Curiosity in science

In October, I attended a course at the National Science Centre (thoroughly recommended, btw, fantastic environment to be in) where the science lead for Ofsted presented the details of the report released this month.
For those not lucky enough to hear Brian speak (he’s fantastic) I took pretty comprehensive notes. Having read some tweets earlier today, I’ve decided to publish them as they seem to embody the report, and clearly reflect that which Brian feels most important.

Brian Cartwright – HMI science head

Talking about a new report on primary science to be released soon.

About a quarter of primary science is in need of improvement. Best teaching is in eyfs and sixth form, weakest is in average ability ks3. Learning in sixth form is better but what goes on in private study does not consolidate this so overall learning is not so good. Half of primary schools that Ofsted visited do not have science targets and most subject leaders have not had subject specific leadership training.
Science subject specialism is not a requirement of good science teaching, you do need to know the big ideas, see Wynne Harlen, but you don’t need to know the minutae.

Good science teaching –
Subject leadership that puts enquiry at the heart of science coupled with knowledge of how pupils learn
Inspirational teaching to sustain curiosity so they are eager to learn and investigate
Assessment of how they are learning and using this to plan the next step

Needs improvement –
Does not match prior learning, pupils should be picking up from different places in different lessons
Pupils become disengaged through lack of challenge or repetition of experience, move away from a model of differentiation where they all do the same thing, then some get extended if they finish, make sure they have the same level of differentiation as they do in English and maths and the same level of feedback!
Teachers fail to provide enough feedback
Targets are not being set and progress is not tracked by SLT as it is not seen as a priority for many

Key findings –
Best teachers make sure children master investigative practical skills, gain necessary understanding.
Achievement is highest when pupils are involved in planning, carrying out and evaluating investigations that they have in some part suggested.
Don’t get hung up on variables, let them find out for themselves that it isn’t fair. Outstanding school science leaders understand the importance of the scientific method as an essential contributor to human knowledge and understanding
Need to ensure effective tracking of progress and ensure coverage of the curriculum
Teachers need subject specific leadership training
School science is more likely to be outstanding when teachers have had subject specific training
Need better differentiation
In primary, timetables are not taking enough time to teach it, it needs to be more incorporated with other subjects and regular, build it into topics

Recommendations –
Science teachers should:
Ensure individual pupils are taught well across the ability range
Plan lessons that building prior knowledge
Consider longer writing activities so writing is literacy
Allow enough time to secure understanding of science concepts
Plan homework that encourages pupils to research and think about topics in depth and apply their understanding of an idea
Give children a chance to talk as well as write about their ideas
Make sure they finish what they start, results do matter, insist upon accurate measurement, careful observation and clear recording
Monitor progress and plan effective follow up – next steps

We need:
Better assessment, where now and what next. APP Profiling is good as ofsted can see them moving up through understanding
Give science a high profile – PSQM is seen as a good example of this
Full and rigorous coverage of content
Staff thoroughly confident in teaching pupils how to work scientifically, make sure the aim is science, they need to some some investigating, finding out and recording
Strong links between literacy and science, this is the best way of giving more time to science, using scrapbooks can be useful for this as it is a literacy lesson
Regular monitoring of achievement and groups if appropriate

What limits good science teaching:
Lack of monitoring
Topics that don’t cover all the curriculum
Reduced teaching time squeezing it out, it should be part of literacy and numeracy
Practical work limited to following recipes for investigations

! Lack of subject knowledge is not a barrier to good teaching, over emphasis of a fair test mantra. The only way for it to embed is for them to find out their results are not reliable. Pupils need time to think for themselves, investigate and evaluate. If they come up with a potty idea, let them find out that it’s potty or not viable. Don’t give them the plan, let them work out their own or they will never understand the scientific method.

Spiritual moral and cultural ensures all pupils experience the full wonder of the universe and develop a responsible attitude to environmental protection. The schools curriculum promotes and sustains a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning. If they love doing something, continue with it. Move on when they are ready.

