A Short Guide on how you might teach Science more effectively

The intention of this soon to be series of blogs is to clarify what good Science Teaching is and how to become a better Science Teacher.

Before we start looking at Science teaching we ought to look at the learners. What do we want our young scientific thinkers to be like?

There are lots of kids stage shows and adverts of the ‘Mad Scientists’ white coats, big hair and a bit crazy. I may be being a killjoy, but I see these as damaging stereotypes and most kids don’t relate to these scientists who are clearly so different to them.

Ask your students what they think scientists are  and what they do they think. According to Camilla Ruz for the Imperial College Science Magazine I,SCIENCE here   heres a picture of the ‘Zombie’ Sir Isaac Newton – drawn by a 9 year old. Scientists are white (dead?) male, white coat wearing, sociopaths with big glasses. They make potions, explosions and sometimes save  (Harry Potterish)  , or evilly try to  destroy the world.


This perception really isn’t helpful at all. I like to say that all scientists do is look for evidence and then make decisions on what they find. 

I had this discussion with a group of students  I taught when I hadn’t time to change out of my motorbike gear. I asked them to look at me scientifically  for evidence and make decisions about me.  The statements and questions were very astute :

“You ride a motorbike”  – ‘how do you know?’ – “you are wearing motorbike gear ” – ‘I might be a very careful cyclist’ – ‘What more information do you need?’ – “Have you got your keys?” – ‘Yes – look they are Honda keys. Is that more evidence?’ – “Maybe, but not really because Honda make cars as well” – ‘Where might you find more evidence?’ – “Look in the car park” – they look out of the window, there is a Honda motorbike – ‘Does that prove it? – “No, it might be someone else’s” – “We need to see if your keys fit it” ………

Having these discussions about everyday things can be more useful than in trying to do it in an abstract  scientific context. If scientists look at evidence and make decisions, is a doctor a scientist? What about a farmer, mechanic, lawyer, hairdresser, beautician? .. In fact can anyone think of an interesting job where the person doesn’t evaluate evidence and make decisions? …. There aren’t any !

When we teach you science, we aren’t just teaching you about radiation, evolution or chemical bonding. We are teaching you how to think better scientifically. This means whatever interesting job you do, you will be able to do it better.

So if we are all scientists.  What makes a good one? Get the students to decide

  • Curiosity- Don’t take everything at face value
  • Resilience – Thomas Edison’s 1000 attempts to make a lightbulb
  • Asking questions – `we learn from asking rather than answering
  • Learning from mistakes – evaluating
  • Creativity – no thats not just for the artists!

Guess what? – everyone can do that stuff ,so everyone can be a great scientist.

Want a more intellectual assessment – Nobel Prize advice is here

Scientific Method  for non scientists – Actually there aren’t any non – scientists we are all scientists

What does a skateboarder do  when she learns a new trick?

  • Researches what they want to do – watches others or online
  • Plans how they are going to do the trick
  • Risk assesses it (ok so this is not realistic for most skateboarders – it will mend eventually)
  • Try it out
  • Get feedback – Often in the form of brutal peer mocking and laughter
  • Evaluate what happened and modify in the light of the evidence
  • At some stage goes to hospital with something broken

This is the scientific method and is used by so many people who don’t consider themselves as scientists but in fact are !  See my blog on the science of slacklining here 

Footballing Scientists – and free resources !

I co-wrote some resources with Arsenal and the Institute of Physics . This was a paradigm shift. The Arsenal Footballers are amazing scientists as they clearly understand how the laws of physics apply to footballs. They may not be able to explain what they are doing in standardised scientific language but they know intuitively . Click on the image to get the free resource – or contact me for more information

iop foot

Practicals in Science

“Teaching Science without practicals is like teaching swimming without a pool”  

Is this true? Partly , but just having access to the pool doesn’t mean that you will swim well.  You need knowledgeable tuition, to be able to practise  lots  and to be given useful feedback.  A purely theoretical understanding of swimming isn’t likely to be that helpful in the real world, but you can still learn lots. Likewise mindlessly splashing about may be fun, but it isn’t efficient learning.

A useful report: Does Practical Work Really Work? A study of the effectiveness of practical work as a teaching and learning method in school science – Ian Abrahams and Robin Millar. here

This report is often cited by people claiming practical work isn’t effective.  What the report found on the study of 25 lessons that really only for one was the use of practicals deemed to be effective  in extending the learning of ideas. It isn’t that practicals do not aid learning, rather that most observed practicals in the study didn’t because they weren’t well planned.

The framework is a great tool for thinking about what learning will take place:prac 1

A: What did the teacher want the students to learn

B: What was the activity / practical that the teacher had planned

C: What did the students actually do – This is the first success criteria and in the study this is what the vast majority of teachers focussed on.  This is the realm of the observables.  Did the students follow the correct procedures, use the apparatus properly, get the right results. These are usually fairly low level objectives and usually do little to improve conceptual understanding.

