Archive for the 'lessons' Category

Getting It

It’s amazing how many people – often those who will happily spend hours rehearsing stunts with a football or the intricacies of a computer game – assume after a couple of minutes that they can’t answer a question in school.

Claiming “I don’t get it.” is rarely helpful. It’s hard to type this without it sounding like a pep talk, but some concepts are difficult for everyone. The question isn’t about whether you’re good at something or not, it’s more complicated than that. People’s intelligence isn’t a fixed quantity. We all learn things, all the time. Having a different approach can make a big difference, to your understanding and to your achievement. What you want is what’s been described as a ‘growth mindset‘.

So instead of claiming that you don’t ‘get’ something, try a few things out. This is not about getting it magically. You still might not understand it. But by going through this process, you’ll understand better what is causing the problem, and hopefully be able to seek more useful help or advice.


You might want to swap around the order of Buddy and Book – although there’s a big difference between asking for help and copying someone else’s answers. But this way by the time you ask a teacher for support, you’ll be able to tell them what you’ve tried. You might have narrowed down the problem a little. This might depend on the subject – maths problems can affect how you approach a science problem, or the use of words in sources makes history difficult. Once you start to recognise what is causing you to find it difficult, you can address it. Learning is about making progress in steps, not about having a flash of inspiration.

How about adding some prompts in the comments below? What tactics help you to figure out a question? Do you refer to a subject glossary,  highlight question words or something completely different?




Maths Questions

To answer an exam question well, you first need to figure out what you have been asked to do. With written answers this can be complicated, although recognising command words can help a lot. For mathematical questions, the idea is a lot simpler. You need to find a numerical answer.

There’s a reason you have a set method to follow for mathematical questions. It works. Now, it’s quite possible that you can do some of the steps in your head, but writing down what you’re doing has two purposes, both worthwhile:

  • it makes it easier to avoid mistakes
  • it means the examiner can give partial credit (working marks) for a wrong answer

Of course, this applies in lessons too, with the added bonus that seeing where a mistake is made means your teacher – or perhaps you or a friend – can figure out how not to make it next time. If you have problems with mathematical questions, keep a copy of the checklist above (pdf available by clicking on the thumbnail) handy where you do your work. Follow the steps, writing down whatever you’re doing. If you have trouble with a particular step, look for worked examples or ask for help. Over time, you’ll find you’ve internalised the process, and should aim to recall the equations rather than looking them up. By then, you’ll be getting most or all of the exam marks.

Five C Words

For any idea, it’s important to see both the details and the big picture. There are loads of different ways to get you thinking about this, from de Bono’s Thinking Hats to applying Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is another, and works well for thinking through an idea in lessons, reviewing work or as part of revision. You can scribble it quickly or use the printable version below to record it for the future.


What is the main idea? Sum it up in a sentence, a definition, or an equation.

Thermal radiation: heat can be transferred as an EM wave


How does it fit into the world or the universe? Why does it matter? What are the most closely related ideas?

Like other kids of heat transfer (conduction and convection) it is caused by a difference in temperature.


What key words or relevant characteristics will suggest this concept is important? What will need to be considered to explain it? What words in a question will give a clue that this idea is related to the answer?

The colour and surface area of the object affects how quickly heat is emitted or absorbed. Heat can be radiated through a vacuum. It is also called infra-red (IR) radiation.


How does it work? What makes it happen? Does this mean it can be predicted, or prevented?

Heat is transferred along a temperature gradient. Bigger differences mean heat is emitted faster (higher power). Shiny surfaces reflect thermal radiation.


What effects does this have? Is it dangerous? Does it have implications for spending or earning money? How is it used in technology?

We can’t stop it, only slow it down. We use shiny or polished surfaces to reduce it, for example in Thermos flasks. An object will cool faster if it is a dark colour with a large surface area, so we include cooling fins on electrical equipment like laptops, fridges and freezers. Ear size in animals tells us about the climate they live in (compare arctic foxes with elephants). As the ice caps melt there is less reflection of thermal radiation to space, possibly accelerating climate change.

If you can explain the different aspects of an idea like this, then you probably understand it well enough to use in a variety of situations. And that, after all, is the point of learning.

Cornell Notes

Making good notes is one of the best ways to ensure that what you learn in lessons stays with you. If you are free to make your own notes, think carefully about how you will record the information you need without wasting time on unimportant details. There are many possible variations, such as mindmapping or shorthand, but you may find a particular format that works for you.

Cornell Notes

This layout is a way to produce notes and review materials all in one go, and there are several variants (see explanations at LifeHacker and Wikipedia). Brief notes are written in the main section during the lesson or lecture. As soon after as practical, add words – headings, questions or key concepts – to the ‘Cue’ column on the left. Then add questions or a summary paragraph below, as part of your review process. These prompts can then be used to test yourself when it is time to revise. Click on the image below for a pdf.

Cornell notes were originally intended for university lectures, not interactive lessons, but may still be useful. They are particularly well suited to making notes from videos or podcasts, or for researching new topics.

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