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James Bullous’s thoughts on CogSciSci Bath ‘2020’

James has been kind enough to write up some takeaways for those that could not make it to beautifully rainy Bath yesterday. Click the link above to go to his twitter page and find links to his other blogs. Thanks James!

CogSciSci Bath “2020” – Golden Nuggets and Takeaways
Like most CogSciSci enthusiasts and followers, I was gutted when the original CogScSci 2020 event in May 2020 had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Fast forward to 17 months later, the event was reorganised and I had the honour of attending the event at Beechen Cliff School in October 2021. Firstly, a quick thank you to Bill and Rachel for the perseverance in seeing this task through in what must be the hardest circumstances imaginable. I am thrilled to say the event, like it’s predecessors, was a storming success and allowed like-minded Science educators to come together to share ideas, challenge one another and bring out the best in each other. I wanted to share some of my key golden nuggets or takeaways from the day and how I intend to apply them next week in my classroom.  I will focus on a few of the many great presentations and ideas shared and discussed. This list is my no means exhaustive, just what I want to apply to my classroom (and what I will suggest other teachers at my school do too). 

Improving my explanations

In the keynote presentation, Adam Boxer provided powerful insight in to the wonderful world of explanations. An vital skill for all teachers and educators that is seemingly ignored in literature, explanations provide the knowledge students need to develop their understanding further. Boxer provided several demonstrations of explanations, each slightly better then the last, in a way to show two fundamental aspects of a powerful explanations:

* Start on a blank canvas – which allowed the directing of attention and the regulation of the flow of information  

* Direction of Travel – familiar to unfamiliar, concrete to abstract and explain then define. 

I will be using both of these techniques with Year 11 next week when teaching the carbon cycle. I intend on starting with a blank canvas and a graphical pad, showing the processes the students already know and then linking to and elaborating the whole cycle as I draw it live. Very excited for this one! 

Using goal-free problems

When I first heard Adam Robbins share this goal free approach, I was taken aback as I didn’t see where it fitted for my kids and how it would help in exams. I now feel that highlighted my own narrow focus on assessment and Robbins’ presentation this year clarified when and where we should use the goal free effect for maximum impact. The key takeaway being this is not for ‘novices’. Goal free problems can be done after effective independent practice to provide further challenges and get, as Robbins’ says, “More bang for your buck” when it comes to resources. Next week, with Year 13, I will be showing some Maxwell Boltzmann distributions and chemistry focused graphs from Nature/Science journals and will ask the students to deduce what they can from them. I am hoping this will become a rich and exciting discussion with some of the best chemists in the school. 

Using metacognitive approaches to cognitive science techniques

Like most teachers, I have read the EEF guide on Metacognition and Self-Regulation and even written is out it previously on my blog. What I love about CogSciSci events is they really challenge you to rethink your own practice. Because of this challenge, I realised all I had read and written about had been completely forgotten about in my practice. Elizabeth Mountstevens provided a very thought provoking discussion in to metacognition and it’s place in a #CogSciSci classroom.  It made me think, what explicit strategies to do I teach my students? Am I too implicit at times in my own explanations and expectations  of the students? Do they really reflect on how successful they have been with a particular strategy? Next week, I want to identify a strategy I will use, for example Tom Millichamp’s EVERY calculations, and explicitly model this for students, then provide them with opportunities for practice. What I will then do, over the coming lessons and weeks, is provide students with time to explicitly reflect and discuss the EVERY method as a technique. Do they like it? Why? Can they peer assess another students EVERY answers and identify strengths and weaknesses? What other ways can they do it? Mountstevens calls this the Post-mortem (the 5th of 5 Ps) and I am very keen to get stuck in this silent witness of metacognition!  

Redesigning my SLOP to leave breadcrumbs

Shed Loads Of Practice (SLOP) is something we have all become very familiar with other the last few years and what Tom Millichamp did in his presentation was to “take it to the next level”. Through Millichamp’s detailed discussion of what SLOP is (and isn’t), he was able to show clearly the steps to take in order to make success SLOP activities for students. One thing I hadn’t thought of is his idea of leaving breadcrumbs for you to find as a teacher to quickly identify errors or misconceptions.

These included:

*Giving students calculations that can do mentally (8/2) and so if they reach for a calculator (maybe doing 2/8) they have gone wrong. The use of a calculator is breadcrumb the teacher can follow! 

*Providing hints to the answer, for example the first decimal is 5. This allows students to check there answer and get help if required without proving the answers.  

I am definitely going to build some of these two examples in to a lesson on Forces next week with Year 8 where they will be doing F=ma calculations. I am looking forward to spotting those breadcrumbs early and eliminating misconceptions before they form. 
On reflection, there is much more I could write in this review and I am grateful to the organisers and all the speakers involved for such an amazing day. Thank you to the whole #CogSciSci community. I hope this review has provided some insight in to what a great day it was and spurs more and more people to attend these events when they happen in the future. I can honestly say, CogSciSci meetings are the best CPD there is!
James Bullous@DrB_SciTeacher


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