Monday, 28 November 2011

All Secondary - Improving essay feedback in the classroom!

Anyone who teaches an essay based subject will know how frustrating it is to spend hours writing comments on students’ work, only for them to look at the grade and then crumple the work up in their bag. There it will often stay along with the model answer which they will eventually lose. Although time is limited to get through the specification, I am trying to spend more time on useful essay feedback in class.

I share assessment objectives with my classes and sometimes get the students to peer assess each other’s work based on the mark schemes. However, for the longer essay questions, I find that the mark schemes are rather too vague for students to do this effectively. Instead I have listed below some very simple, but practical techniques which have worked for my students.

  1. When I give out model answers (either written by myself or a student) I ask the students to use different colour pens to highlight names; concepts and evaluation points. Sometimes I get the students to do this on their own or a classmate’s essay.

  2. While model answers can be very useful, they put too much focus on the teacher doing the work not the student. I will therefore often give out a model answer with an introduction, conclusion or paragraph missing, which the students then have to write themselves.

  3. Sometimes I give out excellent student essays to whole classes. I only do this with the student’s permission. It can give them a confidence boost, but otherwise I feel that they don’t get much in return for their hard work. In classes where there are only a small number of students working on the highest grades, I photocopy their essays and swap them with students on a similar level. This enables those on the top grades to learn from each other.

  4. While marking essays, I note down examples of students who have written good points and ask those students to read the relevant section of the essay out in whole class feedback. This works particularly well when a student has not been happy with their overall essay mark, but has done a very good introduction, conclusion, evaluative comment etc. I try to include a range of different students when doing this.

  5. When I hand back students' essays I ask them to read what they have written again, not just my comments. Often they spot mistakes quickly for themselves and it becomes apparent that they are reading the essay for the first time! I then reinforce the suggestion that they get someone else to read their essay before they hand it in, (preferably somebody who is not studying the subject). They need to hide the question from the reader. If the reader can more or less guess the wording of the question, they can feel confident that they have answered it. If the reader knows only the topic area, the student needs to look at their essay again before submitting it. 

Emily Painter
Sociology Teacher, Cadbury Sixth Form College

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Secondary English - Why is English spelling so difficult?

English has 44 sounds and only 26 letters to represent them. That means that there is no one-to-one matching of sounds and letters and some letters are used for more than one sound.

For instance, the letter G can be used for the hard ‘g’ in rug and the soft ‘j’ in germ. 
The letter S can be used for the hissing sound in sit and the buzzing sound in pheasant.

Some sounds can be shown by more than one letter, or letter combination:
The sound ‘ai’ can be shown as eye, aisle, I, guy and might, while the sound ‘f’ can be shown as in feel and photograph.

However, some words that sound the same can be written differently:
their/there/they’re     tide/tied    hare/hair air/heir

Some letters have become silent over the centuries as the pronunciation of words has become simplified, but the spelling of these words has remained the same:
G is silent in gnome
K is silent in knight
H is silent at the beginning of most words, as in honest

Some letters can be doubled, but there may be no difference in pronunciation: robin  rabbit

These oddities in English spelling were demonstrated in the nineteenth century when someone realized that the word ghoti could be pronounced as fish.  This made-up word, although it looks nothing like fish, can be given that pronunciation when you break it down into three parts:
gh as in rough
o as in women
ti as in condition ghoti = fish!

Although there is something rather fishy about this spelling it shows rather well some of the strange spelling rules in English that come from using just 26 letters to show 44 sounds.

Secondary Business - News Quiz 24/11/11

Again, a busy week in the business world, with the economy and the eurozone again dominating many of the headlines, we also saw the dramatic fall in Thomas Cook shares at the start of the week.

Below is this weeks Business News Quiz, for your students to complete and see if they have really been watching the business news this week! Click here for a printable version along with the answers.

  1. Why have Labour criticised the sale of Northern Rock to Virgin money?
    They think it should’ve been sold to Lord Alan Sugar ( )
    They claim in was a poor deal for taxpayers( )
    They think HSBC should have bought it ( )
    They think Virgin Money could now monopolise the banking sector ( )

  2. Shares in Thomas Cook fell by how much at the start of the week, before they began to recover a day later?
    75% ( )
    80% ( )
    85% ( )
    90% ( )

  3. Arcadia, the group that is owned by Sir Philip Green, and includes brands such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge & Burton is to close up to how many stores?
    150 ( )  
    200 ( )
    260 ( )
    320 ( )

  4. China has become the world's largest smartphone market by volume after it overtook who in the 3rd quarter of the year?
    America ( )
    Australia ( )
    Japan ( )
    Russia ( )

  5. Which patent row has Apple won this week?
    HTC patents ( )
    Blackberry tablet patents( )
    Sony mobile phone patents( )
    Google search engine patents ( )

  6. The struggling telecoms equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks is cutting how many jobs, which equates to 23% of its total workforce?
    10 000 ( )
    17 000 ( )
    20 000 ( )
    27 000 ( )

  7. Who this week has resigned as director of the companies that publish The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Sun.?
    Rebekah Brookes ( )
    Rupert Murdoch ( )
    James Murdoch ( )
    Tim Mockridge( )

  8. Which Young Apprentice candidate was fired this week after designing a TV advert for deodorant?
    Ben Fowler ( )
    Lewis Roman ( )
    Hannah Richards ( )
    Gbemi Okunlola( )

  9. Who is the new presenter of Channel 4’s countdown programme?
    Arthur Levinson ( )
    Lord Alan Sugar ( )
    Nick Hewer( )
    Andrea Jung( )

  10. Dixons, who own Curry’s have seenlosses increase to what level this week?
    £91.5m ( )
    £52.4m ( )
    £66.7m ( )
    £25.3m ( )

Donna Jestin
Teacher of Business Studies Notre Dame College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Secondary RE - How to Debate and Evaluate

Active Learning Strategies for Debating and Evaluating

I want to encourage my students to consider different opinions and views towards a social or moral issue, but I also want them to start developing evaluation skills too. At KS4, students must demonstrate the ability to evaluate which is more than just saying what different people think. It is much more about comparing views and exploring why some reasons are better than others. The GCSE changes a couple of years ago saw a shift in the weighting of the evaluation questions in the religious studies exams, but how can we help our students to develop this skill in an interactive way?

The following are some active learning strategies that I have found useful, not only in the actual discussing and debating of a topic but in helping young people to evaluate properly.

Conscience Alley
Give the class a moral dilemma, e.g. Imagine that you are a full time parent to your 2 children. You have no money left for the week and your children are screaming and crying because they are hungry. You walk into town and see the supermarket with all of its food. Would you steal some food for your children?

The students in the class have to decide whether they would or wouldn’t, and arrange themselves into 2 lines (one line which would steal, and one line which wouldn’t), facing each other with a gap between them big enough for someone to walk down – this is conscience alley. You will need a couple of students to slowly walk down conscience alley, and listen to the reasons that the other students give to try and persuade the individuals that they should or should not ‘steal’. The students in the lines should try to be as persuasive as possible. When the students have reached the end of conscience alley they will need to make their decisions and relay these to the class, explaining which arguments persuaded them and which reasons they did not think were good enough and why.

“Stay Standing if…”
All students must stand up. The teacher will have a number of statements relating to the topic/ issue being explored that students must either agree or disagree with. These will then be said with the starter “Stay standing if… you think the death penalty should be brought back into UK law”. Students make their decisions and either stay standing or sit down. The teacher circulates the classroom asking students to give their reasons for staying standing or sitting down, and asking students to say why they think that their reason/ opinion is stronger than that of someone with the opposite opinion to them.

