Super Scale! (with free maths/science resource)

Maths skills with a science content and links to art; everyone wins!

I am absolutely in love with these books! I first came across them at the STEM Learning Centre in their wonderful resource library and very swiftly bought copies for myself! First and foremost, the geek in me loves them because of the cool facts. The information on each page is illustrated in such a unique way and really inspires curiosity; despite each book being relatively short, children return to these again and again just to be amazed by the facts and pictures inside. On top of this, the teacher in me loves them for the great scope they have for cross-curricular learning, with links to science, maths and art. There is SO much potential here.

Actual Size is full of pictures of animals (or parts of animals, lots of them are very big!) that are drawn to scale with a note on their size and weight (in metric measurements). Readers can compare their tongue to that of a giant anteater, or see how their feet measure up to those of an African elephant.

Prehistoric Actual Size is more of the same, only this book contains prehistoric creatures and, as well as information on their size, you can see how long ago they walked the Earth.

Just a Second is a little different, but follows the same theme. This one tells you what can happen in a second, a minute, and hour and so on, drawing facts from the natural and manufactured world. For example, did you know in one minute the Moon travels 61 km around the Earth, a hamster’s heart beats about 450 times and a snail can slither a mighty 4.5 metres (measurements in this one are given in both metric and imperial).

Any teachers who have gotten this far down are probably already thinking about potential maths links; there are a huge amount of possibilities for calculating and applying maths skills. Pupils could…

Practise their measuring skills in a new context

There’s a wealth of ideas here, and a quick Twitter search will come up with some great stuff that other creative teachers have done. Pupils could:

  • Measure their classrooms and see which prehistoric creatures could fit (Would they fit through the door? What if you took the roof off? What could fit in the school hall?)
  • Investigate how many of our feet could fit into the footprint of a larger animal.
  • Create their own actual size drawings of animals. There’s loads of fun ways to approach this; pupils could draw the larger animals in whiteboard pen on the tables (see below) or recreate the very biggest ones in chalk on the playground.
  • Compare the size of domestic animals to some of the more exotic ones in the book; pupils could draw an actual size Atlas moth alongside a familiar cabbage white butterfly or a common carpet moth. They could look at how many times bigger the larger animals are or just find out the difference in size.
  • Compare their top running speed to that of a cheetah (or if you’re in Year 4 and have swimming lessons, you could compare their speed to that of a sailfish).

Apply understanding of scale

This one takes more set-up than some of the ideas above, but if you use the free resource below it shouldn’t be too tricky! In upper Key Stage 2, simply drawing animals to scale will not be challenging enough for many pupils. Using Actual Size as a stimulus, I’ve done a lesson in which pupils have scaled-down images of gigantic animals and been tasked with taking measurements, scaling them up and drawing them in actual size. As they end up quite large, we drew them directly onto the tables using whiteboard pen. (*Gasp* “On the tables Miss? Really!?”)

The resource I handed out is below, with the first two pages being cut up and pupils selecting one at a time to draw, and the last page being extra challenges that can be done as homework, or taken on as part of the lesson if your space/resources/staffing permits. The green lines are there to give children a starting point to get a rough outline done, then they choose which extra measurements they need to take to add detail. Having done this lesson with a familiar class, while on a supply day and in an interview, I’m confident in saying it’s a good one! (Yes, I got the job :))

Carry out some research using secondary sources and pattern seeking investigations

With the range of animals and different types of information available in the books, there are lots of jump-offs for further enquiry. This could simply take the form of pupils researching other animals that aren’t in the books. If you wanted to be more adventurous though, there’s more you could do:

  • Just a Second tells us an elephant’s heart beats about 30 times a minute and a hamster’s heart beats 450 times; Is there a link between animal size and heart rate?
  • Actual Size tells us a pygmy shrew consumes twice its body weight in food each day and is a fierce predator; Do all small mammals eat this much in relation to their body weight? Is there a relationship between the size of the animal and the amount of food consumed daily?

Create a gallery

Your pupils have created wonderful pieces of actual-size art (these could be paint, pastel, pencil, collage…) so why not display them with pride!? Work like this would make for a wonderful corridor display that would catch the interest of passers by. You could even host a gallery opening and invite families and the local community to come in and see how they measure up against some of the worlds largest and smallest creatures.

