Creating some balance

This post is just my way of giving my blog a little hug. To try and make it feel better for being so neglected this term.

 

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I’ve been working hard to keep some of my term time life for family, relaxing and de-stressing. Holidays need to be for reminding myself I have a life outside of teaching and do have other interests. So writing my blog has had to take a temporary break. I’m hoping some work life balance issues will get resolved in the near future and I’ll pick it back up.

Wishing every teacher have a relaxing and restoring holiday break! 🙂

 

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Science playlists

As part of my routine at the start of lessons, I play music as pupils come into the classroom, get settled and start to answer the revision questions on the board. Of course, the music needs to be somehow linked to the lesson. This is just a fact. there is no other way 🙂 And I don’t mean cheesey science versions of songs (though there’s nothing wrong with these at other places in the lesson). I mean like getting to play the awesomeness that it Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire when about to do a lesson on plate tectonics.

I’m building up my playlists as I go along, so you can tell what I’ve been teaching in the first half term (space, electricity and forces a lot) . I’m sharing them in case anyone else has searched and failed to find a science playlist they need. 😀 (just me?)

One word of obvious caution. Make sure you know what you’re playing. If you are teaching Compton scattering, you may delight at finding a song with Compton in the title. You will quickly discover Straight Outta Compton should probably not be played by you in a class. Or maybe that is your teaching style. In that case, enjoy.  Similarly Add It Up – Violent Femmes might be a fun link to vector addition. But it’s a bit rude, so think carefully before playing it. Also, my acceptable threshold may be different to yours 🙂

My only real complaint so far is that Elvis didn’t do enough songs I can link to my lessons.

Not sure if I know what I’m doing now, but hopefully here are some links to my spotify playlists. My username is audsley.

Please feel free to share them, ignore them or follow them as they will be updated and more will be added. 🙂

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half term: done!

I’m utterly grateful that I get two weeks off for this half term. It’s the first time we’ve had this holiday pattern and this week has been glorious. Son still at school, daughter at nursery. A week to myself. Crazy, unimaginable stretches of time to do with whatever I want. I feel refreshed, rested and relaxed.  I’m not claiming I’ve done anything useful, but I have finished an entire box set and that is an achievement of sorts 🙂

Last half term has been the familiar ups and downs of the usual term time teacher roller coaster. With  extra high peaks and extra low troughs. I think I’ll review the half term with bullet points, with a vague chronological order:

  • Full time: for the first time in 5 years I’m teaching full time. I’ve been 0.6 since my son was born. I feel completely ready for this increase in hours. I’ve appreciated the part time work. My son has just started year 1. He was barely ready for reception last year and I don’t think he would have benefited from full time nursery before that. My daughter is a different matter. She loves being at nursery and has barely noticed the difference going from 3 to 5 days. She regularly asks to go at weekends. I’m trying not to fall into the trap of attempting to justify my decision. Suffice it to say it’s what I want to do and I’m very happy with this decision.
  •  Oh my god… the workload. Things feel pressured at work at the moment. I thought it was just the change from part to full time for me, but it’s more than that. We are expecting OFSTED. I’m not going to dwell on this, but to leave it out would be to give a very false picture of this first half term. I see all the things being asked of us are important and aimed at helping our students. It’s just with teaching more hours than ever, more marking, more of everything. There’s no time for life. Hopefully the coming terms will allow more balance.
  • No blogging. It’s had to take a back seat. But I’m back and will hopefully post a bit more. I’ve missed writing out my thoughts!
  • Promotion. A few weeks into the term there were internal interviews to sort out 4 TLRs in my department. People have been in temporary posts for a few years and it was time to do some permanent appointments. I can happily report I now hold a little TLR. I am Pupil Premium Intervention Coordinator for Science. More on that in a separate post. But if anyone has any great blogs or info or advice I welcome it.
  • Going on a course. I’m currently in the middle of a course on leading science cpd with a view to running some physics cpd courses. I love it! Having a day out is exciting. Being a student is brilliant. I haven’t been on a course since an NQT day many years ago. I stopped waiting to be asked and organised it myself. 🙂
  • Being filmed. I let cameras into my lab for a day.  All to try and help non specialists with teaching physics. As a definite introvert you might call this a personal growth challenge 😀 It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I took part. Though in the week leading up to it, I know why I was asked, and agreed to do it, in the summer holidays before the term time craziness started! I would strongly urge anyone to say yes to opportunities like this.
  • Routines. I’m working on my classroom routines at the moment. Focussing for now on the starts of lessons. All my classes start with revision questions. Three of them. One on last lessons work, one from the last few weeks and one from months back. I play some music as they arrive (themed to the lesson, of course), they settle down and answer the questions in the back of their books. It’s my attempt to build revision into every lesson to prepare them for all the assessment at the end of the course and to hopefully keep reminding them of key information so intensive revision will be less of a shock. I remain hopeful!
  • My students. One other fantastic advantage of being full time again is getting to teach more students. As one of only 2 physics specialists in my department, my timetable has been heavily weighted with sixth form and GCSE physics classes with a bit of KS3. Now I’m getting a much broader set of classes. More challenges, more fun? The interactions with students are the really great thing about every crazy day at school.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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It’s time to… show them your personality!

