No 50. Using Past Papers for Effective Revision

Image from here

Using past papers are often advertised to our pupils as the key to success. I have often been curious as what is the best use of these papers. It would seem that pupils rarely complete full past papers despite wanting many of them. Do they know how to use them? In my mind the best revision is by using past papers, mark schemes and examiners reports together – taking one question at a time.

I recently asked an educational forum on the best use of past papers. I have compiled all responses here.

Using Past Papers for Effective Revision



No 49. Monitor your steps each day

I am fortunate to work in a school with a large campus. This means quite a bit of walking from one building to another. After reading Michael Mosley’s Fast Exercise I learnt that the the optimum number of steps a day for health and fitness is 10,000. As I didn’t have a clue how many steps I actually I decided to invest in a Fitbit. At first I thought this number of steps was huge.

Source of Image

This tiny little device is excellent and encourages you to walk more in the day. You can slip it into your pocket and forget about it all day. I was pleasantly surprised that I was already doing in excess of 10,000 steps. I may try set myself a goal of 200 hundred extra a day.

How many steps do you do in a day?

No 48. Make better powerpoint slides using an assertion-evidence structure

If I ask a class to produce a presentation on a topic we are covering then students will on mass create slides with the following traps.

  1. Too many words on the slide which they will probably read as the feel supported.
  2. Many, many bullet points all aligned vertically which again the students will proceed to read through.
  3. A link to a youtube clip which will probably not load due to a slow network or a software compatibility glitch.
  4. Slides will contain writing pasted directly from internet sites.
  5. Diagrams and images often unrelated to the main message of the topic.

This list could go on and on……….. and all of these make for very dull presentations.

Boring class

After hitting the inspired button on the TED ipad app I came across a lecturer at Penn state university that gave a talk titled “talk nerdy to me” by Melissa Marshall. Meilssa describes herself a ‘crusader against bullet points’ and an evangelist for effective slide design.

Basically she suggests that the most effective slides are ones that the title is a single sentence displaying the key idea and the rest of the slide contains images, key diagrams and equations etc that provide visual evidence.

In the words of Melissa,

‘A small, but growing, revolution is occurring in the way that engineers and scientists design their presentation slides. This revolution advocates alternatives (based on multimedia learning principles) that challenge PowerPoint’s default structure of a topic-phrase headline supported by a bullet list of subtopics. One such alternative is the assertion-evidence structure, in which a sentence headline states the main message of the slide. That message assertion is then supported not by a bullet list, but by visual evidence: photos, drawings, diagrams, graphs, films, or equations’

Slides created this way follow a assertion-evidence structure.

So next time you are creating a presentation for you class or you want your class to do some presentation work then think about this structure. I have had had a go here. Please take a look.

AQA Force and Motion

No 47. Is IGCSE better than GCSE? Discuss!

This is not really a post of any substance but a question. There seems to be a movement to IGCSE in many independent schools in the UK in a range of subjects. Equally some schools that moved to IGCSE have moved back to GCSE. Is one better than the other? I would love to find out!

No 46. Hold a meeting from a distance

meeting remote

With faster broadband speeds and easy access to the internet there is really no need to hold meetings in school. At the end of a long day or crammed into a lunchtime is often not the best time to hold an important meeting. A novel approach may be to schedule it for an evening when everyone is at home when they are more relaxed and fresher. The website makes this all possible. Its free to join although you do have to pay to get rid of adverts and allows you to hold meetings remotely. You can upload presentations on which you could have the agenda and you can communicate to each other using your computers microphone or by simply writing messages. It may also take away some of the confrontation away that can exist when staff are tired and irritable. You can also record the meeting too -dangerous!.  Give it a go and see what happens. Please comment freely. If you already doing this using a different site or piece of software then please let me know.


The photo in this post is from here.

No 45. Join the Un-schooling discussion

There is a really interesting community being created over at This blog has been created by Leo Babauta who has had much success with zenhabits. There are some great articles on unschooling already been written. Basically unschooling throws all the rules of school out of the door. Here are some initial rules.

