends planning lessons. I constantly felt like I *could* and even *should* be doing more.

On the face of it; observers would say that my teaching was going swimmingly. But my personal life was suffering. I was miserable. And I was thinking of leaving teaching for something less demanding and draining.

Now, I think many teachers would relate to this. While teacher retainment seems to have improved a little during the pandemic, the picture is still stark. According to a recent NEU survey; one in three teachers plan to quit teaching within five years. Workload is cited as one of the main reasons. Moreover, only 22% of the required numbers of physics teachers were recruited last year. Keeping and recruiting teachers is a problem.

Now I reckon I’ve got a team of fantastic teachers. I want them to remain a part of my department; and for that to happen working in my department must be more attractive than working elsewhere. I think managing their workload is one of the keys to this.

So. What do I do? Well a few things, and in many of them ratio is key. How much benefit am I getting per unit time of teachers work?

Here are a few things I do:

  • Shared resources

Probably not a surprise given that I have a whole site dedicated to shared resources.

But, for real, everybody planning/doing the same things makes absolutely no sense. I was astonished when I started teaching that it was the culture for everybody to plan their own lessons.

Like what? How many physics teachers are there in the country? All doing the same thing? Like 100 000 kinetic energy worksheets? Madness.

This is not good for my personal workload but, primarily, I take the load here. I now reckon that I’m quite good at making resources. And can do it very quickly. I also really really enjoy writing.

When I make something; I fully intend for it to be used a dozen/a hundred times. So I do it well. Even if I spend a long time making the resource, that’s still an exceptional ratio of effort to reward.

Now, as I said, that’s not good for my personal workload but you can:

  1. “Magpie” from elsewhere; i.e. here for physics.
  2. Develop shared planning within your department. I have a teacher that *loves* teaching electricity. Cool! Show us how you do it.

Ideally your HoD would develop a way to do shared planning; but even if not…what’s stopping you from teaming up with a colleague and doing it?

This also extends to pre-planned departmental homeworks (preferably self marking or peer assessed) and tests.

  • Sensible policies

Extensive comment based marking is an example of something that has poor ratio. Get in the bin, then.

I don’t want my teachers spending hours of time marking. It has a small benefit for a very high cost. It also makes teachers miserable. Nobody gets into teaching for the marking. Marking is something that I think should be reserved for summative assessments.

Instead we have a thorough culture of *feedback*. Immediate feedback is preferable so that students can act on it straight away & fix whatever misconception they were happily burrowing away with. Verbal feedback following cold calling. Live written feedback during a task. Whole class feedback following a homework/test.

I’d argue all of these have a greater benefit than extensive comment based marking & have far better ratio.

Another example of a sensible policy would be for schools to have centralised detentions. Each teacher setting & administering their own detentions? No! Terrible ratio. Also has the effect of punishing the teacher as well as the student; and makes it less likely for a teacher to set one in the first place.

Centralise them & your ratio goes up a hundred fold.

  • Flag deadlines early

During the TAG apocalypse last summer, my department had an awfully large amount of tasks to do. Like, ridiculously large. Good lord I hope it never happens again.

But. We got through it. And, in part, that was down to flagging deadlines extremely early so staff could manage their own personal workloads & avoid any bottlenecks down the road.

Very genuinely, I sat down during that summer term and wrote down every departmental deadline for the next couple of months. I explained to everyone that it’d be a rough term, but we’d get through this by looking at pinch points in advance. In the end it was okay.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when a deadline is chucked onto me last minute. You want this doing by the end of the day. Like this current day? Cool, I’m teaching 8 periods and taking a lunchtime club but I’m definitely keen to stay an hour or two longer in the evening to get this last minute task done. Obviously sometimes there are unavoidable emergencies, but this isn’t ideal.

  • Think about “ratio” of tasks

Now, to extend the idea of ratio a little more why not audit all of the tasks that you do on a daily basis and review whether they’re time efficient?

Let me give one example; I used to spend over 20/30 minutes a day printing as a trainee/NQT. That’s now zero as I use pre planned booklets. Bam. Better ratio. Has other benefits too, like it being easier for students to know what to catch up on.

What tasks do you do with poor ratio? What can you do that’s more efficient?