Value Lines
This activity can be used in a variety of different ways. I have used this when reflecting upon the impact of the Holocaust on Jewish faith; when considering what age could be considered ‘old’ when looking at ageism; and when exploring class opinions towards a social or moral issue.

Give students a dilemma or statement that they need to make a decision on e.g. If you were Jewish and had survived the Holocaust do you think that you would be a theist, agnostic or atheist? Inform students that one side of the room is one view e.g. ‘atheist’, the other side of the room is the opposite opinion e.g. theist and the centre of the room is the middle decision e.g. agnostic. Students should get themselves into a line depending on what their view is. If your statement is based on an ethical or social dilemma e.g. “Capital punishment should be reintroduced to the UK” then the value line will be ‘agree’ at one end, ‘disagree’ at the other end and undecided in the centre.

Students are encouraged to explain and argue the reasons why they have placed themselves in their position along the value line. If a student explains their reasons and this changes the opinions of others, they are entitled to move, but they must explain why they found these reasons convincing or persuasive. You can also encourage students to explain why they disagree with other’s views and reasons.

All of these activities could be carried out as an introduction to a topic or even before the completion of a practice evaluation question for GCSE religious studies, as a way of encouraging students not just to consider other views, but to actively evaluate them as well.

Teresa Langler
Head of Beliefs and Values
Clyst Vale Community College

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Secondary English - Any Questions?

I sometimes wonder what my students really think about my lessons. No, let me correct that. I sometimes wonder what my students really understand in my lessons. Unfortunately I think that too often there is a gap between my assumptions of what they ‘get’ and what they don’t. So, last week I, rather bravely, decided to get inside my Year 11 students’ heads.

It was a simple exercise. At the beginning of our lesson, on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, I asked them to write down three sentences on a piece of paper. These could be: an observation about the scene we were studying; a question to test another student’s understanding; a question that they would like to ask me. During the lesson, every student had to contribute one point from their sheet and when any observations were made or questions answered satisfactorily they crossed them off. At the end of the lesson, the students handed in their sheets so that I could look at any questions left unanswered. In the following lesson, I was then able to address these questions and go through any points of confusion in the scene.

This was a fascinating activity.  There were an overwhelming number of questions that focussed on ‘What does X word mean?’ that seemed to trouble even the most able students. As much as I think that I have explained the important words or bleat on about getting the ‘gist’ of certain passages, I found that my students wanted to understand it all- they wanted to join the missing links so they could solve the puzzle of Shakespeare’s language. I had not always predicted which words would tie up which students in knots and until we completed this exercise, many of them seemed to view the text as incomprehensible, even if it turned out there were only two words out of twenty that they did not really understand. I found that by unravelling these knots, it enabled many students to then start to unpack the layers of meaning in the language choices in a more meaningful way than before.

This exercise has real possibilities and I am excited about trying it out in other areas. We will be preparing for their Mocks next and I think it could be illuminating to find out what my students really understand about the non-fiction exam. Who knows, now that I have found out that what is inside my students’ heads is not so frightening, I might even dare to ask what they actually think about my lessons!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher 
Steyning Grammar School

Monday, 21 November 2011

Secondary Geography - Demonstrating Progress

Using Continuum lines to Demonstrate Progress
(Note - This post refers to ideas from Geography lessons but could be adapted for many other subjects)

There is always that worry about different ways to demonstrate progress at the end of the lesson. If you are being observed it is obviously a key element. Even when I am not being observed I like to use the plenary to check on my student’s progress. Self-reflection is an important aspect of any lesson – was the lesson a success? Did students enjoy it? Have they achieved the objectives / outcomes? As a Head of Humanities with a large team, I observe lessons frequently and I am frequently surprised at how often teachers fail to show that students have made progress. The rest of lesson may be good but it is important to allow students to clearly understand the progress they have made and also to reflect on their understanding.

One way to this is by using continuum lines at the end of the lesson. Continuum lines allow students to choose a point of view based on what they have learnt during the lesson, reflecting on their learning and it allows me to question them about that choice – allowing me to assess their progress and understanding

Continuum lines work in any lesson that is issue based and work particularly well where there are two points of view. The basic idea is that you write two viewpoints up on a piece of paper and stick each viewpoint either end of the classroom. Students then have to line up where they stand on the imaginary line in terms of their own view based on the evidence / learning from the lesson. This activity takes no more than 5 minutes of lesson time but achieves so much. You just need an unobstructed stretch across a classroom where students can line up. Failing this a corridor also works.

Below are a couple of examples:

Y10 GCSE Tourism (AQA A) – students spent the lesson learning about the impacts of tourism on Antarctica. At the end of the lesson, on one side of the classroom I put “Tourism should be allowed to continue in Antarctica” and on the other “Tourists should not be allowed to visit Antarctica”. Students then lined up according to their viewpoint. It was interesting that there was a real mix of where students stood - with only a very few choosing the extreme ends. I then asked all students to write a justification of their position on a post-it which they stuck on the desk in the rough position they were stood. Students and I then read these post-it notes and discussed some of the viewpoints.

Y12 AS level Population Change (AQA) – Population theorists. I stuck a picture of Malthus at one end of room and a picture of Boserup at the other. Students then lined up according to who they agreed with most. I then asked them to justify their decision. This lesson was observed by my Headteacher and he was really impressed with their responses and the fact that they actually spent a few minutes working out where to stand. Students not only justified their decision by referring to the theories but some also had thought of present day examples.

This idea can easily be extended. In a KS3 lesson on the Haiti Earthquake, where the students were investigating the question “why did so many people die in the Haiti earthquake”, I used the continuum line idea. This time though I had 4 points in the room: Poverty, Buildings collapsing, Population density and Aid taking too long to arrive. I asked them to decide which they thought was the most important factor and stand at that point. It was interesting that some of the most able students stood between two points (despite me telling them to stand at one point) and then justified this by saying that there wasn’t a most important factor because they were linked! I was so pleased that they had determined this point themselves and obviously thought long and hard about where to stand.

This is only one suggestion for demonstrating progress and there are many others but I believe that this activity ticks a lot of boxes for what we want to achieve and best of all it take no time to set up and takes very little time to conduct at the end of the lesson!

Tania Grigg
Head of Humanities & Senior AQA examiner
Clyst Vale Community College

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Secondary Business - News Quiz 17/11/11

From a new Apple Chairman - replacing Steve Jobs, to a worsening outlook for the UK economy and UK hostages held on a plane, it has been a very busy week in the business world!!

Below is this weeks Business News Quiz. Click here for a printable version along with the answers and web links so that you can discuss some of the news stories with your classes.

