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Observing, and cross-curricular ideas

July 13, 2013 Leave a comment

This week has been a good one. It’s been the last real teaching week before summer, as next week is ICE week (Immersion Curriculum Enrichment week) which means we are off timetable doing a week of activities around a theme. The theme this time us the environment, and the activities look to be fun. One of my favourite bits about ICE week is the chance to do something different and hone my teaching skills in an unfamiliar situation, but more on that later.

Back to this week. We have had most of our new staff in this week, including one of the new NQTs who I am mentoring. I am looking forward to the role of mentor, and have now informally observed him twice. Already there has been a marked improvement and a response to advice, which is pleasing. I was a bit worried about observing in this capacity but the mock observations project I completed with my PE colleague earlier this year and the ITT student observations I have done definitely helped. I also gained a good insight into my own teaching by observing and there are always bits to pick up.

Also this week I completed a joint observation with my HoD on a colleague who was kind enough to volunteer. Again this was unofficial and the purpose was so she could check my ability to grade and give feedback. This was great, my confidence as an observer was boosted as she picked up on exactly the same positive points and areas for development that I did and we agreed on the grade. I also learned a lot about giving feedback and she gave me some great pointers in that respect.

There were also tons of things from the lesson that I picked up, my favourite being this: During a traffic light show me activity he put three wrong answers up. The majority of the kids chose the nearest one and some assumed they must be wrong. This was a superb discussion point and there was some real good contributions from the class. I was unsure if he had done this on purpose, so asked him afterwards. He said that he had in this instance and often does this because he did it once by accident and the results were great. I think this is a superb idea that I will use myself.

Also in Thursday I observed a new y9 science lesson. A couple of my form were in the class and have been in trouble a bit in science so I went to see how they were and offer assistance if required. The lesson was on penguins (always a winner) and cooling rates and included an experiment where the pupils were simulating the huddles emperor penguins stand in to keep warm. It was good fun and the difficulties some members of the class had with graphing made me think that as a maths department we need to embed this skill better in KS3. It also got my brain flying about cross curricular lessons with science on graphing and I hope to implement those next year.

This is one of three cross curricular projects I have in the pipeline, all of which excited me. The second is with an English colleague (@goldfishbowlMM) and involves looking at “The maths of Shakespeare”, and is very exciting. The third is once that a music colleague has suggested to me and involves trying to help improve the times tables of our pupils using the medium if hip-hop!

With these projects and mentoring an NQT, next year is looking incredibly exciting already!

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A great classroom explanation

June 24, 2013 3 comments

This months #blogsync topic is a strange one, and I didn’t really know where to start. I’ve taught many many lessons now, and in each of them I will have explained many things. I’ve also observed many lessons, and likewise, in each I have heard many explanations. I’ve even heard pupils come up with some brilliant explanations, both during lessons when they were using prior knowledge to estimate what was next and in revision where pupils who remembered how to do something would explain it to their peers.

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about the explanations I give, as I knew this was the topic of the #blogsync, and I’ve had a plethora of explanations to choose from.

This week, off the cuff, I used a simile to contextualise simultaneous equation to a pupil who was really struggling, “is instead of 2x + 3y = 11 is said “2 cups of coffee and 3 cups of tea cost £11″” etc. This real world application, however convoluted it was, help him realise what was going on and he can now solve them.

Also this month I sat in awe as a yr11 pupil (who has yet to hit the c) explained to his girlfriend, perfectly and concisely, how to create a cumulative frequency diagram then use it to draw a box plot.

These were just two of an abundance of brilliant explanations I can think of to mention, but I want to dig deeper and share with you an explanation that has stuck with me for a long time. An explanation I remember from my own school days!

The lesson in question was a chemistry lesson, and the teacher was quite mad! He had some non-verbal behaviour management techniques which would surely be frowned on now. I.e. He would flick chalk at the head of anyone chatting and was a great shot! If chalk didn’t do the trick, the board rubber followed. He also had a giant pestle and mortar and used to walk around with it slung over his shoulder. He would periodically bring it down with a crack on the desk in front if those who were off task. He stopped that the time he smashed one if the desks in half! Anyway, I digress, time for the explanation.

The lesson in question was on bonding, ionic and covalent. He explained it all through simile regarding human relationships with devastating hilarity. He likened covalent bonds to elements who gave found their life partners, fallen in live, gotten married and spent the rest of their lives in wedded bliss “holding hands”. He then moved onto “dirty” ionic bond and likened them to one night stands, a quick switch of electrons and off they go, never to meet again. He also spoke about catalysts, likening them to nightclubs where people go, have a drink and meet people. Showing that the catalyst doesn’t cause the reaction, just gives it somewhere to happen and thus speeds the while process up.

The reason I wanted to share this is that this classroom explanation is the one I remember most vividly. It occurred at least 15 years ago, but I remember it as clearly as yesterday. So what made this explanation stay with me all these years? (As that is the key to a great classroom explanation, one which the pupil will remember.)

Well, the humour was a big part, and so was the clarity. The clarity of the explanation put the topic in terms that I understood, and as such could make sense of. If it hadn’t, then I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have stuck. But also the humour, it added am element of fun and kept my attention throughout the explanation. I think more goes in, if you are having fun, and I think that these two elements combined in this case to make a great classroom explanation, and for this reason they are two elements I try to include in my explanations.

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