  • The 80/20 rule

This is an idea that I borrowed from a Ruth Ashbee blog that I first read a few years ago:

https://www.ruth-ashbee.com/post/teachers-time-is-our-most-precious-resource

In the link above, Ruth describes how spending 20% of the time on a task with the result of getting to 80% of the quality that’d you’d achieve by spending 5 times more time.

I’m going to be honest; my booklets are an example of this. I wrote each of my GCSE/A level booklets in a day or two. They are absolutely not perfect. They are a little rough around the edges. I *could* have spent more time on them; but then they wouldn’t have been completed. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good etc. etc.

Now, I can and do spend time refining them & making them better over time but getting them done was the most important initial step.

Extend that principle further to many less urgent tasks. Get them done quickly & think nothing more about them. If they don’t meet the quality required then revisit the task. This rarely happens.

  • Culture

And finally consider the culture of your department. Is there presenteeism? Do staff feel allowed to leave school site at the bell?

My school has a wonderful policy here than originated during the pandemic. As soon as you’ve finished your last commitment of the day; go home. This was originally to reduce chances of catching COVID, but the policy has persisted.

The first few weeks of this policy being implemented, my staff felt uneasy about doing this. To be honest, not many did. *But*, that changed when I started going home at 2/2:30pm. That set the tone that there really was no presenteeism & frankly, if I did it why couldn’t they.

Hopefully some of those ideas are useful; do come listen to me talk about this in more depth in Manchester at the Teachmeet Science Icons!

KS3 project

TLDR: I’m writing a KS3 science workbook. It’ll be freely electronically available and funded by buymeacoffee donations. A printed version will also be available for purchase on amazon.

Buy Me A Coffee

Apart from going over proofs, my KS4 science equations book with Collins is now finished.

Apparently I get twitchy without a project to work on, so I’ve turned my eye to resourcing KS3 science. KS3 science doesn’t get as much love as it should, it’s often an afterthought and is (generally) not as well resourced as KS4/5 physics.

So I’m going to make a thing to try and help with that.

It’ll consist of the core notes/knowledge that students need to know, as well as a large amount of SLOP that is ramped in difficulty. It’ll provide coverage of the KS3 national curriculum (which I know is vague) across biology, chemistry and physics. It’ll cover everything that I *think* should be in a good KS3 curriculum, and ideally build towards a KS4 course in a really strong way.

I reckon that I can spend a few hours on this a week, and I’ll upload individual sheets on a new “KS3 project” tab on the site as I go.

They’ll be editable. And free. And hopefully useful to use in class/as homeworks…and god forbid even as remote work if we have to go that way again. Optimistically, it’ll be finished by this September. More realistically, it’ll be finished by September 2022. When I’ve finished the whole thing, it’ll be available to purchase on amazon (in case you want class sets etc.) but the electronic copy will always remain free. I’ll even write answers, how about that? (although they’ll only be in the printed book…sorry)

So here’s what I need from you all; I’ve written a sample sheet for biology, chemistry and physics…and I’d like feedback. Would you use this in class? Would this be useful to you? Is there anything that can be improved? Any difficulties that I haven’t thought of? I’m not doing this with a publisher so am crowd-sourcing expertise. I’m hopeful that it’ll turn into something great.

The samples are downloadable below:

Fanks in advance 😘

Checking for understanding while teaching remotely

The teaching profession has done an incredible job of adapting to new & challenging conditions. Overnight, we’ve all upped sticks and gone to remote teaching again (some more notice would’ve been nice though, Gavin…).

I find myself teaching live for the first time and the biggest challenge has, without a doubt, been learning how to check students’ understanding. In “normal” lessons this is a breeze, and I employ a variety of techniques:

  • Cold calling.
  • Choral response.
  • Multiple choice questions where students put up a number of fingers according to the choice they’ve made.
  • Circulating around the classroom and live marking students’ work.

And other teachers have effective mini whiteboard routines etc. Now, usually I have a pretty good feel about where the class are at and I can use this to inform my future planning.

Have they smashed the lesson and understood? Great! I can move on.

Have they really struggled and need some consolidation? Okay, I better look at whether I can explain something another way and improve the understanding of the class.

