Nurture 16/17

Where to begin, what a year! Huge, positive changes is the general theme.

15/16 review

  • I set some simple targets last year. I’m not sure how well it comes across but last year I was utterly miserable in my job. I was working hard, doing my best and ended  up feeling like I was a crap teacher. Being told that what I was doing wasn’t enough. Lots of students not achieving their (ridiculously high) targets, who were actually doing fantastically. Lots of small things that chipped away at my confidence and enjoyment of the job. Last year I saw four different science teachers crying in the staff room over work stuff. I worked most evenings and some of the weekend. I was tired and needed to make some big changes.
  • I made the move to a sixth form college and if I hadn’t got the job I think I would have tried supply or something completely different. I got the 4th job I applied for, it wasn’t that I just decided to move and it happened straight away. 🙂 The process of being interviewed and receiving feedback was really positive, even when I didn’t get the job. People seemed to like what I was doing!
  • Results day, I was proud of my small AS class (7 students, 3 As) and my GCSE Physics group (9A*s, 7As, 11Bs, 3Cs). And mostly delighted that a group of girls in that class, who were so negative about their physics ability for the whole two years, got Bs and were delighted on results day.
  • Moving workplaces is the best thing I could have done. I am in an extremely well organised and resourced department. In a very different, male dominated work place (gonna need a  whole different post for this!). The college SLT are friendly and supportive and POSITIVE and seem to trust us. :-O My students are keen and capable. I am only teaching A level physics. I love the sixth form environment (I always suspected I would). The work environment is relaxed, but serious about getting the best out of our students. The workload is MANAGEABLE and I am now hardly taking work home at all. It has revolutionised family life and my own mental well being. Please imagine my face with a beaming smile on it as you read that last paragraph.

Looking forward

  • Continue to enjoy my new job.
  • Take advantage of the free time I now have to pick up some hobbies I haven’t had time for over the last few years.
  • Read more. I’m joining in with #52books2017 I’ve been reading around 20 books a year for the last few years, so this will be a big step up. I don’t normally count my kids bedtime books though – so might have to start including them!
  • Be more body positive, while also improving my heath, fitness and diet. Here’s a great article on body positivity and why we should stop hating ourselves!

Here’s to a relaxed, positive 2017



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Physics Journal Club: Bad Science

This was the theme for the second physics journal club (PJC) I am running as an enrichment activity at the large sixth form I work at.


Me, with the Origins stand. ‘Proven by Science’. Plus short hair and heavily pregnant which is completely irrelevant here! 

I decided on the very general theme of Bad Science and broadly considered how best to get us talking about fraudulent science, badly done science and pseudoscience. I struggled to narrow down my source material because there’s so much good information out there about this topic. I considered using Ben Goldacre’s TED talk or Bad Science book or articles, but decided against it just because it is much more based on the pharmaceutical industry and I wanted to lean slightly more towards physics. Instead I decided to go with Carl Sagan and his baloney detection kit. I couldn’t resist trying to force part of my favourite science book on my students. 😉 This meant the discussion would be much more about pseudoscience and the importance of having a scientifically literate society.

I also wanted to get them to read about a specific case of science done badly, where the usual scientific checking process was not followed. I chose the cold fusion experiment in the 1980s for this. Had I not wanted a physics example I think I would have used MMR.

Finally, I wanted us to think about media representations of science. How scientific results are often reported in sensational ways that barely have anything to do with the actual research. Also, how things are made to appear scientific when they are not (hello beauty industry!)

Source Material

I sent my students a copy of a chapter from Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark. I also sent them a newspaper article about cold fusion. Finally, a link to the tally of things that cause or cure cancer, according to the Daily Mail.

How did it go?

Several students, who couldn’t make it this time, told me they had enjoyed the book chapter and found it really interesting (yeeeeeesssss!). Around 10 students turned up to the meeting. Lunchtime on the last day of the half term, so happy with this.

