Raising boys achievement

There are many barriers to learning for young lads. I have been digging a little deeper only to satisfy my own curiosity and remind myself that a classroom teacher has often got the odds stacked against them if they want achievement for all. Gary Wilson is a heavily-cited educationalist, known for his work on boys achievement. He reckons there are at least 30 different barriers to success for boys. These include early experiences, role models (or lack of strong male role models), poor emotional intelligence, reading without talking first, choice of teacher language and the way teachers interact with boys as opposed to girls. There is no quick fix. Boy-girl seating plans are a short term remedy often inappropriately deployed with little explanation. Single gender work has limited impact mainly because it is not sustainable. Gary Wilson talks about improving chances and preparedness for boys at the earliest opportunity. The work must begin in primary schools and a cross-phase approach is essential.

This sentiment was echoed when I spoke with a Primary Headteacher recently. He suggested something which he described as a little controversial. Put the best teachers with the most difficult boys. Outstanding teachers will ensure the gender gap does not widen. Once they reach secondary school, any gap can’t be closed. The damage has already been done. He then suggested greater sustainable links between primary and secondary schools. Not just taster days or special events but something that is regular, significant and appropriate.

“Boys need challenge; they need structure. They like to solve problems and need tasks to be active and engaging. Create opportunities to talk before writing, create time for reflection and make the work relevant.” – Gary Wilson – Oxford University Press – Project X

In my classroom, I have been using IntoScience (www.intoscience.com). I have noticed increased motivation and engagement from the boys in my Year 8 group (a tough boy-dominated group). This is not just the ‘lads’ but the quieter boys who respond well to working in pairs on some of the challenges and activities. Each task is clearly defined. There are ‘inquiry points’ on offer at each stage and plenty of challenge. They are also keen to follow up at home. The girls love it too!

My work with Primary schools has also meant I have been able to see Empiribox (www.empiribox.org) in action. This is great for boys achievement. Hands-on practical science with plenty of pops, whizzes, bubbles and smells. They get to use scientific language, ask questions and investigate their own ideas. It’s the perfect mix of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Useful starting point with some good ideas. Happy to hear more!

Science in Primary Schools

“The look on their faces as 30 rockets launched simultaneously into the sky was priceless! This is what science is all about.” – Year 4 teacher Mike

My new role this term has given me the opportunity to support science teaching in local Primary schools. Having taught secondary school science for twenty years, it is a privilege to be invited into a classroom as an ‘expert’. The real expert is the Year 4 teacher who knows his 8 and 9-year-olds better than I do. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, their habits and histories and what makes them tick. Mike has planned his lesson according to a scheme of lessons from Empiribox. It’s number one in the Forces Unit. The first part is an old trick. The glass full of water, square of plastic on top and then turn it upside down. Thankfully it does what it’s supposed to! It’s air pressure pushing against the water isn’t it. Of course it is! The lesson continues with a pair of Magdeburg Spheres (two flat rubber circles with metal hooks on the outside). Squeeze them together and ask the students to pull them apart. They can’t. Not even with a huge grimace from an 8-year-old boy. The question asked is “What keeps them together?” First response is glue, second response is a vacuum. Nope. It’s air pressure again! Then Mike prepares for his pièce de résistance: the egg into the conical flask. This requires a little more equipment and no shortage of composure. Mike is ably assisted by Kim, a TA, trained this month in practical science by Empiribox (part of their package). She knows what to look for and how to make it work. With a bit of careful timing and encouragement, the egg drops into the flask and then squeezes out again after some warming with a Bunsen burner. The question is asked and this time students can confidently suggest it is air pressure pushing the egg in and out of the flask. Great result. Misconceptions blown out of the water.

