Robert Brooks

Leading Practitioner


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Top 5 Tips for a Science NQT

Having read Kelly Leonard’s @viewthrudifeyes excellent article on “30 snippets of advice I’d give my NQT self,” here are 5 top science-specific tips that may be useful for NQTs:

Planning

Use the 5 minute lesson plan by@teachertoolkit if you feel comfortable enough planning like this at your stage of training. Remember as an NQT it will take you longer than 5 minutes (you will find most experienced teachers will still take longer than this!) to complete the plan. Please check out my blog on my KS3 Science lesson plans done in this format, as well as the site where you can create these yourself http://www.5minutelessonplan.co.uk

7Jd Example Lesson Plan-page-001

You shouldn’t need to plan in as much detail as your PGCE year and in fact you won’t have the time to unless you don’t fancy sleeping until half-term! You may find that a well structured PowerPoint and a practical worksheet suffice as a ‘lesson plan’ for you. Relax when you write in your teacher planner ‘end of unit test’ and don’t do a lesson plan for these lessons. Breathe!

Technicians and practical work

Remember that your technicians are your number one friend in the science department! Get to know them well, buy them chocolates at the end of each term and thank them for everything they do to help you.

Having these fantastic colleagues on your side means if you have forgotten to order a practical or need some photocopying at the last minute then they will try to help you as much as they can. Try not to get into the habit of this because you will soon not have the technicians (or your Head of Science) on side!

Never have an ‘us and them’ culture with your technicians (or any support staff in school for that matter). When you are having an off day, and there will be some as an NQT and even further up the career ladder I can assure you, they will be the ones who will be most willing to help you. If you are having a difficulty with a student for instance that is ‘kicking off’ outside the classroom after they’ve been sent out, they may know that student well and be able to help defuse the situation. The students will see you positively interact with your colleagues and in turn will respect you for doing this too. Overall, your technicians are the engine oil for running the science department and are your number one asset as a science teacher!

Check carefully with the head technician as to how far in advance you should order your practical equipment and in what format they need it in. Some science departments need a couple of days’ notice, sometimes a week’s notice! Don’t be afraid of asking for a demo set of the equipment for you to practise with before the lesson. This is good practice and helps you to see any flaws before the lesson itself. When ordering, check you have the correct quantities and it is set up in the way you would like it. Communication goes a long way here. Whilst you will need to record what you need, speak to the technician as well so you both feel at ease. Your technicians will get to know you and how you order and teach your practical lessons over time but until then be very explicit on your requisition sheets with what you need.

Health and safety can be quite daunting for an NQT who has always had another science teacher supervising them whilst leading practical lessons. Be confident with your approach and have a zero tolerance on any student not wearing goggles, refusing to tie their long hair back, not standing up etc. If you feel like you do not have control during a practical, stop it immediately and switch to another task. Discuss this with your department mentor before trying another practical with that class and see what could be done differently.

Subject knowledge

You may find that you are teaching an A Level class or a triple GCSE class not in your specialism. You may even come across something in the new Key Stage (KS) 3 curriculum that you weren’t taught at school yourself! Please don’t worry. Subject knowledge is something that is developed over time and you are not expected to know everything as an NQT.

However, when you walk into your lab Period 1 on Monday morning, the students must believe you are the expert on that particular topic. This all comes down to lesson planning. For these types of lessons, you may need to do more than the 5 minute lesson plan. Look carefully at the exam specification and the textbook and first of all check that you are comfortable if a student were to ask you a question related to what you just read. Then, here comes the most challenging bit, think of 5 questions that students could potentially ask you about the topic that would put you on the spot! Research the answers and embed them into your lesson. Find two or three ‘cool’ facts about the topic that you can share with the students, which will boost your confidence. When giving your students and exam question to do, perhaps as part of a plenary, try this yourself without looking at the mark scheme. When ‘marking’ it, think about the common pitfalls your students may come across too.

If you are still stuck, ask on Twitter #asechat or a more experienced colleague. Teachers can still be taught and a 5 minute explanation with someone could save you hours in the long run!