It’s the time of year to plan what I’ll do differently in class next year. How can I be a better teacher? What can I do to get the best possible start with my new classes. I’m sure I’ll write more about all those things another time. For now, I’m going to concentrate on that piece of advice I keep reading: let them see your personality. It’s great for building relationships.

This is not something I’m very good at. If you ask pupils about me I think they might know I have kids, I like physics and I read books.  It’s like the most dull CV personal statement ever.  The keen eyed ones also see the scar from a long term, long gone, lip piercing. I’ve considered this personality issue many times in the past and have always come down on the side of ‘show them nothing. It might be like showing weakness’. But I think I’ve got it wrong.

As I become a more experienced teacher (this is my 6th year in the classroom – 8 years teaching but 2 years out on maternity leave) and the teaching, planning, behaviour, routines etc are all confidently there, I can now focus on things like building relationships. I don’t naively think there’s a secret, easy formula for this, but I think showing some personality could be a good starting point. The teachers I see who seem to have the best relationships with students, and who seem to have the best handle on classroom management,  are also the ones who do showing personality well. So it seems to me anyhow!

Here’s a selection of facts about me that may (or may not) help (and this list isn’t an exhaustive one containing all my interests. I don’t think all the radio 4 stuff has any chance of helping here!):

  1. I watch X Factor. Every year. I’ve never mentioned this to any student ever.
  2. America’s Next Top Model is my all time favourite series.
  3. I’ve watched all The Vampire Diaries. Some year 11s last year nearly spoilered a series I hadn’t seen yet. Did I tell them? no, I did not.
  4. I really like a lot of music.
  5. I really do love physics
  6. and reading
  7. I knit.
  8. and swear a lot (guessing this one will stay away. Of course it will! but I did start off my teaching career pretending my mum was at the back of the room so I wouldn’t swear. That should be my NQT advice 😀 )
  9. I like baking.
  10.  I really am not interested in football.

Where’s my problem with this? Mainly, I’m a definite introvert. I don’t readily give information out about myself and I’m not a natural chit chatter. As anyone, who has met me, can tell you! So revealing any of this in a ‘normal’ conversation goes against my natural instincts (9 out of 10 for physicist stereotype in action). Next year, one of my key personal aims is to try and show more of my personality in class. How will I know if this works? I don’t know. But I’ll probably feel uncomfortable if I do this right 😀

P.S. While I was writing this, I read an excellent blog on advice for NQTs. It was inspired by the same tweet that was one of the things that got me thinking about this topic again:

I think the blog contains great advice and is why I am only just thinking much about building relationships now, after the rest of the classroom basics are sorted.