D: The second learning outcome is in the domain of ideas. What did the students learn from the practical that actually helped  their conceptual understanding. This is not only  a considerably conceptually higher level  expectation than the observables , but also much harder to measure.

If the domain of objects and observables – (what equipment they use and what they measure ) doesn’t link with the domain of ideas (conceptual understanding )  then it is likely the practical will have little impact on learning.

prac 2

Before you do a practical, use this model to really think about the learning and how you can apply good pedagogy.  What is pedagogy?  See Steve Wheelers’ Blog here

Essential resources for Physics Teachers is here 

A really useful book by Tom Sherrington is here 

SCORE – Getting Practical Resources for Primary is here

3 Act Science here 

Great Videos from Alom Shaha here

Please contact me through twitter or through the comments on what ideas you would like included

Please follow this blog to be informed of the rest of this series

Resilience – Why do our youngsters lack Resilience? – What we can do to help them

Do you find your students (or your children)

  • Often give up too easily?
  • Lack initiative?
  • Deal with failure badly ?
  • Blame others when things go wrong?
  • Want you to solve their problems?
  • Fear failure, so use avoidance strategies?

They are possibly lacking in resilience

The American Psychological Association defines Resilience as:

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. One example is the response of many Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.


I decided to ride up a mountain on a borrowed bike this morning. Setting off optimistically up a 2050 foot climb, I soon realised it was going to be tougher than I’d predicted – Being realistic has never been my forte. Negative thought processes almost immediately appeared, blaming external factors – ‘It’s too hot, the bike is too heavy, the gears are too high,’ (It was an old 1980s road bike with dodgy ancient tubular tyres and those horrible biopace chainrings – info for those cyclists geeks) ‘No one knows I’m challenging myself, I’ll just turn back’.

I nearly stopped several times but kept going, mainly because I wanted to write a blog on resilience and didn’t want to feel hypocritical. Then my thoughts started looking for excuses to do with my own failings – ‘I’m not feeling too well, haven’t ridden for a while, maybe I should just turn back’. Then a guy on a much better bike than mine burned past me, obviously because he was on the better bike! – he was under much greater pressure though as he couldn’t blame his bike if he failed. I plodded after him, then he stopped for a cigarette ! – ”Thats it I’m not letting this mountain beat me if a smoker can get up it” It was hard, it hurt, voices in my head were telling me to stop – ‘Whats the point? ‘ but I made it.
Did I feel good? No, I felt terrible, exhausted! Then the great feeling came, I had conquered the mountain (or more precisely my own demons) , I could write this blog, but more importantly, I had a long downhill blast that I had earned.

Why do so many of our students give up, or scream for help when the going gets tough?

In Psychology Today Dr Peter Gray writes

Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges
College personnel everywhere are struggling with students’ increased neediness.

A US College found that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices.

This mirrors what huge numbers of teachers around the world have said to me. Students lack independence and require constant handholding and support. Teachers are having to deal with this lack of resilience. Our students don’t expect to struggle at all, if they do, It’s our fault for not teaching them properly. Failure in a test is seen as a catastrophe, not something you can learn from, but something you can blame someone for. With the ever-present pressure of exams teachers are stuck in a situation where we all too often cave in to their helplessness (and they know we will!)  and so the neediness cycle continues.

Dr Gray theorises that much of this has to do with the lack of free play experienced in childhood. Children rarely have to make decisions for themselves away from adults, so therefore when they reach adulthood they are poorly prepared.

What elements of play might be missing?
Ellen Sandseter, a professor at Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway, has identified six categories of risks. These are:

Heights: Most children love to climb whether on climbing frames or trees. Shouting excitedly’ look at me ‘ often to the horror of parentis who would not have allowed them to go that high
Rapid speeds: Even tiny children love swings and want to go faster, then scooters, bikes, skateboards etc.
Dangerous tools: It isn’t random behaviour that causes children to be drawn towards the knives, drills and other things that parents immediately move out of the way (A Swahili proverb state: If a child cries for a knife give it to them – they will learn)
Dangerous elements: All children are fascinated by fire, are drawn to deep holes or fast currents
Rough and tumble: Play fighting and chasing each other. They seem to prefer being chased and being thrown around rather than being the ones in control
Disappearing/getting lost: Hide and seek gives the thrill of separation at an early age. As they get older they make dens and find places away from adults if they can.

Looking at these I realise I climb and coasteer, ride a fast motorbike, love my chainsaw , am a pyromaniac, do judo and Thai Boxing and rarely know where I am going – Can anyone recommend a good psychotherapist? But we take risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us.

We are living in an increasingly risk averse ‘safe’ society ,by overprotecting our young people are we actually damaging them?  Is there much adventure in our children’s lives?
Children allowed to explore, learn from small painful episodes (or larger ones) and failures. They learn that in play fighting, hurt can happen without intention.  They discover how to regulate their own behaviour and response to being hurt. They learn how to assess risk. How to balance the reward of the thrill, with the actual danger. They can learn from failure, take responsibility for it and hence build their own resilience.  They learn to deal with unpredictable events and not to fear the unknown.

