Archive | March, 2014

Science Experiments are Easy!

23 Mar


National Science and Engineering Week finishes today. Perhaps you knew that and are sad that all the excitement is over. Perhaps you are glad because you planned the activities for your school and it’s a relief that all (well, most) went off as expected and you can relax for a while.  Our school are reminded every year of ‘that time you tried to launch a rocket at lunchtime and everyone was watching and it all went pear shaped’. Nobody ever talks about the experiment that went ‘spectacularly right’ do they?


Hopefully some of the awe and wonder from the past week and a bit will be for life, not just for science week. After all, the country still has a massive shortfall in the numbers of scientists and engineers it needs for the future.

So, how do we keep the momentum going? My opinion is that practical work is a good place to start; the younger the better.

In my previous job as a Nat Strat consultant I spent some time in primaries running science training sessions. I was always amazed by how receptive the primary staff were to training, even at the end of a long teaching day. I particularly remember one occasion when I suggested ways other than writing for pupils to present their results including videos and songs.  I showed an example of a song about a force investigation written by some year 5 pupils to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and they all spontaneously burst into song!

I learned that primary schools, on the whole do not have brilliant science resources. The budget is tight and science equipment can be expensive. I do not claim to be any kind of primary science teaching expert, but here are a few ideas for experiments you can try in the primary setting that are not resource-heavy:


Bouncing Balls

There is lots of scope for investigation here and most primary schools will have a reasonable supply of balls.  Younger children could design an experiment using various types of balls: Do big balls bounce higher than small balls? How high does a ball bounce if I drop it from different heights? (Some health and safety considerations here). One of the best I’ve seen was a teacher who had a football and a tennis ball and asked students to predict what would happen if she dropped them together as shown:

 There is even a ‘Bang goes the Theory’ clip of this, so it MUST be real science! ( Yes, there is an explanation on this site about momentum, but you can just say ‘the big ball acts like a trampoline’



Sugar lumps

Equipment that is good for these experiments include brown and white sugar lumps, takeaway food containers (any excuse eh?) and disposable cups. Next time you’re in a gym or a hotel with disposable cups, look for ones that have the ridges on them as they mean you can use them for ‘measuring’ the same volume of water each time.

Again, pupils can come up with testable questions, such as: Does stirring speed up dissolving? Does a brown sugar lump dissolve faster than a white sugar lump? Does sugar dissolve faster in warm water than cold water?

The takeaway containers are good for a demonstration to encourage students to observe carefully. Fill the container about three quarters full with tap water and carefully place a white sugar lump at one end and a brown sugar lump at the other. Leave the container undisturbed and watch what happens.


A Cartesian Diver (Straw submarine)

Again, this one is very well explained on the Bang goes the Theory site: and can be made using a straw and plasticine; a pen lid or even a ketchup sachet (


Magnetic Marbles

These can be used to investigate attraction and repulsion by asking pupils to find out which letters they can and can’t make using these marbles. 


Eat a slice of bread for Homework

A simple experiment pupils can try at home. Ask them to chew a piece of bread for as long as possible before swallowing it and come back in the next day to describe what they noticed. This is explained here:


It’s our Twitterversary!

20 Mar

ImageToday marks a year to the day since I visited Debbie in her posh new Assistant Headteacher’s office and convinced her we should sign up to Twitter.  The back story is that we’d worked together as ASTs for over three years and come a long way on that journey together, so when Debbie told me she was going for an interview I knew what the outcome would be.

The Twitter account was a way that we could still work together on teaching and learning projects, share ideas and have a bit of fun. It was a way to make absolutely sure that we’d stay in touch properly but neither of us had any idea of what a difference it would make to us in so many different ways.

For this blog post I decided to reflect on what has changed in the past year since we (I) made the brilliant decision to set up our @TeacherTweaks account:


1. I read blogs

This feels a bit like a confession from a group therapy session. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be reading blogs I would have laughed in your face. Blogs were written by sad people who had no life and were total bores down the pub at the end of term. Forgive me fellow bloggers for thinking this, as I couldn’t be more wrong (at least, I hope so as I write this!) I think this is the thing that has and will continue to have the biggest impact for me. The teaching profession is full of people who work unbelievably hard for the students they teach and yet these people still take so much time to reflect and share their experiences to help others to learn, challenge themselves and grow. These blogs provide me with ideas ranging from small things to try out in a lesson, to huge developmental projects, to a complete challenge of ‘everything you ever thought you knew about…’. And bloggers are so HONEST. They will be so open with all the ridiculous things they try or how terribly this thing they thought would be great really went down with their Year 9 class. There isn’t enough time for me to read nearly as many blogs as I’d like but I always relish reading posts from @Andyphilipday; @headguruteacher; @johnthomsett and @LeadingLearner. Thanks bloggers for taking the time to share your thoughts; they are greatly appreciated and especially so when they challenge what I think or thought I knew to be right.


