First up, key stage 4. I mark their end-of-topic tests and ... oh dear. Marks range from U to D, yet Fischer Family Trust data puts their targets as Bs and Cs - and this is set 5. I realise I need a plan. These students have switched off; they don't (all) get parental support and many have no self-esteem.
I march into the classroom, hand back their tests and play the song The Saturday's Up before asking the class why I played it. Thankfully, they correctly deduce "We have to go up". But how?
I tell the class we are going to produce two contracts, one for me and one for them, and we agree a list of things for mine. I am to produce variety in lessons and homework tasks. And they want rewards. Incentives are added: raffle tickets will be issued for good effort, contributions to lessons, etc, and these will be entered into a half-term draw for a small reward. We shall also look for opportunities to celebrate success. I sign my contract.
Theirs is simpler: they agree to cooperate, do homework and to believe "I can". They sign their contract.
But I have to deliver now. OK - variety. We start by making Molymod models of alkenes and then connect these to make polymers. We summarise our findings with brief sentences and drawings - "This is like that question on the paper" (hurrah, they are getting it). We correct the question on the paper because they have suggested we do so. We make paper chains, writing the name of a monomer (propene) on each link and then joining them together to form polypropene. We practise naming polymers given the monomer and vice versa; we draw the structural formulae.
The lesson moves towards disposal of plastics. "Why not burn them?" So we do. As the smoke clears, we discuss combustion and compare complete and incomplete combustion. We write the word "equations". We decide plastics can be recycled and, with a bag of plastic "rubbish", we examine the codes that tell us the different types. We fill in a worksheet downloaded from TES Resources that requires students to look up answers to nine questions from the topic and put them on the grid. Anyone who finishes gets a raffle ticket. They look in the text book, remembering how to use the index, cooperate and complete the activity.
As we head off to break, we remind ourselves of this: "Whether we think we can or whether we think we can't, we're right." I am grateful to the two teaching assistants who offered such positive support and encouragement - and I say a silent prayer for a successful assessed practical with KS5.
Dr Sarah Longshaw is head of chemistry at Eaton Bank School in Congleton, Cheshire
For a fun, musical way to revise variables, try baibel's Variables Song.
Activate the investigator in every pupil with mad.scientist's hovering paperclip challenge.
jacqui1974 shares a fun "slime-making" activity for a polymers practical.
Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources017.