Wednesday, 28 September 2011

All Secondary - Podcasting made simple!

Podcasting  is as easy as pie!

Students like to learn using an audio format. There are many benefits for them; it’s something they can do whilst sitting on a bus or walking to school, they don’t require a pen and it means they can stick their headphones in and no one knows they are actually revising rather than listening to the latest drum and bass track. For some, it’s an invaluable method to digest and retain information.

However, teachers can feel they have neither the technical knowledge nor the confidence to make audio recordings. I felt this way initially, but after taking the plunge, I’m now a podcasting convert. Here’s a quick starter guide…

The Recipe

The Ingredients

  • A computer/ laptop
  • Audacity software (free download, VERY easy to use) 
  • LAME software (also a free download)
  • Headphones
  • Microphone 

The Method

  1. Planning
    Draw up a mind map of what you want to cover. It doesn’t have to be too detailed at all. I give a copy of the mind map to students as they like having the framework in front of them when they listen through initially. This aids memory by organising the information for them. I tell them to listen and pause the recording so that they can make notes onto the mind map. It gives them a visual record of what is said too, which they can add to their files.
  2. Record 
    Press ‘record’. Talk your way round the mind map. Don’t worry about mistakes, simply correct them. You’re aiming to make it natural. Talk as you would in class. It does feel weird initially, but ignore any self consciousness and babble away.
  3. Upload
    For MP3 format you will need the LAME software. Follow the instructions or enlist help if needed, you’ll only need to be shown once!

Three Top Tips

  • Don’t edit!
    Students hear all your 'umm's and 'ahh's on a daily basis anyway. It also saves time. My recordings are not slick, but natural!
  • Don’t listen back!
    Listening to yourself is excruciating. I think I sound like Minnie Mouse. Be brave. Just upload!
  • Don’t forget to personalise!
    You are making recordings for your students, so refer to class activities they may have experienced. 

I can’t emphasise enough how easy it is once you’ve got going. Try it when you have some time... (now there’s the main problem). Happy podcasting!

Eleanor Hills
Subject Leader Psychology and Sociology

Roundhay School

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Secondary English - The end of lesson endings?

To be Continuum...

Two things that I am already tired of this year: the lacklustre endings to my lessons; and my students dreaming through the lacklustre endings to my lessons. So, what am I going to do about it? Follow the advice of a colleague and stop ending my lessons altogether but instead finish with a continuum.

The idea is that students have to demonstrate their learning through sorting elements into a continuum. One possible activity is to ask A-level English Language students to sort a range of texts on a continuum to show how formal/ informal they are; whether they appeal to male/female audiences; if they are closer to speech or writing. Another potential use for this activity is for GCSE students to place characters on a continuum to show which one is ‘most/least important’ to the plot. Students could be asked to place statements on a continuum according to how much they ‘agree/disagree’ with them. Quotations could also be sorted according to two different themes.

What I like best about this activity are the kinaesthetic possibilities. Students can work in groups to sort cards. They could then swap groups to evaluate each other’s continuums. Students could even come out to the front of the class to ‘be’ the texts/statements/characters and a ‘director’ could be chosen to arrange them on the continuum and explain his/her choices.

I have recently tried the text continuum activity out with my year 12 class. And yes, I selected students to stand up at the front. Despite some initial awkwardness at having to peel themselves off their seats and actually look at each other, I was really pleased at how it forced them to engage with the previous 45 minutes learning. I asked more than one student to act as director and we discussed as a class their different choices. It was an excellent plenary for the beginning of the academic year, as it made them talk to each other and, most importantly, talk about their learning. Plus it certainly curbed any end-of-lesson catnaps!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher 
Steyning Grammar School

Monday, 19 September 2011

Secondary Geography - Creating Landscapes

Box Clever

I recently purchased some burger boxes from my local cash and carry, for a few pence each. The following lesson, Year 7 pupils were each issued with an empty box, and an instruction: I asked them to put a ‘landscape’ of some kind inside the box.

There were a few ‘rules’:
The box lid had to close. On top of the box went the words: “Contents: One landscape”, and on the bottom was a map to show where their landscape was located. The inside of the box lid contained the ‘background’ and the base the ‘foreground’ or aerial view. The students could use 3D materials in their landscape, printed images, papier mâché, miniature figures and animals, even smells and sounds if they could think of a way of making it work. They could draw on the inside of the box, or assemble something inside. The landscapes would stay secret until they were revealed in the lesson.

