SATS analysis with Google Docs

I was conducting a question level analysis of our national curriculum tests, looking for topics where there were difficulties (and comparing how pupils with ASD performed in how science works questions).

Having devised a template on Excel I proceeded to enter data for my pupils.  Having completed the task it dawned on me that there would have been an easier way.

Once I had created the spreadsheet I could have used Google Forms and had the pupils enter their own data into the spreadsheet.  This would save considerable time with a large mainstream class, it is also a good way to collate other examination marks or even comments written on work.

Maybe next time I’ll remember to use Google Docs.


Using Google Documents to work collaboratively

I’ve used Google Documents in class before but the need had never arisen for pupils to write on the same document at the same time. With collaborative working being an important skill in science, I decided to get my year 7 class to work collaboratively on the same document. Their task was to write a press release detailing their lab test results for their CSI topic. With all the pupils having SEN (we are a special school) , the amount of text was going to be small which makes the process a little quicker.

I created the document with a table to be used as a writing frame or scaffold for the pupils, giving them the basic structure to complete. I asked the pupils to complete a different section of the press release and colour coded the boxes so they knew which section was theirs.  I shared the document with the pupils and invited them to complete their section.

Pupils were fascinated by seeing the text of their classmates appearing as they entered their own.  The flicker you see as the page updates didn’t seem to bother any of them, in fact they didn’t notice it.  Pupils entered their text and we reviewed the completed document.

Not only was this approach far more productive than writing their own reports, pupils had to communicate with each other and tie their contributions together.  This wouldn’t have happened working individually.

Google Sites – making a site and its use in the classroom

I’ve used Google’s suite of products to put together my sites.  I’ve used blogger for my main page/blog, I use Google Apps for email, docs and calendar.  I finally decided to use Google Sites (for Google Apps) to build a Wiki-ish website to store the resources I previously hosted on a wiki.

For those of you that haven’t used Google sites before, it is a simple page editor that gives you the ability to create simple nested pages, add files and google gadgets.  People who you give access to can edit the pages and add new content (to different degrees depending on their access).  You can even give a specific site you create a custom URL if you have a domain and access to your DNS.  There are a variety of templates and styles available, and editing is similar to using other google products.

I’ve set up a site with my science resources on here.  The structure of the site took minutes to set up once I’d decided on a structure.  Uploading lots of individual files took a while longer due to the sheer number of clicks required.  The site was created from start to finish in well under an hour.

I see plenty of potential for this within the the classroom (as part of the Google Apps for Education edition).  You can hide your pages from the internet (so surfers won’t stumble across them) and you can allow members of your domain to edit them.  Classes can work collaboratively on a set of pages for a topic and the teacher can subscribe to the page to see how it develops.  Malicious editing is deterred by the revision history.  Google sites has much of the power of a typical wiki without getting bogged down in esoteric wiki commands and formatting.

Google sites could even be used by a school to build a simple intranet if you haven’t got one yet in your school.   This video shows a little more of what is possible with Google sites:

It would be interesting to here from anyone who has used Google Sites in an educational context and how it went.

Whoosh Bottle

Demonstrate combustion with a bang!  Simply vaporise 5ml acetone in a plastic water cooler bottle. Light carefully!

Make sure you carry out a full risk assessment (and that you have practiced a few times before you do it in front of the children).  I’ve done this several times – I have blown the bottom off one cooler bottle in the past, and the whoosh still makes me jump!

Electronic lesson planning

Paper diaryFor years I have used a paper diary – having trialled a PDA some time ago and moved back to paper.  Being a user of technology I decided to look for a better way of planning using technology.

First of all I trialled Google Calendar as advocated by Doug Belshaw in his blog.  I liked the idea of the planning being available anywhere, even on my phone.  Setting up repeating slots for my lessons was easy but then I found several other snags that made me give up on Google Calendar for now.  I actually liked way you could integrate different calendars (eg public holidays).  I could cope with not being able to customise the time-frame displayed on the calendar.  But I found that entering the lesson details was fiddly and that there was no satisfactory way to view them.  I would have liked them to be displayed on my calendar .  I could even have coped if my emailed daily schedule information had included the description for each lesson that I had entered.  I decided to give up on Google calendar for now.

