Stuff from the home page

Proposed programme for 2009-2010

It is time to consider our programme for next year. I am suggesting we meet more frequently, and engage in more active research, although it is up to individual members as to whether to be involved. The exact dates are yet to be decided (as of 20 August).
General themes
We have worked on specific issues from Geoff Petty's book and gained some insights from these based on research. We will continue to reflect on issues from his book as part of each meeting.
We have had some sessions where colleagues who have read a book (or a web site) that has influenced their thinking share with us what they have found out. We will continue this.
We often have some part of our time when some colleagues share their thoughts about the excitement and challenges of implementing research in their classes. I see these as valuable inputs.
Specific themes, including reviews of Petty chapters
Autumn 1 (Sat 26 Sept): Establishment of research themes for the year, primarily based on action research [Petty: Cooperative Learning, p 142 - 151)
Autumn 2: (Sat 7 Nov) Writing about our discoveries past experiences [Petty: Decisions, decisions, p 135 - 141]
Autumn 3: (Sat 5 Dec) Analysing qualitative data [Petty: Feedback or 'assessment for learning' p 83 - 100]
Spring 1: (Sat 30 Jan) Reading research papers: a practical session on quantitative research [Petty: Methods for the 'review' and homework phases p 275 - 282]
Spring 2: (Sat 20 Feb) Reading research papers: a practical session on qualitative research [Petty: Teaching methods for the orientation phase: setting the scene p 192 - 205]
Spring 3: (Sat 24 Apr) Science education research - what needs to be done? [Petty: Methods to present new material p 206 - 232]
Summer 1: (Sat 22 May) Reports of members' research: Preparation for conference [Petty: Methods for the 'apply' phase: deep meaning from hard thinking p 233 - 244]
Summer 2: (Sat 12 Jun) Annual Conference [Petty: Your own evidence: reflection and experimentation p 31

April 24th meeting

We had a great meeting with Dinah Barry joining us for the first time. Welcome Dinah! We also noted that we had four members of ASE Research Committee present, which is around half of the Committee. Amazing!
We started with a discussion based on an empirical research paper in the latest issue of British Education Research Journal (R Vanderlinde & J van Braak: The gap between educational research and practice: views of teachers, school leaders, intermediaries and researchers: 299 - 316, Vol 36, number 2, April 2010). Our ideas on what facilitates reducing that gap was not too different from this Belgian study.
Factors promoting links
Research with practical applications
Providing evidence of benefits
Time to read and use research
Intermediary (e.g. teacher trainer) at the school level
Pressure from government to use specific research
Barriers to promoting links
Lack of applicability and ambiguity
Ambiguity of research material
Technical and complex language usage
Descriptive research
The Belgian research also found that the availability of scholarship books did not improve the link.
We had some time thinking about Paul Ginnis' book, The Teachers Toolkit, with input from members who had their own copy. they intend to write a review about it for Book Recommendations page!
Clare Hughes referred us to this site for pictures: science photos

Petty discussion
We spent time (insufficient as it turned out) on Petty's writings on moving to deep thinking, switching smoothly, I thought, from the research evidence to ideas from our members, and back again. The challenge of getting pupils to think deeply when there is so much focus on content is ever present but we had many excellent ideas suggested. Petty, Chapter 18, is titled: Methods for the 'apply' phase: deep meaning from hard thinking. Petty highlights three myths:
Myth 1: It is more important to cover all the content than to set an activity. At the highest level, we are besotted by content, despite what we know about not remembering it all, an having to rush so much that the learning is superficial. Policies that lead to content overload also lead to poorer understanding. However, there are also other active methods of dealing with content that we have already considered, including peer teaching, card matching, constructing and using learning games. Teachers in class are in some control of the learning process.
Myth 2: Keep the task simple so they all succeed. this is about raising expectations (not the same as raising the bar, which is about changing the goalposts) and setting achievable, valuable and demanding goals. It is about making progress. For low achievers, setting an impoverished diet with inane pedagogy leads to the inevitable consequences of poor behaviour and motivation.
Myth 3: Any activity will do, so long as it gives the little blighters some relief. The learners deserve learning activity, not just activity, in which they have a sense of valuable achievement in which they can have pride, involving content, skills, and feelings.
Active learning is the base of deep thinking, which all learners can access (no low expectations here). Try these:

