Primary Science Worship

This week I had my first experience since starting my teacher training of ‘another school’ Scheduled into our timetables was a visit to a primary school in order to experience specifically Key stage 2 and get a feel for how pupils engage with learning before they reach secondary school age and how primary education as a whole differs from secondary. Aside from the obvious of course.
I took the opportunity to make use of some contacts to arrange my enrichment visit at a local middle school catering for school years 5-8, giving me an all too rare view of pupils across the more usual transition from primary to secondary. It would be worth noting that I was somewhat sceptical about the benefit to be gained from spending a day in a different environment but reflecting now can see how incredibly useful the visit was.

I was greeted at reception by one of two specialist science teachers employed at the school whose focus is KS3. It is their role to take the enthusiasm and excitement of children in KS2 and develop it into scientific curiosity and investigative enquiry that can help children flourish in upper school education. I was impressed by the facilities available, expecting perhaps to see more of the primary school setting that I am used to from my own children. Years 5 & 6 both regularly have science lessons in fully equipped laboratories, something rarely possible in a conventional primary.

Although my main focus for the visit was years 5&6 and how they prepare for transition upwards I was particularly interested to see how the year 7&8 students compared with my own classes. Of course the National curriculum being what it is, the subjects being covered married almost identically. The learning itself therefore was similar although the feeling was very much of a primary school setting. I found it a little odd but could certainly see some clear advantages. Where I really felt the students benefited was in years 5&6. It was clear that they enjoyed the extra responsibilities and advantages that being part of a middle school brought them, whilst at the same time had the comfort blanket of the familiar routines and feel from their earlier schooling. Part of the primary school feeling was I think in due to the lack of male teachers across the school. Just four full staff, two of which were in the PE department. Whilst gender is of course of no consequence, the difference between this environment and my own experience of secondary school was marked.

There were of course many useful aspects and initiatives that I can take away from the visit and use in my own teaching. From alternative behaviour management approaches to classroom expectations and teacher-student interactions, much was to be gained from the day. I’m not sure how easily it will be to introduce collective worship to my bottom set Year 9s however.

Andrew Heinrich (https://anewadventureblog.wordpress.com)

That First Bad Day

Maybe it was the lack of sleep due to a disruptive 5 year old, or sleeping through the alarm, or waking to the earth-shattering news from the US, or the weather, or the drive to school, or something else. For some reason, things just didn’t click and now, reflecting back on the day I have a strange feeling. One of dissapointment of course, but a feeling actually mixed with relief. Relief because I was starting perhaps to coast, to think that things were going too well and wishing I’d done all this years ago. So it was good to be reminded that I’m still less than 3 months into my training and I have a long way to go to become the teacher I am striving to be.

To be honest, it’s been a tricky week anyway so far with supply cover issues, staff sickness and pressures in the department. All things I should perhaps be shielded from but at the same time have been affected by. The school day itself actually began on a positive note with the opportunity to speak at the Year 7 assembly to present a science challenge, something which having spoken in meetings and at conferences did not daunt me in the faintest. The talk went well and was received positively, and then the issues started.

First up was the year 8 class for whom I was delivering a lesson on gas tests and reactivity of certain gases. The starter activity failed to engage them, the practical took too long, I used the wrong apparatus and breakages were occurring around the room. Students were failing to follow simple instructions – either I wasn’t communicating properly or they weren’t listening but for whatever reason things just weren’t working, we moved on. The second part of the lesson wasn’t much better and soon safety was becoming an issue meaning that the practical had to be stopped and equipment packed away. In the end not everything got completed, learning was minimal and it was essentially a lesson to forget. And then there was year 7.

It started badly before the lesson by forgetting to prepare some of the resources for differentiation and then not being able to access the internet from the lab, curtailing some of my plans. Students were actually then well engaged and responded well to the tasks and the structure of the lesson. However, again, not everything was completed, a final assessment didn’t take place and the lesson seemed chaotic and unstructured. Comments from the teacher observing reassured me that there was some good learning taking place but it was clear that I needed to up my game and refocus my planning and preparation.

Teaching a Passion for Science

When I first thought about teaching one of my main reasons was to try and ignite a passion for science in children.

I have a very interesting year 7 class, with a high number of children with extra emotional and educational needs and even several EAL students. However they are my favourite class, I have taught them since they all got re-arranged in to this class 3 weeks in to the term and I therefore feel like I have a special bond with them, we are all learning together. They even told me last week that I was their favourite teacher, the first time I have been told this and a moment I hope will stay with me long in to my teaching career.

