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Introducing the CogSciSci site

The winds of educational change have blown radically over the last few years. Fierce debates within the education community have become fertile proving grounds for new ideas to be tested, new thoughts to be crystallised and new voices to be heard. Twitter has emerged as an incredible driving force, allowing like-minded professionals from all over the world to connect. Grassroots organisations like researchED have advocated for teachers to become more in touch with rigorous educational research, the edublogosphere has translated empirical findings into front-line practice, and institutions like Michaela Community School have shown us what is possible given intellectual and organisational freedom.

#CogSciSci was a small part of that. Two and a half years ago, a few science teachers connected over social media and started thinking about implementing major findings from cognitive science into their day to day practice. Eager for rigorous standards of thought and practice, we tried to grow our community and increase the number of people sharing, thinking and innovating. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that many were desperate to be involved. Tired of conventional approaches to teaching and learning, CPD and non-subject-specific advice, the community has grown beyond what we ever anticipated. There are now over a thousand teachers on our email group, dozens of new blogs, hundreds of new Twitter users and a national conference that sold all its tickets within twenty four hours.

But that growth has largely been organic and undirected. Without a doubt, this has been a strength and positive characteristic of what can now be called a movement. It’s allowed anybody to join in and share: all voices and ideas have been welcomed and we have all benefited. But this kind of model also has its downsides: the sheer productivity of the community has meant that some of the growth will have passed some people by. The ad hoc posting and sharing means that ideas and resources are not collected and organised systematically into any central location. Furthermore, it’s not always clear to newcomers where they should start. Our community’s knowledge is dispersed and spread out, leading to newcomers having to navigate a sporadic and sketchy curriculum that only ever existed in people’s minds.

This new website seeks to fill that gap. Without aiming to be authoritative, it hopes to be at least a comprehensive representation of the productivity of the CogSciSci community. We have tried to collect the best of what the community has thought and said into one place so that we can all grow further. This site will provide training, resources, communal collaboration and intellectual stimulation, all from a desire to use cutting edge educational research to improve student outcomes.

Do please take a few minutes to travel around the site. Some of it may look quite familiar to you, but we have tried to build areas that are truly different to your standard fare.

We’re incredibly excited about this. We want it to become a vibrant hub of energy and dynamism, a place where ideas and innovations become the norm and where science teachers across the world can come for knowledge and support.

CogSciSci is, and will always be, free. We are completely grassroots and run by a team of volunteers giving up our time for a cause we believe in. We ask for only two things in return. First, we ask that you subscribe via email, which you can do at the bottom of the home page. This means that you won’t miss any content and that when we publish a new blog, learning module, resource or departmental development tool you receive it straight to your inbox. We are doing this because we want to help: you subscribing is how we know that we are reaching people.

Secondly, and more importantly, we want you to support us. Not financially, but in terms of the human social and intellectual capital you can bring. We want you to blog for us. We want you to write resources for us. We want you to complete our professional learning courses and we want you to discuss your thoughts with us. We want you to find a fascinating book to read and to write a review for us. We want you to share us with your department and to bring more teachers into the fold. If you want to help or to contribute but don’t know how, send us an email. Without you, without your ideas, your reading and your experience we cannot continue to grow.

So please, take some time to look around. https://cogscisci.wordpress.com/

Write down one of our courses as a performance management target for this year. Think about an idea you’ve tried recently and how you could share that. Look at some of your resources and think about how we can help you improve them. And if you have a question: ask, ask ask.

We’re excited, and we hope you are too,

The CogSciSci team

cogscisci@gmail.com

CogSciSci Book Review: Motivated Teaching by Peps Mccrea

Reviewed by Jo Castelino

Have you ever told your classes that focussing more in lessons will help them do better? If you have, you probably had a few students nod their heads or the majority listen seemingly attentively to every word you’ve uttered. Why then does this alone not work? Why is it so easy for a student to fully focus on playing FIFA, analyse their gameplay and choices there but then cannot apply the same principles to their lesson on Electrolysis?