2. I annoy NQTs

In the days BT (Before Twitter) I would look forward to meeting NQTs and student teachers to ask them various questions about their areas of pedagogical interest. Now I ask them whether they use Twitter and if not, why not?  I suggest people to follow and blogs to read and tell them it will be the best thing they can do for their career progression and to get ideas, inspiration or just the list of what the Edexcel GCSE specification really means by………

I am making slow progress convincing these young impressionable minds but I drop the odd email with links to ‘these three brilliant things I found on Twitter just in the past week’ which seems to be helping.


3. Parents’ evenings have changed

Following a recommendation from Twitter, I read the Carol Dweck book ‘Mindset’. After spending a whole holiday sharing all the fascinating examples of fixed vs. growth mindset with my boyfriend, I set out to change how I think about students and how I describe this.  When I describe a student to their parents I now make sure I never describe them as a ‘natural scientist’ or being ‘very good at the subject’ but talk in terms of putting in a superb effort, relishing challenge and being keen to seek feedback to help improve their work.  You might hear me drop the odd ‘he/she grasps concepts very quickly’ and now, following the #PedagooLondon presentation from @Xris32 I might talk less about effort and more about progress but my response to ‘I can’t do it’ is always ‘YET!’ (thanks @johntomsett).


4. I present at #TeachMeets

I didn’t even know what a Teach Meet was in the days BT and now I’m amazed when people turn up at one and then confess to not being on Twitter. I’ve only presented at two so far, but the support and feedback from these sessions really spurs you on to do more. I recommend you to have a go; what’s the worst that can happen (Probably having your beautiful Prezi refusing to load in the style of Debbie ‘Tech heeeeeelp’).


5. I see my ‘stuff’ everywhere

I must start this section by thanking the fabulous Amjad (@ASTSupportAAli), who regularly spots something that we’ve produced being bandied about without a sniff of a Tweaky acknowledgement. This is a by-product of sharing your ‘stuff’ and yes I am a big advocate of giving credit where it is due but at the end of the day if other people find what we have shared useful then great. If they find what we have shared useful AND let us know what they’ve done with it, then even better and if they do all that and then get back to us to tell us how they changed it or what didn’t work then that is the icing on an already delicious chocolate sponge.


6. I had my name on a programme

For someone who gets excited every time they get an ID badge or a new variant of the Post-It note, this is fantastic. When the lovely @davidfawcett27 and @MissJLudd asked us to present at #TLT13, I genuinely thought they were joking. When our cheesy photo and biog went up on the website I was beside myself with excitement, so when I looked at who else was on the same bill I almost fell over. We must’ve got away with it too because soon afterwards the beautiful @hgaldinoshea asked us to present at #PedagooLondon in 2014. We were on the same line-up as @kevbartle, @headguruteacher and @LearningSpy, like, totes #starstruck!!


7. I model

So, this isn’t a massive change because I did it already, however, I called it ‘thinking out loud’ or told my students that ‘this is my daft way of working this out’. Now I call it modelling and I take every opportunity I can to show my students how I would answer an exam question or work out what the muscles in the eye do when you shine a bright light on it (‘the circular muscles contract to contract the circle, which means the radials must relax. Then you just do the opposite in dim light’……)


8. I WRITE blogs

This is, in itself pretty impressive but if you then consider that real people actually read them, this becomes amazing.  Blogging forces you to be reflective and I also appreciate the self-discipline needed to make myself stop whatever else I’m doing and sit down to write (although the barrage of ‘encouraging’ texts from Debbie make a big difference!)


9. I go to ‘make my head hurt from thinking so hard’ presentations

It sounds like I’m complaining when I reflect on a presentation I’ve seen by saying ‘It made my brain ache’ but I’d like to make it clear that this is a GOOD thing! It is ‘stretch and challenge’ in action and it might be hard work but it stops me being comfortable or complacent.  @LearningSpy does it; @HFletcherWood did it with his #TLT13 presentation on questioning. Thanks gents for making me think until it hurt!


10. I have Tweet ‘conversations’ with brilliant people

Shhh, don’t tell them who I really am because they think I know what I’m talking about.

Finally, my favourite memory from the past year has to be when the aforementioned Amjad Ali met us at our first TeachMeet and said ‘Oh, I expected you guys to be two old dears’. What could we say to that? I won’t over-think this.

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