Behaviour – beyond compliance – A personal perspective


There are a lot of behaviour gurus out there, some offering genuinely good advice and others with very slick and entertaining stage shows that lack any real substance.

These are some that I have found useful

The first person who ever seemed to give me stuff that worked was Bill Rogers the ever reliable Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher has a great summary blog here

Tom Bennett @tombennett71 at the TES. Here

Sarah Findlater @Msfindlater has got some useful links on her excellent Pinterest account here

Ross McGill @teachertoolkit has some useful stuff as always including the 5 minute behaviour plan available here

Sue Cowley @Sue_Cowley talks a lot of sense and you will find her website here

This is a personal account of what I have found works for me.

I feel immensely privileged that within my various roles I still teach regularly, observed by others, and can be in a failing inner city comprehensive one day and a top performing independent school the next. We have to take our students on a journey they may be reluctant to go on, armed with only the force of our personality – That is a serious challenge! I have taught in some of the toughest schools on the planet, sometimes successfully, at other times failing miserably. Failure is always a learning experience and my last nine years of teaching as an AST in challenging schools was filled with these. But there are also those days where you walk out of the classroom buzzing, knowing why you are a teacher; a feeling you can’t explain to those who have never felt it – those who often decide educational policy!

Turning around failing schools is not rocket science, it’s very hard work. You need to change an embedded culture of anti learning.

One model is to follow the way that the New York Subway System was reclaimed in the 1980s – identifying the ‘broken window syndrome; where if one window is broken and not fixed then all the windows would be subsequently broken. The subway carriages were covered in graffiti, a clear indication of lawlessness and this was the first priority to fix.


1980s Grafitti

The strategy was interesting: they found that the graffiti artists/vandals (use whichever fits your viewpoint) would take 3 days. The first day they would paint the carriages white then build up their artwork over the next 2 days. They were not prevented from doing this, instead as soon as they had finished the work it was painted over, thus demoralising them. They were not preventing them from wrongdoing, they were preventing them from benefitting from wrongdoing. No car covered in graffiti was allowed back into service.

Another example was fare dodging which was endemic: when others were clearly getting away without paying the temptation was to do it yourself. A very visible system of punishment was created with fare dodgers daisy chained together on the platform and processed in a bus parked outside the station.
No windows left broken; rules that are enforced clearly and consistently undeniably work and can lead to compliance and hence control is regained.

Is it simply compliance we want in the classroom though?

It is possible to make a dog come towards you by offering a treat and move away from him by kicking it, what is much harder is to get the dog to obey you without these extrinsic drivers. Reward and threat can give us the behaviour we want to see, but is this enough? I want my students to behave because they understand that it is the right thing to do, not from a fear of the consequences or a rote response. In terms of motivation this is an interesting video by Dan Pink

I am sure I am not alone in admitting that I am often probably the most disruptive influence in my classroom. When they are all quietly getting on with work I get bored. I hated teaching in a school where the students worked in silence. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams and fears, what motivated them. I teach young people first and the subject second and find that showing a genuine interest in them pays dividends in their behaviour and performance. By building relationships, I could use the most powerful weapon of all – disappointment. We reflect anger but disappointment is crushing (I can still remember the sad look on my much loved Biology teacher Mr Woodward’s face when I hadn’t done my homework!) I hope I have been a good role model by showing those with challenging home lives how to build genuine caring relationships.

The teachers who influenced me most and had a lasting impact on my life were not the most efficient ones, they were the ones with a passion who were not afraid to show their humanity.

We can create systems that force compliance. We can make students stand up as we enter the room to ‘show respect’. These systems of rules tend to have the opposite effect on me personally and bring out my subversive side, honed in my own traditional grammar school education that bored me to distraction. I was very successful at decoding exam papers and that was all that was required to be ‘successful’ with very little effort nor in depth thinking taking place (hence the shallow person I am today!)

Reactance - What would you do when faced with this photo?

Why the compulsion to do what it tells us not to?

We suffer from reactance which often compels us to break rules because we have lost the right to choose.

an interesting study here suggests that raising the drinking age actually caused higher levels of underage drinking


Reactance often causes us to act irrationally, particularly in those ‘difficult’ teenage years where our reaction to the nagging of our parents rarely was the way they intended, nor what was best for us. Yet somehow we expect our young charges to take notice of us! Some interesting research on reactance is here


Evidently we need to make our rules purposeful, but rather than set rules I negotiate inviolable rights

The right to be safe – mentally and physically
The right to learn
The right to be treated with respect

These are then protected with rules
We have the right to be safe so I will not endanger others
We have the right to learn so I will not interfere with the learning of others
We have the right to be treated with respect so I will respect others

This is pretty much a catch all – you will only fall out with me if you break any of these 3 rules, but you will always fall out with me if you do.

This also allows us to deal with the students talking when we are by challenging them with “if you were talking to me and I started talking to someone else, would I be treating you with respect?” They can’t answer ‘yes’, so you point out they have broken the rules and hence have lost the right to …. sit there/leave the lesson on time/other benefit. As opposed to getting into the argument ‘ I was talking about the work ….’

I never talk about work in my lessons, always learning. I’m not impressed with pages of notes that have no meaning to the student or the copied and pasted stuff they seem to consider as good enough.
This is a huge generalisation of a strategy I use for dealing with classes to manage them effectively without simply resorting to compliance.

Starting Lessons

As the students come in I smile at them firing up their mirror neurones

Using brain imaging, scientists have explored the areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile. Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insula cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in an action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling. Does this simulation or reenactment help us to understand what another person is feeling? Full article here

Similarly if you frown at your class you will get them mirroring unhappiness back at you – that doesn’t seem worth it to me!

I now attempt to analyse my class to identify and work with any threats, using a not very scientific version of Mclellands Theory of needs – summary here . This is a very imprecise technique but it seems to work for me. It is very easy to label students and then use confirmation bias to see what you expect to see, so please use with caution and forgive me for gross generalisations.

We have three basic needs according to Mclelland. The need to achieve, affiliate with others and to have some power. I’m looking for the individuals who have a major need for power. I watch their body language as they enter the room: some will be making themselves small, these are unlikely to be threats. Others will have wide open stances and hold eye contact for a little longer than the rest, it is within this group that there is likely to be the possible threats.

A great video that can help change lives is Amy Cuddy

Achievers have a key driver of being successful. I divide them into two broad categories:

Quiet achievers : groups of girls who tend to sit near the front and never say anything. The ones I used to feel guilty about for never giving them enough attention or knowing anything about them when parents evening came (and their parents always came!) Individual boys who often would be sneered at by the others for the crime of trying hard. These types are not threats, but are often very needy and can dislike independent learning tasks.