I did very well in my role as discussion facilitator and biscuits provider. I asked questions if the discussion stalled. I tried my best to stfu and let them talk (well done me, mostly successful!). I made sure everyone got a word in and helped some quieter students get a word in when it looked like they were struggling to get in on the discussion.

We ended up talking about life after death, quantum mechanics, wave particle duality, religion, the many worlds interpretation of QM, MMR, the Daily Mail (aaarghhhh!), ancient Greece and steam engines (unexpected 😉 ), Schrodinger’s Cat, clinical trials, the tobacco industry, spurious correlations and much more.

We easily talked for 45 minutes and I think we could have continued. A success and hopefully the attending students enjoyed it (and I hope some will read the rest of the Sagan book).

Next time?

Nobel prize special! topology and phase transitions.


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Physics Journal Club: What makes Science a Science?

Now that I’m working at a large sixth form college I wanted to try and set up an extra-curricular physics club. Taking advantage of having a pool of over 300 As and A2 students, compared to the 10 or so I had previously.

I have set up a lunchtime Physics Journal Club. The idea is that I will provide some stimulus material – an article, or a podcast – that everyone looks at before the meeting. I provide some questions to go with it to get them thinking about what we might talk about. We meet every two weeks so it’s not too much commitment and I have time to organise it!

I have an idea of where I will go over the weeks, but I’m not planning too far ahead. I have already decided the first few meetings will be on general science discussion topics so the group can get to know each other and feel comfortable talking together. Then I will move on to specific physics topics and the material will hopefully get more complex as the year goes on. I have told the students we will look at some recent physics results and experiments. It will be an opportunity to look at physics that is not covered by the A level course. I would like to look at some historical papers too – perhaps have something like an Einstein special. Clearly it’s my way of introducing things I like to students too 🙂

I talked with MrsDrSarah at yorkTU about her experiences running a science journal club and have shamelessly stolen the first weeks material from her club! So thank you!

For the first meeting I set an Infinite Monkey Cage podcast: What makes Science a Science?   I wanted to start with something very accessible and with a subject they would have plenty of opinions on!


So how did it go? 15 students ( a mixture of AS and A2) turned up. A few more sent apologies. We talked for 45 minutes. I made sure everyone contributed and also tried to move the discussion on if it appeared we were getting stuck on a particular point.  We had a real range of views from ‘everything is science, including drawing’ to ‘physics is the real science’ and ‘science is a way of approaching a problem that you can apply to any situation’.

The podcast discusses economics a lot because one of the guests (Evan Davis) is an economist and this filtered through to our discussion too. There was also a good range of opinions when I asked them if they considered themselves scientists.

I discovered it’s quite difficult for me to sit back and let other people talk (ha!) and all the biscuits I brought along seemed to be appreciated! Hope they come back next time and we can keep it going all year.

Next time: I’m going for a bad physics/science theme. Haven’t finalised the material yet, but think it will be an extract from Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World where he sets out his Baloney Detection Kit.



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On Monday I made the trip to York to go to the science teach meet hosted by the University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG). It’s been an annual event since 2012. This year is the first year I’ve been able to go!

I dropped my son off at holiday club and set off for a few hours drive over the Pennines. I managed to arrive with 10 mins to spare before the talks started. A few unhappy minutes trying to get the car park pay line robot to understand me (‘F’ not ‘S’!) and I made it! (Top tip: have £6 in coins for the car park machine).

The day was very relaxed and friendly. 10 minute talks followed by a short discussion. Lunch somewhere in the middle and everyone had brought a contribution. So much food! Lots of people I knew from twitter already (mostly I hadn’t met in person before though) and lots of interesting and useful ideas.

If you look at #YorkTU on twitter you will be able to see the content of the talks and get some idea of what was happening on the day. The main ideas I am taking away are to try filming some instructions to practicals to use in class (thanks @hrogerson).  I also had a very useful discussion with @MrsDrSarah  about setting up a journal club. I’m aiming to do this at my new place of work (start tomorrow! eek!)