Resources

Sometimes people forget about how much content there actually is to know in science at KS3, KS4 and the separate disciplines at A Level. There are therefore hundreds of resources and so it can be a daunting exercise having to trawl through filing cabinets in your new school, searching the internet for them etc.

First of all try to see what is already in your department. Hopefully it will be all neatly organised into a shared area on the school network. This may not always be the case. Nevertheless, as an NQT you can always ask to be guided to the resources you need to use to help you teach your lessons. Your department NQT mentor should offer to do this but you may need to ask them (they will be busy!). You will probably find you need to tweak the resources but make sure you save it as your own copy in your documents and don’t alter the original file.

You may have to find another resource online or create one. Make sure you find ways of sharing resources you find or create with your department, perhaps over a coffee at breaktime (if school-related conversations are allowed!), in the corridor or at a department meeting. All of this is good to help you work as part of a team and helps you build your profile as a science teacher in your new school. Avoid sending loads of resources by e-mail to the department.

Don’t be afraid to use an AQA resource for an Edexcel GCSE lesson for instance. Just check carefully that it matches the requirements of your lesson and, as above, you many need to tweak it slightly. Tweaking lesson resources will be a skill you develop over time and will stop you reinventing the wheel, which can lead to the Sunday night feeling.

Here are some resource websites I’ve found useful:

http://freesciencelessons.co.uk/

http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resources

http://www.teachitscience.co.uk/

Revision

Were you ever set a piece of science homework as a student yourself to ‘revise for your end of unit test?’ Did you do it? If you did, did you know how to do it? No, me neither! How can you expect your students to then?

Embed into your lessons the different ways your students can revise. Listen to them too as they can share ones you maybe didn’t think of and other students in the class will hear them too. You may want to advise a mnemonic for learning the divisions of kingdoms to species or using an annotated diagram of the heart and circulatory system.

Give at least a week’s notice for an end of unit test and share revision resources with your students. This may be BBC Bitesize links, links to your VLE, revision notes (Exploring Science creates these already for you at KS3!), video clips and practice questions. Most importantly of all, ensure that the students bring in evidence of revision to you. This way you can check they have done it. If a student has got a score well below their target grade for no good reason, get them to resit this at break, lunch or after school (their time!) Your expectations of behaviour and academic progress need to be high at all times. Students generally won’t do the revision for their end of unit test if they know you are not going to check it.

I hope you found this blog post useful and please also read Kelly’s article if you haven’t already as it covers a lot of advice on behaviour, relationships, work-life balance, passion and interpersonal skills that all teachers must have.

For all of you science NQTs that are starting in September, I wish you all the very best. Enjoy the year, it will be a rollercoaster of emotions!


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30 snippets of advice I’d give my NQT self

Excellent article!

a view through different eyes

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It is great to see that Twitter is awash with ideas from enthusiastic, passionate and talented, recently qualified, teachers. For established educators such as myself, the excitement and fresh perspective that our inexperienced colleagues bring to a school is heartening. Most trainees/NQTs/RQTs are buoyant, willing to get involved and have yet to be corrupted by the cynicism that can sometimes creep in after a few years at the chalkface! How can we harness their energy and encourage it’s longevity whilst smoothing off some of the rough edges of our newest recruits to this noblest of professions? Today I started to consider what advice I would give to my 22 year old self if I had the chance to perform a Back to the Future style intervention in order to prepare me for years of service ahead. Here are my top thirty suggestions of advice to follow:

1. Pace yourself –…

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E-mails at school!

I have just spent two days sorting out my school e-mail inbox reducing its contents from over 10,000 to nearly 0!

Questions I am asking myself:

  • How did my inbox get this high?
  • Why didn’t I clear this every day?
  • Why are so many e-mails sent in schools?

Having thought about this, I considered how e-mail is used in schools (in general). Its benefits, drawbacks and some ideas of possible solutions.

