2017 – A reflection

I have not written much this year, this is possibly a reflection on how much has been going on. I’ll start with 5 highlights from 2017.


At the ASE conference in January 2017 I was talking to some ASE members about whether I could apply for this. I already had RSci but wasn’t sure that I’d done enough to qualify for CSciTeach. After a discussion with Linda Needham and Tanya Dempster I was persuaded that it was worth looking into – and I’m glad that I did. Although the application was time consuming – a real reflection on the impact that the things I’d been doing had on me, the students, my department and beyond. The reflective process played a big part in my decision to apply for a HOD position – rather than listening to the ‘imposter syndrome’ voice inside my head – I could see, written down on paper evidence that I was capable of this. CSciTeach was awarded in Feb.

Becoming Head of Science

When I wrote a review on the 1st Jan 2017 I ended with a comment about thinking about my future path and whether or not I wanted to be HOD. I commented that I hoped that the existing HOD would carry on for a few years, but in February an unscheduled department meeting was called and I knew that this meant he was announcing his retirement and I’d have to make a decision a bit sooner! He told me that he thought that I probably thought I wasn’t ready but that he thought I’d be a strong contender if I did want it. I did apply, using lots of the evidence from my CSci Teach application in support and was up against some very experienced teachers. At the end of the day when the Head rang me with feedback he told me that they hadn’t made their decision yet, I assumed that I had been unsuccessful. I was quite shocked when the Head asked me to come to his office the following morning before school and told me that they would like to offer me the position. I was even more gobsmacked that they had agreed to let me retain my part time status to give me a chance to prove that I could do the role on 4 days a week.

Feeling valued/supported.

This links very closely to the point before. My department have been hugely supportive, I could not ask for a better group of people to work with. They were very encouraging about my application and have been invaluable support over the last term as we have faced a number of challenges. All of the cups of tea and random notes/chocolate left on my desk are all appreciated. I do tell them that I am grateful and I hope that they know that the words are from the heart. It isn’t just my department though – on the day that my appointment was announced I had lots of hugs from various members of the admin team and a round of applause from other teachers/TA’s when I walked into the staffroom. Students too have been very positive about my new role. Everybody needs to feel valued and when things have been difficult this term, the kind words and thoughts from others have kept me going.

Tutor group

My form left in May this year. Apart from being a wonderful group of young people, they were special because they joined the school the same day that I had and I felt that we had made the journey together, although I didn’t become their tutor until Year 9. I was lucky enough to have taught almost all the students in my form at some point during their time with us. At times, I found being a form tutor the most challenging part of my job and I didn’t always find it enjoyable. I worried about them a lot and I seemed to nag some of them quite a lot too (earrings, hair, short skirts, lateness). There was a lot of laughter too though and I felt quite sad to say goodbye to them. I wasn’t sure that they were particularly bothered but the day before they left, one of the girls came to see me at the end of the day and handed me an envelope. The letter left me in tears and with a realisation that some of the little things that we do in a day really are noticed by the students and that they are really grateful. I also had these cakes made by 3 of the boys in my form.


This was quite unexpected and is one of the loveliest things that a student has ever presented me with. The cakes weren’t edible – they were very clear about that, but they wanted me to know how much effort they had gone to – 3 attempts  – you should have seen the photo of the cooker too! I was really touched by the thought that had gone into it – they had even put the cake into insect moulds because I’m a biology teacher. Even though I am grateful for the extra time I have in the morning now, I have really missed my form this year.


A new car

Not teaching related at all. This year I replaced my old car after my husband pointed out that the list of advisories on the MOT would likely cost as much as the car was worth. This was the first time in my life where I was able to consider what I actually wanted to drive rather than having to think about factors such as having room for a pram in the boot. I feel quite grown up.


Looking forward to 2018.

My department is undergoing a huge period of change at the moment. I have 3 new staff starting this week. With change though comes opportunity and I am excited about the challenges that lie before us as we have a real chance to make changes that will make our department even better.

I am looking forward to improving my subject knowledge. At the beginning of the school year I picked up a triple chemistry group in Year 9 and I have really enjoyed teaching them. As we go back this term I pick up the Year 11 group of a colleague who left at Christmas. I’ve taught lots of chemistry before but not the separate content. I loved Chemistry at school and I’m excited at the prospect of developing my knowledge and understanding of chemistry and bringing that into the classroom.

