Take a look at our tips for celebrating World Wildlife Day with your students!
As the new year rolls around, it’s natural that we all start thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. A chance for a fresh start and revitalized energy. Unfortunately, we can all be guilty of setting resolutions that aren’t quite realistic, and while dreams of grand changes for the year ahead can feel inspiring, we can’t always follow through. To help make this year different, here are some more realistic New Year’s resolutions for 2022…
1. Declutter, refresh, and reorganize.
When is there a better time to refresh the classroom, if not in January? You could donate some of your old stuff and get rid of anything broken or completely worn out. Reorganize your files and ask yourself what you really need to keep. You don’t need to do it all in a day—try to set yourself a task one week, another the next, and perhaps take advantage of the post-holiday sales to buy some new storage. You’ll be surprised at how much an organized space can positively affect your mindset.
2. Drink enough water, and make time for a proper lunch!
We commend teachers for always putting their students’ needs first, but to be at your best you also need to take care of your own needs. We know that you’re busy, and some days it can be hard to find time to even go to the toilet, but staying hydrated keeps us healthy and helps your body work better.
It’s recommended that adults drink 2 (yes, 2!) liters of water per day. To help you get closer to this goal, why not set an alarm or buy a bottle with time markings to remind you to take a few extra sips of water than you usually would.
You also need fuel in your tank for it to run, so if you struggle to make time for a hearty lunch during your working day, why not set the goal of starting your day with a good breakfast and make sure you have your favorite snacks at hand for when you do get the chance to take a break.
3. Silence the inner critic.
That little voice at the back of your head nitpicking at everything you do… tell it to be quiet. We criticize ourselves far too easily and often expect absolute perfection, but it just isn’t realistic. You don’t need to be perfect all of the time (or even any of the time)—you’re allowed to make mistakes or have a bad day and know that you’re still a great teacher. Be kind to yourself!
4. Celebrate the little moments.
Celebrating the little moments—yours and your students—is so important. Sure, it’s great when we have an important observation, and it goes spectacularly, but what about those every day aha! moments? A student understands that tricky concept they’ve been struggling with, or—and it really can be as small as this—you managed to finish your morning coffee while it was still hot! Celebrate all of those moments because they’re all worthy of celebration.
5. Remind yourself often why you became a teacher.
It’s easy to get caught up in all of the stress of being a teacher and lose the passion and drive that motivated you to teach in the first place. Why not try writing down all of the reasons you became a teacher in the first place or make a note of things that make you smile in the classroom. Find any way to remind yourself why you started and what inspires you to keep going.
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Did you know that after listening to a lecture for 10–15 minutes, students start to disengage from a lesson?1 Student-centered learning is a pedagogical approach that moves away from this more traditional method of teaching—where teacher instruction is the focus—to putting student interests first. Let’s take a closer look at some key reasons you should integrate student-centered learning into your classroom…
1. Student-centered classrooms foster student autonomy
In student-centered classrooms, students take ownership of their own learning—taking an active role in decision making, goal setting, and lesson planning. Of course, this doesn’t mean that students can choose not to participate in math or geography if they don’t find those subjects interesting. Instead, teachers should find ways to intertwine individual interests with the key learning points of a lesson. In essence, the educator is no longer a lecturer but a facilitator, constantly assessing how they can better create learning opportunities.2
In practice, it can be as simple as giving your students a few options on how a topic could be taught and taking a class vote. Alternatively, where possible, plan a few different activities that approach the topic from different angles and ask your students which they would like to take part in. Give them the choice and autonomy to let you know how they learn best.
2. Students learn to communicate and collaborate
Communication and collaboration is at the core of all student-centered classrooms. As students are encouraged to voice their needs, they are learning how to effectively communicate with their teachers and peers. The classroom becomes a space for problem-solving and working together—students aren’t reprimanded for asking questions, they’re encouraged to.
3. Student-centered learning approaches can increase positive attitudes in the classroom
It’s much easier to absorb information and even find learning fun when the relevance of what is being taught is clear. How can we expect young people to stay positive and focused in the classroom if, frankly, they’re bored and disengaged? Student-centered learning encourages students to be intrinsically motivated, explore real-world problems that relate to their own lives and recognize that their ideas are worthy of respect.3 The result is a classroom full of students who are excited to learn, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
4. Students develop better resilience
It can be remarkably unmotivating to feel as though we aren’t succeeding, even as adults. Now, imagine how this must feel to a young person, in an environment where they know they’re supposed to be learning, watching their peers excel while perceiving themselves to be a failure. Unfortunately, this is commonplace in today’s classrooms—where the emphasis on summative assessment strategies can result in pupils comparing themselves with one another.4
Feedback in student-centered classrooms centers around formative assessment—for example, ongoing feedback and goal-setting—enabling students to identify gaps in their own knowledge and understand where they need to develop. An abundance of evidence has shown that this type of assessment cultivates long-term resilience as the students learn that, whether or not their work is correct, it is part of their learning process.5
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Tell us about yourself.