  • Independent learning, including collecting information to be sorted, analysed and interpreted, not just recorded or stuck in books.
  • Understanding, including: interpreting, analysing, and summarising information; conceptualising by selecting examples and non-examples, noting similarities and differences between concepts; explaining concepts using mind maps, posters, graphic organisers.
  • Synthesis, creativity and evaluation activity including: writing reports, play scripts and newspapers; problem solving; giving a presentation to your group, or the whole class; forming opinions.
  • Strategic and reflective thinking including: critically evaluating some writing; establishing whether something is true; writing a reflective journal (back of note book).
  • Affective and social skills including: behaving in a mature manner in role play, discussions; valuing and respecting others.
Devising experiments to test generated hypotheses is just as important as doing them, even if you have not got the equipment, although they do need to try out their designs sometimes! Working in groups has to be determined and planned, not just allowed to happen, but it can share skills that some individuals may not have developed yet. There are many ways to respond to a task: writing, verbal (to class or the group), graphic organisers, role play or drama, presentation (with or without the rest taking notes). Who will be the audience, the group or the whole class? Friends may not be critical, so placing them in a group of relative strangers may give them the same demand as for the whole class, but will permit parallel presentations. What is the role of the audience: taking notes, responding, assessing?

Suggestions for next year's dates and programme ideas: I have identified the PALAVA sessions as PI etc. The method of using a book to plan for our meetings, and to centre our discussions, has proved very successful, so I think it should continue, as a form of CPD. You can include attendance at PALAVA as part of your CPD portfolio and I will provide a certificate of attendance for anyone who requires it. I have been reading Action Research for Improving Educational Practice by Valsa Koshy (published by SAGE) and I propose this for one of our texts (possibly as a substitute for our Petty discussions but do give me your views about this). I also wonder about extending the time to 3 hours by starting at 0930 and finishing at 1230 since we are often rushed to get everything in.

I feel we should start a journal club (see which examines published papers in a critical way to extend our skills in accessing empirical research. There is an issue of accessibility, so I recommend that we use the published proceedings of the 2009 Conference of the European Science Education Research Association which has refereed papers and is on line at We need to make a start, so I will suggest the first paper for PI, as below and then leave it to PALAVA members to make further suggestions. The wikispace will serve as a great resource for discussions before the meeting. I suggest two articles in the first book at

Meaning making with living animals: how to get from observations to evidence? 143-154 Konstantin Klingenberg
The use of blogs in discussions on conceptual knowledge 169-172 Liv Byrkjeflot, Dag Atle Lysne and Margaret Lloyd
You may like to look at the other articles as well but do not complain about getting engrossed and having no time! Try to look beyond the language issues as many are writing in their second language! These papers are challenging to read.
PI: 25th September (Action Research: What is action research? p1 - 27; ESERA papers first set)
PII: 6th November (Action Research: Getting started p 28 - 46; ESERA papers)
PIII: 4th December (Action Research: Reviewing the literature p 47 - 60; ESERA papers)
PIV: 29th January (Action Research: Planning Action p 61 - 76; ESERA papers)
Possible Spring Conference: 12th February with a programme yet to be developed.
PV: 12th March (Action Research: Gathering data p 77 - 100; ESERA papers)
PVI: 14th May (Action Research: Analysing data and generating evidence 101 - 121; ESERA papers)
P Summer Conference: 25th June

The venues might continue to be at Bulmershe but if the group grows in size much (we can hope) it will move to Prospect School in west Reading.

Great news - the venue for the PALAVA Summer Conference on 12th June is at Prospect School in Reading, a great site with just what we want, courtesy of the Head, Deborah Ajose.
Now is the time to make your offers of some kind of presentation. It is good for your self-esteem and CV!

2010 Summer Conference page

24th April: Our next meeting will be at Bulmershe as always. Slightly modified programme:
HIPST update and feedback. I will lead a serious session on the HIPST project. This is part of our requirement for an evaluative phase.
We will spend a little time on what science education research ought to be done, and this can lead into our programme for next year.
Petty: Methods for the 'apply' phase: deep meaning from hard thinking p 233 - 244
Any comments on David's bit below?

This is the wikispace for the University of Reading Science teacher-researcher group, convened by John Oversby

Having received the generous gift of a helium balloon from Frankie & Benny's I decided to try an experiment I read about a long while ago. I tied the string to the handbrake suspending the balloon in the middle of the car. When I accelerated it moved forward, turning right it moved towards me and turning left it moved into the passenger seat, on breaking the balloon moved backwards. These movements might possibly be thought of as counter intuitive, the article I read suggested this would happen but I was surprised as to the amount of movement I saw. My next stage is to video it and place the phenomenon on you tube unless this has already been done. David.

