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Laura Ulyatt: Chemistry Trainee - Harris Academy Wimbledon

Cohort 2021-22

March 2022Laura ulyatt"What tips would you give regarding lesson planning?"

I hope the following will help my fellow and future trainees save some time with some of my top tips… 

Don’t always rely on the resources that are on the school’s system  

When using school’s shared resources, I found at times that the context was a little lost and therefore my delivery of the lesson was somewhat clumsy…! When I found myself questioning why a picture of a dog belonged on the same slide as a melting ice cube, I decided it was best to start relying on my own context of the subject. I could relay this to my students in a more meaningful way!

Work backwards – what are the learning objectives? And start from there 

What is the big question of the lesson? What are the key learning objectives and the extra ‘would be nice to knows’? I found once I mapped out the overall questions, I wanted my students to be able to answer, this helped shape the content I wanted to include, as well as what assessment for learning tasks and activities would be worthwhile to incorporate. 

What is the bigger picture of what you’re teaching? 

I ask myself what the bigger picture of the topic I’m teaching is. For example, why am I teaching children about the solar system? So that moving forward in life students can understand what causes day and night, what defines a year and help them contextualise the fact that the Earth is just a miniscule part of our universe! I could inspire children to tap into areas of science that might interest them and potentially ignite a new passion in an area they may not have had access to before – maybe even inspire some future astronauts!  

Try not to spend half an hour trying to find the perfect picture... 

Okay so I am guilty of this… who doesn’t appreciate a crystal-clear image of a plant cell!? But sometimes it isn’t worth the extra 30 minutes trying to find one… BBC Bitesize is a great starting point for imagery and has saved me precious time when planning lessons. I could allocate that time to planning a wonderful mini whiteboard task instead! 

Structure lesson tasks 

Starting with a Do Now settler task, followed by a group discussion, a teacher explanation, a knowledge check multiple choice ‘hinge question’ (to inform my next steps in a lesson) and finally a ‘We Do’ together and ‘You Do’ task, pieces together nicely! The structure is received well by students, and I found basing my own planning around this structure very useful. 

Practice practicals...  

Practical lessons are a science teacher’s forte! But a lot of planning needs to go into this. By rehearsing this beforehand with my science technician, meant a more seamless delivery in class!  

Enjoy it! 

After all the hard work planning, I found that by carefully considering all the above meant a more enjoyable delivery of the lesson itself. I hope these tips come in handy as a quick cheat sheet for trainees here on out! 

January  2022

"How was your first term as a trainee teacher with Harris ITE?"

It feels like I blinked and my first term as a trainee teacher has been and gone! But my perception of time passing quickly is not an indication of the amount I have learned in the past 17 weeks.  

I had no idea this time a year ago that I would be standing in front of my own Science class from week 1 of my teaching journey! I could not have imagined that I would be burning crisps over Bunsen burners with 12 year-olds and that this would be both an acceptable and educational activity… seeing my students’ eyes light up as Hula Hoops turned to charcoal, as they gained an understanding that this energy in food can be transferred to heat energy (fire!), really made it all worth stinking out the lab for. 

As well as practical experiments, a few highlights for me have been: 

  1. Seeing an excitement for Science within my students and sparking an early interest in potential future scientists!  

  1. Reaching a point where I no longer needed to refer to my seating plan to remember names – huzzah! Teachers can store a remarkable number of names in their noggins… I enjoy catching students off guard in the corridor using their name, you can see that they feel remembered and valued.  

  1. Building positive relationships and balancing this with a level of assertiveness in the classroom, which has shown me how to start creating a calm and engaging learning environment. 

Term 1 of training through a School Direct ‘learning on the job’ approach has been valuable for someone like me, who works better through practice and learning through what works and doesn’t. There was a lot to consider when I took the plunge to change my career to start teaching, but the fact that I still want to embrace the new challenges and pull myself out of bed before 6am every morning to work with amazing young minds, fills me with a huge sense of fulfilment and reminds me that I have absolutely made the right decision. 

It has been a blur of names, mini whiteboards, teenage hormones and detentions... but every day I learn something new as I navigate my way through this new world of teaching. I successfully completed Christmas term with a case of laryngitis and a positive lateral flow test come Christmas day! However, I think the laryngitis only shows my keen enthusiasm for teaching (and a lesson learned to integrate those non-verbal cues – hands up for silence really is a gem…). I am almost halfway through the teacher training year already, I cannot believe it! I am excited to see what the Spring Term holds for me as well as working in a different placement school for a few weeks. I am ready for you Key Stage 4! 

November 2022

“What did your first week entail?” 

Shoes polished, lunch packed, bike wheels pumped – I’m ready for my first day of school! Only this time, I’m the one standing at the front of the classroom… terrified? Yep! Excited? Absolutely! But what if the students can sniff out a trainee like a bloodhound? Act the part! ‘Fake it till you make it’, they say. I knew I could do that. After all, people say teachers are actors, surely I can act like I’ve been teaching for years?  

Enter week one. The school towers above me as I cycle towards it, so this is the new office, hey? I can deal with that after almost a year of using my kitchen table as my office. It only took a global pandemic for that little voice in my head telling me to ‘take the teaching plunge’, to turn into a real-life action! I guess sometimes we need that space and time from the hustle and bustle of life (especially London life!) to realise what makes us feel fulfilled.  

I am handed my timetable for the first week and it looks like I’m teaching Year 7 first period of the new academic year, which also happens to be the hottest September day humanly possible! In the sweltering heat, I line my Year 7s up outside, ready to take to them to their (and my) first ever science lesson.  

We enter the classroom and I see coat hooks on the side of the wall. My instinct on such a hot day is to tell all students to hang their blazers up. This is met with confused bumbling and questions about whether they should hang their bags up too. After 5 minutes of bumbling-bag-blazer confusion, I have already learnt my first lesson – always get students to keep belongings on them!  

Secondly, never underestimate the treasury tag. Remember treasury tags? The little bit of string with two plastic tags used to attach hole punched paper. With Year 7 straight out of primary school, they had never seen one before (one student even asking me if they could eat theirs). I spend most of the lesson going from student to student showing each one how to treasury tag. The beauty of hindsight is the ‘what I should have done’ is so glaringly obvious, and I now know the tremendous value of demonstrating before a task.   

Every day is a school day, quite literally now! And this is all part of the learning as a trainee teacher. I always heard the first day would be a bit of a shambles, and I did feel a bit like Gilderoy Lockhart trying to contain the Cornish Pixies in his Defence Against the Dark Arts class (to all those Harry Potter fans out there!). But hearing a student say ‘thanks Miss, see you tomorrow’ as they left class, reminded me of why I’m here. I want to be the teacher I still remember making a difference to me when I was at school. It was a big decision to change career, but one I’m so glad I made - bring on Term 2!