Thursday, 26 April 2012

Reflections on AST/ET science conference held at the National Science Learning Centre

Last week I went to the National Science Learning Centre at the University of York 

 Not having attended a subject specific course for 3 years (!) I had high expectations. I was not disappointed. Having had some time to reflect on the two days I have decided to use my blog as a way to consolidate my thoughts and act as an aide memoir to support my action planning.

Many of the courses offered by the SLC have bursaries available to course attendees . (Full details can be found here : )
 This was the only way that I was able to attend as my entire subject budget for the academic year is less than the course fees!

Delegate numbers were lower this year than in previous years (due to the uncertain future of ASTs) However, what may have been lacking in numbers was more than made up for in the quality of the discussions that took place. Should the conference run again next year (some doubt over this at present which is another reason for blogging- by spreading the word hopefully the partners                    (see )  will continue to offer funding and teachers might feel inspired to attend in the future.)

The conference began with a keynote speech from the newly appointed national adviser for science, Brian Cartwright ( He spoke of the findings of recent HMI visits specific to science- plenty of useful advice shared... One of the main things that I have taken away from this is the importance of putting science into context and ensuring that children see how science is relevant to their everyday lives. We don’t use APP although I could see how using it does focus on that. I haven’t changed my mind about using it per se, but there are useful aspects of it (particularly AF2- understanding the applications and implications of science.)

One of my actions is going to be to look again at our scheme of work and find ways to make better use of the locality- we are fortunate to have a growing area in our school along with a conservation area set in the countryside a school we do make good use of the outside environment but we certainly don’t spend enough time relating science to everyday life. (I collect in planning from staff each term which is an excellent way to build up a resource bank of planning as well as to have a good overview of what is being taught across the school. ) I know that I don’t put science into context enough so am going to work hard on that this term and disseminate across the school.

The next session I attended was “Top Marks: Making Assessment Real.”
This was all about resources put together by a team of teachers working with Sheffield Hallam University.
(supported by Astra Zeneca Science teaching trust )
It reminded me that I have a smart science pack and the activities we looked at followed the CAR model:
Context rich
Active rich
Response rich.
Already I was making links to Brian’s presentation and thinking about how we could further improve the science in our school.
I particularly liked the model of giving children a selection of answers to discuss as a group. I have used PMI (positive , minus, interesting – here are some useful links to that and
and  “odd one out” activities effectively in class to stimulate discussions and thinking. I am keen to develop further to provide children with an improved range of approaches to stimulate their questioning skills and group work.  Concept cartoons were discussed and it was apparent that many of the delegates were using them. We don’t have a set in school and I think that this is something I can action this term- to get to know how to use them effectively so that I can share with staff. (To be honest I have known about them for ages just haven’t got round to getting the book- this is where going on a conference is so powerful- it is great talking in the staffroom, or on twitter, but a focussed two day course doesn’t half give you an opportunity to really think about things! Having the funding for the course (thanks to the Enthuse award  - this enabled me to attend the course in the first place and there will be some money left after supply and travel to enable me to action some of these points- how fantastic is that J ) We looked at examples where the children were given a scenario with a variety of possible “answers” the challenge being to decide as a group which the “right” answer was. The joy of this approach is that the teacher can give answers tailored to their class/group and it would act as an excellent method of assessing their understanding. My initial response was to try to find a book with lots of examples in. Having had some time to reflect I can see that it is all down to  the approach taken. I need to have a go at coming up with some of my own and share that with the staff rather than just give them a pile of activities (which will just end up in a cupboard gathering dust!)

I hope to be able to work with some other teachers to share ideas and see how we can improve opportunities for children to experience the CAR model. (In our cluster ideally, if not there as an online collaboration... it is on my action plan!) 

The session which followed was “getting the FACTS (formative assessment classroom techniques)

Having attended a brilliant Shirley Clarke conference last year (Active Learning through Formative Assessment)

and having read some of the wonderful Carol Dweck publications I was looking forward to this session to see how I could further embed AFL into my teaching.
The focus was on using AFL as a diagnostic tool and there were some great ideas shared such as the human scatter graph (loved this one) . Links to the previous session included giving children a range of answers to a question. Later this term we will be having a sports week and I will be using the brilliant “In the zone” kit.
I have had a go at thinking of how to use the PEO probe (Predict, Explain, Observe)

You are  going to take your pulse for 20 seconds. Then you will run on the spot for 2 minutes and take your pulse again for 20 seconds when you stop running. You will continue to take your pulse every two minutes after that for the next 20 minutes. What do you think will happen?
a)     Your pulse will go up when you run and stay fast after because you used your muscles
b)    Your pulse will stay the same because you’re really fit
c)     Your pulse will slow down when you exercise because all the blood goes to your muscles and it will go up again afterwards.
d)    Your pulse will go up when you exercise and gradually go back down again afterwards
e)     Your pulse will go up when you exercise and go back to what it was to start with when you stop
I could also/alternatively present the children with a graph of a variety of results and challenge them to explain which they think are correct and why.

