Classic Chemistry Clips – The Beauty of the Practical

By Anthony Kane, Teacher of Chemistry.

Chemistry is, fundamentally, a very exciting and dynamic subject.

Part of the reason for this is the practical work we undertake – this takes two main forms, the class practical and the teacher demonstration.

When thinking about chemistry demonstrations, most students (past and present) will think of bangs, explosions and fire – all good things, but all over rather quickly. Some of you might remember, as I do, the disappointment when a teacher got you excited for a demonstration, only to watch it fizzle, sputter, and their subsequent and despondent “it wasn’t supposed to do that…

Imagine if we could replay, in slow motion, our favourite demos, to watch the magic of reality unfold frame by frame. Imagine always being able to see the demonstration clearly, regardless of where you were in the class. Imagine if we had a backup in case a demonstration, for whatever reason, went awry. Imagine if we were teaching a different topic entirely, and felt that now would be a wonderful time to illustrate our point with a display, but there was no time to throw it together. (Imagine if you wanted to show all your friends really cool science videos…)

These were the ideas that I had in mind when I started recording demonstrations during lessons at Wimbledon High School. Since then I have put together a catalogue of over twenty videos of common classroom demonstrations, and played them countless times. Using our Windows Surface Laptops, and connecting wirelessly to our SmartBoards, I am able to project what I am recording while it is being recorded.

The advantages are huge. Twenty students cannot all see one small beaker on a desk, but project it to the room and they can all get a perfect view. Sometimes the eye is not quick enough, or we blink, but with a video, we can go back and watch it again. We can slow it down, we can analyse frame by frame, and our learning is richer for it.

“Boom” goes the thermite.

Another aspect of the videos that I think particularly embodies the spirit of learning here at Wimbledon High is the sheer joy that students find in watching these demonstrations. “Ooh”s and “Ah”s are just as gratifying on recording as they are the first time you listen to them live in a lesson. One of our stated aims here at Wimbledon High is to nurture curiosity and a sense of wonder, and listening to some of the clips below, I hope you would agree that we are doing just that.





Where does this leave the future of chemical education? I think that the next logical step would be to record the method of class practicals – so that these videos can be distributed to students in advance of lessons and set as required viewing for the lesson. This would empower students to feel more confident with their equipment, have more time in the lesson to gather data, and to have more belief in their own abilities as scientists, encouraging their independence as learners. This would also prepare them well for scientific disciplines at university, which often require you to familiarise yourself with pre-lab exercises before entering a laboratory.

This is also a promising avenue for developing school partnerships. These videos are broadly applicable to many chemistry curricula, and we are fortunate at Wimbledon High to have excellent facilities and lab technicians. Sharing the fruits of our chemical labour is quick, easy, and importantly very beneficial to the education of others. I have already begun sharing my collection with another school and look forward to increasing their reach as time goes on.

Science is a practical discipline, and chemistry is a particularly visual subject. By offering students more opportunities to experience its beauty we open them up to a world of possibilities; an exciting pathway to deeper understanding of the universe, a subject both big and small, with deep history and philosophy, heroes and villains, and instil in them a lifelong appreciation for nature.

Developing WIMlevels and a new model of assessment

By Paul Murphy, Deputy Head Academic.

Perhaps Plato’s desire to ensure an expert mariner sails the ship in which you travel is a more striking illustration for the need to appoint and trust experts to do their business than pointing out that when it comes to how children learn, it is the teacher who is best placed to deliver students from the metaphorical storms they must weather. Although applying a gentle rhetorical massage to a critique of the character of democracy in the Peloponnese during the fourth century BCE is probably poor soil from which to begin an explanation of how Wimbledon High School has re-visited its own model of education, assessment and academic support, it captures the essence of our basic approach; in lieu of an accessible, clear and viable set of examination criteria and grade-boundaries (which in any case differentiate, rather than provide a guide for how to educate), we as a common room turned to each other, to pedagogical expertise and to our (extensive) experience to decide how to best support our girls throughout their time on Mansel Road.

