Research School Network: Improving primary science – what and how? Alison Trew

Improving primary science – what and how?

Alison Trew

by Norfolk Research School
on the

Our blog this week comes from Alison Trew, Impact & Research Director (acting) at the Primary Science Teaching Trust. A former teacher, Alison has taught all ages from Reception to Year 6, and was awarded the PSTT’s Primary Science Teaching Award in 2014. Alison has a wide knowledge of the range of materials available to support teachers, and combines this with her expertise to give a range of practical ways we can apply the evidence-informed approaches within the EEF’s recent Guidance Report: Improving Primary Science.

The EEF Improving primary science guidance report makes six recommendations for teaching primary science. All are important and could be useful pointers for making positive changes to the science curriculum in primary schools.

Here, I will consider each of the six recommendations made in the EEF report and suggest how class teachers (or subject leaders) might implement these points.

1. Develop pupils’ scientific vocabulary

This is important so that all pupils can actively participate in their science learning and communicate their understanding’. The report mentions that this is particularly important for pupils with English as an Additional Language but teachers should also be mindful of the children in their classes who are perhaps thought to have a lower science capital than their peers. Not all children will have opportunities outside school for learning new words through experiencing family trips to museums, or science conversations, books and television programmes at home.

Science 2a

The report makes useful suggestions about how to teach new words and the types of words that should be taught but where can primary teachers find guidance on age-appropriate science vocabulary?

Useful resources:

Pan London Assessment Network (PLAN) knowledge matrices[AT1] provide age-related vocabulary lists for each primary science topic in National Curriculum for England.

Primary Science Teaching Trust provides over 720 science vocabulary cards that are free to download from PSTT website[AT2] and can be used with foam dice.

Explorify provides a science vocabulary[AT3] list associated with the National Curriculum, England.

As well as the vocabulary list, Explorify activities[AT4] are a great for vocabulary rehearsal which is what recommendation 1 is driving at. The What’s Going On? and Zoom In Zoom Out activities give children the opportunity to use that vocabulary when describing what they see, and the Odd One Out activities again involve vocabulary rehearsal when children are comparing three images. It is this regular practice that ensures children embed the language in their vocabulary.

2. Encourage pupils to explain their thinking, whether verbally or written form

Science 3a

There are many published resources designed to promote children’s thinking and talking about science. Odd One Out is mentioned in the EEF report but teachers might like to try others.

Useful resources

The Bright Ideas Time[AT1] described on the Primary Science Teaching Trust website is a dedicated 10-minute discussion slot using either Odd One Out, Positive Minus Interesting, or the Big Question activities to stimulate children’s higher order thinking skills. You will find examples showing children’s responses, slideshows that can be used in the classroom and Top Tips on how to use them.

Explorify[AT2] offers even more Odd One Out and What if? (another title for Positive Minus Interesting). Within each activity teachers should scroll down to find Top Tips on how to run the activities and the suggested questions to promote thinking.

Concept Cartoons[AT3] (paid resource) are cartoon style drawings that show different characters with different plausible opinions about the science being discussed. Unlike the other resources mentioned, these are not free but they can be easier for less confident children because they can choose to agree (or disagree) with one of the characters and explain why.

3. Guide pupils to work scientifically

It can be daunting for teachers planning a new topic to decide which practical activities to use to develop children’s subject knowledge or practical skills, and when and how to introduce them. The seven-step model described in this section provides a useful guide to sequence a series of lessons. Use it as a checklist.

Science 4a

The seventh step (structured reflection) can sometimes be missed or forgotten when we get to the end of a busy term and yet this is when connections are made.

Ask yourself – have I planned enough time for children’s reflection at the end of a topic?

Useful resources

PSTT’s Primary science skills and how to teach them[AT1] (paid resource)

PSTT’s Enquiry Skills[AT2] and Enquiry Approaches[AT3] webpages provide symbols, explanations and examples.

SEERIH’s Enquiring science 4 All[AT4] provides symbols and posters.

CIEC’s Working scientifically in the primary classroom[AT5] is a useful booklet showing the progression of enquiry skills from EYFS to KS1, KS1 to KS2 and KS2 to KS3. Child friendly I can’ statements are available on a set of posters which could be used for peer or self-assessment.

4. Linking science learning to relevant real-world contexts

The objective here is to focus on what the child already knows to build on this.

Useful resources

The Primary Science Capital Teaching Approach handbook describes how small changes in approach can create a more equitable science teaching and learning environment.

Have You Ever?
activities on Explorify are also useful for this as they relate science to children’s everyday experiences. The Take it further’ within those activities again try to be very accessible.

5. Assessment

The EEF report suggests anticipating preconceptions and misconceptions, but how can teachers find out about these?

Examples for elicitation are suggested; where will teachers find these?

Useful resources

Pan London Assessment Network (PLAN) knowledge matrices[AT6] describe common misconceptions for each primary science topic in the English National Curriculum.

Try a Teacher Assessment of Primary Science (TAPS) focused assessment task[AT7]
to assess children’s working scientifically skills within a scientific context. You can search for these according to your science topic, age group, type of enquiry.

Visit the TAPS Pyramid Tool[AT8] to see examples of strategies for responsive teaching, giving feedback and next steps. I suggest starting with the blue layer to see what assessment strategies you might try to advance pupils’ learning (responsive teaching), then the light blue layer to see how you might involve pupils in assessing their progress (pupils’ self and peer assessment), then the yellow layer to see how these activities can be used together to make reliable summative judgements (shared understanding).

Explorify is great for meaningful, engaging assessment for learning. You will find Odd One Out, PMI (called What if?) and many other activities.

At moderation meetings, teachers might find the PLAN Examples of work’[AT9] useful for comparison.

6. Strengthen science teaching through effective PD as part of implementation process

The report lists organisations providing high-quality professional development. But who does what?

Useful resources

ReachOut CPD[AT10] provide free online courses to improve teacher’s subject knowledge.

STEM Learning[AT11] , Association of Science Education[AT12] , Primary Science Teaching Trust[AT13] , The Ogden Trust[AT14] , the Royal Society of Chemistry[AT15] and British Science Association[AT16] all provide free online resources.

STEM Learning also provide courses, PSTT provide bespoke support for schools and The Ogden Trust offer training for teachers through school partnerships.

In addition, Explorify has half-hour CPD sessions on teaching all the topics of the national curriculum. There is also the Teaching the tricky bits for classroom teachers. To help Subject Leaders we have the Subject Leaders Toolkit and Helpful reads.

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