Noisy achievers: spotted as soon as the first question is asked as they shout out or wave frantically at you. These can be the most annoying kids on the planet, often the offspring of the most annoying parents on the planet. These can destroy your lessons by dominating questioning. They are often deeply unpopular with their classmates but are completely unaware of this. Using ‘pose pause pounce bounce’ outlined by @teachertoolkit here and Dylan Wiliam below. I target them first and regularly come back to them.



Affiliates: By far the largest group, these may well be wearing the regulation Superdry/Hollister/Nike/Armani (delete as appropriate to the socioeconomic status of your school!) or the slight defiance to school uniform short fat tie etc. The haircut will also conform to the unofficial (hence far more likely to be adhered to) regulation norm. Being part of the group is far more important than being successful and if you have an embedded anti-learning, or that which I find worse, apathetic culture, then you have your work cut out. I remember as a clueless NQT admonishing the whole class with ‘if you carry on like this you will all fail!’ Thus bonding them together to fail as one with all the nonsensical rationale that only teenagers can muster.

Power People: This group hold status as the most important driver. These have the potential to be a threat, either in terms of behaviour or in turning the class against me or my teaching methods. If they are a personal power person they tend just to want to fight and have little influence on the others. Group power people have the potential to lead the affiliates and hence every lesson can turn into a battle over the allegiance of the affiliates.

Male power people: tend to be alpha males and will enter your room noisily. Falling out with males rarely is a long term issue and tends not to extend to their friends who can be marvellously disloyal.

Female power people: tend to be those that are the most extreme in dress – the brightest orange/shortest skirt/most makeup/biggest hair/other extreme feature! However, it is the number of social interactions which really hold the key to their power. Falling out with these can create an enemy for life and one with a hugely loyal army who also hate you unreservedly! Sometimes there is little you can do apart from damage limitation and wait for them to leave!

How to deal effectively with these power people in the longer-term, I’ll leave for another blog. However if their status depends entirely on how well they perform in your classroom and they are not naturally gifted at your subject then you will tend to suffer.

By being aware and dealing with these different drivers we can create a classroom climate where the needs of the individual students are being met. We can then go beyond compliance towards a self – regulated class.






10 cool ideas for teaching reflection of light

Different approaches for teaching the reflection of light -Specular vs diffuse Reflection

These ideas are from the Institute of Physics 2014 PIPER conference check out the twitter conversations on #PIPER14. These ideas are stolen from a workshop that combined Institute of Physics TLCs (Teaching and Learning Coaches) and PNCs (Physics Network Coordinators)

When I was teaching I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading this, but please do as it has some great ideas in it.


Easy to teach right?

The only diagrams you need are the ones below


However, can your students answer these questions?

If you shine a laser onto the ceiling everyone in the room can see it – why? (diffuse reflection)
If you shine the laser onto a mirror so it reflects onto the ceiling will you be able to see the beam on the mirror? (No!)
What about shining a laser onto a TV screen, tablet, phone, projector screen. Will the intensity you see the reflection vary depending on the angle?

If you shine a laser onto the image produced by a mirage creator or the horrendously misnamed science museums hologram creator, what would you see?




(This blew my mind! The spot of the laser illuminates the image of the pig! )


Prelude to the lesson

A fun and engaging activity not so much for improving their physics, but I like them to have something to take home that shows how physics is cool.

Print out or have students draw two stars, one inside the other - There is a worksheet here but please draw attention to the horrific laser eyes ray diagram !!

The setup is as shown below or simply have them hold the mirror up above their eyes



What else do we need to know before we teach this?

Light travels in straight lines – what’s the evidence?

Pinhole cameras – lots of fun but you must decide what learning takes place . These are great for ‘What happens if…? ‘ type questions.

What might happen if:

The pinhole becomes bigger/smaller/multiple …
The camera becomes shorter/longer/wider …
The image is nearer/further/bigger/smaller ……

Let them loose to come up with ideas and explore!

23 Pinhole cameras to build yourself here

Shadow puppets

A nice one to do with a cross curricular project with art where they can make shadow puppets or explore reflection of light with colours.

What might happen if …..

The puppet is moved closer to /further from the light source/the screen

alternatively learn some of these



Laws of reflection

A video to start with can be this kitten. What may it be noticing about the laws of reflection?



An interesting one is to look at the front facing camera of a phone which laterally inverts the image while you set it up. This enables you to turn the phone the same way you would a mirror. The image itself when taken is the right way round – hence it looks weird! get them to write selfie on a post-it note and stick it on their forehead. It will look laterally inverted when they look at the phone, but when they take the picture it is the right way round. Get them to discuss – why do they do that?
Reflections in a mirror

Give them a mirror and get them to work out the laws and what misconceptions people may have, then ask the question – why is the image laterally inverted, but not upside down?


Maths cross curricular ideas

Put two mirrors together with an object in front of them on a sheet with a protractor on it (or printed) as shown in the diagram. What is the relationship between the angle between the mirrors and the number of images seen?
There are some good examples here




Estimate the height of a tall tree.

There are several different ways to do this outlined here or here

Problem solving using similar triangles and a mirror
You are given a mirror and a metre rule. Calculate the height of a tall object


Real life problem – the Walkie Talkie building that melted a car!

Read the news articles here and here


What could you do?
What did they do?
Finally a crazy idea which I take credit but not responsibility for

Lighting a fire with a coke can. I ran this lesson a few times massively successfully but the risks are significant so please risk assess and check your school is happy for you to do it.
Students are given a coke can, cocktail sticks , tape, a kitkat bar, paper, coloured pens, a clamp etc and told to light a fire!

Full instructions here




Please feel free to add any more ideas in the comments section

Feedback Strategies and how to use them effectively

Feedback is outlined in Hattie’s Visible Learning as the single biggest factor in improving performance. here 

But what is feedback?

“Feedback is a process in which information about the past or the present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future. As part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop, the event is said to “feed back” into itself.”

So give our students feedback and lots of it and they will do better?

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that as feedback has to be appropriate and helpful.

Someone very close to me tried to teach me the piano. It was a nightmare, as soon as I hit a wrong note it was pointed out to me (although I was already aware of my mistake) the feedback was infuriating and I soon gave up.
Is feedback helpful when we know we have messed up? The captain of a football team I played for would give you instant feedback on everything you did, positive or negative until we as a team rebelled and told him to shut up . When you had the ball his shouting ‘don’t lose it’ and the feedback ‘I told you not to lose it, Neil’ was not helpful!’

Similarly I have a neighbour who is the epitome of Harry Enfield’s old character in the mid 90s Mr Dont want to do it like that. The most annoying man on earth dispensing his wisdom of how you should have done it after the event. Even if his views had some validity emotionally I would block him out.