I still haven’t achieved a balance, but I have made positive steps towards it. One of my friends asked if I wanted to sign up for a T’ai Chi class at the local college. Initially I thought I didn’t have time, but I decided that I needed to make time and I’m really glad that I did. I did T’ai Chi many years ago when I was writing up my DPhil as it helped me to manage stress and I’m pleased to say that it has the same effect now. I think it is being forced to stand still, stop and concentrate on breathing. I am able to clear my mind completely which is something that I usually struggle to do. I look forward to the classes restarting in January and aim to keep it up for the rest of the year.


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Required practicals

I have discovered that the practical skills of many of our students are not as good as I would like them to be. This has led us to think more carefully about the practical work that we do in KS3 and how we focus on the skills that they need for KS4. This is a work in progress, but we aim to make the focus of the practical more explicit and give them lots of opportunities to develop  the skills that they need.

In terms of assessment, I have collated a number of questions about practical work that I use in class with the practical or as part of an end of unit test. The questions have been taken from the IGCSE practical exams and specimen papers. I really like the PRODMEE approach that @teachingofsci has blogged about here and have used something similar with our evaluation cubes. This has been quite a successful way of getting students to really think about the different aspects of the practical work that we have covered.


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When I sat down to write this I realised that I didn’t write one last year. Oops.

5 things from 2016.

Y6 SATS and secondary school applications.

This was probably the biggest change that happened to us as a family. At the beginning of the school year we’d gone along to a meeting at school where they showed us some of the questions that were in the sample papers. I couldn’t do some of the SPAG ones. This was quite a shock to me and I was quite worried about how I was going to support my son when I didn’t know what fronted adverbials were and about all the different types of conjunctions.It broke my heart when he asked me if he’d be a failure if he didn’t get 100. Our children shouldn’t be thinking this way. He had a bit of a wobbly start to the year but with the support of his amazing teacher we got there. I felt pleased for him that he still got to learn other things other than preparing for SATS all year and I think the school did a good job of making sure that they children were not worried. He was positively running into school the week of the SATs – although I think that may have had something to do with the free breakfast (bacon rolls) that they put on for all the Y6 children and their teachers that week! I thought it was a nice way for them to start the day. I still struggle with fronted adverbials – even with the revision guide (for my benefit), I hope that by the time son number 2 reaches this stage I will have worked it out – failing that I’ll be getting my eldest to help me as he got his highest marks on the SPAG.

Applying for secondary schools was also a big step. It was quite an experience being on the other side at open evenings. My son really wanted to go to the local college. He really liked it when we looked around and it’s where all of his best friends were going. He would also be able to walk to/from school. I had my reservations. Their exam results the previous year 5A*-C were approximately half the value obtained at my school. The school has been taken over by a new (local) MAT and so far things look positive. My son is very happy and the recent Y7 parents evening was very positive. I have been really ptoud of the way that he has adapted to the changes and how he has thrown himself into college. It was a pleasure to hear from his teachers that he is well mannered, enthusiastic and takes real responsibility for his own learning. I have enjoyed him sharing pieces of homework with me that he says he is proud of.


This year I attended #teacher5adayscience at Eggars School in Hampshire. Around 50 science teachers from around the UK met up to talk about the new science GCSE’s. I found this really and the discussions since very helpful. I am hugely grateful to all of the teachers who have willingly shared ideas, resources, time and advice with me over the last year. A big thank you to @MartynReah and @Testbourne_Gray for organising. I also attended a TeachMeet recently at a local school and was able to share resources and ideas with them too – hopefully that is something that will be more frequent as i cam away with some really good suggestions – especially for getting students to look at assessment and to reflect on what they had done and well, what needed improving and what to do next.


@hrogerson told me about Quizlet last year and I introduced this to my Y9 class as a way of reviewing key vocabulary for our topics. It proved to be more popular than I was expecting. Once they realised that there was a game and that it had a leaderboard some of them became very competitive and were very pleased to announce to the class that they had knocked me off the top. For some students they found this a very effective way of revising and I found that after using this I was seeing more scientific words in their answers to questions. I shared it with Learning Support as I had a few students who worked there frequently and I wanted to share that they were finding this helpful. They really liked it – especially as it will read the text to the students – this will help the students with literacy difficulties – especially as it is something that they can access themselves. Learning Support then purchased a teacher account so that we could add pictures as they said this would be a big help. I’ve now produced around 90 quizzes for KS3/4 science and I’m in the process of helping teachers in other departments see how they could use this in their subject area. I know that it isn’t for everyone – but I’ve found that some of my more reluctant students will use this willingly and I found that one of my Triple scientists had set up a group for his class and added all of the relevant quizzes.

