Teach Now! Science. The Joy of Teaching Science. A Taster.

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Click to buy!

It’s a while since my book was published…and I don’t promote it that much. There is one particular review on Amazon that is terrible – so bad it’s funny.  But it is also wrong and unreasonable, written by someone who is untraceable: no right to reply.  The truth is that despite other good comments my confidence was dented.  I lost faith.

BUT:  this week a visitor made an solicited and unexpected kind remark about my book.  They told me that a young teacher had found it useful and inspiring.  I was chuffed to bits.  I’ve just re-read it and, you know what? There’s some good stuff in there!

Update June 2017:  This review in the UKEdChat magazine was also very positive: https://ukedchat.com/2017/06/25/teaching-science/

Here are the contents:

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Here are a few tasters:

Chapter 4: Planning for Differentiation

Differentiation. One Size Does Not Fit All

So far, we’ve been talking about the students in the class as a group at roughly the same stage in their learning. However, the big challenge in all of this is that your students will all be different. You may teach in groups that are set by ability; you may have a mixed ability group or you may teach in a selective school. Whatever the context, it’s important to remember that every class is a mixed ability class – even the narrowest of setted groups.

You will need to cater for students with a range of skills, aptitudes and dispositions.  One student’s Deep End is another’s Shallow End and there is an important difference between a healthy period of struggling and drowning. The goal has got to be that all students make excellent progress, regardless of their starting point, without making things too safe, or beyond reach. Of course, the wider the ability range in a class, the more difficult and critical it is.  It’s a significant challenge, but not one that is insurmountable.

Reading this chapter you may be thinking for a particular class that you teach, but let’s imagine the range of students you might be dealing with in a typical secondary school class:

Sabrina is supremely clever and conscientious. She will do everything you ask, neatly and quickly and seems to grasp new ideas easily. She’s a certain A* candidate.

 Jack never wants to write anything down but asks questions all the time. He is intuitive and enthusiastic, always puts his hand up, even if he doesn’t really know the answer for sure. His book is a mess but he manages to do comparatively well on tests.

 Daisy is a lively engaging student but she thinks she is rubbish at science. She is always checking to see what other people have done, lacking confidence in her own work. She is stressed by competitive answer calling and hangs back when questions are offered to the whole class; she will take a back seat during practical work if given the choice.

 Michael is often disengaged. He defaults to chatting, swinging back on his chair and fidgeting. He takes a long time to draw a table or to get organised for writing, even if he has remembered his basic equipment.

 Harun speaks English as an additional language but is very intelligent and is very good at maths.   It is hard to separate his cognitive understanding from his confidence with English.

 Alicia is quiet. She joins in when encouraged, does most of the work, always performs averagely well when the class does a test and never causes trouble.

All the various learner-characteristics will be found in limitless permutations and in varying numbers in any one class. Planning lessons where Sabrina, Jack, Daisy, Michael, Taran and Alicia all thrive is the daily challenge. How is it done?

Chapter 6: Classic Teaching Modes.

  1. Teacher exposition: The power of explaining well

Very often the most simple and effective way to get ideas across is to explain them directly to a class, prior to giving the students the opportunity to answer questions or practice problem solving based on the concepts in hand. The research by John Hattie into effective teaching gives this instructional mode a very high rating in terms of effect size. Explaining scientific ideas to a class is therefore one of the most important skills to develop for any Science teacher.

In this section we focus on the explanatory input, but throughout consider that the next stage would be for students to have questions or tasks of their own that help them to consolidate their own understanding. In Chapter 8, we’ll look at formative feedback in detail as this too is a critical part of the overall process:

Teacher explains; students practise; teacher and students exchange feedback; students do more practice. Teacher explains some more… and so on.

I’ve often thought that teachers don’t spend enough time rehearsing and sharing their explanations. It should be a central part of our professional dialogue and training. If you are teaching an area of science that is not a particular strength of yours, the most important thing to do is to study it in more depth. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Rehearsing your explanations could be part of the process.

There are lots of ways to explain ideas and, in practicing them, you soon find out how well you’ve understood the science yourself. They include:

  1. Making ideas as simple and repeatable as possible, gradually increasing the complexity.
  2. Making connections to everyday life
  3. Walking through the ideas with worked examples.
  4. Using models connecting the abstract to the real.
  5. Using pictures and diagrams
  6. Using Analogies

We’ll go through them one by one…..

2. Whole-Class Questioning:

  1. Probing

In this process, you are essentially conducting a whole-class discussion. My Year 6 son likes to call them ‘conversations’, suggesting that it is very much a dialogue amongst all participants. You ask a series of questions that are designed to seek out the truth in a particular scenario, probing ever deeper.