So feedback can be massively annoying and lead to the completely opposite effect that you are trying to create.

David Didau’s blog @learningspy outlines some of  the potential negative impacts here

Whether learning has been improved as well as performance is not made clear from Hattie’s research

The difference between performance and learning has been outlined by the likes of Alfie Kohn and Robert Bjork

Alfie Kohn has this to say on assessment of learning and giving grades for the full art

A second rationale for grading — and indeed, one of the major motives behind assessment in general — is to motivate students to work harder so they will receive a favorable evaluation. Unfortunately, this rationale is just as problematic as sorting. Indeed, given the extent to which A’s and F’s function as rewards and punishments rather than as useful feedback, grades are counterproductive regardless of whether they are intentionally used for this purpose. The trouble lies with the implicit assumption that there exists a single entity called “motivation” that students have to a greater or lesser degree. In reality, a critical and qualitative difference exists between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation — between an interest in what one is learning for its own sake, and a mindset in which learning is viewed as a means to an end, the end being to escape a punishment or snag a reward. Not only are these two orientations distinct, but they also often pull in opposite directions.

Scores of studies in social psychology and related fields have demonstrated that extrinsic motivators frequently undermine intrinsic motivation. This may not be particularly surprising in the case of sticks, but it is no less true of carrots. People who are promised rewards for doing something tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to obtain the reward. Studies also show that, contrary to the conventional wisdom in our society, people who have been led to think about what they will receive for engaging in a task (or for doing it well) are apt to do lower quality work than those who are not expecting to get anything at all.

Evidence suggests that when we mark and give grades as well as comments that our students only look at the grades. They become performance orientated rather than thinking about the learning.

Giving feedback too quickly can also have negative effects where we solve the problems for our students before they have time to think about them. Students learn to be dependent on us and we stop them thinking about problems by giving them the answers.

An interesting idea is the Ziegarnik effect  we continue to think about incomplete or interrupted tasks. Evidence suggests we remember things better when they are incomplete ( like the solutions to crosswords that pop up into our heads some time later) and can perform better on puzzles when we are not given time to complete them in practice compared to if we have finished them. This appears to be at odds with the ‘three part lesson’ and the idea we tell them what they will do, do it , then discuss what we  have done.


I have a massive issue with ‘failure avoidance’ in students many of whom fixed mind sets. Whatever you think of the work of Carol Dweck I think the principle of taking responsibility for your own successes or failures is sound


There is a terrific blogpost by @LeadingLearner on many aspects of feedback here

I particularly like the concept of F.A.I.L.  First Attempts In Learning that embeds the idea that work is a draft and can always be improved


In the above including reference to a post by @headguruteacher that everyone should see here

Planning for marking

We Spend hours marking and research suggests that only about 15% of our students read and act on what we suggest. If this is true about 5 of every 6 books are wasted time in terms of having the learner move on.

Stephen Lockyer has written a great blog on marking being broken and what we can do about it. He suggests we use marking as planning rather than the other way round


Before we start marking it totally makes sense to plan what we are looking for as opposed to just getting on with it. The 5 minute marking plan Devised by @teacher toolkit and @LeadingLearner that is a must for efficiency.


These ideas and some other great ones are also contained in @teachertoolkits book 100 ideas available here

Consider the above elements about making feedback appropriate before we look at applying any . Like food there is no such thing as inherently good or bad feedback it’s the way that it is used that is important. We are giving feedback to human beings who are regularly irrational  and may not take it in the way that it was intended.

Here are some ideas that you may want to use

(1) Get the students to think about what they are learning and why and to ask each other . What are you doing? Why are you doing it? How will it help you?

(2) Pose, pause, pounce, bounce. Outlined in a video by Dylan Wiliam below. This can transform your lessons into truly interactive ones

(3) Post-it notes – students come in and are given a post-it note. Write on it what you know about ….

(4) Post -it notes – have a question wall that they put unanswered questions on as they leave.

(5) Post – it notes – questions put on walls – differentiated into challenge, super challenge and hyper challenge. Students choose one answer the question on the back and initial. If someone else has answered and they agree they tick and initial. If they disagree , they have to find the other person and argue their case.

(6) If you have three options as in the example below then a nice option is to ask. If you think the last carton to fall over will be the one on your left put your left hand up, for the one on the right your right hand, the one in the middle both hands. Keep your hands up and find someone who disagrees with you and try to come up with an agreement over the right answer

(7) Traffic lighting with three cones can work well, the students put the red cone on top if they are struggling, amber if they are ok and green if they are happy. This gives a constant indication, though peer pressure can render this next to useless

(8) In group work assign a team rep and have them feedback to you and back to the group.

(9) For your oral feedback get them to write down what you say

(10) Find the common issues and feedback to them before they hand the or books in to mark

(11) Have a green and red box for students to hand their books into (thanks to @mrlockyer) so you can assess their confidence and target the red ones ( or the green but incompetent)

(12) Have a specific time at the start of the lesson when the students respond to your comments from marking. Can use them assessing in pairs

(12) this is a great PowerPoint with heaps of strate
Digital ways – these will be outlined in more detail in a blog soon to come

Online walls

Online shared walls like (@padlet ) or http://en.linoit.comare fabulous ways of getting and giving feedback to students. A photo, video, link or PDF can be uploaded to the wall and peer assessed. A further upcoming blog will explain it in more detail


A brilliant cross platform tool that allows either on the fly or pre planned assessment. This means you can instantly gather what your students know at the start and use this to inform your lesson planning.

More information at


This has to be the future of assessment. It allows a dialogue between the teacher and the learner in a text, video or audio format.

And finally having students feedback from thinking skills from a previous blog post

9 Practical Strategies for thinking

Get in the habit of asking “Is thinking visible here?” are thoughts being aired, justified, evaluated? Who is doing the thinking? Using no hands up and Pose Pause Pounce Bounce outlined by @teachertoolkit here is a good way of directing the thinking and adding your own contributions
Ask “Is the language of thinking being used here (A great overview is given by the ASCD here ) but key words are ; compare, analyse, predict, evaluate, speculate
Are your students asking questions? If not make them ideally use Socratic Questions R.W. Paul’s six types of Socratic questions are an interesting place to start:

1. Questions for clarification:

Why do you say that?
How does this relate to our discussion?
“Are you going to include diffusion in your mole balance equations?”

2. Questions that probe assumptions:

What could we assume instead?
How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?
“Why are neglecting radial diffusion and including only axial diffusion?”

3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:

What would be an example?
What is….analogous to?
What do you think causes to happen…? Why:?
“Do you think that diffusion is responsible for the lower conversion?”