We will have a meeting on 27th March. Details to follow.
The University security are keen to see the building kept locked at all times, to keep the unwanted out. I will be at the closed back door at 0950 until 0955, but after then please call 07888738595 to be let in.
Petty theme: Petty: Methods to present new material p 206 - 232
Discussion theme: Science education research - what needs to be done?

20th February report
A successful attendance with another new member: Dr Unsal Topsakal, a visitor from Turkey studying teachers' and pupils' thinking about plant diagrams.
The issue of Theory and Practice was not resolved but we did include some thinking about barriers to linking the two. Foremost was the lack of time, exacerbated by pressures to complete the extensive curriculum, pressures from parents, and pressures from Senior Management. In between time, lost of input from personal perspectives.

Saturday 20th February
Yes, this is the last Saturday of half term but many of those present said that was OK. Come if you can.
Petty Theme: This is an 'extra' session so I thought we might have a more general review of the issue of theory and practice. Linking Theory & Practice In our discussion on 30th January, this was raised in the context of homework. The evidence suggests that it is only successful, a bit, for 15-17 year old pupils, yet it is the focus for much work and angst in schools. Some parents base complaints to SMT on it (not enough, too much, too hard, too easy, not marked, not set, poor feedback), pastoral teachers have to check it very frequently (why has your homework diary not been signed by a parent, why have you not written down all the homework, who is helping you too much at home). classroom teachers (I have to mark this homework by next lesson after break, why does marking homework take up so much time, why can they not get the homework right, how can I get Susan/Mark to take homework seriously). There is hierarchical pressure all the way up the line, and exercise books are checked by SMT as much for homework as for anything else. Homework is of variable quality, and teachers tell us they have too little time to devote to setting thoughtful homework in the face of all the pressures they have. We might explore this, and the general issue of note taking again, not least because some members have a lot of hard won expertise in this area. I will make a new page for this area.
Action Research projects: the group has spawned a number of these. I suggest we spend some time considering group Action Research projects. John

Saturday 30 January
We had a good attendance as usual, welcoming Doug Scorer for the first time. Doug is a new colleague at Reading University, and has worked recently in schools as a physics specialist.
Petty theme: : Methods for the 'review' and homework phases p 275 - 282. Review Methods Add your ideas and comments before the meeting.
Action: Reading research papers: a practical session on quantitative research. See the Fensham paper below. This will be our focus for our next meeting.
Review of Annual Conference: Penny's page See Penny's report of her presentation at the open Conference in Nottingham. Despite the weather, some brave souls attended the conference, and some of us heard about the new development of Lesson Plans to go with the YouTube work. It sounds great and well worth looking at and contributing to. Join in the fun.
Your place Would you like to lead part of the session? Let me know and we can fit it in.

Saturday 5th December - our last meeting of 2009!

We had the usual mixture of fun, frivolity and serious discussion. Ginny presented us with an article and editorial from The Times Educational Supplement. The editorial was entitled Evidence-based education policy - what an idea! and was produced by Gerard Kelly, Editor. the article was entitled 'Evidence era to let schools call the shots' by Helen Ward. Some quotes from the article:
'Rigorous research should be the main driver of education policy, according to unions, politicians and academics.'
'The future is all about teachers deciding on their own classroom practice based o solid research evidence.'
'The key move is in giving teachers the freedom to teach what they believe is needed is to give them the evidence that will allow them to decide which programme will suit them and their class best.'
The article focused on questions such as "Does it work?" and "What kind of return on investment would I get?" The article talks about 'independent and verified research'. The editorial is disparaging about researchers who are 'strangers to quantitative research' and who have a patchy record.

My reflections on the article are rather cautious. I recall that the TES is part of the Times stable which is now part of the new right, under Murdoch. Kelly and Ward nail their colours firmly to the mast when they mention their ideas about research. In their eyes, research seems to always produces clear outcomes, and is always couched in terms of quantitatively measurable improvements arising from specific interventions that can be taken up and run with. Ward sees government as setting overall targets and letting professionals get on with it, as though this would be somehow liberating for the professionals. Those who have been in ASE Council when we discussed the new science curriculum in the 90s with glee will have heard me express caution when I suggested we waited for the assessment procedures. Then we saw that freedom had really vanished, as it continues to do under the APP regime where teachers are permitted to tweak it as they see it, subject to moderation of course. This is like being able to turn around in our straitjacket, remaining constrained while still being able to see the rest of the world.

