Monthly Archives: Mar 2013

#CSciTeach take 3

I have been subject leader for three years at BFS, which is unusual in having 100 pupils, the majority of whom are working below national curriculum level 1 and are diagnosed as having severe and profound learning disabilities. My pupils are aged 11 to 19.

My responsibilities are

*        working as a class teacher and tutor for a mixed group of nine key stage 4 pupils for the majority of their lessons, including OCR entry level science. The majority of this class is functioning between p8 and level 1. I also teach science to a class of six KS4 pupils with severe autism, to another entry level science class in KS5 and to a small group of teaching assistants who are doing their GCSE in one year.

*       Science subject leader. This involves developing schemes of work for the whole school, resourcing these and monitoring their effectiveness by work trawls and data scrutiny.

I am also responsible for gifted and talented provision across the school, which has included developing the policy, leading inset to share this with staff, identifying pupils who are our most able and working with subject leaders to highlight areas of challenge on their schemes of work.

*       mentoring new colleagues, guiding them through the complexities of assessment for curriculum subjects and individual education plan targets. I also work with newer subject leaders to help them develop their skills with leading a subject.

1) professional knowledge and understanding

I designed a cyclical scheme of work which runs over five years by incorporating some materials from strata. This helped me to pitch the work at the right level and ensures key points are covered in KS3 and 4 and that all pupils have access to a balanced curriculum which is linked to their level of academic need. The previous schemes of work were quite dated and contained misconceptions as well as work that was either too hard or not relevant for our pupils.

This means that pupils now get a chance to develop their skills and understanding as they move through school and this compliments our method of recording pupil progress. Teachers have commented how easy the schemes of work are to use and to differentiate as they provide broad objectives and lots of suggestions of activities that can be done by students across the ability range.

As a result of this curriculum rearrangement, staff across school report that they are more confident to teach their science lessons and recent data analysis showed that last year all pupils made progress which was expected (80%) or better than expected (20%).

I have been able to attend OCR run courses about the new GCSE controlled assessment and the new structure to entry level, including coursework. These have both helped me to improve my practice by learning how to moderate the new controlled assessment and in doing so have helped me to teach better the skills needed to complete this work. As a result, all of the entry level pupils have a strong piece of work for their ability and are on track to achieve a bronze award. At the time of writing, my adult learners are likely to get a C grade for their GCSE.

Teaching both entry level and GCSE Science has challenged me as previously I only taught physics at this level. I have had to revisit content in biology and chemistry, to ensure my understanding and devise new ways to teach these. I have sought advice from colleagues on twitter using #asechat as I am the only science specialist at school. This has in turn helped me gain confidence to teach unfamiliar concepts.

I now need to look at entry level for our younger cohort and see if it continues to be a suitable course for them to study.

I take part in a termly science focus group with other special school science teachers from across the West Midlands. We have spent some time moderating work at various p levels which has helped me to judge what work looks like at various p levels and to share this with my colleagues. This in turn has helped them to work with their teaching assistants to ensure that work for the pupils is pitched at an appropriate level. We have recently started developing some app grids based on the p levels and again these will be used to moderate work and ensure staff are identifying pupils at the same levels, while providing another method of checking that our main assessment tool is reliable.

2) professional practice

As part of the gifted and talented role that I have, I run a lunchtime club alongside our phse lead teacher. This is called Explorers Club and we follow the crest stars award. This gives ten of our pupils the chance to look at parts of science that might not otherwise be covered by the curriculum and is having a positive effect on their learning in their usual science class. In time, I envisage this being offered to everyone as a form of achievable accreditation so that our pupils are leaving school with something to show for it. Using crest awards in Explorers Club has made pupils more confident to try new things when experimenting and to begin to take risks and to think about doing their own experiments. They are able to suggest ways to improve practical work and are more able to talk about what they are doing, as well as ask more questions. They are able to talk about what experiments we have been doing when they return to their own class, and our most able pupils are able to begin linking these experiences to others that they have had. We have not been doing this award for very long, but I hope that, in time, we will be able to see an impact on the progress that pupils are making generally. We also do not record work that pupils do in Explorers Club against their curriculum targets as is it supposed to be something different for them to do, but this is perhaps the next step as a teacher, so that the progress that is being made outside of the traditional classroom is being acknowledged.

Last year, I worked with a group of pupils across the school to achieve the Silver EcoSchools Award. This year, we are working towards our Green Flag. This has involved forming a committee which represents the school, helping the pupils formulate an action plan and then carrying it out. As a result, they are now more able to explain about local environmental issues such as turning off the lights and recycling paper. For one of the sections I have arranged for each teacher to take their class to the local nature reserve and have a lesson with the staff there. I hope that this will increase the confidence of the staff to deliver lessons about the outdoors and the environment when back at school, leading to the further understanding of the pupils. We now have pupils who are begining to get a better understanding of environmental issues. I wrote a blog on our Silver award journey and then had a visit from one of the ecoschools representatives who was keen to turn this into a case study to encourage other special schools to apply. She was very impressed with the work that we had been doing and how we had tried to make it relevant to all of our pupils.