4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives:

What would be an alternative?
Is there another way to look at it?
Would you explain why it is necessary or beneficial, and who benefits?
Why is ‘x’ the best?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?
How are…and …similar?
What is a counterargument for…?
“With all the bends in the pipe, from an industrial/practical standpoint, do you think diffusion will affect the conversion?”

5. Questions that probe implications and consequences:

What generalisations can you make?
What are the consequences of that assumption?
What are you implying?
How does…affect…?
How does…tie in with what we learned before?
“How would our results be affected if neglected diffusion?”

6. Questions about the question:

What was the point of this question?
Why do you think I asked this question?
What does…mean?
How does…apply to everyday life?
“Why do you think diffusion is important?”
Use Thinking Routines. These are summarised from the Harvard Website on Visible Thinking here .

4. Think /Pair /Share – Individuals are given a situation and asked “What is going on here?” “What makes you say that?” Then they are asked to pair up and compare their views with their partner. They are then asked to agree and share with others their thoughts

5. Fairness routine – Given a situation or dilemma. “Who might be affected by this? Who might care? What might their viewpoint be ? (This can also be used in a historical context in taking the prevailing views of the time about slavery, witchcraft etc.)

6. Circle of Viewpoints – Students are asked to put across opposing viewpoints for a dilemma or a decision. The structure is I am thinking … topic … from the point of view of ……. . I think … (give view of that person with a justification) . A question that my view generates is ….. They then do the same for as many characters as appropriate to the task

7. Claim/support/question – A way of structuring ideas . What is your claim? What supports your claim? What may be questioned about your claim?

8. Reporters Notebook – A very powerful technique in this world of political spin this puts things in context for analysis

Identify the story/situation/dilemma
What are the facts? what are the events? ie what do we really know?
What are the thoughts/feelings of the parties?
What more information do you need?
What is your judgement and why?

9. Traffic Lighting – Ideal for analysing newspapers for bias. Using different coloured highlighters

Red – Highlight strong – Sweeping statements, beliefs, feelings, self interest, one sided arguments, uncorroborated claims
Amber – Highlight milder versions of the red claims
Green – Highlight the facts or strongly evidenced claims

What they probably won’t tell you at Teacher Training – opinions of a successful teacher.

There are some wonderful and fantastic bloggers who have much to add to educational debate that are far more intellectual and research orientated than me. Many talk a good talk, some sadly dismiss alternative views to their own as completely worthless. However they are not the ones I would choose to teach my own children. Many of the best teachers I have worked with have been racked with self doubt and constantly question themselves. I believe that teachers don’t teach subjects, they teach children, those wonderful frustrating beings that can seem scarcely human at times and at others astound with their insight and creativity. Teaching when it is going well is the best job in the world. When it is going badly it can be one of the worse and a wet and windy Friday last lesson with the challenging year 9 class can be an ordeal few outside teaching can imagine. You can have the oratory skills of Barak Obama and the prescience of Mike Tyson, but you will still suffer.

My students in a very challenging school won JP Morgan Bank’s ICT in the Community competition two years running. Rather than seeing this as the students achievement (I just let them loose) they mistakenly paid the school to release me as a consultant. I left school one afternoon having had a nightmare lesson that seemed to have lasted days, it ended with me physically holding two year 8 boys apart, who were determined to kick lumps out of each other. Several others were screaming at each other. I entered the banks marble halls with soft music playing. I pointed out to the lovely young lady who greeted me that our working conditions couldn’t be more different. “Oh no” she said “you should see it sometimes, it’s mad!”

I’m writing this from the point of view of a teacher who has been very successful on whatever criteria you want to judge me by. (Sorry to blow my own trumpet but I need some credibility to show I can teach) On my Advanced Skills Teacher Assessment I showed the highest performance at GCSE and A Level they had ever seen. Also some of the highest uptake at degree level . I had the best uptake at A level for my last GCSE class in a challenging school according to IOP data. 9 of my last 12 lessons were graded Outstanding by OFSTED and HMI and I have been described as ‘Inspirational’ in their reports. The ‘unsatisfactory’ lesson gave me many sleepless nights, but taught me more than any of the others. I never discovered my grade for an observed lesson for the Special School Inspection who brought their students to me for science, which ended with me imprisoning a lad with Down’s Syndrome in the toilet. I still maintain it was the best course of action.

This is what I think I have learned whilst not following conventional wisdom. I take risks, have failed often, but I know how far my students can go. I was usually the most disruptive influence in my own classroom, but It was a time of laughter and tears. It was with huge regret that I had to leave teaching due to a hearing loss (not helped by Motörhead concerts in my misspent youth).
I would like to be remembered for my humanity, not my intellect.

I am the son of two teachers (how many of us are!) My father gave me three pieces of advice before I started teaching:

Be either very good or very bad if you want to progress quickly. Looking at the SLT in many different schools this seems to be true.

Look after the support staff as they can have a huge impact on your working life and deserve to be treated with just as much respect as teaching staff, which is certainly true.

Learn from others, but be true to yourself and be the best you can be.

Interesting reading David Weston’s blog here about the progressive vs traditionalists. I’m a middle class ex grammar school boy who was firmly on the left. I read Physics at Manchester University in the early 80′s, a time defined by the Smiths, Joy Division and the incredible place that was the Hacienda. We also danced to ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Stand down Margaret’ (the days when your music choices could reflect your beliefs).
In my final year I was all set to become an oil well logger and make heaps of money but then I read Colin Wilson ‘The Outsider’. I quickly decided I had no idea who or what I was, so headed off travelling instead, which I did for about 10 years.
I’ve been a potato picker, shepherd, financial consultant, tennis coach (Hong Kong), condom packer and Rubber Workers Union member (Sydney), prawn fisherman(Queensland), freelance photographer and taught in Zimbabwe and  a Buddhist Wat (Thailand).

During my travelling days I was arrested 4 times abroad (always innocent!), faced death many times at the hands of hippos, lions, Komodo dragons and armed angry border guards in Kashmir. Being an inept extreme sports enthusiast and adrenaline junkie caused countless self inflicted injuries at times. I feel I know who I am as I have learned from the adversity I have experienced. I have been in the best restaurants and hotels in the world and slept rough in parks and queued up with homeless people at soup kitchens.

I see the point of Education being to allow students to make choices in their life rather than others making choices for them. To equip them with the skills, knowledge and qualifications that reflect their ability and to know what they are good at. To know their own minds, be curious and questioning.