Spark a discussion

Some of the facts in just a Second are quite thought-provoking. For example, in one second, around 1500 chickens are killed, and in one day people use the equivalent of 200 billion sheets of letter-size paper. Engaging in discussion around topics like this with your class will help them to see the world beyond their classroom and how everyday actions have an impact that we rarely consider.

Having just made the move up to Year 5 from Reception this September, I’m looking forward to sharing these wonderful books with my older pupils to see their thoughts; they’ll undoubtedly have many more creative questions and interesting ideas than me! If you’ve used these books in the classroom, do comment below and let ne know how it went!

The World in your Classroom

Making the most of ICT to teach & inspire pupils

When I think back to my experiences of ICT at primary school, the resounding memories are using the school’s single boxy computer to write my initials by programming a little turtle, and then a few years later getting every single question wrong on that bizarre Encarta quiz. In comparison, the opportunities available to pupils in our classrooms today are absolutely mind-blowing. Although I very much feel like I’m hitting that age where new technology isn’t quite so easy to figure out any more, I have managed to gather up a bunch of easy ideas over the years to enhance my teaching, all tried and tested!

Communicating with the World

Skype and Facetime have made it possible to invite guests to the classroom without them having to even enter the building, and they don’t cost a thing! Various organisations have realised this, and it’s now possible for your class to speak to scientists from all different walks of life without leaving their seats. I have recently been introduced to Facetime a Farmer, led by LEAF Education and was so excited by the idea that it inspired this entire blog post! Over a series of weeks, pupils can meet and chat to a farmer (and in our case, the sheep!) to get a real insight into running a farm and the science involved in successful animal-rearing and crop-growing. Such a fantastic way to increase children’s Science Capital, and clear links to a whole bunch of curriculum areas.

There’s also the amazing work done by the folks at Encounter Edu, that allows children to speak directly with scientists/explorers in far-flung parts of the world in real time. At least once a year, their team heads out on a research expedition and offers Skype chats in a couple of different formats to help children find out more about the work of research scientists. In recent years, they’ve been to the Arctic, a coral reef and down to the depths of the Indian Ocean in a submarine. Having taken part in Arctic Live in 2016 with my Year 3 class, I can honestly say it was one of the highlights of the year for the children. We had a 30 minute chat with the lovely Jamie (who was ever so patient while we worked out our technical difficulties!) that allowed our budding explorers to ask direct questions and get a good look around the base camp. Afterwards they were so inspired and, despite being far more savvy with tech than we were at their age, they still found it hard to believe that we had spoken to an actual explorer in the actual Arctic.

The website also has a whole bunch of lesson plans and a bank of fantastic images which meant that, as well as the chat, we had a bunch of lessons around the Arctic environment and the life of an explorer, without any addition to my workload! And as if that wasn’t enough, they also have ‘bite-size’ CPD for teachers on their website with tips and pointers to improve STEM teaching. Amazing!

Lights, Camera, Action!

Many schools are now lucky enough to have a class set of iPads or other tablets, which give children a whole host of new ways to report their learning in science. Modern science communication is not just about writing down your findings, so why should recording in the classroom be limited to written explanations? The ‘Spoken Language’ section of the National Curriculum requires that children (among other things) give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English, participate in discussions, presentations, performances and role play and select and use appropriate registers for effective communication. All of these objectives can be met through creating some form of presentation or piece of drama that communicates pupils’ learning to a given audience. Children could put together reports, short informational programs or vlogs that they then edit with video editing software such as iMovie or more simple apps like Tellagami or Shadow Puppet Edu. They could even add a bit of excitement to their creations by using a green screen app such as Green Screen by Do Ink. Amazingly, I found you don’t need an actual green screen to use green screen software; green display backing paper will do! Although if you were to invest in a green sheet, pupils could use it to cover themselves up and appear to be floating heads! Just be aware that if, like my previous school, you have a green uniform, the videos will look very odd!

Ditch the KWLs

My personal opinions about KWL grids notwithstanding, the use of tablets can make carrying out a pre-assessment much more engaging and, arguably more accurate. At the beginning of our new topic on Plants, we used Pic Collage to show what we know. Pupils were tasked with heading outside to take pictures of leaves, stems, roots and flowers, then using these to create picture collages that explained the purpose of each part. From the examples below, you can see that misconceptions became very clear and I was able to see what children already knew at a glance.

I printed these collages out and stuck them into the children’s books at the beginning of the topic, then at the end had them go back and ‘mark’ their work, explaining their errors and suggesting improvements. This was a great way of showing progress, and also helped me to see which children had hung on to their misconceptions and needed a little extra learning.

