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GCSEs taught in 60 minutes

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 30 January, 2009 | By: David Marley

Pupils succeed at science module after one high-speed lesson plus exercise breaks

Pupils have passed a GCSE module after just an hour of teaching using an approach that could revolutionise classroom practice, The TES can reveal.

Students at Monkseaton High in North Tyneside scored up to 90 per cent in a GCSE science paper after one session involving three 20-minute bursts of intensive teaching with slides, interspersed with 10-minute breaks for physical exercise.

The “spaced learning” technique produced better results for more than a quarter of students after an hour than they achieved in traditional classes after four months.

Monkseaton has gained publicity for its trials of the approach but had never before asked pupils to sit a public exam after a single session.

The school will extend the approach to all age groups and all subjects from this September. It is also drawing up pilot schemes with primaries to use it to teach languages.

Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton, said the technique was based on neuroscientific research into how the brain creates memories.

“This is hard-nosed scientific research that we have done to help improve learning for everyone in every year,” he said. “Results appear to show that it is a very powerful tool for learning a lot very quickly.

“It is an exciting development, and other schools should trial it.”

In the experiment, 48 Year 9 pupils, who had not covered any part of the GCSE science syllabus, were given a spaced learning session for an hour and a half.

They were presented with the syllabus of the entire biology module in 70 rapid-fire slides in 20 minutes. This was then repeated twice after 10- minute breaks for physical exercise such as juggling and basketball.

Pupils took the multiple-choice exam a week later, a year earlier than normal: some gained A grades, 40 per cent achieved at least a C and 80 per cent at least a D.

In Year 10, the same students sat a different module after four months of conventional teaching, revision and exam practice.

On average, pupils scored 58 per cent on the first paper. On the second, students averaged 68 per cent, but 13 of them - more than one in four - achieved worse results, despite the months of preparation.

Monkseaton is the country’s first trust school. With partners including the Open University and Microsoft, it has gained a reputation for innovative education experiments.

Mr Kelley said: “I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and I know there is no magic bullet, but there are answers and techniques you never thought of before that are coming from science.”

The spaced learning trial, using modules from AQA’s science GCSE, is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. There are six modules in the science GCSE.

Monkseaton pupils had used the technique as a revision aid, but this is the first time it has been used in isolation at the start of a course.

Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of London University’s Institute of Education, applauded schools that try new approaches to teaching.

“This is an encouraging experiment but we need to be careful,” he said. “This result may be because this type of learning was particularly suited to the technique, it could be teacher effect, or it could be they just got lucky.”

A spokesman for the AQA exam board said: “We have complete confidence in the specification and the rigour of our courses.”


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Comment (30)

  • Does anybody else find this story depressing rather than inspiring? Just don't get me started!

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    17:07
    30 January, 2009

    sjthatcher

  • Interesting that this was the biology module. Was the later module that the students studied for by conventional means also biology or a physical science? If this is genuine it raises serious questions about what is being tested in the multiple choice exam.Keith

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    18:35
    30 January, 2009

    drkeithstaber

  • teaching for knpwledge or teaching to pass exams?

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    19:49
    30 January, 2009

    iggy2

  • how much did they actually learn?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20:21
    30 January, 2009

    Chloe Doherty

  • I am sure that most teachers, who have not been bullied into accepting that education = randomly selected targets, would find this depressing. How many have the experience of cramming for an exam, only to find that a week later we can't remember anything sensible. It seems to me that, particularly at the moment, what the country needs are students who understand what they have learned and can use their learning in a creative way. That was what we used to be good at and why so many of our top graduates were in demand in the US and elsewhere. Brainless regurgitation of facts is of no use to anyone except quiz show contestants.

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    21:07
    30 January, 2009

    janehelen

  • I'm ashamed of myself - I am so desperate to improve thye science results in my school that I was tempted to take a look - what has become of me?

