Research School Network: Making real-world connections to support scientists of the future Making relevant, real-world links in primary science teaching


Making real-world connections to support scientists of the future

Making relevant, real-world links in primary science teaching

Nadia Moustapha from Billesley Research School considers the benefits of making relevant, real-world links in primary science teaching.

Covering the ground beneath a leafy tree or bush with a white sheet, and then vigorously shaking it, is a quick way of discovering the various invertebrates that call it home. Just ensure you keep your head and shoulders back to avoid taking some of these creatures home with you at the end of the day!

Learning about habitats in a familiar environment, can lay the foundations for the new learning to be more accessible for all children.

This example illustrates one of the key recommendations from the EEF’s new guidance report, Improving Primary Science”: relate new learning to relevant, real-world contexts.

This might sound obvious, but the crucial word here is relevant”. Not relevant to us, not relevant to the curriculum but relevant to our community and our children’s experiences, as well as the key learning outcomes.

Using allocated CPD time to provide teachers a chance to look at upcoming science topics, teachers can pick out where real-world contexts could be used effectively to help build children’s understanding of new learning. The key is to engage in conversation about how these are relevant for the specific children we teach, and what the key learning outcomes will be.

At Billesley Primary, we kick start all our science topics with a provocation’, the aim of this being to introduce new learning in a real-word context. Doing this allows any previous knowledge and misconceptions to be drawn out through discussion and questioning.

This lesson is not about learning anything new, but drawing on what the children may already know and providing them opportunities to demonstrate any skills they already have. As a science lead it will be vital to ensure that these provocations always draw on real-world contexts and remain relevant.

Sometimes taking learning to the real-world environment – making use of the school grounds and local area – can be effective. Learning about friction in the classroom using swabs of different fabrics does not have as much meaning for our children as investigating different surfaces that have been used to create our school grounds. Similarly, using soil samples ordered online to investigate absorbency will not have as much meaning as collecting soil samples from different places in a local area.

Sensory rich experiences can enhance learning experiences and help children to build pathways for the learning to be retained.

The Key Stage 1 Science curriculum is designed with this in mind with a wealth of opportunities for learning to be obtained through relevant real-world contexts. Drawing and labelling key parts of the digestive system on an old t‑shirt and then wearing it, will have more meaning than simply drawing it on a worksheet outline of a human body.

Presenting key concepts linked to sustainability can also help children understand the relevance and importance of what they are learning in the wider world.

Ultimately, good curriculum design allows children to learn science from real-world examples which build their understanding of science as it relates to the wider world. As the concepts become more abstract, drawing on virtual models (e.g. space exploration) and animations (e.g. the journey of blood through the lungs and heart) will be vital to keeping the learning accessible.

Allowing children as many opportunities as possible to make connections between their learning and the real-world will ensure they value the relevance and role of science in their everyday life and shape some future scientists along the way.

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