  1. Why were passenger’s held ‘hostage’ in Vienna, on a Comtel Air flight from India to the UK?
    It was demanded they pay £20 000 in fuel tax ( )
    The food & drink hadn’t been loaded onto the plane ( )
    There was a technical fault with the wing ( )
    There was a missing passenger who really wanted to get on the flight ( )

  2. Inflation in India has stayed high in October at what level?
    9.73% ( )
    10.73% ( )
    11.73% ( )
    12.73% ( )

  3. Dubai based airline, Emirates have placed an order for 50 Boeing 777s worth how much?
    $15bn ( )  
    $18bn ( )
    $25bn ( )
    $28bn ( )

  4. How has the UK job’s market been described this week? There will be a….
    "Sharp rise in the number of jobs available” ( )
    “Small increase in available jobs“( ) 
    “Painful decrease in the number of vacancies" ( )

    “Slow painful contraction, with firms delaying recruitment" ( )

  5. Easyjet’s pre-tax profits have risen in the year to September 30th from £154m to £248m, what are they claiming is the reason for this increase?
    The new special seating plan they offer ( )
    A major change in marketing strategy ( )
    Ryanair’s decrease in passenger numbers ( )
    The increase in business travel numbers ( )

  6. The UK’s unemployment figure has risen to what all time high level this week?
    2.62m ( )
    3.55m ( )
    4.32m ( )
    5.13m ( )

  7. Google have just announced that they are to launch what?
    An android based online music store ( )
    A new tablet computer ( )
    A new PC to challenge the at home market ( )
    Branded cuddly toys in time for Christmas ( )

  8. Which of the Young Apprentice candidates was fired this week after a ‘selling to the over 50’s’ task?
    Ben Fowler ( )
    Lewis Roman ( )
    Hannah Richards ( )
    Lizzie Magee ( )
  9. After the departure of Steve Jobs, who has replaced him as Chairman of the Board at the world’s most valuable company: Apple?
    Arthur Levinson ( )
    Robert Iger ( )
    Ronald Sugar ( )
    Andrea Jung( )

  10. Manchester United’s revenues have risen in the 3 months to September to what level?
    £91.5m ( )
    £52.4m ( )
    £66.7m ( )
    £73.8m ( ) 

Donna Jestin
Teacher of Business Studies Notre Dame College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Secondary English - Board games as a revision tool

You know that point when you’ve finished teaching a novel and know you have to go back over key events, themes and characters before a controlled task or exam? The point where your pupils groan that ‘we already know this’ and turn off? I was trying to think of fun ways to engage pupils in revision, as well as having lessons where I wasn’t leading and the pupils could get on by themselves, and lo and behold ‘board game revision’ was born!

My two GCSE sets had just finished To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel with a fair amount of context. The weekend before the lessons I popped to a pound shop and stocked up on cardboard, glitter pens and snazzy paper, you may have these things ready in the stock cupboard. You’ll also need glue and scissors.

As the pupils entered the room they had a selection of resources on their tables, their set texts and their exercise books, I then pitched the idea. They were going to make a board game for the novel we had just read. They could make any kind of board game they liked but it must involve questions on the novel, they have 2 lessons before we play the games.

I was delighted with their responses. Most groups chose to make a monopoly style game which meant that there was heated discussion about characters and social class to determine which properties would cost the most, The Ewell’s shack was brown (Old Kent Road) and rent was paid in cobnuts whereas the Judge’s house was purple (Mayfair) with rent at $500 or a spell in jail. The markers displayed main themes in the novel, a cross for religion, a tiny mockingbird for injustice, a ball for childhood, a knife for violence and book for morals. Question cards asked us about Mayella’s motives for kissing Tom and who we felt most sorry for in the novel and why. I was especially pleased with my EAL pupils’ responses, they enjoyed the visual aspects and revised key words and phrases. The class were also interested to learn new games and it helped them all to bond with each other.

Not only did the pupils have to revise the novel in detail, they also played each others games which meant they had to remember additional details. The games themselves were beautiful and were ideal to use as a plenary or reward on a rainy Friday afternoon. When we had finished with them I used them as wall displays which prompted other classes asking questions and wanting to make board games when we’d finished their class readers. We now have an entire wall of games, including Top Trumps for Holes, Snakes and Spells for The Witches and Mouse Trap for Stone Cold.

Joanna Fliski
Teacher of English, Media and Drama, Lliswerry High School

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Secondary Social Sciences - Recap lesson carousel

Information served six ways (or five)...

This lesson evolved from a discussion with a colleague about how we can ask students to recap their knowledge thoroughly, but without endless exam questions and essays. What emerged was so successful that I did it to death that week with my other Sociology and Psychology classes.

The basic premise of the lesson is that you have a topic or some key sociological issues, arguments or a perspective that you need to recap. I used it to recapture the key arguments and evidence for secularisation in the UK, a topic within Beliefs in Society (A2).

Armed with pieces of paper – each featuring a different issue - I arrange six stations in the room and place on them said pieces of paper. Then, I get the students into six groups (or five, depends on what you’ve got to cover) and seat them at a table. Their aim is to recount everything they know about that topic via a particular medium, which you present nice and clear on the interactive whiteboard. After the allotted time and suitable feedback, they rotate and go to a different table where they have to present a different issue in a different way. This way, they are revising all the key ideas/concepts, but through different means.  It’s student led and it gives you an opportunity to further question the understanding of your students and present them with some higher order questions. Best of all, it can make memorable some often long-forgotten key theories and concepts.

Here are some of the six ways that students can present, with some suggestions about how long for each.  Have these on the board at all times for focus. So, put simply: Students present different information in the same way, then they rotate to a new table, you flip the page and give them a new medium through which to feedback.

  1. A frozen image (2 minutes):  Hello Year 7 Drama. Students create a freeze frame that depicts the issue/theory.

  2. A picture or sketch that embodies a theory (3-4 minutes):  Some students get really abstract, others are more literal. One pair took a difficult concept like structural differentiation and drew a picture of a large church, with another, much smaller church underneath it. Surrounding the smaller church were schools, counselling surgeries, a registry office and family planning clinic. Simple, but so effective.

  3. A summary in no more than 30 words (3-4 minutes):  Because sometimes it’s important to get to the point.

  4. A song, rhyme or rap (6-7 minutes):  I have been frequently astounded by both the quality and ingenuity of these (see below).

  5. A role play (6-7 minutes):  This is perhaps the one that students find most embarrassing, but successful ones hammer home the key ideas well. Two boys in one class acted out ‘rationalisation’ by performing a doctor/patient sketch (“Thank you Doctor Weber, now I realise that my heart attack was of course caused by poor diet and smoking and not a demon inhabiting my body”).

  6. An example (2-3 minutes):  Important for those AO2 skills of interpretation and analysis, ask students to provide an example of this theory in action. One girl made a solid link between Bruce’s idea of cultural defence and the Iranian revolution of 1979; others linked rationalisation to Darwinism and Dawkins.

  7. An evaluation of the theory/concept (5-6 minutes):  This is a good one to finish on. You could specify strengths or weaknesses, or ask for both. An important AO2 skill.

At the end of the activity, ask students to vote for the groups which they thought were the most inventive or detailed, give them a round of applause and collate their work as a mini-recap guide that you can photocopy for students. Obviously you can’t photocopy a role-play, but you could take a picture of the frozen images and use them for visual revision aids.

Aside from being used as recap, this approach has also worked particularly well for evaluating research or key theories.  In this case, each table might feature a different evaluation point. It’s worked especially well in Psychology lessons as a collaborative activity that enables students to assess a key study. In this case, get five or six groups of students (pairs is ok too for smaller classes) and arrange the zones – each with different evaluative issues this time. For example: Generalisability; Reliability; Application and Usefulness; Validity, Ethics and the Research Method. Using their knowledge of the key study, students must focus on that one particular issue and apply it to the study at hand.  You use the same methods as listed above and feedback and rotate in exactly the same way.

I’ll leave you with perhaps one of my favourite moments as a teacher that emerged from one of these tasks last year. One Y12 group were examining a study and were criticising the methodology, which happened to be a quantitative measure. They decided to present their critique as an R&B love ballad in the style of Mariah Carey. Tears of laughter streamed down my face as they warbled, with backing vocals and utter sincerity, the final lines below:

"The truth isn’t always revealed,
validity is lacked
data can be unwieldy, hard to keep to keep track.
Good for statistics, 
but otherwise inept,
not enough detail, not enough depth."