Outstanding science leadership –
High level of science expertise and vision and improves the performance and practice of others
Make sure the underpinning principle of the lesson is clear
Track progress with feedback used
Science should embrace whole school policy’s for English and maths
Identify what is good and needs improving
Involve with colleagues in other schools or LA advisors
Subject review, self evaluation are informed by current best practice in science education
Should inspire confidence and wholehearted commitment from pupils and colleagues, delegate some subject duties where appropriate to allow time for quality professional development in the subject
CPD is well targeted and evaluated for impact on maintaining pupils curiosity

Maintaining curiosity:
Factors that promote achievement in science
Brian Cartwright HMI
ofsted national lead, science
October 2013


I led some CPD at my school recently where I shared a whole load of AfL strategies as this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, it’s been a bit of a game changer in my classroom to be honest.
I’d always thought of AfL as a bit of a non thing. Then I had a paradigm shift (one of my favourite phrases, glad to be able to use it at long last). I realised that all those little bits and bobs that are around are in fact just jolly good teaching strategies which also let you know how much children are taking in at the same time. I needed to share my revelation.

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I had all of the above strategies (some not strictly AfL, I know, but good teaching strategies) and I cut them up. The first task the staff had to do was a card sort, the sorted them into ones they knew about and ones which were new to them. This led to lots of lovely discussion and co construction of knowledge through sharing knowledge – tick that box!

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I’ll admit, I kind of knew which ones would be new to staff so the next task was prepared with some amount of foresight. The previous evening my lovely daughter had recorded descriptions of some of the strategies onto sound buttons. My colleagues had to listen to the six descriptions and match them to the strategies on the sheet. Again, lots of lovely talk and some learning through elimination.

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Using sound buttons in this way can be great, both for children recording their own descriptions as well as sorting. Split the class and they could record for each other, both bases covered. I have also found the sound buttons great for children who forget what they are going to write. With me, they can work out their sentence, then record it, and repeatedly play it as they write leaving me free to help someone else while they are productively occupied. Some of the children can now do this process entirely unaided and the quality of their writing, as well as the amount, has risen. Knowing that they have recorded one sentence has also led to a distinct increase in punctuation which is an added bonus.
The next activity the teachers took part in was an odd one out activity. Again I’d preempted some of the unknown strategies and written them on cards. Between them the staff worked out which one was the odd one out. Of course, there wasn’t one but that wasn’t the point. In talking about them in depth they were able to work out what they were.
At this point, I asked them to move across any cards from the unknown to the known side on their original sheet, making their learning visible to them as well as me.

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While this was going on, I had asked them to use ‘foldables’ to make their notes, and to use them in whichever way they saw fit. I also had a whole load of questioning materials around for them to look at at the end.

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The benefits of the foldables was that they only wrote what they wanted to, rather than me giving them a handout which they would file and ignore, they recorded in a way which was useful to them and had ownership of the strategies they chose to remember, or forget. Big thanks to for foldables, go there for a blogpost and link to a downloadable book.
The remaining AfL ideas, of which there were only five, I described. In using the strategies to teach the strategies I hoped that the teachers would see them as high quality, informative, methods to use in the classroom rather than what happens at the end. AfL is about checking throughout the lesson so that what follows can be amended, right then and there, rather than in the next lesson.
To finish, I wanted my colleagues to consider how they could plan in the strategies so they chose a common misconception in science card and planned using @teachertoolkit ‘s 5 minute lesson plan. The aim was to plan a session which would address the misconception and to embed one or some of the strategies. I had shown examples from my own planning that week where I taught largely through the strategies and had made them bold on the plan so they could spot them easily. They found it quite challenging, which I think was largely to do with the science!

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Having done some lesson observations since that meeting, it was great to see some of the strategies already becoming embedded in classroom practise. I wanted to make my colleagues see, as I had, that the strategies are another more than AfL, they are great teaching strategies which also inform on progress. The sheet with them all on has appeared on the wall in front of where we do our planning on PPA time, when I’m thinking of an activity I consider the objective then I look at it. I can always find a strategy that fulfills my objectives and I’m far more aware of what works in my classroom now.
Win win.
I hope this is useful, even if you find one thing that’s new. I’ve got a picture of my plan for the meeting if anyone is interested but think this post has too many pictures already!

If I’ve shared an idea you think is yours, and not credited you, then I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Let me know and I’ll amend the post.

Are you an experienced or expert teacher? (You can be both, but one is not automatically the other)

I’ve just read a very interesting article by John Hattie, whom I am sure you have all heard of by now, about the difference between a teacher with experience and an expert teacher. From his observations there are clear fundamental differences in the two. I am sure this may add to the performance related pay issue as ‘experienced’ denotes time, but not necessarily expertise (though this is only relevant if heads actually use the new rules properly, rather than as bait and hook for teachers to agree with them in staff meetings, and if they have the guts to differentiate between teachers in their schools, which I mention again at the end).
Hattie has found profound differences between teachers, using his own measure this can equate to over double the progress in a year for an expert teacher over an experienced one, a sure fire argument for performance related pay (again, if used properly).