Although I used this technique for plants, thanks to the wealth of images available on the internet, this sort of pre-assessment could be done for topics including animal classification, evolution, forces, space and nutrition.

Stay up to Date

I think ReachOut Reporter is definitely one of my most favourite things to share with other teachers. For those of you who haven’t come across it, I’d suggest heading there immediately! They create weekly news updates that are all from the world of science and technology, and are delivered in a child-friendly way. Take a look at this news update from this summer , which includes a round-up of stories over the past year to help you get a flavour for the sort of thing they report on:

New updates are added every Thursday, so the ReachOut Report became a Friday afternoon staple for my Year 3 class. They also do articles and stand-alone videos which were great for sharing with pupils. My particular favourites are the Hawaiian Pom Pom Crab and the Peacock Spider; take a look, I promise you won’t regret it!

As a side note, if you prefer your science news updates in written form, check out the Topical Science Updates from @Glazgow, added monthly here:

These could make fab guided reading texts, or could be up on the board for pupils to read and discuss when they come in in the morning.

I’m aware that there will be loads of fabulous ICT opportunities that I’ve missed, so do let me know in the comments if I’ve not mentioned your favourite!

Explorify: What can it do for me?

(In a rush? Too busy to read a lengthy blog post? Skip to the green bits)

One thing that makes me feel incredibly lucky to be a primary science leader is the vast amount of support and resources out there to help teachers, often for free. Wading through all this can be a daunting task though, especially for newer subject leader; where to start!? So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to write a series of ‘What can it do for me?’ blogs, to share some of the great stuff that’s out there and hopefully help subject leaders and teachers locate what they need to help with teaching great science. Having just spent the day with Louise Stubberfield and the wonderful education team at the Wellcome Trust, Explorify seems like a good place to start!

First and foremost, it’s free! This is (sadly, but realistically) the first question teachers have about new resources. Luckily, everything available from Explorify is completely free. You do have to register and log in to use the resources, but once you’re in nothing is behind a paywall.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to what it actually is! The resource comes from the Wellcome Trust, a politically and financially independent foundation that exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive.

They acknowledge how important it is that children receive a high-quality primary science education and are working to support teachers with this. And they really, genuinely care about what teachers want, and are interested in providing useful resources. The education team are led by the wonderful Louise, who spent many years teaching and leading schools herself, and on top of this they regularly engage with actual, real teachers to find out what is needed and how to improve the existing offer. Case in point, here I am with a bunch of lovely fellow-educators at the Wellcome Trust building earlier this week!

(As a sidenote, if anyone is looking for some helpful primary science Twitterers to follow, this bunch is a good start! @katesutton70, @Snotlady5 @ErChilvers)

To summarise the resources on offer in one sentence is difficult (they can be used in so many different ways!) but I’ll have a go! Explorify offers a collection of ready-made resources that allow teachers to facilitate scientific discussion in the classroom, with interesting concepts that can be easily linked to the curriculum if needed. The best way to become familiar with them will be to log on and have a click around yourself, but the activities include:

What if? activities, in which pupils think about what would happen in a given scenario, for example, what if the sea was gloopy like ketchup?

Odd One Out activities, which ask pupils to use scientific reasoning to choose which of three objects/images is the odd one out and explain why (the great thing about this is, so long as you can justify your reasoning, there’s no wrong answer!)

What’s Going On? videos linked to a range of different scientific concepts, which pupils can watch then discuss their ideas.

Zoom In, Zoom Out activities, which show pupils a highly zoomed-in image that they then discuss and suggest ideas for what it could be, then repeat as the camera zooms out to different degrees until the object is finally revealed. These ones were absolute favourites of every class I’ve had, and it’s wonderful to talk about our original ideas not exactly being wrong, just based on limited evidence (much like ‘wrong’ ideas that scientists have had in the past, such as the Earth being flat).

There are other activities, so do have a click around yourself; those are just a flavour of what’s there. They all come with explanations of the science behind the activity for teachers and suggestions for use in class.

Now, what can it do for you? In other words, how could you use this in your classroom. Well, there are soooo many ways you could go with this! One of the reasons I love these resources so much is the versatility. Here are a few ideas (although I’m sure there are many more I’ve not thought of!)