Cherie Blair, a champion (albeit self-proclaimed) of the under-educated, noted in a speech on the subject that “someone with 4 A grades at A-Level from [a famous Public School] may look good on paper…but push a bit harder and often you get the impression they have learned to pass exams rather than think for themselves”. Although I risk (and indeed am being) highly reductive, it is my firm belief that learning to pass examinations, although a valuable skill (the most valuable in terms of future earnings, beside inheritance), really only teaches you do to precisely that, pass examinations. To consider the Junior perspective, SATS do not help GCSEs, which in turn offer little skill-based progression to A-Level alone. Data shows us that students who do well at GCSE tend to take well to A-Level. This does not mean GCSE is a good preparation to take the higher discipline; both are differentiating measures, and so it is likely doing well at one measure of capacity and intellect will see you do well at another. The same is true of the jump from A Level to Degree, at least in terms of skills (I should note that some studies do link outstanding A Level performance to 1st class degrees and that I, of course, write generally and for emphasis). Examinations do prove that learning has occurred, and are a basic requirement of universities and employers, so we had them keenly in our focus as we developed our model, but they were certainly not the focal-point. Outstanding examination results are intended to be the happy by-product of focussed, considered and subject-specific and synoptic education (not the oxymoron it might at first appear).

My (internal) starting point when opening discussions with Heads of Department and Staff was the work of Piaget (now a rather unfashionable educational philosopher, despite his respected grounding in child psychology). Piaget found, in 1920, that children’s power of reasoning was not flawed after all. In areas where children lacked life experience as a point of reference, they logically used their imagination to compensate. He additionally concluded that factual knowledge should not be equated with intelligence and “good” decision-making.

Over the course of his six-decade career in child psychology, Piaget also identified four stages of mental development. “Formal operations,” the fourth and final stage, involves 12-to-15-year-olds forming the ability to think abstractly with more complex understandings of logic and cause and effect. This is when he considered (and later theorists have not successfully, in my view, challenged this developmental stage) the brain at its most plastic in terms of learning beyond mere knowledge (though, of course, as I noted above, he felt knowledge was still essential for positive outcomes). I was keen therefore that our system of assessment, our schemes of work, our developmental model, should be more consciously building undergraduate skills, concepts and modes of working from Year 7. There were, of course, many of these elements in existing assessment models and schemes of work, but we needed greater clarity and accuracy (and indeed conviction) about what such skills were, and how they could be developed, taught and assessed over a seven-year period, in each subject discipline (until our education system’s conception of subjects as disparate areas of studies subsides, subject-specific skills will be the way of thinks in the United Kingdom).

So, the first step was to communally identify our goals, which was relatively straightforward. In a meeting with a key team of HoDs and SMT members, we thrashed out the key aims we would like to use to frame our assessment policy. Of course like all good discussions, concordat was neither complete nor decisive (and like all chairs of such discussions, I am conscious my own starting point will have coloured the outcome), as our thoughts will be subject to change and amendment as greater understanding comes forward. We settled on two themes; that our key idea would be the pursuit of scholarship, with an “end-goal” of providing every student will the tools and skills to thrive at a top university, conservatoire or other tertiary institution (our context precludes the immediate focus of work at 18 for most), and that each department would draft their own set of progressive criteria, describing in detail the “threshold-concepts” that demonstrate the distinctive steps in understand each subject more fully and completely, and using their extensive experience to explain to parents, girls and themselves, what these moments were, which skills a girl was currently able to use, and which they were working to next on the ladder to becoming a capable undergraduate. As such, the skills required in Year 7 had to be mindful of ensuring the skills required at University were developing in the right way, and our highest “progress levels” are beyond the requirements of GCSE and A-Level respectively.

A good “threshold-concept” example (elaborated for all HoDs in a session we held with Ian Warwick, an educational-consultant who focusses on the academic development of highly able pupils) is the moment at which a student of English Literature first recognises that the characters are fabrications, and that the author deliberately writes to create and develop them. Without this step, analysing literature is at best comprehending the narrative of a story, with it, a world of opportunity opens. We tasked all HoDs to work with their departments, to find all such steps and progressions which students undergo during their secondary and further education, and to stage these progressions in a table which demonstrated them. An example is below (English Literature), at Appendix A. A note must be made here to the elasticity and dedication of the staff involved in the development process; to hold this close a micro-scope to your methods of assessment is difficult and challenging in the current political climate, where examination pressure can so easily trump educational goals.

