The Benefit Of Experience

Posted by @Grefintec on 6th November 2016 in Reflective Blog with Comments closed |

This week I taught a lesson where we compared light microscopy with electron microscopy and I used some of the micrograph images I had taken during my time as a research scientist. When I was planning the lesson I didn’t think anything of it, I had the images, why not use them? However, when I came to deliver the lesson the level of engagement, simply because I had been the photographer and had used electron microscopes as part of my work was amazing. I I had brought something extra to lesson, introducing real life experience of what it is like to work as a biologist.

At first glance, you may assume that someone who specialised in a niche as small as aquatic immunology would only have a limited amount of related experience to add to studies in ‘general’ biology. However, the opposite is true, because the niche is so small I had to be a master of all trades. I worked in a variety of laboratories including: radiation, genetics, vaccine, bacteriology, parasitology and nutrition. I did everything from make monoclonals, collect and purify bacteria, artificial insemination, use light, electron and confocal microscopes, carry out data analysis, plan and carry out experimental studies, PCR, SDS-PAGE, immunological assays eg ELISA, lysozyme, NBT respiratory burst. I worked as a flow cytometry technician during the final year of my PhD. I supervised BSc and MSc projects and presented work at multi-national conferences. The list continues!

In A-Level biology there is a unit on monoclonals, I imagine that there are not many biology teachers who have actually made them themselves!

Pupils looking at micrographs for the first time, especially with knowledge that I had taken the photographs myself generated a lot of interest and engagement in the topic, it really helped to make the lesson a success. This continued with the following lesson where a class of year 7’s were introduced to the topic of pathogens and were literally open mouthed when I told them that I had made vaccines before.

The fact that I have worked as a biologist and am able to share what I did as part of my lessons increases pupils engagement in their learning in a way that I really had not anticipated. I feel like I have won the lottery!

Streak plate of the gram negative bacteria Flavobcterium psychrophilum

Streak plate of the gram negative bacteria Flavobacterium psychrophilum


Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under light microscope

Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under light microscope


Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under transmission electron microscope

Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under transmission electron microscope


Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under scanning electron microscope

Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under scanning electron microscope


Biofilm of Flavobacterium psychrophilum

Biofilm of Flavobacterium psychrophilum viewed under scanning electron microscope


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Bucket List

Posted by @Grefintec on 10th September 2016 in Child care with Comments closed |

Our au pair has settled in really well into family life and we are all enjoying her company tremendously. The kids think that she is fab and Boots the dog is being well and truly spoilt.


As a gift and also a means to help her settle in I created a bucket list of local(ish) things that she can do. As she ticks one off the list, she literally has to put it in the bucket!

Bucket list

Bucket list




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First Day at School: Learning to be Brave

Posted by @Grefintec on 7th September 2016 in All About Me with Comments closed |

First day and nerves aplenty. But today is about being brave so here it goes. Assertiveness is not always my strong point but I was able to swallow my nerves and share an example of being negatively labelled by a teacher, to the whole school staff team. A label I aimed to overcome in the creative writing workshop. I gained a sticker for perseverance and was told that I was certainly not lacking in creativity at the end of the workshop. So left feeling somewhat braver!

Next was a workshop using music to inspire creativity in art. I actually believe that I only did art at school for one term in year 9. It was nice to do something completely different, I would never have picked up a paintbrush to do anything other than changing the decor of my home. The length of time it took to paint a picture, was only the length of the song. There were no strict rules, no planning, no time to worry about right or wrong. It was very enlightening and a very pleasant change.

Not knowing which of the workshops we would be joining made it possibly easier for us than the staff members who had known for the duration of the summer holidays. I was more worried about finding the correct room and being in the right place at the right time than whether my writing or art skills would be up to scratch.

So what did I learn? Be brave, take risks and allow the unexpected.


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A potential solution to the problem that is the ‘c’ word.