Without these learning experiences they may become adults incapable of making decisions for themselves, paralysed by irrational fear.

Resilient people tend to have the following characteristics:

Optimism: There is a clear link between optimism and resilience. The most resilient people tend to be those who feel when faced with adversity that things could be worse. This is certainly true of survivors in shipwreck situations
Faith and/or spirituality: Having a belief in an external deity or a belief in yourself that things will get better. Having a strong moral compass
Humour: Being able to reframe the situation and either laugh at it or at yourself. Always look on the bright side of life!
Social support: There is huge amounts of evidence that cancer survival rates for example go up when that person has strong and supportive friendship groups.
Can Learn from Role Models: Resilient people take responsibility and action learning from others who have been in similar situations

Resilient people tend to feel they have a measure of control, or that its all a journey and a new learning experience is taking place.

800x600-zendog (1)

Does the online world help our young people?

Many students can escape this scary real world into an online world of gaming. Your failures happen away from people you have to meet every day. There is a sense of order and predictability in the game and you can learn in safety without damaging social repercussions. There are lots of benefits to gaming – evidence Players show huge resilience in that they fail,learn from that failure and try again. Does this translate into the real world? I fear not but maybe that is just my own non – gamer bias, then I watched this:

You may want to try this  SuperBetter

Other children turn to a virtual online social media world that is potentially hugely rewarding or damaging. People present on sites such as Facebook an airbrushed, perfect life. Had a wonderful day …., what a perfect husband/friend/parent/child .. We get a rose tinted distorted window into the worlds of others . You can control what others see, but not how they react to what you show them so there is a high stakes and often high fear . The evidence from researchers  appears to show it makes us unhappier and almost certainly wont improve your resilience.

The team found that Facebook use correlated with a low sense of well-being.

“The more people used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time,” they said. “Rather than enhancing well-being… these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”

Does Facebook infantilise us?  Lady Greenfield thinks so here  Im not a big fan of these, but you can test yourself here:  howinfantilizedareyou.com

What can be done to help our young people in a resilience crisis?

Understandably some schools have adopted the approach that the results are the only thing that matter and hands are held all the way through to the end of school. Thus the job is done in getting the students the qualifications needed (and in some schools this is what the parents have paid for and expect )

The work of Carol Dweck and her Growth Mindset has revolutionised some peoples lives

Some strategies for teachers: 

Have a clear definition of what you want your students to be like that is achievable by all and not simply based on performance. Resilient, creative, risk taking etc.
Deal with helicopter parents ,  encourage them to let their sons/daughters to make decisions for themselves. To be clear what the damage that frailty can cause and to buy into your vision of an outstanding student.
Encourage students to look at failure in a different way. Let them fail in low stress environments. For example get them used to pre-topic tests as a simple diagnostic tool – you need to know what they know before you teach them a topic. Or simply a question they shouldnt be able to answer yet and get them to consider strategies for answering it.

In Maths use dan Meyers 3 Act Maths here, in science try my  (being developed) 3 act science. here
Teachers need to model failure and how to react to it by failing themselves
Using strategies outlined in Visible Thinking Routines get students to look at dilemmas and difficult decisions and practice reframing and dealing with problems  here  You can just  add – ‘What might happen if? ‘ questions
For a way of breaking down barriers you might try the ‘Yes factor’ outlined below
One interesting thing is my high school principal like to use the “Yes Factor” when she runs a post-suspension meeting with a student and his/her family. How does she do this? She always starts with “Today we are here to resolve the matter so that you can come back to school. In the last few days you probably have thought about what you have done. We would like to talk about this now so that we can move on and not to dwell on this matter any more.“Today we are here”, “to resolve the matter”, “so that you can come back to school”, “In the last few days”, “you probably have thought about what you have done”, “We would like to talk about this now”, “”we can move on”, “not to dwell on this matter any more” are all the “Yes Factors” and undeniably true as everyone in the post-suspension meeting tends to agree with that. When people agree with what you say with the first few statements at the beginning, it is more likely that they will also agree with some suggestions you are going to bring up. find out more here
Some Strategies for Parents:

Try to let go and give them some freedom to explore their 6 risky behaviours and allow your partner to do the same (maybe not hand them the knife!)
Let them solve problems by themselves, you may suggest strategies and ways of tackling the problem, but try not to influence their decisions too much.
Talk through how you make decisions yourself, weighing up the pros and cons of different approaches.
Discuss films and decisions the characters made and the consequences.
The film Inside Out provides great opportunities for opening discussions
Talk about what happened at school. Not by using the question. ‘What happened at school today ?’ that normally generates a monosyllabic response – 25 questions you can use instead are here
For teens here are 28 questions here  though don’t have a high expectation that it will bring forth much. We can but try!
Learn basic counselling skills -Ideally on a course with a tutor but there are plenty of online courses for example here 

What do we mean by Grit?