I went into teaching from a social services background: I was going to make a difference. I was pretty clueless! My first teaching practice was at Altrincham Grammar School; I nearly failed my first observation due to my appalling organisation. I used to cycle into school and get changed but that particular morning I realised I hadn’t brought a shirt. A quick run to lost property, I got the only one they had, it was tiny and only just about did up. I made my tie as fat as possible and put my jacket on. To my horror I found my tutor sitting at the back of the class. I was nervous and it was hot in the room so I started sweating profusely, but I couldn’t take my jacket off because I had a ridiculous shirt on. Worse as I turned around to write on the board I realised the shirt was too tight to lift my arm up. Fortunately it was a roller board, but still it was a bizarre performance. It was hard to fail in the Grammar School, the students were bright and compliant. I had no idea how far they could go though because I taught as I had been taught, neither interesting them nor stretching them; the students learning despite rather than because of me.

The next school was a very challenging school in the mid 80s set in the shadow of Strangeways Prison, to which many of our students graduated in a similar way to the Monopoly board. “Go straight to jail, do not enter society or earn any money”. This was where I realised I really was not a teacher yet. The nightmare class were 3 Yellow. A group of girls would wolf whistle me, I never worked out how to react. The room had massive old windows with curtains. Some of the boys used to hide behind them, one day they opened the window jumped out and ran away. The disturbed boy from Liberia would crawl around barking like a dog. I taught them nothing. The lessons took hours of thinking to prepare for no reward. No one watched me teach or supported me. I asked my tutor to teach a demo lesson with them and never saw him again. I exacted a horrible revenge on them in my last lesson, which was sexual reproduction. I had a huge cut away model penis that I showed, informing them ‘this is is about average size for an adult male …’ I still feel guilty.

My ideals had changed; the vision of myself leading these young minds to a love of science had gone. I had become harsh. It was their fault, senior leaders fault, I became fabulous at blaming. I then realised I had become the teacher I despised, moaning about my students and wanting someone else to fix them.
I became defensive, not wanting people to observe me or come into my room. I stopped taking risks, stopped doing practicals. Hated the fact that they wouldn’t let me teach them in interesting ways; we were in a Catch 22 -I couldn’t make it interesting as they wouldn’t behave or listen. They found my lessons boring so played up. I could just about control them but there wasn’t much learning happening.

The turning point came when I realised that I was the one who had to change. Dakota wisdom states ‘ when your horse is dead, dismount’ I realised that I had just been trying to whip the dead horse harder. I read lots of books and learned a bit. I watched other teachers, analysed what they did and learned a lot. The more I taught the more I learned but failure was always the best tutor and I continued to fail regularly as I took risks. There is a safe middle ground, but average was never going to be for me. I’m utterly convinced there is not a single best way of teaching. There may be a single best way of teaching a particular student at a particular moment in time, but that changes if they are hungry, tired, hormonal, aroused … the variables are huge for each individual student. Multiply these by the number in your class and a single strategy for teaching becomes a disastrous compromise. To me the best teachers tune into their classes and can take them on journeys using the most appropriate style at that time. To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

The influence of arousal can be horrific. I once taught a class immediately following a fight between an unpopular boy who was very much a victim and a popular one. The unpopular one was in my class and the mood of his classmates was one I will never forget. They were like a hunting pack sensing a weakness in a quarry. Even the ‘nice’ students were involved. A friend who went through the Bosnia conflict as a Marine described situations in much the same way, although far more extreme. The veneer of civilisation is very thin.

See Dan Ariely

My observations (not backed by any reliable data)

We all think we have a growth mindset, but we probably haven’t. It is something I try to follow.


For behaviour management the single biggest thing I learned was that it is not personal, so don’t take it as such.

If you are a new teacher it is going to be very hard to win over the older students. You are on their territory, they know the score. I had a difficult relationship with many of my year 11 form group at my last school. After I left teaching I opened my Facebook to ex students. Most of them added me as a friend and then apologised profusely.

My Observations – make up your own mind to their validity.

There are some brilliant and compelling traditional and progressive teachers and there are some appalling ones, on both sides. The brilliant ones on both sides are equally wonderful. A poor progressive teacher sometimes allows students the freedom to learn despite them, a poor traditional teacher can stifle all.

Teachers will never be replaced by computers or online learning. Teachers who can use digital devices to enhance learning will replace those who cannot.

Digital devices are simply tools that have no intrinsic value in themselves. It is all about how they are deployed.

Try to stop emotional reactions to conflict situations, they are rarely the most appropriate responses. Go in deal with it and get out quickly leaving the dignity of both intact.

If you fall out with a boy it is usually gone the next day and you haven’t fallen out with his friends.
If you fall out with a girl she can hate you forever and her friends will hate you too.

Listen to everyone, watch as many teachers as you can, learn from them but don’t try to be them, be yourself.

The more certain someone is about something in education, the less I tend to trust them.

Smile, always smile! Education is too important to be taken seriously.

Being disappointed is the most powerful weapon of all. Anger tends to be reflected back, disappointment, if you value the relationship, can be crushing. If you have no relationship this will have no effect. (I still remember the deep sadness on Mr Woodward’s face when I told him I hadn’t done his biology homework!)

Always analyse your lessons to consider: if you had an outstanding student in the classroom, would they be able to show they are outstanding? If the answer is no then you are limiting what your students can achieve.

Link to OFSTED Outstanding stu

Teaching, like being a parent, seems very simple before you try it.

Complex behaviour problems rarely have simple solutions.

Some in education seem worryingly keen to punish kids.

There is a massive difference between compliance and engagement.

Having my own children changed my perception of teaching. I’m not sure that it made me better but it certainly changed me.

I really like Stephen Covey’s “Seek to understand, then to be understood”. Listen to them before you try to teach them or deal with their behaviour.

I treated all my interactions with students as if it were an emotional bank account. Make deposits whenever you can, you will never know the difference it may make.

Having a student walk out of our school and throw himself off the cliffs to his death changed forever my perception of what matters in education. Rest in peace Stephen.

Learn to identify the students who wield the power in your classroom and how to deal with them. Otherwise every lesson can be a battle.
I believe behaviour management is far more complex than simply rewarding the behaviour you want to see and punishing the behaviour you don’t. I want my students to be self regulating not simply compliant in my presence because of fear of repercussions. Model the behaviour you want to see.

Students misbehave because their needs are not being met. It is impossible to meet all their needs in the production line educational system that we have. We should never write a young life off, nor simply punish those who have been punished more than enough in life.

There are very many well qualified people who are not well educated. They are simply exam smart.

There are many clever people who are not wise. Those who are clever and wise are usually humble.
Think before you respond. Once the head boy of the school was very disruptive in my lesson. I held him back and was furious, something stopped me from having a real go and instead I just said “what was that about Tom?” He immediately burst into tears, said he was under enormous pressure and that he couldn’t exceed expectations in anything, just possibly fail and he hated the feeling. Our highest achievers sometimes have unbearable pressure.

