Wednesday period 5 – Homework, trying to make it work better.

As a classroom teacher for a generation, I’ve always set homework, doable, purposeful homework. As a chemistry teacher my favourites involve some experiments at home ( testing pH etc) but I do like research too – it’s what we chemists do of course. Many a pupil having loved to ‘find out’ – they either tell you so or else their work is the proof. But frankly there is a lot of bread and butter homework too: finish this, annotate that, read up here, a test on that…..

Homework itself covers a multitude of activity and areas, the debate over primary pupils doing homework is likely to be different to those in key stage 4, so let’s try and be pragmatic. As a teacher I think there are lots of reasons for setting homework and they have to outweigh the hassle of ensuring its always done. My top reasons are to do with widening interest, bringing more enthusiasm and passion for my subject, getting a clearer understanding and testing that understanding and my worst reason is ‘following a school policy’. However as a senior leader I think it has to be articulated carefully to parents and children as to what they have this homework to do and a duty to make sure there is not too much, its active and manageable and support offered where necessary.img_3648

Our main reasons for setting homework are:

  • To establish good habits and in due time to help create independent learners amongst our students.
  • To complete activities and work that aren’t covered in a lesson or are carefully designed by teachers to enhance learning.
  • Because we think children can expand their horizons with some learning activities done outside the classroom.
  • There isn’t enough time in school (25 hours) to do everything and we like to offer as broad a range of curriculum as possible. So there really isn’t enough time
  • Homework works – it helps to deliver success.
  • The government and Ofsted seem to think it’s a good idea and actually so did our pupils too!Academic research concludes: “homework contributes to achievement at secondary level and the effect is stronger amongst older pupils”.
  • it might just help build self-respect and some resilience

So during the 2015-16 academic year we carried out some simple and definitely non-scientific research into an important aspect of our school life homework. this at a time when some schools declared NO HOMEWORK

imageWe began by asking our pupils a series of questions – we did make an important assumption that our community of parents, pupils and teachers see a value in homework so this wasn’t about forgetting or abandoning homework. It was more to pinpoint any stressful areas for each group and see what improvements we might make.

Understanding the importance pupils attached to doing homework was pleasing to read and we were even more encouraged by the number of responses and the ‘common sense’ shown by everyone. A few pupils managed to contradict themselves but the general message was ‘homework routines are about right’.

picjumbo.com_HNCK3576The following action points came from the pupils:

  1. Please set homework early in the lesson and not in a rush at the end.
  2. Please set realistic deadlines–sometimes all our teachers set homework with short deadlines.
  3. When we have two teachers in a subject (e.g. in Geography or in most sixth form lessons) please don’t overload us.
  4. Make it clear how we can get help in your subject.
  5. If teachers can do so, please balance harder homework tasks with easier ones and longer tasks with shorter ones.

We discussed these with teachers and most are achievable and manageable. However, for different subjects there are different issues for example, number 4 above, some pupils found it difficult to log onto a site in a subject, but some just found the content difficult, so they each need a different type of ‘help’. We were pleased to see there wasn’t very much moaning about ‘worthless activities’ which showed pupils value their homework and our teachers avoid time-wasting undertakings. We were proud that our pupils approached homework (and the survey) in such a mature manner.

Parental responses were high: 59% Y7; 70% Y8; 64% Y9; 71% Y10; 25% Y11; 17% Y12&13. We expected the sixth form and parents of older students to give a different response as their private study work is completely understood to be intimate with their work in lessons and a huge factor in any success in those very demanding post 16 lessons or in order to aim higher with success at GCSE.

imageThe following action points came from parents.

  1. Please could teachers spend some time explaining how to revise and study your subject?
  2. Can teachers avoid ‘research’ which is just a general “use the internet.” If possible give some specific websites to work from.
  3. If teachers know useful books or other resources please tell pupils about them.
  4. When there are two teachers in a subject (say in Geography or in most Sixth Form lessons), please do not overload the students. Communicate with colleagues if you share a class.
  5. Be realistic about the amount of time a homework task might take.
  6. Try not to overload pupils with too much holiday homework.
  7. Please try to turn around homework/give feedback fairly quickly but at least in a reasonable time.

