Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Teaching evolution to Year 6

This half term I have been teaching one of the new curriculum areas to my year 6 class.
Goodness, that is an area that challenges! Determined to make it accessible to the children I have used ideas from a brilliant session I attended with Stuart Naylor to give them an idea of the huge timescales.
( here's a link to the book written in collaboration with Jo Moules )

Last week the children , for home learning, took a moth outline home and coloured it with the remit of colouring so they could hide it in school. When we had a dry day, they hid them and we then pretended to be birds hunting moths.  This really helped to understand the process of natural selection. 

This afternoon we were thinking about variation within species and inheritance. I had drawn a simple pattern ( first of the photos) the children came to a screened off part of the room or at a time to copy the picture the previous child had copied.
The results are here:

They were astonished to see how the pictures changed...tiny changes, over time, leading to something altered.

They have been buzzing with questions ( favourite today, "So, could humans evolve horns at some point?"

We rounded the afternoon with coming up with the offspring of Little Misses and Mr Men and had a lot of chuckles discussing characteristics that could be inherited.

I was quite apprehensive about tackling such a challenging scientific area, but it's been huge fun and the children have been so eager to ask questions. 

Good grief, having fun!? Yes, it IS possible. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Learning in science

I thought I would try something new with my class this year. Well, there are lots of new things: new room, new year, new class, new assessment... the list goes on.

Specifically, I am trying out a 'reporters' book' . The plan is that in each science lesson, one group is responsible for recording the learning that is happening. The group has a camera and the children are not expected to double up on their work, but to record what's been learnt.

Next step maybe to try in other subjects, maths would be my next move.

The point? A record, a revision tool, a discussion point, a way for me to assess understanding .

Will it be useful? Raise standards? Improve understanding? I hope so. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

New term begins ...

So, that is the first week back with the new class of children. Year 6 :)

I am so looking forward to the year ahead- apprehensive about the new assessment procedures but it is the same for everyone so just going to take it as it comes!

Here are my five good things about the new school year:
1) Enthusiastic children
2) Preparing the children to be ready for secondary school
3) Having a lovely big classroom to work in
4) Working with a fabulous team of people
5)Having lots of new challenges

I have written this so I can come back and look at it every time something doesn't quite go to plan.

I am trying out a slightly different approach to my maths teaching which I will blog about once a few weeks have passed.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

And relax...

I was going to have a rant about negativity in the way our profession is all too often portrayed by the media but deleted partway through as that in itself was negative.

So, as the summer holiday reaches its halfway point and the list of things I need to complete to be ready for the start of term grows by  the day, here's to positivity.

As a teacher, being positive is essential , regardless of how I may be feeling that morning, the children deserve to have a teacher who is full of enthusiasm about the day ahead. (We can all recall INSET sessions/ staff meetings where the presenter has been lacking in enthusiasm and how it makes us feel!)  Conversely, being like a Duracell bunny (other brands of battery are available as are other types of small furry mammal ;P) would be somewhat wearing as well. Somewhere in between is where I'd like to be (erring towards the bunny!)

Where is this post going? To act as a reminder that teaching really is a fabulous profession. I am looking forward to the challenges of the year ahead. (There will be many as I will be with Y6 - first time with the new SATs !)  Sure, there will be ups and downs and times when I will want to bang my head on the wall or table, but being positive, modelling that to my class when things are hard so that they see a challenge as something to overcome, not to be afraid of. Life is full of challenges; it is how we deal with them that ultimately shapes us into the people we become.

And I will continue to beat my positivity drum loud and long; perhaps if more of this was portrayed there would be fewer teachers leaving, more joining?  Teaching is not easy, but where would the challenge be in that!

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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Secondary vs Primary... Building trust

Today I  had a meeting at our secondary school to discuss how we can all work together to ensure that progress made in primary schools can be effectively built on in secondary.

Having just attended the ASE Professional learning conference, my head was still spinning with the wealth of ideas and questions that it raised.

Imagine my disappointment to be told that baseline testing for science might be reintroduced as the children come up with, "... hugely inflated levels..."


I totally get the accountability thing- it happens across all phases, every teacher is accountable for the progress made by the children, so accurate assessments are essential- over inflated levels are a headache for the next teacher. I'm really glad that levels have been abolished as this SHOULD get over that. (85% end of KS2 to reach expectations whatever they turn out to be might not be quite such a great thing; time will tell !)