Thanks everyone for a great day! Maybe I’ll talk next year 😉



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Moving on

I’m done. Just finished my 8th year in the school I’ve worked at since my NQT year. I’m moving on from a large 11-18 school to a large sixth form college. I’m partly feeling like I’ve failed at being a *great, inspirational* teacher. Failed to be the sort of person who excelled at teaching teenagers the beauty of physics. But I’m equally ecstatically excited about where I’m moving to and the prospect of teaching 16-18 year olds nothing but physics physics physics.  To use an overused analogy (probably wrong word, sorry english teachers), I’m some sort of Schrodinger’s teacher. Both sad and happy in equal parts. I’m planning on my wave function collapsing into the happy state when I get some more weeks of the holiday over.  Someone observe me! (apologies to physics)

I think I could go on for quite a while trying to work through these feelings, but I’m not going to (come back!). Instead, I’m going to employ the magic of a bullet point list addressing why I’m moving on. Sorry it starts out a bit sad, but picks up toward the end (NQTs, RQTs and prospective teachers look away now). Also, I want to make it clear that this is not in any way a dig at the school I’m leaving. There’s nothing here that I haven’t already discussed at work and I feel it’s probably similar to the experience of many other teachers in other schools all around the country. I hope it contributes to that wider discussion of the state of education right now.

  • I’m sick of feeling like I’m not working hard enough when I work so hard. I’ve honestly felt at times like I might be a shit teacher this year (and really, I’ve concluded that I’m not).
  • I’m tired of trying to control increasingly bigger classes, with less and less support.
  • I am disheartened by lovely pupils feeling like they are failing because they have a A, when their target is A*. That way madness lies. I just can’t get behind the way we are increasingly hammering students who are doing well, in my opinion. This applies all the way through all the different ability pupils.
  • I’m sad that much pastoral support for pupils is disappearing (and yes, it feels shameful that my response is to want to run away from it).
  • I’m increasingly having to teach out of specialism and I don’t feel comfortable with it. I am a true subject specialist. I haven’t got A levels in some subjects I’m  teaching and I know I’m not as good at it as I am at teaching physics.
  • I’m not that keen on teaching KS3 (sorry enthusiastic young people! I’m sure you had no clue while I was children’s TV presenter-ing my way through your lessons).
  • I’m sick of trying to get across the Ribble every morning (local shout out! holla!)
  • I’m never going to have the opportunity to do the promoted job I wanted at my school. (I’m fine with this, just aware I need to move elsewhere eventually if I want to move up)
  • I’m, plain and simple, worn out.
  • I’ve been at my school a long while and, even if all the above wasn’t true, I feel ready for a new challenge.
  • I love my subject and want to teach it to pupils who want to learn it. (who doesn’t?)
  • I am really good at teaching KS5.
  • I’ve always looked forward to, and enjoyed my KS5 lessons.
  • I want to teach more than a handful of pupils at A level.
  • I love helping students through that exciting time of deciding on a university.
  • I’ve finally admitted to myself that moving to a sixth form would not be a mistake, it will probably be a revelation.

There’s a lot I’m going to miss. Mostly my lovely, supportive colleagues in the science department. They are a wonderful bunch and many laughs were had in the staff room. *sniff*.

I’m sure I could expand on the above, and I probably will in time. Especially the bits about what I’ll miss and what I’m looking forward to. No need to personally dwell on the sadder reasons for me leaving. Right now I’m feeling exhausted. I need a good few weeks of brain rest and holiday time to get over being an 11-16 failure statistic!