Mike uses my experience as a sounding board, a quick check that he’s on the right lines. The questioning is entirely developmental and students build their understanding and trust of the concept of air pressure and forces. Mike is encouraged by their responses and goes for the big finale. Thirty film canisters with a splash of water. Thirty students ready to put a vitamin C tablet in and click on the lid. Thirty students standing back with safety goggles. Off they go and the look on their faces is priceless! Mike is speechless. Kim is quietly smug that another lesson has gone off successfully thanks to her calm sense of organisation and the knowledge that Empiribox are just a phone call away if she needs help.

It is a privilege to see this in action. I will continue to work with each of their teachers and support the teaching and learning. The growth in confidence of the teachers is phenomenal too. They talk to each other, share ideas and iron out any tricky questions. The Head, Richard, is totally confident of the outcomes. “The impact on the school has been immense. Students talk about their science lessons all the time. There was a real lack of practical science in our school and we wanted to change that. Using Empiribox has made it possible. The training is high quality and the resources including lesson plans are first class. The impact on literacy and numeracy will also be enormous.”

Empribox provides the equipment, accredited CPD for staff and additional resources including detailed lesson plans and risk assessments. The cost is generally less than £1 per pupil per week but there is a generous referral scheme to offset some of the costs. It effectively means pupils are doing practical science every week. The long-term benefits for our country are far-reaching. There is a lack of students taking science at A-Level. Fact. Particularly girls. We can address this by inspiring young people to take up careers in science. This means better quality training for primary school teachers particularly in science and better resources for the classroom.

More rocket science next week! Can’t wait!

Empiribox are here www.empiribox.org 

Music4Learning #6

“You wake up tomorrow and there’s no music. It’s all gone. Not even a note. “

How crazy and unimaginable would that be. Our brains respond so powerfully to music that there has to be a strong connection. The Sync Project is trying to gather individuals to verify the effects of music with tangible, hardcore research and evidence. There are many experts out there willing to throw their hand in to help pull a few strings. By invitation only, a group gathered to thrash out and explore some ideas at McGill University last month – the link is here. Take a look at what they are trying to achieve….

At I Can Teach, we believe that certain types of music are real Brain Food – the connection with the soul is undoubted but to help the brain’s engine room really kick into gear, there are beats that work. Using music at 50-80 beats per minute, often classical music, can generate an increase in alpha waves in the brain. This dramatically improves brain function and can increase memory capacity and retention. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D major is an ideal piece of music and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major is also highly influential. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is a delight to improve creative writing.

“Several of my Year 4 and Year 3 teachers are now regularly using I Can Teach music in their classrooms. There has been a significant impact on pupil concentration when listening to the brain food music while writing”. Rob Evans – Headteacher

The music is calming, reassuring and purposeful. The atmosphere is noticeably different and I know my students value the opportunity to pause, reflect and improve even if they wouldn’t confess to being a fan of classical music.

TeachMeet Brighton 2015

TeachMeet Brighton 2015 #TMBTON, admirably hosted by Brighton University on a sunny evening, brought together a great bunch of teachers looking to share ideas. David Rogers (@daviderogers), Peps McCrea (@pepsmcrea) and Leah Sharp (@leah_moo) facilitated and shared ideas too.

Darren Arbon (@Dr_Arbon) presented simple ways to use technology in the classroom. No gimmicks just good learning techniques and lots of fun. Lesley Munro (@LesleyMunro4) took us through the contents of a Revision Goodie Bag for Year 11 students and Rachel Ramaker (@rjramaker) told us about Little Free Libraries and how they work to build communities of readers. Laura Braun (@Braunteaches) gave us a run through of ‘Prove It’ sheets, an excellent and well used assessment for learning tool and John McKee (@jmckee) described his school’s ambition to change the language of behaviour to ‘grit and self-management’ and how to monitor its impact. David Rogers (@daviderogers) described his links between a Year 9 class and a Year 6 class, testing each others knowledge on common themes of study and Ben Rouse (@mr_brouse) showed how a ‘draftback’ review of revision history in Google Docs could be an awesome feedback tool. Leah Sharp (@leah_moo) had a quick-fire set of ideas to use in the classroom, including the use of Twitter and emojis to improve literacy. Helen Pengelly (@hdiamondcoach) brought a sense of calm and purpose with a look at ‘mindfulness’ in schools and there was a quick look at Crumbles too.

