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!

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/

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is the solution to so many classroom issues. Easy to set up and constantly in a beta mode so that everyone can add to its development. The key part is the means by which classes can be allocated either assignments (homework) or posts for information and announcements. It is easy to set a particular task to smaller groups of students and to provide separate copies of tasks to each student. Now, the best bit. They submit their work back to you ( turn it in) and then you can comment on it and allocate a grade. It uses the technology of Google Docs, sheets, slides etc, so you can find yourself commenting on or grading a piece of work in real time. So, the opportunities for quick, useful and meaningful feedback are obvious. The students can improve their work based on your critique and the essence of multiple drafting and redrafting is available. This leads to higher quality work by miles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K26iyyQMp_g http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIfXzJMLsMQ

So, once the assignments have been set to a particular time and date, you can check progress along the way, offer significant and important feedback and critique and then give a final grade based on a rubric that you have already provided in an easily accessible location within the ‘classroom’. It is also easy to tell who has submitted their work or not. If they are late, I mark them down by 10 points: a grade. Once all the grades are entered, I can download a useful parents evening tool in the form of a spreadsheet, that gives all the grades for all the assignments since the beginning of time. Well, since the beginning of term. Its as powerful as having their books in front of them, as you can pull up evidence of submissions, feedback offered and improvements made. It’s a real time saver and with limited set up it rivals expensive options or iPad apps that need a great deal of time invested in them. The key part for me is the motivation for the learner. They can engage with it from any device at any time from wherever they like. They get feedback quickly and are then able to see specifically what they need to do to improve. From a teacher’s point of view, it’s an extra tool. It’s a good use of time and drastically reduces that time taken looking through books. In my view – well worth a look!

Games in learning

A look at how Kahoot might help you engage your students.

I have spent most of my years teaching trying to engage students. Some tactics have been more successful than others. The element of surprise has always been lurking and is often a winner, particularly as a science teacher. Expect the unexpected! So, best to be prepared then. Crafting a lesson plan is one thing but introducing the flexibility to divert and go with the flow is a tough ask and demands a little more resilience and adaptability. A significant part of my planning would be on assessing progress and demonstrating skills or knowledge that they didn’t have when they came in that day.

Using Kahoot https://getkahoot.com/ , the game-based classroom response system, which allows students to engage on a completely different level has changed the way I view assessment for learning. On a simple level, it’s a quiz. Everybody loves a quiz. Especially when you know the answers. The questions go up on the board and the students answer. Easy. What makes Kahoot so good is the technology. It’s nothing revolutionary but it makes the application of ‘checking progress’ look like child’s play. You need WiFi and you need a reasonable number of devices, preferably but not essentially handheld. You need to display the option choices. The key part of the game is that students can make their choices without putting their hand up or without shouting out. It’s ok to make a mistake. In fact, they will declare it quite vehemently under the guise of ‘pressing the wrong button….’. The risk of public humiliation is dramatically reduced. That is until the scores are revealed. The quicker the correct response, the more points awarded. The top five scores are displayed but every player knows their position and they know how far behind the next player they are. The teacher can control the pace of the questions, both in setting a time limit for response and manually between questions. This can create a furious-paced five or ten minute plenary or a slightly slower examination of right and wrong answers.

You can easily introduce literacy and numeracy. A key requirement is that students read the question. It’s easy to make the answers phonetically similar or group words of similar spellings. You can also involve students in creating the quizzes. They become researcher, collator, writer and developer in one part of the lesson and quiz master in the next. The metacognition involved in this process and the access to higher order thinking skills is tangible. Kahoot is as versatile as you would want it to be. You can add video clips and images to stimulate responses at the beginning of the quiz or in each question. You can also draw on other users’ quizzes. You might be able to copy and adapt these but also share yours with others either in your school or more widely. Have a look for quizzes on ‘Frozen’ or Logos or chemical symbols. What is undeniable is the sustained interest that is generated in the students. The elements of competition, pace and challenge combine to make this a real winner.

Some top tips for using Kahoot:

  • Keep it relatively short – 20 questions maximum and 10-15 minutes
  • Stick to real names on set up – it avoids subtle name calling
  • Involve students in setting their own quizzes
  • Take some time to add images or a video at the start
  • Make yours public and add some good tags
  • Use a flipped model of learning – set a video to watch first
  • Try with staff – it will transform briefing sessions
  • Use it across all subjects
  • Have fun with it