Robert Brooks

Leading Practitioner

Top 5 Tips for a Science NQT

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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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