A two-year process was devised for the development of these threshold concept progress tables, with a view to the new model being adopted in Years 7-10 from September 2017, and the whole school from September 2018. The first part of the model has been drafted and implemented, with our first (internal) reporting assessment scheduled in October. The model has broken progress down into these threshold concepts further and skills progressions, with separate descriptors for “skills” and “concepts and ideas”, so that girls, parents and teachers can all clearly identify and track the progress of a student with accuracy and confidence, whilst also showing students what they need to do next in order to progress. The rationale for a dual-descriptor approach (see again Appendix A) was based in both practical evidence (a similar model is already in use, and has proven very successful, at the flagship Westminster Harris Sixth Form) and educative and psychological theory, where the ability to understand and the ability to do remain distinct concepts (see Naglieri, Goldstein or notably Brooks (in Psychology Today)) that require acknowledgement, assessment and explanation in their own right. Each threshold has been standardised using internal moderation, cross-reference with standards in the reformed GCSEs being undertaken in various subjects (our A Level draft is pending) and also, by heavily relying on the pedagogical knowledge and experience of the Wimbledon High staff. Departmental meetings remain the epicentre of good teaching and learning, and it is from them, in combination with educational theory, that this system was devised.

The system has also sought to allow departments the freedom to devise schemes of work in a way which encourages subject-specific skills to subsist at the core of our academic offering. The model moves away from collective assessment weeks and towards a fluid style of assessment, where teachers’ overall opinions of a pupils’ progress are combined with punctuated and careful written assessment that allow pupils to display and develop skills beyond those expected for their age-range, without sacrificing the need for clear, identifiable points of progress. MidYIS (despite its inaccuracies it remains the best available base-line data from a test scenario) forms the basis of our initial projections for pupil progress on our scale, but it is by no means the main driver over time, as yearly pupil targets will be clear, fluid, subject specific and, most importantly, highly individual.  Progress up our various “WimLevels” will be tracked half-termly, without the need for cumbersome reporting systems, and we hope that it will focus our girls on the simplest goal in self-improvement: which step must I take next to get better? Our Assistant Head, Performance, devised a specific flight path for each girl’s projected progress both intra-year and year-on-year, which can be amended based on achievement should the demon MidYIS be proven a too miserly tool.

The finished product means that all girls, parents and staff will receive a clear, robust message about the skills they have developed and concepts they have learned, every half-term, and in every subject. It will inform scheme of work planning, assessment, intervention, tracking and teaching, setting our goals as classroom practitioners based on mastery and excellent of the subjects we are teaching, with fantastic examinations results little more than a by-product which proves that we are ensuring our girls are always learning and developing academically in the best possible way.

Mr Paul Murphy

Deputy Head (Academic)

19th October 2017

“British policy towards India changed completely from 1857-76.” How far do you agree?

Wimbledon High History

By Ellie Redpath, Year 12.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 resulted in a change to British policy towards India from an idealistic view, with the hopes that India would one day have become civilised enough under British rule to self-govern, to one of resigned moral duty coupled with a heightened awareness of the need for cementing the security of the British Raj. However, it did not result in the complete eradication of the previous policies employed under Company rule. When policy is defined as the changes made by the British government with regards to the military system and administrative government of India, and the changes to economic strategy, it becomes apparent that the policies were altered in order to avoid provoking the revival of violence by imposing Western ideology on the indigenous people. Normality for the Indian people remained largely the same as before the Mutiny; these policies were introduced solely as insurance that the events of the Mutiny would never be repeated.

The differences to the administrative government of India implemented after the Mutiny can ostensibly be seen as drastic, yet in reality resulted in little change other than to consolidate the restriction of the power of the indigenous people. An Indian Civil Service was created and the Governor General renamed the Viceroy, creating an illusion of the upheaval of the East India Company’s goverance. Yet despite the change in title, the new Viceroy of India was in fact the same man who had been Governor General, Charles Canning, and largely took on the same role as before 1857. The only tangible alteration was that he worked for the Government rather than the Company. Moreover, the Indian Civil Service was mainly comprised of white British men, and whilst indigenous people were not prohibited from joining, the entrance tests were based in London, so it was made near impossible; this had not even changed several decades later in 1905, when a mere 5% were men from Bengal. The creation of the Civil Service therefore only served to strengthen the administrative control of the British over the Indians by limiting how much influence Indians had over their own government. Another ostensible change introduced by the British government was the return of authority to the indigenous rulers of the princely states, a reversal of Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse. While this appeared to be an extreme shift from Britain’s policy pre-Mutiny, the Princes overwhelmingly complied with British legislation and the restoration of their power made little difference to everyday life; the British government gave back their former entitlements solely because it appeared to be respecting tradition. A considerable amount of bitterness had developed in recently annexed states such as Oudh, so this difference in policy was expected to help pacify the indigenous people to prevent future uprisings. Ultimately, the British changes to the administrative rule of India were not as severe for the majority as they could seem at first glance, and were made principally to cement British rule and influence in the subcontinent.

