All entries for September 2011

September 29, 2011

What do you get if you cross a Bulldog and a Shi Tzu???

Well, it looks like we're off with a flying start to this GTP year....

So much to talk about and so little time!

Firstly, let me explain the title of this blog. I've been cracking on with starters and plenaries for a whole range of different ages and abilities. In my timetable I have been assigned two lower ability year nine classes directly after each other. I have observed these classes numerous times and know that although they are harmless, they are....well..... energetic. My mentor, their usual teacher has worked hard to instigate a very strict No Hands policy. This allows her to direct questions according to ability and so challenge the pupils which can be pushed a little out of their comfort zones. It also means that the kids need to pay attention or else risk looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights when suddenly they're called upon to answer a question. And no one can pull off that look. My mentor also insists on absolutely no calling out. But, bless them, they can get a tad excited, as I duly found out when I took them for a Selective Breeding starter. I had prepared a powerpoint presentation (I love my powerpoint presentations) of two breeds of a few species and they had to compare the characteristics of the animals and decide what they had been selectively bred for e.g. a greyhound and a husky. I was basking in my own pride when the kids where pinging out of their seats with all the energy of microwave popcorn, desperate to answer the questions being directed at them. Until twenty five minutes later I realised that we were still discussing, in depth, the pros and cons of one pupil's uncle's staffordshire bull terrier and I had been treated to a detailed description of the precious beast. The final blow came when I realised that the majority of the class were only discussing cross breeding with the view of finding as many crosses as possible with potentially rude names, hence the title of the blog. When I heard this question being fired across the classroom I quickly employed the classic tactical avoidance strategy, by loudly exclaming "OK, LET'S MOVE ON SHALL WE?!!". Luckily, I had another year nine class straight after this one and the opportunity to repeat my starter, this time with a very strict ban on calling out and a firm No Hands policy! The difference was awesome!

The following week I taught the same two classes for the full hour lesson, and I can honestly say that I loved every minute of it. I started the lesson off feeling full of confidence because when they came into the classroom a few of the students said to me,

"Have we got you today miss?"

"Yep, lucky you!"

"yesss!" (they said this in the way that only kids can, with about sixteen Ss on the end)

Now I'm not naive enough to think they were excited to have me teach them because of my spectacular teaching prowess (!), more because they smell fresh meat. But still, it put a smile on my face that looked a bit like this........ :-D

In the first lesson the pupils were supposed to be planning a particularly boring practical involving peas. The purpose of this lesson was to hone their investigative skills and highlight the importance of planning a fair, safe test. They needed alot of guidance through the planning work so I made a worksheet to fill in with prompts and questions but asked them to write in full sentences so that if the questions were taken away it would still make sense. I had thought that this could potentially be a very challenging lesson, simply because it was very boring and I knew I would have difficulty keeping the kids on task. But they were bloody brilliant. They all finished their plans by the end of the lesson and had designed a table complete with units and titles. They are all now ready to do their practical in the next lesson. I handed out alot of learning points that lesson, as a quiet thank you for being so nice to me for only my second full lesson EVER! The lecturers at university are always harping on about differentiation and reflective practicioners and pedagogies (which make for a competitive game of b******t bingo at 4pm on a Friday afternoon) and we're all swallowing up the learning theories and writing mad scribbles about which noted figure of history said what, but there's nothing like being in school and interacting with the kids to give you a very realistic idea of what these young adults are like and how the long words we learn at university apply to them. It is for this reason that I am so incredibly thankful that I got onto the GTP course! For example, I am learning every day how differentiation is a key aspect of lesson planning. I tend to use the lesson objectives, title and date as a settler before the starter so I can take the register whilst they're writing down that lesson's objectives. However, it will take a bottom set class the best part of ten minutes to write a sentence, and even longer for year sevens! Whereas I started with the best intentions of planning "Must, Could, Should" lesson objectives and watching grass grow whilst they wrote them down, I now keep the "Must, Could, Should"s to myself and just write one general lesson objective so we can just get cracking with the starter. I've also noticed that in every class there are the "perfectionists" who write with such perfect script and beautifully shade in their 3D diagrams but will take the entire lesson to do so. I don't want to discourage such care and pride in their work but I do tend to keep the opportunites to write and draw to an absolute minimum with these kids.

