Monthly Archives: Jul 2012

Learning Moves – an article about a dance/science project

I’m scared of heights. Well, more specifically, I’m scared of falling.  So how did I come to find myself being supported horizontally at shoulder height by six people I had only met a few hours earlier?

I’d been volunteered for a Dance/Science project funded by Creative Partnerships and this was the introductory session.  I was working with a team of dancers, discussing how I saw the project working.  Part of our feedback session was the demonstrate some of our findings and hopes for the project.  Since I had admitted to frequently making a fool of myself on a skateboard when teaching basic Forces concepts – which was to be the focus of the project – I suddenly found myself being the skateboard!

Learning Moves was a project which aimed to explore the teaching of Science in a different kinesthetic way.  The pupils in the class chosen were mostly identified as kinesthetic learners and they were given the chance to explore aspects of the ‘Forces’ section of Physics using movement.  It was hoped that the pupils would be able to interact with their surroundings and be able to link their learning into everyday life; so that they can see the relevance of Science to themselves.

The project involved me, a Physics teacher; Julie, one of our teaching assistants who has a dance background and two dancers – Fran and Alexis.  The pupils were my bottom set year 8 Science class – about 14 of them on average.  In theory, that meant they should be working at level 3 with an expectation of level 4 by the end of year 9.  In practice, something went wrong and I had a much wider range of abilities in there, right up to pupils who were working at level 5.  Why me? Because I’m known to be a bit innovative and open to trying new ideas in the classroom.  We spent about 8 weeks working with the pupils on a Friday afternoon – this meant taking them out of their Music lesson as well as my Science lesson.  The dance was very physical – following observations of the class in their ‘natural surroundings’ of a Science lab, the dancers decided that the more physical we made the sessions, the better.

We didn’t just dance though.  Once we had warmed up, we looked at Physics concepts and used those as a basis for our work.  We looked at where forces acted on the body when it was in certain positions; we explored the effect of forces on each other – pushing and pulling to change speed, shape and direction; we put together dances based on a random selection of the following keywords – speed, shape, direction, push, pull, friction – and challenged pupils to move across a space in as many different ways as they could.  We spent some time outside, looking at the effects of air resistance on speed.  Pupils ran the length of the tennis court holding one or two umbrellas, and compared their results to pupils holding none. They were able to feel the effects of air resistance and talk about why they were running at different speeds.  We repeated the experiments inside and discussed the reasons behind the differences in results.

The whole project was videoed with the aim of making a final presentation DVD.  Some of the pupils did not like this initially, but having seen playback in their other lessons their behaviour and attitudes improved and they began to take responsibility for the filming.

At first the pupils were reluctant to participate – they were enthusiastic in principle, but when they had to join in, that was another thing.  They found it hard to stand in a space on their own, and even harder to lie quietly on the floor.  Some of the boys found all sorts of distractions in the theatre space we were in, which led to a few problems.  When we learnt a sequence of moves, for use later on in the project, it was amazing how many of them just gave up when they couldn’t do it.  As the project progressed, and they began to take ownership of their work, the boys in particular were very keen to keep practicing to get it right.  The girls appeared less bothered if no one was watching.  The use of video was interesting; it motivated the pupils to do better and make their dancing look nicer.

There was no direct impact on their results for that particular topic.  However, from the project they gained a desire to learn and to do better in future; this lead to them working much better together as a class. There were fewer distractions, they were able to complete experiments and discuss their findings with confidence.  Their test results for the final two topics of the year were significantly higher and a number of pupils were working at a level 5 by the end of the year.

Knowing that they were making a video which they could keep was a real motivator for the pupils.  In the end we made two videos – one showing the journey that the pupils had made during the project – that chaotic scenes at the beginning and the well rehearsed dances at the end; the other was an edited piece of their dances. The pupils enjoyed the project and were sad when it ended.  Their comments were recorded in my learning journal – we had talked to them before about what they thought of Science and what they did and didn’t enjoy in lessons. Before the project started they all said they enjoyed practical work and dislike written work although they were all positive about Science lessons.  By the end of the project, most pupils had noticeably grown in self confidence and were asking more questions in class.  They were able to work more independently and were beginning to respond positively to changes.

Jake: “It was more active”

Kieron: “I learnt how to work together”

Lauren: “I learnt what forces do”

Ayden: “As the weeks went on I started to enjoy it because the teachers were encouraging me.  I reckon that I learnt more on friction, movement and shape”

Taken from my learning journal, spellings corrected but grammar left unchanged

As a teacher, this project gave me more confidence to be completely outside the box when teaching Science.  We were able to get more physical in class, I was able to give the pupils longer term projects to work on and trust them to take pride in their work.  It would be useful to repeat the exercise – certain bits of the project will be written into schemes of work so that all staff can have the opportunity to try them. I do feel that one of the reasons the project was so successful was because it wasn’t just about me as a teacher trying to teach Physics a different way, it was about having the professionals and the ideas and the way the pupils responded to those people.  We are looking at trying a similar, confidence building exercise with our Breakthrough group for next year; if it were to happen again in Science lessons the pupils would be chosen in consultation with the PE department so that they were all either confident at dancing and not so at Science or vice versa.

