November 03, 2010

The Week of My First Week at Finham Park: The First Week

I’m afraid this entry’s going to be another speedy one so I apologise in advance for any typos I skip in my haste. I’ve spent my first few days at Finham Park School, the site of my first placement and until Christmas, my school. Finham’s a successful school a short walk from my house so I’ve been quite lucky in those regards. It is a mixed comprehensive school, catering to 1500 pupils and around 300 sixth formers. In many ways this is similar to my old secondary school. It’s also a training school so it has all sorts of fancy equipment and experienced staff that should make the placement enjoyable.

The first two days were spent mostly in a meeting room going through admin, whilst I received lots of information that I’m sure will be useful I found these sessions very dry, I was eager to get into the classroom and despite the friendly atmosphere and available coffee I slightly resented being locked in the same room for most of the day, I imagine these feelings will be reversed before too long and I’ll be wanting to lock myself in a room away from the hordes of children.

More interesting were the tours of the school, we were shown the observation room, a strange classroom with a two way mirror along the back wall separating it from a control room that housed cameras and microphones to record the lessons taught inside. This is a great idea and one that I feel has the potential to be highly beneficial to me but it did seem a little creepy and (unfortunately) reminded me of this scenefrom The Dark Knight. Other highlights of the tour included the PLC, a decent sized building dedicated to helping the school’s Special Educational Needs and English as an Additional Language pupils. I was surprised by the size and facilities of this building as I’ve seen other schools lacing space and forced to provide this sort of support in corridors and repurposed cupboards. The most reassuring part of the tour though was the library, the school’s copy of Watchmen was clearly well thumbed and I noticed several of Grant Morrison’s NewX-Men collections scattered around Finham is obviously a school of taste.

On Friday I finally got into the classroom. I met my subject mentor and observed her teach a practical on chemical reactions using iron fillings and sulphur. The lesson had a rigidly defined structure including a health and safety warning delivered in gory detail. This seemed a little much at first but after hearing the warning about iron filings in MRI scanners I won’t be messing around with them. In the afternoon I observed a Year 11 triple award class receiving a lesson in exam technique which was every bit as exciting as it sounds but highly useful to the class as they gain valuable test experience and to the teacher as a quick show of hands at the end of the lesson showed how confident the kids were feeling about the test.

So far Finham Park seems a pretty good school with friendly staff and pupils ranging from enthusiastic and eager to not abusive and I look forward to spending some more time there, but I reserve the right to change my mind and start hating the place at a later date. I’ll leave you with a theological point made by my mum “The thing about this Pope is, he seems very holier than thou”

Chinese Democra–blog

Apologies for the delay, I’ve been a bit swamped recently but I’m going to power through a few, slightly shorter than usual entries and then have a bath, but that’s not really relevant.

This week I got the feedback from bothCCT1, the report on my Initial School Experience andSCT1my first lesson plan. Overall my personal tutor was quite positive aboutCCT1however he disagreed with my paragraph on use of language. I had commented on several teacher’s habits of Finally teachers often use unusual or antiquated language for example “Hack me off” as inoffensive alternatives to expletives. My tutor said that he recognised my point but warned against using colloquial language. This stressed the difference between the teaching styles favoured by various teachers. Embarrassingly I also made a misspelling and missed a line when I was proof reading.

The feedback I received onSCT1confirmed that I struggle with my timings. I expected this to be the case as without much experience delivering a lesson plan I struggled to know how long I could speak to the class without them losing interest. I had tried to make the activities elastic so I would be able to extend or contract them to suit the lesson’s progression. This had limited success but with experience and practice I recon I’ll get there.

I also carried out my Microteaching this week but I’ll blog about that when I’ve seen the recording. This weeks’s advice comes from my dad “When you’re dealing with geese you just need to show them that you’re in-charge and they’ll respect you” I wonder if that’ll work with school kids?

October 10, 2010

Blog the Second

The carnival’s gone, now there’s a circus on Hearsall Common, I imagine next week there will be an abandoned insane asylum. Richard Branston’s finally come round and installed our internet this is the first blog I’ve written in the comfort of my own

The latter half of week 2 was taken up by lesson planning and chemistry. Of the two the planning sessions contained the most new information, we covered general lesson structure, planning for inclusion and planning for assessment, more in-depth than the post it note with “teach science adequately” I had imagined some teachers using. The chemistry sessions were the most interesting chemistry’s lessons I’ve had in a long time, focusing on the more fundamental aspects of the course allowed for more interesting practices rather than the “this carbon’s connected to another carbon, this carbon’s connected to another carbon, this carbon’s connected to another carbon (but in a slightly different way)” stuff that killed my enjoyment of the subject at A Level, I need to try to make my lessons more like this.

