Monthly Archives: February 2014

Fast Fix – Attention Whistle

Use a whistle to get attention in noisy practical lessons

Practical lessons can be (should be?) noisy places. They are filled with discussion, roaring bunsens, crashing cars or squelching organs. A loud blast on a whistle is an instant, low effort and effective way of regaining attention.

If this isn’t for you, try using other non-verbal cues. You should never have to shout for attention in a class.  Your voice is your most important tool and you must look after it.


  • Whistle (really you will be surprised how well it works)
  • Raising your hand and counting down from five on your fingers
  • Clapping out a rhythm
  • A digital klaxon

How do you get attention in your practical lessons?


Fast Fix – Digital timers

Use digital timers (projected on your smartboard) to maintain pace in your practical lessons

A fullscreen, countdown timer helps focus your students on their work, and makes sure the teacher doesn’t let a practical drag on too long. Most smartboard software comes with integrated digital timers (my favourite was SMARTs Notebook software). If you can’t use these, there are plenty of free digital timers available online:

I usually ask my pupils which funny alarm they want used. Just remember to download one to your computer in case of internet black outs.

Fast Fix – Measured Doses

Ask your science technician to set out your practical equipment with pre-measured/weighed ‘doses’ of reagents. These can be laid out in separate containers which your equipment managers can collect and bring back to their group. This has a number of benefits:

  • Speeds up the practical – particularly where you have limited numbers of balances or measuring cylinders;
  • Prevents queuing, and the poor behaviour that goes with it;
  • Reduces the risk of spillages – this is particularly important with nastier chemicals
  • Massively reduces waste and cross-contamination – pupils often pour excess reagent down the drain;
  • Equipment is more easily tidied away.

It is important that your lab technician is given precise instructions, and given plenty of notice. This preparation takes time, but will benefit your lesson.

Measuring out chemical volumes/quantities is an important skill in science. Make sure that you give your students opportunities to learn accurate, safe and skilful measuring technique. But this can be a lesson (objective) all in itself, where you are not so worried about the results of an investigation


Baker’s Half Dozen (31/01/14)

In this regular feature, I list my 6 favourite practical science links from the past fortnight. Only five really got me excited this fortnight! If you have used or seen a great practical resource, let me know by commenting or by tweeting me @TFScientist

A cheap and easy biology practical (Image courtesy of BioMed Central, CC-BY)

  • Subject: Biology (Orange Juice Challenge)
  • Log in?: No
  • Source: Twitter via BioMed Central (@BioMedCentral)
  • Author: BioMed Central Blog
  • Details: Cheap and easy biology practicals are surprisingly difficult to find. This is a great investigation into how our eyes can fool our taste buds. All you need is some juice, food colouring and the protocol from the bottom of the link.


  • Subject: Chemistry (Demonstrations only)
  • Log in?: No
  • Source: Twitter via National STEM Centre (@NtlSTEMCentre)
  • Author: Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Details: This is a real chemistry treasure trove! This site contains 100 demonstrations that GCSE pupils are not able to perform themselves. Remember that a demonstration should have a clear purpose, and not be included just to waste a few minutes of lesson time.

iPad screen-capture

  • Subject: Practical Science
  • Price?: Free (from iTunes or the Apple App store. Not on Android)
  • Source/author: Science House Foundation (@sciencehousefdn)
  • Details: Over 80 videos of science experiments and demonstrations. A great collection that even shows you how to make your own versions of expensive equipment, for a fraction of the cost. Well worth having on your iPhone or iPad.

Using pipe cleaners and pony beads to make DNA (Image courtesy of Hayley Thompson)

  • Subject: Biology (DNA Modelling and Replication)
  • Log in?: Yes (Free)
  • Source and Author: Twitter via Hayley Thompson (@HThompson1982)
  • Details:A simple way to model the structure of DNA. Even better, you then use these models to teach DNA replication – the students must figure out how this structure might replicate. A great independent learning idea that is simple and attractive. Perfect! Resource comes with a video, instructions on how to make the model and a fantastic accompanying powerpoint presentation.

  • Subject: Science Numeracy
  • Log in?: No
  • Author: Rob Butler (@cleverfiend)
  • Details: Not strictly a practical resource, but a resource useful for practicals. Last Monday, ASEchat (every monday from 8pm!) focussed on numeracy in science. Practical science is a great way of teaching numeracy, particularly with skills such as serial dilutions, graphing, lines of best fit and scaling. Rob provides his take on the chat, with a full transcript available at the bottom of the page