Was this how you experienced science at school? Is there another way?
How do you recall your science experience from your own school days? Does the heading of this blog ring any bells for you? Can you recall this structure with clarity? And how does this influence your teaching of science today and the experience of your students?
I have little recollection of any kind of science curriculum from my primary days in education apart from the ‘Nature Table’ which I was quite drawn to, even if it really didn’t change all that much. My recollection of science throughout my secondary education however, at a high performing grammar school, is far more vivid.
I enjoyed my lessons in physiology, chemistry, physics, and biology, which I loved, being a bit of a gardener at heart with a dream of managing my own forest somewhere in the wilds of Scotland. A dream that was crushed all too early by my careers teacher! On the whole though, my science teachers took an interest in me and cultivated a desire to understand more about the workings of the world.
All of this, in spite of an all too fixed and rigid curriculum, designed to meet the demands of examinations.
By and large each curriculum bore the same structure. We, the increasingly indoctrinated, would enter and take our seats in the lab, layout our books, pens and other paraphernalia kept within the confines of our pencil cases and start copying down the familiar recipe in our books from the black board, or sometimes, on good days, from a highly perfumed Banda sheet.
This structure embedded itself firmly in my understanding of what I understood science to be, and informed much of my teaching in the early years of my career. I subjected my students to a similar diet of date, title, method…. learning, in time, to change hypothesis to prediction. However, somehow I believed that there had to be a better way, especially as frequently 50%+ of my students failed to get much further than method before we moved on.
This also meant that many of them failed to experience actually ‘having a go’ at anything practical. Although this was sad it felt like a reasonable trade for the headache tablets that would have been required if the whole class got through to practical work!
Older and wiser I now have the privilege of working across a variety of settings and have refined the strategies in my toolbox somewhat. Ofsted in their most recent survey of science education ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ open with “Physicians take an oath that commits them to ‘first do no harm’. The best science teachers, seen as part of this survey, set out to ‘first maintain curiosity’ in their pupils”.
I have been fortunate enough to work with teams of teachers endeavouring to do just that by focussing on children’s own questions and enabling them to grow as scientists following their own enquiry led investigations in pursuit of answers to their own questions without any recourse to the need for headache tablets, ear muffs or sound proofed walls.
Planning clear starting points in science which enable children to raise questions within carefully defined and manageable parameters has made a significant difference to outcomes. No longer do all science books look basically the same with all children following the same investigation with largely the same results interpreted in largely the same way. Telling the difference between the books of the most and least able is no longer based upon the quality of pupil writing.
Working scientifically and raising good questions has become central to teaching and learning and teachers and pupils have become excited and engaged in the process of science. As a result, the outcomes for children are varied, and revealing about children as scientists, in relation to what they choose to investigate, the decisions they make along the way about how to follow through their enquiry and consequently how they decide to communicate their findings.
When asked recently to identify their ‘top three’ aspects of provision at school it was thrilling to hear “science, we get to experiment” included in the children’s comments about the things they loved most about school.
The simplest of starting points always seem best and I have seen significantly high levels of both enthusiasm and hilarity resulting from scenarios such as exploring ‘silly putty’ made from a combination of borax, PVA glue & food colouring and the questions this has raised about changing materials.
Other great starting points have been looking at pictures of constellations in the night sky at two different times of night, or making ‘Bishops Mitres’ (a variation on paper aeroplanes) and trying to identify what effects their flight path. Sources of inspiration can be found all around you but a rich wealth of starting points can be found in the British Science week activity packs (there is a great archive of these to be found on the STEM website). Alternatively try conducting a search for ‘Cool science investigations’ on YouTube. The possibilities are quite limitless.
In Creative Education’s course ‘Outstanding learning in the primary science curriculum’ I share what outstanding science provision is about and where it sits within the latest Ofsted Framework. As well as this, strategies are shared and developed with delegates focussed upon the best assessment practice, ensuring that learning starts where the children ‘are at’.
Also we look at great ideas for starters including signposts to starting points across the full breadth & age range of the science National curriculum, ensuring that impact upon outcomes and progress are positively recognised by anyone who should wish to take a look, including inspection teams.
I hope that this post has been helpful. For more information and guidance, why not look at whether one of our other science courses can help you with your needs.