What have you found works to improve resilience = either your own or other peoples?

Please add comments and resources below


The Magnificent 7 apps every PE Teacher should use

Part of the Magnificent 7 series of simple strategies that can significantly add to learning. If I could only use 7 these are what they would be

Key points:

  • Only use technology when it does something you cant do without it.
  • It has to cost much less in terms of effort to learn/money than the benefit (Think of the original Dartfish – fantastic concept but too complex/ too long to set up etc so hardly used )
  • It has to be reliable and be able to work offline
  • Preferably free

These tools are subject to change so please watch and add comments – what would your top 7 be?

(1) Video delay – Simply delays transferring the video for a preset time . So you see what happened 10 seconds ago. Great for self analysis  of tennis serves/golf shots etc or for analysing with the students what they are are doing with them able to see their own performance. Note these do not keep a recording so are for on the fly support

Lots of them reviewed here  they all do a similar thing . Put your phone/iPad on a tripod or simply hold it . Film the students doing high jump/long jump etc. Then they run round to you and you can talk them through their performance

(2) iMovie – This really is a fully featured video editing app . Slow mo , add music, split screen comparisons

Full tutorial

(3) iDoceo 4 – A fantastic racking and assessment app for PE  You can use it offline for registers, lesson planning and recording progress – nice video here

(4) Dartfish – Great analysis app that can enable you to show with data what is really happening on the sports field. Its also perfect for cross curricular maths as the data can be exported


(5) Padlet – Simple idea but fabulous way of sharing visual information with the class. Post videos up directly for peer feedback.  One option is to turn on moderate posts and you can broadcast a game with photos and commentary to parents (like the BBC ones) if you use the stream option.

A post by @ictevangelist is here

An example of its use in PE is here

(6) Bleep test – Where technology really makes a difference !

Lots of them reviewed here

(7) Twitter – If only for instantly informing parents / students/ schools  of changes to fixtures twitter has real value . Create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) . The global community of PE teachers is brilliant. To see my list of PE teachers to follow go to here  Please feel free to contact me to add more people worth following

Showbie is awesome for tracking progress and narrowly missed the list

Sprint Timer is another great one

Tutorial here https://iteachpe.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/how-to-use-sprint-timer-application-for-athletics-time-trials-in-pe-2/


A Level Physics – Preparing for the CPAC – Practical Advice

Just a quick draft blog supporting those physics teachers . Please join in the discussions on Talkphysics.org and watch this space as it willbe updated

For those of you on twitter will be using the hashtag #CPACphys lease feel free to ask questions I probably cant answer but willfind someone who can


What is CPAC?

A-level practical skills to be assessed via endorsement

Cross-board statement on practical endorsement

The assessment of practical skills is a compulsory requirement of the course of study for A-level qualifications in biology, chemistry and physics. It will appear on all students’ certificates as a separately reported result, alongside the overall grade for the qualification. The arrangements for the assessment of practical skills will be common to all awarding organisations. These arrangements will include:

  • A minimum of 12 practical activities to be carried out by each student which, together, meet the requirements of Appendices 5b (Practical skills identified for direct assessment and developed through teaching and learning) and 5c (Use of apparatus and techniques) from the prescribed subject content, published by the Department for Education. The required practical activities will be defined by each awarding organisation.
  • Teachers will assess students against Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) issued by the awarding organisations. The draft CPAC (see below) are based on the requirements of Appendices 5b and 5c of the subject content requirements published by the Department for Education, and define the minimum standard required for the achievement of a pass. The CPAC will be piloted with schools and colleges and other stakeholders during autumn 2014 and spring 2015 to ensure that they can be applied consistently and effectively.
  • Each student will keep an appropriate record of their assessed practical activities.
  • Students who demonstrate the required standard across all the requirements of the CPAC will receive a ‘pass’ grade.
  • There will be no separate assessment of practical skills for AS qualifications.
  • Students will answer questions in the AS and A-level exam papers that assess the requirements of Appendix 5a (Practical skills identified for indirect assessment and developed through teaching and learning) from the prescribed subject content, published by the Department for Education.

Check out the very active Forum on Talkphysics.org here  You have to register but it is free and amazing !  Most of this blog is a compilation of ideas from it

AQA have a detailed practical booklet here if you are doing AQA – David Cotton has put together resources that link to TAP on talkphysics here

OCR Guidance is here 

A superb site is Practical A Level Physics it has been organised  to give extensive details about each practical. Included is a photo of the set up, teacher/tech notes, student notes, sample lab book and sample data. It is superb and the author continues to update it






Need to buy equipment ?


Writing up – You could use the Young Scientists Journal

Young Scientists Journal (www.ysjournal.com) is an online science journal written, edited and produced entirely by students aged 12 to 20.