My presentation was called ‘Music4Learning Meets Kahoot’, a mash up of two great ideas. I have used Kahoot a great deal in my classroom with real success. Disengaged becomes motivated and purposeful, disinterested becomes collaborative and cheerful and it’s a piece of cake to make it work.

Kahooters will know that look of engagement you get when the pin code arrives on the screen. At TeachMeet Brighton we had 30 teachers ready to answer the questions. The prize, a pair of T-Shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Teacher of #Awesome’ and ‘Kahoot Champion’ and some great stickers with top tips for Kahooting: Top prize! Not to be put off by the slight lag in connection, I described how I used Kahoot in my classroom: revision lesson, fun starter, plenary, afternoon reward slot, tutor activity, student-generated games and plenty more. You can also use Global Kahoots, sharing across several screens or ‘Ghost Mode’. I used each question in this Kahoot to highlight the different types of music that can be used in the classroom. That might be calming music or wake-up and tidy up music or even thought-provoking music to improve creativity and productivity. I Can Teach has provided music for the classroom for over 8 years and has been used around the world in over 160 different countries. My Kahoot is here if you’d like to take a look.

The Kahoot was a success. Great participation, engagement, fun and healthy competition. No swearing, no tears, just a few sad faces on those further down the leaderboard. Using it for CPD and staff training is also a great way to engage people. This was my first TeachMeet. I felt very comfortable showing people how I use such a great tool for the classroom. Any nerves I had quickly disappeared once I pressed the ‘Play’ button.

Kahoot is free and very easy to set up. There are similar ideas in Socrative and Plickers but I prefer Kahoot purely because of the simplicity, reliability and engagement. Sign up here. Do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about using Kahoot or I Can Teach.

Marcus Cherrill (@ICanTeach_Uk and ideas@icanteach.co.uk)

Immerse yourself in Science

“Take high quality science content and put it into a 4D adventure world and you’ve got students hooked.”

Our school have recently signed up for a trial of IntoScience. It takes students on a fantastic journey through a range of challenging and varied realms and scientific concepts. Once logged in the students create their own avatar with brilliant graphics controls and a plethora of options: ecologist, astronomer, chemist or physicist. A neat little backpack for gadgets collected along the way is a must-have accessory. Your super-scientist now enters the Research Lab and starts their quest for Inquiry Points. Game on!

We run a three year Key Stage 4, so we are looking to squeeze content and engagement into two years of Key Stage 3. Our concern was the dip in engagement and interest towards the end of Year 7. They had settled in, discovered the joys of chemistry and Bunsen burners and were heading into statistically the least productive year of their secondary education. So IntoScience fits perfectly into our plans. Year 8 are the pilot group. Year 7 will love it too. We will do a quick impact assessment at the beginning and at the end of the year.

The teacher’s point of view is pretty cool too. There are quizzes and tasks and student responses can be observed, recorded and responded to in real time. Don’t forget some of the top game changers from the Sutton Trust and Prof. John Hattie:feedback, homework and metacognition. Throw in a bit of Digital Technology and your value for money just keeps growing.

There are good links to the revised Key Stage 3 National Curriculum for England and Wales and these will continue to be developed but the content has a predominantly Australian feel about it. IntoScience has hopped its way over from the land down under and is another gem from the creators of Mathletics, Spellodrome and Reading Eggs. 3P Learning are aiming to bring regular updates to the service with new features and interactive activities; the latest one is an electricity activity with students needing to fix a monorail.

We are looking to augment our curriculum, not replace it and this will enable high levels of engagement and extend it beyond the classroom. Our regular practical work will continue. It’s excellent enrichment and we are looking forward to getting to grips with more challenges in the new term.