The following week, the students arrived, with their box lids closed. Each student came to the front and revealed their landscape. I took pictures with a digital camera and made a slideshow of them. The students explained what their landscape was, and why they had chosen it. For many if was their first time presenting to the whole class.

When they were back at their desk, each student was asked to describe their landscape, and to imagine spending time in it. They were also asked to suggest what changes might take place in their landscape over time. There was a little light ‘peer-assessment’, as they were asked to explore their neighbour’s landscape and ask them questions.

The activity could be adapted for other circumstances: a city, region, culture, river, climate zone, ecosystem, farm etc. could all be used. One school developed the idea as a competition with the theme of countries.
If a visualiser was available, this would allow the landscape to be seen by all on the whiteboard.

A great example of thinking ‘inside’ the box.

Alan Parkinson
Secondary Curriculum Development Leader of the Geographical Association 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Secondary English - Reading Lessons

Reading the best bits!

Ah the Reading Lesson! As an English teacher, I fight to have them protected, but then dread each week as I face another hour of bored-looking year 7s, dragging their heels around the library bookshelves and not-so-discreetly whispering behind their tomes.

In a bid to make this time more constructive, over the years, I have developed written activities to test students’ understanding of what they have read and (hopefully) to develop their reading skills.  However, this seems to detract from the whole purpose of the reading lesson - to read - and from promoting the enjoyment of this for students of all abilities. And as recent studies have proven (what all English teachers already suspected) that reading for pleasure is a greater indicator of academic success than social background, encouraging students to read for the sheer hell of it is now officially important.

Nevertheless we still have to answer to the powers-that-be about lesson outcomes. I have a plan. This term, we are going to throw away the pens (well, keep them in their pencil-cases) and just read. And talk. And listen. And then read some more. At the beginning of the reading lesson I am going to tell students that in the final 15 minutes, they will be asked to read out the ‘best paragraph’ they have read during the lesson. For the more able students, I will ask them to explain why it is the ‘best paragraph’ they read that lesson and as the weeks go on, I will ask students to explain why other students’ ‘best paragraphs’ are successful.

With any luck this will lead to discussions about tension, genre, writers’ style, and craft.  It should also link to the texts we read in class and help students to transfer their skills of analysis independently. By the end of the year, I hope to report that my year 7 students are now engaging with their reading in a more critical way. And most excitingly, for one hour a week, there will not be a pen in sight!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher 
Steyning Grammar School

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Secondary History - Industrial Revolution starter activity

What can you do with an advert from a Trade Directory?

You know the feeling - you are looking for a good starter activity that will promote discussion and debate, then lead to more detailed thinking about the topic under consideration – in this case the [to many people] dreadfully dull Industrial Revolution. Try using this source – or find something very similar in one of your own County Trade Directories.

This is a tiny, one-eighth of a page advert from the rear section of Kelly’s Lincolnshire Directory 1885. Try projecting it on the whiteboard and asking pupils to tell you their reactions to it.

Normally, it is one of surprise - who would want to order ice, and by train from Grimsby? And intrigue. What size would the blocks need to be in order not to melt? How do you move blocks of ice? How do you carry them? How long would it take? Where do you store them when they arrive from Norway, presumably in the winter, until they are wanted in the Spring and Summer? How much of the ice do you lose in the process? How do you get ‘Pure Norwegian Block Ice’ from Norway to Grimsby? How much would it cost to transport? And then how do you deliver it by train? And then from the station? Without it melting? Who would be able to afford it? Lots of questions which your students may or may not be able to answer. History does not always give us the answers!

Link the discussion back to that grand Tudor or Stuart or Georgian House they visited or studied. It almost certainly had an Ice House in the grounds, usually underground and well insulated. Where did the ice come from? Why did they need so much ice anyway?

The 1880s is the time New Zealand [frozen] lamb started to arrive in the UK, and beef from South America, butter from Australia. Steam ships and railways opened up the world. What part might ice from the more frozen parts of the world play in this process?

