An email to Elizabeth Truss MP (waiting for a reply)

A very well put argument from Rachael Horsman, and one I agree with not just for maths but for all subjects. Despite trying to share practice and ideas within the departments I teach in, it seems that this sharing happens via a quick chat in the staff room or via email. Dedicated department and inter-department time to share good practice and ideas would help everyone improve and develop teaching and learning.

rachael horsman maths

Dear Ms Truss,

I am a Secondary Mathematics Specialist Leader of Education and was lucky enough to be amongst the group of teachers who travelled to Shanghai this January. I am very pleased to hear that you made it to Shanghai this week to see for your self how teachers and pupils work.

I am disappointed that several crucial facts seem to have been overlooked in the reports I have read about your visit so far.

Firstly, I agree that there are lessons to be learnt from the Shanghai model of education. I was thoroughly impressed by the professionalism and commitment of both pupils and teachers when I visited China (although I saw no teaching in Shanghai itself).

Teachers collaborate to produce lessons and worksheets of an extremely high quality. They carefully chose the best questions that contain a new idea or adaptation to a demonstrated problem. The worksheets quickly…

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Student Led SRE – an update

*UPDATE* – 03/03/2014

I have taught the first lessons, actually taught is probably the wrong word more facilitated the first lessons of this program and it has gone quite well. The students have responded positively and most have engaged with the more discussion based lessons. There are still a few who are reticent to speak up so I have started to think of ways to encourage them and build their confidence. One of the ways that I am trying is to relocate the class to a place we have in school called the “Snug”. The “Snug” is the TV room in the sixth form boarding house, so rather then sitting at classroom desks and facing the whiteboard they are sat facing each other on comfortable sofas and chairs. I am hoping that this environment might make it less of a “Lesson” almost and more of a discussion and sharing of ideas. The first lesson I am trying this with is the one where we are looking at the age of consent and the right time to have sex for the first time. As I don’t need the whiteboard  for this lesson and the students had ask that this be a discussion based lesson on their schemes of work, it seemed the ideal opportunity to try it out.

Also I have decided that in order to truly assess the impact of this idea to allow students to create their own scheme of work in SRE I need a control group who do not have that opportunity. So I have taken two groups of similar ability, one will set their own scheme of work and the other will just follow the one I set. I will then use AfL style techniques throughout the unit to assess how the students feel about the lessons, do they find them interesting? Are they happy with the activities that they are doing? What would they change about the scheme of work? This will then help me to analyse the results to see the impact of designing their own learning has on students……..tbc

Allowing students to work it out for themselves.

This young lady is extremely eloquent and funny, what she has to say really is well put and I have to agree with her, as adults we often forget that sometimes irrational thought and dreams can lead to amazing things.

I agree that often in lessons we become very restrictive in what we allow students to do or say in the lessons. Obviously there does need to be some restrictions otherwise there would be anarchy (although some of my lessons could be considered anarchy from an outside perspective), however I think that we do as teachers need to give the students some more freedom to explore their own ideas and creativity. We need to allow the students to develop their ideas and stop using the phrase “You can’t do that” when they ask “Is it Okay for me to …..?”. Instead we should be answering with “Try it and see if it works”.

So often I find that students in my lessons are afraid to try anything without checking with me first because they are afraid to fail or get it wrong, and I feel partially responsible for this as so often I catch myself telling students how to do something rather then letting them work it out for themselves. On the occasions where I have just let the students get on with the task and work it out for themselves (mostly because I had lost my voice entirely) I saw some very imaginative and unique problems solving skills.

With this in mind I have been trying to create more opportunities for students to be creative and problem solve within my lessons and schemes of work as I feel it is important that they are not only able to regurgitate facts and evaluation points but are able to find their own way through to an answer. In subjects such as mine where there is rarely a right or wrong answer but many different interpretations students often have difficulty with understanding that as long as they can explain themselves their opinion is the correct answer.

I am hoping that with more opportunities to be creative and more tasks where the students determine their own learning paths or final outcomes that they will become more confident in their own abilities and opinions. It will be slow going but I have confidence that the students and I will get there eventually. 

Student Led – Sex and Relationships Education (Yr9)

I have been teaching PSHE throughout my entire teaching career, mainly due to the fact that my PGCE was in Citizenship Education and the two subjects often go hand in hand. I do really enjoy teaching PSHE, the topics are interesting and varied and it gives me the room to try different things with my classes that I may be a little more reticent to try in an exam class. It was this freedom that has allowed me try a new approach to SRE with Year 9.

