Teach education

Reflections of an IB science teacher

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Visualising the Question and Mapping the Response

[So, I’ve come to the conclusion that my desktop computer is now a recovery project. Perhaps when I’ve managed to restore the memory, I might find a use for various components and it will become a few new projects. However, it is about time that the clunky old thing was replaced. I’ve been craving a desktop-replacement laptop for some time now so that I’m free’d from my desk and also to make any future international moves more simple. Until then, here’s another draft post that I’ve been meaning to publish…

I hope you enjoy it.

Mr Copeland]

Generally, students are awful at understanding what a question is asking them to do. A lot of the time, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise because generally, teachers are awful at spending the time to explain to students what different command terms are actually asking the student to do. Ideally, they would be my target audience for that little rant, but they are not the sort of teachers that also spend their time reading teaching and learning blogs and I can safely assume that you have at least once guided your students through command terms. On behalf of education, thank you, and please loudly discuss how necessary this is in the next time you’re in the staff room for all around to hear.

So,today I’d like to share with you a novel way in which students can approach structuring different command terms. And this is visually, through concept mapping. All of the following concept maps were first discovered in our departmental OneNote in a section created by my head of department. There was an external link to their apparent source, so in the interests of transparency, here’s the link.

The circle map (Below) is great for getting students to just create what I like to call a “Mess of understanding” – it is everything that students think fits into the context of the topic before they have really covered enough ground to sort out the information they have.

The bubble map is good for collecting adjectives and other key words that can be used to describe a theory or a process. This is a good activity to prepare for an “outline” or “describe” question.

One of my personal favourites, the double bubble map provides students a framework for the dreaded “Compare and contrast” questions. Probably only exactly as useful as a Venn diagram, but much more fun to say! “Draw a double bubble map!”

I subscribe to the idea that we compartmentalize all knowledge, which leads me to see a real use in the tree map (below). This has obvious uses in some topics in biology but try it when teaching the EM Spectrum, crude oil fractions or molecular structures.

Sequencing maps are fantastic aids to students who struggle writing a scientific method or are having a difficulty understanding a particular process. They can be linear, branch out or loop.

The multi-flow map below is great for analysing cause and effect. Student’s add causes on the left, which flow into effects on the right.

Finally, the bridge map is a fun way of having students consider relationships and analogies. They  pair words above/below a horizontal line that they all share.

One example could be to link measurements with units or measuring devices, another perhaps to use the relating factor “Was discovered by” or “Is used for”. As I see it, this is only useful occasionally in science.  But I’d love to stand corrected!: Please share any useful examples in the comments section for other visitors to pick up 🙂


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11 things you need to know before making a PowerPoint presentation

So, my primary PC is permanently stuck on the infamous “Blue Screen of Death”. This is slowing down my plans for web domination [insert evil cackle here]. Whilst I work on saving my PC, here’s a draft post I’ve had saved for some time now. I hadn’t posted it yet because there’s still a few things I want to add for the reader. The post is complete, but you’ll have to come back another time for my video and check list I’m afraid!


I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Microsoft PowerPoint. Overall, I think it’s a useful tool in teaching that gets a bad wrap for being severely over-used. And it’s contagious – try telling your students that they will be teaching a portion of the lesson and seeing them not rush to their computers to create a PowerPoint presentation to read from.

This has resulted to me giving students quick lessons on “How to use PowerPoint” or setting them challenges like “No words on any slide allowed” or “Five slides for five minutes”. In my experience, when used right PowerPoint is an unrivalled tool in supplementing your lesson – but it is a supplement, not a crutch.

So, here are 11 things to always remember before you PowerPoint!

1) Justify your presence

The quickest way to be ignored by your students is to lead them into thinking that everything you’re about to say is a repeat of what’s on the slide. Especially if you’ve started the lesson with “The slides are available on [Insert VLE here]”. There really is no faster way to negate your existence in the room.

So, open up every PowerPoint slide that you intend on using, ever. Cut any large blocks of text, and paste them into the “Notes” section at the bottom of the presentation editor. Now replace the text in the main PowerPoint with bullet points that summarise key points in as few words as possible (typically one or two). Finally, highlight those bullet points and set them to transition in one at a time.

Note: I’m having some major issues with the PC I’ve

Hey presto! You now have an actual PowerPoint and not a badly formatted text book!

2) Choose your font wisely

One of the lessons I vividly remember delivering to my students during my teacher training was hinged on a provocation that consisted of a short comic strip on the subject. The comic strip was written in a very unique font and I decided that I was going to go the whole hog to create a seamless PowerPoint. I actually found a downloadable font pack that somebody had made consisting of the exact font from the comics. I then matched the design of every slide to the design of the comic. Fantastic, I thought.