Christopher Stump
Sociology and Psychology teacher
Park High School, Harrow

Monday, 14 November 2011

Secondary History - From Cause to Consequence

Cause and consequence appears as the fourth key concept on the QCDA KS3 National Curriculum, and underpins much of our study of history as a discipline. Come GCSE and A Level it’s still key as students begin to make a distinction between conditional and contingent causes, immediate and delayed consequences.  Whilst I have found my students handle the idea of a cause followed by an event leading to a consequence well, they often find it more difficult to really explain how the cause caused the event, and why the consequence is a consequence. Chronological ordering is one thing, supported historical analysis another!

The idea behind this activity is to get students to explain causation from one event to the next.  I have used it with Year 7 explaining the collapse of the Roman Empire, Year 10 searching for the causes of the October 1917 Revolution and Year 12 analysing Mussolini’s rise to power.  What I have seen in all is both how students are constructively critical of each other’s arguments, and how they offer help and suggestions of explanation to a peer teetering perilously on a stepping stone in the middle of the ‘stream’.

The activity

Using the stepping stone template, the students write each cause and consequence on individual stones.  I usually photocopy the template up so that each stone is A4.  They also need one central stone called ‘EVENT’ on which they write details of the event whose causes and consequences they are analysing, this can be done individually or in small groups.

I get students to make their notes on the templates in bullet points, or single prompt words, rather than continuous prose. The reason being they place the stones on the floor and need to be able to read them easily whilst standing!

Students then lay their stones across the floor, which becomes a stream, in chronological order – causes -> event -> consequences.  In order to step onto each stone they must explain either how it is a cause, or why it is a consequence. This also allows for the construction of a continuous argument.

If their teammates think the explanation is adequate they are able to step onto the stone, and then explain the next in order to step, one at a time, right across the stream. The ‘event’ stone can either be a temporary respite, or students can narrate the event as part of their ongoing explanation. Should any student fail to match up to their teammates expectations, they risk slipping off the stone into the stream and either have to start again, or become a soggy spectator as the next member of the team takes their chances!

The quality of explanation and ensuing discussions were really pleasing; Year 7 were able to make links between the causes of the fall of Rome and the ensuing consequences.  At A Level the activity highlights the conditional or contingent status of causes, and demonstrates the interrelation of consequences.
Example PowerPoint slide using stepping stones to explain Mussolini’s rise to power as AS level

Download the stepping stone template for yourself here to try this activity out with your own classes!

Charlotte Grove
History Teacher, Dame Alice Owen's School

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Secondary Business - News Quiz

A2 AQA Business Studies

The challenge of the A2 year and how it significantly differs from AS is that students need to be aware of what is happening in the real business world; this is a huge challenge for us as teachers.

I ask all of my A2 students to read the BBC business news every week, and actively encourage them to download the BBC App to their smartphones if they have one, but they don’t always need to use technology for the news. They could even just read the Metro on the way into college.

My A2 students have a “Business Studies News Quiz” every Thursday to complete on their own, the scores are then added up and I record these every week for each half term. After that a ‘winner’ is announced and given a small token to recognise this achievement. In addition to this, I ask all my groups to participate in ‘News Story of the week’ whereby one student out of each group is asked each week to produce a newspaper front cover with a hot topic from that week’s news; I have had stories ranging from the state of the economy, Steve Job’s death, the Blackberry internet failure & the bankers' bonuses. These stories then go on the notice board for all to see in the main Business corridor.

I was surprised how much my students became interested in the news, discussing stories with me as they entered the classroom, and asking for the Business Studies News Quiz each week - I think the element of competition helped as well!

Each week I will provide a quiz with answers all sourced from that you can use with your groups and hopefully help their preparation for Unit 4.

Business News Quiz - 10th November 2011

  1. How much are Anglo-French electrical goods retailer Kesa to sell Comet for?
    £2 ( )
    £5 ( )
    £10 ( )
    £12 ( )

  2. Which of the following major airlines was forced to ground its flights after a major industrial dispute?
    Lufthansa ( )
    Virgin ( )
    British Airways ( )
    Quantas ( )

  3. By how much have Ryanair's half-year profits risen?
    20% ( )
    53% ( )
    33% ( )
    13% ( )

  4. What from Steve Jobs famous quotes below, did he say he would spend his dying breath doing?
    "Make sure you destroy Android" ( )
    " Apple is going to reinvent the phone “ ( )
    "And one more thing" ( )
    " Be a yardstick of quality" ( )

  5. What profit was made by Marks & Spencer in the 6 months to October 1st?
    £320.5m ( )
    £250.5m ( )
    £720.5m ( )
    £950.5m ( )

  6. Following on from Question 5 – how did that figure differ from the same period last year?
    +10% ( )
    -10% ( )
    +8% ( )
    -8% ( )

  7. Why are Ford UK’s workers threatening strike action, for the first time since the 1970’s?
    Changes to their working hours ( )
    Changes to their pension scheme ( )
    Changes to the plant they work at ( )
    Changes in break times ( )

  8. Which of the Young Apprentice candidates was fired this week after bring the wrong candidates into the boardroom after a flower arranging task?
    Ben Fowler ( )
    Harry Maxwell ( )
    Hannah Richards ( )
    Lizzie Magee ( )

  9. What happened to the Eurozone’s retail sales in September ?
    They were 1.5% lower than the same period last year ( )
    They were 1.5% higher than the same time last year ( )
    They were 2.5% lower than the same period last year ( )
    They were 5% higher than the same period last year ( )

  10. The CBI has forecast that the unemployment rate will increase from 8.1% currently to what level next year?
    8.9% ( )
    10.5% ( )
    8.5% ( )
    10.9% ( ) 

Bonus point if you can tell me who the CBI are? Add up your scores and give me the total out of 11…

Donna Jestin
Business Studies Teacher Notre Dame Catholic 6th Form College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Secondary Economics and Business - Preparing students for Oxbridge

Providing a pathway for students to elite universities

When teaching Business and/or Economics we recognise the importance of high academic standards. However, do we really consider the need to offer students strong links for progression to university early in their academic career? From my own experience, providing a formal pathway for our students at Key Stage 4 to Oxbridge or indeed the Russell Group universities, rapidly improves academic attainment, progress and enjoyment of learning inside and outside of the regular curriculum.

There is so much out there to acknowledge and celebrate the achievement of Gifted & Talented students through enrichment opportunities in and outside of school, all tailored to preparing students for the top universities within the country, and in particular the Oxbridge admissions process.

I recently had the pleasure to hear Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Oxford speak to some of my own students. He highlighted the importance of reading outside of the regular curriculum now and early. I would highly recommend the great offer from The Economist magazine running right now, only £3 for 30 issues. Why not get all of your Economists to sign up?

In addition, Oxford and Cambridge provide excellent reading lists for students in Economics. The admissions process for the UK’s elite universities are rigorous and complex. Getting students to read such material now improves their chances greatly. Ask your students to produce book reviews based on their reading as a stretch and challenge activity.

From my own experience, Cambridge and Oxford offer some really outstanding pathways taster days with great presentations and sample lectures. The London School of Economics also really goes out of its way to provide opportunities for students to experience what it has to offer with Open Days to suit all. Get in contact with these institutions and you will find it to be a very simple process. Be aware that most opportunities are limited to ten students and have strict deadlines to register your interest.

The most important criteria for entry are not only high examination scores, but a demonstrable ability and interest in Economics and a robust enough personality and work ethic to cope with very demanding courses. The top universities are really looking to examine how a candidate thinks, rather than how they’ve been coached or what they’ve been taught.  The ability to think divergently and creatively is paramount. Why not set up weekly discussions on the school's VLE and get your students thinking about current economic issues?