One thing I have noticed during the science sessions has been the layout of the labs. The Westwood teaching rooms have the sinks, plug sockets and gas taps around the periphery of the room. This provides a teaching challenge as the class has to turn away from their experiment to view the teacher and their work stations are directly above the room’s storage cupboards, these two factors are a health and safety issue that has to be carefully dealt with.

On Friday afternoon we had a guest seminar on Microbiology. Taught by the impressively bearded Mr Scholla (pronounced scholar) a name with which he seemed destined to enter academia. I don’t have much experience in the Microbiology (I think I might have done a few lessons and maybe a practice once upon a time but that’s about it) so the subject was mostly new. The majority of the session focused on learning to carry out (and clean up) Microbiology practices. This was all new to me and although the session was clearly delivered I think I would need another practice before I were to teach them to a class. I imagine pupils could find microbiology a pretty dull subject as it mostly seems to be about carefully pouring a variety of liquids with no immediately visible results. The experiments all required a large period of time between the start of the investigation and collecting results that could prove tedious to the class.

The subject sessions seem to be getting more involved this week as we continue to bond as a group. I particularly enjoyed the Geology and Classification topics as they were both fairly new to me and so quite interesting but more importantly the practice aspects were attention-grabbing. The mushrooms task in classification was fun as we got hands on and I dissected a puff ball which was a genuinely new experience and gave me a much greater insight into their reproduction than text book learning would have. Geology had a wide range of activities but the highlights were making a time line of the Earth, an effective way to visualise such long periods of time (and it’s always fun to get out of the classroom) and using golden syrup and biscuits to model continental drift, I’ll definitely try to do this demonstration with my class as it is a handy visualisation of an abstract concept and it makes the room smell brilliant. When I think about what I liked in these sessions I find that I enjoy the fairly simple practices that we can use to demonstrate profound affects without stressing over the mechanics of titration or carrying out other fiddly procedures.

Our cosmology session was the most conceptually interesting as it stressed the mind blowing craziness I love about physics. There is nothing outside the universe, not even empty space. Just think about that, insane isn’t it? And the more I think about it the crazier it seems. I love physics because it covers some of the most unanswerable questions but unlike theology or philosophy remains sensible and scientific and cosmology is one of the areas where this is really apparent. I was however surprised to find that in a two hour, video clip heavy, session there wasn’t a single clip from Carl Sagan, I was expecting the pale blue dot speech if nothing else.

Following my subject tutor’s instructions I went into town on Saturday and did some revision guide shopping. Weirdly for a course recommended purchase I couldn’t find a Warwick staff authored book so I went to Waterstone’s and bought CGP guides (the brightly colourer ones with the “jokes”) to KS3 science and GCES Chemistry and Biology to go with the physics guide I go over the summer on the Physics SKE. It was like being fourteen again although without any mention of Pluto, messing up the order of planets rhyme. Weirdly Mr Waterstone’s keeps the educational books across from the Tarot cards, new age mysticism books and David Icke’s oeuvre I imagine they cancel each other out and so maintain an even distribution of nonsense in the shop. That afternoon I wrote another five hundred words on CCT2, mostly about the difference between KS2 and KS3. I’m a little unsure of how much of my writing’s insightful observation on the different stages of education and how much is me stating the obvious, but I’ll give it a redraft and should have a good piece of work before too long.

Week 3 was mostly dominated by writing my first lesson plan. I think I did ok, as I managed to include a variety of activities for different learners and created a clear structure to the session. I struggled most with the timings and differentiating the lesson for different learners. This is unsurprising as the former seems to be easier to learn via theory whilst I won’t feel confident with the latter until I get some classroom experience. Writing the plan itself took under two hours but the majority of my time was spent creating resources, a time consuming process which I need to get better at.

I seem to be feeling more confident as term progresses and increasingly eager to get into the classroom although I will definitely feel differently on the nights before PP1.