Peps Mccrea’s latest book Motivated Teaching explores why this is the case and provides a very handy Motivation for Learning framework. The beauty of this book (like Mccrea’s others) is how every thought and idea is presented succinctly and clearly. At 125 pages, using larger than usual font and large margins, Mccrea deftly applies the principles of his framework in delivering the content. The chapters are laid out perfectly for busy teachers to dip in and out of, taking away the key messages that can help improve their practice. 

Book structure

Each chapter focuses on a main thought that is dissected and explained with clarity followed by a summary sentence to take away, with all the key messages listed at the end together with suggestions for further reading.

The book starts off with a few chapters dedicated to answering the question of why motivation is key in teaching and why it is so hard to get right and develop in the classroom. These initial chapters give us 9 key ideas (with a 10th mentioned later in the book) that summarise the research on motivation and are a useful list to refer to when thinking about encouraging motivated learning. 

The 5 drivers of motivation

The book then moves on to describing 5 drivers that can be used to build and sustain motivation. I find it enlightening that the book does not just focus on short term, immediately applicable strategies but also on things we can do to benefit students in the long run, even going so far as to prepare them for regulating self-motivation that can make them better learners for life.

The ideas are simple and most have made their way into discourse on cognitive science and its applications in the classroom. This does not take away from the sheer importance of thinking about each element and how we can effectively apply them or how Mccrea makes the case for each idea followed by practical examples of their application.

The book discusses how we can help students secure success, which can lead to proficiency, which in turn can lead to motivation. Practical suggestions include pitching content well and chunking information into manageable pieces that can be mastered prior to introducing the next chunk. 

Consistent and simple routines are described as key to keeping the process of learning simple while maintaining challenging content. The book provides clear suggestions for what makes a good routine and how we can automate them.

In order to encourage students to follow instructions and achieve success, the book suggests we praise positive behaviours, making the expected norms more visible. Just as we would model how to tackle a question on lesson content, it would be equally important to model and show behaviours we expect in the classroom. One strategy that struck me because of its simplicity but also because of its power in changing the atmosphere in a classroom, is to emphasise and narrate what we want to see rather than what we do not see. 

Schools form an important part of our students’ lives and I think it is significant that the book discusses ways to help students feel belonging and become part of the classroom community. This can be encouraged by something as simple as framing your language to use pronouns such as we and us instead of I or you. For students to feel part of your community, they also need to trust you as their teacher. The book suggests this can be achieved by the teacher being credible, caring and consistent. 

The final core driver is, in my opinion, the most important of all. Everything you do in the classroom as a teacher to boost motivation can be rendered useless if students do not buy-in to your standards, expectations and choices you make for your novice learners, the latter of which can seemingly take away autonomy from students. The book advocates framing the benefits from the students’ perspectives and using inclusive language to boost buy-in. 

The discussion on the key drivers ends with a description of metamotivation, which is where students regulate their own motivation. I think it is important that the book promotes developing metamotivation as part of lessons rather than as a separate entity wheeled out at an assembly, never to be thought of by students again. 

My only criticism is that some suggestions of strategies (such as getting students to perform a mini-applause when one of their peers is praised by the teacher for doing something well) can lead to problems or a lack of control over a class where all the strategies are not already automated and the classroom culture is not already fine-tuned to fit your desired norms. This is something novice teachers will need to be wary of prior to attempting them in the classroom.

Tying it all together

As with any ideas in education that teachers who want to be research-informed in their classroom practice aim to apply immediately, Mccrea rightly cautions that the ideas he presents need to be understood well prior to application or they may run the risk of becoming lethal mutations.

I love how the book then moves on to summarise how the steps are additive in nature and not necessarily a list to be followed sequentially. Mccrea presents two case studies at either extreme of teachers who either use or do not use the 5 core drivers of motivation. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the negative attitude of the student whose teacher does not drive motivation effectively, is something I have come across a number of times. The book has certainly challenged me to think about the small things I can change such as how I frame my language to develop and sustain motivated learners. 