Often when I speak to teachers about teaching SRE they get this look of Oh God, Don’t make me teach THAT!”, I am the complete opposite, I love teaching it. Regardless of the year group or behaviour issues there might be, SRE gets all the students interested and engaged from the get go. I do make sure that there are very strict ground rules in place for these lessons and the students know that they will be enforced strictly and with serious repercussions.  I have only had a couple of students test me on this and they quickly learnt there were no second chances. I enforce this so strictly because I want the students to feel comfortable enough to have these discussions and ask these questions without fear of ridicule from their peers and to not to feel embarrassed if they aren’t sure or don’t know something.

We often here from students that they want more SRE in schools but they also want it to be relevant to them and what they feel they need information on, however they still want and need the structure of a more organised and planned lesson. Taking this on board I decided that I would let my year 9 students design their own bespoke scheme of work (including assessments) which I would then develop into lesson plans.

Today was the first lesson when I introduced this idea to the students (I will admit that this is a high achieving group but I intend to do this with my other groups as well) and the initially seemed a little sceptical that I would actually allow them to decide what we would look at but once I reassured them that yes in fact they were going to tell me what we would be looking at they got quite excited.

20140227_104612To start with I got them to think about what they understood SRE to mean. There is often an over emphasis on the Sex aspect of SRE, i.e. STI’s, contraception pregnancy etc. with little attention paid to the Relationships side of the program. So I got the students to create mindmaps using graffiti tables (which they also loved the idea of doing due to being able to write on tables – Thank you @mrgill again). However I think that in the next time I will try Venn Diagrams so that they can identify areas which cover both sex and relationships rather then seeing them as separate entities.

The next step was for the students to identify  and prioritise which areas they thought we needed to cover within our scheme of work. I got them to do this be writing down 6 key questions which could form discussion questions around which the lessons could be based.

I used an adaptation of the #5min Lesson Plan (Thank you @teachertoolkit) to get the Student Led SOWstudents to sketch out their ideas for the scheme of work and what key messages they wanted or thought should be promoted through the lessons. We talked about what an objective was and how to write an effective one that would be SMART.

Then in their groups they discussed what would be the best and most logical order to cover the discussion questions, what sort of activities they have enjoyed in previous lessons and other classes that they think would work well in in this unit, I also listed on the board what topic specific resources we had in the department (STI Giant Microbes, Placebo Kits for contraception and STI’s, The Purple Plastic Penis condom demonstration kit etc). I also got them to think about how they think the best way to assess this unit would be.

20140227_104530At the end of the lesson I took in all their ideas and have created a scheme of work that fits with their wants and needs. I am still going to be planning the individual lessons but it will based on their ideas and the activities that they want. In terms of assessment I am taking their ideas along with some of my own to create a Takeaway Menu Assessment (again thank you @teachertoolkit for the idea) so that the students can choose the format of their assessment to go along with the scheme of work that they themselves designed.


(Scheme of work is available via the Box.Net link)

I am sure that this scheme of work will change as we go through, where some topics require more or less time. I am hoping for a lot of discussion based work from the students using the questions that they initially asked, but this exercise has not only made it easier for me to plan this scheme but also gives the students ownership of it.

I will update as we go through, evaluating the process and detailing my adaptations as they happen. At present I am feeling quite confident about it all but we shall see………..

Random Name Generators

I love random name generators, whether they be digital or old-school because the students understand that it is pure chance if they are called on to answer a question or give feedback. This also gives a sense of excitement and mystery to the lesson.

There are lots of random name generators available both for the PC and as an app. Personally I prefer the app version as it doesn’t disrupt the lesson or require me too change whatever is being shown on the whiteboard at that time.

For the PC I have used both my own creation using PowerPoint. Using this version you can customize the spinner  or format to sort your purposes. In times past I have used cartoon characters with names as speech bubbles, I have used graffiti fonts so they look like a name is being sprayed on the wall. However the big problem with using PowerPoint is that you have to come out of what ever program you are using in order to use it, and it doesn’t take out the students who have already been selected, it can also be a pain to take out students who are absent.  To get around this I used to take in my little netbook to lessons just so that I didn’t have to come out of the program I was using on the main board. The issue with this was that I had to stand next to the machine in order to  stop and start the spinner and it isn’t the lightest of machines.

When this didn’t work I reverted back to the age old lolly stick routine. This again wasn’t the solution for me as I teach far too many different classes, in far too many different rooms. I found that my sets would get mixed up or I would forget to take them to the lesson.

My solution came when I  brought myself a Kindle Fire tablet and downloaded a random name generator. I always carry my kindle with me anyway (grab 5 mins here and there to read or listen to music) so to find apps which help me in the classroom are great. The great thing with this app is that it has 9 themes to choose from with sounds (my favorites are the popcorn and  fish). The App that I have gone with is an android app so could also have it on my phone if I wanted.