P.P.S. I feel like I’m using my blog as therapy. Posting this post feels like revealing too much! It’s therapy I clearly need 😉

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My teaching nemesis: Newton’s third

I’m sure everyone has a topic they teach where they teach it, the students look blank, you teach it differently, still blank, you then do it even differently, same response. Doubt, panic, fear! This happens to me every time I’ve taught Newton’s third law and then tried to bring back in balanced and unbalanced forces on one object.

In isolation, the two topics are fine. It’s at the point where they need to hold both concepts in their minds together that they realise they just don’t get it.

I don’t get it, miss

I can’t do physics

This is too hard

I don’t understand

The worst phrases for me to hear in my classroom. I must have taught these two topics somewhere between 5 and 10 times, to different groups. I know I’ll be teaching it at least to two different groups next year.  It’s my teaching Achilles’ heel.

So why am I writing this and even admitting it? Well, firstly I’d like to reassure my employer that I get there in the end with my students. After a few lessons of working through it, exam questions, thinking, reflecting and (most importantly) giving them time to digest the new ideas and sort it out in their own minds, they understand the two topics. But I’d dearly like to be able to teach these topics in a way that doesn’t seem to require my students going through a confusing, doubt-their-own-ability phase. It doesn’t happen to anywhere near this degree with any other topic. I want to know if it’s just me? Is there a better way? is it just very difficult for year 10 to understand?

I’d also like to reassure other teachers that this happens (I hope?!) and we all (probably) have topics we find tricky to teach. Well, I do anyway.

So what’s the problem?

The two topics are very similar, but distinct. My students seem to have trouble distinguishing them. I’ve simplified it down to:

Interaction pairs: 2 objects, equal and opposite forces, forces are the same type and act on different objects.

Balanced forces: 1 object, forces can be different types, If they are not equal and opposite then you get acceleration.

The difficulty seems to be that the phrase ‘equal and opposite’ is thrown all over the place. I emphasise the fact that one situation involves looking at all the forces on 1 object, the other is about 2 objects interacting. We look at examples, do practical work. I’ve done it in different orders.

How can something be moving if the forces on it are equal and opposite?

Because the forces on that object are not all balanced. There is a resultant force on that particular object causing it to accelerate. The interaction pairs to the forces on that object are on other things. Look at the gravitational force, for example…

I can see why it’s quite confusing.

Is it just too difficult for year 10? I don’t think so. I see it’s challenging and makes them think. Perhaps it’s one of the first times they’ve had to actually understand a concept to be able to apply the rules to a particular problem? They try to apply the simple rules but find they need to figure out which of the two situations they are looking at and this is where a lot of them struggle. Last year I told my (very bright, top set) class that they would likely struggle with the next topic, but it’s ok, normal, and they will get there. They didn’t believe me, then everything I’ve described above happened.

Some students do get it straight away. Thank goodness.

I’ve talked to colleagues. They agree it’s tricky.

I’ve read lots of physics books in order to refine my explanations. I’m aiming for perfect clarity. I know I understand the concepts myself and this isn’t the source of the problem. (honest!)

I’ve read Making Sense of Secondary Science – Rosalind Driver et al and in here these issues are highlighted. I’ve followed the advice.

I’ve asked twitter for advice and shown my pupils the marvellous Veritasium video: Best film on Newton’s Third Law. Ever.  (i.e. when despairing get someone else to explain it 😉 )

Is there a better way?  Well, there must be. What is it? help me find a better way 🙂

NOTE: If you are unaware of the topics I’m referring to, you can find out more about them here using this link: forces. It is the BBC bitesize summary of the topic and you need to look at three pages.

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Diverse physicist list – the posters

For the last week before summer, I gave year 12 the task of researching a physicist from a list I provided and making an informative poster with the information they found. They’ve worked really hard after the exams (most of them!) looking at power laws and practicals. I wanted to give them a completely different sort of task – one that was interesting, enjoyable and gave them a different, personal perspective on an aspect of physics. The details of the list I made are here. I put thought into making a list that was both diverse and interesting.