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In praise of OCR Entry Level Science

This was originally an email to someone who contacted me through the TES website. It might be useful to someone else, so I’m sharing it.

The mainstream school I used to work at has a low ability, low attaining group of pupils and many disaffected learners. I shall try to answer your questions.

1. How do you use the entry level course?
We run the course alongside the OCR Gateway Core. Most (but not all) of the Science Plus modules (12 bio/chem/phys) map into the core course, so we taught the science plus first – recommended four or five lessons on one module, revision and test and then added in additional, appropriate content from the core. (e.g. only really teaching the section on the spec marked ‘foundation’. The same logic was applied to exams/past papers – don’t worry about those bits we haven’t done, concentrate on what we have). The course was as practical and discussion based as possible, with as little permanent writing as we could get away with (poster work, mini-whiteboards) but obviously some practical recording skills need to to practiced – and the ‘can do’ tasks are still in the Science Plus course.

2. Does it work?!! Do the students enjoy it?
On the whole, it’s a great motivator. My last class (7 students regularly attending) where all predicted F/G for Core, all exceeded target by at least one grade, and one of them got D! There’s certificates once they have attained so many points – keep on top of the points, fortnightly updates for the pupils (or whenever you do something) and once the level has been achieved award certificate as soon as possible. We asked the HT to come over from his office to sign and present certificates in class, needs to be someone more ‘important’ than just the class teacher so pupils do value it. A letter home doesn’t go amiss either. Once the HT was ‘busy’ and kept forgetting, so two of the girls actually went to his office and demanded their certificates. He never was ‘busy’ again!

3. How realistic is it to hope that students following this course will be able to track across onto the Core Science GCSE?
No problems at all and the added benefit that poor attenders can have something to take away at the end of the two years even if they fail to turn up for the GCSE. The only change recently is the coursework. Science Plus coursework used to be similar to Science in the News, so one piece of work covered both, but that’s not the case any more. You can though use the Science Plus coursework as ‘practice’ for the Core coursework.

4. How well resourced is it?
There are textbooks available which are very good, and aimed at the poorer readers, with simple questions, but a lot of what you have for core will be relevant anyway. Not so sure about worksheets, I tend to avoid reading/writing tasks unless class receptive to them. Tests, certificates and markschemes available on interchange. We tend to teach the topic for four weeks then a lesson of revise and test (using similar questions to that on the test for revision!). It’s all administered in house, so you can read the test to the whole class if necessary – I sometimes need to change the wording to make sure question is understood. Mark the test at the end of the lesson with the pupil there – helps if they’ve missed a question or you can’t decipher an answer and then you can annotate – also gives pupils instant feedback as to how well they have done. Pupils can also have someone else write the test for them – I get the TA to sign the front just so the moderator knows there have been a range of people involved in writing.

5. How much curriculum time do you give it? The same or less than the rest of the cohort get?
For ease of timetabling they had the same science lessons as the others, in our case 6 a week (2 bio/chem/phys). It helps, in that although you’re doing core + Science Plus over two years you can take coursework slower, fit in the extra units, go back and revise, etc

6. Any other lessons that you’ve learned and that might be helpful for us?!
Don’t give this class to staff who are rubbish at keeping on top of paperwork. The number of times I’ve rummaged through other staff desks to find tests that the pupils claim to have done, mark them and add them to the spreadsheet so that pupils have the points for a certificate….You’ve got one of those, I’m sure! For the pupils to really engage, the response has to be pretty much instant. No point giving back test scores a month later. They’ve forgotten, or they aren’t bothered. Keep up to date with can do tasks and a running points total – I’ve got bar charts on the wall up to 40 which is bronze for the pupils to fill in as they get points, then those who are on silver get a new bar chart – they like to see where they are at and how many more to go.

Make sure you catch pupils who have been away with tests, as every test gives points towards the end result. Even if they get half marks, it still counts!

Get yourself and the other teachers for that set onto the OCR Entry Level course – it’s invaluable for the logistics of the course, it’s free and all three teachers will need to be aware of the recording side. Or, if you have a TA who is with them for all their Science lessons they may be able to help with the tracking/recording?

Oh, file the tests in the right order so you don’t have to waste time rearranging them to send them off for moderating!


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To the beach!

Some time back in May, when we were fresh from the Easter break, we decided that a day out would be a lovely way to begin the wind down  to the end of the summer term.
Somehow, though, as the most expeienced member of staff in the year team, the bulk of the oragnising fell to me. So, three minibuses, two cars a handful of parents and 40 packed lunches later we were off. The weather held, the kids had a lovely time, and interacted well with pupils from other schools who were also there.
Thirty pupils.with sld, asd, pmld have enjoyed paddling, feeling the sand between their toes and going on a variety of soft play/fun bus/trampolines. ALL of the pupils who are wheelchair users wee able to get out and have a paddle and play in the sand. After a picnic lunch, we had a boat ride and a mini train ride before heading back to school. It’s a shame sometimes to have to be constrained by the school day, but when you’ve got the transport home with you, there is no choice. Besides, the changing facilities weren’t great either!