Posted by @Grefintec on 24th August 2016 in Child care with Comments closed |

Planning prior to commencing my PGCE is not just about knowing the curriculum and ensuring that my subject knowledge is at an appropriate level. Before I can even take a step out of the door, I have to know that my children are going to be safe, secure and cared for. That’s right, the ‘c’ word is childcare.

As a teaching student I want to be as good as I can possibly be, I want to be able to demonstrate that I am just as good as someone who does not have the responsibility of children and that I am organised an responsible enough to make sure that they get to school in the morning without affecting my own working day.

Whilst school starts at 9am (or in some of my potential placement schools 8.20am), as a teacher I am expected to get there at least 30 minutes (more preferred)  before class starts and to leave an hour or two after it ends. Where I live it is entirely possible that my placement school is a 1.5h commute away and incidentally this in one of the ones which starts at 8.30am. In order for me to arrive at school for 8am, I will need to leave the house at 6.30am (7am if I’m lucky).

Well there is no before club which opens at 7am where I live. Where my children go to school the breakfast club starts at 7.45am – so that is no good. I could move schools but the local school which has an earlier breakfast club 7.30am – technically still no good) is full. There are no childminders available, and even if there were, I doubt that a 7am start would be possible. My mum is disabled and unable to drive so although she can offer childcare, she can’t physically get the kids to school and they are too young to walk by themselves. So what can I do?

Before I moved to Skipton in January 2015, we lived in Scotland and my children went to primary school there. One of the mums I met at the school gates had an au pair. Actually she had three over the time I knew her. It was something that I had never considered, I had heard of au pairs bu never had met anyone who had had one. I always thought that they were ‘how the other half lived’.

So I googled ‘au pair’ and I found a plethera of websites. There certainly seemed to be no shortage of potential au pairs. But the idea of inviting a stranger into my home, to live with my children worried me – would it be safe?

I did know of someone who ran an au pair agency – AuPair Ecosse. The agency is the brainchild of Dr. Ruth Campbell, who I had first met as a Ph.D student at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling. So when I was first looking into solving the dilemma that is childcare, and now armed with the information that people like me could have an au pair – Ruth was the first person I contacted. It was really enlightening. The first thing she advised was to use an agency, preferably one registered with the British Au Pair Agencies Association. That way you would get full references, a college report, a profile of the au pair and safety checks done. Getting an au pair off a website, is much more risky.

Unfortunately, because her agency is specifically for au pairs who want to live in Scotland, I was unable to access her service. However, she did recommend an agency in West Yorkshire called the International Helping Hands Au Pair Agency. Whilst they had never placed an au pair in Skipton before, they had places Mother’s Helps here.

So I completed the registration form and then was invited to write a family profile, with pictures of our home, our family and describing what sort of things we did and the type of people we are. We wanted an au pair for up to twelve months to cover the period of study for the PGCE. We made our initial registration in January 2016 but were told that the au pair who wanted to start in September, would not start applying to agencies until Springtime. In May we were told about a soon to be 19 year old, female au pair from Germany, the downside was that she only wanted to au pair for 6 months. But she seemed lovely on paper, plus we only had 24h to reserve her. So we said yes please and our profile was shared with Mira. We just had to wait. Fortunately, she liked what she saw, and the next step was to Skype so that we could meet for the first time. It was all a bit nerve wracking, I am sure as much for the au pair as much as us. The kids had lots of questions: Do you like princesses? Can you do origami? I don’t know what the au pair was expecting but I think that we came across a bit nuts. However, she was not put off and we became friends on Facebook and began to message each other.

I can truthfully say that we have messaged each other, pretty much at least once every day. It has been a tremendous opportunity to get to know her, and hopefully it will mean that she will be able to settle into our somewhat messy family (I am a bit worried that our messiness will put her off).

In preparation for her arrival, we have completely refurbished the spare room. New bed, new wardrobes, a tv, new decoration. I hope that she likes it.