For the next steps I need to collect evidence from my colleagues as to the type of environmental work that is being taught in class, both in science and in other lessons so that I can show a lasting legacy of applying for the green flag award.

As an Advanced Skills Teacher I undertook the ‘Getting Practical’ training and disseminated this to staff in several schools across the city. It had the effect of getting them to think about why they do practical work and what they hope to achieve, and in some cases had an impact on the work that was done in the classroom. One of the first things I did on taking up my present post was to run a section of the training with the staff, focusing on expected outcomes from practical work. It turned out that a lot of them did not do much in the way of practical science and those that did often had too many expectations for the outcomes. As a result, when I was redeveloping the schemes of work I made sure that they were predominantly practically based. As a result, better use is being made of the science room and the resources, new resources were purchased to fill in the gaps created by the new schemes and also by the increased emphasis placed on the entry level course. As well as pupil progress improving, verbal pupils are better able to recall what they have learnt while some of our non verbal pupils are able to demonstrate experiments that they have done previously. This has resulted in pupils p levels improving along with their questioning skills.

3. Professional attributes

As Science Subject Leader I am constantly trying to find the best ways of teaching my pupils at all levels, which then informs schemes of work and I share good practice with my colleagues. As part of my role, I also get to observe my colleagues and pick up ideas from them as to how to teach our hardest to reach pupils, as well as being able to suggest to them different activities that they can try in order to challenge their pupils appropriately. I regularly look at medium term planning from across the school and guide staff as to how to make this better in terms of pupil outcomes and differentiation. I am constantly working with staff to improve their practice as both class teachers and subject leaders and Science data from across the school shows all pupils are meeting their targets.

I have been working with others in my position to moderate work at all p-levels and then shared this with my colleagues so that they are able to see what levels pupils are working at and what work should be produced as a result. Our recent work on APP grids should aid this further.

As an Advanced Skills Teacher I spent two years working in schools across the City, helping teachers to develop their practice mostly in Physics but also in classroom management. I worked with two teachers who had more able groups for Physics but did feel confident to stretch these pupils. We worked together to plan lessons, alternated teaching and observing and developed resources. I was able to help one teacher become more confident when using radioactive sources which enhanced her class’ understanding of a particularly abstract topic.

The staff that I supported reported that they felt more confident teaching the topics that we had covered and that pupil results had improved.


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STEM session 4

We recently had our fourth visit from our STEM ambassador, Ken. This time, we were looking at how planes fly (a bit tricky for SLD pupils, it must be said).

We started off trying to get balloons to fly around the classroom, and talked about what was making them move. We then had a look at propellers propeller which was interesting in terms of which pupils (and staff) could make it fly! I learnt that spin it one way, it goes up and spin it the other way it goes down. I still can’t make it fly either way though…

We then moved on to looking at a toy car with a small propeller on the top and a battery to make it move. Sadly, the force exerted wasn’t enough to show on our smallest Newtonmeter.

The pupils found it really hard this time, but we were able to link in a little bit to recent work on forces (push, pull, gravity) and to start to look ahead to our Science Week visit of a flight simulator, borrowed from our local secondary school.

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100WCGU week#80

100 word challenge for grown ups from here, with ‘…despite the pounding in my head…’ as the initial stimulus


Despite the pounding in my head, I knew it was for the best. At my age, the body takes that bit longer to recover, and I’d already pushed it to the limits. That heavy bass line, the non stop boom, boom, boom was going to play havoc with my tinnitus for days to come, and once again I hadn’t drunk enough.

A gig induced headache and ringing in the ears was enough to send me home. It wasn’t quite the way I had intended to spend my birthday, but I was having fun and was reluctant to leave. After all, I had work in the morning.


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Book review: Packing for Mars – Mary Roach

This is an ‘international bestseller’ and I bought it as part of a ‘buy two get one free’ offer, thinking it might provide some light, science relief.

Starting with the premise of a manned mission to Mars, Roach looks at the history of travel in space, from the first animals to be launched on V2 rocket heads, to the current occupants of the ISS, taking in a side glance at Felix on the way.

Covering everything from anti-gravity sickness, diet, toilet and washing requirements, the problems of living in close quarters with others and the possibly more important problem of a safe re-entry to the atmosphere, this book is full of scientific fact and anecdote. Roach has talked to just about everyone she can lay her hands on, through NASA and the astronauts themselves, the researchers of various parts of space travel and has clearly spent an extensive amount of time with the archive.

Her style is very much ‘look what I’ve been doing’ with an over use of footnotes, that in some cases are longer than the point she was expanding on. It’s been written very much for an American audience, with lots of cultural references that I did not understand. There were also, surprisingly, several typos going through the book.

Worth a read, and worth a copy for the school library, if only to give the answers to some of those tricky (personal) questions that the kids ask and to provide relevant anecdotes when teaching space topics.

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