The book ends with a brilliant chapter on how we can apply these principles to ourselves, something that many educational books fail to do. At the end of this review, I am presenting my own plans to improve the motivation of my students at writing better sentences (see below). 

Is Motivated Teaching worth getting?

I cannot say this with any more conviction that I believe Motivated Teaching should be required reading for all teachers. It is presented in an attractive format with easy to follow chapters and key ideas summarised at regular intervals to maintain your focus and importantly, it is full of practical ideas that we can use in our classrooms. 

Indeed, Peps Mccrea has clearly applied all the key ideas and core drivers, that he discusses in the book so eloquently and succinctly, to the book itself- a kind of meta-format for improving motivation in the classroom. 

I know I will be returning to this book often.

Further reading

Kathryn Morgan has collated 115 links to each of the further reading suggestions in Motivated Teaching. This impressive list can be found here.

My plan to encourage students to be better motivated at writing good sentences in Science

CogSciSci note: A big thank you to Jo for taking the time to write down her thoughts. We are always eager to host reviews and blogs which will help inform the science teaching community. If you are interested please get in touch via twitter.

Curriculum Broader Themes: Developing Department Discourse in Science – A Model For Better CPD

Ruth Ashbee presents a model for departmental CPD that moves beyond “the session”.

  • 00:00 Welcome and outline
  • 00:30 Context
  • 03:21 Three principles of CPD
  • 06:06 Curriculum or pedagogy
  • 07:28 Beyond “the session”
  • 11:24 Theme 1: How we teach X
  • 13:46 Theme 2: Getting to grips with X
  • 15:06 Theme 3: 3-point discussion
  • 16:17 Outcomes
  • 19:45 Conditions for success

Curriculum Soapbox: Electrolysis

Helen Skelton discusses the topic of electrolysis and demonstrates her approach to teaching it.

  • 00:00 Welcome and introductions
  • 01:20 Why electrolysis?
  • 03:37 Firm foundations – prior knowledge
  • 08:30 Sequencing
  • 18:03 Ways of seeing – Johnstone’s triangle
  • 23:05 Instruction and SLOP
  • 25:40 Copper chloride electrolysis example
  • 35:57 Practical work
  • 43:28 Summary

You might find the following links useful:

Fabio di Salvo’s blog on his approach to sequencing a whole curriculum

Pritesh Raichura’s Seneca Virtual Science Conference talk (from 2hr 19 mins).

Johnstone’s Triangle: Niki Kaiser’s researchEd Norwich talk

Practical work: Helen’s question sheet to use with the electrolysis required practical, and Adam Boxer’s Slow Practical blog

Also, Gethyn’s chapter ‘Electrolysing Engelmann’ in the ResearchED Explicit and Direct Instruction book is well worth reading and thinking about – unfortunately I didn’t read this until after I’d recorded the talk! I might well need to tweak my approach to electrolysis once again.

Curriculum Chats: Structure and Bonding

Niki Kaiser, Elizabeth Mountstevens, Michael Adenekan and Adam Robbins get together to discuss their approaches to the topic of structure and bonding.

  • 00:00 Welcome and introductions
  • 01:25 What do students find most difficult about structure and bonding?
  • 08:55 What do you do to address student misconceptions about structure and bonding?
  • 17:09 What misconceptions do teachers hold in this topic?
  • 20:37 How do you build the topic in KS3 and how do you teach it in KS4?
  • 41:15 What models do you find are the most useful to teach this topic?
  • 48:40 What other resources do you use to teach this topic?
  • 53:30 How do you achieve a balance between teacher autonomy and teacher consistency?

Niki has some useful links to accompany the discussion:

Elizabeth has some suggested links on misconceptions:

and also some on curriculum:

You might also have noticed Adam sipping water from a rather fetching water bottle. He accidentally set up an edutwitter merch shop and you can buy that very same bottle (or t-shirt, bag, dog bandanna) here.

Curriculum Links Part 2: Planning A Science Curriculum

In Part 1, we looked at some of the principles that could form the foundations of a good science curriculum. Here we look more closely at the implementation of these ideas within different teachers’ science curricula. 

