Visiting my mother in Cornwall over half term, she asked me to clear out some of the paperwork I had left filed in my old bedroom. I dutifully obliged and unearthed a treasure trove of documents, including letters from old girlfriends, my notes from undergraduate lectures with the incomparable Nick Davies, and my PGCE project work, including Section 1B (Subject Teaching), where I had to submit two essays based on my classroom work at one of my placement schools.
Here is the first one, submitted on Friday 4th June 1999 – blimey, where does the time go? – titled: Teaching Forces: a critical evaluation of the use of a cartoon pig to enhance motivation and learning in a mixed ability Year 7 group. It’s not very profound or revolutionary, but it gives an insight into how I’ve always approached teaching.
nb: I’ve cut it fairly heavily….
Anyway, see what you think…
Traditional Forces teaching is characterised by line drawings of wheelbarrows and seesaws, stick-men and car braking distances, embellished with directional arrows to which are attached numbers, all suffixed with the letter N. Although some attempts have been made to make the concepts more immediately relevant and the illustrative examples more colourful, the subject, at a conceptual level, is inescapably dull. Children, especially Year 7 pupils, manifestly enjoy the practical work, playing with Newton meters, constructing pulley systems, and so on, but there is a discernible drop in enthusiasm when the making of paper ships stops, and the drawing of a wheelbarrow begins. It was during just such a lesson that I decided to introduce The Pig…
(long section giving background describing girls disengagement from Science at secondary school).
The Pig and its use in the Module
I used a cartoon drawing of a Pig to replace the traditional abstract diagrams of weights. This proved immediately popular. Being a Year 7 class, our first priority was clearly the Pig’s name. Debate was fierce and ultimately resolved by a ballot of class suggestions that saw Smokey Bacon, Pumba and Pugsley emerge as the favourites. I rather liked the idea of the Pig being called after the Swahili word for “fart”, and the vote produced a tie between Smokey Bacon and Pumba, so we compromised and called it “Smokey Pumba”, a result, presumably, of eating too many bacon sandwiches. This important point established, the children effectively appropriated the Pig. It was their Pig and they cared about it.
The children liked drawing the Pig. They liked discussing what was happening to the Pig in certain situations (floating in a bath, standing on a diving board, stuck in a hole requiring a lever to extract him) and whenever I started a lesson with the words, “To explain this next idea, I need to draw the Pig…” the class would give a loud and spontaneous cheer.
The girls were concerned for its well-being. When I first drew a Pig to demonstrate the use of a Newton meter, I drew the supporting hook through the Pig’s back and a cry of dismay went around the class. When I subsequently marked the books, every single girl had very carefully drawn a little harness around the Pig’s tummy to which they could safely attach the hook. It was extremely touching.
This involvement with the subject was also apparent during the lesson on Floating and Sinking. I merely sketched two Pigs in a swimming pool on the board, one with a greater downward Force than upward thrust (it was sinking), and one where the downward Force was balanced by the upward Thrust (it was floating). Again, the girls elaborated on the theme. Sinking pigs had unhappy expressions and were emitting a stream of bubbles as they sank. Floating pigs were cheerfully buoyant. In every case, the appropriate arrows and Forces were correctly drawn…
At the end of the Module, I set a homework which asked them to do a big drawing of a Pig (or Pigs) illustrating a scientific concept that they had learned that term. Cheerful pigs pushed supermarket trolleys to illustrate friction. Apprehensive pigs watched as the stopping distance of their car increased in wet conditions. Suitably attired astronaut pigs prepared for take-off in their rockets. And so on. If the enthusiasm and energy that went into this task was representative of their feeling for the course as a whole, then the Pig had done its job.
Jessica was one of the most able pupils in the class. She consistently scored highly in homework and class-work and had done well in End of Module tests. Her contributions in class were alaso good. There was, however, an impression that she found it too easy and that she was under-performing relative to her ability…. She seized on the Pig as an opportunity to extend herself. She used her considerable skills as a cartoonist to create colourful and accurate Forces diagrams, and at the end of the course she produced a cartoon strip, that she had done in her own time, of Smokey Pumba stealing apples from an orchard (and its dire consequences!). The quality of her class-work and homework increased. She completed the End of Module test (and its extension) in 19 minutes flat and still came top of the class.
Analysing test results is a joyless task. The huge number of uncontrolled variables and the impossibility of doing matched pair comparisons render results largely meaningless, and besides, it is a depressingly narrow view of the purpose of education. I have therefore limited myself to asking two questions. Did the girls score higher than the boys in the test? And, more importantly, did the girls show a general improvement in their test scores relative to their previous results in other tests?
There was not a significant difference between the percentage scores of boys and girls (Mann Whitney test, N=13 boys, 13 girls, Z= -3.09, p>0.7). Girls did, however, score significantly better on their Forces test than they had on the previous two tests in the course (contingency table, 2DF, total chi-squared = 6.0734, p<0.05). In other words, girls showed a significant improvement in their relative score compared to boys….