Don’t make assumptions. After the Columbine shootings it was (wrongly) reported that the perpetrators were Marilyn Manson fans and that he was therefore partly responsible. When asked what he would say to them his response was “I wouldn’t say a single word to them, I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did”.
The priority in lessons is learning, but I don’t feel fun and learning are mutually exclusive and have yet to see any evidence that they are. Physics is awesome because it allows us to do these sort of things


Students need teaching, it is extremely unlikely that they will understand complex ideas simply from doing stuff. Practical activities need to be carefully considered as to what value they have. This is a great document to see the issues

York stuff

Teaching students science without proper practicals is like teaching them to swim without water.

One of the biggest problems to overcome in teaching maths, is the students saying “I can’t do maths” which unfortunately can be a societal norm. I think it’s acceptable to slap their parents who say ‘I couldn’t do maths either” giving their offspring an external locus of control and not taking responsibility for their own learning.

Performance obsessed cultures can inhibit learning see Alfie Kohn

Twitter is amazing, as you enter an incredible global staff room with unbelievably talented people. Like all staff rooms beware the moaning corner!

Twitter can also be a hall of mirrors where we can simply confirm our bias and cliques can reflect each other’s views with great authority. It doesn’t mean they are right!

Some people use twitter and blogging to make the world a better place, others to make their own world better.

Beware those who love the data more than the kids.

People who are not teachers will never know that feeling of walking out of a room buzzing as you know you have inspired them. I had this feeling more often in challenging schools than high performing ones, but the same goes for despair.
My year group I had for four years gave me a standing ovation in our final assembly. That feeling will never leave me.

Kids have one shot at education they deserve the best. Strive to be better: not because you are not good enough, but because you can always be better.

Never, ever give up.

Please feel free to comment or add ideas

#Nurture1314 for what it’s worth :)

I’m not at all sure about writing this but I have a tendency when I feel doubt to do it anyway.
First, to give some context, here are some of the factors that have shaped me as a teacher and as a man.

A week after my 18th birthday I ended up in the back of an ambulance with a heart that you could hear beating from across the room. A goalkeeping accident had led to a bleeding heart. It was a pivotal moment in my life. Born in Trinidad I had come to England (Grimsby of all places) and had been bullied for looking different, talking different and unforgivably being seen to be ‘clever’. I put up a host of barriers and harboured huge fear of more grief from the bullies. Faced with the realistic potential of being dead in a few minutes I reviewed my life. It sounds corny but I decided I would face all my fears and take all opportunities, make mistakes and learn from them. We regret the things we haven’t done more than those we have. Above all I chose to live life as if it was not a rehearsal. I have been true to this: ten years of travelling, being rich, poor, cold, hungry, having the best food on the planet, despised, taunted, lauded, arrested, being close to being eaten by lions, fought off a hippo, seen the most beautiful places in the world and the most appalling squalor and death, become a husband (for the price of a plane ticket to Zimbabwe – no regrets!) a parent to four wonderful/maddening/frustrating children and taught throughout most of this.
One day a 16 year old student walked out of our school to the nearby cliffs and jumped to his death. This was 14 years ago and it still haunts me, I played REM ‘Everybody Hurts’ the next day in assembly and that song still brings tears to my eyes as I picture a desolate young man on top of the cliffs.
In my teaching I have been mindful of this, how a quiet word of concern can have a huge impact on a child’s life (and so many have such cruel starts to their journey). I have tried to treat all my students as if they were my own children. I want to be defined as a teacher not by my intellect, but by my humanity: this does not make me a soft touch. I hope no ex student can ever say I didn’t push them to be the best they could be, to teach them as well as I could and to never give up on them. The high point of my teaching career was when my year group, which I had taken through four years of emotional roller coasters, gave me a spontaneous standing ovation at their end of Year 11 leaving assembly. I was gone, I couldn’t even speak!

There are some fantastic blogs on the theory of education that I have learned a great deal from, even if I disagree with them. Some are very strident in their beliefs that there is one way to educate, and often that is traditional and knowledge based. I do not believe that is the case in science or maths. I firmly believe we need knowledge and that it must be taught and that learning is effortful (and often boring). I teach students science, maths and outdoor pursuits. Young people with hopes and dreams that I want to inspire to love learning. If I can make it fun and interesting I do so and will until someone shows me research that says it damages learning. On any measure you wish to judge success I have been very successful – OFSTED/HMI inspections 9/12 lessons judged to be Outstanding; AST assessor said I had the highest overachievement at GCSE and A Level she had ever seen. There was the highest uptake of A Level physics from my last GCSE class for similar schools in the country. I can learn much from the research based intellectuals, but I’m not certain I would want them teaching my own children and I find it sad that some feel they can learn nothing from people who can walk the walk. I have taught in very high performing schools with traditional teaching and a very high percentage of Oxbridge entry and students there are generally no better, and are often worse, at using their knowledge to solve problems. I won’t name the school where the students given the problem below answered it immediately, telling me it was an Oxbridge problem, but most were then incapable of telling me what would happen if I poured a bucket of water over the side rather than a rock. They had only learned how to answer the question.

13 things

Started blogging to get things clear in my head, learned a lot, still lots to learn. Blogs from people like Alex Quigley @huntingenglish, Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth , Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher and John Tomsett @johntomsett to name but a few are awesome.
Started engaging with twitter entering a world of incredible people, self reflective, insightful, challenging. Greatest period of growth of knowledge after over 20 years of teaching. Thanks to people like A Ali @AST supportAAli for fostering the spirit of collaboration And to people like Cheryl -kd @cheryllkd for increasing my knowledge of SEN
Maintaining a balance between training teachers as well as still teaching regularly. I’m still making mistakes in both and learning from them. When I stop making mistakes I stop learning.
4 years ago left teaching due to a hearing loss and jumped into self employment. Never was one for the easy option. Was on benefit and struggling with a mortgage and 4 kids. Now financially secure.
Went to first teachmeet just over a year ago and met the wonderful Mr Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer (he is the Lionel Messi of the teaching world – super talented and everyone loves him) who threw a kangaroo at me but he didn’t throw it hard! And the inimitable Ross McGill @teachertoolkit . Have learned so much, but still so much to learn. Presented at 5 teachmeets, and met lots of lovely people like Sarah Findlater @mrsfindlater my favourite audience being the one at the wonderful Keven Bartles @kevbartle school.
Proud of the physics of football project for the Institute of Physics with Arsenal that I devised with the ridiculously clever Lawrence Cattermole who unfortunately won’t blog or join twitter. We are presenting it at the ASE conference on Jan 9th would be great to see any of you there.
Running a session on the science of surfing at Camborne Science Festival for some of the top science students in the world was brilliant. It was also interesting to see how giving different contexts to physics principles could completely throw them and push them further than they have been before. Finding my element – couldn’t be any happier anywhere else doing anything else than teaching students on a beach.