There are lots of great apps available for both android and ipad but once you find one that works for you it can add that little bit of excitement to the lesson and prevent the same people from contributing all the time.

Other ways I used the random name picker include creating groups for small group work, pairing students up for peer assessment so that they are not always marking their friends work, even deciding who is going to collect or give out resources for me. 

Using social media for CPD and Networking

The teaching profession and social media seem to have had a bit of a love/hate relationship in my opinion. We have all heard the stories of teachers being caught doing things they shouldn’t on social media sites.


How teachers conduct themselves as a private individual on social media can have a knock on effect into their professional life. Many of my teachers friends have used pseudonyms or nicknames on both Facebook and twitter and have used other pictures rather then a photo as their avatar in order to prevent identification by students or parents. They have their privacy settings so high that no one can find them with a simple search however things still seem to get out.

This post however is not about the dangers of teachers using social media or how to remain safe online, there are plenty of good articles and blog posts out there already. This is in fact a post about using social media as a way of networking with other teachers, sharing resources and generally getting support and advice from people who understand both the profession and the pressures that teachers are under.

When I started putting together the Hectic Teacher resource, it was initially  going to be a hard copy resource to use within my own school and departments as a way of sharing ideas. It was only when I took a 6 month break from teaching that it expanded and became bit of a monster. Once I had the manuscript written in draft (I am still editing and adding to it, not sure I will ever be totally happy with it) I began to think about how to get it out there to teachers. I was reluctant to use social media such as twitter and Facebook because of my own fears of rejection and ridicule from other teachers despite my professional experience and the fact that all of the activities I was promoting I had used in my own lessons.

For the past 5 years I have been part of a group that first started as a TES


forum thread and later moved on to Facebook. We are all teachers from various backgrounds, primary and secondary, private and state and internationally as well. It was this group that reminded me that teaching is a community that supports and nurtures those within it. This group has in fact been a major lifesaver for me, not only have being the driving force behind me getting the  “The Hectic Teacher” finished (mostly) and out into the big wide world but they have also been there with (virtual) hugs and sympathy when things haven’t gone well or even to share in celebration when they have. We have shared resources, stories, lesson ideas and strategies but more then that we have become a close group of friends who meet up a couple of times a year – although we have not yet managed to get the whole group together.

teslogoI was introduced to the TES forums and resources early on in my career and training. My mentor in my first training school told me that there is no point reinventing the wheel all the time and with a little patience and careful looking you can find almost anything you need online somewhere. Teachers on the whole are happy to share resources and offer advice and TES is a great way to do that. I have posted many of my resources on there and received some great feedback from other teachers. I do however believe that it is good practice to not just take resources but to also share your own or even just your adaptations to resources you have taken – with credit given to the original author of course.

When it came to Twitter I was a little dubious to be honest. I couldn’t see how it would work with only 140 characters and no way of sharing files. twitter_logo1-CopyHowever I was so very wrong. In the first month that @HecticTeacher has been on Twitter I have come across so many wonderful people who not only willingly share ideas but actually show the work that their pupils had been producing (not the students themselves obviously). This ability to show and model the work, to me is fantastic as it shows that not only does the activity work in a real life setting but also demonstrates one possible outcome.

ukedchatIn addition to the hundreds of teachers sharing their ideas and resources, I have been introduced to @ukedchat; a weekly opportunity for educators to discuss various aspects of the profession, including subject specials which allow the sharing of subject specific ideas and the discussion of subject specific issues. I have taken so many new ideas from these as well as shared some of my own.


@teachertoolkit is also a great resource, not just for ideas which are fantastic, my personal favourite has to be the 5 minute lesson plans which has made my planning so much easier, but also for debating issues in education, not only that but @teachertoolkit also offers online CPD webinars which look great and I can’t wait to take part in one.

In line with this there has been a major growth in “Webinars” recently, these online CPD opportunities mean that you no longer have to take a day


out of school (which most school balk at due to cover costs) but can in fact be done in the comfort of your own home or classroom. It also means that schools can have more then one staff member in attendance without massive cost (depending on the provider) or curriculum damage of having more then one member of staff out. I have taken part in a couple of “webinars” specifically getting examination feedback for my A Level courses and have found them to be incredibly useful especially as both myself and the other teacher who I share the groups with could attend. I also found it so much more relaxed taking part in my own home office then having the major stress of travelling (I have yet to pass my driving test) and setting cover.