Year 11

When my current bottom set Year 11 class took their science mock exam in Year 10 I found that they did not answer any questions that involved maths and they barely attempted the longer written answers. They were throwing away marks that I knew that they could access. I blogged about it here but basically went through all the past papers and pulled out all of the questions that contained maths, categorised them and we practised.  We also continued to practise 6 mark questions.After the exam results were published I used Interchange to look at the marks that they had obtained on each question. Not only did they attempt the maths questions this time but a lot of the time they got all of the marks. Some students also obtained full marks on the 6 mark questions and I could see that even if they got 1-2 marks they hadn’t left it blank this time. A real success and something that I will continue to work on for the exams this summer.


I already knew that I worked in a wonderful department with some lovely people – but this year that was even more clear. This year has been very difficult at times and without their ongoing support I dread to think how I’d have felt.

5 things for 2017

  1. New GCSE – we are still in the early stages of introducing the new courses. We started with the current Y10 in the summer term  of Y9 but with the current Y9 we’ll be starting earlier. There is a lot of work to do reviewing the SOW and making sure that we are reviewing work, writing assessments etc. I have (mostly) enjoyed being so involved in the changes but at times it has felt like a lot to do in far too little time. I want to feel that I’ve done the best for the students and the other staff that I work with.
  2. Year 11 – I have high hopes for my group this year. They are all going to get better grades than they did last year. Alongside the teacher that I share this group with we have worked hard to develop their self confidence and find the ways that we can best support them.We have identified the areas that they struggle with most and have worked out how to best focus their revision. Some of them have responded very positively and have made real progress this term. Some of the others will take a little more persuading – but they all know that we are prepared to work hard and that we are expecting them to do the same. We will get there.
  3. Balance – I think I write this everytime but I do need to take this more seriously. This holiday is the first one where I took a proper break. I didn’t do any planning, making resources etc for 2 weeks. The world didn’t end. I still had a massive list of things to do but I think I’ve been more effective after having a proper break from it. In that 2 weeks I even managed to finally teach myself to crochet.
  4. Connecting – this will go a long way to helping me with number 1. The teachers that I interact with on Twitter and at the various events that I’ve been to have helped me in countless ways. I look forward to connecting with more teachers this year.
  5. Future – I’ve been second in department for 2 years now and I’ve loved it. At the interview they asked me where I saw myself in 5 years and I told them that I’d be HOD. Now, that is still a few years away yet but I need to think about whether that is really where I want to head. There are days when I think that I’d love to do it and that I could do it – but plenty more where imposter syndrome strikes and I tell myself that I can’t.  The other issue I have is that I love being part-time and I don’t want to work full-time and I’ve already been told that when the current HOD retires (hopefully not for a good while yet) the position will be full-time. I need to think about what else I could do when I decide that I want to do something different.
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Hang in there.

The ‘On this Day’ app on facebook has been reminding me recently of how I was feeling 5 years ago as I reached the end of my PGCE. As we are often reminded about how many teachers leave teaching in the first 5 years – I thought that given that I am just a few weeks away from reaching that milestone I would reflect on the journey so far and think about what advice I would have given myself then.

The PGCE was far harder than I had imagined. I never thought it would be easy – but I found it a struggle to manage the workload with having a young family and no-one apart from my Husband to help out. There were many times that I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. At the end of the course we returned to the Faculty for the final 2 weeks: at this point I still didn’t have a job and the last interview (on the very last day of my placement) had gone terribly – they dismissed me after the lesson and thinking about the feedback still hurts now.

One of the things we were asked to do in our first session back in faculty was to draw a graph of our time on the course – the highs and lows. I remember seeing the people around me drawing their graphs shooting up at the end. I was trying to fight back the tears as I drew a line straight down. I’d racked up more debt in 9 months (due to tuition fees and childcare) than my degree and PhD put together and I felt that I’d let everyone down. A week after the end of the course though I secured a job (temporary) in a local school. I knew as soon as I arrived there that I wanted to work there. I was very lucky as one of the other people on my PGCE course secured a position there too. It was a lovely department and I felt supported throughout my NQT year. In comparison to my PGCE, the NQT year was a breeze. Of course there were times when things did not go to plan but overall it was a great experience. They embraced my creativity and let me teach in a way that suited me and were happy to share their experience and ideas with me. I learnt a lot and made some great friends. One memory that sticks out is the day that my contract arrived. They had made a typo and described my post as ‘Head of Science’, not bad for NQT!

As my post was a maternity cover I needed to find another job. After school one day two of the other teachers came to me with a job advert that they had printed off and asked me if I had seen it – they said that if they couldn’t keep me at their school then they were going to find me somewhere nice – and this was the place. I had seen the advert but was convinced that they wanted someone far more ambitious than myself. They laughed and said ”we all say that” and made me fill it in. My technician pestered me to deliver it by hand during an afternoon of gained time. I’m glad that she did as visiting the school – even briefly- made me realise that they were right. Thankfully they gave me the job!