Once again we think these are all manageable and we are pleased so many parents are involved checking books or checking diaries and of course giving support and help on occasions. Most homework is communicated to our parents via a child’s contact book even if that says“science homework–see exercise book”. We understand sometimes as a school we seem to say homework isn’t complete and that a parent may not know what it is the child hasn’t completed. Occasionally parents ask us to email the work. In very exceptional circumstances we might consider that but it is quite onerous and we are in danger of the pupil being left out. It is the pupil who needs to be clear and if he or she is struggling we should attend to those reasons which might range from confusions through lack of understanding to…laziness. There are several ways we think parents can  help:

  • encourage a good attitude to learning the value in doing some further study beyond school lessons
  • helping with routines to do homework, a space at home or a time and of course a look over books and an interest in the work being done
  • support the work – don’t do it for them but for example if a pupil is stuck often it is follow up work from what was done in the lesson have a look over the material a few pages earlier in exercise and text books
  • help pupils to see homework enhances what they did in the lesson.

Finally, in our survey/research we put these points to staff and had about 80% response:

  1. They agreed there could be inconsistency across subjects about how much homework is set (e.g a subject seeing pupils once a week might not be able to set homework every week).
  2. There is a workload issue – we try to turn work around in a reasonable time but it can be a challenge at certain periods e.g. If a teacher has other classes who are preparing for exams, or when we are writing reports. We don’t want to ‘not set’ work.
  3. A lot of teacher time goes on chasing up homework – often it’s the same pupils and often despite sanctions.
  4. There is extra help available during lessons or lunchtime and after school–quite a lot of pupils don’t take up the opportunity.
  5. Homework often looks like it’s been left to the last-minute and is rushed.
  6. Some of our pupils need to see their homework as important, shown by:
    • Handing it in on time.
    • Understanding there is less help if we are chasing you, more help if you try to more progress that way too. No one was ever shouted at for not understanding.
    • Not being rushed.
    • Being properly completed – including being well presented.
    • Not being just copied and pasted from the internet.

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We will be trying to make sure teachers explain clearly what to do if pupils are stuck with homework. We have a homework club after school each day Monday to Thursday from 3.30 to 4.30 with staff and Sixth formers supervising,there are even refreshments. This club operates for Y7/Y8/Y9. For other years there is a similar arrangement  but students work on their own and in silence using the facilities in the School library. Again research shows attendance at school based study support is associated with positive effects.

Overall, it was good to see a general confirmation of the processes we use and a common understanding of the value (and snags) with homework. A big thank you to everyone who contributed.

….and for the few cycnics check out this story of the boy who did homework by the light of a local McDonalds in Cebu the Philipines_84190737_daniel

Some Questions

Q1 How does your school encourage pupils to engage in homework?

Q2 Are there other benefits to setting homework and are there other annoyances?

Q3 What other ways might we help young people become lifelong learners?

Why be a PGCE Student Teacher?

By Chris Hall @chrishall1204

 

contemplationWhy would you want to do a PGCE? It is often a question that gets put to me by many of my family and friends, as well as people I’ve just met, on an almost daily basis. Many people see the headlines in the newspapers and the media portrayal of the teaching career is one which may scare many potential student teachers out of teacher training. So why should people consider it?

Tutors and Mentors

Over the course of the PGCE you will assigned a university tutor who is responsible for the ‘university side’ of the course, such as delivering lectures, seminars and marking assignments. These wonderful individuals are experienced teachers in their own right and are there to support you over the year. The university tutors will also have the opportunity to come in and observe you at various points throughout the year and see the progress you have made since the previous observation.

During the time at school, a ‘mentor’ will be your point of contact at the school and will observe your lessons and from that, help you improve as a teacher. Approximately two thirds of your time spent on the PGCE course, will be within school and intertwined between these periods will be days spent at university which give you the opportunity to reflect upon your progress and practice as well as share ideas with your peers and experienced tutors. It’s safe to say the personal and professional skills you develop over the year is phenomenal!