Lesson starters

You can search the activities by topic (e.g. Plants, Materials etc.) and use an activity to get discussion going to introduce a topic or at the start of a lesson. Personally, I think the Odd One Out activities are great for this, as you can start eliciting vocabulary from children and noting it down somewhere, or doing some subtle formative assessment by listening in to their conversations (who doesn’t love a bit of sneaky AfL!?). Doing this can also be a good way to identify any misconceptions pupils in your class have about your current topic.


As mentioned above, Explorify activities can easily be used for formative assessment. As the activites are based around discussion, you could easily listen in to what children are saying to gauge their understanding of a particular concept. Or, if this proves tricky with your particular bunch (some classes are just noisier than others!) you could get them to write responses on whiteboards and hold them up, or do a ‘vote with your feet’ where pupils move to different, designated areas of the classroom to show their opinion, then you strategically choose children to explain why they have chosen a particular option. You could even carry out the same activity at the beginning and end of a topic to see how pupils’ views have changed as they have gathered more knowledge. Far more inventive than a KWL grid!

Early Bird/Morning Work

…or whatever you call that first bit of the day where children come in and work on something independently before/during the register. Activities like What If? And Odd One Out can be left on the board for pupils to think about/discuss/jot down thoughts independently once they are familiar with the activities. It’s a great way to sneak some extra science into your day!


You know all those times when assembly is suddenly cancelled, or you have to wait an extra 15 minutes to go into the Early Years Christmas performance dress rehearsal because it’s taken them a little longer to get into their costumes than anticipated? Throw an Explorify on your interactive whiteboard! Rather than fill the time with more Heads Down Thumbs Up, seize the opportunity to squeeze in some extra scientific discussion and allow your class to practise using all that new scientific vocabulary you’ve been teaching them. (It feels important to note here, these activities are too good to be resigned to just being gap-filling exercises, but if your pupils are familiar with them already through lessons, they’ll likely love the opportunity to try out more and you’ll be making the most of every minute in the classroom!)

Alternatives to Story Time

You’ll be getting absolutely no argument from me against story time being a vital part of the day, no matter how old your pupils are. However, if you did want to mix it up a little and squeeze a bit more science into your weekly timetable, you could swap story time for an Explorify activity one day a week/fortnight/month/term.

Supply Teachers & HLTAs

Every now and again, I do a bit of supply teaching. It’s a great way to see what’s happening in other schools and extend beyond my comfort zone a little. I’ve found that Explorify activities are incredibly engaging, even for more challenging classes, and the vast majority of them require no advance preparation and no resources beyond internet access and an interactive whiteboard. If you find yourself with spare time at the end of a day or a session, or just want to enhance a science lesson. In a previous school, I worked with the most wonderful HLTA I could have asked for (shout out to Miss Kilvington, you legend!) who, as I’m sure is the case for many HLTAs, was often asked last minute to cover other classes, and so collected a ‘bag of tricks’ that she could pull out with children of all different ages. Explorify activities are a wonderful addition to that arsenal, and there’s no need to worry about subject knowledge, with all the relevant info being supplied with the activity.

Home Learning

Some of the activities could easily be sent home for children to discuss with their families (love a bit of no-pencil homework!). In particular, the ‘What if…’ questions would be an easy one to pop into home-school diaries, or even pose to pupils at home time and ask them to talk about it with their family on the walk home, or any point that is convenient. A great way to sneak in some extra science learning while engaging families!

In short, Explorify is a versatile resource that promotes scientific thinking and discussion in an engaging way, with high-quality resources. Oh, and it’s free! What more could you ask for! You can get there by clicking the ‘Explorify’ logo at the top of this post, or here:

Have you used Explorify in another way? Do you have resources you’d like me to investigate and blog about? Are there any areas in particular you’d like me to identify resources for? Let me know your thoughts and comment below!

Brilliant Botany!

Enhancing your lessons on plants

Plants are cool. They just are. Aside from the staggering amount of diversity out there, plants provide us with food, construction materials and beautiful settings.

Plants come up in every primary Key Stage and, although the curriculum content is different in each, there’s a real risk that learning about plants can become a bit stale and cause children to lose interest. To help children in your class agree that plants are cool, try these ideas and tips.

Make it visible

Thanks to a FREE Discovery Kit loan from the Linnaen Society (link below), my eyes were opened to the wonders of using a time-lapse camera to record plant growth. Although it was a little fiddly to set up, the results we got were amazing! We planted five different types of seed in the fingers of a clear plastic glove (and put a little damp cotton wool in each for good measure) then taped them to the window. Over the course of five days they all germinated and grew at different rates, and the photos that the camera took allowed us to observe this in a totally new way.