Anyway, it's late and after two games of netball I'm pretty pooped. I've got a riveting day of doodling on poster paper tomorrow (if you're going to leave poster paper and marker pens on the table in front of me, they're going to get meddled with!) so one last thought before I go....

You know you're becoming a science teacher when you tell a geeky science joke and you're the one that laughs the loudest. I know you want to hear it...

Who knew protons had mass?! I didn't even know they were catholic!

September 17, 2011

guilty dogs and cute eggs

Yesterday at university I learnt how to make a dog feel guilty, rugby tackle, draw a cute egg and make a noise like they do in System Of A Down. This was all in the name of identifying and putting into practice teaching techniques. It obviously worked because I showed progression in my learning by advancing my 'cute egg' drawing techniques to drawing a 'cute egg puppy' and a 'cute egg penguin'. I was also able to apply my training in 'how to make a dog feel guilty' to other species; i proceeded to guily-trip my friend into getting my books for me from the other side of the classroom. Needless to say, I did not wake up that morning expecting to be going face-cheek-to-bum-cheek with a friend I'd met only four days earlier; he assured me, that is how a rugby tackle is performed. I am yet to be convinced.

Teaching tips to implement next week:

  • eye contact (of a minimal amount, so as not to cross the border into creepy)
  • enthusiasm
  • step-by-step breakdown
  • demonstrations/ actions
  • check understanding
  • check prior knowledge

September 14, 2011

What are mitochondria??


So before embarking on this GTP course I decided that I was going to throw myself whole-heartedly into this blogging malarkey. It's not something I've ever done before but I realised, perhaps rather optimistically, that this was going to be one of the most enjoyable and eye-opening years of my life and I did not want to forget a minute of it. I also write this blog in the hope that, should I become a succesful teacher, I will be able to say "here, read this..." to anybody wishing to enter the teaching profession and they will get an honest account of what life is like on a GTP course.

Last week, term started at my training school. I turned up, bright and early on Monday morning, with my map of the school, a packed lunch and all my shiny new stationery, looking not a fat lot unlike the year 7s standing nervously in the playground. The only difference between myself and them was that my mum wasn't kissing me on the cheek at the school gates, not that she wouldn't have tried if I'd given her half a chance. I'm not ashamed to admit that shopping for stationery was the highlight of my summer holidays. I had purchased a particularly snazzy turtle-shaped pencil sharpener and turtle-shaped eraser which I was certain would win me credit with the kids at school, or else 'disappear' before I'd even managed to get them out my bag. You will be pleased to know that a week later they are still holed up nice and snug in my pencil case. As i entered the classroom for the staff meeting I was faced with a sea of people all wearing jeans and t-shirts and, quite frankly, making me look like Will out of The Inbetweeners (i.e. massively overdressed for a teacher training day). I had been going into the school once a week since the previous September for work experience so recognised a few friendly faces, but it's only when you've got the entire staff of one (not particularly large) school all in one room that you realise how many people it takes to keep a school running smoothly and, more importantly, how many people you've got to keep sweet if you want your training year to be just that little bit easier! There were teaching staff, cover staff, office staff, kitchen staff, senior management staff, laboratory technicians, reprographics, special educational needs (SEN) staff, teaching assistants, maintenance and grounds staff.................

I knew that there some people I wouldn't exactly see eye-to-eye with (literally and metaphorically). The previous year I had been observing a NQTs lesson when a member of the senior management team (who has a chronic case of Small Man Syndrome) walked in, overtook the lesson and completely undermined all the work the NQT had been doing in that lesson. The NQT went home that day feeling utterly disheartenened due to no fault of her own and, unfortunately, I later learned that this wasn't the first time this senior teacher had done this to trainee and newly qualified teachers. That day I realised that getting to know the kids would only be half the battle.

So, I was over the moon when I was handed my teacher planner; a great, hefty diary which, although cumbersome and pretty defunct for the first week, I just liked to carry round as it has Ms J Roberts emblazoned in big blue letters on the front cover. This diary was proof that I was a teacher (in training), it was my badge of authority which I felt the need to carry round as I was certainly not feeling very authorative when faced with a class of 6ft year eleven boys, some complete with beards. My shiny new school staff card and code (yes, a code!) also served the purpose of making me feel like a teacher on the outside, if not entirely on the inside. I was so unbelievably excited to be given a code, despite it being fairly useless as I wasn't assigned any duties or written on the timetable to be taking classes; the very first words out my mouth when on the phone to my mum later that evening were "Mum, I have a code!".

