Research in Schools

Last Tuesday I took part in CERN@School and TimPix teacher development day NV501

The event introduced physics teachers to using state of the art technology from CERN, through the CERN@school kit and access to data from the TimePix detectors.  CERN@school is a project based around the CERN@school kit and access to data from TimePix detectors.

We were inspired by Prof Becky Parker, who has built up the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS). She has an amazing track record of facilitating school pupils’ independent research, enabling them to collaborate with career scientists.

At the heart of the program is the TimePix radiation detector.  I am looking to use one of these to collect data that may be useful to research scientists.  Through the collaboration, I expect the interaction with scientists will raise pupils aspirations and engagement with science/STEM career paths.  As Tamsin is working on climate modelling, I thought the data may be a higher-order addition to the climate model, which may have a small impact on the model, but which may not be added due to existing resource constraints.  I see the main aims of the IRIS program as giving pupils free rein to engage in free-range research, in extra-curricular time.  If a scientist has a subsidiary project that could be done by the pupils, it may be a useful support to guide the pupils.

Prof Parker mentioned Dr Kirkby and the CLOuD project, but I thought I should do some background reading and ask Tamsin’s help.

There is some funding available from the Royal Society and IRIS may also be able to get funding from other sources.  The Royal Society offer £3,000 for a School Partnership Grant for example, the current deadline is Monday 1st August, so it may be something we work towards for similar date in 2017.

I don’t have much experience of writing research / funding proposals, especially as I wouldn’t know what work would need to be done or what would need to be funded.

I work in Mill Hill, NW London.  I think a collaboration with a London University would be easiest for face-to-face meetings, but given the nature of the widening range of scientific work, I think links with scientists further afield via Skype etc could be worth trying.

Let me know what you think, what should I do next?


John M. @jm8997 | jmm@millhill.org.uk | LinkedIn profile




Novices, Experts and Everything In-between: Epistemology and Pedagogy

A Chemical Orthodoxy

The concept of “novices and experts” answered a lot of questions for me. For a long time, I had been finding it difficult to understand why my students made simple mistakes, couldn’t “apply” their learning to new areas and couldn’t understand exactly what a given verbal or written question was asking for.

Put simply, the idea is that when a learner is first starting out in a particular domain (e.g. chemistry), they are considered a novice. Their knowledge is fragmented and disconnected from the rest of the knowledge within the domain. As their knowledge builds up, they progress towards becoming an expert: someone whose knowledge is broad, deep and extensively connected.

There are a number of classic lab-based experiments in this field, the findings of which are summarised here as:

  1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
  2. Experts have acquired a great deal…

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Connected physics – LinkedIn recruitment

I joined the LinkedIn network to connect with colleagues, teachers I worked with from other schools and others I had worked with, including former pupils who now have careers of their own.  Since my early years of teaching, I have tried to show current pupils that there are often careers in physics/science generally, often linked to what they are studying in my classes.

Some of my most memorable experiences have been with Oracle, the Educational Development Trust and The Goldsmiths’ Company.

I can perfectly understand that LinkedIn is a very useful service to discover new job opportunities, but I am still astonished at the number of recruitment agents who have connected with me in the hope of getting me to move to a new job.

Should I need to look for another job, my first site will still probably be the TES.  I guess that relatively few teachers use LinkedIn so there are fewer of people like me who meet the agents’ criteria, so I get disproportionately more offers.  In other sectors, outside education, I guess there is a more competitive edge, where employers, recruiters and employees/candidates are all looking to seek/find each other.  I do not want to “humble brag” but as a physics teacher, I am aware that there seem to be many vacant positions, irrespective of the calibre of the candidates.

I would recommend that many more colleagues join the network, to increase the sharing of ideas, suitable job opportunities and connection requests!

Past papers, different specs– it’s all physics!

What do you do when you exhaust your supply of revision/practice materials for pupils who may now be revising for exams?

My Irish language teacher taught us the phrase “Cleachtadh a dheanann máistreacht” (Practice makes mastery, or the common alliterative English phrase “Practice makes perfect”).

I often use materials from other exam boards, such as past papers or specimen papers, to give pupils further practice, or to challenge them beyond their carefully ring-fenced specification content.

Today I am using British Physics Olympiad papers and trying to separate different questions and then aggregate them into different topic areas appropriate to our current specification.  I found this has this has already been done here; BPhO Question Bank


I’d be interested to hear what you have tried and feedback on how well it works!

My 1st TeachMeet

Following @TeacherToolkit, he posted a link to his publisher Bloomsbury.  They had some other interesting books for teachers and they (Laura Givans) were planning their first TeachMeet at their offices in London.

“I’ll go”, I thought, as others I’ve admired have raved about TeachMeets in the past.  Last Thursday I went to Bloomsbury’s offices in central London, a short walk from Tottenham Court Road Tube station.  It was my first time on Tube since some time early in 2015!

At the TeachMeet I spoke to several Bloomsbury staff and several of the presenters.

Between talks, there were silly games with prizes for the winners.  Thanks to the “sterling” efforts of those at my table, we won book prizes for “tin”-foil hats made of aluminium foil!

The evening was only slightly marred by missing the earlier bus home, causing me to experience the late-night delights of 20 minutes at Edgware Bus station.

Thanks to Bloomsbury education department for their careful organisation and generous hospitality.  Thanks to those at, presenting, or sharing their ideas and enthusiasm.  They included