Can you spot the wayward cress seeds!?

After sprouting, we snipped off the fingers and potted the plants in newspaper pots (made with a handy gadget that also came in the Linnaen Society box!) ready to be planted outside.

These cameras will only set you back around £100-150, so if you’ve got room in your science budget they make a very good investment; they could also be used to track plant movement (towards the Sun), shadows, weather/cloud movement or the phases of the moon. Alternatively, do what I did and borrow one of the Linnaen Society Discovery Kits:

Ditch the beans

I would bet good money that every child currently in Year 6 or above has, at some point in their primary career, grown a broad bean. In fact, I’m guessing most of you reading this article grew at least one while you were at school (mine went black and mouldy, I’m not bitter about it at all…). There’s nothing wrong with growing broad beans; they grow relatively quickly and have nice clear roots and shoots. There is something wrong though, with children having to grow them over and over again, or with them being the only experience of germinating seeds that children have. Make sure you check with your class’ previous teachers what they’ve had experience of already to make sure this is avoided. Alternatives that work well are sunflower seeds, peas, sweetcorn seeds, marigold, basil or, my personal favourite, cucamelons.

Grow dinner

This point is a bit of an addendum to the above one about beans. There are loads of different crops you could grow at school. Potatoes create lovely, bushy above-ground plants and are incredibly easy to grow (and FREE, if you take advantage of the Grow Your Own Potatoes scheme – As sweetcorn grows it creates beautiful tall shoots. Herbs are really easy to grow and can be used in class cooking activities. Spring onions, leeks and celery can all be re-grown from off-cuts. Cucamelons grow rapidly and bear a good amount of rather unusual but tasty fruit. Supposedly, chillies grow hotter if they are deprived of water and face planty adversity as they are growing; what an interesting thing to investigate!

Create your own fertiliser

Who knew worm poo was so good for plants!? Wormeries can be set up easily and cheaply, and provide a great use for all the leftover fruit peels and cores you’ll inevitably end up with (just be sure not to put any citrus waste in there or you’ll end up bent over a bin rooting through mulch to find said citrus peels in order to keep the worms happy!) There’s great scope to investigate how beneficial this worm-waste fertiliser is when growing plants in your own classroom.

Research the weird and wonderful

Everyone knows cutting onions makes you cry, but have you ever thought about why? Children could research the different self-defence strategies plants employ to stop them becoming dinner. From the relatively common-place thorns and spines to the more unusual crypsis and mutualism, there are lots of interesting things to be learned about the different ways plants protect themselves.

Children could find out more about Idiot fruit, Corpse flowers, Baseball plants or the Dancing plant.      In addition to all of these wonders, carnivorous plants is another area with a wealth of cool facts to be learned. Did you know Venus flytraps can’t be watered with tap water? The fluoride in it is not good for them, so when we had a resident flytrap in our classroom we needed to create rain-gathering equipment to help keep it comfortable!

Raising Science Capital

There are a huge range of careers linked to plants, including, but not limited to, farming, forestry, environmental scientist and gardening. NFU Education have just released an absolutely amazing FREE resource that covers all of the Plants objectives in the National Curriculum for either Year 3 or Year 5 in a highly-motivating real-life business creation context. I’ve not yet trialled them with children personally, having had a go myself I can say I am SO excited to get back into teaching KS2 so I can begin using these resources! Check out the product my tram designed for busy teachers scarfing down lunch with one hand while photocopying/marking/setting up an art lesson with the other. Good to know I’ve got a future in product development if ever I turn from education!

The all resources needed, including plans and PowerPoint slides can be found at the link below. It’s well worth having a look around at the other resources on the website too as they’re all very high quality.

Bonus money-saving tip!

Lilies too expensive for your plant dissection lesson? Have the Year 2 pupils plant tulip bulbs in October-November, then use some of them for your plant dissection lessons in April-May. The various parts of the plant reproductive system are nice and clear just as they are on lilies, and investing in some tulip bulbs costs a lot less than a bunch of ready-grown lilies. AND if you take advantage of the amazing FREE Bulbs4Kids scheme you won’t even need to buy your bulbs!

Our finished mini-garden!

Have you ever tried any of the above ideas? What are your top tips for enhancing the teaching of plants? We’d love to hear your experience and ideas in the comments!