You need to ensure that the golden rule is strictly adhered to: Everyone listens when someone is talking.   I would also suggest that this works best with a ‘no hands up’ rule, so that you are in complete control of who to bring into the discussion at all time. Students can ask questions by putting hands up but plead to answer them.

There is an intensity to this kind of questioning that can be extremely engaging for all concerned: This is an example of the teacher’s side of an exchange. The original question concerns the nutrients supplies to a set of plant specimens in different environmental conditions and the projected growth rates.

Harun, what do you think? Which plant is likely to grow most quickly?

That’s interesting, what makes you think it is Plant D?

 That’s true, but what about Plant E. Isn’t that the same?

 Sam, is there a different variable we need to consider?

 Can you give an example of what might happen if we increased the CO2 concentration?

 Can you explain how you worked that out from the graph?

Sabrina, does that mean we can make plants as big as we like?

 Really?  Are you sure? Is there a limiting factor there somewhere?

 Jack, over to you, which of the nutrients makes the biggest impact?

 That’s possible. What is the evidence that supports that suggestion?

 Does anyone agree with that? Why?

 Ok, Daisy agrees. Does anyone disagree? What would you say instead?

 Right, Clara and Harun. Can they both be correct? How would that be possible?

 But what’s the reason for that? Is it just about photosynthesis or is it something else?

 Fabulous. How did you know that? Where did that idea come from?

 Is that always true or just in this example?

 Minnie. Can you add to that? Is the range of plant sizes directly linked to light? What type of relationship is it?

 I’m not sure if that’s quite right… have another go… is that what you meant?

 That’s the gist of it… but could you say that more fluently? Let’s have that in a full sentence.

Chapter 5: Managing Behaviour and Building Relationships: 

Using Language for Effect

 Inspired by the work of Bill Rogers, I have found that it is extremely powerful to develop a mode of teacher talk where my use of language reinforces the more overt messages I am trying to give. This can be artificial at first but, with practice, it soon becomes habitual. There are two main areas that I find useful:

 Affirmative Language

Here, when giving commands, you focus on the outcomes you want rather than the opposite. Here are some examples:

  • I’d like the back table facing forwards with books open and equipment ready. Thank you.
  • Hassan, I want that retort stand back in the rack and your books all packed away in your bag.
  • Sadiq, (pause for attention), this is a silent study task. Thanks. First warning.
  • Matthew and Jamie, I’d like all five questions answered before you go to lunch. OK? Thanks.
  • What’s our rule about walking around the lab? Let’s stick to it thanks. Great.

The effect is powerful. Instead of a stream of corrective negatives, you convey the message whilst maintaining a positive atmosphere and avoiding conflict. If you tell a student that you want them listening in silence, the effect is different to asking them to stop talking. You give them space, the benefit of the doubt and reinforce what you want, rather than what you don’t want.

Similarly, it often pays dividends to focus on students who are doing what you want, rather than give attention to those who are not:

  • Well done to this table. We’re all focused on the graph and trying to plot the points accurately.
  • Superb work James. That’s set up just right and you’ve got your safety glasses on ready to go.
  • Thanks to this row here. Everyone appears to be listening and ready.
  • We’ve got a superb collection of homework here; these students will get the feedback next lesson.

By concentrating on the actions of compliant students you get things in perspective. Instead of berating the three late-comers, you thank the 25 who arrived on time. The message is clear but the emphasis is different. This also works for homework, listening, packing away and any number of other tasks and expectations.

The Language of Choice

There are many situations where you achieve a swift positive outcome with students who are not behaving well by offering a choice rather than focusing on a specific demand. If you develop a language of choice in your everyday dealings with students, it creates a culture where students learn to make decisions about their behaviour without feeling boxed into a corner.   Usually, the choice is between doing what you want them to now or doing something they’ll find less palatable that has the same outcome.

  • You can finish the work now or stay on a lunch and do it then.
  • You can sit by yourself where I’ve asked you to or work silently where you are now.
  • You can do the experiment sensibly on your own or I can join you and we can do it together.
  • You can listen as I’ve asked or I can give you a formal warning and log it on the system.

Students will not always make the right choice; but very often they will if you give them one. If they don’t, you must follow through with the alternative without exception.   I have found this strategy incredibly helpful in the classroom and it has been helpful at home with my children too.

Further excerpts are available via the Amazon Look Inside feature:

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And here:

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If you like the sound of this book – buy one! Better still, buy the whole series for the newest members of your team.  We wrote them specially for the least experienced teachers and trainees.  Together they make a great set capped off nicely by Geoff Barton’s The Essentials of Teaching.  He knows a thing or two!

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The Teach Now Series. A must-read!


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