However after receiving their scores for the end of unit test they sat in the last week before half term, I was very disheartened. The scores were very low, several in the class had done very well, but many not. Was this my fault, had I not been teaching it correctly? They has all been told to revise, all their books were up to date and they had all been completing the worksheets in class not problem…

New half term, new topic, new approach.

The first two lessons on states of matter and changes in states they picked up straight away, we had watched our usual videos, filled in sheets and designed posters, they we’re understanding all the questions in the plenaries and flying through the starter sheets I was giving them, we’re away I thought! And then we hit diffusion, after talking to them about it for 10 minutes and them copying down definitions and them telling me they understood it, I thought we were triumphing! I asked one of the children to tell me what diffusion was without looking at their book…. Silence fell over the class… ‘Can anyone help?’ I asked, silence.

‘Close your eyes heads down on the tables, now put your hands up if you are confident in understanding what diffusion is.’ Nothing. Not one single hand went into the air. I looked at my lesson plan, diffusion was objective one and we still had two more to get through by the end of the lesson. By this point heads were starting to pop back up and questions of ‘What next Miss?’ were being fired at me. Time to scrap the lesson plan I thought and get back to bGlass of juice with a strawasics with them.

Half an hour later after discussions about smelly socks, their favourite food that their Mum cooks, their favourite squash and how strong they liked it (that wasn’t part of diffusion but they were all interested and partaking!). They put their heads down again and I asked the same question, this time every hand went into the air when I asked if they knew what diffusion was! Excellent, they really got this I thought as they left the room telling me each what diffusion was, this is my new approach.

Since then we have talked more about squash (I didn’t realise how much you could talk about squash in science!), we have built boats out of playdough, role played as states of matter and created posters and presented to the class, stripping science down the see it working in the world around us. I have just finished marking their mid-topic test and many of their scores are nearly double those from last topic and I feel like we’ve had a breakthrough. The children whom had been quite for the first half term and not joined in with class discussions are now joining in more than others and I have just been told that science is their favourite lesson! They are starting to develop that passion!

I have learnt several lessons from my class this term;

  • Children need to be able to see science happening around them to fully appreciate it, to have a passion for it.
  • Although a lesson plan is great, sometimes it needs to go out of the window.
  • If you fall a little behind, don’t worry as long as the kids are understanding what they should be learning (although don’t tell my HOCA that, I don’t think he would agree!)
  • Don’t always believe the children when they say they understand, they will follow everyone else and tell you what you want to hear! (Although I am choosing to believe them when they tell me I am their favourite teacher and science is their favourite lesson)
  • Maybe my class are naturally better at Chemistry, but as a Biologist I refuse to believe this!

Jessica Carter- Mears

The eureka moment – An expectation for all, not a privilege for some

lightbulbIt doesn’t get much better than witnessing the eureka moment of a student who is so fixated on an inability to succeed in a given subject but then finally grasps the concept. Better, of course, is knowing that it was a direct consequence of your teaching…

I am a massive fan of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset.  Instead of complimenting intelligence which aligns success with intellect and comparatively associates failure with stupidity, one should focus on the efforts put in to encourage progression. Mistakes, according to Dweck, are not synonymous with failure, they are instead evidence that one is trying to improve, regardless of ability level.

Being faced with a child that pleads, ‘I cannot do that, I have never been able to and never will,’ is unfortunately something a teacher is faced with on a daily basis. Instead of acknowledging a child’s weakness and further fuelling their fixed negative thoughts, one should focus on the strengths he or she exhibits and use this to shape the explanation of a given topic.

During tutor time at my Placement A school, it is now compulsory to dedicate sessions to numeracy and literacy. In a room filled with mixed ability students, this soon becomes a nightmare for those convinced of their own failure and surrounded by peers boasting, ‘This is so easy!’

When faced with two boys who literally threw their hands in the air in despair and placed their heads on the table, reluctant to participate, I took it upon myself to help them to overcome their fear of failure.

With positive encouragement, verbal support and varied worked examples, not only did these boys eventually grasp the concept of percentages and fractions, they were gladly nominated to be the experts and teach their peers. The glint of self-satisfaction and pride in their eyes is enough evidence for the power of positivity, the importance of celebrating differences and the emphasis on varying the ways in which something is taught. This eureka moment should be an expectation for all, not a privilege for some.

Megan Hall – MFL

If you’d like to write a blog post like Megan, please contact Fiona.lane@midessexteachertraining.com