Still managing to be a good father – I hope
Have retained my passion for teaching and belief that we need passion as well as knowledge
Having had the experience of teaching in the highest performing schools in the world. On stage with to present my mathematical modelling see the end here lesson to 250 year 9s in Karachi Grammar School was a highlight. Teaching sullen and switched off year 9s in a challenging school a week later a reminder that there are many ways to teach and that you can force them to be quiet, but not to learn.
Massively enjoying ‘Physics is Awesome’ shows I’m delivering for the IOP, walking out of them with a real buzz. Concerned that girls think cool stuff is for boys. Fantastic feedback from students, with about 20% saying their perception of physics and how useful it is has been improved.
Am loving some of the TED talks Amy Cuddy stands out.
Growth mindset had a powerful impact on my eldest son who went from underachieving in his Outdoor Education BTEC, failing his driving test four times and not being placed on Camp America to getting a Triple Distinction in his BTEC, passing his driving test and working as Camp Counsellor in New Jersey two month later.

14 things

Work on getting more girls into physics
Get a better work/life balance
Become a better blogger
Carry on learning
Continuing to champion that the best teachers are the ones who can work with what they have in front of them. To know what they do best, whether it’s traditional or progressive and then add more.
To further develop the use of mobile devices to really enhance learning
Organise a science teachmeet
To dive with great white sharks with one of my ex students doing a PhD in South Africa. Drive a big digger with another one and have a cage fight with another.
To start a PhD with Steve Wheeler, the inspiring @timbuckteeth at Plymouth University on mobile devices and their use in learning
To stop taking life so seriously and meditate more
To live love and laugh
Read more
To get better at surfing
To continue following Zen dog philosophy


Have a fabulous 2014 everyone :)

Science Teachers – 10 ideas for heat transfer lessons

A lot of students really struggle with the concepts of thermal energy transfer. It is a classic case of them turning up to our lessons having plenty of ideas of what is happening, most of which are wrong!

It may be worth looking at the Institute of Physics resources  (that include the new energy transfers which are not without controversy) here (You might have to register with but it is well worth it as it has a superb forum and all the SPT materials )

iop warming

It is pointless trying to teach them the concepts until you really know what they are thinking so ensure you start with some AfL hinge questions. They will have covered this topic before so are we ready to move on?

Here is an example of a Science hinge question where the incorrect responses show typical student misconceptions:

The ball sitting on the table is not moving. It is not moving because:

A. no forces are pushing or pulling on the ball.

B. gravity is pulling down, but the table is in the way.

C. the table pushes up with the same force that gravity pulls down

D. gravity is holding it onto the table.

E. there is a force inside the ball keeping it from rolling off the table

Darren Mead @DKmead has written  a great explanation of hinge questions here

Some useful diagnostic questions are here (some are very high level but you can pick the appropriate ones )

transfer qs

Other useful questions to find out if they only know the definitions or really know how these mechanisms work

At certain times of the year the air temperature and the sea temperature are the same. If you get into the sea why does it feel colder? The truly brilliant Veritasium has a video for this

Other questions
Should ski/snowboard jackets be black or silver? How would we find out?
Are white china teacups a good design to prevent heat loss? How would we find out?

Use socrative @socrative , google forms or quizlet  here

Useful Practicals 

Before we start a practical  we really need to think what value it has to the learning. Too often practical activities can be a waste of time . A truly superb document to read is  here

Observables and IdeasAnalysing Practical

I wouldn’t suggest filling in the form in the inventory available in the  appendix for every practical, but would suggest that you familiarise yourself with the key questions. 

Practical activities to support learning

Here are some ideas to draw out from them what they think in order to move them on. I take no responsibility for risk assessments or if they go horrendously wrong!


the classic experiment to show how we sense temperature is with the hot and cold water

You can extend these ideas of sensing with these ideas

Transfer from areas of high temperature to that of a lower temperature

This is a very simple experiment that works brilliantly with data loggers . I particularly like vernier ones as these are industry standard link here

This follows a simple script.

“I’m making a cup of coffee. I put the hot water in and am about to add the milk” ” Hang on a minute, my phone is ringing” Picks up phone ” it’s my mother, I can’t drink my coffee when she’s on the phone and the phone call will be at least 5 minutes long.” Pause ” Should I put my milk in now or in 5 minutes time to keep it as hot as possible?”

You can either do this as a thought experiment or for real . “There is the kit you may need, get on with it”


The rate of heat transfer depends on the difference in temperature of the two bodies. By putting the milk in straight away you reduce this temperature difference earlier. Hence milk in first stays warmer

 Ice cubes on a plastic and tin lids

Do ice cubes melt fastest on a tin or plastic lid – or does it not make any difference?

This is a great one to find students ideas using a simple AfL technique. If you think it would melt fastest on the metal lid put up your left hand, the plastic lid your right hand. No difference then hold up both hands.
Keeping their hands up they find someone who has a different opinion and argue with them until there is an agreement.

a nice Marvin and Milo card from the IOP here

(If technology is available this is an ideal activity to do with socrative short answers or on a padlet wall)

Balloons popping?
A very simple demonstration a balloon full of air pops ( make sure none of your students have a phobia!) the balloon full of water doesn’t. Why not?


Paper Kettle

A messy, fun and educational exercise.
The challenge is to boil 100ml of water in a paper kettle as quickly as possible. You must risk assess this before you do it

To make the paper kettles have the students fold a sheet of A4 paper in the way below Note: the heavier the paper used the better the result.

Once the kettles are made put them on a tripod with a gauze. Pour the water in and then move a Bunsen underneath. Give them a choice of how hot to make the flame (it’s fine on a blue flame) they may choose to use two kettles inside each other – mistake as air gets trapped and the paper will burn. They may choose to use another kettle as a lid.
Note: often there are spillages and fires so be prepared. They must not try to move the kettle on the gauze when it is wet as it will split.

Extension: Cook an egg in the paper kettle

This is smelly, messy and lots of fun do it in someone else’s lab or at the end of the day!

Convection – How can rice, a  table tennis ball and a ball bearing be used to demonstrate convection?
A very simple demo that students love. Push the table tennis ball to the bottom of the rice before showing it to the students. Then put the ball bearing on top. Shake the bowl vigorously and the ball bearing sinks. Continue shaking and the table tennis ball appears (and they love it!)
Why does this happen?