Be careful of the wolves that come in sheep's clothing, and who misuse research, unless it provides results approved of by the government. Incidentally, the Conservative Shadow, Michale Gove, has created a new initialize to support financially those with firsts or upper seconds from selected universities for science teacher training. Now where is the evidence for that, I wonder.

Discussion continued in a deep and rich way, often on the value of education research to science teaching. The informal features of PALAVA encouraged some colleagues to share their personal stories and to gain support from those present, as well as some strategies to try out. By the end we had not considered the Petty work, nor the Fensham paper on Policy-Research I had provided. That is for next time.

We meet again on 30th January. where we will tackle the AfL chapter from Petty, p 83-100, and the Fensham paper.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very restful and refreshing break, ready for the onslaught in January. Penny will speak at ASE Nottingham about PALAVA on Saturday at 1030 in the Open Conference, followed by Sean at 1050. If you go to Nottingham, I will be delighted to meet with you (07888738595).

Petty theme : Feedback or 'assessment for learning' p 83 - 100. At our last meeting we discussed the use of report phrases for written/oral work on sticky labels, to be stuck into books as marking takes place. A quick initial scan through books will give an idea of what to write on the labels. We also talked about the use of a wiki to give general feedback. Anyone wishing to try this, just get in touch and we will provide a concrete example.
Action: Analysing qualitative data. I will provide a paper to analyse at the meeting. The paper below seems to fit our range of activity. Print you own copy and we will discuss it. Start the discussion by using the discussion section at the top of the page.

external image x-pdf.png [[file/view/peterfenshamintrolecture.pdf|peterfenshamintrolecture.pdf]]

Saturday 7th November report
Book recommendations.
John promoted some books he had been reading about research, and details are on the BookRecommend page.
Petty Theme: Chapter 11 (Decisions, decisions, effect size 0.89, Marzano)
Petty describes learning games for card sorting, matching, grouping, sequencing, ranking, or placing them on a graphic organiser or using as labels for diagrams. `The cards might contain text diagrams, formulae, photographs, drawings or questions.This section took up the majority of our time. We noted that there was a learning curve for these activities and it may take some uses for the ideas to be embedded into action. Colleagues brought some examples of using cards for visualisation, from A level particle physics to GCSE biology. I hope they will put their information on separate pages.
We will follow this with follow up from the ideas on cooperative learning we had last time.
Action: writing up our work (in what form and for whom) See first, ASE Scholarship paper
Ideas about writing up our work:
1. For a discussion paper for PALAVA. This can be done in any form, such as bulleted points, or a mini-poster.
2. For a PALAVA publication - can we do this?
3. For ASE journals e.g. School Science Review, Primary Science.
4. For other Professional Journals, such as International Journal of Science Education
I have included two more book reviews and invite colleagues to add theirs.

Saturday 30 January
Petty theme: : Methods for the 'review' and homework phases p 275 - 282
Action: Reading research papers: a practical session on quantitative research