We will keep you updated with progress!

http://www.intoscience.com/uk/

Music4Learning #5

“Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not.”

Wellbeing is underrated. So many people pay little attention to their own or others. Hardworking teachers and students crashing and burning their way through an academic week means there is little left for anyone else come the weekend. Teachers are victims of their own regime. The timetable creates a Pavlovian phenomenon of knowing exactly what you are doing and when. But this hamster wheel is where we lose the ‘why’ of teaching.

Let’s refocus on the ‘why’ then. Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not. We nurture, guide and applaud young people. We push and pull, cajole and coax and equip brave young minds with resilience and tenacity. To survive this rollercoaster I need time to look after myself and my students. I need to know when I am pushing them too far. I use the music from I Can Teach to ‘chill out’. Generally, with no lyrics, the music allows me to refocus, to reflect and calm before the next onslaught. Try it before that ‘hard to teach’ class arrives. The effect is not short-lived. My favourite track in Chill Out has to be La Femme d’Argent by Air. You can almost feel the waves lapping around you and a gentle sea breeze keeping you nicely chilled. Follow this up with Homebase by dZihan and Kamien and you are in a different place – a different space. Northern Lights by Lux is delicious in its simplicity. You can melt away in this music.

So, you’ve tried the therapeutic self-awareness route and you are now confidently going to try it on that class of 8 year olds or 13 years olds that have bounced in after break. It works. It creates a calm, peaceful and purposeful atmosphere. It physically changes the chemical balance of hormones in the body. Calm teacher, calm class of learners. Greater focus means improved productivity and greater confidence. ‘Chill Out‘ does not mean ‘Doze Off’. There is an intrinsic purpose to this choice of music. It works.

ASAP Science: The Scientific Power of Music (2:00)

“More of the brain is involved in perception and response to music than to language or anything else.” – Oliver Sacks

Lastly, if you like the academic rigour behind all of this then check out Oliver Sacks – Tales of Music and the Brain. His site is here. Worth a good look.

Music4Learning #4

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T.E. Lawrence

Ever seen a bunch of 16 year olds dragging their knuckles, bringing last Wednesday’s clothes and smell with them, complaining of bright lights and too many things to do before sunset? Ever opened your classroom door to a sideways glance from a teenage girl who has scrunched the last bit of chew from a stick of gum and just about managed to string the words together: ‘Hope we’re doing something fun today!’? The joys of high school or secondary school bring tears to most teachers eyes – and for so many reasons. It is the age of consolidation. The voyage of self-discovery and the trials of adolescence.

My learners enter the classroom knowing there’s going to be some music at some point. Here’s how I use the Wake Up section on I Can Teach. The chemistry has to be right. Imbalance between the two hormones melatonin and serotonin can cause a delay in waking and difficulty getting to sleep. So there are times when music can help. He’s a Pirate by Klaus Badelt (from Pirates of The Caribbean) is a rousing bit of music. Use it to introduce a topic, a speaker or get people started on an activity.Can’t Stop Movin’ by Sonny J is just the ticket for a ‘moving’ activity but at the right volume sits just underneath constructive conversation. Choose carefully between tracks with lyrics and without. The temptation is to ‘hook’ into the lyrics and this can work to improve productivity, focus and concentration. The beats per minute is also important. Too fast and you lose the effect. Our brain is too busy interpreting and following. Watch this from Jessica Grahn (she’s a hip neurologist who knows her beats) to give you an idea of how it works….

The William Tell Overture by Rossini is a classic piece of music. Throw it into the classroom and watch students become productive, busy, sociable bees. Tidy up time never happened more efficiently. Use it as part of a routine and Pavlov’s bells start ringing – students will tidy up without even asking! There’s a good selection of beats, sounds and styles in Wake Up and they all work in different ways to achieve the same effect. Whether it’s early morning or early afternoon, there’s a place for some upbeat ‘wake up’ music. The results will speak for themselves…..