Determined to try out electronic planning I searched the internet and found the TPIM (Teacher’s personal information planner) which appears to be the best implementation of lesson planning and personal time management I’ve seen in a commercial product.  I downloaded the trial and found the interface very simple to use – with information readily at hand (this is a daily planning sheet).

Even with extra options such as an electronic register and markbook, electronic post-its and reminders I still found it more convenient to plan using my old paper teacher’s planner/diary!

Is there really nothing to beat planning on paper or am I just set in my ways?  I’d be interested to hear how anyone else has used technology to help with their planning….

New KS3 Science Scheme

With the new slimmed down National Curriculum for Science comes a change in emphasis.  Quite wisely the QCA have decided that it is no longer acceptable to just fill children with facts that they will regurgitate in an exam.  There has been a change in emphasis from facts to skills.  Accompanying the statutory requirements is a new framework which gives helpful advice on progression through the key strands of science.

I looked at commercial schemes available from a number of publishers (who went to great lengths to send me sample packs/CDs in glossy folders).  Scratching beneath the surface many of these didn’t seem that different to what we did already.  I wanted a new scheme of work that broke away from the flawed (in my opinion) QCA modules we had been following.   I came upon the Wikid Science scheme from the ASE (which I found out about through the Upd8 site.) I was accepted to trial the new scheme and we piloted the “Cook” module – looking at cooking methods and the science behind them,

What I liked most about the new scheme was the way that pupils are given a role for a topic which sets science in an everyday context.  Since Wikid science was written after the publication of the new KS3 framework, How Science works is fully integrated throughout the scheme and referenced to the framework documents.  The final carrot was the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies to develop materials further through an online community (hence the name).  For those of you who haven’t seen the scheme you can find out about it here.

For those of you question the need for a change in the approach we take in science check out this video – Shift Happens.

Assessment for Learning


It’s amazing how many people I meet on my travels who struggle with the concept of assessment for learning (AfL). Some people think it’s a new invention, others think that it is something that must be shoe-horned into schemes of work in a formulaic way along with a 3 part lesson. Some people get obsessed with the idea of tests.

The cartoon explains simply the AfL cycle. It’s a simple process of assessing where a learner is now (that’s the assessment part!) and looking to see where the next step is. Knowing how to get there is an important step and completes the cycle.

So what does AfL look like in action?

  • Marking of work: Comments that tell pupils what they need to do to improve their work, so the pupil knows what they have to do next
  • Oral feedback: Do comments given to pupils in lessons deliver the 3 steps above? (telling them where they are and what they need to do to improve and how to go about it?)
  • Self assessment: Pupils assessing themselves against a set of levelled learning outcomes. They can see how they are performing and where they need to focus their efforts.
  • Peer assessment: Pupils are very good at assessing the work of their peers. I’ve worked in mainstream schools with pupils who have been very good at assessing each others work and setting a target for improvement. Even at a special school level the pupils are very good at recognising success and giving helpful advice for improvement.
  • Level assessed tasks: These have suddenly become very popular in science amongst other subjects. Free and commercial tasks are given to pupils which have a set of levelled outcomes, so pupils are able to see what needs to go into their own work, they can assess each others work and see how to get to the next level. (This is classic AfL and also very good for getting pupils working together).
  • Target setting: IEPs are a classic idea of setting targets that are not only achievable but give the learner an idea of how to reach that target.
  • Learning objectives in lessons: If you’ve heard of WALT (we are learning to/will all learn today) and WILF (what I’m looking for) when you’re doing this already. Setting learning objectives at the start of lessons and then checking pupils have reached this learning objective is nothing new. Good teachers have always done this – but it is still good AfL practice.

I hope that this overview has been useful. Feel free to get in touch (contact us) if you have any comments or questions.