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  • This is not teaching or learning. Cramming and memorising to pass and exam is ridiculous. Modular exams should be banned. Shame on this "school".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    9:12
    31 January, 2009

    weggster

  • The TES is highly irresponsible in promoting this in such a sensational manner: the "research" was flawed & the TES report uncritical and inaccurate, showing no understanding of current Science courses. This was not a controlled experiment - there was no group matching the first in every respect but lacking the high-speed lesson. As this Biology multiple choice paper is testing skills, rather than just knowledge, most reasonably able Y9's could achieve a grade D on a multiple choice paper using logic, reasoning, and mathematical skills for the data analysis, having followed a KS3 course which developed these skills. An A* would be a different matter!!! The article is incorrect in stating that 6 modules are required for the Science GCSE - they account for the 3 units in the 3 different sciences, with the practical work and ISA examinations making up the final unit for the qualification. This final section could not be prepared for by speed learning!

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    19:10
    31 January, 2009

    gaych

  • Passing the exam is an important for pupils but they need to learn and understand to practise in the future!

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    0:46
    1 February, 2009

    A apple

  • Why aren't OFSTED condemning this school? They were delivering dogmatic, undifferentiated lessons from PowerPoint with little interaction, no practical work and no variety (the same slides 3 times????). Was any attention paid to different learning styles? From the outside, this looks like an unsatisfactory lesson... On a wider point the whole modular exam thing is a major barrier to teaching and learning. We don't do it where I work, because it's a waste of time and breaks up the teaching that we do. But we still had a parent last week asking us why we aren't doing any Y10 modules. I can see this pressure growing ('if you take the exam 3 times, don't you have 3 times the chances to pass it?' - NO, you don't if you've not studied the curriculum first...)

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    14:33
    1 February, 2009

    pcsimon

  • A more depressing state of affairs is hard to imagine. Would you accept one of these pupils with a superficial how to pass the test but know and understand very little, for post 16 studies. This is the 'got to get targets' etc. dictact gone mad, however a natural progression from the demands of government and pen pushers.....education or targets....next thing the government will do is charge schools 4x more money than they recieve per pupil to place seriously disturbed kids in the environment they need to overcome severe issues....oh no they all ready do that

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    20:55
    1 February, 2009

    silvercbr2002

  • Surely if the learning had been truly fixed in long-term memory then the pupils would have done as well or better in the subsequent exams? I also wonder if the effect would wear off if it was over-used, as novel teaching methods often do well just because they are new to the pupils.

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    12:09
    2 February, 2009

    pospo

  • Were the pupils "hand picked" or were they an average class with half a dozen disruptive kids, late arrivals, poor literacy skills etc - sorry to sound doubting, but I work in an inner city school and think we would struggle to find 48 yr 9 pupils capable of sitting through 20 minutes of rapid-fire slides, let alone doing it 3 times in a day. Also, as a science teacher, I always tell pupils NOT to rely on one set of results as firm evidence - perhaps this was overlooked in the rush to deliver the unit in an hour (and allow a week for reading up and revision)

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    17:23
    2 February, 2009

    shar0n08

  • The scientific basis for this teaching method appears to be speculative at best. I've read the original article in Scientific American cited above, which describes the results of a number of experiments carried out on small pieces of brain tissue in the lab. It's rather a leap to jump from experiments on lumps of nerve cells to developing a new teaching method. This is particularly so as the optimal spacing of repetitions for learning is well understood and well accepted. The theory of the "forgetting curve" was established over 100 years ago (by Ebbinghaus) and remains accepted. This theory suggests that the optimal revision schedule for long term learning has increasing space between revisions (for example, learn something, then revise after a day, then again after a week, then again after a month, and again after a year). This is very different to the "cramming" style approach used at Monkseaton. It strikes me that educators would benefit far more from applying well accepted psychological theories than coming up with new, speculative ideas based on lab experiments which can only give hints at how real brains work.

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    21:12
    2 February, 2009

    tmarklew

  • I fully agree with the comments that we should be careful to consider what true learning has occured.However, I feel it is probably wrong to dismiss the approach out of hand and, dare I say, short sighted in missing the potential benefits. Maybe we could look to implement this approach as part of revision prior to exams; if the results are attributable to the method with no prior learning then what would the results be when prior learning had occured?

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    11:06
    4 February, 2009

    liamstar

  • Having been part of this trial in the beginning I find it irritating that people are so quick to write it off. Yes the data is not exactly scientifically reliable but it is clear when it is used that the students gain a great deal from it. Some students will do well but this method is aimed at helping those that don't find it easy to cram for a week. I wish people would actually look for more information before disregarding an idea that could be used to enhance learning and memory rather than be so negative about it. If you don't agree don't moan and let people try it for themselves.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    14:45
    4 February, 2009

    Kmarshall12

  • This seems to me to be missing the point of science education entirely. Are we not supposed to be educating our students to develop their practical skills/investigative techniques/logical problem solving while encouraging them to question, enquire and ignite an interest perhaps even a passion for science? Surely this is what makes science qualifications worth having not a piece of paper that basically says I can cram and pass an exam?