It is clear that Ofsted always want to see how pupils benefit from a programme of enriched, challenging learning that targets their needs as well as their strengths. Building a formal pathway for students year to year with a solid framework of regular visits, master classes, divergent thinking sessions, public speaking, regular extra curricular reading and discussions will build upon school strategies for improved G&T provision and give those students some early tools before applying for such institutions further down the line.

Daniel Baker
Teacher of Business and Economics
Trinity Catholic High School

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Secondary Technology - Sustainability

Introducing Sustainability at Key Stage 3

As a Technology teacher, one of the areas that I have discovered my GCSE students find particularly challenging to get their heads around is the new sustainable GCSE paper. The trouble often is that the idea of ‘sustainability’ and being environmentally conscious as a designer is one that the pupils are learning from fresh at GCSE. Students have often never had any practice with sustainable products and projects lower down the school and therefore struggle with even the basic subject knowledge when preparing for the exam.

I’ve come up with a solution which I began with my Key Stage 3 students, "drip feeding" them sustainable projects and ideas from when they join the school in Year 7 all the way through to when they are taking their GCSE exam. I’ve suggested some of the ways that I‘ve developed this theme with my own Key Stage 3 classes below, but there are no doubt countless more ways that projects can be adapted to focus on sustainability, depending on your resources and individual classes!

  1. Recycling Theory - introduce the pupils to recycling from Year 7. Although more families are recycling at home, particularly where local councils provide separate recycling bins or collections, there are always a great number of pupils who have never actively engaged with recycling before. One of the simplest ways to introduce this concept is through recycling bins in the classroom. However, in my workshop there are not only specific bins for paper and card but also for various types of materials as well - we have plastic, metal and wood bins where off cuts and waste can be separated. We’ll then regularly go through these bins and ‘save’ any of the pieces to be used for teacher demonstrations etc. By getting pupils to actively sort through different materials and see how they can be re-purposed in the classroom, they can start to recognise that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’!

  2. Projects using recycled materials. Where possible we also encourage students to think about recycling in their individual projects. A short Year 8 project I developed was a flashing badge project. The pupils cut, shaped and glued waste bits of plastic into a badge, drilled holes in it and attached a flashing badge unit. The pupils found this really fun – coming up with some extremely creative ideas from a variety of plastic waste, including badges shaped like cats, cars and even a pizza! The project was a really useful way of re-enforcing the idea of transforming recycled waste into usable products and challenged the class to approach their designs from a different direction.

  3. Projects that make use of sustainable resources. One of the best sustainability projects I have seen in action is ‘The Windmill Project’. Pupils are given a fan (the source of the wind) and a hub connected to an electric motor. The electric motor is connected to volt meter to measure the electricity generated. Pupils then have to develop the best blades they can to generate the most amount of electricity. Pupils can vary the size and shape of the blades as well as the number of blades. I have found that it is best to get the pupils to work in teams, as this allows them to bounce ideas off each other and to (hopefully) collaboratively develop better products! I usually give a prize to the team that generates the most amount of electricity. This can also segue quite neatly into a discussion of other sustainable energy sources with the pupils.

As I mentioned, these are just a few suggestions to approach this topic but I’ve found them to be really effective.  Hopefully, this preparation will have ensured students have passively absorbed a lot more knowledge on the subject than they’ve even realised (always the trick when teaching…) and will find preparing for and sitting the GCSE exam a much less daunting experience!

James Randall
Design & Technology Teacher, Barking Abbey School

Monday, 7 November 2011

Secondary History - Remembrance

Who do we remember?

We are all familiar with the two minutes silence on Remembrance Day, at 11.00 am on the 11th November, to commemorate the end of World War One. It was introduced in 1919 to commemorate all those who lost their lives during World War One. The main national focus is on the Cenotaph, built in 1919-20, in Whitehall, although all war memorials around the country feature wreath-laying ceremonies on Remembrance Sunday [the second Sunday in November.]

Remembrance has since been extended to include those killed in all conflicts since 1914, including the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed recent conflicts have been instrumental in the reintroduction of the two minutes silence on November 11th itself, as a mark of respect for military personnel killed in those most recent of wars.

But who are we remembering, and why? There has been much emphasis recently on Diversity in history, and an increased recognition of the part played by Empire and Commonwealth troops in Britain’s wars. See, for example, Black and Asian soldiers of the First World War webquest: But what about our Allies during World War One?

Russia, we know, fought on the side of the Allies, on the Eastern Front, until the Revolution of February 1917, and finally made peace with Germany at Brest Litovsk in March 1918. But from the middle of 1917 Russia was fighting a ‘defensive’ war. Who can forget that scene in the film ‘Dr Zhivago,’ when a column of new troops is heading for the front and meets a mass of Deserters who persuade most of them to turn round and go back home after shooting most of their officers? Russia, of course, played no part in the war on the Western Front, so how do we make any sense of this gravestone in a cemetery in France?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
What was he doing on the Western Front? Why is he buried there? A single photograph can open up our preconceptions of World War One, and prompt lots of questions. History, it seems, is much more complicated than the textbooks suggest!

Alf Wilkinson
CPD Manager for the Historical Association and previously National Strategist for Key Stage 3 History. Alf has over 30 years history teaching experience and was lead author for Collins Key Stage 3 History resources.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Secondary Law - The Jackson Trial

The Jackson Trial - A Comparative Exercise

Partly because of the celebrity of the victim and partly because of the use of cameras in court, the current trial of Dr Conrad Murray for the Manslaughter of Michael Jackson is generating a vast body of evidence for students to mull over.

It provides an opportunity not available in our legal system for them to get to grips with the processes of a trial and the concepts of Involuntary Manslaughter. It’s the perfect source material for a Mock Trial.

The case merits comparison to our own leading case of Adomako [1994] and, although American law is not exactly the same as English law, their crime of 'criminally negligent manslaughter' neatly equates with our own crime of 'gross negligence manslaughter'.

In Adomako [1994] a distracted anaesthetist failed to realise that his patient had become disconnected from the oxygen supply for several minutes. This had fatal consequences. The House of Lords judgment became the leading case on gross negligent manslaughter. There are some obvious parallels with the Jackson trial.

The Key Elements from Adomako:

  1. Was there a duty of care?
  2. Was this duty breached?
  3. Did the breach cause death?
  4. Were the acts and omissions of the defendant so bad in all the circumstances as to amount to a criminal act or omission?

It is not difficult to show a duty of care between the doctor and his patient. The other elements form the contentious parts of the trial. I’ve divided them up below.

Activity Stage One:
Divide the group into two halves and allocate a research question to each half.

Research Question One: Causation
Examining the evidence so far, is it fair to say that Conrad Murray’s acts or omissions caused the death?
Students might consider:

  • How did the combination of different drugs find their way into Michael Jackson’s system?
  • Was the quantity and combination of drugs medically justified?
  • Were they administered solely by Dr Murray?

Research Question Two: ‘Grossness’
Was the breach of duty so bad in all the circumstances (per Adomako [1994]) as to be classed as criminal?
Students might consider:

  • Did Conrad Murray breach his duty in his choice of medication and his advice to the patient? 
  • Did he monitor his patient properly? 
  • Did he take appropriate steps to seek help once he had noticed the difficulties his patient was in?
  • Was it anyone else’s responsibility to look after Michael Jackson?