The RQT year was hard. New school, longer commute, my youngest started school, we were in the middle of moving house, I took on a second subject, full timetable and became a form tutor for the first time – to a group of year 10 students who had already had several tutors before me. It was a lot to change in one go and if I am honest I often thought that I wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. I was miserable and in the end I asked the HOD whether I could go part-time. It took me about 3 months to ask him – I was so worried that he would be disappointed. He was very supportive and so was the Head. My HOD promised me that things would be easier the next year and I was clinging on to that.

Since then I have been part-time and that has been fantastic. I know that people say I shouldn’t work on my ‘day off’, but the kids are at school then and if I can get my work done then, it gives me the weekends with them. It is also nice to be able to do the school run occasionally and I’ve also been lucky enough to have my day off sometimes coincide with sharing assemblies, trips and sports day. I think being part-time has made me a better teacher and I’m grateful that my school let me continue to do this. My HOD was also right about things being better, in fact I couldn’t believe the difference when I stood for the first time in front of my Y11 class that I had already taught for a year.

In the 4 years that I’ve been at my second school I have been part-time for three of them. This school also gave me the freedom to teach in the way that suits me. I’ve had time to pursue CPD  that I was interested in and this enabled me to obtain RSCi 2 years ago.

For the last 18 months I’ve been second in department. If you had told me that 5 years ago I wouldn’t have believed that could happen. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I’d be thinking about becoming HOD one day.

What advice would I have given myself back then? I thought about this earlier this week as the trainee teacher who had been taking one of my classes finished in school.

  1. The technicians will save your life on numerous occasions. Make sure that they know they are appreciated. *
  2. Know the students. I don’t just mean data – I mean them as individuals. Knowing which football team they support or what their outside interests are has been a big help with behaviour management.
  3. Practice the practicals. I still do this now – and take photos of things I am not familiar with. Standing in front of the class with some equipment that you are not sure how to use is going to end badly.
  4. Keep learning. I’ve always been very proactive about my own CPD and sought out acitivities/opportunities myself. I’ve learnt so much from Twitter too and this has enabled me to share some great ideas with my colleagues.
  5. Don’t take things personally. This is the one I struggle with the most and is something I am still working on.

Finally, in the words of one of our PGCE mentors @egwilson “Hang in there”.

When I drew that graph at the end of my PGCE I never would have believed that 5 years later I would still be in teaching and even better that I would be doing a job that I love, in a school that I love, with wonderful colleagues and potentially exciting prospects for the future.

*  this week I forgot to add a practical to my requirements but my technician provided it at short notice. She mentioned the cup of tea that I’d made for her on Friday last week!


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Maths in science exams

science not maths

My year 10 class complain bitterly every time they are given a question that has some maths.

When I was marking their mock exams earlier this year I noticed that many of them didn’t attempt the maths questions at all. They were throwing away marks that I knew that they could access. I decided that we would dedicate some of our revision time to looking at what kind of maths questions they might get and how they would tackle them. I looked through the last 3 years of papers and pulled out questions that involved different maths skills. I then grouped them into categories:

  • Calculating mean and range
  • Percentages
  • Describing graphs
  • Ratio
  • Using formulae
  • Using data

In class over two lessons we talked about what these different things and then worked through the examples. Some of them we did together on the board, some they completed themselves. We looked at the data sheet that they are given in the exam too and how we would find the equations that we needed. I was keen to point out to them that graphs are sometimes used in 6 mark questions (another area they are not keen on) and how describing what they graph is showing is the first part of building their answers.

At the end they said that they felt more confident. Hopefully they will still feel confident when they sit the exams. In our revision lesson yesterday I did include a couple of maths questions and they were able to explain to me what they needed to do. Fingers crossed.

I have included the powerpoint here. The questions were all taken from OCR 21st Century Science units 1-3 foundation. The questions cover biology, physics and chemistry.

maths in science

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Making students think.

A while ago I saw this tweet from Jasper Green (@sci_challenge) and as I was in the middle of teaching my Y7 class about particles I thought I would take a closer look.

particles task.jpg

I spent quite a long time looking through the resources on the site and was keen to try many of them out in class. I really liked that they go beyond just recall of facts and are asking students to apply what they know to new situations. I used the resource above with both of my Y7 classes and it led to lots of interesting discussion and more importantly for me it enabled me to spot misconceptions and to address them. Students were keen to share their ideas and to explain why they thought they were right and what the potential problems with some of the ideas raised by others might be.

