Starters to calm OR Starters to energise

In my previous post Well begun is half done I presented three starters aiming to get students on task and engaged quickly. These starters could be described as energisers, great for classes that require that input of energy to get them going but not perhaps the best choice for a class who are already energised and require a more calming start to a lesson.
So, at the start of the lesson you can decide if you need to energise (resisting a Star Trek quote here) a class or to calm them down (resisting Harry Enfield reference here).
If energise is the answer then look to my previous post or try this one from Talk Less Teaching another great book from Osiris Educational.
The Walking Chocolate Bar as described by the authors Wallace & Kirkman requires students to fill in an eight square table with facts about the topic under discussion by circulating in the room and speaking to peers. This is great to ascertain prior knowledge or to review at the end of a topic. My year 9s used this to great effect this week for the topic of Respiration, although they were mightily peeved on discovery that no chocolate was actually involved.
Another example works especially well if your lesson involves a diagram – in pairs ask one student to look at the diagram on your computer screen, they have to memorise and describe to partner back at desk to draw. They are allowed up to the view the diagram a total of five times. Then compare drawn picture to actual. The activity can also be done with students back to back where one student has the diagram and the other draws.

If calming is your choice then Talk Less Teaching has another suggestion: Students imagine the lesson as a flight – at the start they fill in their boarding pass identifying three key things they learnt last lesson and one thing they need / want to find out. Follow this up at end of lesson with the landing Card as a plenary. This activity worked very well with my Year 7s work on Forces (balanced / unbalanced forces) recently.
Another example is to use an errors list – produce your own set of common errors identified by marking books or use examiner’s reports for GCSE and A level. List common errors in a list and mix in correct statements relating to the topic. Students have to identify and correct the errors.
Finally, from the classic The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis is the activity Hierarchies. Here, get students to draw a pyramid – ask students to read a text, watch a video, or a Science demonstration – they have find the big idea and write this in the peak of the pyramid. The main points go in the next layer down and then the real details in the base of the pyramid. This stops students being passive during these type of activities.

Angry Birds Investigation

I am sure I’m not the first to hit upon the popularity of the Angry Birds as a teaching hook but I wanted to share this investigation as it has proven popular and I have got some great Science out of the Year 6 (transition) students in previous years and current Year 7s.

On entry to class the angry birds music is playing and I choose several students to have a go at one of the multitude of Angry Birds games I have installed on my iPad. Whilst playing I get students to describe the factors they can control to alter the trajectory of the bird. From there we go to the homemade “catapult” I have set up using an upturned stool, elastic material, and a sponge ball.

2014-10-02 12.45.53

We identify all of the factors that could effect the distance the “Angry Bird” will travel and elicit making a fair test by only changing one of these variables, and identifying what we can do to control the others. The booklet I have made to accompany this investigation can be found here  and this is the PowerPoint. We spent one lesson planning and making preliminary trials with students experimenting with Newton meters, rulers, and protractors to determine the best approach to ensure consistency.  2014-10-02 13.01.43 2014-10-02 12.49.33

The following lesson pupils collected results (developing in booklet) – we stopped several times to discuss issues arising and how to make changes (and to not be scared to) to the method they had decided on. Our success criteria concerned collecting a full set of results (with repeats) whilst controlling as many variables as we reasonably could. Some students focussed on the angle as the independent variable, with force / distance of pull a close second.

2014-10-02 13.09.24

Lesson 3 was centred around analysis of results and drawing conclusions, although some groups still needed to collect further data. I provided students with the axis and scale drawn onto graph for them but in retrospect this took away the challenge for some and I need to stretch my more able students in this aspect.

Reflection was the focus for lesson 4 and identifying what went well and changes that would / should be made if repeated are the usual questions we ask. This is also the area where most are usually given least time to develop and this is apparent at GCSE level during the ISA – I am determined to develop this with the new KS3 curriculum.

Metacognition or learning to learn (from Building Learning Power (BLP)) strategies are attempts to get students to think about their own learning explicitly – what strategies or steps did they take in their own learning to complete the investigation? They identify their strengths in completing a task and build a range of methodologies they can call upon when completing another. In the booklet I include some possible ways to encourage students to start this process. It’s effectiveness, as reported by The Sutton Trust (, is high (+8 months by their measure).