The initial research work was set as a cover lesson. I set the list out on a tear off sheet stuck on the classroom door. This was to try and ensure they all picked a different person and should still work if they arrived at slightly different times. As long as they all took their name with them, and they did! well done 🙂

Year 12 cover

I cut the tabs at the bottom so they were easy to tear off. Please don’t everyone congratulate me on the depth and care of my cover work. This is not a typical example! 😀

They then had another lesson and a half to finish their work before everyone presented their posters to the rest of the group. I sold the poster to them as being similar to academic posters that get presented at conferences. Okay, we might not be presenting at quite that level of detail, but I thought bringing in the idea that a poster can be more than a pretty thing for a wall and something serious academics do might bring some gravitas to the endeavour. Of course I then ruined all that by bringing in some craft things from from home so they could add some sparkle and colour to their work.  And clearly, I’m going to use the posters to decorate my classroom.

So how did they do? Some were fantastic, some were good, some a little bit poor, some didn’t materialise at all. Have a look (presented with no comment on my individual students work):

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Creating a diverse physicist research list

For the last week and a half of the school year I thought I’d give year 12 a special treat and offer them the opportunity to find out about the life of an interesting physicist. I also had to set a cover lesson due to attending some fantastic ipad training! 🙂

My first thoughts for interesting physicists were: Richard Feynman, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking... Come on! I’m not even using my brain here. Why would I tell them to go and research someone they should all have heard of already. Not. Even. Trying. Now these guys are all great and interesting, but they are likely to mostly feature in most people lists of ‘Name a physicist.’

There’s something else about that list… something that isn’t even addressed by adding in Marie Curie. It’s very white, very male, very western Europe and USA. While this does represent the majority of historically significant physicists, I just don’t think it’s good enough. Yes, I might have to dig a bit deeper to increase the diversity of my list, but I think it’s outrageous and lazy to not do that.

When I say ‘dig deeper’ of course I partly mean: ask twitter.  And a bit of :try googling it. I wonder if it’s more shocking that as someone who has been fully involved in physics for the last 20 years (omg!) I didn’t immediately have a range of diverse physicist at the forefront of my mind.

My main criteria for addition to the list, a list of 10 people btw (I have 10 students), is as follows:

  • be a physicist who has done some great research
  • have some aspect of their lives that I consider interesting
  • be a physicist who hasn’t quite achieved the world wide recognition of normal folk and possibly be someone a year 12 physicist may not know much about.

Additionally,

  • try to achieve diversity by including women, non white people, people from places other than western Europe and the USA.

So Marie Curie is out. Too famous 🙂 (But Feynman is in, because Feynman.)

Going with the not-really-universally-famous angle, my next thoughts were for Paul Dirac and Nikola Tesla. Look at how conditioned I am? 😉

I found Maria Goeppert-Mayer next. Great! and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Next to Twitter. Some marvellous suggestions from a whole load of twitter people. Many thanks to all of them. At the bottom of this post I will attempt to list all the physicist suggestions and also list all the twitter help I got. Bear in mind it’s not an exhaustive list. It focuses mostly on women and is a snapshot of suggestions provided by people on a wednesday morning on twitter! Some great suggestions came after I’d finalised my list too.

The final list looked like this:

I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not perfect, but it certainly serves for this application. Interesting physicists with a diverse range of people included. My year 12s will now research these people. I made a tear off list to stick on the classroom door instructing them to choose a person and tear off their name so everyone got a different physicist. Next I am going to get them to make a factual poster on them and present it to the rest of the group. A bit like at a real physics conference (if you squint and use your imagination). I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

A Twitter sourced list of interesting and diverse physicists.

Lovely, helpful twitter people.

Thank you!

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