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Using maths in the physics classroom has long caused consternation for both teachers and students alike. The perceived difficulty of performing mathematical problems has lead to some very well thought out strategies for students to use to help remove some of the ambiguity and give students a consistent method to fall back on.

These include;

So why would we need another one? The four methods above have one core commonality; substitution before rearrangement. There are two main reasons this is so popular. The first is because exam boards prefer it. This has annoyed me for some time and I can’t see this changing any time soon. The second is that lots of teachers think students find this easier. I can’t comment on what goes on in other classrooms, but I would like to present the case for, and the tentative suggestion that there may be, a better way. …

Is there a difference and should we care?

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As we head into the summer I’m starting to think more about the role of Head of Physics that I will be taking on in September. This will be alongside my existing role of Head of Scholars and Academic Enrichment.

The latter involves driving and coordinating the vision for our scholars’ programme with the support of three scholar mentors, the Vice-Principal — Academic and Associate Vice-Principal — Learning & Teaching. There are common elements to the program for the girls, such as academic lunches and they are each assigned a mentor. The mentoring itself, however, is free form. As a group, we have discussed what we want the outcomes of the scholars’ programme to be (traits in the girls that we wish to nourish) but the implementation of the mentoring is up to the mentor and will vary depending on the girl. How successful has this been? …

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all — Peter Drucker

Last month I gave a talk at ResearchED Rugby looking at the misuse of GCSE grades. Here is a short summary of why using GCSE grades before year 11 is wrong, a waste of time, or unsubstantiated. I caveated my talk on the day by saying I often talk in absolutes when really there is some nuance; please bear that in mind and please challenge anything you disagree with.

Using GCSE grades a progression model

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This is where a student is expected to slowly rise up through the grades from grade 4 in Year 9 up to a grade 9 at the end of Year 11. This is commonly known as a flight path and pervades schools. …

Each summer I think about what changes I’m going to make to my teaching and my approach to work in general; all with the best intentions.

However, as the first term comes and goes, the reality of school life kicks in and some changes fall by the wayside while others seem to stick. So it always seems helpful to me to reassess before the Spring term, happily coinciding with New Year’s, and set myself some goals for the year. This is the first year I’ve posted my thoughts online which I’m hoping will apply some pressure to stick to my word, I’m also hoping that some readers may even feel the urge to comment or criticise so that they may improved. …

As we get into mock season, schools around the country are trying to give their exam classes an idea of how they will do in the summer.

Students will often sit a mock, or pre-public, exam made up of past paper questions with the aim to output a grade equal to what they would have achieved had they sat it for real. The is a whole other argument about the meaning of this grade, but I’ll leave that for another day.

The best way to do this would be to sit a whole past paper and use its associated grade boundaries, however at this point you may not have finished the course so you may opt to remove some questions.

Each year British athletes compete at the British Athletics Championships. There are a fixed number of medals available which doesn’t change year on year. Does this mean that British athletics (as a whole) can’t improve year on year? Absolutely not. The issue would be trying to measure the strength of British athletics using the number of medals awarded.

Hopefully, you can see the parallel with the rhetoric around tomorrow’s GCSE results. For most GCSEs tomorrow, the number of different grades is essentially fixed. This isn’t a problem, it’s just a way of setting a standard for the new grades. In following years, the proportions of students at each grade will be similar. …

Pun intended

In the drive to improve standards, assessment often comes under scrutiny. This can lead to some really positive changes, and on twitter I often see new marking/feedback/assessment policies that are real improvements. However I also see practices that are made with the best of intentions but miss the point. I don’t profess to have all the answers, or that my day to day assessment is perfect, but hopefully critiques like this will help me improve.

Doing summative assessment and claiming it’s formative.

For the purpose of this point I mean ‘summative assessment’ to be a form of assessment that is designed to be used for a summative purpose and having students complete the assessment in those same intended conditions. A classic example might be for students to sit an end-of-topic test on Electromagnetism made up of past paper questions. …

The assessment concept that I think is most useful for teachers to know about


Everyone knows about classroom tests, mini-quizzes and questioning in lessons but for too long properties of assessments were largely ignored by practising teachers. End-of-topic tests ‘work’, those who do better are the ones we would expect to, questions tell us what students do and don’t understand.

However, assessment is far more complicated than this. Complicated, but interesting; so much so that I decided to do a masters on it.

It appears I’m not alone in my opinion. In recent years there has been lots written about assessment, many discussing technical properties of assessment.

Key Concepts


  • Rob Coe suggests there are 47 questions you should ask of assessment before letting it into your classroom. …

A worked example to show why expected progress doesn’t work in practice

This week I posted a number of progress trackers on twitter to show the nonsense of expected progress and flight paths


This method of progress tracking has been in place for a number of years and has become ingrained within schools. However, it fundamentally doesn’t work for many subjects.

Let’s imagine a student studies Energy in the first term of year 9 as part of their GCSE Physics. They sit the end-of-topic test and achieve 72%. What does this tell us? Without any more information than I have presented, absolutely nothing. We don’t know how other students have performed or how difficult the test was. …

Last week I gave a talk at #cogscisci ‘Meeting of Minds’ looking at how I use assessment and my developing view of reporting. This post is a summary of my talk, minus the tangents, rambles and the extraneous detail.

Validity, Reliability and Dependability

Two major qualities of assessments are validity and reliability. Validity is a measure of how well an assessment reflects what you want to assess or how well an assessment supports the inferences we make from the results. I might validly say that a student who does well on a physics test is good at physics, but it would probably be invalid for me to infer they would also be good at dancing. Reliability is a measure of how consistent the results of an assessment are. If a student were to take the same test twice, would they achieve the same result? …

Matthew Benyohai

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