I have done a similar activity to this many times but never started off in this way- I can’t wait to try it!

There were so many ideas in this session and I enjoyed the fact that both primary and secondary teachers were working together ( I have NEVER been on anything before that has been cross phase – it was extremely powerful working with colleagues teaching KS3 and 4)
Other ideas that I particularly liked and will be trying out in my class were the card sorts (again this is something that I would like to work with staff on as I could see this being especially useful in our KS1 classes- action point!) This is where children are given a selection of cards relating to a topic and they sort them as they see appropriate, giving reasons. (references given to Marzano’s work into thinking skills )

Using technology effectively is something I am always trying to improve, we were shown how to use a digital camera to photograph the children when they are working and to give them the pictures (that session ideally) to use them to explain what they were doing at that time. Another idea that I hadn’t used and will be trying out in class.

The final session of the day was an opportunity to discuss posters which we had all made as our pre course assignment to talk about some of the work we are doing in our schools and local authorities. This reinforced the strength of working cross phase and highlighted what fantastic work is happening across the country. If only the ASTs could get together on a more regular basis what a powerful and positive force we could be across the teaching community as a whole.  

Phew and that was just the first day!!

Day two
The day began with a choice of workshops (each session was a choice of two so I only saw half of what was on offer- an excellent reason to go again!)
I opted for the problem solving session (got a bit of a theme going on here!)
We talked about the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (link here
Again we discussed the power of giving children answers to choose from- I really don’t know why I haven’t been doing this- that is the joy of having attended the 2 days; I have come away with some activities to use in class that I feel confident will have IMPACT on teaching and learning J
We carried out a series of activities as though we were the children.  This was a great way to see the potential pit falls. There was plenty of time to discuss experiences with colleagues. I attended an activating personal capabilities in science course a while ago and it was good to see how the ideas dovetailed.

The final session was on questinioning to deepen learning. I have devoted a lot of time to honing my own skills in asking questions so was interested to see how to use this to enrich the children’s skills in asking questions.  I particularly liked the model IRE (Interrogate , response, evaluate) and how to move this on to IRPRPRP ( Interrogate, response, prompt, response,prompt etc)
This is (another) area that I am keen to develop further with a view to the children coming up with these rich questions which can be used to base out planning on. With the uncertainty in the curriculum I don’t think now is a good time to start rewriting schemes of work, however, I think the time is perfect to teach children to become successful inquirers and to use those skills to direct their learning more effectively.
Again I don’t think coming up with  a list is necessarily the best way to achieve this, prompts and question starts more valuable if used well. We were show=n a fun APP which generated questions using virtual dice- all tools which can be used easily. Just using “what if?” as a start would promote higher order thinking skills.
I am very keen to foster a culture of “if you know all the answers you’re not learning” in my classroom.  Using questions which can multiple responses  (and osme that can’t be answered even!) can help to underpin this.  I came across this useful document  I haven’t seen an equivalent English one (the amount of paperwork that was coming into schools at one point means it is very likely there was one but I didn’t read it) It makes very interesting reading and again has heaps of suggestions for ways to improve the quality of experiences we provide for our learners.
The day ended with reflections and putting action plans together. I did mine but it has disappeared when I tried to locate it (technology and me don’t always work out!) That was no bad thing though as I put together a far better thought out plan having had time to reflect.
So, what have I gained from the conference?
ü Some great colleagues to network with
ü Some new ideas to try in class
ü A great opportunity to share good practice across key stages
ü Finding out about the elibrary at the stem centre and all the resources that are available
ü Had time to focus on my subject and see how the skills can be used in any area of the curriculum
ü A renewed vision of how I want to lead the subject in my school.
ü Highlighted the importance of having opportunities to attend quality CPD in your subject
In my teaching career to date (21 years) I have been on very few courses whic have been as positive as this. This was in part due to the audience of ASTs and ETs  - the discussions which took place both during workshops and in “free time” were stimulating and enjoyable.
I would recommend attending again without reservation and hope that it continues to run. When I first arrived it was evident that some delegates had been on previous occasions; it soon became clear why that was.
I have written this to help me reflect on the two days and to support my next steps in school as well as to share with a wider audience how useful the conference was and what a fabulous opportunity it was. On reading through I think my enthusiasm comes across clearly J
Please feel free to add comments .


  1. Thanks, Anna, for this lovely and detailed blog. You've obviously got a lot out of the course, and it's great to see how it will impact your school.

    That's why we do what we do!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting; I'm looking forward to seeing the difference some changes can make.

  2. Lots of great ideas - makes me wish I taught more science. I remember our tutor at uni showing us the concept cartoons and we all agreed they were a great resources....and then I forgot all about them till I read this!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read. I love teaching all areas of the curriculum; but science is definitely one of my favourites :O)