Overall my fears and doubt about the use of social media for networking and sharing ideas has been totally put to rest, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or on TES, the reaction I have received to Hectic Teacher and my ideas has been very positive and I have been inspired by the many wonderful teachers out there willing to share their practice, ideas and resources. I am even promoting their use to the rest of my departments as a way of inspiring our teaching and promoting more creative lessons. 

Finally I want to thank all those who have given me such a positive first foray into the scary world of social media and networking.

Comic Strips

Comic strips are a great activity, that can be used in a number of different ways and a have a number of different purposes. I tend to use them in two main ways and that is to consolidate understanding and the other is to plan an essay answer which requires a balanced answer. Whatever the use, comic strips are a great way of differentiating for those students who have weaker literacy skills.

The first way I have used comic strips is as a consolidation activity, whether it be in History where I want to consolidate learning on a particular event, or in Sociology where I have used them to consolidate on different theories, this sort of activity allows students to show their understanding without having to worry about their literacy skills or their ability to use key terminology as the focus of this activity is a visual representation rather then a coherent piece of prose.

It is pretty self explanatory when  using comic strips as for an event in history and I have used them for an actual event as well as to get the students to think about how things would have been different if certain events hadn’t happened or had a different outcome. For example in Year 7 history I have used this activity to get the students to think about how different things would have been had Harold Hardrada won at Stamford Bridge, or is Edward the Confessor had had a son to take the throne. In year 8 I have used it for cementing understanding of the events of the Gunpowder Plot.

I have also seen this activity used in other subjects such as MFL to map out a conversation, Science to show a process and in P.E. to demonstrate a skill or plan a warm up or drill. It is a great universal activity especially for those with low levels of English.

In terms of essay planning comic strips can be used to identify counter talk it outarguments or plan out a response that requires a balanced view. The way this works is by having two people in each box who “talk out” the main points of the essay, each providing one side of the argument. I used this activity with a Year 8 PSHCEE class who are low ability in English to map out an essay asking if 13 year olds should be allowed to have Facebook or not. It worked really well as I had the students pair up based on which side of the argument they would argue in their essay. they then discussed for a few minutes why they had chosen which side before collaborating on the comic strip. This gave some of the weaker students more confidence in what they wanted to say and they were then able to concentrate more on the structure of the essay.

I have also used this in A Level lessons for students to identify criticisms of different theories using alternative theories. This works really well to help students understand how one theory can be used to criticism another as well as help them make links between theories. As well as helping some students to identify the evaluation of the point they are making.

I do often have to stress to the students that I am not looking at their artistic ability and to prove it I show them my own version as I am one of the most inartistic people ever.

If you have access to IT this can be done using a website called it is free to sign up and has a stock of images that the students can manipulate to create their cartoons.

I have added the outlines I use to for download.

Graffiti Tables

I can’t take any of the credit of this idea but personally I think it is brilliant and all due credit and awesomeness  points go to


@mrgill who posted an activity he had done with his key stage 4 History groups on his twitter account using what I have called Graffiti Tables and I just had to try it. As usual when I get a new idea for anywhere the first group it gets tried out on is one of my A Level classes. The reason for this is that they are a smaller class (6 in A2 and 16 in AS) which means I have better control over the situation then if I were to try it with my Yr7 History class of 28. Also a lot of the time A Level lessons can be quite didactic so it is great to find ways to make their lessons as creative as main school lessons.

I do suggest that you make sure that the tables in your classroom are okay to be written on with whiteboard pens, there are some special tables you can get which have whiteboard tops but there are ways of doing this sort of activity without having to completely refurbish your classroom. One alternative is to use the static whiteboards and lay them over the tables to cover them. Or alternatively you can see if you are able to write directly on the tables. I am lucky that the tables in my A Level room allow me to write directly on them and the whiteboard ink comes off with a bit of kitchen cleaner.


I really like using and creating mindmaps with students, it allows them to get the information out of their heads and organise it without having to worry about sentence structure. It also allows for collaborative learning, allowing for students to share ideas and information in a more informal way. The problem I find with mind mapping is the big bits of paper that the students work on and what to do with them after the lesson. I don’t have a lot of space for storage nor do I have a lot of display space considering I don’t really have my own room but share 23! So this idea is great for me as all I need to carry with me is a set of whiteboard pens, some kitchen cleaner and kitchen roll. It is also environmentally friendly and budget friendly making most bursars and budget holders happy.


In the lesson today I got my year 12 students to mind map the internal and external factors which affect educational achievement by class. They put two classroom desks together using one side for the internal and one side for the external. They then had to add information using the key sociologists and key concepts I had on the board as well as their own notes and reading.