Saturday 26th September - report of meeting
We welcomed 14 of us to the first meeting of the new year. For various reasons, I have also had interest from many others who could not attend this meeting but who wish to come to the next. No problem - it is on Nov 7th, same place etc, and all our meetings are open, as ever. Most of the attendees are teachers, from all levels, including beginning teachers, too. There were many new members too resulting from an ASE email I had sent round the country.
It is important that I mention the social side, with ad lib refreshments, of a high quality and provided by the department. Finding out about our members is a vital part of our work, and anyone wishing to add their personal page is encouraged to do so :-) After the meeting, 8 of us met for lunch close by and shared our continuing thinking!
We next had book recommendations, with Language and Literacy from Ginny (please add something to the Book Recommendation page), and Dilemmas in Teaching by John. I hope this section develops.
Our main section was on cooperative learning, and I based my relatively brief input on the notes below. No sooner had I stopped than contributions came thick and fast. These were in the form of recounting activities in class by colleagues, role play, jig saw (with real pieces), and the possibility of self-assessment quizzes for groups to check their own learning. An uncharitable way of thinking is to suggest that teachers like to talk about their own classroom. However, science education research is not transmitted (from researcher to teacher) but is actively reconstructed for use in each individual classroom, or used to reflect on teaching already completed. There was plenty of evidence for these two actions, and one or two were spurred to suggest using this method in their classroom, as part of them engaging with research. I have also been thinking about a talk by Ian Abrahams (Institute of Education) that he gave at ESERA in istabul at the start of September. He was talking about practical work in science classes and its affective component. He distinguished between interest and enjoyment on one hand as being ends in themselves and fairly short lived, and motivation on the other hand which is a drive to do something, such as learning or finding out. Is PALAVA about engendering interest and enjoyment or engendering motivation. From the discussion, many were motivated to ty out new ideas. Cooperative learning, as a topic, did engage those present and motivated many to do something different. Penny's page on Cooperative Learning. I hope they will add to this report, using the Edit button, to explain what they will be doing.
After coffee, Penny Robotham showed us the Magic Bucket activity, pouring coloured water into a sealed box and watching colourless water come out. She asked us to draw or describe what was inside. This activity is based on an article in this month's Education in Science written by a Sedish colleague. I am looking forward to her analysis of the drawings, especially when compared with the 9-10 year old pupils she also asked.
We finished up with a short account of Action Research, as research undertaken by science teachers. papers on this are in the Action Research page on this web site. We agreed that the PALAVA group might provide professional support for those starting on this kind of research.
So, keep in touch by email, using the discussion part of this page (see menu at the top), by phone (07888738595), or by post to 33 Lower Mount, Reading, RG1 5HL. In any case, I hope most of us can meet face to face on 7th November :-)

Saturday 26th September: 10 am in the Science Education Area at Bulmershe, Reading University. For directions see below in the conference programme. We intend to finish around 12 noon. I intend to invite the new Reading PGCE/ GTP students and to publish the meeting through the ASE network. As a change from our normal procedures, I have indicated a possible timetable, although it will have to be flexible to arrange for refreshments!

Theme (1000 - 1015): We will do welcomes first. Establishment of research themes for the year, primarily based on action research. We already have some themes ongoing: a) What is meant by revision in science education? (Penny Robotham and Sheelagh Bowker); b) YouTube and YouInTheClassroom (Sean Moore and Miranda Creed-Miles); c) Changing teachers' attitudes (Ginny Kearton) d) History and Philosophy of Science (John Oversby and others). We need to tidy up what is continuing and what should be started. Anyone can suggest a theme.
Scholarly discussion (1015 - 1100): We have been working on the Petty book.

external image Products%5C748%5C795%5C9780748795949_m_f.jpg
external image Products%5C748%5C795%5C9780748795949_m_f.jpg

John will lead a session on cooperative learning (Chapter 12, page 142, in Evidence based teaching by Geoff Petty). I will also propose a collaborative possible Action Research Project on this issue for those who wish to join in. This could use a new wikispace!
Summary for those who are very busy!):
Evidence: Effect size 0.59 (1153 studies, Hattie); 0.73 (122 studies by Marzano)
1. Cooperative is an actively managed process, not just using groups.
2. Can improve achievement by a grade but also improve behaviour, self-esteem and attitudes towards others.
3. Friendship groups perpetuate existing social divisions (such as ethnic, class)
4. Cooperative learning can overcome shyness and other social disadvantages but can be seen as social engineering
5. Groups sink or swim together; students work interactively; students have two goals: to learn and to help others to learn; students are held accountable for goals achievement; students learn how to cooperate effectively.
6. Students can be taught competitively, individualistically and cooperatively.
Evidence: Cooperative better than competitive and individualistic for academic achievement by about a grade; Cooperative better than competitive and individualistic for interpersonal attraction by about a grade; Cooperative better than competitive and individualistic for self-esteem by about a grade
Some questions to focus
1. What methods can be used for cooperative learning?
2. How much extra effort is cooperative learning?
3. Is cooperative learning faster or slower than other forms?
Action Research (1100 - 1140): We have been working at the edges of this topic. I propose to lead a deep and serious section on Action Research at this meeting.
Book reports (1140 - 1150): Have you read any books on science teacher education recently? Here is your chance to give a short recommendation to the group! Book Recommendations
Report on summer activity (1150 - 1200): John will lead this session with some evaluation of his summer conference activities. He will post some reflections in advance. Contributions from others will be most welcome.

7 - 322]