Using Elaboration in Science Lessons

In my book (due out this month!) I have adapted some of the Learning Scientist strategies for physics classrooms. In this blog, I am sharing a technique I like to use in my classes – similar/different.

Science SimilarDifferent (the Universe) (1)

Learners complete as many of the text boxes as they can, showing the similarities and differences between the two objects/concepts. Cognitive psychologists call this elaboration.

Elaboration works by highlighting the similarities and differences between concepts (I first used it for Hadrian’s Wall and Trump’s Wall). In physics, elaboration helps learners develop their knowledge by adding subtle details.

I do this by providing my learners with a sheet to complete. If I do this at the start of the lesson, I am also making use of retrieval practice and interleaving (great podcasts here). If I do it at the end of the lesson (as a check out), I am typically using it more as assessment.

I often make use of “solo, pair, share” – my students complete their sheet solo for two minutes, then pair-up with a neighbour for one minute – this gives me three minutes to check everyone and identify the answers I want shared (I usually put a dot beside the sentences I want read out). Sharing takes a further couple of minutes.

Science SimilarDifferent (the Universe)

I generally have a completed version of my own to show in case I don’t get everything I want. This link shows examples for teaching the Universe: pdf file of similar/different examples for the Universe.

I hope this is useful.



My book for new physics teachers…

The Big Ideas in Physics_Twitter (1)

My book is due to be published next month!

The publishers (Taylor&Francis) have asked me to prepare the text for a publicity poster. I’m please with the wording, so I thought I’d share. Tom Eden from T&F has done a great job with the graphics, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this.

Big Ideas in Physics Poster - for teachers


The Big Ideas in Physics_2 (1)


Why Bar-Model Works #2: Reducing Cognitive Load

In my previous post (here) I tried to explain how bar-model supports learning using dual-coding. In this post, I want to use Cognitive Load Theory to explain that bar-models  reduce cognitive load. (I should point out that as of now, I have no research evidence to show that using bar-model leads to improved long-term learning and improved problem solving – but I’m working on it).

CLT bar model (2)

This diagram represents the three elements of cognitive load (I’m referring to the book Efficiency in Learning, Clark, Nguyen and Sweller – 2006).

Continue reading “Why Bar-Model Works #2: Reducing Cognitive Load”

Using Visual Representations to Help Solve Abstract Physics Problems

By year 6, pupils are skilled mathematical problem solvers. They can solve multi-step questions involving abstract concepts. This sounds like GCSE physics. Many year 6 pupils are taught to use visual representations to facilitate their problem solving. I wondered whether this would work in physics. I think it does.

I have put together a booklet containing problems and model answers using the Singapore Maths visualisation method: the bar-model. My goal is to carry out research to demonstrate whether bar-model in physics facilitates long-term learning.

In the meantime – I thought I would share the booklet to get feedback. The link is below. If you use it, please give me feedback.



Using Visual Representations to Help Solve Abstract Physics Problems – Ben Rogers(3)

With thanks to Jonathan Wragg, Lyndsay Sawyer, Ryan Doney and Anand Chauhan of Paradigm Trust for their knowledge, support and enthusiasm for this project (and @ollie_lovell for spotting embarrassing mistake!)

Using bar-model to represent current visually
Using bar-model to represent current visually

But where is the cognitive science and the knowledge?

I’ve just received an email from TES advertising a book they are publishing titled: tes guide to STEM.I was hoping to see a summary of the best evidence based STEM practice. I haven’t read the book, so I might be 100% wrong here but the choice of topics covered strike me as odd – maybe old fashioned.

Screenshot 2018-03-03 at 09.56.43
email advert from TES advertising Tes Guide to STEM

Continue reading “But where is the cognitive science and the knowledge?”

A Residue of Physics

Six months ago, I was helping English trainees write a knowledge organiser for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. We were struggling with the knowledge that the students would need for the Jekyll and Hyde unit, but which we didn’t care too much about long term, and the knowledge that we wanted the learners to carry for life – something less tangible, but more important. Not the sort of knowledge of quizzes and knowledge organisers.

In 2012, Christine Counsell wrote about two types of knowledge for history: fingertip-knowledge and residue (see here p65). In history, fingertip knowledge is the knowledge learners need at their fingertips to follow an enquiry in history in class – it is detailed and ephemeral. The residue is the rich, lifelong knowledge which remains when the fingertip knowledge fades away. Continue reading “A Residue of Physics”

Can the Singapore Bar-Model Reduce Cognitive Load in Physics?

I was convinced by the Singapore bar-model when I invigilated the 2016 Key Stage 2 maths reasoning exam. One of my pupils, who I’d come to realise wasn’t going to score well, was faced with this problem:

Screenshot 2018-02-10 at 20.30.36
2016 KS2 SATs reasoning question (paper 3)

This is the sort of question many of my pupils struggled with. There is too much to hold in working memory. Yet I watched him answer it. Continue reading “Can the Singapore Bar-Model Reduce Cognitive Load in Physics?”

Measuring and Improving The Quality of Science Writing in Schools

This post is part of a series – a symposium – on AfL. The previous posts are well referenced and the result of much thought. My contribution is more anecdotal and speculative.

Part one of the series is by by Adam Boxer here. In it he sets the context of the following posts.

Part two is by Rosalind Walker here. She discusses the nature of school science and implications for the classroom.

Part three is by Niki Kaiser here. This post explores concepts, threshold concepts, misconceptions, knowledge and understanding.

Part four is by Deep Ghataura here. It is about the validity of formative assessment.

My post is about writing in science, how assessment often distorts writing and how we might be able to improve both scientific writing in school and its assessment.

Measuring and Improving The Quality of Science Writing in Schools

After 18 years of secondary science teaching, I left secondary school to become a primary school teacher. I had a suspicion that I would learn a lot. For three of my four primary years, I taught in year 6: SATs year. I had to learn quickly about teaching reading, writing and mathematics. But I have an issue with writing.

My experience is limited to a small group of primary schools in socially disadvantaged areas where literacy and numeracy is (rightly) prioritised. On one principal’s wall was an optician’s chart reading:

All that matters is....
All that matters is….

As soon as they are able to, the pupils write extended texts every week. Continue reading “Measuring and Improving The Quality of Science Writing in Schools”

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