This is a problem with remote learning; it’s nowhere as easy for me to have an idea where my class are at. I’m still tinkering with my practice, and I’m sure this is nowhere near “best” practice yet but thought I’d share a timeline of how I’ve been checking for student understanding (starting from what I did first, to what I’m doing now):

  1. Cold calling

Initially I stick to what I knew well. Cold calling. This is *very* different to doing live in a lesson though. I’m missing all of the non-verbal cues from the students that show me how confident (or not) they are feeling. In a regular lesson, I tend to cold call when I think the levels of understanding in the room are good.

Remotely, it worked *okay* but completely ruined the pace of the lesson. The extra few seconds in un-muting your microphone and getting the answer out really slowed things down. It also feels more intrusive than during a regular lesson.

So I quickly canned cold calling and looked for other techniques.

2. Private message in the chat

Now I teach on zoom, and there’s an option for students to send me a private message in the chat. This is great, as I can ask a question and get the answer from the whole class very quickly. The fact it’s private is necessary, otherwise students will just copy each others answers….

I’m not sure if Microsoft Teams has this functionality but if it does, it’s very powerful. I use the private chat function a lot.

It also offers a brilliant opportunity for praise (which is highly motivating for the students). I will often be saying things like “Excellent answer for Q2, John. Keep it up!” and students like that they can see me looking at their work and offering immediate feedback. If I need to correct a student then I can do so via private message to them and offer support in that way.

Now this is great, but unless I download the chat then there’s no permanence here and I struggle to remember e.g. “oh Emily struggled with this type of question last time, I should make sure that she’s okay with this task”. So I also tried…

3. Google form that goes alongside the lesson

My vision here was to give the chat answers some “permanence” and so I tried a google form (downloadable below) that went along with the lesson. There were sections for do now answers, a couple of points where I’d pause to check for understanding and sections for students to upload images of their work (a lot of physics I’d prefer for them to do on paper, calculations are easier by hand!).

Time period and frequency – Make a copy (google.com)

This, for me, took away the main pro of responding as a private message in the chat though: the immediacy of answers & ability to give feedback/praise. Offering feedback after the lesson is less powerful. Misconceptions may have arisen and I wouldn’t have realised. I’d rather know *while* I’m in the middle of a lesson.

It’s a shame that google don’t allow you to view student’s answers live (before they have submitted the form). I do think that this would work well for asynchronous lessons, though.

I’ve therefore not done this since and tend to use google forms as a plenary/homework. I highly recommend kuizical.com for automatically generating google forms. I’ve made a video on how to do this here:

4. Thumbs up/down

A simple way for me to assess how happy students are is for them to give me a thumbs up/down. I do this quite regularly and re-explain a concept if I get too many thumbs down. In theory, you could get those who put their thumbs down into a breakout room while the others get on with a task, but I’ve yet to try this.

So what do I do now and what am I going to try in the future?

I’ve settled (for now) on an approach that looks like this:

  1. Do now and questions throughout the lesson answered as private messages in the chat. This gives me the ability to offer immediate feedback and encouragement.
  2. Teacher exposition for 20/30 minutes, questioning via chat throughout. I’m currently using my regular powerpoints for this, and using a graphics tablet to annotate over them. Top tip: press W for whiteboard in powerpoint!
  3. Students complete independent work for 20/30 minutes, and they attach a photo of their work through google forms. I’m not necessarily going to mark this photo, but I am going to check for usual prompts…”show your working”….”UNITS!!!!” etc. etc.
  4. This google form also contains a self-marking plenary/homework. Use this to assess effectiveness of lesson and re-teach content if necessary.

In the future, I’m keen to also try out whiteboard.fi for sketches/diagrams/check students’ working etc.

Now I’m still early in this process but have been finding that this has been quite successful. We’re all working this out together though, so I’m keen to know what everybody else is doing! How do you check for student understanding?

The role of declarative knowledge in problem solving

“Do you want a doctor who just knows what they have been told by others? I want a problem solver, someone who can make observations and inferences.”

The above quote is what inspired this blog and, really, haven’t we heard similar things to this so many times before? I’ve lost track of how many times someone has dismissed memorisation of facts & instead prioritised problem solving.