The other change we have made is to our diet. Our au pair is vegetarian and we really want her to feel welcome so my husband and I have been experimenting with vegetarian foods. To be honest it has been a bit of an eyeopener. Prior to meeting the au pair, I think that we ate meat at least once a day. Now we actually have meat free days. I was worried that I would’t like it as I am a ridiculously fussy eater and I remember at university we had a quote board where the more memorable (usually stupid) phrases that people said were recorded. One infamous one of mine was “I don’t do veg”. To be honest, I am staggered that my kids have never figured out that I don’t generally eat vegetables, whilst I hypocritically encourage them to eat carrots and even brussel sprouts at Christmas. However, the recipes that we have tried have been on the whole successful. Perhaps it is because, for the first time in our 12 year marriage that Gordon took on the responsibility of preparing the food? Nonetheless, we now are less afraid of the concept of vegetarianism, so already the experience of having an au pair has improved family life, and she hasn’t even arrived yet!

Our au pair arrives on Saturday afternoon. We are picking her up from the airport, en masse. The kids are very excited. Teighan already tells me that she loves her. I hope that our au pair is happy and feels like one of the family.

I really hope that this works out. I want someone to look after, play with and care for my kids in the hours before and after school. Enabling me to complete my PGCE and access the NQT year, hopefully without the worry of what on earth we would do without her. I don’t know if our au pair knows how much we are relying on her, but I hope that she knows that she can rely on us too. We will make sure that she gets a proper taste of British life, visiting lots of interesting places and sharing experiences.



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Access Diploma in Science – Preliminary Results!

Posted by @Grefintec on 20th August 2016 in Me and My Subject Specialism - What am I ready to teach? with Comments closed |

I completed my Access Diploma in Science recently – hurrah! I am hoping that the subject knowledge that I have accrued over the past 12 months will match with what I have to teach and reduce the earlier gaps in my subject knowledge.

results sheet

I am thrilled with my results, although not confirmed yet as they have to go through moderation in November. I should get my award in January 2017.

I achieved a triple distinction in biology, chemistry and physics 🙂

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First Aid Training

Posted by @Grefintec on 9th August 2016 in All About Me with Comments closed |

Since January this year I have worked as a General Teaching Assistant (SEN), working one to one with a little girl with a global developmental delay. It truly has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

DSCN4238 DSCN4237


From September, nursery practitioners in England will be required to have a qualification in paediatric first aid. This qualification needs to be renewed every three years. It is actually a qualification that I have held for the past 6 years, although it lapsed in March 2016. Recently the nursery trained many of their staff in paediatric first aid and first aid at work. I was lucky enough to get a place on the course, even though they knew that I was leaving at the end of term.

Admittedly, secondary school teachers are not currently required to hold this qualification. A Bill to make it a requirement was brought to parliament in Winter 2015 but was blocked. It is estimated that 140,000 people in the UK die each year in situations where first aid could have saved them (ref).So whilst it is not a requirement that I hold this qualification, I am glad that I do and hope to continue to renew it in the years ahead.

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Getting Ready – Teacher’s Standards

Posted by @Grefintec on 14th July 2016 in Getting Started with Comments closed |

I know that in order to complete my PGCE and subsequent NQT year I need to collect evidence that my teaching meets the eight teaching standards. I am hoping that the fact that I have completed the evidence based vocational qualification Childcare LEarning and Devlopment (SVQ3), should help me to to do this. Similarly the Assessor and Verifier Award  (Unit L&D9DI – Workplace Assessment using Direct and Indirect Methods) which I completed in 2014 which was also evidence based should help me to document evidence well.

I am also looking out for ideas and I watch several threads in the TES forums. Very early this morning, someone gave a shout out for suggestions of possible evidence and a very kind fellow TES forum contributor submitted this

Possible Evidence Teachers Standards (Developed at Newcastle University)

It certainly looks like a good place to start!

