Archives for the month of: March, 2017

In the course of making my physics mastery books I developed a few little things to make it faster and more organised. If you make any please share!


You will need:

  • Specification
  • Snip tool
  • Smart notebook or similar for doing illustrations
  • Calculator
  • Word


How to make them


I made a separate file for each specification section or sub-section. After I’d finished them all I copied and pasted them into a single word file, adding page breaks to keep the sections separate. It seemed safer and easier to do it this way rather than work on a whole big file all at once.

I think the type should be the same as pupils will face in the exams – for AQA this is Arial in 12.



Start by writing out your exposition of the specification points. Either have a paper copy of the spec next to you or use the cutting tool to cut the relevant piece from an e-copy of the spec and paste it into your word document, you can delete it later.

Don’t be afraid to add more science in if it explains it better. I included a fair amount of material beyond the specification because I thought it would help to build schema. I didn’t write questions on this extended content though – I may add some in future iterations but I sort of feel at the moment that most of the benefit of these explanations accrues because it makes sense at the time of learning, and when pupils need to use related knowledge the explanation might not be easily recalled from long-term memory, but it is forming a strong foundation deep in the brain. I feel working memory can be wasted when we deal with a question about something we “never really got”, whereas I know I can confidently answer questions about which if you asked me something about the underlying schema I would have to look it up… I don’t have any evidence for this beyond personal experience though, I’m just trying things out, and would be interested to hear if there’s research about this.

I tried to use diagrams to illustrate my explanations, and I used smart notebook to make a lot of these. Others I copied using the cutting tool, and adapted using white pen, and the transparency tool on smart notebook. Freeform snip on the snipping tool is useful too. Comic sans was my default font on smart notebook but I have since rectified this heinous blunder! I found it useful to save a smart notebook file of the diagrams I’d done so I could reuse easily.

I tried to include examples of common misconceptions, and “what it’s not” as per direct instruction.

If you sense your exposition is approaching cognitive overload, split it into subsections, i.e. a separate page with its own exposition and questions.



When you’ve finished writing your exposition, it’s time to write the questions. I started with comprehension from the text and then calculations. I guess this is declarative and then procedural knowledge practice. I tried to do lots of questions so it was like deliberate practice. Looking back I wish I’d done more questions on qualitative relationships as well as quantitative. I looked in a range of books for ideas for question styles: O-level books, American AP physics books, and Collins workbooks. It’s best to have all the questions stand-alone, i.e. all the information needed is in that question rather than an earlier one. This makes the intervention questions work better as pupils can just do the question they got wrong without having to go into other questions. Write your questions by looking at the spec and your exposition. If you feel you need to go back and add to your exposition then do so. Often this wasn’t apparent to me until I’d started writing questions.

Extension questions

These were, appropriately, the hardest part. I wanted them to be harder but not to require any more knowledge. I wanted pupils to be able to stretch themselves while others caught up, but I needed the teacher to be free to help those behind. Where I couldn’t think of any I just left them out as pupils could revisit questions from previous sections and I felt this was a valid way of helping them get full marks in any exam.


To do the answers, the best thing to do is copy your questions, paste below, re-title, colour red, restart numbering at 1, and then work through one by one, writing the answer at the front of the question and then deleting the question, before moving on to the next question. I strongly recommend you follow this bit as otherwise you can get muddled quickly. Use a separate calculator rather than trying to do it on your computer.

Intervention questions and answers

Again, copy your black questions and paste, change to purple, and restart numbering at 1. Then go through and change each question so it asks helps build the same knowledge but is not a repeat of the black question. You can change the calculation questions really easily and quickly by just changing one digit in the numbers. You just need to be careful as some of the numbers won’t change e.g. the half-life of a certain element. Comprehension questions are more difficult to redo differently, I found “this sentence has three errors, write out the correct version” was good if I couldn’t think of anything else, and at times I just kept the same question because I couldn’t think of anything else and thought a few repeats wouldn’t do any harm. I think it’s important not to overdo this though. For the answers, copy your purple questions, then paste and recolour etc. the same as before.


That’s all I can think of, I hope it’s useful. If you have any questions or tips please comment! Thanks.

In the last year I’ve read a lot of very interesting stuff on mastery, deliberate practice, feedback, AfL, cognitive load, working and long-term memory, and direct instruction.

At the same time my school were going mad for progress in purple pen. I’d always met this need by getting pupils to write up an experiment or demo using one of a range of success criteria, peer marking and then improving in purple pen – but this is no good for teaching lots of new knowledge. 

In science pupils need to be able to answer lots of short questions with the single correct answer. “What is the force on this object?” ”Why does the colour of the liquid change?” Pupils need to answer lots of these questions to practice and to show up areas where the teacher needs to provide “corrective instruction”.