I should say that I have no issue with an end goal of increasing student’s fluency at problem solving, I think it’s an admirable goal.

The trouble is, though, that often the first step in complex problem solving is to make sure the students have very solid declarative (factual) knowledge. Problem solving often relies on the application of multiple combinations of declarative, conditional & procedural knowledge. If you’re missing one of these components, then you won’t know how solve the problem. Even worse, you might not even know how to look up how to solve the problem.

To demonstrate this point, I’m going to take an example physics question from a past PAT paper. These papers are challenging and involve a lot of….complex problem solving.

Apologies, as the description will be physics heavy…but I’ll highlight the necessary bits of knowledge needed to answer it successfully. The question is:

An electron gun in a cathode ray tube accelerates an electron with mass m and charge −e across a potential difference of 50 V and directs it horizontally towards a fluorescent screen 0.4 m away. How far does the electron fall during its journey to the screen? Take m ≈ 10−30 kg and e ≈ 1.6 × 10−19 C.

Declarative knowledge 1: To know how far the electron falls, we need to know how long its journey is (time before it hits the screen).

Declarative knowledge 2: If we know the time of the electron’s journey, we can then use an equation of motion to solve for how far the electron falls. We do not yet have enough variables to calculate this, we need more.

Declarative knowledge 3: If you accelerate an electron across a potential difference of 50 V, it will end up with a kinetic energy of 50 eV.

Declarative knowledge 4: The equation for kinetic energy is Ek=0.5mv2.

Declarative knowledge 5: We need to convert the kinetic energy of the electron to Joules. To do this, we need to multiply by 1.6 × 10−19.

Conditional/procedural knowledge 1: To get the horizontal velocity of the electron, we need to rearrange the kinetic energy equation.

Declarative knowledge 6: The equation for speed is v = s/t.

Conditional/procedural knowledge 2: We can rearrange this equation to give t=s/v. We now have the time of the electron’s journey.

Declarative knowledge 7: Acceleration due to gravity is 9.81 m/s2.

Declarative knowledge 8: Initial vertical velocity of the electron is 0 m/s.

Conditional/procedural knowledge 3: Now that we have these variables, we can solve the equation of motion for how far the electron falls in that time.

Now, I make that at least eight separate facts that a student would have to have committed to memory before they can successfully answer this question. Probably more.

Some of these facts you could easily look up, for example the equation for kinetic energy. But the trouble is that, if there were too many gaps in knowledge, the student would have absolutely no idea in how to start this problem. If they knew *none* of the declarative information, how would they look this up? They wouldn’t know that this would involve multiple equations; including kinetic energy, speed & an equation of motion.

Google wouldn’t be able to tell them how to answer this (unless they literally googled the question and found a model solution…but then that wouldn’t really aid understanding…).

So my point is, yes…problem solving is an admirable aim. But don’t neglect the role of declarative factual recall in this. In fact, it’s probably the most important aspect to problem solving.

(If you’re interested…my model solution is below)

Preparing students for Oxbridge assessments

Whenever I’m thinking of writing a blog, I always think whether or not there is already something similar posted. If there is, I probably don’t write one…but this is a topic where I’ve really not seen anything out there.

I’m moving to a new school in September, and a big part of my role is going to be getting students through the Oxbridge application process. Now, this is not something I’ve done before & (probably because of this) I was a bit nervous about taking this on.

I started thinking about this process in June, when I posted the below tweet. There are a lot of excellent replies to this (thanks Twitter!) & if you’re interested in the topic of this blog then I’d recommend reading through the replies.

The main summary of the replies seemed to be:

  • Practise a lot of past papers.
  • Practise similar questions in books (e.g. Professor Povey’s perplexing problems).
  • Mathematical fluency and speed in answering questions are vital.

Now I started by having a look at past PAT/ENGAA/NSAA assessments; and the first difficulty became clear. The assessments are *very* different. PAT seems more mathematical in ways (much more calculus/geometric series/binomial expansion/logs etc), while the Cambridge entrance exams seem more physics-based (and they don’t allow calculators, so students have to be quick of thought while doing calculations).

I was initially concerned about teaching three different syllabi. The PAT syllabus is brief, vague and not very detailed. Whereas (for example) the ENGAA syllabus is very detailed & it’d be impossible to cover fully in the 7 weeks from September to the assessment date.