BUT (excuse the irony) assessment is not and never will be an exact science. It is a professional judgement. Made on the basis of the experience and professionalism of the teacher.

How are we ever going to get over this? A through system from 3 to 18 perhaps?

There are some schools now with this age range; perhaps the  "Y7 dip" doesn't happen in these schools? Perhaps there is better understanding between the phases, and perhaps expectations are more consistent? Perhaps...perhaps...perhaps...

I don't have a solution, but what do have is the determination to break down barriers and misconceptions between primary and secondary. We are all in this for the benefit of the children .

I have volunteered myself to be observed by as many of the secondary teachers as they like, not to show "model lessons" but to see exactly what goes on, our expectations, the high standards achievable.  It's not "them and us" .

Bring it on. I have the bit firmly between my teeth, and like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi I am not prepared to let this one go.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Teacher recruitment and retention...Where do we go from here?

I was lucky to be able to attend the recent ASE Professional Learning conference at the University of Hertfordshire.

An incredible line up of speakers which included Professor Shirley Simon, Brian Cartwright HMI, Professor Jonathan Osborne and Sir Andrew Carter had been organised for the attendees and much conversation was generated as a result.

One of the recurring themes was the difficulties  ITT providers are having recruiting their full allocation of trainees.  One of the particular shortage areas was for chemistry graduates (Teach First and PGCE/School Direct at Reading)

A possible solution to this was suggested- to attract more graduates, why not give them greater opportunities to continue their research work ...

This made me wonder why this wasn't available to ALL teachers from ALL phases at ANY stage of their career.  When I did a little reading up of this, I found that Sir Michael Wilshaw had actually suggested this ( see here ) as far back as 2011 (!) However, I don't know any teachers who have been afforded this opportunity.  Perhaps if sabbaticals were available, fewer teachers would be leaving as a reult of exhaustion / burn out. (Teacher drop out stats here  and here)

So, perhaps one way of keeping teachers in the classroom for longer would be to give opportunities for teachers to have time away from their post (no one would expect to be paid for this; that would be too much to ask, but for the job to be held for them shouldn't be too much of a problem, surely?) to carry out research, try something new...

I can see the arguments that school leaders would immediately throw this way:
 All our best teachers will go
What if they don't come back?
What if others want to go too?

BUT how about looking at it a different way... Take on newer (cheaper) teachers, teachers will come back with new skills/enthusiam/ renewed energy...  Perhaps something that could be offered once teachers had been in post for (say) four years with a commitment to returning at the end or giving  an extended notice period to enable schools to find a replacement?

Sir Andrew Carter (review here ) spoke at length about ITT and made all sorts of suggestions such as all schools should be involved with ITT in order to be classed as good or better, and that the whole organisation of schools should be looked at. (A possible model suggested was a class of 60 with one teacher with QTS, a couple of TAs and a couple of trainee teachers- much intake of breath when this was muted in front of a lecture hall mostly of science teachers trying to imagine practical science with that number!)

The facts are clear; fewer graduates are entering ITT, greater numbers than ever are leaving the profession. ( April 2015 Guardian ) It might not yet be a crisis, but it will be if something is not done sooner than later.

Some ideas (non exhaustive!) - Comments welcomed:

1. Offer a guaranteed CPD programme that goes beyond the NQT year - put the money into school budgets which are already squeezed.

2. Ensure that ITT gives an excellent grounding in behaviour management, SEND provisions, Assessment, pedagogy and subject knowledge and plenty of opportunities for trainees to meet with practicing teachers (and for  schools with mentors to be properly funded in order for them to have the time to spend with the trainees)

3. Stop media bashing of the profession

4. Bring back protection for teachers with UPS to facilitate movement  (many pay policies make explicit that teachers will not be taken on beyond M6 regardless of experience which disadvantages those with UPS as they have to take a pay cut when moving)

5. Ensure teachers get at least a cost of living enhancement each year ( 2015 budget )

6. Get rid of Ofsted (OK, I know that wont happen. There ARE changes to the system and there is a list of myths to help schools understand the requirements ( here ) but there are so many inconsistencies that this remains a HUGE concern to schools.

Bottom line, teaching IS a great job. Working with children is a tremendous privilege.  Recognise the dedication , commitment and professionalism of the teaching force.

Endangered can be turned around...

"What office is there which involves more responsibility, which requires more qualifications , and which ought, therefore, to be more honorable than teaching?"
Harriet Martineau.