Activity Stage Two: 
Convene new groups containing an even mix of the two research questions.
Re-allocate roles as Prosecution and Defence and let battle commence!

Any news site search will generate huge volumes of material but here are 2 useful starting points.

Nigel Briggs 
Head of Law 
Notre Dame Sixth Form College Leeds

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

100 years of the atomic nucleus

The atomic nucleus with its orbiting electrons is one of the iconic images of the twentieth century. To some it promised unlimited energy, to others it signified the horrors of nuclear war and to many it means the dangers of radiation.  The concept of a tiny nucleus surrounded by electrons was announced by Ernest Rutherford in 1911 but there is debate about whose idea it was.

J J Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 and suggested that they were embedded in an atom sized blob of positive charge – the “plum pudding” model as it came to be known.  A choc chip muffin is possibly a more up to date analogy.  There were, however, other ideas. 

In 1901, Jean Baptiste Perrin, whose work on Brownian motion proved, to nearly everyone’s satisfaction, that atoms existed, suggested that the electrons may orbit around a sphere of positive charge rather like the planets around the Sun. 

Three years later, Hantaro Nagaoka, a Japanese scientist, imagined electrons arranged in rings around a mass of positive charge like the rings around Saturn.

Neither Perrin nor Nagaoka provided any evidence for their ideas and they were not widely publicised.
Rutherford supported Thomson’s theory.  Born in New Zealand he had been a research student at Cambridge under Thomson from 1895 to 1898.  He had then moved to McGill University in Montreal, Canada where he did Nobel Prize winning work on radioactivity.  In 1907 he became Professor of Physics at Manchester University.  He suggested an experiment to a young German scientist, Hans Geiger, to explore Thomson’s plum pudding model.  Alpha rays would be fired at a piece of gold leaf just a few hundred atoms thick.  The scattered alpha particles would be observed in a detector that Geiger designed.  Each alpha particle showed up as a tiny flash of light. 

Over the next couple of years, Geiger, with student Ernest Marsden, painstakingly observed the sparkles of thousands and thousands of alpha particles.  They showed that, as expected, the small, fast moving, positively charged alpha particles passed through the gold leaf with small deflections caused by the positive “pudding” of the atoms.  Then Rutherford made a surprising suggestion.  He told Marsden to see if any of the alpha particles were deflected at larger angles.  Marsden found that about 1 in 8000 alpha particles bounced back after colliding with the gold leaf. 

Rutherford was astounded.  He later said it was like a cannonball rebounding from a sheet of tissue paper.  He realised that the “plum pudding” model could not explain this observation.  Using Geiger and Marsden’s results he was able to calculate that the positive charge and mass of the atom must be packed into a tiny nucleus at the centre of the atom.  The nucleus must be less than 1x10-14 m in diameter or less than a ten-thousandth of the diameter of the atom itself.  Rutherford noted that the size of the nucleus compared to a “fly in a cathedral”, but the fly had all the mass of the cathedral.

Not much notice was taken of Rutherford’s 1911 paper and it took the work of Nils Bohr to explain why the electrons occupied fixed orbits, but gradually the image of electrons revolving around a central nucleus caught the imagination of artists and writers.  Almost all pictures, however, have the ratio of size of the nucleus and the atom wrong and have more in common with Nagaoka’s vision.

Activities1. Look for images of the nuclear atom.  Measure the ratio of diameters of the nucleus and atom.
2. Various analogies were used by scientists to describe the models of the atoms and their experimental results.  Think of other ways of describing the results of the gold leaf experiment and comparing the size of the nucleus and atom.
3. Is it right that the nuclear atom is attributed to Rutherford?
4. Find out more about the life and work of Ernest Rutherford.
5. Discuss the responses people have to the term “nuclear”.
Peter Ellis

Don't count on levels

Those of us in science education who’ve ‘been round the block a couple of times’ will remember a time before National Curriculum levels.  Rather more of us will recall the news coming through about the ending of the tests in science at KS3.  Don’t read into this either a love for or hatred of levels and testing, but rather an acknowledgement of the impact they’ve had.

What the concept of levels provided was a clear focus on the relative complexity of ideas.  Some concepts are more challenging than others and some skills are at a higher level.  What the testing did was to provide a benchmark (and also to give students an experience of summative assessment).  Although there was much relief at their demise, many schools still use them.

Both levels and the associated testing have pitfalls of course.  Accepting that there is a hierarchy of concepts is easier than judging it and there was some questionable folklore in some cases about what constituted progression to higher levels.  There was some consternation the year the tests included a question on balanced forces at a fairly basic level (“everyone knows that balanced forces are level 6”). The students weren’t in on the folklore of course and most, including quite a few who weren’t at Level 6, did well on it.

It’s also difficult for teachers to develop confidence in their own assessment practice when there’s an unseen exam in the offing (“am I judging what level they’re at or what level I think they’ll get in the tests?”).
Anyway, be aware that the future of levels is not, at the time of writing, a done deal.  There are, apparently, certain misgivings about their impact on teaching, progress and outcomes amongst some members of the expert review panel of the National Curriculum Programme of Study.

What might the alternatives be? Well, one way forward would be to have yearly teaching objectives – after all, the National Strategies produced these ten years ago in the original KS3 Science Framework.  These would enable a clear indication of the expected coverage each year and would build progression in, clearly showing how ideas built on each other.  What about assessment though? In the absence of levels does that become a Pass (proceed to next year) or Fail (repeat the year)?  Motivating the repeaters might be somewhat of a challenge.

At the moment it’s all to play for; don’t regard it as being signed and sealed.

Ed Walsh
Science Advisor for Cornwall Learning

Did you know? Notes from the history of Maths

Numbers Banned

Many Mathematics teachers will know the story of the murder of Hippasus of Metapontum around 500BCE for demonstrating that root 2 is irrational. The existence of such numbers challenged the Pythagorean world view that all was number (by which they meant measurable).

The recognition of different types of numbers has been an integral part of the development of our number system. Whilst in China negative numbers were recognised as early as 100BCE, Diophantus considered them absurd.  Zero has been accepted in some form since at least 2000 BCE – though usually as a space or symbol just indicating ‘no number’. Brahmagupta, born in India 598 CE, was the first to treat 0 as an actual number. The word “zero” comes from the Arabic “sifr”. The Persian mathematician, Al-Khwārizmī, wrote a treatise in 825 on Hindu numerals which led, eventually, to their adoption in Europe with Fibonnacci’s help. “Sifr” is also the origin of the word “cipher”. Some think that there is a link between zero and codes as the Hindu-Arabic numbers originally had to be used secretly. The city of Florence banned their use in 1299. Perhaps, the concern was that the populace would find arithmetic too easy and this would erode the power of the educated elites.

Individual numbers have also been banned. From Roman times, a 6 x 6 magic square, using the numbers 1 to 36, was used as a talisman.  The Church banned the possession of this magic square. The overall sum is 666 – the ‘number of the beast’ or the ‘anti-christ’. Fear of 666 has a name: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. US President Ronald Reagan had their house number in Los Angeles changed from 666 to 668.

In China, it is illegal to use 8964 as a pin code since it is the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre (4 June 1989). As recently January this year, Sony prosecuted George Holtz for showing how to by-pass Play Station security. Part of the lawsuit was that he published copyrighted numbers. It was illegal to know these numbers unless authorised. This is a strange idea – that someone can own a number!

Don Hoyle
Mathematics Teacher

Primary - Bread Making

As well as being great fun, bread making takes us back to the very basics of food production and to a time when a happy accident led to flour, contaminated with natural yeasts was left longer than usual on a warm day and began to rise. The cooked bread was found to be lighter and easier to eat and so a revolution in food was born.