My name is Paul Downie. I’m a biology teacher based in Glasgow, where I’ve been faculty head of science. I’m currently on secondment developing West OS [part of the National e-Learning Offer in Scotland providing recorded video lessons created by teachers] and the creator of the Higher Biology Podcast.
You have just won the Royal Society of Biology’s UK Biology Teacher of the Year Award – the first Scottish teacher to have won. Can you tell us about the award, and why you won?
The award seeks to identify and celebrate the UK’s leading secondary teachers. For me, it provided an opportunity to reflect on my practice and share the work that I’ve been involved in over recent years. Hopefully, that work has played an important role in educating and inspiring the next generation of biologists – it’s not an award that I could have won without being surrounded by some fantastic colleagues.
What made you decide to be a biology teacher?
I like my subject, I’m passionate about it, but the biggest thing was that I wanted to leave work at the end of the day – or week – and feel like I’d made a difference. There is a lot of hard work involved in teaching, but it’s a special career, in that you get an opportunity to make a difference to others every single day, and I don’t think that there are many jobs that can give you that feeling.
Can you tell us about your teaching philosophy?
Primarily, my teaching philosophy is to enthuse young people about the subject. To ensure they understand why we’re learning something and why it’s relevant to their life. We need our young people to leave school as both responsible and informed citizens, equipped to participate in debates around global issues which will impact their lives and also to have an understanding of the world they live in.
You took a class of students on an expedition to the Galapagos a few years ago. What gave you the inspiration to do this and what was the primary goal of the trip?
I was lucky enough when studying at the University of Dundee to participate in a research expedition to Trinidad led by Professor Steve Hubbard. It had a big impact on my studies and the direction that I took after that.
It was an incredible experience. It allowed me, at the time, to play a very small part in what I believe is now the largest data set of its kind, looking at the survival rate between tropical and temperate bird species. I always said that if I had the opportunity to give pupils even a little taste of that experience, it was something I’d try to do.
A young person in an S3 class had asked the question “could we go on a school trip to Galapagos?” and the rest of the class laughed, but the thought in my head was “why not?”
Two years of preparation, two years of fundraising and a lot of hard work by the students and everyone else who was involved, and we got the Galapagos. We wouldn’t have been able to have that experience if it hadn’t been for a range of partners, all of whom played a big role in supporting the trip and we were incredibly grateful for that support, especially our fantastic expedition shirts which were provided by Twig.
Any advice you would give to teachers planning on undertaking such a big trip in the future?
It’s certainly going to be more challenging, given the ongoing pandemic, but what I would say is that you don’t have to travel across the world to find excellent learning opportunities. It was a fabulous trip and a fabulous experience, but there are loads of great places to visit in Scotland, with amazing learning experiences, right on our back doorstep.
Tell us about The Higher Biology Podcast, and the inspiration behind starting it?
I created the Higher Biology Podcast during the first COVID-19 lockdown, really as a response to my own frustration and trying to be able to deliver a more engaging learning experience for young people at that point. Myself and my wife listened to a lot of podcasts, and I started wondering if it was possible to produce something with educational value and add depth to their learning.
There was a lot of learning [for me] as I went and a bit of DIY, but it was good fun, and hopefully it has provided young people a platform to be able to access really interesting and fantastic subject experts from across the planet to add a little bit of depth and insight into different areas of the higher course, which has been really exciting.
One of my own students summed it up really well, saying it’s far more interesting than just listening to me talk.
You’ve been a Twig user for a long time. What attracted you to the program?
The quality of the videos on Twig are excellent, simple as that.
How do you use Twig in your lessons?
I’ve used Twig in lots of different ways. The materials can be really good for putting a learning point into context, sharing as part of an example in a lesson, or summarising a piece of learning. They can also be useful for supporting revision as well.
There’s a lot of different ways you can use the videos, depending on what they are. I’ve certainly utilised the heart dissection videos, for example – the class can do a live dissection along with the video and we just stop and pause it on the projector and it gives a really clear visual explanation of the steps involved in the process. Then we might bring the class together to discuss different bits and have a closer look at what we’re doing, and then break back into pairs to do the dissection and get that hands-on practical experience.
You’re also a regular Twig Science Reporter user. What do you like about the news updates?
The quality of the weekly Twig Science Reporter updates are fab. They give really good weekly topical news stories and they never fail to capture the imagination and interest of my classes, particularly in the BGE.[I use them] at the end or the start of the week to stimulate a little bit of conversation around topical science stories that are in the news. Equally, I’ve found myself using them in assemblies or in other circumstances with larger groups of young people to take that 3, 4, 5 minute spot in the day and just focus on some different stories from around the world and use it as a stimulus to spark some curiosity and discussion.
What is a piece of advice that you would give to young people who want to go into a career in teaching?
If you are enthusiastic about your subject and you’re passionate about it, and you’re looking for a career that you can make a difference in, then there is no better thing than teaching. There’s a lot of hard work, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
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Phenomena-based learning (PhenoBL) has been in the spotlight recently. First popularized due to Finland’s decision to revolutionize their curriculum in 2016, this buzzword is back on everyone’s lips again. This time, it’s in connection to the Next Generation Science Standards. We decided to demystify exactly what phenomenon-based learning is, and why it’s becoming increasingly popular.