The benefits of e-mail at school:

  • An easy way to disseminate information, meeting requests, reminders of deadlines etc.
  • A record of the communication is kept.
  • Printing is kept to a minimum compared to memos.
  • You don’t have to rely on students and office staff to carry messages to others.
  • You don’t have to run to your pigeon hole three times a day, which may be a long walk if you work in a large school!

The drawbacks of e-mail at school:

  • E-mail overload from necessary but sometimes unnecessary e-mails that are being sent to large groups of people that clog up teachers’ inboxes and add to our workload.
  • Having to sort e-mails from an inbox into folders or delete! Just like the paper in-tray, where does it go to, filed (and if so why are you filing it?) or the recycling bin? I find sometimes that I have too many folders, sub-folders and even (I hate to admit) sub-sub-folders! When trying to decide where an e-mail should go, sometimes I think – ‘it should go in this folder but also this one too.’ This adds to time taken to sort e-mails.
  • The instantaneous nature of e-mail means that people often expect an instant response (reminds me of the MSN Messenger days!), even though you shouldn’t really reply to e-mails whilst teaching. This adds to pressure during the working day.
  • Conflict can arise from e-mails fired off too quickly, especially in the heat of the moment. It can be hard to read others’ emotions in an e-mail.
  • E-mails sent late at night, in the holidays or at the weekend pressurise teachers to check them.
  • If parents have easy access to your e-mail address it can be pressurising for teachers to have to respond in a timely manner, especially if there are lots of requests from parents.
  • How do you know if the recipient has understood your e-mail and actioned on what you have asked?

Ideas for solutions!

  • Set the culture and send less e-mails yourself and (hopefully) you will receive less in return. However, if you work in a large school and e-mails are fired off to all staff continuously then a few teachers may wish to approach the HR Department or their union representative for a quiet word and see if anything can be done about it. Don’t send another all staff e-mail back moaning about the amount of irrelevant e-mails you’re receiving as this can add to the problem!
  • Minimise the folder system. Whilst you may want to be precise about where to put each e-mail, the whole point of having that filing system is that you can retrieve what you need to easily. So for me, having just a folder for KS3 Science is sufficient, as will be one for Deputy Head of Year 11 (rather than individual sub-folders for each of the 200 students inside this folder!). When sorting e-mails you can easily sweep them to that one folder.
  • Check your e-mail when you get into school, again at ‘breaktime,’ at the end of the school day and before you go home. That is four times a day and more frequent compared to employees in some other professions. If someone needs you urgently, they will come and find you. Have a standard reply when you see that e-mail from a member of staff asking to pass a message onto one of your students who you were teaching at the time and missed their e-mail. ‘Sorry I was teaching.’ Similarly if someone approaches you and asks why you haven’t responded yet.
  • If you are upset after reading an e-mail. Do not send an e-mail back! Go and take a walk away from your computer. Speak to a colleague (a friend really) you trust that isn’t going to go running to SLT with what you say at that time of distress. Keep calm and decide your next points of action. Meet with the person(s) and try to diffuse the conflict and/or discuss with your line manager etc.
  • If you really need to sort through your e-mails at home at night or at the weekend, save an e-mail as a draft and click send first thing in the morning. Remember some people have e-mail notifications on their smart phones. You shouldn’t need to do this if you keep on top of this daily though at work.
  • Schools shouldn’t have e-mail addresses that make them predictable for parents. Put numbers or other things in them so that parents are forced to e-mail the school office. Parents will know that the school office won’t be open after 5pm so they won’t expect a response that evening! It also allows the office to filter and forward anything concerning or offensive sent to the SLT rather than to an NQT trying to meet their teacher standards that doesn’t need to read it.
  • E-mails should be more for information rather than communication. For directives, face to face is still good. E-mails can be used to back this up but ensure that the person face to face understands what you are expecting of them. You don’t want surprises later down the line due to misinterpretation!

My personal target for next term

Before I log off the computer to leave school each day, I need to spend 2-3 minutes putting e-mails in my inbox into the relevant folders (minimal filing system remember!) and only leaving really important e-mails that require action within the next few days in the inbox. If the e-mail needs to wait a few days, I will set an Outlook reminder and file the e-mail. Watch this space!