Activity One - Looking at natural microbes

There are many microbes in the world around us which, in their quest for survival, feed off natural sugars and protein,s causing them to decay. These produce moulds and gases of which some are harmful and some are helpful.

The children can test for the presence of microbes around them by leaving bread, cheese and fruit out in the air, in a safe place, and note the changes that happen over the course of a few weeks. What we see is the microbes feeding off sugars and proteins and developing fruiting bodies which we call mould. Now mix some fresh or dried baker’s yeast with warm water and sugar and leave it somewhere warm but ventilated. After 30 minutes to an hour they should be able to observe frothing of the mixture and a pungent smell. These are caused by the production of carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process known as fermentation.

Now show the children a loaf of bread and slice it in half. What do they notice?
Ask them what they think caused the holes in bread. Keep referring to the froth on the yeast mixture and show them that when it is stirred, the bubbles disappear. Why doesn’t that happen with the bread?

Activity Two

As an introduction to bread making, read the children the story of the Little Red Hen. It illustrates beautifully the process of bread making from field to plate in order to show how cooperation can enable all to share in a reward for their combined efforts. From the book, ask the class to illustrate and label each stage of the process and display it around the class. Can they use the ideas from the book together with what they have learned to far to write instructions for the bread making process? There will be gaps but they can complete those later after the process has been completed.

Activity Three

You can also link the idea of bread making into the history topic of Invaders and Settlers.

Begin by asking the children what kinds of food invaders would eat and what kinds of food settlers would eat. Can they justify their choices with reference to how long each takes to produce? Early humans were nomadic and had a protein rich lifestyle as they killed animals from the flocks they herded or wild animals through hunting. As humans settled in hospitable areas they initially became gatherers and then found they could cultivate much of what they gathered. This meant that they would have to stay in the same place for as long as the crops took to grow and would need to spend time tending the crops during the growing season. One of the earliest cultivated crops was wheat and this was used to make bread.

Activity Four

Ask the children to bring in different kinds of bread. You may get wholemeal, granary, oatmeal, rye, soda, unleavened etc. Do an observation and taste test with them. Label headings on the board such as what it looks like, texture, size of holes/bubbles, taste, like or dislike. Be careful to check you have no celiac sufferers beforehand. Looking at the wrappers will tell them what is different about the ingredients or how it’s been cooked. From this you could discuss healthiness by looking at the nutritional information label on the bag and rank the breads in order of healthiness, deciding what it is about each bread that makes it healthy or unhealthy.

Activity Five

Making bread! Children love this and it’s easy and almost always successful. It’s even more fun when you go right back to the beginning and buy some whole wheat grains and mill them in a pestle and mortar. The children will see the white powder that is the flour and after sifting they’ll end up with nearly pure flour. This could take a very long time if you want to make all your flour this way so I’d recommend mixing some of your ground flour with commercial bread flour. At the same time you could sow some of the wheat grains in a pot or in the school garden to see how it grows.

Get the children to make us the yeast mixture as you showed them in the previous activity. It will begin frothing almost immediately and they’ll have to mix it with the flour and salt quickly. Once the dough leaves the sides of the bowl cleanly, ask the children to pick out the dough and begin kneading it. Ask them what they notice happening to the dough as they do this. The gluten in the flour is being released and making the dough stretchy. Once the dough is smooth and stretchy, put the dough back in the bowl and leave in a warm place to prove. An hour later ask the children what they notice and what has happened to the dough to make it rise. If you carefully cut a piece off using a sharp knife the children will be able to see the bubbles in the yeast. Ask them again if they can understand why the bubbles disappeared in the yeast mix yet stay in the dough. They’ll have to knead the dough again and then shape it to form their bread before proving it again. You can explain that this is to make sure the yeast and bubbles form evenly through the bread. Finally it’ll be ready for baking. Making one of your own with the children will earn you some kudos and you can use yours at the end of the activity to demonstrate the capture of the bubbles through the hardening of the dough through cooking.

Dave Lewis, Primary teacher

Primary General - Fruit and Vegetables

Getting children to have ‘5-a-Day’, five portions of fruit and vegetable a day, is a thankless task and leads to many sticky moments in parenting and in the dinner queue at school! These fun activities will help children see that fruit and vegetables aren’t all poisonous and will encourage them to eat them more often.

Activity One

A tasting session is always a good start, challenge the children to bring in some unusual fruit or vegetables for the class to try. Put the children into groups to prepare the fruit and vegetables, some may need cooking but a quick zap in the staffroom microwave is often enough! Now draw a chart on the board with the headings ‘Name’, ‘Colour’, ‘Texture’, ‘Taste’ and ‘Like/Dislike’. Now ask the children to try all of the available fruit and vegetables. Have a bin handy just in case and check for allergies beforehand – strawberries are a common allergy. When the tasting session is over, use the plenary to ask if there were any fruit or vegetables the children hadn’t tried before and which they think they like and will have again. Were there any they thought they wouldn’t like but now they’ve tried them they do like them (remember my experiences in the school dinner line!!)?

Activity Two

Use the chart that accompanies this activity sheet for the children to take home to record their intake of fruit and vegetables each day. They can write on the chart what they had and with which meal or they can draw pictures of the fruit and vegetables. The visual nature of a chart will encourage them to eat more but beware of those who cheat!! Maybe an initial by each one from mum or dad might be necessary!

Activity Three

Time for some investigation now. Using the website ask the children to look at their chart from activity one and select eight fruit or vegetables they liked. Thinking of the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables such as fibre source, vitamins and minerals ask them to sort their favourites into the categories on a chart highlighting the one that would come top in each category. Ask them to see if there is a superfood in their diet that comes top in more than one category. During the plenary put together a set of class superfoods that they have discovered in their research.

Activity Four

Time for some creativity now! The essence of a great chef is not just cooking the food to perfection but also in the presentation. The colours and shapes of fruit or vegetables can help children make brilliant art work. Ask them to plan what picture or pattern they would like to make and label their plan with the fruit or vegetable they will use. In the next lesson, ask them to bring in the fruit or vegetables they will need and, on a plate, arrange them to form the picture or pattern. The children may need some help with cutting but normal cutlery knives which aren’t sharp will usually suffice. Once the picture is complete, photograph it for a display (or the microbes will soon make a meal of it!) and then provided hygiene standards have been maintained, the children can eat their pictures!

Activity Five

Another great way to enjoy fruit or vegetables is via smoothies or soups. Ask the children to come up with ideas for a super smoothie or a super soup, listing the ingredients, naming it and drawing a serving suggestion for it. In the next session ask parents/children to bring in liquidisers, food processors or smoothie makers and the fruit and vegetables they need and after a safety talk, allow the children to make their own smoothies. Those who opt to make soup may need to bring in ready cooked vegetables or the process could be a lot more complicated! The sessiom could end with a ‘Battle of the Smoothies’ with a tasting session to decide which is the best one!

As an extension activity, the children could design an advertisement for their smoothie together with a catch phrase or a jingle. They could look at cartons from smoothie producers and design their own alternative packaging for their smoothie.

Activity Six

To end this set of activities you could arrange a ‘colour party’ where the children bring in fruit and vegetables of different colours. They could then use the website from activity three to see if there is a relationship between the colours of the vegetables and their nutritional value. Finally, encourage each child to try a piece of fruit or vegetable from each colour. 

Dave Lewis, Primary teacher

Primary General - Making Pizza

Pizza is a food loved by most children and careful preparation of it can mean it’s a really healthy food. Pizza can also be used as the basis for many different lessons and here are some of the ways we’ve used pizza in lessons.

