Trainee Secondary School Teachers example

A series of Tricky Topics workshops, lasting approximately 3hrs each, were conducted with secondary teachers who are currently in their training (PGCE) programme. Approximately 8-12 trainee teachers participated in each workshop and arranged in small groups of 2-4 went through the three-stage (identify – capture – assess) process.

The Tricky Topics process: identify, capture, and assess.


After a brief introduction from the facilitator about the TTT process, they worked collaboratively to identify Tricky Topics in STEM that students could face difficulties in. The brainstorm activity that followed helped the teachers to break that Tricky Topic down into identifiable parts such as specific student problems. Then, using the Tricky Topic Mapping diagrams, they structured the problems into groups with a common thread. Once each small group completed their diagrams, there was a whole group discussion, led by the facilitator, where each of the groups shared their stumbling blocks and discussed why these are key stumbling blocks.

‘It helps you see if and how the problems are related to the (Tricky) topic or not’

Brad, biology teacher.

‘No matter how well you teach something, students will still face issues and this helps us see through that’

Jenny, chemistry teacher.

‘It’s really powerful because it’s like getting into students’ heads about why they don’t get it’

Flynn, chemistry teacher.

‘It’s really important that [with this process] you come to find out these misconceptions and then teach according to what that class thinks’

Naomi, biology teacher.

‘For us it was really helpful to think about things through’

Fliss, Phycisist.

‘I think working collaboratively is a good idea because you get different ideas and then you put them down and you see that they are not so different after all, there is something common behind them’

Helen, physics teacher.


In the second stage, teachers in their same small groups, input the Tricky Topics and their key Stumbling Blocks to the Tricky Topic tool from the Mapping diagram. Next, they input the specific student problems, linked them to the Stumbling Blocks and, through discussion and with the aid of the problem Distiller, captured why they were problems. The Tricky Topictoll helped practitioners to get a complete online picture of their Tricky Topic, its Stumbling Blocks and the associated problem examples.

‘The problem examples make you understand students’ mistakes and show you why they make these mistakes’

Halil, biology teacher.

‘You can see the misconceptions (students) have from the (problem) examples

Flynn, chemistry teacher.

‘It helped me see my own misconceptions in other areas that are not my specialism’

Dun-e-Maknoon, biology teacher.

‘It actually pulls off your own misconceptions… it shows that it’s actually a tricky topic and there is no one way to teach them all’

Katie, physics teacher.

‘It (capturing the stumbling blocks on the tool) shows you sort of the boundaries you are looking at’

Felicity, physics teacher.

‘It helped me overcome my own misconceptions because when you get different ideas down on paper and you discuss them you get to realise your own misconceptions’

Katie, physics teacher.


Finally, leading on from the capture activities, the small groups guided by the Tricky Topic tool, created a quiz to assess the knowledge in the stumbling blocks and problems. Next, it relies on the teachers themselves to construct an intervention that will tackle one or more of the stumbling blocks.

‘By allowing other people (from your group) to edit your quiz, it gives us a more rounded view of the subject’

Xarius, biology teacher.

‘It’s good that the tool allows you to add or refine your own stumbling blocks, go back and edit it again and again’

Felicity, physics teacher.