I’m going to try and précis the article below, judge for yourself which category you fall into.

1. Expert teachers have more integrated knowledge which they combine with old knowledge more readily. They often take longer to plan than experienced teachers in order to use many representations of knowledge and through reliably predicting outcomes they are more able to predict what will happen during the lesson and respond to it.

2. Expert teachers are more opportunistic and flexible.

3. Expert teachers anticipate what will happen and can improvise. They pay more attention to ongoing attempts and adapt according to constraints which may emerge.

4. Expert teachers always had a plan which they could describe, though it was not always written down. Timings were not noted, nor were the number of examples needed. This was all open for change during the lesson (see all of the above points).

5. Feedback is welcomed through allowance of mistakes and questions.

6. Expert teachers are excellent scanners of the room and make better use of the students own language of learning.

7. Experts are more dependent on context than other teachers (the class, the room etc), they needed a deeper understanding of prior knowledge from the children to plan their work. (This was in the context of the study, teachers were given unknown classes to teach, I believe).

8. Expert teachers provide more relevant and useful feedback, and anticipate and prevent disturbances from occurring through spotting boredom, lack of understanding or mastery.

9. Experts are adept at evaluating and testing strategies and meticulous in their efforts.

10. Expert teachers are more automatic – behaviours become automatic in the classroom so working memory is freed up to deal with more complex things happening.

11. Expert teachers respect students, allowing them to identify barriers to learning and seek ways in which they can overcome them.

12. Expert teachers are passionate about teaching and learning and show emotion about successes and failures in their work.

13. Expert teachers care about more than grades, aiming for mastery rather than performance, deep outcomes such as relating ideas rather than surface outcomes in testing.

14. Expert teachers set more challenging goals, 80% of class time is spent with them talking (it is not clear whether this is in front of the whole class or to individuals or groups).

15. Expert teachers have positive influences on achievement.

This is not to say that all expert teachers had all of these attributes, or that no purely experienced teachers did, but is the findings of a study of a significant number of teachers and reflection of the results found. When looking at the work of the students it was found that 74% of pupils in classes of teachers with the above attributes demonstrated relational or extended abstract thinking, while only 29% of students in other classes did. Pupils in classes with expert teachers have more integrated, coherent understanding.

Number 14 made me think, as I spend a lot of time talking to the class and sometimes I can feel pressured to stop. When I am talking or demonstrating they are learning, mostly in my class the work they do at their tables without me is demonstrating their learning which they could do through AfL techniques, rather than recording it on paper. What the table work does allow me is time to be with a smaller group of children to teach them further. This one is going to cause me anxiety, I can tell.

The three areas in which the difference was most felt were as follows,
1. Challenge
2. Deep representation
3. Feedback
These three can be used to identify over 80% of expert teachers, without looking at results, perhaps these should be used to identify those who make a difference, those who deserve a pay rise, those who should lead teaching and learning across a school.

I know which areas I need to work on (feedback which is visible to outsiders to my classroom as evidence I do it, rather than verbal feedback during lesson time, a constant trial), I wonder how many more do? What we do is important, these children only get one chance and we are it. The three things above, challenge, representation and feedback, shouldn’t be too hard, should they?

Hattie makes an important point that we have a reticence to identify those who excel in case we identify those who don’t. Isn’t it about time we grew up and took some real responsibility for the quality of our work? We don’t all deserve the same pay. Those who do more, should get more.

*added as a response to a twitter chat. I’ve lost the reference to having balls and changed it to non sex discriminatory backbone. I’d also like to make it clear that in the current climate I don’t think PRP is a good thing, largely due to lack of budget restraining head teachers in their pay allocations, better teacher or not if the money’s not there it’s not going to happen. I’ve also made the title less snappy to clarify meaning.

Why Teachers Leave – a synopsis

Given that I hadn’t read all of the entries into March’s blogsync or written my own submission, I thought I would do both at once and in turn create a summary.

I read every one.  Yes, all of them.  On another page I had a word cloud program open and, as I read, I typed in what I considered the key words.  Now, these are the key words according to me and many of the posts dwelled on the positives so I had to negativise (is not a real word, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one) some of them.  I also avoided the G word, replacing it with SoS as my hands will not allow me to type it.

