Category Archives: Classroom

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 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 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 40. Conduct a Work Audit as a Department

If you are a Head of Department then you will probably want to devise a method to ensure that standards are being met with things like the whole school marking policy. There are various ways of doing this but I recommend a collaborative approach. The method of snooping in pupils exercise books to make judgments about teachers and pupils will only create hostility and friction. No one wants to feel like they are being watched. I would hope schools have moved on from this approach.

checking marking

This image is from here

We have devised a form that can be used to illicit discussion during departmental meetings. Ask you staff members to bring a top, middle and bottom sample of work (probably an exercise book or folder) to the meeting and in groups discuss the points on the form. The form is designed to make professional judgments about the standard of work produced by pupils using subject specialists.

The form has been used with great success in a number of schools and can be downloaded from this site for a cost of £5.00. Payments are made via PayPal.

Please click the link below to make the purchase.
Buy Now

No 39. An easy way of learning names

Learning the names of a class can be difficult for some teachers. There are a variety of approaches adopted by teachers from name cards to photographs. A quick and easy method however of learning the names of pupils in your class is to arrange them in alphabetical order according to their first name. This will allow you to become familiar quickly with their names. Give it a go and you will be surprised how it helps you. The usual approach of organising a class  by surname does not help at all with familiarisation but this little change can make all the difference?

alphabetical order




The image above is from here.

No 35. Let’s not forget to get back to the basics

This is a guest post by Elicia Shepard (

In a world where technology can be a great resource, and a great tool for teaching… I have found that in my time teaching in South Korea sometimes the best AND most effective lessons are the ones where we get back to the basics.

No computers, cell phones, projectors, or T.V screens. It’s incredible how much can be accomplished just getting back to the basics of using no technology! Last week I taught a lesson on emotions to my third graders. We are required to use the lesson book as a base for the content needed to be taught, but I am able to go outside the lines to try to get the students to speak, and retain English. The book uses a CD to teach songs, games, and dialog. It is incredibly helpful at times, but other times I believe the book inhibits the children’s ability to learn English. Technology can be a fantastic tool if used properly. In my opinion if overused it can be a distraction, and also can prevent active learning in the classroom.

I love getting the kids up and moving! I am always looking for ways to get them active. I believe by being an active learner one is a better learner. We played the simple game of charades when teaching emotions. I hadn’t played charades with this group for fear that they wouldn’t be interested in a game without technology. I decided to give it a go, and they kids loved it! Most importantly I think that by getting back to the basics they were able practice speaking, and become an active learner in English class. The best part is nothing was needed except for ourselves! The kids had a blast taking turns in the spotlight (since I have a small class they each got more than one turn). They were all able to be creative in acting how they wanted, and also worked as a team to complete the task at hand.

Charades. Such a simple game! Sometimes no technology is required for success!



The image above is from here.

No 33. Use PHET simulations to enhance your lessons

The University of Colorado have written a huge collection of simulations to explain a wide range of phenomenon. At the time of writing simulations can be found in the areas of

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Earth Science
  • Maths

In addition to the above there are also simulations that cover cutting edge research such as stretching DNA and optical tweezers. As a Physics teacher I use these simulations a lot. One of the simulations for static electricity is just great and explains the principle superbly. Have a play with it below.

The simulations can be found here.

Balloons and Static Electricity

No 31. Use the BBC Learning Zone Class Clips in your lessons

If you are looking for video clips to use in your class then the BBC Learning Zone site is excellent. It is fully searchable and you can find clips that are purely educational or from the actual BBC news service. Each clip has background information and ideas for use in class. You will also be able to embed the clips into your blog or website. I have used them in the past as a home work activity with some accompanying questions.

bbc learning zone

The image above is from here.


No 30. Buddy-Buddy Checking system

shaking hands

If you are taking students on a school outing  then you will want to check that they are all present at certain times during the day or however long your trip is. A quick way of doing this is to use a buddy buddy system. Here is what you do?

  1. Ask each student in the group to shake hands with another student in the group. It doesn’t matter if one person has their hand shaken by two people.
  2. Tell the students that the person they have just shaken hands with will be their buddy and they have to make sure that they are there at checking in times. This other person is their responsibility.
  3. Tell them that they have to imagine that they have just arrived at a meeting a point and you want to check that they are all there. Explain that you are going to shout “Buddy-Buddy” after which they are all to find their partner.
  4. Shout “Buddy-Buddy” and watch the response. They should all find their partner and shake their hand. It should be a quick process.
  5. Shout “Buddy-Buddy” a few times until they know exactly what to do. You don’t need to use this phrase, choose your own and make sure that you are animated when you shout it to capture their attention.

This system is a rapid way of taking a register when you are out and about. It is great for busy places such as train stations or city attractions. Obviously use it with care as you are ultimately in-charge but you will be amazed how well it works. Give it a go.

shaking hands 2


The images on this post are from here and here.

No 28. AQA Science revision videos for Core, Additional, Physics, Chemistry and Biology

MyGCSEScience is an excellent site I’ve just recently found. It contains 220 videos (at the time of writing) covering the entire AQA Science courses. The site is free and very easy to navigate. If you have students taking eparate sciences then they will be able to see videos giving complete coverage of separate Physics, Biology and Chemistry including the unit 4 option topics. Students of Core and Additional will also be able to view videos covering all topics in all sciences. This site is perfect for revision or setting homework from. Have a look and see what you think.



The image above is from here.