As I’ll be preparing one group of students, I decided to look at detail at the past papers of each assessment and try to draw together some common “themes” that’d be useful to students sitting any of the exams. I did this methodically by allocating questions into a theme/area and then looked at which topics came up most frequently. This is shown in the picture below for PAT (and in case it’s of use, there’s also a downloadable spreadsheet that includes PAT, ENGAA & NSAA). Please note that this is not perfect as I did this quickly, and some questions didn’t neatly fit into my topics (and as such got left out). I have also saved the 2019 PAT paper, to keep the possibility of a “mock” open.

Now as can be seen above (and indeed for ENGAA & NSAA), the papers are quite mechanics heavy. This is presumably because the papers aim to assess both physics & mathematical ability and this topic neatly sits within both camps. I also noted that electricity and waves featured quite heavily (as well as certain areas of mathematics). From this, I drew up a “teaching rota” to help prepare students as best as possible (I will have these students for one hour each week to prepare for this). This rota goes as follow:

  • Week 1 – Mechanics
  • Week 2 – Electricity
  • Week 3 – Area/volume of shapes
  • Week 4 – Waves
  • Week 5 – Differentiation/Integration/Series
  • Week 6 – Gas laws & nuclear physics
  • Week 7 – General maths (logs, binomial, trig).

If I’d just given students past papers to work through, then I imagine this would have been quite intimidating for some students (as various questions have a very high level of challenge & across a large array of topics). Instead, my plan (similar to my KS4 resources) is to select questions from each area from PAT/ENGAA/NSAA papers and “ramp” the questions in order of difficulty.

Ramping allows for the early questions to be accessible & for students to build confidence (and fits in neatly with one of Rosenshine’s principles – obtain a high success rate). Hopefully the early questions “scaffold” students into the harder questions & they can work towards mastery of that topic/area. Confidence is a crucial factor here, as the papers are hard. Really hard. While I’ll be emphasising the importance of resilience, it’d be quite easy to become disheartened by sitting full papers. Hopefully breaking the papers down in this way will help.

I’ve shared the first example (week 1 – mechanics) of the work that I’ve put together for the students. Hopefully this is helpful. Over time, I’ll add an “Oxbridge” page to the site & collate these resources in one place.

Once the assessment date has passed, I’ll have a think about how best to prepare students for interview. I’d be interested in thoughts on this.

Magnetism lessons

My last post “how I structure a lesson” (linked below) got a fair amount of attention & quite a few people wanting to see some more examples of lessons.

As I said on Twitter, I was going to have a trial run to see how time efficient it was for me to make my existing lessons shareable. I’ve now done this for all (AQA) magnetism lessons. Hopefully you can see how my lesson structure is quite consistent. Each lesson is fully resourced with powerpoints & tasks (including my regular ramped worksheets). These are linked to below:

Now, I don’t know if I’m going to share lessons for more topics. I’m still on the fence. This didn’t take me a massive amount of time (as it was only tweaking existing lessons), but I usually (selfishly) only share things that I make for my own teaching practice. Tweaking lessons to make shareable doesn’t necessarily fit this format, but I might do more if I have some spare time here and there. If you want to encourage me along the way then there’s always the motivating effect of a coffee. 😜

Buy Me A Coffee

Thanks to Hollie Ford (@HFord_SciEd) for allowing me to use her excellently scaffolded extended response questions (linked in tweet below). Traditionally, scaffolding these questions is something that I’ve not been excellent at in my practice & I’ve found that these really help.

How I structure a lesson

*Disclaimer*, this powerpoint template is the work of my brilliant MAT. This is a blog about how I use it.

I shared a teaser of what a lesson in my classroom looks like earlier today. I thought it’d be a good chance to share one example lesson & talk through how I structure it. This example lesson is downloadable below:

Now, the first slide on this powerpoint (shown below) is for staff. It shows the spec, rough sequence of lessons as well as any prior knowledge that we should be expecting & what comes next. 

The next slide is the “do now” for the students & is built very heavily around retrieval. Students will complete questions on what they covered last lesson, last term & last year (as well as a much more challenging stretch & challenge question). I’ve left this blank in the downloadable version, but populated it below with what I’d add as the questions. 