Peers

imageAs touched upon earlier, other student teachers will play an important role in your year! The friendships and professional relationships you develop with each other is another exciting element to the course, and by supporting and helping each other, the time spent on the PGCE course will go by even faster, on a course in which the weeks already fly by! Another advantage of developing lasting friendships on the course is the sharing of good resources between each other. This will not only help build up a ‘bank of resources’ which you will find useful for your NQT year, but also help to reduce the time spent on creating resources, helping to create a better working-life balance.

The Children

The main reason why people decide to take on a career in teaching is to make a difference to the next and future generations and have the opportunity to share your passion for a subject which you love (and hopefully they students will love too!). It is safe to say that not one day of teacher training has been the same with each day offering a different combination of challenges and rewards. Some of the words students come out with are enough to make roll on the floor laughing out loud and the relationships you build with the students will ultimately determine how involved you get during your school placements.

Surviving

It feels a shame to have to mention ‘survival’ on a post which is littered with positive aspects about doing a PGCE but I feel it should be done, and may give some prospective teacher trainers a few tips!

  1. Leave work at work – try to get into a habit of leaving the majority of your work at school. As a PGCE student you will be on 60-70% of an NQT timetable. This will result in you having an hour or two a day at school as well as time after school in which you can mark, plan or maybe observe a few other teachers. Get a routine, a timetable if you will of work you need to do and make sure it is manageable!image
  2. Don’t try and re-create the world! As a PGCE you are bursting with ideas about how all your lessons are going to be revolutionary in the world of teaching, however, outstanding lessons take a long time to plan and resource and the fact of the matter is you will burn out rather quickly if you have other roles to do on top of that, so as I touched upon earlier, use your peers to come up with resources together, swap them, and make your life (and your friends) lives easier!

I am writing this blog for John after the last day of my PGCE course, and write it with both sadness and excitement! It has been an emotional, tiring and rewarding year in which I have come out the other end a better teacher and a much more resilient person!

So why do a PGCE course? Because there is no other job quite like teaching!

Tuesday period 7 -The importance of being earnest about Subject Knowledge.

This week I had the privilege of speaking to the PGCE mentors at Nottingham University about subject knowledge. We were trying to think about the importance of subject knowledge when training teachers compared to all the other pedagogical an

d classroom management that goes on in helping shiny new teacher trainees as they learn the craft of the classroom. The stuff that inevitably has to go on – behaviour management, question technique etc made me think about the importance of subject knowledge in learning to be a teacherimage. You need a big erudite quote talking to a load of PGCE mentors at a prestigious University so I went for a Cloughie quote. “Players lose you games not tactics. There is so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at Dominoes.” This made me think because Clough’s point really is that there are all sorts of people with opinions and views telling him how to run his team but actually it is players that win games. As a head teacher I am acutely aware we get all sorts of advice, guidance and “this is how to” BUT  it is teachers that make a difference.

  • teachers not systems
  • teachers not policies
  • enthusiastic, inspiring and knowledgeable teachers.

Policies and systems are important but no one decides to become a teacher because of policies and systems, they decide to become a teacher because they were inspired by a teacher or by a subject or both; they love children and now they have a subject they wish to share. My audience were present as PGCE mentors because of a deep desire to help the next generation of teachers, to create more teachers and we head teachers like to find inspiring knowledgeable shiny new teachers.

Some Subject Knowledge Myths

Graduates know everything about their subject when they graduate as though the things they didn’t quite understand when they went into finals having got their 2:1 or even 1st somehow mysteriously drop into the brain. The 30% you got away without knowing is now “in the brain” Well it sure isn’t! After graduation I did one year of reseach and in my first day of lab work used  a chemical (Benzoyl Chloride for those interested] which was described as a powerful lachrymator, but me and my arrogance not wanting to check  at what lachrymator meant just assumed it was the word that meant you went to the toilet a lot. so I took care not to drink or taste it [not difficult] having completed my experiment threw my solution down a sink to find a whole lab of chemists with tears streaming down their faces having to leave the room and as we were evacuated me being totally embarrassed. No the gaps of knowledge are not filled in!