Trouble was, I couldn’t ever get enough of the questions. In a textbook you get probably 6 or so at the end of a double page covering one section of the specification. In workbooks and sheets there are more but not enough for deliberate practice.

Alongside going mad for the mauve, my school was also getting potty for Pixl. “Go and look at how they do it in maths.” Well, we went and looked at how they did it in maths, and it was RAG’d spreadsheets a-gogo with pupils working on exercises on the topics they had got as red and amber. So science went back and did the same thing. With our textbooks with the six questions per double page. As opposed to the maths books with literally hundreds of questions per page. It doesn’t work, and it’s down to the resources.

Add to this the realisation that I hadn’t planned a single explanation since my PGCE, the ludicrousness of teacher workload caused in part by poor resourcing, and the fact that I’m on maternity leave, and the result is I’ve been working on some textbooks for the AQA Trilogy Physics units. I think they can solve or at least ameliorate a lot of these problems.

The key features are:

  • Everything from the new spec is there
  • Spec points separated into more manageable chunks
  • LOTS of questions for practice
  • Answers for immediate feedback
  • Purple intervention questions so pupils can improve their work – these are always on the same thing as that number black question, and are almost all a different question, except for a few places where I couldn’t think of a different question.
  • Numbered lines for whole-class reading.

This is how I plan to use them in the lesson:

  1. Print double-sided and staple into pupil booklets. They need to be in colour really but you can use them year after year. Needs to be 1 per pupil.
  2. Use a single-sided copy for the teacher (1 for each class) to plan your lesson on using Double Plan from Teach Like A Champion (thanks @Doug_Lemov)

Read text as a class using rulers Michaela-style (thanks @katie_s_ashford)


Use the text to plan direct instruction, using animations such as those at PHET, demonstrations, stories etc.

OR a mixture of the two.

  1. Model example questions
  2. Pupils work through the black questions – you could ask them to cover the red answers with a piece of paper
  3. Pupils check their own work against the red answers – mark in red
  4. Teacher scan work and note any common problems, then reteach.
  5. For any wrong answers, pupils do the purple “Intervention Question” of the same number, in purple pen, and then mark using the red answers.
  6. If pupils got none wrong they can do the extension and then go back and self-quiz using earlier questions in the book.
  7. Don’t try to fit one page into a lesson, it takes as long as it takes (thanks@BodilUK

You can then check their work using whole-class marking (thanks @MrThorntonTeach)

If your school is well into Pixl then you can also do this:

  1. Give pupils their PLC with page numbers (I’m doing mine from Plicker to save HOURS – but it doesn’t have a share function yet sorry!)
  2. Pupils can turn to the pages they need, read, do the questions, self-mark in red, do the purple questions, self-mark in red.


I think this is great because:

  • Explanations are scripted
  • Where more explanation is needed than specified I have given it in order to build schemata
  • Feedback is immediate
  • Cognitive load is manageable
  • We can show progress (in purple) in a subject where redrafting is seldom appropriate
  • We can read challenging text with our pupils every lesson
  • Greatly reduced planning and marking
  • Plenty of practice for procedural knowledge.

Download here:


Still to do:

I’m currently reading Reif: Applying Cognitive Science to Education and there will be a lot of changes/extras I’ll want to make! I think I need to split up some of the pages further (some cognitive overload still at the moment I think) and include more different kinds of question. I also want to look at the ideal order for the sections, and put together a list of demos and animations for DI. And I want to schedule spaced and interleaved quiz questions for starters…just a bit to be getting on with then! But all renewable.

I’ve called it a mastery textbook as I hope to use it in a similar way to the mastery in maths I’ve been reading about. However I’ve had to adapt the model a bit as the knowledge structure is different in science, and it might be that it’s not allowed to count as mastery…I’m happy to climb down on that one if I’m wrong!

I’m planning to do a separate booklet for the assessed practicals, and some other illustrative practicals that I think will build understanding.

There are some, er, ambiguities around the specification but AQA have stopped answering my questions! Ha! So while I wait for some guidance, or indeed for the spec to be corrected so that it doesn’t contain fundamental errors, I’ve included what I think it should say.

Please feed back

I haven’t been able to use these yet as I’m on maternity leave. There are bound to be mistakes, since most of the time I’ve been typing one-handed holding my baby in the other! So please get in touch in the comments or @rosalindphys and let me know what you spot and how you get on with them. I’ll be sharing the other units as soon as I can.



In addition to those I’ve thanked above, I’m also indebted to the following:

Joe Kirby on renewable resources and quality textbooks

Olivia Dyer on writing your own textbooks

Jem Maths on mastery

and Mark McCourt on mastery