Finland’s Phenomenal Institute says that in phenomena-based learning and teaching, “holistic real-world phenomena provide the starting point for learning. The phenomena are studied as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects”.
In simpler words, PhenoBL is a method of understanding a phenomenon—an observable event—using various methods and perspectives, which may often overlap. PhenoBL takes a broad, multi-faceted look at events and occurrences happening in the real world, such as climate change, migration, or even the European Union. Looking at these subjects from a number of different angles helps the students to truly understand the workings of natural and societal events. We’ve created a quick shortlist of all the features of PhenoBL to give you a quick overview of what it means in terms of teaching in the classroom:
- Getting real: The real world is the bedrock of PhenoBL—providing a much-needed starting point that is repeated at every stage. Students and teachers choose to focus on a real-world phenomena: rain, space travel, or perhaps something problematic, like soil erosion. Students study a phenomenon that interests them, and use scientific enquiry and problem-solving skills with the aim of understanding it and demystifying it.
- Question and more questions: PhenoBL thrives on curiosity, and so students are encouraged to question what is around them. It’s not a revolutionary concept. Centuries ago, Socrates used a similar method of questioning to guide his students—in order to find the right answers, they had to know how to ask the right questions. PhenoBL echoes this approach, prioritizing how over why in order to inspire students to make observations.
- Contextualize: Phenomenon-based learning builds tangible connections between curriculum theory and the real world, but it also serves to link the various, separate subjects that students learn in schools. For example, the Egyptian pyramids display an acute knowledge of physics engineering, both of which require precise, complex calculations. Similarly, the study of fossils and sedimented craters—a perfect mix of geography and science—have helped scientists come to understand the Earth’s biodiversity millions of years ago.
- Change in a teacher’s role: PhenoBL recasts the teacher’s role, changing them from a provider of knowledge to a guide that helps students find knowledge on their own. This might initially be a slightly uncomfortable proposition for both teachers and students—watching students struggle prompts many teachers to want to jump in with the answer. But stick with the altered lesson structure: the aim is still to achieve learning goals.
- Other skills: The beauty of PhenoBL is that it also integrates the learning of important social skills, such as clear communication and the ability to function in a team. PhenoBL also encourages the use of other pedagogy models: project-based learning, integrated-learning, and inquiry-based learning, to name just a few.
So do we really need PhenoBL? Absolutely! In a world that is changing rapidly, PhenoBL lays the foundation for truly preparing the next generation to think and act like real-world scientists. PhenoBL allows students to own the learning process, transforming them from passive participants within education to active learners. What’s more, PhenoBL goes a step further in addressing the STEM crisis by combining it with the creativity of the arts, giving the next generation a rounded, holistic education.
Want to find out how PhenoBL works with our products? Contact us today.
Educational institutes around the world use assessment to measure student performance and learning outcomes, with international assessments such as PISA gaining increasing popularity. Much debate has taken place about the genuine value of assessment, from primary assessments to international tests like PISA. So, is testing really helpful to students? Or does it get in the way of learning? We decided to investigate.
What is assessment and why do we need it?
Often, assessment is confused with testing. Testing is just one form of assessment. Students can also be assessed by various methods such as project-based learning and phenomenon-based learning.
Assessment is an important part of education, helping policymakers and industry thought leaders determine whether curriculum goals are being met. Assessment is the baseline against which decisions about learning outcomes, educational policies, curriculum standards and, yes, even funding are made. In short, its importance hinges on the fact that it provides measurable results.
Is assessment helpful?
While assessment is invaluable to policymakers and educators, the real question stands: is it helpful to students and teachers? The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:
- Assessment helps educators determine if learning goals are being met.
- Assessment helps us understand the efficiency of the latest pedagogies and teaching methods.
- Assessment identifies students who are struggling academically, allowing schools and educators to provide them with extra support.
- Schools need support too. Assessment can help policymakers to identify schools that need extra funding for professional development or classroom supplies etc. For example, reports show that only 19% of low-income students met the ACT test benchmarks.
- Assessment also helps teachers develop achievement goals when planning their lessons.
So when does assessment become a hindrance?
The biggest concern with assessment is the competitive pressure nations put on their schools and teachers to get better scores. When educators and nations begin to use test results as a source of competition rather than growth, they unwittingly skew the basic purpose of assessing students, which is to evaluate their progress and support them in overcoming their weaknesses.
Another trend stemming from international testing is the tendency to blame teachers for poor test outcomes. Teachers form the backbone of educational systems, often working long hours beyond their working days to help support students. The purpose of tests like PISA ought to be to ultimately support teachers and help them manage their workloads. However, parental and social expectations often lead to criticism of teaching styles or methods, casting doubt on teachers’ ability to do their jobs well. This, in turn, translates into teachers quitting their jobs and/or a drop in teacher recruitment.
Assessment can work incredibly well when it is used to evaluate learning goals and progression. It only becomes a hindrance when it is used to bring down teacher morale and put pressure on schools to compete with other others around the world.