Career-long commitment to professional development makes for a nice hypothesis

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
Subject-focused training for newcomers sets the right tone for life in the classroom

Whose idea was it to run a training event for pretty well every PGDE and final-year trainee science teacher in Scotland? Not mine. That's more than 150 bodies. And it's not just "sit and listen" training. It's experiential, with experiments using real chemicals, cultures and power supplies that have to be bottled, plated or checked before they get near a student. Then crated, as the event takes place at the other side of the country from our secret base at 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline.

Day 1: Every delegate goes to a physics, chemistry and biology lab. Tom and Ronna from the Institute of Physics in Scotland come along to help. Their workshop on Teaching Forces and Other Tricky Stuff has biologists writing comments on the evaluation form along the lines of "Now I can't wait to teach some physics!" Over lunch, SSERC staff chat with the tutors from the ITE institutions. This is very much a team effort.

Day 2: Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh, the husband-and-wife team behind Concept Cartoons and Active Assessment, arrive. Somehow, the stereotypical physicist one-metre exclusion zone, which for me isn't actually a myth, vanishes when Brenda is around. We hug. It was some years ago that Stuart and Brenda unwittingly kicked off my hypothesis that nice people have nice ideas.

Rotating with Stuart and Brenda, the SSERC people are running showcases on what we do to support science education. Because of numbers, there is rotation within rotation, wheels within wheels. Each part of us does the same session sixteenfold. Pity my technical support colleague, who has to listen to the same anecdotes repeated that number of times. "Has anyone seen an invisible test tube before .?"

The aftermath: All the kit is hauled back to the secret base to be unloaded, unpacked, cleaned up where necessary, checked and stored. The admin team collates scores of evaluation forms to see what students have made of it all. At the time of writing, I can only speculate that a huge majority of them found it as stimulating and useful as they have in previous years. The enthusiasm and purposeful bustle from the delegates suggested that they were happy with what was going on.

So whose idea was it to run an event so complex and involving? Not mine. I wish it had been, because it's a damned good idea. I'm struggling to remember any experiential, subject-focused CPD from my early days of teaching. Setting up the expectation of career-long professional development from as early a stage as possible can't be bad, especially if you are able to follow it through. So, coming soon, to a secret base near you, is the Probationers' Course.

Gregor Steele rates the invisible test tube as his favourite experiment

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

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