That was until I got into the classroom and proudly loaded up the PowerPoint, put it on presentation and got a few slides in. One of my students raised his hand and said “Sir, I can’t read any of that”. This was followed by a barrage of agreeing statements by both my students and the two members of staff who were observing this lesson.

I was forced to get them into an activity whilst I went slide by slide and changed the font to something more readable.

3) Contrast is important

This is another example of a penchant for flair actually working against you. There is a limited number of colour combinations that are easy to read, and even fewer when we consider our SEN students. Below is a list of combinations that work well for all students.

Good Bad text contrasts

4) Make every slide essential

Every time you create or use a new slide for your presentation, it should be an essential summary of information that you’re going to share with your audience that they would be lost without. If you keep placing non-useful information in front of your students, they will lose focus. And who could blame them? They live in a world of Ctrl+F, TL:DR and Google search summaries.

So, every time you create a slide I want you to ask yourself “Would my presentation not work without this slide?”

5) Your students should be active participants, not passive bystanders

A room full of professional adults might be willing to sit through a presentation where there is nothing required of them. The topic is likely to be relevant to their interests and their profession, and even during dry bits, they have the wisdom to stay focused should they miss anything that would result in an embarrassment in conversation later.

A room full of students will not tolerate dryness. It is not enough to simply reassure them that there is a test on this material in X weeks’ time and it is not enough to dish out punishments every time you think that they are losing focus. In fact, these are two sure fire ways to damage your relationship with your students.

Here are some suggestions for creating active participants:

  • Running through a controversial or debatable topic? Take a quick vote to see where your students’ opinions lie and put it on the board. Tell them that you’re going to take the vote again at the end of the presentation to see how many minds have been changed.
  • If you’re using a real life example, ask the room if anybody has any first-hand experience of this and allow a couple of minutes for them to take the floor.
  • Sometimes a topic lends itself well to a reenactment, role play or even a dance. If you can think of a reason to get the students out of their seats for a moment, do it! One of my favorite examples of this involved a biology teacher who had just run through the seven life processes with her students (Or MRS GREN / MRS NERG as you might remember it!) She then asked every student in the room to stand up and practice a mime for each process (I should note here that reproduction was very firmly taught as cradling a baby and nothing else!). She then called life processes out at random at an increasing tempo as the students tried desperately to immediately switch into the right mime. It was fantastic seeing the grade 7s rolling around with laughter as they mimicked using the toilet before switching to shivering, running about, and eating. To this day I imagine they remember their seven life processes!
  • Lace your presentation with slides that contain a single question on the content from the previous slide. This used to be a particular favourite of mine for classes of students that would even avoid taking part in the previous suggestions. I would use lollipop sticks to pick a name at random and ask that student the question. (Tip: take your time pulling out the name to give the whole class time to prepare their answer.)

6) The slides are for your audience and not for you

We half covered this in mistake #1 by placing all of our text in our notes section. However, it is still possible that you will stand there during your lesson and actually face your presentation more than you are facing your students. Please, please, I beg you, please, do not do this.

Facing your PowerPoint as you present tells your students two things. The first is that you are not prepared today. The second is that they are your secondary focus as you try to catch up. Don’t run a presentation you’re not prepared to deliver, and don’t alienate your audience by facing the wall.

7) Get out of the way

Another habit that can occur on occasion is standing directly in front of a key slide as you talk. If you avoided mistake #4, then this is going to cause problems. Don’t do it.

8) Check it works. Then check it works. Finally, check it works

The most important part of the planning process is not the hours you might put into creating your presentations. Neither is it the rehearsal of your lines. It is the five minutes right before the presentation that you give yourself to check the equipment. Do you have all of the plug ins you require? Does your video on the fifth slide play? Is the sound at the right level? Is your laptop plugged in?

9) When it doesn’t work, don’t freak out

The best laid plans of mice and men, eh?

Sometimes something will go wrong. Sometimes it will not be your fault. And sometimes you will need to make adjustments to your presentation that will retract from how great it was. However, the worst thing you can do at this point is to continue as if defeated.

10) Stay inside PowerPoint

One way that you can minimize the potential for a tech nightmare is to minimize the amount of software that you are relying on. And one way you can minimize your reliance on other programs is to just stick with PowerPoint. But that’s not the only reason I have an aversion to leaving my presentations. The other reason is that it really does just kill the illusion.

Imagine it, you’re entranced by a stunning presentation of perfectly balanced colors, a sleek font and immaculate design, when suddenly the presenter hits Escape and you see the familiar, clunky view of the PowerPoint editor. You see part of the slide timeline, including the next couple. Then you’re taken for a scramble across the presenter’s desktop, the loading screen of their web browser, their search history etc, etc…

Take your audience to another world, and keep them there.

11) Enjoy yourself

Note: As soon as I have the time, I’ll make a check list summarising these tips for anybody wanting to keep a copy next to their PC