We now had our first taste of the teaching profession as we embarked on our placements within school. Despite working in two schools which are very close to one another and both involved in the project, we had very different experiences, which was unexpected. We therefore thought it important to reflect upon our first impressions and the direction we feel the project will go in.
First impressions – Josh
Right at the beginning of my time in school, with students between the ages of 11 and 18, the early starts were crippling. I haven’t had to be up so early in a long time. Combined with this, I did not realise how tiring being in a school was. One of the main reasons for this, in my opinion, is the constant noise which comes with the school day – there is never a quiet period from the moment the students get to the school until the moment they leave.
One thing which has really stood out to me since start of the school project, is the variety of lesson structures teachers have to adopt or prefer to teach. Some classes respond much better to one style of teaching than others, regardless of the class’ ability. I have been very fortunate in my education in the sense that when an idea is explained to me, I usually understand it very quickly. Being put into sets for science classes myself, I had never truly appreciated how large the gap is between bottom and top sets of the same year. This throws up multiple challenges because teachers.have to think of multiple approaches to explain the same concept to students of different abilities – certainly something I have ever had to do before. I believe though that it will help me understand fundamental parts of science with even greater depth.
Although I have only very recently left the school environment myself, there is a lot that has changed in a short amount of time. For me, one of the largest differences is the style of homework which teachers are now setting – it is mainly tasks for students to complete on the computer. Different websites are used to test knowledge built up in lessons in a quiz format, and the performance of the students from the quizzes is then available for the teacher to see. This for me is a real step forward in teaching, as now the level of understanding of a topic is almost immediately available to the teacher and more tailored feedback can be given. Also, more time can be spent on concepts which the class as a whole struggled with.
The difficulty for me on the droso4school project is to find the balance between time spent in school and then the amount of time I am able to spend on the development of teaching ideas and resources. So far, it has been difficult to organise my time evenly between getting the needed experience in school and generating teaching materials in a way so the students get the most out of it. This really opened my eyes as to how much longer a working day for a teacher is – certainly not simply nine until half past three!
Soon I will be given the opportunity to teach our own nervous system resource, which contains a practical element on receptive fields which I have developed myself. Trying it with students for the first time, is something I am anxious but also extremely excited about!
First impressions – Sophie
I also began to appreciate the difficulties in teaching the course within the time constraints and the pressure to get though work. The pace was very fast, although there was plenty of time for reflection on previous learning. However, some students were finding it difficult to keep up. For some that may just have been because biology wasn’t for them, or they had been lulled into a false sense of security with excellent GCSE results. Others probably just weren’t expecting the level of effort required in the next level of education. Either way the high expectations meant that soon they all began to adapt and gradually catch up.
In my first few weeks I saw the realities of teaching. The difficulties of producing well thought-out lessons and resources when you have full days of teaching can be demanding. Also translating an idea into something that works to really put across the point you want, isn’t as easy as I had first thought. I experienced this first hand after producing and delivering a short resource on proteins for a class. I was faced with demonstrating the complex 3D folding and levels of organisation in 20 mins. I summoned all of my creativity, and the best I could come up with was a paper folding activity. I felt as though I’d had been defeated. I thought I needed to have beautiful activities to enthuse and inspire students. To my surprise, it actually worked quite well despite teething problems with the folding and a lack of whole class participation. I felt a great sense of achievement at this, and I learnt a valuable lesson; it’s not always about producing something that works flawlessly but rather doing something that is engaging and different.
I really enjoyed my first taste of standing at the other side of the classroom. But more than that, I gained more of an appreciation of the challenges of the teaching profession. In particular that incorporating creativity into classes is much more difficult than I would have anticipated. This is where I feel our project could really be of use, providing a real-world context for the curriculum material. Using Drosophila as a tool will make it possible to bring across concepts in a different way to what students had seen within the usual classroom constraints. This can aid in retaining knowledge and understanding with greater depth. Increasingly, linking ideas is becoming of more importance in A level courses, and it is this kind of synoptic knowledge which these resources also help with. It also is an opportunity to enthuse the students in order to encourage them to potentially pursue a career in life sciences, as (too) often there is a heavy focus on medical professions.