Now turn specifically to Victorian housing in the new industrial towns. What were living conditions like - many families lived in one room, most houses were shared. No electricity. No cooker. No freezers. How do you keep food fresh? Tinned food was just beginning – and expensive. There was an insatiable demand for ice.

So you see a simple advert from a trade directory can open the door to many aspects of life in the Victorian period. And liven up your study of the Industrial Revolution too!

Alf Wilkinson
CPD Manager for the Historical Association and previously National Strategist for Key Stage 3 History. Alf has over 30 years history teaching experience and was lead author for Collins Key Stage 3 History resources.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Secondary Geography - The Drawing Game

Using photographs as a visual aid in the classroom is an obvious and vital technique for a geography teacher but also one that can often be overlooked. Talking about cities, countries, landforms and even people is all well and good, but actually seeing what they look like is crucial to cement students’ understanding of a topic.

The problem arises when trying to use photos successfully, so that students are engaged with a picture and not just bored by a slideshow of Google images or your holiday snaps. As a lesson starter I like to use ‘The Drawing Game’ as a simple yet effective way to get the students to really focus on the image that you’re showing them.

  1. First split all the students into pairs and give out one blank piece of paper to each pair.
  2. Have the students in each pair assign themselves as Number 1 or 2. The ‘Number 1’s stay facing forward while ‘Number 2’s take the paper and face in the opposite direction.

  3. Then project your chosen image onto the whiteboard. The ‘Number 1’s are then instructed to study the picture and describe what they see to the ‘Number 2’s, who in turn must attempt to draw what they are being told. The object of the exercise is for the students to attempt to accurately recreate the picture by the art of their partner’s instructions.

  4. Give the class 3 minutes or so to complete their drawings, counting down as you go, and when the time is up, take your picture off the board and invite the students to come and stick their version up at the front.

  5. Then it’s the big reveal – project the original photograph back up on the board. This is my favourite part as at this point the ‘Number 2’s still have no idea what they have drawn and this should prompt a discussion of the complex details of the image and what features their partner picked out to describe. What I find particularly useful is using a picture the students have never seen before as you can start to question them about what they think it is, where it’s from or how it was formed so that they are fully engaged and want to know what they have drawn.  

I have used this exercise with Year 8s looking at Brazilian cities, Year 10s looking at coastal features and even with Year 12s studying periglacial landforms. I usually like to announce a winner at the end of the lesson to add a competitive element and give a reward to the pair with the drawing which best resembles the original projection, (although be warned - even giving prizes or merits to the winners will probably not quell the after-lesson debate of whose drawing was best!)

Simon Reed, Geography Teacher, Sheffield

Secondary English - Get Reluctant Boys Reading!

University of Cambridge student Sam Gould, an ex-reluctant reader, shares his thoughts on how to get teenage boys to engage with reading...

Getting boys in their young teens reading over summer can be a great way to occupy them and broaden their mind. Being 11-14 is still vivid to me: the childlike idealism, low attention span and relentless desire to escape the boring. It was at this age that S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders (a book with a heart of gold) truly grabbed me and amplified my passion for reading tenfold. In creating a world I felt emotionally involved in and a narrator I felt spoke for me, Hinton did me a great favour. The passion I developed for reading afterwards has helped me through GCSEs, A Levels and two years at Cambridge University.  When questioned on admission to Cambridge by a hundred or so representatives of higher education at a conference at Churchill College, Cambridge, I emphasised not ‘gap yah’ experience, work experience or Oxbridge familiarity as my way in (they weren’t!), but having a genuine interest in books and learning, something S.E Hinton and whoever introduced me to such books (my ex-English teacher father) helped foster. If a reluctant reader finds a book that captures his world view in some way and emotionally resonates at this time in his life, it will stay with him for years, decades. He will develop first a begrudging respect for the book, then look for works that resemble that crucial read and eventually get into more cultivated literature. He might even begin to love books, and wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

The problem as I see it is that young adults (boys) are too frequently presented with two kinds of book. On one hand: lazy sci-fi and based superhero escapism which is too young, or sometimes just downright confusing, on the other: facile, derivative playground drama, which tends to get characterisation, pitch and slang completely wrong. Each side is as unconvincing as the other, and as likely to lose a reluctant boy reader’s attention at a crucial point in his education.