Planning 

Ruth Ashbee gives a great overview of how to overhaul your curriculum with a framework of meetings that would take around six hours of time

https://rosalindwalker.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/my-plan-to-reform-our-science-curriculum-in-6-hours-of-department-time/ 

Tom Needham explicitly links the principles that underpin his curriculum with the planning that takes place here 

https://tomneedhamteach.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/the-application-of-theory-8-propositions-that-underpin-our-approach/

This overview, a guest blog on Adam Robbins’s site, looks at some of the features of effective curriculum planning 

https://reflectionsinscience.wordpress.com/2019/02/11/the-10-features-of-highly-effective-curriculum-planning-a-guest-blog/

Pritesh Raichura explain his thoughts on curriculum planning in science, based on his excellent ResearchED talk, linking in the foundations that we looked at in Part 1. 

https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2018/06/23/designing-a-science-curriculum-my-redrugby-talk/

In terms of planning, it’s well worth considering dropping the lesson as the ‘unit’ by which we plan a topic/subject. Bob Pritchard explains this idea here 

https://occasionalwitterings.com/2019/03/25/its-done-when-its-done-ditching-the-lesson-as-the-unit-of-planning

To think about: How much discussion have we had about the curriculum as a team? Have you decided what your department’s principles are? Are your department’s principles clear to everyone? Are you spending the right amount of time on the wider thinking around curriculum? 

Sequencing 

These blogs look in detail at how we sequence certain ideas within science, and they model how we might alter orthodox sequences to aid student learning. 

Fabio Di Salvo explains how we completely ripped up the specification order for GCSE physics (quite literally) and set about creating a new sequence 

https://fabphysics.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/going-on-a-sequencing-adventure/

Brett Kingsbury has a three part series explaining how he sequences ideas in Biology

https://acommonbiologist.wordpress.com/2020/02/21/a-model-for-sequencing-in-biology/

Ian Taylor gives an alternative look at sequencing when he discusses ‘teaching by contrast’ and how the changes he’s made to the ‘standard teaching sequences’ has shown promise in tests  

https://mrtaylorsblog.home.blog/2019/04/28/teaching-by-contrast/

Adam Boxer looks specifically at KS3 and models the sorts of thinking he goes through when working out what order we should be teaching some of the initial scientific ideas in 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2019/02/05/modelling-curricular-thinking-inspired-by-ben-ranson/

David Gash explains his KS3 sequencing in this blog and some of the additional, practical considerations that go into creating it 

https://djgteaching.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/curriculum-thinking-for-science-part-1-sequencing-in-ks3

Pritesh Raichura discusses sequencing and how that affects the creation of his biology booklets  

https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/writing-biology-mastery-textbooks

Kris Boulton may be a maths teacher, but his series of blogs on his best planning model some of the deep thinking that should go into a curriculum 

https://tothereal.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/my-best-planning-part-1/

To think about: Why do we teach this topic in this order? What is the very first step into this topic? Is the specification the best teaching order for you? How do your department’s underlying principles manifest in your approach to sequencing? 

Beyond sequencing 

Pritesh Raichura builds on Bob Pritchard’s blog about forgetting the lesson as the unit of time and discusses how he creates a narrative throughout a module 

https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2020/08/04/curricular-narrative/

Christian Moore Anderson argues that we need a multi-scale approach to curriculum so that we are not dominated by a linear sequence 

https://cmooreanderson.wixsite.com/teachingbiology/post/the-scales-of-curriculum-planning-why-sequence-isn-t-king

Adam Boxer looks at sequencing within a lesson and gives a specific example of when breaking a topic down and then building up back up for the students might not be the best approach 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2020/08/02/the-woods-and-the-trees-breaking-rosenshine/

To think about: Does your curriculum connect the dots from lesson to lesson? For what ideas does a linear sequence work best and when do we need something a little less ordered? By the end of your unit, what will your students be able to understand and explain? 