Happy holidays! 🙂

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common whiteboard mistakes to avoid

Following a hilarious staffroom conversation about our biggest whiteboard errors in front of a class, I thought I’d write my list of biggest whiteboard mistakes a new physics teacher should avoid:

  1. Think carefully before you draw a rocket. Especially if you are adding two fins to the bottom.
  2. Similar care must be taken with trying to show the difference between orbits of a comet and an asteroid. Consider the angle of the highly elliptical orbit.
  3. Seriously, about 50% of the things you draw will just look like a penis.
  4. Write analogue quickly.
  5. and don’t abbreviate it.
  6. Think about what an oxygen molecule might look like if you draw the atoms as circles and add an O label to the centre.
  7. Most diagrams can just be a rectangle with a stick person. Maybe add a label.
  8. A skydiving stick person is actually quite difficult to draw.
  9. If you manage an elaborate, non penis shaped drawing, don’t expect high praise from your class. Students are harsh critics.

I’m sure there’s many more…

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Nurture1516: a year reviewed

It’s that time of year where teachers across the country are reflecting on the last year and getting ready for the next one – nurture1516. A funny time in teaching as it’s nearly half way through the academic year. Still, the xmas holidays seem provide that great mental break from work that the other mid-year holidays seem to lack. I certainly feel refreshed after a long autumn term. Ready to refresh some things and address some others.

I’ll start with a quick look at last years targets and how I got on with them:

1) Continue to grow and develop as a teacher. Almost feels a bit lame having this as a target. It’s what I try and do as a normal part of my job. So an easy yes.

2) A new challenge… ? I now have a little TLR to do with pupil premium in my department. I have trained to be a tutor for science CPD in my local area. I’ve let cameras film me for a day. Overall, success!

3) Work full time. Done. 🙂

4) Become better at helping the C/D target pupils. I’m ongoing with this one. I learnt a lot from having a class of A level students with lower targets than I have taught before. Their AS results were very disappointing. As an aside, I feel nervous even talking about students in these terms. I want to reassure readers that I still have high expectations for pupils with lower targets. I want them to all get As, but to pretend that I need to approach teaching in the same way as my classes with A/A* targets is to be deluded. I’ve a lot more work to do in this area. I’ll detail in a  new target….

5) The work/life balance target. Getting better. I have a few hours with family after work every evening. Nursery and after school club pick up a few days a week. Making everyone’s evening meal then sitting with my youngest while she goes to sleep every evening. This currently takes me up to 8 or 9pm (Seriously hoping this resolves itself soon. Small children are exhausting). Weekends, I keep as much of it free as possible in the day. I envy people in jobs where it’s usual to have evenings and weekends free from work. I can see I need to get nearer to this to survive long term in this job. But with teaching more classes than ever and therefore having less time during the day to do my job,  it’s not going to happen any time soon. Depressing. I am getting much better at setting aside time to work and what’s not done then, isn’t going to get done. Small steps.

6) All the rest of the things I want to do to be a better person. Well I read more than I thought I would. Managed 19 books. Managed to stay positive most of the time at work, but if I’m honest, it’s been increasingly difficult to maintain last term.

New targets for 2016:

1) Maintain a positive attitude. I’ve struggled recently with this. I’m not going to go into detail. It’s enough to know that my sunny disposition has struggled to shine through!

2) Back to basics with behaviour management.  I’ve been a part time physics teacher for the last few years, in a department with one other physics teacher. Consequently, I’ve had what you might describe as a fairly easy timetable. Lots of A level and physics GCSE classes. As a full time teacher since September, I’ve now got a much more varied timetable. It’s a good challenge and it’s doing a great job of highlighting some weaknesses in my teaching. One of these is my slightly rusty behaviour management skills (I mean, it’s not that bad! but could be, and will be, better).

3) Supporting pupils with lower targets through GCSE. I mentioned this earlier. I’ll be continuing to develop and improve ways to support pupils through GCSE Science. Linear assessment is a big challenge. Previously, these classes were taking BTEC. It’s a big focus this year to get this right.

I’m leaving it there this year. I have a heap of personal targets that I’m sure you all don’t want to read the details of.

Happy 2016! and thanks for reading. 🙂

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