The winning formula

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Gill Brown interviews winners of recent awards and finds out what makes good science teachers tick


Liliana Bannon Head of science, Orley Farm School, Harrow, an independent co-educational preparatory school with 470 pupils aged 4-13.

As a child in Romania, Liliana would persuade her mother to bring chemicals home from where she worked. Then she would set up experiments, occasionally burning the carpet. She brings her intense curiosity to her teaching, knowing that motivating children to search for answers pays dividends as they get older.

Winning formula: "To show how particles act in different states of matter, get one group to tell the others what activity they observe. Then other groups have to guess what state they are in. Homework might be 'A day in the life of a water particle'."

Anubha Bhunjun Science teacher, Rokeby school, Stratford, London, inner-city comprehensive for ages 11-16. GCSE 5 A*-C 23 per cent.

Anubha was always fascinated by chemistry and wanted to teach it, but longed for more interesting presentation. So she set her heart on providing it. "Nothing in chemistry is difficult if taught properly," she says.

Winning formula: "Everyone can contribute, for example, by bringing in newspaper articles about current debate involving science. Every pupil must be able to complete work and enjoy it. Key to this is ensuring differentiation within the class, so they go away looking forward to next time."

Adrian Guy Chemistry and physics teacher, Maynard school, Exeter, an independent for girls, with 470 pupils aged 11-18. GCSE 5 A*-C 98.5 per cent.

At school, Adrian was so keen on science he even tried to build a bomb in class. His PGCE course inspired him to pass on that enthusiasm to others.

Winning formula: "Teaching organic chemistry to sixth formers is always fun. They want to learn and have a raft of questions. So the group can go from 'How do you test for alcohol?' to have seven or eight seemingly random experiments in progress by the time the bell goes. The more they explore the answers to their own questions, the more excited they become by the possibilities revealed."

Douglas Robertson Chemistry teacher, Hawick high school, mixed rural and town intake. It has 1,000 pupils aged 11-18. Standard grade: 62 per cent 5 A-C in 2002.

Douglas had an inspiring chemistry teacher, yet after university he chose a PhD over teaching. After a short while he realised that the work he most enjoyed was presenting and demonstrating in the lab for undergraduates and so he turned his energies to the classroom.

Winning formula: "Start the lesson off on a good footing by being at the door as pupils come in. Talk to them about themselves for a minute, not just about schoolwork. Allow them to learn safely for themselves while interspersing the lesson with your own set of flashes and bangs to keep the 'wow' factor going. Keeping an impressive finale up your sleeve ensures pupils always leave with a smile."


Nick Fisher Head of science at Rugby school, an independent co-educational with 760 pupils aged 13-18. GCSE 5 A*-C 99 per cent.

After a physics degree, Nick thought he might take to the stage. Realising that this course might not pay the bills he took a PGCE, just in case. He was hooked, combining his two passions - writing and starring - in his own improvised production, the physics lesson.

Winning formula: "A session on standing waves with the sixth form. Using a CD-Rom, guitar strings, a recorder, a microwave and some marshmallows, measure the speed of sound and light (a version of an experiment recommended by the Institute of Physics). Students research why the marshmallows expand. Keep physics fun and in the real world."

Chris Gidzewicz Head of Physics at Norton Hill school, Somerset, a comprehensive in a semi-rural area, with 1,300 pupils aged 11-18. GCSE 5 A*-C 76 per cent.

Chris describes himself as "slightly odd" in the world of science teaching.

As a child, he was obsessed by the night sky and was building telescopes in his late teens. Heading for astrophysics, he then found himself working in sound studios and theatres. At 30, his wife encouraged him to teach. In school, he combines his love of physics with music technology; in his spare time he's a Reiki Therapist.

Winning formula: "Discuss the theory of sound using a didgeridoo, guitars and synthesiser. Students enjoy working this way; it encourages them to think further. What emotion does music evoke and why? The Lord of the Rings theme music will always provoke discussion."

Neil Jaques Head of physics, Bancroft school, Woodford Green, Essex, independent co-educational school with 800 pupils aged 7-18. GCSE 5 A*-C 99 per cent.

Neil only ever really wanted a job where he could show that physics is exciting and relevant. Re-shaping work schemes for GCSE courses has resulted in toy trains in class, visits to hospitals and rocket challenges.

Winning formula: "The collective penny can only drop when students realise practical applications. For example, with Faraday's Law.

Science is also about English, history and the rest of schoolwork.

Discussing what life may have been like for scientists like Faraday more than 100 years ago can be as useful as focussing on experiments."


Colin Doyle (main picture) Science technician, Fleming Fulton special school, Belfast.

Volunteering in a PHAB club (for the physically disabled and able-bodied) triggered Colin into a job at Fleming Fulton, which was then just being built. He and the staff set up the innovative and award-winning lab from scratch; originally, there was no equipment for pupils with disabilities - table legs even had to be sawn off to allow wheelchair access.

Winning formula: "Working in teams of three, pupils often cover the full science spectrum in one lesson, each using their abilities. So, a paraplegic will use his head-switch for timing experiments; the wheelchair user will do the application and the third person will hit the laptop keys.

The lesson could range from peering through the specially adapted water-tank microscope (made by Colin and running on marbles) to experiments using Bunsen burners safely, enjoyably and by themselves."

David Goddard Science technician at St Mary's college, Derry, an inner-city comprehensive with 915 girls aged 11-18. GCSE 5 A*-C 45 per cent.

"Jack of all Trades" is how David describes himself, which is why he loves the job. From hydrogen balloons to role-playing as the manager of a US mining company - with the accent thrown in - is all in a day's work. After a welding course at technical college, David moved from audio-visual technician at St Mary's to the job he has now had for 15 years. Whilst there he has gained a BSc from the Open University in natural science.

Winning formula: "A balance, with everyone taking part and good teamwork, encouraging pupils to learn from each other as well as from staff is crucial. Sometimes friends can explain complicated science to each other more clearly than the staff. If things get boring, throw in references from everyday life - the toaster or the cat. Even mentioning my folically challenged pate, strictly in the interests of science, can change the atmosphere."

Malcolm Littlejohn Supervisory technician, Banchory Academy, Aberdeenshire, a mixed rural and urban school with 935 pupils aged 11-18. 5 A-C standard grades 68 per cent.

Malcolm has been at Banchory Academy for 35 years and has no intention of leaving. He started at the school as a science technician the term after he left, acquiring an HNC in chemistry a few years later. Now, he has a staff of five who work in all areas of technical support and the open-plan science area takes up most of his time as pupils are encouraged to work there on their own projects.

Winning formula: "Teachers and technicians plan together. The third year did a DNA project in the style of a murder investigation. Although this involved setting up 100 jelly-based plates, it was worth seeing every pupil engaged with the science."

Tony Smith Chief science technician at Crofton school, an inner-city comprehensive in Lewisham, London, with 1,000 pupils aged 11-18. 22 per cent GCSE 5 A*-C.

After school, Tony trained as a technician with City and Guilds, eventually reaching the equivalent of a degree. His first interest was biology, but over 33 years he has adapted to syllabus changes and props up bits of the school that might otherwise fall down. He relishes odd requests.

Winning formula: "Working with teachers and planning ahead, so there is time for the constant upkeep of equipment or to show a child exactly how to lay an onion skin on a slide. Seeing their excitement as they observe cells and realise that next time they can do it on their own makes the job worth doing."

For details of Salters prizes see

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