This is what happened:


“Why teachers leave”
Click on the link above to see this word cloud at WordItOut. You may also view it on this website if you enable JavaScript (see your web browser settings).

Word cloud made with WordItOut

I’m not sure what to say.  Battling, intense, disempowered, bureaucracy, limit, control; these are the minor players.  Ofsted, workload, support, behaviour, marking, stress, pressure; these came up over and over again.  I wonder how many of the less used words are linked to Ofsted, how the lack of support and pressure is driven by the bureaucratic culture of micro-management.
Most of all, I wonder how few things would have to change in order for these words to tell a different story about teaching.  What are the few big things which lead to a demoralised, stifled, claustrophobic, battling workforce?

This cloud tells a stark story about 400,000 employees of the state.

So, why do we all stay?  What is it that keeps us going?  What drew us to teaching in the first place?  That’s a word cloud I’d like to produce.  If you give me the words, I’ll do a follow up. 

blogsync, brought to you by Edutronic_Net

Purposeful questions in Primary Science

I’m running a staff meeting this week and produced this crib sheet for promoting questions in Science.  I thought I’d post it here just in case anyone might find it useful.




  1. Having or showing determination or resolve.
  2. Having a useful purpose.

intentional – purposive – deliberate – resolute


Think about this quote:

“..most of the questions in the science classroom are asked not by those who don’t know – the pupils – but by the person who does know – the teacher.”  (Language and literacy in science education, 2001)


We need to encourage the children to talk about science by encouraging them to ask questions in the right atmosphere, planning deliberate opportunities for them to work together to generate questions.

Generating good questions

This is a skill and using a set of question stems can help children to generate a searching question.  The question stems below link quite well to Blooms and children could be asked to come up with a set number of questions, in pairs.

  • What is the difference between…..and….?
  • Explain why….?
  • What would happen if…?
  • What is another example of…?
  • How could…be used to…?
  • What is….similar to?
  • How does….affect….?
  • What is the counter argument for….?
  • What are the causes of….how do you know?

Now what?

Children could submit one of their questions for the teacher to answer.  This provides a model of what a good answer looks like.

Each pair could write down one of their questions to be collected in and redistributed at random, with a time limit set on answering the question you have received.

Divide the class in half, pass questions from one side to the other, give points like a quiz.

What do I need to watch out for?

Pseudo questions – guess what’s in my head. (not good)
The shift from teacher – pupil dialogue to pupil – pupil dialogue. (great)

Any other ideas?

What about children writing their own exam papers?  They could do a mixture of multiple choice, short answer and long answer questions and would have to decide on the mark scheme.  This would ensure that they thought about what would be an acceptable answer to their question  (see for more on this).

What about children creating their own concept cartoons at the start of a topic? (thanks @damianainscough for this suggestion)

What about having a science word bank so the language of science is not inhibiting in itself?

Games to play

How do we know? – encourage the children to ask this question, eg. how do we know the earth spins?

20 Questions – only answer yes or no, child could be animal, vegetable, mineral etc.

Articulate – pupil is given a list of terms from the topic (eg, minibeasts might include some names, some classifications, some habitats, some behaviours).  They have to describe them but cannot use the word itself.  This one will develop familiarity with the language of science.

To conclude:

Questions at the start of a topic to gauge understanding and set the agenda, questions at the end to assess own knowledge under the guise of assessing each other, questions in the middle to confirm understanding of the specifics.

Fairly brief I know but if it helps just one person the minute it took me to post it is worthwhile.


A Teaching and Learning strategy intended to elicit the highest levels of student motivation