This week’s quote, from my mum again
“If anyone invites you into a room that’s covered in Clingfilm, run away they’re probably going to murder you”

September 29, 2010

First Week, First Impressions

So I’ve walked home, past the terrifying men in the carnival that currently occupies Canley common and I’m starting to write my first blog entry. I’m using word at the moment because my house is currently without internet, at some point I may type directly into the Warwick blogs site or I might keep working like this depending on how it goes. It’s Wednesday 29th September as I write this I’m not sure when I’ll upload this entry and I’m even less sure of when you’ll read this.

It’s been one week since I started the PGCE which has mostly been dominated by a variety of people telling me how difficult the PGCE year is and slagging off Michael Gove. I’m sure the next nine months will be hard and stressful but I doubt any job could be as hard as the introductory lectures made the PGCE sound. One guest speaker claimed teaching was the hardest job in the world which I’m sure some Chilean miners would disagree with and reminded me of a fantastic routine by Stewart Lee. Nevertheless the course will certainly get a lot worse and I’m sure the Tom Healey of six months time will be laughing at my naivety.

For the last week my evenings have mostly been taken up by reading and the first Core Completion Task. CCT1 was a report of my initial school experience highlighting 5 key points of effective teaching; it was initially listed as a 500 word task and later upgraded to 750 words. At first I was mildly annoyed by this but upon writing I found that 500 words is a very small amount and the extra 250 were very useful in giving my writing room to breathe. I was a little unsure of what to write for CCT1 as it is very different from the thousands of words on physics and CV tweakings that make up most of my recent writings. I enjoyed the flexibility of the brief and tried to come up with five unusual points without going completely crazy. As of writing I’ve had no feedback for this task and so I don’t know whether I’ve done adequately or abysmally however I’m pretty happy with the piece so unless I’ve totally misread the brief I don’t think I’ve done too badly, another thing my future self might regret writing.

I submitted CCT1 on Sunday evening using the Wi-Fi in my local Weatherspoons. The virgin man should be coming round at some point to connect my house to the internet but until then I have been using the pub as my office like some maverick cop who play’s by his own rules. However unlike a maverick cop who plays by his own rules I’ve mostly being writing reports of my uni work and completing assignments, hardly the most Gene Huntesque behaviour.

The parts of the course I’ve liked most so far have been the subject specific components. The smaller group size let’s things feel more personal and the collective activities give us a chance to bond rather than the more intensive and anonymous lectures. I have met both my subject and core tutors in the past week; they both seem pleasant and keen to get to know us, but I think my favourite part of the last week was a humorous lecture given on Wednesday afternoon which came as a very welcome change to the constant fear that the previous lectures seemed to be trying to instil in us. After this the course seemed to start properly and hence the sessions became more enjoyable. The most memorable session has been the first Physics section which made me think about teaching the subject in a way I hadn’t before and reminded me of the bizarre unknowable’s that I’ve always loved about the topic, what is energy, work, or forces? I’ve always enjoyed the deceptive complexity of such questions and it always surprises my how unsatisfactory their definitions are considering how often we use the words.

On Monday we worked on lesson planning and subject knowledge, the lesson planning was interesting as it’s such a vital skill that I desperately need to learn, and we used photosensitive beads which is always fun. I remember using photosensitive beads on my first day’s learning at Warwick on day one of the Physics Subject Knowledge enhancement course I did over the summer. Maybe that’s one of Warwick’s things, perhaps every two months they make the aspiring teachers mess around with colour changing plastic?

I carried out a subject knowledge test on Monday and did pretty awesomely. But my whooping and victory dancing was spoilt when in my first subject tutorial my tutor pointed out that everyone expects me to be able to do GCES science and the real challenge of the course is to be able to explain the topics to my pupils and give them information appropriate to their curriculum requirements. To this extent I will soon be giving a significant sum of money to Mr. Waterstone’s in exchange for a selection of his finest revision guides.

During my second Core Seminar we discussed, among other things, how to use speech to teach effectively. This should be an interesting challenge, as although I’ve been told that I have no problem speaking loudly I am aware that I can struggle to speak intelligibly. I will often speak too quickly, repeat unnecessarily myself, burble or acquire annoying ticks, you know? Hopefully my awareness of these issues will help me to correct myself and become a better speaker, I’ve been told to speak, slower, lower and not to be afraid of leaving silences so I may watch some Clint Eastwood films for tips.

I shall end my first blog with a piece of advice given to me by my mum before I moved away to university:

“If kidnappers ever want to send a piece of you through the post with a ransom note, let them take your ring finger, that’s the least useful finger.”

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