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    14:18
    5 February, 2009

    emhail

  • Hmm! What a miracle. I wonder if these kids can actually apply what they learnt for exam purpose in the very near future!

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    18:05
    8 February, 2009

    Causeway2009

  • I must admit I am thinking of trying this
    Am I mad?

    I have taught my Yr11 all the theory and practice they need to pass their Electronic Products Exam but some I know will answer some questions wrong because of silly mistakes. If I 'cram' them in this fashion they might actually remember some of the basic stuff in a more natural way. I could cover pin numbering, different types of IC, circuit symbols, units etc in one exciting lesson instead of a whole week of tedium where the less able will get distracted and the more able go to sleep.
    The Head is very supportive of new techniques and says 'give it a go, it is only one lesson if it doesn't work'.

    Going in now - - - - - wish me luck.

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    13:07
    14 February, 2009

    PollyB

  • How depressingly closed-minded most of you are. If you imagine that getting children to the point where they can pass GCSEs after 11 years of education represents the natural limit of human achievement, you have a very low opinion of the species. Something like this has to be worth trying: imagine if you could get the factual basics of your subject established in an efficient way, how much more time you you would have for serious thinking, investigations and so on.

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    13:36
    15 February, 2009

    stormkettle

  • KMarshall said: "Yes the data is not exactly scientifically reliable but it is clear when it is used that the students gain a great deal from it". Please can they let me know what the students did gain from it. Isn't it interesting to see the words "not exactly scientifically reliable" when talking about a science test. I await the wise counsel of Ben Goldacre and friends over at Bad Science. This looks just like bad science. Report back when some truly randomised and controlled tests have been done, over a wider range of subjects and teachers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20:46
    15 February, 2009

    fragmeister

  • I think that a little 'experimentation' in a science classroom is possibly a good idea. As a D&T specialist I would hate to think that I am more open to new ideas of learning than my 'Scientific' colleagues but maybe so.
    What are you so scared of? We know we all have to teach to a specification and play the game to get the best results we can but surely trying different teaching methods will add variety and just might make a difference.
    Who knows what 'scientific' discoveries I might make trying something new, maybe I can add to the debate after I have tried it. From my point of view I can see it catching their attention in a rather deadly time of year.

    By the by, my own two sons go to a very high achieving Secondary and they were told to do short bursts of revision interspersed with short active breaks - sound familiar? Maybe some schools are doing this already and others are hoping it will all go away and the kids will magically gain huge attention spans to cope with boring revision lessons?

    I will report back on ho it went on the D&T forum.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20:20
    16 February, 2009

    PollyB

  • Nice idea, anything that will help students store information and use it properly is worth trying.

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    Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    12:48
    20 February, 2009

    sunflwrdk

  • We know we all have to teach to a specification and play the game to get the best results we can but surely trying different teaching methods will add variety and just might make a difference.
    Distance learning | get degree | Online MBA degree

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    9:53
    11 July, 2009

    jackiboa

  • Who knows what 'scientific' discoveries I might make trying something new, maybe I can add to the debate after I have tried it. From my point of view I can see it catching their attention in a rather deadly time of year.
    associates degree | Nursing school

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    9:54
    11 July, 2009

    jackiboa

  • that must have been a boring lesson apart form running around, death by power point. theres also the the fact that cramming for a small module really isnt that difficult, its remembering a number at the same time some time after having learnt the material that is tricky.view my vouchers

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:31
    6 August, 2009

    joanpol

  • Interesting that this was the biology module. Was the later module that the students studied for by conventional means also biology or a physical science? If this is genuine it raises serious questions about what is being tested in the multiple choice exam. <a href="http://zenmed-acne-scar-treatment.com/acnezine-review-benefits/">acnezine reviews</a> & <a href="http://zenmed-acne-scar-treatment.com/zenmed-scar-treatmentreviewed/">zenmed scar reviews</a>

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