It was founded in 2006 by Christina Astin, one of our Teaching and Learning Coaches in Kent, and now attracts articles and editors from across the world.  17 issues have been published, with articles on a whole range of STEM topics, many of which started off as coursework, extended projects or CREST awards.  The last issue is here: www.ysjournal.com/issue-17


Your students can get involved by:

  • reading the journal – it’s free and open access and can be an inspiring source for homework research
  • following us on facebook (/YSJournal) or Twitter (@YSJournal)
  • getting their articles or science research projects published – it’s easy to upload and looks great on a UCAS form
  • joining the team of students editing articles and running the journal – plus lots of other opportunities such as web development, marketing, social media etc

If you have a group of students all keen to get involved you can get set up as a hub school – email editor@ysjournal.com  for more info.


What might record keeping look like? – My esteemed colleague and all together fantastic man Jon Clarke posted this on talkphysics (the link at the top of this page)

my record-keeping plans are for the first year through this new system, in case it helps anyone else plan this first time through the Practical Endorsement, or in case you think I’ve missed something – please let me know!(jon.clarke “at” iop.org)

In Monday’s lesson I’m going to run through parts of the AQA A-level Practical Handbook with them (particularly sections D & E), getting them ready to carry out their first required practical (5 – resistivity of a wire) on that Friday. Handily, section E suggests a “pro forma” to guide their write-up. I’ll be explicit with the students that, in this first practical, our learning outcomes are: to use the equipment, record data, and write up a practical. (The quality of their results, analysis or evaluation aren’t my priority yet.)

The exam board require the following information. Here’s what I’ll record for each item:

1. documented plans to carry out sufficient practical activities which meet the requirements of CPAC.
Long-term schemes of work which include the required practicals

2. a record of each practical activity undertaken and the date when this was completed;
3. a record of the criteria being assessed in that practical activity
My own record of work that I write-up after every lesson (do others keep anything similar?), plus I’ll write the passed criteria on each student’s practical notes while they do it, plus a note in a tracking spreadsheet

4. a record of student attendance;
Tracking spreadsheet, plus our electronic registers

5. a record of which student met the criteria and which did not;
Tracking spreadsheet, plus a note on each student’s work

6. student work showing evidence required for the particular task with date;
In students’ folders, interspersed with their theory work

7. any associated materials provided for the practical activity e.g. written instructions given.
A note in my record of work – in the case of Friday’s practical, this will be a full print-out of the IoP’s Teaching Advanced Physics notes for this practical – http://tap.iop.org/electricity/resistance/112/file_45987.doc .

The rest of the TAP resources that support CPAC are here



Mobile phones and iPads hamper learning !! – In defence of Technology in Education

“Whats the point of using technology it detracts from learning ” a teacher said to me. All the evidence points against it and the government are going to ban them anyway.

Deep sigh – where has this come from?

“Mobile phones and iPads could be banned from classrooms”

screams the Telegraph citing Tom Bennett

Mr Bennett said: “Technology is transforming society and even classrooms – but all too often we hear of lessons being disrupted by the temptation of the smartphone. Learning is hard-work and children are all too aware of this. So when they have a smartphone in their pocket that offers instant entertainment and reward, they can be easily distracted from their work. The Telegraph omitted the following that the Guardian included:

In a blog for the TES, Bennett poured cold water on headlines suggesting mobiles could be barred altogether in class. “This may shock you, but I don’t think mobile phones should be banned from school. Or iPads from the classroom,” he wrote.

Then there is the LSE report : A study by the London School of Economics in May found that banning mobile phones from classrooms could benefit students’ learning by as much as an extra week of classes over an academic year, benefiting low-achieving children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds most. 

I am a huge advocate of using technology in lessons when it adds significantly to learning and does something you cant do without it.  You dont even need to change your teaching style, just use tools that enhance your understanding of the students learning journey. Assessment for Learning can be transformed with Plickers /Socrative/Shadow Puppet and instantly and painlessly provides you with data that informs your lesson planning.    But first comes humanity and relationships and good behaviour management.

And it is that behaviour management that is key. Allowing students to access the most distracting device on the planet in lessons is clearly going to have a negative impact on learning. In banning them, the schools have removed this classroom management issue and there was a corresponding rise in the results.  Having worked in turning around failing schools It was very clear that anything that you changed in order to improve behaviour – be it uniform, equipment etc had a positive impact as long as it was applied consistently. Those teachers finding mobile phones were a pain would be very supportive of the ban.  I feel it is plausible that simply  enforcing rules may have been a significant factor,  rather than explicitly the mobile phones.  Though the study also pointed out that the biggest impact was on the lower achievers – those most likely to be switched off lessons and hence reach for their phones. Could we look at why they were switched off rather than simply seeing the distraction as the issue?  Could the phones be their solution to the problem of the inappropriateness of the curriculum to their needs rather than the problem itself?

Then there is pedagogy – Headline from BBC Business

“School technology struggles to make an impact”  

We now have digitally competency measurements from Pisa – always slightly worrying how much store governments put on them. Sir Ken Robinson ” Pisa is to education what the Eurovision Song Contest is to music”

The Pisa assessments now provide first-of-its-kind internationally comparative analysis of the digital skills that students have acquired, and of the learning environments designed to develop these skills.