Spacing and retrieval 

The curriculum needs to take into account the dreaded forgetting curve and there are multiple ways of doing that. 

Damian Benney has explored the idea of spacing and has been looking to adapt the curriculum to create the optimum gaps between students experiencing material to allow them to better remember it. 

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/optimal-time-for-spacing-gaps/

Damian Benney has added more to this idea by looking through the lens of Cognitive Load Theory and Desirable Difficulties 

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/direct-instruction-cognitive-load-rosenshine-desirable-difficulties-and-responsive-teaching-and-thanks-to-tom_needham_/

CogSciSci have previously had an entire symposium on retrieval practice and what this looks like in the classroom 

https://cogscisci.wordpress.com/2020/01/23/retrieval-practice-in-the-classroom-a-cogscisci-symposium/

And the retrieval roulette idea of Adam Boxer lives here 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/retrieval-roulettes/

To think about: How are you going to ensure that students re-encounter material? What will you do if they forget? 

Explanations and narrative 

In our explanations, we need to be considering the limits of working memory, and ensuring that the content is driving our teaching (as discussed in part 1). These blogs look at what you might spend your time talking about as a ‘sage on the stage’. 

Pritesh Raichura breaks down teacher talk and gives his take on how to improve your practice in explaining science 

https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2019/10/20/clear-teacher-explanations-i-examples-non-examples

Sam Hall looks at scripting explanations, and whilst this idea might not appeal to all, the thought and planning that go into it (which Sam explains) are a great guide to improving your explanations. 

https://shallteach.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/planning-scripted-instruction-a-sort-of-guide

Bill Wilkinson discusses the idea of narrative and how stories are a crucial way in which humans remember things. He talks about his project #ScienceStories to get more stories into the science classroom 

https://drwilkinsonscience.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/oral-narrative-memory-an-evolutionary-story/

To think about: How much time do you spend talking about, sharing and practicing explanations as a department? What makes a good explanation? What stories do you use in your teaching that would be useful to everyone else? 

Assessment for Learning (AfL) 

CogSciSci have previously had a six part symposium on assessment for learning, as this will form an important part of any science curriculum 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/afl-in-science-a-symposium/

To think about: How are you going to check the understanding of students within a lesson and within a module? What will you do if they know things early? What will you do if they don’t know things? 

Practicals 

How do we utilise practicals effectively whilst still building upon our underlying principles? Bill Wilkinson takes an overview of how cognitive science affects doing practical work 

https://drwilkinsonscience.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/applying-cognitive-science-principles-to-practical-work/

To think about: How can we make practicals as useful as possible? When do we use a practical and when do we use a demo? How can we run practicals effectively and consistently across the department? 

Assessment 

Assessment will naturally crop up when thinking about your curriculum, so it’s important to consider some of the fundamentals of what makes an assessment. 

Rob Coe explains what an assessment should be in these three blogs 

https://www.cem.org/blog/but-that-is-not-an-assessment/

https://www.cem.org/blog/where-is-the-value-in-assessment/

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-blog-assessing-learning-in-the-new-academic-year-part-1/

Paul Moss explains how assessment forms a vital part of his curriculum in a series of blogs 

https://paulgmoss.com/2019/04/10/assessment-is-curriculum-is-assessment

To think about: What is this assessment for? What am I assessing? Do I actually need this assessment? What will I do with the data?  

Mastery 

The idea of a mastery curriculum might crop up when thinking about your science curriculum. The idea has been thoroughly explained by Mark McCourt in his book ‘Teaching for Mastery’. Daisy Christodoulou explains some of what mastery definitely is, and definitely isn’t in this blog 

https://daisychristodoulou.com/2019/05/what-is-mastery-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/

To think about: Is a mastery approach feasible in science? If we’re using the term ‘mastery’ are we meaning it as it was originally defined? 