Another resource that I had spotted was one for photosynthesis about a green child. Link 

green child

I had just taught photosynthesis to Y9 and thought that this would be a really good homework task. One of the things that I liked most about this task was that it encouraged students to make links with other topics that we had studied. I spend a lot of time either pointing out to students the links with other topics or asking them to think about them. I want them to move away from the idea that science is taught in discrete units and to appreciate that each unit is linked to other ideas that they have encountered (or will meet later on).

The task had to be introduced carefully to my group as there are a number of students in the group who need guidance with creative tasks and who might take the idea too literally and be worried. One of the best bits about the task is the guidance that is offered – the list of questions provided a structure that the students could use and this was really helpful to those students who find creative tasks difficult. I told my class that they had a week to complete the task and that I’d like a paragraph for each question – one of my students enthusiastically handed me his work the next day and told me that he had really enjoyed this work and that we should have more of the same!

Every single student (out of 31) handed this work in on time. This class is generally quite good with homework anyway but there is usually one or two who hand in the next lesson. Reading through the stories that they had written was really interesting. All students could explain why the child was different and why they would be hungry at night time. There were some interesting ideas about how gases reached cells with some students thinking that the child was like a leaf and would have stomata; other students appreciated the need for a circulatory system. The most interesting answers were for the last two questions. When asked whether all of the cells could photosynthesise there were a variety of answers:

  • Yes – because all of the cells will have the photosynthestic bacterium.
  • No – light will not be able to reach all of the cells and this is essential for photosynthesis. This might be because some parts of the body are covered (by clothes) or because the light can’t pass beyond the skin.
  • No – not all of the cells in the body have the same job. Some are specialised. The example that was commonly given was red blood cells and they described how these were different to other cells because they had a different job to do.

The answers that referred to cell specialisation surprised me as this isn’t something that we had talked about this year.

The final question asked whether they would expect the cells to contain mitochondria. This question helped to identify misconceptions that  students had about plants and respiration. Some of the students were confused about what mitochondria were and did not answer this part. Others had looked up the role of this organelle but then said that the cells wouldn’t have them as plants do not respire! This was definitely something that we had talked about in class as we had built a cross section through a leaf as a class and discussed the roles of the cells and talked about gas exchange.  Maybe I need to make sure that mitochondria are added to the plant cells here (this is an old activity that I have recycled).


I would definitely use this resource again and I would recommend checking out the resources at ‘the science teacher‘ as there are lots of great ideas to challenge students and to encourage them to think about science. I will definitely be incorporating more of them into future lessons.

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Knowledge Organisers


A while ago I read this blog post about the use of knowledge organisers and this blog post about their use in science. I like the idea of knowledge organisers but I did have some reservations about their use. If I handed this out to students at the beginning of a topic some of them might think that this is the only information that they need to learn (even if I tell them it isn’t). Although the knowledge is important, they need to be able to do more than just recall facts – they need to apply it to different questions.

I attempted to use a knowledge organiser with a Y8 class a while ago and gave them a table with keywords and their definitions for the lesson. The definitions had been completed but the keywords had been left blank – the idea was that they would fill this in as we worked through the lesson. This didn’t go as I had planned. I had put the keywords in alphabetical order rather than the order that they would be encountered in the lesson. This led to confusion as some students did not like the fact that they had filled in the keyword for box 3 and thought they had missed 1 and 2. Despite this I will try again with KS3 – I will just rethink how it is presented to them. I will also think about the ways in which Shaun Allison described their use in class and how I can incorporate some of those ideas.

Using the correct scientific terminology is very important and a knowledge organiser is one way in which students can access that information. I think that knowledge organisers are a valuable revision tool that is why I have created some for my students to use. I have created two versions, the student version has blank boxes for them to complete during revision. I will be introducing these to my GCSE classes next week to use in their revision for the summer exams. I think that they will be popular with some students who want information in this way to use as a start point. I think that some students would struggle with them though – I can think of a number of students with literacy issues who would not find these helpful and I will need to provide alternative material for them. I will emphasise to all students though that they will need to be able to do more than just recall the information and I will encourage them to answer as many past paper questions as possible.

The knowledge organisers I have created are for OCR 21st Century Science.



Science Knowledge Organiser B1

Science Knowledge Organiser B2

Science Knowledge Organiser B3

Science Knowledge Organiser B4

Science Knowledge Organiser B1 student

Science Knowledge Organiser B2 student

Science Knowledge Organiser B3student

Science Knowledge Organiser B4student


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