We all know the “forgetting curve” and I’ve found that organising the do now in this way maximises the amount that the students remember. Also note how I’ve managed to directly relate Q5 & 6 in the “last year” section to the lesson. This will help draw out schema connections for students & link topics together.

After the “do now” comes the teacher exposition part of my lesson (which is teacher led & called the “I do” section). Here, I like to keep the slide uncluttered & basic. It pretty much only contains the “core” knowledge that I *need* students to learn. I add extra detail & hinterland verbally. Note that my routines are also pretty explicit. Anything that is in a red box, I expect students to write down. I usually let them do this in silence, if any finish then they answer the “stretch” question. I then require the students attention & add detail to these notes verbally (while questioning to check for understanding).

There are then usually about two/three similar slides, then if we do something together as a class then we move to the “we do” section of the lesson. One example is below where I’m getting students to stick in & label the diagram (the labels of strongest/weakest field are on an animation and come up later). Here, I will be modelling where the field lines will be strongest (again, questioning to check for understanding). There are stretch tasks for any students that finish & these are also discussed verbally.

From here, I then move into the “you do” part of the lesson which is usually one of my ramped worksheets.

If you follow my work closely then you’ll know that I’m a big believer in deliberate practice & SLOP. My tasks have a *lot* of questions & I wouldn’t have it any other way. To read more about *how* I write a task like this then I wrote about this recently here:

During the task, I will be circulating around the class, live marking & addressing any misconceptions. At the end of the task, I share the answers & students will self assess any questions that I haven’t gotten around to marking.

Following this, I then enter the “test” phase of the lesson which I brand “struggle time”. I emphasise that it’s supposed to be hard & that it’s important to show resilience during this time. This section of the lesson is in complete silence, completely independent & I do not help. How well the students do on the exam question informs me with how successful the lesson has been.

Students self-assess their own answers & I flick through their books at the end of the lesson. If the they have “bombed” struggle time then I will re-teach and review next lesson. If they’ve smashed it, then I move on.

I’m *considering* sharing some more lessons like this, time permitting. Though if it takes a while, then I probably won’t get around to it. In the meantime, I thought it’d be useful to talk about how I construct a lesson. Hopefully you found it useful!

Physics spec comparison

This might be a thing that already exists. I haven’t seen it, though, so wanted to put something together.

Next year, I’m swapping from AQA to Edexcel IGCSE. Naturally, I’m keen to really dig down & understand the differences between the specs.

In the images below (also downloadable in an Excel spreadsheet), I’ve tried to classify what’s on the AQA and Edexcel IGCSE specs. Green means it’s on the spec. Dark green is HT only. Orange is separate only & red means it doesn’t feature. It’ll be missing some of the subtlety (i.e. how much depth it goes into) but is hopefully useful as a rough guide. I’ve organised it under the names of the AQA topics (as it’s the most widely used exam board).

Because I was interested in what the difference between Edexcel IGCSE and regular Edexcel was, I also put this on there.

Now, I’m early in my thought process with looking at a comparison of these specs. I have a couple of conclusions so far, though:

  • Amount of content in each spec seems roughly similar (although Edexcel IGCSE spec does seem to have the least content). 
  • AQA and Edexcel content is *very* similar. My existing AQA booklets would be largely suitable to use for Edexcel (with small tweaks). 
  • Edexcel IGCSE is the only combined spec here with any space on it. I like teaching space. That’s good. 

And my biggest conclusion so far:

  • LOOK AT THE AMOUNT OF SEPARATE ONLY CONTENT. LIKE. THERE’S LOADS OF IT. 

I get that a lot of schools/departments skim off their HPA students & kind of do an accelerated separate only course. I do. But I also think it’s unreasonable that extra time on the timetable isn’t given for this (in many cases). You don’t get an extra GCSE for no extra work. I feel for LPA students who aren’t given the chance to study lots of interesting topics just because we can’t teach the content in the allocated time (and *especially* in a 2 year KS4).

If someone feels like adding to the spreadsheet with other specs like OCR then that’d be welcome. As I said a week or so ago, I have some vague plans in the future to make this site a little more exam board agnostic. I have a complete set of KS4 & KS5 AQA resources but will slowly add some worksheets/resources on things that aren’t on the AQA specs.