  1. No one tells you what to learn. Instead of some administrator setting a curriculum, based on what the committee thinks a young person will need to know in a decade from now (unknowable), the student picks for himself.
  2. No one tells you how to learn. Instead of everyone basically cramming information down their heads, and spitting it back out on tests, the student can figure things out for herself, be creative, play, do projects, anything.
  3. There is no authority but the unschooler. When the schooler follows the authority of the teacher his whole life, he never learns to think for himself, solve problems, decide what’s important, deal with uncertainty. As an adult, the schooler will then feel much safer having an authority telling him what to do — a boss in a regular job. An unschooler, who has been her own authority all her life, is better prepared for the real world.
  4. You don’t have to learn at the same pace as everyone else. My son was bored in school because the stuff he was learning was too easy, but his classmates learned at a different speed. That’s fine for them, but why should he be forced to learn slowly and be bored? Why should someone who doesn’t learn as quickly feel stupid if he falls behind?
  5. You don’t learn a data set. Regular school decides what a kid should know by the time she’s 18 … but who decides this? How is it possible to know what the world will be like in 10 or 15 years? Who is so good at predicting the future that we should follow his predictions? Learning a data set is useless, because much of that will be obsolete. Even learning a skillset is mostly useless. Instead, learn how to learn anything, and then no matter what the world is like or what the jobforce requires in a decade from now, you’ll be able to adapt and learn it.
  6. You learn that learning is fun. For me, school mostly drove out the joy of learning, and taught me that learning is boring. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned how fun learning is, and this discovery has led to incredible things. Why make learning boring? It should be play! It should be joyful!
  7. You learn to deal with uncertainty. If you’re told what to do your whole life, then you never have to doubt if you’re doing the right thing. But as an entrepreneur, there’s never that certainty. You never know for sure if you’re doing the right thing. So I think many people avoid starting their own business, because of fear of uncertainty. If you’ve dealt with uncertainty your whole life (unschooling), then this is not so scary as an adult.
  8. You learn how to motivate yourself. Kids in school have to be forced to do work they don’t like. This means many of them never learn how to motivate themselves. If no one is forcing you, then what? Unschoolers deal with this on a daily basis, and while they often fail (who doesn’t), they also learn more about themselves than most kids do.

Why don’t you join the discussion – it will really make you think about your own teaching methods and question if we as classroom teachers are doing the right thing.


The image above is from here.

No 44. Track your time for a week

It is quite important to evaluate your time management in a busy job such as teaching. There are various ways of doing this but using this table is a pretty good start. Make a conscious effort to fill it out for a week and at the end of the week see where you could have saved time. Let me know how you get on. If you have any other tips for time management in teaching then please comment.

time managment


The image above is from here.

No 43. How to have a healthy school day – part 1

A day at work can be very stressful. Here are a few tips to help you cope with the stress. These are only my suggestions so I would welcome some from you. Please comment freely.

  1. Always have water with you. Take regular sips throughout the day. Keep well hydrated and avoid reaching for coffee as your drink of choice.
  2. Avoid negative people. Teachers can moan and groan of allowed and will often be keen to give you are ‘good listening to’. Try to sit away from these time sappers and find positive people.
  3. Lunch can be lethal. Don’t take too many carbs such as rice and white potatoes and help yourself to plenty of green vegetables. Carbs are bound to be on offer in abundance but be careful. You may not do enough exercise to carb carb load.
  4. Keep your hands out of the biscuit box – usually staff rooms or departments have a obligatory tin of sweet confectionary. My advice that these will put weight on by stealth. Stick to one or too and avoid eating in parallel.
  5. Try to go for a walk at lunchtime. Make a point of going for a short 15 minutes walk. A bit of exercise during the day will do you good.

biscuit tin

The image above is from here.


No 42. Use Fermi Questions in your Lessons


The man pictured above is Enrico Fermi. He was an Italian experimental and theoretical physicist.

He was famous for being able to calculate the answers to estimation questions quickly in his head.

Fermi questions can be used in the classrooms to develop thinking skills and to encourage higher ordered thinking above the curriculum.

For instance in a Geography lesson on the water cycle you could ask questions such as:-

  1. How much water is there on Earth?
  2. What if there is no water?
  3. Where does our water come from?

Once children start thinking through these questions they really start to have deep understanding of the topic. Fermi questions are a great way to develop curiosity.

In Maths you could ask questions such as

  1. How many Maths lessons are taking place in the UK today?
  2. How long would it take to count to a million?
  3. How many hairs are there on your are?

Students can also think of their questions.

I also recommend the book “Are you smart enough to work at google?” for a whole host of this type of question. If your school library does not have a copy then ordering one in is a must.

thinking child


The images in this post are from here and here.

No 41. Ken Robinson Paperclip

This 3.30 minutes video will really make you think about your teaching this new academic year. It’s all about divergent thinking and the idea that the students have developed how not to think by traditional teaching they have had in the past. It uses the example of a paperclip and poses the question “What could this paperclip be used for”? There are some really interesting ideas in this clip.

See what you think and please comment freely.