We didn’t lose anyone, the staff and parents enjoyed themsleves too and once again we proved that the pupils who get the wettest in the water are the onds who didn’t bring a change of clothes.

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In the Zone

As you are probably aware, the Wellcome Trust have produced a sports themed Science kit to compliment the Olympics year and sent them out free to all schools in the country. There’s a great website too which is well worth checking out, even if you don’t have the kit to go with it.

We were lucky enough to be able to request a Primary box – one look at the contents of the Secondary box was enough to show that it was too complex to access, even for our most able students and would just sit and gather dust. The box that we did receive has been used by at least five classes, and our lunchtime Science club.

Brilliant Bodies – we all had fun trying to put the bodies together and name the various body parts in the Brilliant Bodies game on the whiteboard. Our less able students were helped by the words being read out loud and for our more able students we turned the sound off to make things harder. The flashcards with different activities to try were used with three different classes, right across the age range of the school. Some pupils found activities harder than others but all joined in and were able to recognise the talents and difficulties of their friends. One pupil enjoyed the session so much that he asked Fizz the puppet if he could do it again the following lesson. Unsurprisingly, the pupils found the balancing part of the section the hardest. Many of them could not stand on one leg for more than a few seconds, and a lot of them struggled to walk along the ‘balancing tape’. This has highlighted some areas that we can focus on in PE lessons next term.

Stupendous Steppers – the pedometers have been the most attractive part of this unit, with one of pupils insisting on wearing his every day to see how far he has travelled.

Super Athletes – we tackled this session in our Science club. Pupils enjoyed drawing round their feet and using these templates to ‘measure’ other parts of their bodies. They also enjoyed comparing their foot sizes with their friends. This, and the other measuring activity, produced a lot of discussion and use of comparative language. The jumping activity also prompted discussion. Of course, as the person with the longest legs in the room I was expected to jump furthest. The second longest jump came from one of the pupils with the shortest legs! Again, it comes down to coordination and many of our pupils seemed unable to complete a two-footed jump.

Heart Beaters – I’ve not taught this topic myself, but it was great to see that two of our KS3 teachers did. Pupils could be seen marching around the playground, trying to complete a set number of steps on their pedometers before seeing what had happened to their heart rates. With support from the school nurse they were used the stethoscopes to listen to both heart and breathing rates and I suspect they used the school pulse meter as well.

Overall, the pupils have enjoyed and engaged with the resources in the box, which arrived just in time to compliment our Olympic themed curriculum. They have remembered what they have learnt from one week to the next and have been keen to share with other staff what they had learned. More able pupils had a chance to record results using a table and then talk about what they had found out. It was lovely to see some of them helping a peer who has PMLD to draw around his foot and measure parts of his body with the template. Staff have enjoyed using the resources provided and have also been talking about what they and their class have been doing. I shall make sure that the resources and activities are written in to the appropriate schemes of work so that they can continue to be used to inspire our pupils.

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The bane of teacher’s lives in mainstream – moderation. At least though, for courses by exam boards (Entry Level, GCSE, ASDAN…) there’s a markscheme and it’s easy enough to argue over interpretations of said markscheme.

In special education, we are expected to assess and evaluate pupils progress on a weekly basis, recording half termly in a program called ‘b-squared’ – at my place, anyway. However, b-squared has many flaws, among them that it doesn’t cover the whole spectrum of the National Curriculum and that P7 and P8 are often harder to attain than L1. (For the uninitiated, P level descriptors can be found here)

In an attempt to support the assessment from b-squared we moderate classwork for a range of pupils on a regular basis. Every so often, the Science teachers across several LA’s get together and moderate across the schools. How else do you get enough subject specialists and share opinions as you would in a mainstream Science department?

Anyway, things I feel I can take back to school following the recent moderating session:

  • without knowing the student and careful annotation a piece of work can be assessed at anywhere between a P7 and L2 – we need more annotation
  • TA’s need to be involved in the moderation process, so that they appreciate more the levels that pupils are working at
  • photos used for evidence need to be either annotated or accompanied by a witness statement
  • perhaps we need to practice anonymous annotation in school – that way we aren’t swayed by ‘knowing the pupil’

It is really difficult to find work that matches the P level descriptors, particularly when so much other work is done in Science. To moderate efficiently, we need to get a feel for how other work fits into the P levels, otherwise we narrow the range of what we are teaching and teach, almost, ‘to the test’. I was able to produce two pieces of work for one pupil that ‘shows’ she is working at L1. She’s not, really, or she most likely wouldn’t be in my class!

An ongoing process, I feel, and one in which we have a lot to learn.

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