Sequencing…of a task

Alright, this has been on my “to write” list for a long time, but I’ve never gotten round to it (until now).

In recent times, there have been many great blogs about sequencing a curriculum (many specifically to do with science). I don’t think I have much to add to that conversation, but what I’ve not read *that* much on is how to sequence a task. It’s something I spend a vast amount of time thinking about (in all likelihood far too long) and think it’s really vital for student progression within the course of a lesson/curriculum.

Now, I aim for students to achieve two things during the course of one of my tasks:

  1. To obtain a high success rate. We don’t want students practising errors and misconceptions. We don’t want students to get disheartened by unsuccessful practice.
  2. To carry out a vast amount of independent practice. SLOP innit.

And, yes, those are two of Rosenshine’s principles of instruction. Now, achieving a high success rate can be tricky & should entail modelling of *how* to achieve this beforehand. However, once we’ve modelled this how else can we achieve this?

For those of you who regularly use my resources, you’ll know that I “ramp” them (similar to how exam papers are “ramped”). Basic. Medium. Hard. Now, largely these labels don’t matter. They could be anything, or they could not be there at all…it doesn’t make a difference.

The labels are largely there for me & to highlight to students their own progression. I don’t “allocate” students a level, I let them decide for themselves where they want to start. However, I circulate around the classroom while students are undertaking the task (live marking and monitoring success rate).

If a student misjudges and starts at a level of difficulty that is too simple then I nudge them forwards. If the selection level is too challenging then I gently persuade them to scale the challenge back. High success rate (in theory) achieved.

Now on to *how* I ramp/sequence each individual resource/task. The “basic” section of one of my tasks is where I make sure that the core declarative facts are practised and memorised. Let’s take a look at an example task (one of my favourites on GPE and KE conversion).

During the basic section, I *really* *really* want the students to have a qualitative understanding that the faster something goes, the more kinetic energy it has. It is essential that they know the higher something is, the more gravitational potential energy it has. And that when something is dropped the gravitational potential energy store is transferred to the kinetic energy store. I also want some basic quantitative examples to be introduced (in hindsight I probably wouldn’t put a unit conversion in this section).

The medium questions begin to scaffold some harder examples. Inside of just saying “a tennis ball of mass 50g is hit directly up in the air at a velocity of 25m/s. What is the maximum height it reaches?”, I guide the students through step by step.

This then culminates in the scaffolding being removed in the harder questions, and extra complexities of both unit conversion and standard form being introduced. The medium questions scaffold students towards this additional level of difficulty and (hopefully) will keep the success rate high while having some *real* challenge.

So in summary my sequencing goes like this:

  1. Consolidate core declarative knowledge.
  2. Scaffold more challenging questions.
  3. Remove scaffolding and add more complexity.

Let’s now look at a second example (force on a current carrying wire). In this example I do a better job of highlighting to the students *why* each section is more challenging than the last.

In the basic questions the core pieces of declarative knowledge that I’m prioritising are the units, symbols and equation itself.

Moving on from this the task introduces the complexity of rearranging and then, finally, introduces unit conversions (on top of rearranging) and ends with a multi-step calculation from an A level paper. What I’ve not done here, is a great job of scaffolding the tricky multi-step questions & this could certainly be an area for improvement.

Now after students have finished a task, I tend to finish the lesson on a formal exam question (in exam type conditions). This will directly draw on what they’ve been covering in the lesson (sometimes with some retrieval parts thrown in). I label this as “struggle time” and emphasise that it’s supposed to be difficult, that this is non-judgemental, and that it’s important to be resilient while attempting it. This gives them vital exam practise (and confidence) and also allows me to assess the effectiveness of the lesson. If they’ve smashed it, then next lesson I move on. If not I re-teach, re-model and have another go.

Anyway, this is just something I’m a big fan of. Running tasks this way & I’ve found that my students really appreciate the consistent nature of them. It’s also my take on “differentiation”; you won’t catch me multiplying my workload & giving out many different versions of a worksheet. That’s (in most cases) a massive waste of time & incredibly challenging to successfully implement.