My year 12 students can be somewhat apathetic about doing anything and often prefer to be lectured to but I have finally found an activity which had the whole group engaged and working collaboratively to achieve an objective. At the end of the time given they had produced some great work which we photographed for their notes (I put copies on the school VLE as well for them to access if they want to.They also used these mind maps to create essay plans which I then photocopied for their own notes.



It was one of those lessons that you just wanted someone to walk in for a learning walk or random 5 minute observation. All the students were engaged, working and on task. They were showing collaborative learning as well as reflective learning. It was fantastic even if I do say so myself!

My version of a Flipped classroom

I came across this idea through discussion with some other teacher friends of mine and had to go away and Google it in order to find out what it truly meant as it sounded like a quite a different and exciting way to do things.

In my Googling I found that the idea of the flipped classroom was the brain child of two American teachers: Berman and Sams. They had found software online which allowed them to record their PowerPoint presentations with sound and began doing so for students who had missed their class so they didn’t fall behind. This then led to the idea that all students could do the “learning” element of the lesson outside of the classroom which then allowed for more creative collaborative learning to happen in the classroom to consolidate on the knowledge they had learnt for homework. This also meant that the teacher was able to give more personalised time to the students in class to make sure that they were clear on the content.

I really liked this idea but had my reservations as (1) I am not good with podcasting or filming myself, (2) what would happen if the students didn’t do the required reading or preparation before the lesson? And (3) wouldn’t it just look like I was being lazy in not actually TEACHING content? But I still wanted to try it as I could see the merits of the model for certain aspects of the A Level Sociology course as well as helping the students become more independent in their studies and preparing them for the self-reliance of University study.

I got over my first reservation by realising that there are plenty of teachers out there who don’t mind filming lectures or creating podcasts which were fantastically put together, so instead of reinventing the wheel I chose to use the resources that were already available via YouTube and other video hosting sites. Of course I checked all the videos before posting the links on the school VLE to ensure that they were in fact relevant and appropriate. I also posted links to various revision sites and resources that had plethora of information for the students to use.

Secondly the whole point of this was to get the students to be more independent and take more control of their learning, so although this was a risk I thought that it was worth it as after the first flipped session they would realise that without doing the required preparation they might not be able to participate in the lessons and that I would not be “Teaching” them the content they would realise the need to do the preparation.

The final fear that the students of my HoD would think I was being lazy was put to rest when I realised that a lot of preparation goes into setting up a flipped classroom situation, Not only do I need to find the resources for the students but also set tasks to ensure that they are getting the right information from the resources and then I also needed to set up the consolidation activities that we would do in class. Some of these would be past examination questions but I also needed to have other activities which would allow me to help them supplement the information they had found and correct any misunderstandings.

I decided that the best group to try this with were my year 13 Sociology students when looking at Theories of Crime and Deviance (SCLY4). In the past I have taught this using a lecture and didactic method which worked but was boring for both me and the students, and this academic year I wanted to have more creative and engaging lessons so was looking for a way to enhance the creativity and active learning of this unit. It was in my research for this that I came across the idea of flipped classrooms. I wasn’t completely taken with all elements of the flipped classroom so have adapted it to suit the needs of my class and my own need for control.

The adaptions I made including providing the students with a knowledge grid which they had to fill in whilst watching the video clips and researching the different theories. This allowed them to organise their notes and also allowed me to see that they had in fact been doing the preparation I had set. I also gave them an outline of what we would be looking at in each lesson so that they could break down the preparation into more sizeable chunks. Once in the lessons I used various consolidation activities such as essay planning and peer marking, gap fills; card sorts and mind maps. These then allowed me to work collaboratively with the students to fill in any gaps or correct misunderstandings. Throughout this time they also had a more formal homework set which consisted of past exam questions which I then marked and fed back on in order to practice exam skills.

After two sessions working like this it does seem to have worked and the students in my class have quite enjoyed the opportunity to do these more active and creative consolidation activities rather than didactic spoon-feeding. We still have 1 double lesson to go in order to finish off and then a timed assessment which will really show the success of this style of teaching but so far so good. I am also acutely aware that this sort of teaching would not work for all subjects and content but for something that is normally quite a dry and didactic unit it provides a more independent and active alternative.


Links to Flipped Lesson resources:

Consolidation Activity Ideas:

  • Visually represent
  • Mind mapping
  • Essay marking and annotating
  • Card sorts
  • Gap fills
  • Quizzes



PLTS – independent enquirers, self managers, creative thinkers 

ECM – Enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution

AFL – Active Involvement, Differentiation, Self Assessment

SEAL – Motivation, Self Awareness