Other considerations 

Adam Boxer talks about how he used his Oak Academy lessons to get feedback on his teaching and his 9 videos contain some useful ideas to have in mind 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2020/07/21/what-does-explicit-instruction-in-science-look-like/

Curriculum Warnings. Honorary CogSciSci member (in spite of her English teaching), Claire Stonemen has some warnings about curriculum 

https://birminghamteacher.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/curriculum-a-warning

Curriculum Soapbox: Writing Good Biology SLOP

Pritesh Raichura discusses how he writes Shed Loads Of Practice (SLOP) for Biology.

Pritesh has a blog with lots of examples that can be found here.

  • 00:00 Welcome and overview
  • 00:57 Don’t pupils need a variety of activities?
  • 03:25 The best activities will help pupils to…
  • 05:50 Purpose informs question writing
  • 07:45 Guide pupils to make feedback easier
  • 09:30 Sequence is important
  • 11:21 Give them something to think about first
  • 13:03 Avoid unnecessary questions
  • 14:45 Improving sentence level construction
  • 17:25 Sequencing
  • 20:57 Sentence-level construction
  • 23:35 Conclusion

Curriculum Broader Themes: The KS2 to KS3 Transition in Science

Nimish Lad and Neil Almond chat about students moving from primary to secondary school. What should KS3 teachers know about KS2? What should KS2 teachers know about KS3?

You can use the chapters embedded in the video to find any of the specific questions that we discuss (you might need to be on YouTube to actually see them):

  • 00:00:00 Welcome and introductions
  • 00:04:10 Deciding on science content in KS2
  • 00:12:30 The ‘Science gap’ in Y7 and common misconceptions
  • 00:19:45 Retrieval strength and the transition to Y7
  • 00:24:38 The ‘ultimate’ Y7 student
  • 00:28:22 Areas of science that are unrepresented at KS2
  • 00:34:20 Use of CogSci in science. Booklets.
  • 00:41:42 Concrete examples in KS2
  • 00:47:55 Disagreements about the structure of a curriculum. Importance of subject knowledge.
  • 00:52:30 Great metaphors/analogies for primary teachers. Hinterland.
  • 00:59:40 Trickiest concepts to sequence. Importance of reading.
  • 01:06:35 The ‘ultimate’ 5-16 year old science curriculum. Storytelling in the curriculum.
  • 01:12:00 Get in touch

Below are some links to some of the blogs and articles that were touched upon:

Louise Cass and Mr Badham’s primary science resources.

Christopher Such’s primary science curriculum intent document.

Christopher Such’s primary science planning support sheets.

Core Knowledge’s science class texts.

Curriculum Chats: Inheritance, Variation and Evolution

Previously, we asked on the twitter page which topics in each of the sciences you thought required the most thought in the curriculum. For biology, you chose the topic of inheritance, variation and evolution and in the video below, Dom Shibli, Pritesh Raichura, Jo Castelino, Rachel Wong (BioRach) and Christian Moore Anderson get together to discuss just that. Please let us know on the twitter page what your thoughts are: do you agree/disagree with any of the approaches? Has it made you think differently about the topic? Do you have an alternate approach?

You can use the chapters embedded in the video to find any of the specific questions that we discuss (you might need to be on YouTube to actually see them):

  • 00:00:00 Welcome and introductions
  • 00:01:23 What do students find hard about the topic of inheritance, variation and evolution?
  • 00:10:00 What do teachers find hard about teaching the topic of inheritance, variation and evolution?
  • 00:20:05 What do you do to help students conceptualise something as complex as the function of the gene alongside the chemical basis of inheritance?
  • 00:30:20 How might you sequence this topic in your school? Thinking out loud discussion.
  • 00:58:20 Examples (and non-examples) of how you might teach this topic.
  • 01:16:20 In brief, what do students you want students to learn in KS3 to prepare them for this topic?