Britain’s modifications to the structure of the Indian military were slightly more radical because it was sepoys in the East India Company’s army who had begun the Mutiny, so to avoid a repeated occurance and confirm that Britain held power over the army, it was necessary for Britain to change its military organisation in a more extreme fashion than it had changed administrative or economic policies. In order to prevent the recurrance of a similar incident, the religions and castes of the regiments were mixed to cut off a sense of unity against the British. This was intended to avert a situation like that of the Brahmin caste before the Mutiny – members of the elite Brahmin were forbidden to travel across the sea, yet this custom was often overlooked or ignored by British generals, leaving them to harbour resentment against the British. In addition to this, eighty four percent of regiments in Bengal (where much of the resistance had originated) were replaced, in order to diffuse any remaining tension in the area between the sepoys and their white officers. The number of British officers supervising a sepoy regiment was increased, and weapons were left under British control when not being used directly in battle to ensure that any violence that broke out amongst sepoys would not immediately endanger the British generals. However, whilst more changes were enacted in regards to the Indian military than in Britain’s administrative or economic policy, they were almost all made with the objective of inhibiting the escalation of future conflicts between sepoys and their officers into full-scale revolutions. The statement could be made that because sepoys were treated with greater respect after the Mutiny, Britain’s aim was not to assert control over the Indian troops or remain distant from them, but rather to foster amiable relations between officers and their soldiers; yet this was another strategy used by Britain to create an illusion of interpersonal respect to avoid further provocation of the indigenous peoples. Hence the military strategies of the British towards India only changed significantly because they were the most relevant in preventing the reoccurance of a mutiny.

The changes to British economic policy towards India were not a complete reversal of policy under the East India Company, yet again the changes that were made were directed towards attempting to curb the economic progress and industrial independence of the indigenous people to secure British control over India. The British built over 3000 miles of railway after 1857, a vast distance compared to the mere 288 miles built under Company rule. This development, whilst not being entirely new –railway lines, despite being short distances, had already existed before the Mutiny – simultaneously benefitted British trade as it allowed them to transport their goods further distances, increasing their wealth over that of the Indian economy, and allowed British troops to reach and crush any uprisings in remote areas much quicker than they would have been able to otherwise. While one could argue that developing and promoting industry in remote areas was an equally important reason for the construction of railways, and thus that their purpose was not to consolidate the British Raj, Britain’s economic policies actually intended to hinder India’s industrial growth. The recently introduced policy of free trade made it far easier for Britain to bombard India with inexpensive British-manufactured goods, which India would often have provided the raw materials for. For example, India produced raw cotton for export to Britain, yet its textiles industry was crushed by imports of cheaper British cloth. India’s economic development was hence restrained as it remained reliant on exports of raw materials to Britian, but had no protected market in which to sell its own manufactured goods, so its own industry could not flourish when faced with British competition; Britain was therefore kept economically superior to India, securing its power over the country, whilst India was kept dependent on British trade for its economy to survive, strengthening its ties to Britain. Therefore, Britain’s economic policy somewhat changed after the Mutiny due to the addition of railways to hasten the transportation of troops, and the import of British manufactured goods to India to limit its industry, however because railways had first been developed by the East India Company, the adjustments were only made for the purpose of security over the region and were not as extreme that one could state that they were changed completely.

To conclude, the Indian Mutiny resulted in Britain altering its policy on India from that of forced Westernisation with the ultimate aim of India achieving self-government, to one primarily focused on retaining British control and security in the subcontinent. However, outside of this shift in emphasis, little was changed, for life itself was not made radically different for the indigenous people; instead, the differences were precautionary, to avert the recurrance of brutality and ensure Britain remained the dominant power in India.