Graduates knowledge automatically updates as the world discovers more about that subject new gaps occur. Or maybe some part of history you have to teach wasn’t covered in HE. Or suddenly as an English teacher you have to understand the new 19th century novel thanks to Mr Gove designing the spec. This can be seen as nuisance or you can have the attitude of my brilliant English staff and see it as a chance to read stuff you haven’t read before.

IMG_2928The school curriculum, the school content never changes hey have in my subject I can tell you a topic like Solubility has come and gone and came back it. The Born Haber cycle was in then out then back in a new form then gone and I’ve not checked the new specs!

 

 

Some Subject Knowledge Truths

Graduates know more about their subject than school students. We hope that’s true after 3 years and £27,000 and all of us should be able to keep ahead on knowledge

Graduates worry about other aspects of the classroom. Shine new ITT people have other bothers:

  • Will the pupils behave
  • Will I cope with the marking, feedback, will I even be able to answer the exam question myself
  • Will their parents moan about me
  • Will my classroom turn into an example of chaos and riot
  • Agh should I be a teacher

It’s nimageot just about knowledge. Back in the day when I did a PGCE we had what we called books and if you were asked a question the answer was in a book so you found it there or bluffed. Now you can google it, so can pupils, but learning is much deeper matter and, it’s really all about

  • Understanding,
  • reasoning,
  • application,
  • synthesis …..maybe more

Knowledge has to fit into a curriculum. Whatever knowledge the graduate has or does not have the demand is in a curriculum be that for Y7 for Y9 top sets or for GCSE or Level and maybe when we get this wrong we underestimate our pupils and maybe there is truth in the Ousted chiefs criticisms of the way we work with bright pupils

Graduates should be able to make a subject “come to life”. OK there is a curriculum but get the  best bits of your subject, the exciting and interesting stuff into the lesson. Children love this and if we keep winning them over they will enjoy the lesson, learn and see they can progress. That is the virtuous circle of success

Stay in the mainstream of being a subject specialist. I am a reasonable Chemist ( hey Ive a degree and an FRSC) Im an OK Chemistry teacher- but when you give me KS3 biology I can kill it. I never did any Biology, in my day an all boys grammar didn’t do Biology.

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Sir I don’t think you know how to use this microscope

I did a little in my degree and sure I can teach it BUT do I know if this lesson on photosynthesis is putting the right emphasis on the right foundations. Bet someone who taught KS4 or 5 would identify better the exact basics to grasp. One reason I think our Maths and English results are so good is because people teaching KS5/4 teach Y7 and Y8 – when they cover adverbs in Y7 they sure have an eye on what will be needed post16 or GCSE and make sure they start building it well. Drip feed complex ideas form an early age.

 

A few challenges

Pupil growth in understanding mirrors yours. There are always better ways to teach better ways to work out how to deliver your subject after a few years of working out that this be the topic doesn’t get a learnt very well in that particular way we is the subject experts can probably sit down and find a better way. in the 80’s I taught Chemistry the same way I had been taught and the same route as my degree. By the time of Salters I was teaching JUST the part needed at a particular stage, we revisited ideas, we did ideas in a circular way that genuinely held learning and it meant we revisited Chemical ideas. It worked and worked well and we  saw that in results in numbers carrying on in the subject and guess what – we saw it in their understanding. Avoid the errors of dropping really difficult concepts and ideas on pupils too early in their learning before they are mature enough to cope.

Importance of the story of the subject (even Maths). All subjects even Maths have a story to tell – a history, a set of characters, set of discoveries, a context, a baddie a discovery. I can name you all these in Chemistry. Have a fund of stores or look at my post on storytelling.