Below are some links to some of the blogs and articles that were touched upon:

Link to Biology SLOP booklets, collated by Adam Robbins: https://google.com/amp/s/reflectionsinscience.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/biology-slop-the-next-generation/amp/…

Link to the story of how humans evolved to digest milk into adulthood: https://bbc.com/future/article/20190218-when-did-humans-start-drinking-cows-milk…

Pritesh’s blog on curricular narrative, written in response to this chat https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2020/08/04/curricular-narrative/

Inheritance via ‘Nature and Nurture’? It’s time to change perspectives https://cmooreanderson.wixsite.com/teachingbiology/post/inheritance-via-nature-and-nurture-it-s-time-to-change-perspectives-biologycurriculum…

On Mendelian genetics and the misconceptions it can instill https://cmooreanderson.wixsite.com/teachingbiology/post/on-mendelian-genetics-and-the-misconceptions-it-instills…

Developing a biologist’s gaze: the organism in its environment https://cmooreanderson.wixsite.com/teachingbiology/post/developing-a-biologist-s-gaze-the-organism-in-its-environment…

Curriculum Links Part 1: Underlying Principles

In this blog, we look over some useful reading to consider when planning out your curriculum – what are some of the underlying principles upon which we should start to build. This is partly inspired by Matthew Benyohai’s blog where he discusses disconnect we sometimes see between principles and practices. This list is by no means exhaustive, and we’d love to hear any more of your suggestions. 

In Part 2 (coming in two weeks), we’ll look at some examples of science curriculum planning and how some of the ideas from this blog have been implemented.

Introduction to curriculum thinking 

CogSciSci have previously looked at the science curriculum in the ‘Curriculum In Science Symposium’ in a series of blog posts. 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/curriculum-in-science-a-symposium/

Amongst these great posts, Ruth Ashbee nicely summaries some of the key terminology surrounding curriculum 

https://rosalindwalker.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/the-language-of-curriculum/

Ruth also has a blog that summarises why cognitive science should play a role in the way we think about curriculum. 

https://rosalindwalker.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/curriculum-and-cognitive-science/

To think about: the specification is not the curriculum, so what should our curriculum be? 

What principles might we base a curriculum upon? 

Some (or all) of these ideas could be considered the foundations upon which to build a curriculum and for each, we’ll present a few excellent blogs to elaborate. 

  • A knowledge rich curriculum 
  • The teaching being driven by the content 
  • Forgetting is a natural part of the learning process 
  • Our working memory has limits 
  • Practice makes permanent 

Knowledge rich curriculum 

The blog posts below discuss the ideas of what constitutes a ‘knowledge rich curriculum’ and why knowledge should be the cornerstone on which to build a robust and challenging curriculum.  

Clare Sealy’s post outlines the different ‘types’ of knowledge and discusses the issue of ‘skills’.  

https://primarytimery.com/2018/09/09/whats-all-the-fuss-about-a-knowledge-rich-curriculum-part-one/

Daniel Willingham discusses how knowledge brings about more knowledge and improves your thinking 

https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps

Jon Hutchinson examines some of the arguments against a knowledge rich curriculum and argues why they’re wrong 

https://pedfed.wordpress.com/2018/11/11/the-three-best-arguments-against-a-knowledge-rich-curriculum-and-why-i-think-theyre-wrong/

Pritesh Raichura looks at what knowledge should go into a science curriculum as part of the previous CogSciSci Curriculum Symposium 

https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-best-which-has-been-thought-or-said/

To think about: what content should we include (or not include) in our curriculum? What approach do we take to ‘skills’ and the need for knowledge to be able to perform skills? 

Quality Teaching, First 

With knowledge as our cornerstone, it’s worth thinking from the very beginning about the intersection between the curriculum and the teaching that will take place. These essays by Adam Boxer and Ruth Ashbee are worth having in mind, as they look at putting the subject at the heart of the teaching that will take place, and ensuring that this teaching is of the highest quality. 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/teaching-and-learning-is-dead/

https://rosalindwalker.wordpress.com/2018/08/16/e-coli-and-quality-first-teaching/

To think about: how can we present scientific content to students to allow them to see and enjoy it for what it is? How can we ensure that all students are engaged in thinking about the subject and not elements that are not strictly educational? 

Forgetting 

How will your curriculum take into account the fact that students will naturally forget material over time? This finding from cognitive science – Ebinghaus’s forgetting curve – needs to be considered carefully and battled consistently.  

