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”

A Japanese Year 6 Electromagnet Worksheet

Nine months ago I posted a blog which was the translation of a page of a Japanese text book (here and here). Mary Whitehouse saw it and introduced me to Shinjiro Ogawa – a Japanese science teacher on secondment to Italy. We met at the ASE conference. Shinjiro introduced me to several Japanese colleagues, all of who are working on fascinating projects.

Shinjiro has been very generous sharing Japanese resources – here is a year 6 activity on electromagnets (from: ‘Chibi-Musu-Drill’)

Screenshot 2018-01-25 at 20.17.29

You could use Google Translate and a bit of editing to read this, but I’ve done the first page for you (see below)

I hope you enjoy it!


Continue reading “A Japanese Year 6 Electromagnet Worksheet”

Teacher Training: “The Dodge City of the Education World” (Levine)

Two weeks ago I wrote a short blog about how I wanted to structure my trust’s initial teacher programme (here).

I asked for feedback and advice and I got it (thank you). The principal advice was that we’d focussed heavily on skills and strategies without looking at the theory. I think teaching strategies are very important – the cognitive load of the classroom is enormous: if a novice teacher can focus on practising specific proven strategies, she will be able to process more information in the classroom and learn to be a better teacher faster (I’ve written about this here).

But understanding learning is important too – and I don’t think we’ve neglected it. In fact, I’m proud of what we’ve done.

So I thought I’d share what we’ve learnt (through worked examples, completion problems, goal free activities, retrieval practice, spaced practice, interleaving, concrete examples, etc.).

The title of this post reflects the view that ITE in England is like the Wild West. There are great opportunities, but also great risks. I am sharing, because I like transparency; I’m looking for feedback and perhaps, if you like what we do, you’l recommend someone to train with us.

Continue reading “Teacher Training: “The Dodge City of the Education World” (Levine)”

Physics Problems for Primary Pupils

Physics problems - KS2

We teach Key Stage 2 children (7-11 year olds) how to solve interesting and sophisticated maths problems (see here). Many children are comfortable using the Singapore style bar-model methods to support mathematical problem solving.

But the only physics problems we set pupils at primary are data-handling types (typically bar charts).

I have written previously about cognitive load theory and problem solving (here and here). But to teach problem solving, you need problems. Continue reading “Physics Problems for Primary Pupils”

What if you could develop Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in any way you wanted?

In July last year, the principals of Paradigm Trust gave me a task: redesign Initial Teacher Training from the ground up.

victorian teacher

The brief was to develop skillful, knowledgeable, thoughtful  teachers for our pupils. I could use the knowledge and skills within the Trust and bring in expertise where we have gaps.

We are lucky to have a partnership with the University of East London, who support us by evaluating our programme and moderating our judgements so that we know we are fulfilling our legal obligations and not, in our enthusiasm, missing anything important.

So what does the programme look like?

Continue reading “What if you could develop Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in any way you wanted?”

Seductive Problems

My trainee maths teachers love setting students challenging, interesting problems. I see students scribbling away trying to be first to solve it, or staring at the table, or scribbling away pretending not to stare at the table.

The feeling that the trainees (and I) get when the first couple of students solve it is great. That’s the seduction, but it’s important to take a wider view.

Adam and Eve, Seduction and the Tree of Knowledge

First, the students who solve it may benefit. I am uncertain. Cognitive Load Theory shows that working with a high cognitive load inhibits learning. Continue reading “Seductive Problems”

Retrieval Practice and Sentence Practice All In One!

Retrieval practice is in the air. The latest blog by Alex Laney on the Teach Like a Champion blog (here) is very useful.

We’ve been developing retrieval practice DoNows with the trainee teachers at Paradigm Trust, but we’re also keen on practising sentence types. Hochman and Wexler’s The Writing Revolution is full of great sentence practice activities. We’re using: ButBecauseSo and Expand-a-Sentence, both of which work well with factual knowledge recall.


This activity not only uses retrieval practice, but elaboration as well. Your students are taking a single idea and strengthening its links to other ideas, developing the relationships between them.

  • Squealer called a meeting, but…
  • Squealer called a meeting, because…
  • Squealer called a meeting, so…


  • Magnetic north poles repel, but…
  • Magnetic north poles repel, because…
  • Magnetic north poles repel, so…


  • 2 is the only even prime number, but…
  • 2 is the only even prime, because…
  • 2 is the only even prime number, so…

TopTip: always try these out before you give them to students in case they aren’t possible (I struggled with “2 is the only even prime number, but… ) – if you can’t do it, your students probably can’t either.


Give your students a very simple sentence. E.g. “Magnesium is an element,” or “The Weimar Republic was unsuccessful.”

The retrieval practice comes in the next stage. Students have to give short answers to as many of the following as possible:

  • Who __________
  • What _________
  • Where _________
  • When _________
  • Why _________
  • How _________

The final step is to expand the original sentence. E.g.

Magnesium Expand-a-Sentence DoNow

In practice, the DoNow looks like this:

Weimar expand-a-sentence DoNow

So, use your DoNows for retrieval practice, but think about the sentences too.



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