Importance of secuIMG_2943re understanding not teaching to test – PPS (past paper syndrome). No teacher reading this hasn’t had the frustration of a pupil asking “whats in the test?” or doing past papers sometime in January and not doing very well.  We need to use our own deep understanding of our subject to show pupils just how to grasp, understand, learn and progress.
No point doing exam papers (yet) be secure in your knowledge and understanding) and sure we might have to do some simple testing to see if you have and to see how we help.

Using new technologies. I love what I have in the toolbox for teaching so we must keep an eye on ICT or Activites to enhance BUT we use out subject knowledge. I’m reminded of some of the early software I was shown by enthusiastic software salesmen aiming  to show me how wonderful chemistry could appear  on the interactive whiteboard. Watch! You can pull a virtual bottle of acid from here and look you can pull across test tube and choose a bit of zinc or other metal to add. Now, drop it in and click here to open the bottle and look the equation is written underneath and there is the reaction: some bubbles of hydrogen the pupils can guess what it is and the little splint will come over and on imagethe screen appears the word “pop” what do you think of that? It’s quite nice but I’d rather g
et a bottle of acid out give it to my pupils and a test tube and let them do the pop test to see the delight in their faces and the motivation which will probably drive them to work out the equation ready for tomorrow when if they’ve worked it out they can do a few more themselves in real life. Use technology but use your subject common sense

Importance of the keepy uppy in your subject there is the obvious importance of keeping up in the subject and chemistry as in most subjects things has seen dramatic changes. Nanotechnology didn’t exist back in the 80’s. We need to keimageep up with our knowledge, we should enjoy that. It will get us excited: a new material anew discovery, scientist on the international space station. I teach my pupils about DNA and the structure and hydrogen bonding and it’s fascinating and actually give them the 1953 article (a single side of A4 paper) that was in nature and I remind them that in
1953 this won a Nobel Prize and in 2016 it might get them three marks in an exam.Surely there is nothing more important than us keeping up our frontier knowledge to excite and inspire the next generation – cos someone did that for us , a teacher a copy of New scientist a TV programme. Get in touch with your professional subject: ASE or RSC for me.

Delight of discussion of your subjectone of the best parts of the teacher’s job is spending time in the staffroom or on CPD opportunities OR with pupils, talking through some of the issues. How can we make this better? What does this mean? Did you know that? Have you seen this? Hey and if you can draw in other staff, the renaissaince people in te staffroom then the discussion makes the job richer, and all the better

Lifelong learning. You and I dream of creating lifelong learners, and we are lifelong learners of our sunbelt. Use the vehicle of your subject knowledge to sign the deal.


Some Questions

Q1 what importance does your ITT, NQT RQT or frankly your CPD programme place on Subject Knowledge?

Q2 Have we neglected subject knowledge at the expense of pedagogy and lost out

Q3 Should we try and wrestle subject knowledge back to being the “first love”?

How to succeed in post 16 Chemistry exams *maybe not*

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Just to be clear, these are the top tips for doing badly in your Chemistry exams. Badly – yes that’s right.

Ignore the information in the stem of the question…head straight for (a) part i.

image1Show how expensive your calculator cost you by giving all answers to at least 9 decimal places, and preferably put the decimal point in the wrong place too. This also leaves no room on the page for units.

 

Units – forget them after all surely an examiner knows that most of the time it is KJmol-1 except when it’s moldm-3 and aren’t they a chemistry graduate, surely they can work it out.

Forget this is an A-Level Chemistry exam and keep answers superficial. At any hint of ozone/greenhouse effect, or those tricky application questions “suggest one other consideration…” This is your chance to waffle about needing a greener world/being environmentally friendly, or even the ubiquitous “might I suggest a quick google of the problem”

Adopt a sloppy use of language, especially those pesky technical words which no one else in the sixth form even has to bother with. It’s really best if you can muddle up the terms atom, molecule, element and compound because these are basic. However the real test is using words like electrophillic in the wrong place.Hey and if you get really stuck use electronegativity.