Niki Kaiser discusses what makes a memorable curriculum 

https://chemdrk.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/building-a-memorable-curriculum/

Adam Robbins explains how Daniel Willingham’s famous ‘memory is the residue of thought’ quote has been implemented in their teaching and learning. Whilst the entirety of this blog isn’t focussed on curriculum, there are some vital points to consider. 

https://reflectionsinscience.wordpress.com/2019/09/04/building-a-teaching-and-learning-policy-from-a-single-idea-the-genius-of-prof-daniel-willingham/

To think about: How will your curriculum take this into account? How will you ensure that students don’t encounter material only once? 

Working memory and reducing support over time 

Focussing in towards individual lessons, how is your curriculum going to ease the cognitive burden of the more demanding parts of your subject?  

Adam Boxer’s blog explains his simplified version of cognitive load theory 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/simplifying-cognitive-load-theory/

Greg Ashman looks at the how we can boost student motivation by reducing the cognitive load 

https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/reducing-cognitive-load-in-order-to-boost-motivation/

Bob Pritchard explains how the whole idea of learning fitting into lesson-sized chunks isn’t the best way to look at things. A curriculum isn’t simply a lesson map. Here Bob shows how that affects his lesson planning 

https://occasionalwitterings.com/2019/03/25/its-done-when-its-done-ditching-the-lesson-as-the-unit-of-planning/

To think about: how will you apportion time across the curriculum to certain topics/units to allow them to be broken down? What aspects of your subject are so fundamental that they need to be thoroughly encoded in long term memory as soon as possible? 

Practice (and performance) 

There are different viewpoints on the important of practice to learning. Important concepts here are that ‘practice makes permanent’ – students are going to remember what they repeat, so we need to sure that they’re practicing getting things right (this is one of the main ideas behind Shed Loads Of Practice – SLOP). 

The learning scientists give a great digest of some of the important findings surrounding practice. 

https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/11/6/weekly-digest-84

Nick Soderstrom investigates the difference between learning and performance. This is of vital importance to understand. Just because students are getting it right, it doesn’t mean they’ve learnt it. 

https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/learning-vs-performance-a-distinction-every-educator-should-know-aa165a83a4f9

Adam Boxer talks about the advantages of using booklets, how student practice is incorporated and how guidance is faded over time. 

https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/booklets-how-i-use-them/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

To think about: how can we ensure students are practising the right things? What can we do to make sure students are truly learning and not just performing on the day?  

Curriculum Broader Themes: Embedding Equations Into The Curriculum

Adam Boxer goes into real depth about a way in which to embed equations and formulae into the curriculum to make them more manageable for students and to allow you to carefully build up their abilities.

  • 00:00:00 Welcome and introduction
  • 00:02:00 Outline
  • 00:03:40 What contributes to the challenge of an equation question?
  • 00:08:10 What is the current approach in a lot of schools? And why is it troublesome? What does cognitive science say we should do instead?
  • 00:19:56 How can we embed equations into the curriculum feasibly?
  • 00:22:30 Recall of equations
  • 00:25:45 Understanding what the equation means. Can you understand an equation before seeing the equation written down?
  • 00:26:40 Example of magnification
  • 00:31:45 Example of power
  • 00:42:35 Example of pressure
  • 00:50:00 Example of specific heat capacity
  • 01:02:22 Unit conversions – a long term approach
  • 01:04:38 Calculation systems
  • 01:08:50 Structuring question sets
  • 01:35:05 Summary

Adam mentions the go-bag if you are new to the application of cognitive science to the classroom.

Adam obviously loves his visualiser – this excellent twitter thread gives some of other the benefits of using one. If you would like to see more examples of Adam’s hands under the visualiser, his YouTube channel, Boxer’s shorts, has lots of examples of how he teaches certain topics.

This is the blog post containing the different calculation acronyms and Matt’s blog about the approach of rearranging first.

The CogSciSci module on how to write SLOP is a useful addition to what Adam talks about in the later part of the talk.

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