To turn ordinary boys in a difficult world into enthusiastic readers, we need to present them tales of other ordinary boys living in difficult worlds, negotiating the fruits and flaws of relationships with friends, family and females, not to mention their studies. They must echo the real world in some way, but this does not mean boring them to death with grit; settings which are colourful and distinct (rather than derivative and nondescript) can drag reluctant readers into a world they won’t want to leave: think Morpurgo’s No Man’s land in War Horse, Ponyboy’s greasers vs Soc’s Tulsa in The Outsiders.

Having trawled through dozens of fiction books for young adult males in the past few days, I’ve realised there’s no shortage of good stuff out there. I’ve found a wide range of authors who know what reluctant readers want to read about and serve these subjects to them in interesting ways. Jim Kay’s breathtaking illustrations in Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls are but one example: they depict a terrifying pagan monster forcing a young adult to come to terms with the truths of his troubled life at home and school. Whilst I don’t think anyone should try to prescribe a formula for the interesting reluctant reader’s read, I’ve found that the best literature at this level (A Curious Incident, War Horse, Stormbreaker, Lost Boys’ Appreciation Society, The Edge, Safe) know what boys want and cater for them perfectly. Such books are well worth investing in, in my opinion.

Click here to read Sam’s ingredient list for engaging your reluctant boy readers and let us know how you get on with your students!

Sam Gould, University of Cambridge student

GCSE Science - Performance Tables

Watch how the numbers add up

In those heady days of August when the results come through – what do you look for first?  A*-C percentage?  A* percentage?  Which members of the ‘intervention group’ made the grade? Your own teaching group’s grades?  The grade achieved by the non too industrious offspring of a colleague? Which of these will determine whether the new school year starts with a spring in the step or a heavy footfall?

Perhaps best to be aware then, that when the School & College Performance Tables are published by the DfE at the end of this term they’re going to look a bit different.  Along with other EBacc qualifying subjects, science is set for a starring role.  The ‘two science’ figures will feature in a number of guises (including, of course, those doing separate sciences); they will show the proportion of the year group that were entered and what proportion gained A*-C.  There will also, however, be a ‘Science Value Added’ score.  VA scores will also be published for languages and humanities as well as English and maths; the stated intention of the DfE is to “show the progress that schools have helped their pupils make” in each EBacc curriculum area.  Now, this could have quite an impact; it’ll certainly put a premium on tracking data.  Look around the classroom – which of the students are making good progress?  A particular student might look a safe bet for a grade C, but will that show good progress from KS2?

Progress indicators are more problematical than outcomes but they can really show where teachers are making a difference.  More credit for getting a L4 student at KS2 to a B at GCSE than a L5 student.  It’s hard to argue with that (at least until the way of identifying the starting point is revealed).

Ed Walsh
Science Advisor with Cornwall Learning

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New GCSE Science - Assessment

Any teacher will be all too familiar with that horrible question, “will this be on the exam?”. Who can blame students for asking it when everything’s about getting the marks in the exam?   One of the key features of the new science GCSEs is the assessment, which is designed to discourage ‘rote learning’ as a pathway to high grades.  We can expect that exam papers will be less formulaic and predictable than in the past, and students will need to be on their toes to get top marks.  While most teachers will welcome this, many will be concerned about how youngsters who have become accustomed to ‘learning what they need to know to pass the exam’ will adapt to new exams that will test much more than simple recall.

In order give students a great preparation and to build their confidence, teachers will want to set plenty of exam-style questions in lessons and for homework. There’s always a danger that this turns into ‘training to pass an exam’, so here are some creative approaches that teachers can use to breathe new life into preparation for assessment: 

• Worked examples based on exam-style can help students get to grips with the different steps they need to take to answer a complex question. 
• Videos/podcasts of worked examples are particularly helpful, as students can use the resources time and time again during their revision.
• To make the process more ‘active’, worked examples can be used to support self- and peer- assessment in the classroom, and also as part of homework activities.
• Including an element of ‘planning’ in any practical activity, however simple, will help students develop the skills needed to tackle the new ‘controlled assessments’.