Past papers show you ideas in Chemistry which are often raised in exams. Hence it’s better not to look over past papers, and neither should you read those examiners reports because they say stuff like ” Few students know the reagents for synthesic organic  reactions” You will do much worse in the exam if these type of questions come as a complete surprise. Of course the worst thing you could do is practise those past papers.

Here is a great trick when answering really tricky questions – rearrange the words from the original question. eg

Q Describe and explain the effect of increasing the pressure on the Haber process?
A The Haber process makes ammonia and when changes are made like pressure it will change the amount of ammonia and the other chemicals. This can be explained by a Frenchman better than me.

Understanding Chemistry. I think a lot of students wishing to fail make this mistake. So forget about trying to understand concepts and key chemical ideas. Just head to one past paper, preferably from a different spec and preferably one you can do so badly on you are convinced you are useless. This will boost your confidence that you will do really badly.

Reading – I did mention it, don’t do it. The school really want those text books back in pristine condition ( they are only used once more) but stick to your games web sites, gambling sites and Facebook.

Talking to other students – this is another dangerous game. Sharing what you can and cannot do, could lead to you helping each other, you might discover trying to explain to a peer helps improve your explanations – avoid it

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Faced with those longer parts to questions with half a page and 5 marks, do not bother to review your knowledge and select key points. Instead ramble on and on, jump from one idea to another. In fact the more chemical words mentioned the better. (A-Level equivalent to indicator goes bluey reddy yellowy greeny orangey colourlessly clear.)

Likewise with practise  and you reall will need practise the + can look like – for ΔH calc’s; Better still ink spots and extra dots on dot cross diagrams. There is also a knack to writing the fourth letter in alkane like alkene try alkøne or alkæne

On the subject of organic reactions you will probably get a mechanism, you can lose a lot of marks by random use of curly arrows – pretend they show where to attack, not where electrons move from. It’s also better to target atoms than bonds – after all bonds already have enough electrons, rather delicately shared.

Overlook the advice given in the question to help you. It is preferable to answer your own question NOT that set by the Board. A favourite here should be answering about kinetics, how fast etc when the examiner asks about equilibrium and how much . I suggest you write Le Chatelier in the original French just to show off. “Quand un système à l’équilibre est soumis à une variation de la concentration , de la température , le volume ou la pression, puis le système se réajuste à ( partiellement ) neutraliser l’effet de la variation appliquée et qu’un nouvel équilibre soit établi.” Eh voila mes amis

imageDiagrams, here you can lose a lot of marks. Make sure glassware does not connect properly, leave gaps for gases to escape edge between condenser and flask. also do like you did in the lesson and pop a stopper in the top. Remember no one does these experiments from your exam answer so the explosion will be a bit lost

Excuses – examiners love excuses to write in a friendly style to them preferably in red ink ” Dear examiner we had a useless teacher who could not explain Hess’s law” or “I had very bad toothache the day this lesson was introduced and my teacher refused to help me.”

Make sure you switch off your common sense. Some of the best answers I have seen proved you could extract 1000 tonnes of copper from 1 tonne of copper ore and who knew blood had a pH of less than 1. ( well after all it is red). With luck you can get a reaction to give a yield well over 100%.

Space – exams board work hard to leave you the right amount of space to write in, so best then to try and use just a few lines if they leave a large space and maybe make one point (when there are 6 marks available) or else write loads, round the margins and up the sides.

Some exam boards try and trick you by giving a choice of questions.So a good plan here is to do more questions than asked or do fewer than asked. If you would like some fun, don’t read the rubric at the start of the paper just guess how many questions they might expect you to do.

Timing – most students struggle with timing here is a big tip to cause major mark losses. Some students look at the mimage2arks available and the time e.g. 120 marks in 2 hours. They then spend time just short of the mark allocation e.g. Q1 is 25 maks therefore spend 20 minutes no more no less. Here is my tip – rush through the whole paper doing all the bits you find easy – shouldn’t take long! the go back and guess the next bits then go back and fill in remaining gaps just using random big chemical words (see above). Finally colour in your data sheet – as you know this is why the exam board gave it out – see it as extension work.