I’ll put a video of this up when I have time for now look at time  36 seconds

Effectively you turn the rice into a fluid and so denser objects will sink and less dense ones will rise.

Make a solar cooker here

Light a fire with a drinks can – this is awesome and works , but do a risk assessment!

Make your own drinks bottle solar panel

Give the students a plastic water bottle and a range of materials – who can make their water hottest?

Using all 3 heat transfer types

Solar Stills

One I use all the time.
I have been washed up on a desert island with 2 plastic bottles of water. I’ve drunk the water and then needed to go to the loo. Rather than waste my urine I’ve peed into a bottle.
Can you drink it? It looks ok, smells ok, tastes – sip some (it’s apple juice) ok!

Can now have a discussion as to whether drinking urine is ok

Then give them
2 plastic bottles one half full of diluted apple juice
Cardboard, foil, paper, filter paper (red herring) black paper, newspaper etc

One solution is shown above. Effectively you create a mini water cycle with the aim of keeping the “urine” as hot as possible for evaporation and the other bottle as cool as possible For condensation.

Solar Still 2

Similar to above but this time have
Selection of trays, ice cream cartons etc
Plastic bags in a variety of colours including clear
Glass beakers
Dirty water/ ink
Filter paperer/silver foil

Have a competition to see who can produce the most clean water in a given time.

Solar still

Possible solution.
Though one group I did this with looked at the weather forecast which was for rain. As it was done outside they made a massive funnel and won!
Make a house to insulate a beaker of water

This is a wonderful practical to do to see whether students can apply concepts to come up with practical solutions. I have given this activity to groups who have ‘done’ heat transfer and  it is a perfect  activity to see who knows the names of the heat transfers from those who know how they work in reality. There is also no perfect solution. If you have access to mobile digital devices  get them to film their thinking.

They are given a sheet of A3 paper to make a ‘house’ with at least 3 windows that will keep a 100 ml beaker of water as warm as possible. There has to be a way of putting the beaker in the house ( or the house on the beaker) with a thermometer in it

A range of insulating materials are given, with one restriction. The total area of the insulating materials must fit onto a single sheet of A4 paper.

The area of insulation is the same

Materials can include: black paper (huge red herring) silver foil, carpet, bubble wrap etc

From the solutions you can deduce their thinking (or lack of)

Possible solutions

Many students create a traditional looking large house with big windows high up and a black roof to ‘absorb the heat’ shudder!! . Better solutions are to keep the surface area as small as possible – this also allows thicker insulation so a cylinder  with small windows low down and no black anywhere!!!

please feel free to add comments and  ideas

have fun!

Maths Teachers – Ideas for the New Year and one less lesson to plan!

There are some awesome Maths Practitioners out there sharing some wonderful ideas. Please feel free to add those I have missed and you want to draw attention to. This is not an exhaustive list by any means

First up the very talented Colin Hegarty @hegartymaths and his website

What’s so great about his website? He is sharing loads of videos that very clearly take students through the thinking process in solving the problems. Visible thinking  ideas are outlined here

Revision Videos

Revision Videos

These videos are ideal if you want to try Flipped Learning as Colin has done very effectively in his own school. Another great practitioner is Dave Ashton @DaveAshtonCPD who has created a google doc of collaborative approaches

Collaborative ideas

Using Hinge questions can transform your AfL and impact on progress

What is a hinge question?

A check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a lesson, so-called because of two inter-linked meanings:
1) It is the point where you move from one key idea/activity/point on to another.
2) Understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next chunk of learning.

There is an interesting Blog by Nik Doran on hinge questions in maths herehinge questions

To further develop hinge questions an utterly brilliant website from the wonderful Mr Barton @mrbartonmaths is a collaborative diagnostic questions site that uses multiple choice questions to unearth misconceptions as well as the right answers. Possibly the biggest thing in Maths Assessment for learning ever.

diagnostic questions

Thanks to the brilliant William Emeny @Maths_Master for lots of ideas on his website

Download his newsletter with the link below

I am a huge fan of the work of Dan Meyer @ddmeyer and his blog

If you want the spreadsheet of ideas you can find it on another blog of mine here an example of one of the tasks is given below

An oldie (and he can annoy some people)  but some fantastic ideas from Jonny Heeley from the Masterclass Series are available on Schoolsworld here

I love the Nuffield Foundation Ethos and there are some great activities outlined on their website here

Nuffield AMP

Supermarket Queue

And finally the lesson which is developed from an idea from Dan Meyer on supermarket queues. This is mathematical modelling and is based on the idea that the students already know how to use algebra. I have used it from Year 7 up to Year 12 with more sophisticated answers available from the older students ( though the younger ones have pushed them close) This is an example of the Low Threshold High Ceiling tasks outlined on NRICH Maths site here

You walk towards the checkout in a supermarket and there are 2 queues. One person has 10 items in their trolley, the other 20. Which queue do you join?  What maths have you done?


Before you get there someone pushes in so now we have this arrangement. Which Queue now? What maths have you done?


This is quite sophisticated maths – If s = time to scan and p = time to pay The students have worked out that

(10s + 10s + p +p)  > 20s + p  But most will not have realised that this is what they have done.

So what about this scenario? Which queue now?


We cant work it out as we don’t know  s or p. So how can we work it out?

Next step is to model a checkout to determine s, the time to scan. So what variables do you need to consider? How many items do you need to scan to get a reasonable estimate?

You may want to include an origami exercise to make a shopping basket

Now we turn to p, the time to pay. The variables here are massive. Cash, card, cashback, vouchers, age, gender . I’ve heard students suggesting that over 50s take twice as long and women wait until they are told how much before reaching for their purse – be careful not to reinforce stereotypes!) So do we use mean, mode or median ? This is a truly high ceiling task enabling very sophisticated considerations

Then give them the challenge


They are given 5 minutes to calculate the times, put them on a post it note and stick them on the board. There is a large timer projected.

We find the answers by modelling the activity itself. Run one, with the 3 baskets  on the left goes smoothly.

Run 2 is the 4 baskets on the right. I am the last customer and I am the customer from hell. “Oh sorry that paint is light blue, I wanted the dark blue, can someone change it for me please. ” “But thats the gloss, I wanted the matt, please get me the right paint”  Then I cant remember my pin number etc. The students start losing the plot at this point and getting cross as they see their calculations going ‘wrong’. The point of this is that mathematical modelling tells you what might happen. Not what will happen.

Please try this and let me know how it goes or any additions. Have a great New Year and keep getting better. Not because you are not good enough, because you can be even better! (D.Wiliam)