A focus on scientific skills, rather than learning mark schemes, makes preparing for assessment more fun for students and teachers alike, and is better training for the future scientists who are going to solve our problems and make the world a better place.  It’s a no brainer!

David Read

KS3 Maths - Encourage students to work systematically

Simply take …A set of

This is an activity that could be used to encourage students to work systematically and show you a variety of ways in which they organise a set of things.

You need
• a set of cards dominoes for each pair of students
• cards cut up to A6 in a variety of colours

Students can work in pairs or individually
• From each set of cards remove two dominoes (or more for the more able students) before you give them to the students.  If the sets are printed on different coloured card they can identify the correct  ones from their set

• Ask them to identify which dominoes are missing from their set.
Observe the ways in which the students organise the dominoes that they have been given
They may do it in a very different way from what you expect and follow up their systems

• They can check by looking at the cards that you took out
I lay these out at the front of the room

Once they have completed this they could
• Take another set of cards
• Make their own set of cards: These could be like playing cards, other dominoes, …
They will need to
- plan these first and decide what makes a complete set
- transfer them to a set of cards

They can then swap with another pair of students, hanging on to one or two of their cards
to set them the challenge of identifying what is missing.  This also enables the pairs to work together to check each other’s sets of cards

This activity allows differentiation as students can make the sets of cards as complicated as they wish, and if their sets of cards are correct they have created some sets of cards for you to use in a future lesson.

Sue Briggs

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Primary Speaking and Listening - How well do you listen?

Over the years there’s been a lot of discussion over whether difficulties in following instructions are because of not listening carefully or because of not remembering. We did a little test on the children which turned into a regular practice session on listening skills.

Give the children a sheet of flags made out of different geometric shapes that they are confident in identifying. Ask them to make sure they have colouring pens or pencils in red, blue, green and yellow and to make sure they are ready to listen.

Then use the instructions sheet that comes with this activity for colouring in the flags; e.g. colour all the equilateral triangles red, colour all circles yellow etc. Tell them that you are not going to repeat the instructions and see what the results come out as. When we did it only one child got all the instructions correct. The activity challenges not only listening skills but processing and memory skills too.

Dave Lewis
Portsmouth High School Junior Dept

Secondary English - Read to succeed!

As English teachers we all know the benefits of reading. However, it can be more difficult persuading others in school of this. And I do not just mean the students!

I've done some work helping to lead a county-wide working party focussing on developing reading cultures in school. It turns out that it is even more important than English teachers might realise to encourage our students to read. Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2002) showed that reading for enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.  So establishing a positive culture about reading across the whole school is imperative if we are going to help all our students to succeed.

One of the most inspiring ideas that I have heard about is ‘Drop Everything and Read.’ I first heard about this on the marvellous Teachers’ TV film, KS3 Reading- Seven Great Ideas  based at Werneth School in Stockport. The idea is that every couple of weeks, students will be warned that they will have a ‘Drop Everything and Read’ day coming up and they will need to bring in a book to school. At some point that day a bell will ring and all staff and students will need to, literally, drop everything and read. This is across the whole school, so whether students are in P.E or History, they will stop whatever they are doing, get out their book and read. The footage of this is fantastic- teachers and students reading in weird and wonderful places, with the indefatigable librarians running around the school photographing the event for their notice-board. And it is really is an event. But as with all events it needs to have everyone on-board from the top to the bottom. The most powerful aspect of this idea is that it creates a culture in the school where everyone reads- whether they are the Head-teacher, a member of the Canteen staff or a year 9 student.

After showing this film to our working party, one teacher became so enthused that she went back to her school and within a month had set up a similar event. She had begun by having ‘Drop Everything and Read’ sessions in English lessons, which the students became almost as enthusiastic about as the teachers involved, and then after a couple of weeks rolled out the system to the whole school. This involved having to organise book boxes for classrooms round the school (for those students who forgot their own); a massive advertising campaign, using modified Lord Kitchener posters and presentations in assemblies; and, most importantly, the support of senior management in persuading all staff that this is a valid use of their lesson time.

Frankly, I was amazed at how much she had managed to get done and how quickly. It has certainly put me to shame- I still need to fight the good fight with our senior management- but I am inspired now to get on with it. After all, I want our students to succeed so what better way than to drop everything and read?               

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher
Steyning Grammar School