These data show that the reality in schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology.


The crux of the piece is that those countries that have invested heavily in technology have not shown any improvements and in some there has been a decline. Sadly there is also no evidence it improves the poverty gap inequality.

What it is not saying is how the technology is being used. These devices are simply tools and if they are being used inappropriately then they will hinder progress.

I totally agree with Tom Bennett  that learning takes effort. See my posts on Clarity vs Confusion and thinking

Technology can make the learning journey very easy. I can copy and paste, use google translate, photomath  and very quickly come up with the answer to things that I do not retain in my memory (hence will be gone by the time the exams come)  So no deep learning has taken place.  Many students are happy to hand in their plagiarised homework  as their idea is that the teacher wants to see work rather than learning.  Or students spend a disproportionate amount of time creating a pretty Powerpoint that keeps them working but not learning and I think this may be a huge issue.  They can work for hours on something, look engaged, but learn nothing. Having taught many different subjects when the students are on computers the amount of teaching I do can fall significantly  as the students are just “getting on with it.”

Only add the Technology when you know what value it adds to learning 

The BBC report gives two interpretations both of which I feel are true

One interpretation is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement.

Another interpretation is that schools have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-Century technologies to 20th-Century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.

I worry that many teachers are drawing the conclusion that technology hinders learning. There is no doubt that technology used badly is worse than a waste of time. Taking the students to the computer room is often an easy lesson unless you carefully plan why the technology enhances learning. I know I have been guilty of this when absolutely exhausted and needing a break. It keeps the kids quiet !

I think far more training is needed on the transformational technological tools –  not the flashy gimmicks. How to effectively manage your classroom where the students use their mobile phones for learning.  Things have changed and we live in a connected world. Simply banning technology may in the short term be effective at improving exam results, but can we justify our classrooms  diverging even further from the real world?

Technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply a tool that can massively enhance learning if used well. The problem is that it isnt being used well due to lack of understanding of what it can do.

One thing technology cannot do is enhance poor teaching. A poor teacher with students  who have mobile devices will have a class off task but apparently compliant. It can be used as a  sticking plaster that hides  bigger issues and that is an issue we need to resolve

Blogs worth reading that put pedagogy before technology

Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth


Mark Anderson@ICTEvangelist


Martin Burrett @ICTmagic


Mr Parkinson @ICT_MrP


Mark Richardson @ICTMarc



The Magnificent Seven – Simple Strategies using Technology to Transform Learning

Part of what will form a series that aid learning, behaviour  and make me more effective as a teacher. These are my seven favourite things – The Magnificent Seven – Simple Strategies using Technology to Transform Learning – Please feel free to add yours in the comments section or link blogs

My rules for using technology;

  • Only use technology  when it does something you cant do without it (or it makes it better/simpler)
  • It has to improve learning – or my assessment of  their learning (following their learning journey)
  • It has to be simple to learn and reliable to use
  • Free

(1) Plickers – Multiple Choice Assessment App you only need one device to use

How does it work ?

Students are assigned printed paper  Plicker codes that they hold up for you to scan with your phone/tablet. They can choose A,B,C or D depending on their orientation. The scan on your phone tells you who has chosen what and if your wifi is working records it on their website in the reports section . It also has a live view.

It is so good I wrote a blog about it here  see it on UKEdCHAT here 

What makes it so great?

  • Incredibly quick and easy to use
  • Only need a single device – Android or IOS
  • Can use it without wifi
  • Students cant see what each other have chosen so prevents copying and reduces stress
  • Perfect for showing progression

(2) Socrative  Assessment App – Online and cross platform

Its been around for a while and still holds its place for several reasons. As a teacher you create a room and give that room number to the students. They log onto your room using any device and answer multiple choice or short answer questions.

It’s very reliable if you have strong wifi or 3/4G signal but students may have issues in weak signal areas. I would tend to use plickers  for ‘on the fly ‘ multiple choice (unless you need 5 options) as for plickers they dont need to log into a room or have their own devices.

To me where Socrative really comes into it’s own is the Short Answers option. This allows you to ask students anonymously (or given name if you’d prefer) their opinion /ideas or definitions.

So for example I can ask them to define evolution, make an estimate, proffer an opinion as to the cause of …. etc. Socrative then collates these in a list . This is fantastic on it’s own, but the ace up the sleeve is that you can get students to vote on one of the comments so . Which is the best definition/closest estimate/most likely reason etc.  So my students have given their ideas, evaluated others and chosen one in a few minutes . The same question can be asked at the end of the lesson hence progress can be shown.

