Monthly Archives: October 2015


Is there a difference between teaching and learning?

This question is brought into sharper focus by how imminent your next inspection is. Ours is guaranteed at some point this year, so everyone is being asked to ensure an Excellence of learning in all lessons.

But how do you assess your students’ learning within a lesson? Especially if you’re busy teaching them?

Answer, don’t teach them!


On the old AQA GCSE course, students were expected to understand that viruses and bacteria can both make you ill, but that viruses do so by infecting cells, and bacteria do so by releasing toxins.

One way of covering this is to tell them. Fill in a summary table. Draw it on the board and talk them through it. Tick. Done, filed, covered, move on to the next shovel-load of information. So efficient! So quick! Isn’t that how you do it?

Or try this.

Infectious Disease introduction

All your work goes into the planning. Book the ICT suite or the laptops or the Chromebook. Design/modify the exercise and photocopy it.


Then let them do all the work.

Look at the inspection criteria for lesson observation. Look at how many boxes you’ll tick with this approach. More important, look at your students learning

Learning by doing doesn’t have to be practical work.

Follow it up with little virus models…

virus model

designed for a particular, original, designer disease. My favourite from a few years ago remains the virus covered in little stalks with pictures of Justin Bieber at the end of each antigen. Of course. The virus that causes Bieber Fever….

Encourage use of glitter and tinsel and dangle them from the ceiling of your lab for a splendid pathogenic yuletide mobile.

50 Shades of Pink

Just a quickie this week as it’s that time of term.

The new OCR spec and Cell Membranes. The effect of temperature on membrane permeability is still there, and we’ve already 5-PAGGED (i.e. covered Practical Activity Group 5) with beetroot discs and colorimeters. Here’s my version of this old favourite.

beetroot practical updated 2015

It does strike me that this is a perfect example of allowing students to bring their phones to lessons in order to take photos of their work. By printing off the picture of their row of pink/red test-tubes and including it with their graph and table in the PAG portfolio, it’s excellent evidence for the OCR moderators to see on their school visit.

Anyway, in addition to the temperature effect, there is now the effect of solvents. So why not do this…

Return of the Beetroot. Membranes and Solvents

Depending on the ability of the class, you could get them to predict the effect, or explain their results after the event. Linking it to the use of soap for killing bacteria also makes them apply their thinking.

It works really quickly! They’ll see an effect within 5 minutes, if you like, and there will certainly be enough colour by the end of the lesson for a lovely photograph.


Time for coffee and pain au chocolat. Have a good week!

Toys for the Boys (and Girls!)

If the Celestron Digital Imager is proving the runaway most popular bit of kit we’ve ever had in the department, the new set of class i-pads is running it a close second. They replace the original Palaeolithic lappe toppes that were all we had for any kind of IT activity in the labs. Girls had to log in, wait 10-20 minutes for all the various upgrades to install, and then, if you were very lucky, the software wouldn’t crash, the wireless connection wouldn’t go AWOL and the data logger would actually talk nicely to the computer. We didn’t use them much….

…which was why I was originally drawn to i-pads. Instant on, intuitive to use, we just had to add some Sparkvue software…


…to accommodate our CO2 data loggers and a Bluetooth connexction to obviate the need for a USB lead. Hurrah! Respiration with Year 10, Photosynthesis with Year 13, all good to go and about a zillion times easier. We’re all using them now.

But once you’ve got an i-pad, you open up the whole world of apps. I’m still finding my feet with this side of i-paddiness, partly because it’s very difficult to find really good apps – there’s an awful lot of rubbish out there. What I thought I would do this week is briefly describe the ones I’ve found so far which I like. I haven’t used all of them in lessons yet, but I can see how and why and where I might use them.



This is my absolute favourite. It’s from the Dynamoid App stable and is a gloriously interactive look at Glycolysis. The ten enzymes are shown in wonderful 3D detail. You can turn them around, examine them, stroke them… the substrates float around, drift into the active sites, and the enzymes fold around them, open up, and out pops the product.

I think this aspect of the app is perfect for introducing enzymes to Year 12. I plan to ask them to just look at the enzymes – don’t worry about any of the detail – and write down half a dozen things that they notice. I’d hope for observations such as: they’re all different, they’re 3D, they change shape when the substrate binds, they make quite small changes to the substrate, and so on. It’s a much more dynamic view of enzymes than anything they meet at iGCSE and is a perfect illustration of induced fit.

Year 13 met it a couple of weeks ago as their introduction to Glycolysis. With the attached exercise Sugar Shake game activity they have to look really closely at what’s going on, and find out the key details of the pathway. They also play the game – nothing like a competitive element to increase motivation – shaking the sugars (i.e. tilting the i-pad) to move substrates to the right active site and then shaking the products to a little collection flask to gain points. They absolutely loved it and were utterly engrossed for an hour.



This a slightly morbid game where you try to wipe out the world population with an infectious disease. You earn DNA points as the infection spreads and use these points them to modify your pathogen and the symptoms of the disease. It’s a race because countries are trying to develop a cure. The secret is to design a highly infectious but unnoticeable disease that spreads like wildfire – and then, when everyone has it – ramp up the fatal symptoms before anyone has time to respond effectively.

I think this would be great for Year 12s as a way of exploring infectious disease – what makes some diseases more serious than others? How are diseases transmitted? What are the challenges in developing a vaccine/cure?

My Fantastic Body


This is a superb 3D anatomical views of all the major organ systems. I like the way you can explore the structures, remove layers, and have exploratory journeys through the body. I’m not wild about the commentary, and it’s all very descriptive, an exercise in information delivery, so you’d have to be careful and structured when planning a lesson. I’ll be using this with the Year 8s as a way of revising their recent topic on the Human Body.



Another Dynamoid App creation, and fantastic for giving Year 12s a feel for scale and magnification. POMT stands for Power of Minus Ten, so it’s also a way of reviewing standard form, but I like it mainly for the dramatic way you can dive from a surface view of the skin to the cells, the organelles, the molecules that the skin is made of. It’s competitive too, as you search around for specific things, which in turn requires an understanding of cell biology. Good for revising Cell Ultrastructure, perhaps, with Year 12.



Fiendlishly addictive, you move virions around a multi-cellular organism, avoiding the B-lymphocytes, the free antibodies, the slicer enzymes… There are various levels and challenges and there’s a slightly spooky virus voice-over, but I think it would be great for covering various aspects of Immunology with Year 11s or 12s. B-cell membrane bound antibodies, free antibodies disabling antibodies, viruses binding with target cell receptors, viral reproduction…. all shown beautifully clearly and vividly.

That’s it for now, but I’ll update with more as and when I discover them. I would be particularly grateful for other ideas and suggestions.