Activity One

If you’re doing a topic on Romans and the food they ate, you could look at the passage from Virgil’s Aeneid 

Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Ask the children to think about what food might the people be eating when they eat their meal off ‘cakes of flour’ and then finally eat the plates!!

If they identify the food as pizza you could then introduce a pasty and discuss how it was used similarly by the Cornish miners. Calzone pizzas actually look similar to pasties anyway being a folded pizza with the filling inside. You could also introduce pita bread and show how a pita pocket was used similarly in middle eastern countries to hold a meal and then be consumed. In fact the word pizza is a corruption of ‘pita’. Ask if they can think of any other foods which wrap a meal in bread and they suggest sandwiches, which have an interesting history, wraps, tortillas, naan and parathas and many more!

Activity Two

Linking in pizzas to the science topic of healthy eating ask the children to tell you what food group a pizza base would belong to and then list the possible toppings that they might put on their favourite pizza.

Draw a food pyramid on the board and ask the children to add each topping to the food groups, so cheese would go in dairy, pepperoni would go in protein, tomatoi puree and tomato slices in fruit and vegetables.

Once you have completed the food pyramid of pizzas and their toppings ask the children to use it to design a balanced pizza thinking of healthy quantities. You could extend the activity by asking them to consider how the fat and salt content could be reduced or ways of improving the healthy qualities of the base.

Activity Three

Time to make our pizzas. Make sure hands and surfaces are washed beforehand and that an explanation of hygiene rules is given before they start otherwise the pizzas won’t be very healthy at all!! You could make a batch of dough beforehand for them to roll out and shape or get them to make the base themselves from flour, yeast and water. Before they add the toppings, discuss the order they go in and why that may be. Set groups of children to grate cheese, cut vegetables (care with knives). Originally there were only two types of pizza as we know them today, the marinara, named not because it had seafood on it but because it was made by fishermen’s wives and margherita, named after a visiting queen who wanted the pizza coloured in the flag of Italy, so red tomatoes, green basil and white mozzarella cheese!

Once the children have carefully made their pizzas they could be wrapped and sent home for cooking (store them in a fridge beforehand though!) or cooked and eaten in a Roman feast!

Activity Four

Pizzas are great for learning about fractions in mathematics. Using basic pizzas, cut them up into halves, quarters etc depending on the fractions being taught. You can use them very effectively to do simple fractions or to do mixed or improper fractions. Visually the children can easily identify that seven quarters make one whole and three quarters. They are also very good for doing addition and subtraction of fractions too and if you’re feeling really brave division of fractions where you might have four pizzas divided into sixths so twenty four sixths and share these between six people they’d have four sixths (or maybe visually two thirds) of a pizza each. This makes maths (and the tricky and potentially dull topic of fractions) exciting and motivational for the children and will guarantee that the lesson, and hopefully its objectives, will stay in their minds.

They can also be used in a shape and data extension by asking the children to consider why pizzas are round.

Dave Lewis, Primary teacher

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Secondary History - The reality of teaching in Mauritius

“I feel sorry for you.”

I remember that sentence all too well! Indeed, two and a half years later, these words still ring around in my head! What had I done? I’d left a good school in the UK where I’d felt quite at home and enjoyed six years of good results as Head of Department. Now I was here, in Mauritius, in the middle of the Indian Ocean at a young, but growing, International School, with the brief of setting up a history department from scratch.

The wise old sage who had uttered those words of warning was right. It was not going to be easy! Two years down the track however, I’ve managed to get somewhere. As I enter the last half-term of my contract and head back to a HoD position in London, I feel I’ve met my brief. But yes, it was not esay!

Despite Mauritius’ rich and varied history – think Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, dodos, slavery, sugar and indentured labourers – for reasons mostly political, this is not an island that likes to dwell on its past. In its desire to be the new Singapore, kids are encouraged to study Accounts and Business Studies, to repeat and not to question.

This is what I was up against – an island that doesn’t even offer History pre-Sixth Form in state schools and where parents of the students I was trying to win over remember dull lessons of endless dates. I remember the Biology teacher catching up with me in the Staff Room one day – I’d had to go to the capital, Port Louis, to sort out some red tape and he’d covered a lesson. “If I’d had history lessons like that, I would have become a history teacher and not a biology teacher.” I knew I was getting somewhere.

So, what is the moral of the tale? The message is there for us history teachers – loud and clear. Make it interesting, make it relevant and make sure your passion comes out in every lesson. I’d always believed this, but my Mauritian adventure taught me more than ever that we simply have to make our subject relevant – spell it out, we’re often so passionate about the subject as we teach it that we can’t see the wood for the trees. There is nothing more rewarding than parents coming up to you and saying they are sorry to hear you are leaving as their son/daughter loves your lessons.

A driving instructor would not get into a car with a novice driver and say “go on then, drive.” Sometimes we fall into this trap. We need to spell out to the students why this subject is important. For example, tell the students that they are not simply studying the Depression in the 1930s but they are seeing Economics in action - far preferable to the rather dull ‘theory’ they have to listen to in Economics lessons! By studying this period they can actually ‘see’ tariffs in action, protectionism, supply and demand, the social consequences of economic action etc. Tell them they are studying psychology, politics, sociology and philosophy too and they are hooked. They often don’t realise it. My IGCSE students are now convinced they are going to be the generation that solves all the problems caused by mistakes of the past – well, all except miserable Pravin of course. We all teach a miserable Pravin – through studying International Relations modules, he’s convinced wars and conflicts are inevitable and we can’t avoid them. Still got some work to do with him, but nonetheless his arguments are well supported so that’s something. His face was a delight when I told him “As long as you can support it, you’re entitled to any view you want!”

Good resources are important too – and in a remote Indian Ocean island getting hands on good textbooks cheaply and quickly was not easy. Most worksheets I produced myself. This had the beneficial result that I was more comfortable teaching the lesson and I could include things more relevant to Africa and the Indian Ocean. I’m afraid to say that ‘official’ histories of Mauritius are turgid to say the least and as they are written by the Hindu majority, they often, shall we say, overlook the Creole minority’s contribution to the island’s development. Someone needs to produce a truly international IGCSE textbook – they would make a killing! (Must get round to doing the IGCSE version of Ben Walsh’s ‘Bible’...)

Getting that scheme of work right is not easy either – I found a balance of the local and the international to work well. A mix of skills work and knowledge work is essential too. Schemes of work can also lead to a dilemma at times too – do I skip topics because they are ‘boring’? Interestingly Henry VIII seems to be a winner wherever you are in the world! To return to a theme – if you can deliver it in an interesting, relevant and fun way, you’ve cracked it.

All good practitioners will know the importance of getting to know the students and like all of us, I quickly identified the ‘rebellious’ students who actually enjoyed it when I told them I wanted them to argue back. “How many lessons a week do you have where the teachers wants you to argue with them?” I asked. Answer came there: none.

As I alluded to earlier, for too long my beloved subject has been taught as an absolutist subject. For me, we are far more relativist and that’s how it should be. Socrates and his students at the Lyceum asked questions, most of these questions had no answers, yet much more knowledge was gained in the asking of the question!

As The Beatles once sang, its been a ‘long and winding road’ but I’m happy with what has been achieved out here in the baking sun. It may seem obvious but we’re often too busy trying to meet targets or produce something for yet another meeting that we can overlook it. Remember the mantra – keep it interesting, show why it's relevant, keep it fun!

Joe Wilkinson
Head of History
Northfields International High School, Mauritius