Other than receiving my new teacher tags (i.e. planner, staff card and code) and having rhubarb crumble for puds in the canteen, the first day passed pretty uneventfully. It did not take me long to learn that you as an individual can be as organised as an organised thing on a really organised day, but unless your school and colleagues are organised, you'll be fighting a losing battle! Thankfully, that's what inset days are for at the start of term; to iron out IT glitches, update software that really should have been done the week before as it takes a day to update so no teachers can access their interactive whiteboards, to sort out timetables and class lists, to figure out where to put all the lab equipment out of the new lab which was supposed to built by the beginning of term but won't actually be finished until after half-term, to allocate new email adresses and SIMS passwords and countless login names, to become familiar with SIMS, to sort out student planners and new books and textbooks, to ensure that every single item with the school name on is changed to the new school academy name, and finally to scrape together a lesson plan for the following day which considers the fact that all the 'admin' will take up at least half of the lesson and the kids will be dead excited to use their new felt tip pens.

I was set the task for Friday to come up with a starter for a middle set year 8 group who were just about to start the topic 'Respiration'. I was offered the use of the resources that the school used such as worksheets which correspond with the scheme of work, but I wanted to start the year as I mean to go on and not just rely on worksheets. I decided to play a 'Connect 4' style game using letters which corresponded to clues that I would give so they could guess the word, e.g. "This B is the process of taking air into the lungs and removing air from the lungs...........................Breathing". I struggled to level the game correctly. In fact, whenI was preparing the starter I was sat with a friend and together we tried to think of 16 words related to respiration. My friend studied biology to GCSE level but was suggesting words like 'alveoli' and 'gaseous exchange'. I kept saying "no, they've only just started this topic, they don't know the structure of the lungs or the processes involved with respiration!". In the end, it was decided to switch the starter to a plenary so that throughout the course of the lesson we could give them the answers to the game! My mentor also helped me to simplify the language I used for the definitions, although I found it tricky to simplify the definitions so much without them becoming inaccurate. I remember being at school and being told one thing at lower school and then being told to forget what I'd been told at lower school when I entered key stages 4 and 5! So, back to the game, it started off fairly succesfully. As any of my friends will tell u, I can get a tad competitive, and it seems this is infectious! In fact, the kids employed some very sneaky tactics which proved to be the downfall to my game! I had assumed they would just race each other across the board, but instead they blocked each other off and were guessing the words before I'd even given any clues! Whereas the game started full of enthusiasm and competition, it finished in a rather disappointing way when both teams realised that neither had won and therefore their impressive effort had been futile (in their eyes), to say the least! My mentor simply said "....a good lesson to learn from this, always check it works!"

Finally, to conclude this first week, I just wanted to talk about a little moment that summed up my week for me and simply made me smile. I don't know why it was so important to me but I do know that I told anyone that would listen to me. The teacher I was observing had asked "what are mitochondria?" to a top set year 10 class. A girl in the front row turned to me and said "isn't that when a person thinks they're ill all the time but actually nothing is wrong with them?"

I didn't know what to say. The 'personal' Jenni wanted to laugh and say "no, you numpty!" and the 'professional' Jenni knew that if I let the 'personal' Jenni take over it would only discourage the girl from offering answers in class again. But she was so far from the actual answer that I wasn't entirely sure how was I going to say "well done for trying but actually you're completely wrong!". In the end I realised that this group of kids were a very bright bunch who obviously picked up snippets of information from all over the place. I also realised that they were a really fun group of kids who could you could afford to take a step back and let them work things out for themselves. They were a group that, potentially, I knew I could build up a strong rapport with. In the end I said that actually she'd got her words mixed up and it led to a nice little discussion about hypochondria. She wasn't the slightest bit bothered about being told she was wrong because she was confident in her own abilities. But I knew that a less-confident child or perhaps a student struggling with special needs would not have suited the approach I took with this particular child. So, this 30-second conversation really got the cogs in my braining turning and made me think that kids can be very bloody clever!

September 2011

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  • As usual, observations of the kids we work with are spot on, and beautifully put! And what a wonderf… by on this entry
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