You can also create test that are automatically marked as well as importing ones that are already made from Socrative Garden here though please check them as they are not quality assured ! They also link to visible thinking  which will be in Magnificent Seven – Simple Solutions to more Active Learning due to be published soon

ICT Evangelist has a blog on Remixing Lessons here integrating Socrative

Socrative guides  available  here 


(3) Padlet 

Used to be called Wallwisher another relative oldie. Remarkably simple to use you can create a wall in seconds and share it with your students using a QR code. They then all have access to the wall and can add comments, images, videos, links or upload work.

So perfect for sharing ideas, work ( a dream for Art/Tech/ anything visual) , peer evaluation etc. It’s a great collaborative tool and as you can put links in enables Educreations/Pinterest/Shadow Puppet to be embedded into the wall. Full set of tutorials here 

(4) Shadow Puppet – Instant feedback with audio and video  – Sadly IOS only tho Google Docs users may want to look at kaizena   Thanks @ictmagic

A ridiculously simple way of giving quick feedback – Photograph the students work, highlight areas and add your voice feedback and email it back to them. Or put it on Pdlet or tweet it. Record and highlight videos stop them at appropriate points (PE teachers this is a dream app)

(5) Educreations  – Interactive whiteboard on a tablet

I prefer Educreations over Explain Everything for daily use as although Explain Everything is fabulous and feature rich it takes a bit more getting to know and doesnt give you the hyperlink that educreations does that allows you to instantly share through padlet/email/twitter. Educreations is ridiculously simple – though be aware that you have to register after you have created something!

(6) Pinterest  – Digital Filing Cabinet

Pinterest is used by millions but rarely professionally. It is a brilliant way of compiling a set of resources for whatever subject you are teaching . Either find them already on Pinterest or upload them or add from virtually any website. Create a shared Pinterest for your department to collaborate on resources. Get your students to find great sites and share them with you to populate it

(7) Blendspace – Digital lessons and SoW

So we have a whole load of fabulous resources in Pinterest, have created some wonderful Educreation tutorials, some great Shadow Puppet feedback showing misconceptions , numerous Padlet walls. How can we now combine them in a coherent manner ? – Blendspace !

Could this be a dream app for BTEC and IB teachers – giving the potential of e-portfolios that can be shared and collaborated on. Flipped lessons ? The possibilities are endless

A mention to Twitter for building a Personalised Learning Network and connecting to an awesome global bunch of educators I’m @natkin   for technology  try @ictevangelist and @ictmagic are both awesome


Honourable mention to  BookCreator, iMovie, Edmodo, Showbie and Puppetpals HD

What are your Magnificent seven ?








Co-constructing Lessons – Giving Students Ownership of their Learning – Lessons from South Australia Leading Learning

Co-constructing lessons is a movement towards giving students ownership of their learning

Last week I delivered a session  for NASSSA and  3P Learning  to support  South Australia in their ground-breaking work on increasing the engagement of learners. We were focussing on  Science through Three Act Science and also on co-construction – using the students as stakeholders in devising activities in the classroom. This can be contentious, with some teachers arguing that students dont have the in depth understanding of pedagogy to be able to separate education from entertainment. Others arguing that we have a duty to include students in the process.

Rather than seeing the student as a consumer ( and how many of our students see education as something that is done to them? ) we could view them as a stakeholder, a central part of the process. Consumers are often forgotten about as soon as a transaction is complete, but stakeholders continue to take an interest and everyone benefits in the short and particularly the long term. Co-constructing lessons is a powerful step in developing the student as a stakeholder.

South Australia are as far as I know the only education authority to put this model at the very heart of its education philosophy. They have produced a Leading Learning resources here which is an extremely comprehensive and impressive collection that support the whole student centred ethos


An animation showing the ideas is here

Professor Martin Westwell from Flinders University explains the intent of the program


The first day I delivered training at the genuinely revolutionary Australian Science and  Mathematics School attached to Flinders University – Website here . This to me is what education should look like. Open plan areas, team teaching and self regulating motivated learners.  I was reminded of the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC here with a very similar open and challenging ethos. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers there made me feel that the future of South Australian education is in good hands. Thank you to them for making me so welcome and engaging so well in the activities.

If anyone is interested in the behaviour aspects I talked about there is a  blog here outlining my ‘beyond compliance’ approach

For the essence of motivation see the RSA animate by Dan Pink below

The second day I  led was one  of teachers and students sitting together and working on the ideas  to find a way of delivering the curriculum that meets everyones needs. Co-constructing lessons has quite a high time and risk factor. I was slightly concerned at what might happen, would the teachers dominate?  would the students rebel and have a go at the teachers?

I needn’t have worried. At the start of the day some of the teachers were simply directing in the expectations of their roles. I put in some origami and problem solving activities that levelled the playing field (the origami allowed a couple of quiet girls to excel and to assist the teachers and that broke some barriers) as the day went on the teachers moved from dominating to listening and valuing. The first step towards genuine co-construction and partnerships.

Structure of the Day

The day was the middle one of three with the aim of introducing, creating and evaluation across the three days in order to start to embed co-construction.