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The Language of Mathematics in Science

Posted by @Grefintec on 14th May 2016 in Getting Started |

The Association for Science Education (ASE) aim to promote excellence in science teaching and learning. Whilst not a member I registered to receive regular newsletters and am an avid follow on Twitter. They offer regular CPD opportunities and when I spotted an opportunity to attend a workshop entitled ‘The Language of Mathematics in Science‘. I was a bit anxious about attending, after all I am not yet a teacher (far from it) but it seemed a really good opportunity to learn more about the curriculum and to meet some science teachers.

University of Huddersfield

University of Huddersfield

I needn’t have worried. Everyone was very welcoming and I certainly didn’t feel like the odd man out. I learnt a great deal and it proved to be a very valuable experience. The session was led by Richard Needham (@ViciaScience). Some of what was discussed I would probably have taken for granted or at least would have had a a standard methodology in place; but reflecting back on one of my teaching experience days when the children had been asked to calculate rate by first drawing a graph, I immediately recognised some of the problems being discussed. It corroborated exactly with the issues of lack of standardised teaching between what was being taught in the mathematics department and that taught in the science and humanities departments. The ability to draw or interpret a graph is required not just in maths and science, but regularly crops up in geography eg climate data and even history eg population data.

Until it is actually put in front of you, I would never have realised that there were so many ways to plot one set of data. Significant differences were observed between scale choices, coordinate markers and especially trendlines. Other areas where there was a recognised lack of consistency in teaching included: How to calculate rate from a graph, when to teach standardised units and even how to calculate a ratio.

It certainly would be confusing to a pupil to be taught different techniques to do the same thing, not just between subjects but between teaching staff, so I fully applaud the development of a standardised shared working method which would be valuable across the whole school. However, it would not be good if the pupils were penalized for choosing to use methods that were not strictly in adherence to these guidelines. This is probably the thing that I have heard most discussion about since starting on my teaching journey, and that is if in maths the set method for calculating a particular sum is not used, and you get the sum wrong, then you will not get a mark for the working out, even if it was to some degree accurate eg in GCSE maths the working out can be worth 3/4 of the marks for the question. Whilst I completely appreciate that it is confusing for pupils to be taught different methods to calculate the same thing, punishing pupils for what is a mathematical fact of life is not fair. I have even seen pupils being taught one method for a couple of years eg to do division using partitioning, only to be told that this is wrong and to use the bus stop method instead. Surely, consistency is key, but punishing pupils for using a method that works is completely unfair. I have worked within industry sponsored academia and how you calculated something did not matter, as long as the answer was correct and you got publishable and reproducible results.

Putting it simply, we have all seen the numbers round on Countdown. How many times have we seen the players use different methods to achieve the same result? It does not make the answer any less valid. Exams should reflect real life use of maths, not one Government department’s preferred method which could change whenever the team within that department has a reshuffle and the new team leader wants to make their mark.

The Language of Mathematics in Science : A Guide to Teachers of 11-16 Science will be published later this month and will be available as a free .pdf download from the ASE website.


NB This post reflects my own views and are not associated with either the Association for Science Education or the University of Huddersfield.

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My TES Shop is Open!!

Posted by @Grefintec on 25th March 2016 in Resources with Comments closed |

I have just put the finishing touches to my TES Shop. So far I only have four resources to download (all free) but this will increase as time goes on. Check it out here:



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Ladybird Counting Tins (0-5) Early Numeracy Resource

Posted by @Grefintec on 19th March 2016 in Resources with Comments closed |

I created these tins for use in my former nursery where they were enjoyed by children aged 2.5 years to school age. On one side are the ladybirds with 0 – 5 spots and on the reverse the number is written. The tins were left on one of the radiators and the children accessed them when they chose. Sometimes I would find some very curious things in the counting boxes but more often than not the quantity would match the number of spots on the ladybird.

Ladybird counting tins

Download here: Ladybird Tins

Also available from TES Resource Ladybird Tins

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