Since doing my MA I have read so much about teaching and learning strategies (did you know that the Russians have a word meaning both teaching and learning, one word? They are so intrinsically linked they don’t separate them) that my head is ready to burst. I’m ready to embark on an exciting piece of action research which has taken a while to develop and be approved and centred on talk.
Aside from the really big stuff, the stuff for essays and research, there’s been other, smaller, changes which I have introduced, one of which I wanted to share.
No hands up.
Wait! Before you click away or report me to Tom or Andrew just listen a bit.
I teach year two, there’s thirty in the class and they all have something to say. When hands up is allowed the children have two responses, they jump around like donkey in Shrek, making noises like an overexcited gibbon, or they lean slightly to one side so that I can’t see their face any more. This leaves me in a quandary. Do I choose the irritating one, eager to please, probably right, and confirm everything that the children think about me and what a good response is (short, correct), or do I choose one of the hidden ones who either doesn’t believe they can give me the responses I require, doesn’t want to speak because they are not sure, or feels intimidated by the others?
I explained to the children what I felt about hands up, we had a little chat about it, and then changed the rules. Children in my class do not raise their hands to speak in response to a query or question.
There are pros and cons to this approach, and it wasn’t easy. I have had to change the way in which I ask the children things, I now ask them to think about something rather than asking them what is, I give them more time to think (introducing the wonderful pose, pause, pounce, bounce terminology, thanks!) and often I do not respond to what they have said, as this further reinforces the idea that I have a particular answer or style of answer which is the correct one (I have also been reading rather a lot of Douglas Barnes, Robin Alexander and Vygotsky as you can probably tell).
What I have found so far is that children now enter far more into discussion with each other during carpet time, they respond to what each other have said, commenting upon it and making noises of agreement, far more like us adults do in our conversations. Children who previously have avoided talking about what they are learning are now joining in. I am able to notice more often who is understanding and who is presenting a half formed idea, and to create through talk the opportunity for that half formed idea to become definite.
I love it. It is hard, but as Barnes says far more eloquently than I:
“If a teacher stresses the assessment function at the expense of the reply function, this will urge his pupils towards externally acceptable performances, rather than towards trying to relate new knowledge to old….but when the teacher replies rather than assesses this encourages pupils when they talk and write to bring out existing knowledge to be reshaped by new points of view being presented to them.” (1976)
Old but relevant.

The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime

Having read some of the fantastic contributions to this #blogsync I feel somewhat concerned. Many of the ideas I had have already been covered, such as the politicisation of education, lack of aspiration, teacher bashing in the press and so on, so I’m going to wish for the end of some of my pet hates.

Argument for argument sake
Why do many teachers seem to feel the need to argue? Teachers (including some of those on twitter) seem to enjoy labelling each other, sneering at progressive, or sneering at old fashioned, or just sneering. None of this is helpful. Many seem to create a dichotomy where none exists, take recent discussions about group work. Well, here’s a revelation, how about it depends upon what you are doing? The same can be said for discovery learning, learning through play, and teacher talk. There is no set way, that’s why we’re professionals. We make that judgement decision based upon the class, the subject, the mood, even (sometimes) the weather. What we should not be doing is making that judgement based upon what others might think if we tweet it. Apart from learning styles, which is nonsense.

Being led by fools
Lets just say that I was put in charge of education. Imagine. Now, I know quite a lot about it, I’ve been a teacher for 16 years and a good one for about 5 (no, really). Were it my job to create a curriculum I would talk to as many people who might be able to help as possible. I would also acknowledge that I know bugger all about education for anyone over the age of 11.
Given that there are academics, experienced head teachers, teachers and governors out there it would seem sensible to listen to them. Having recently looked at the first draft of the primary science curriculum I find it hard to imagine that anyone helped with that, other than some mates down the pub regurgitating what they could regurgitate from their grammar school days. I kid you not. Some of the knowledge was actually incorrect, like a badly done pub quiz. I have recently heard that two science educators who I admire hugely have been trying their best to improve it, at short notice, before the next draft is out, which leads me to my next point….

Changing something huge takes time. It cannot, should not, be rushed. To design, write, implement a curriculum before the next election is foolhardy. Lack of proper consultation, leaks, people walking out of curriculum groups, well, it doesn’t look good. If this new curriculum is to be taken seriously then it needs the backing of the people who are going to implement it otherwise everyone will convert to academy status to avoid it. Or perhaps that’s what the SoS wants. Currently I teach in a LA school so I will have to teach the new curriculum but as most teachers know there are ways around these things. I’ve always thought of the NC as a minimum, that’s the least I should be doing, and I manage pretty well to cover it all and have time left to develop topics in a child led way. I hope that the new curriculum allows me the time to continue to do so.

Parental support in teaching their child that no means no before they start school, the support of the press who need to understand that most teachers work bloody hard to do their best for the children in their care, the support of politicians who need to work with us rather than assuming that we’re all unionised, lazy, pension and holiday grabbing lefties, and the support of senior leaders who need to allow teachers to try new things as without this nothing changes.

Teaching needs people to stay connected because it is only through acting as a group that these changes may become reality.

I hope so.