I started the day with the idea of what failure means . As far as I am concerned scientists never fail, they simply learn  (unless they die or fail to learn )


Growth Mindset is hugely important . See the work of Carol Dweck

The idea of engagement linked to disposition and more  is outlined by Dr Chris Goldspink here

A great poster to put in every classroom is this one. Every piece of work should really be seen as a draft


As I was working with science teachers the next phase was to discuss what an outstanding learner in science looks like. Every student I have ever asked has said the same . Gets top marks , answers all the questions, does their homework, well behaved. None of the students I have asked thought they could be outstanding , nor did they particularly want to be one with that definition. I tasked the teachers and students to come up with four points that had to fulfil the criteria that everyone could be that and that it was desirable  to be that.

An example of some of the ideas are

  • Someone who asks questions
  • Is resilient in the face of difficulty
  • Creative and prepared to try things out
  • Prepared to listen to others and respect their views

Ideally print them out and stick them as posters on the wall

We then went through the elements of thinking using the work of Daniel Kahneman outlined in this blog

and why we are reluctant to think. Learning only takes place when

Questioning was considered with first the teachers and then the students (I gave them the option and they rose to the challenge ) leading a pose pause pounce bounce session outlined by Dylan Wiliam here

and why this is a far more effective  technique – turning table tennis a mainly spectator activity into basketball where everyone is involved,with nowhere for students to hide and the teacher able to fully differentiate. The value further increases if socratic questioning is used . This page is taken from the Leading Learning Resource

Socratic Questioning Click the link for the pdf

Divergent Thinking 

In their study Break Point and Beyond,  Land and Jarman found that divergent thinking – the ability to find creative solutions to problems diminished rapidly as the students aged – Possibly due to us teaching that there is only one real answer?  We need to find questions that google cannot answer and that don’t limit creative solutions . So

“How many ways can you think of to make a teabag fly ?”

Give several minutes to do this with teachers and students working together. Older people tend to suffer fixation – when we have a solution in our minds we struggle to see others. Remember when you have a word to answer a crossword puzzle that doesn’t quite fit, how hard is it to get that word out of your head?

Younger students dont have this fixation problem and we need to find ways to keep them practicing

Then we turned the attention to Three Act Science – outlined in several posts I have written here  and looking at hooks and how we can turn them into rich learning experiences in Act 2

The Prezi I used on both days is here

The 3 act approach ties in with the Leading Learning  Bringing it to Life – BitL Tool you can find here  or download it from the App store  here

A very impressive and groundbreaking tool is the Science Misconception Tool  available at the bottom of this page  here

misc 2

misc 4


Activities throughout the day involved looking at creating solar stills from paper and plastic bags to collect water,  This can be found in my Teaching Heat Transfer blog here 

We fired fruit and vegetables in a wild sling having predicted which would go furthest  – predictions are needed – see Confusion vs Clarity blog here

Wild Sling

Wild Sling

Wrapping up – Was a very enjoyable and productive day. Co-constructing is not a simple thing to implement – there are a lot of barriers but certainly from what I saw in South Australia there is a real possibility of change toward


Some other research

Professor David Hargreaves writing in A New Shape for Schooling articulated a description of the learner who would be the ideal outcome of personalisation, that is, in a school where personalising learning is embedded.

The learner when personalisation is well developed: an articulate, autonomous but collaborative learner, with high meta-cognitive control and the generic skills of learning, gained through engaging educational experiences with enriched opportunities and challenges, and supported by various people, materials and ICT linked to general well-being but crucially focussed on learning, in schools whose culture and structures sustain the continuous co-construction of education through shared leadership.

The educator when personalisation is well developed: A person who is passionate about learning, for self and for students, a skilled mentor and coach, committed to the co-construction of all aspects of schooling; who views students as partners in the creation of, and access to, data about their learning and achievement to assist in their progression; who is an expert in a relevant domain but who knows that forging the conditions of successful learning is not simply a matter of telling; who strives to engage students to generate the motivation that underpins true learning; who recognises that student needs are complex and variable and so personalisation entails drawing on a wide range of human and material resources to support learning; and who constantly relishes the changing responsibilities of a leader in education and of the need to redesign our educational institutions.

Taken together, these person specifications constitute a transformation of education and a transition from the 19th century model of schooling to one that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, with its need for a different kind of person, educated in a different kind of schooling, for a different kind of society. 

Read the full document here  and Tom Sherringtons post Co-constructing your classes: Putting pupils in the driving seat is here 

There are also a couple of articles in the Learning Lessons below

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington 2

Other research

The experiences of Boston and Sacramento also suggest that meaningful, districtwide student engagement in school policies and initiatives requires a true partnership between a diverse group of young people–some of whom may be unsure about how to find their voice in the adult-dominated world of schools–and the adults who sit on school boards and traditionally create district policies. These case studies demonstrate that, with the appropriate amount of support and training, these young people, regardless of where they begin, will be able to step up, take action, and represent their peers by voicing their opinions and advocating for change.  

Full report here