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21 Sep 2018

Secondary Science 1: – What did you think, what do you think… and why?

Secondary Science 1: – What did you think, what do you think… and why?

This is the first in a series of posts about the new Science Guidance report from the EEF.

I was on the advisory panel that helped compile the report, so I have been thinking about the ideas within it for a while now. I thought I’d share some links and resources that I have found useful for embedding some of the key recommendations into my practice. We’ll be talking about these in more detail on our Secondary Science training course, starting in January.

1) Preconceptions: Build on the ideas that pupils bring to lessons

Some of my favourite resources for anticipating and diagnosing misconceptions are found on the RSC Learn Chemistry site, including this one, about ions and bonding, which I’ve used over and over again.

These sets of questions from the University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG) are excellent, and this site from the American Association for the Advancement of Science is an absolute goldmine, with diagnotic questions for a wide range of topics from Biology, Chemistry and Physics (grouped and categorised by common misconceptions).

I’ve thought a great deal about Threshold Concepts, and I wrote about how I applied the idea to my KS4 teaching. I’m also fascinated by the process by which breakthroughs in understanding occur, and wrote about how mimicry is not mastery.

1b: Develop pupils’ thinking through cognitive conflict and discussion

I personally find this a pretty challenging thing to do, although some people are really expert at it, and use it to great effect. Naomi Hennah, for example, is an expert at using Oracy to develop ideas, and I would love to have the confidence and skills to do more of what she does!

However, I’ve found mini whiteboards to be a really useful tool for helping to promote discussion and keeping track of what everyone’s thinking while ensuring that everyone is participating. I wrote a little about this here.

1c: Allow enough time to challenge misconceptions and change thinking

I think allowing enough time to challenge misconceptions and change thinking is particularly important. My experience is that some of the more tricky concepts take a cretain amount of time to settle, and it helps to revisit them. This might partly be because of the liminal nature of learning.

Some people have argued that misconceptions are supressed, rather than fully overcome, and Adam Boxer summarises some of this here-,(the discussion at the end of the post alone is worth a read!).

2) Self-regulation: Help pupils direct their own learning

There are a few key points for me that stand out here:

  • Self-regulation incorporates cognition, metacognition and motivation. So you need pupils to understand the strategies they can use to learn things before they can start to regulate their use of them!
  • These skills need to be developed in subject-specific contexts
  • These skills can be taught explicitly, rather than relying on pupils to just develop them natrually over time. This is particularly beneficial for low-attaining pupils.

2a: Explicitly teach pupils how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning

One way to help students to evaluate what they’ve done is simply to ask them a standard set of questions after they’ve completed some work. For example: for each incorrect answer in a multiple choice test, ask them to explain why they chose this wrong answer (why they thought it was correct), and then why it was actually incorrect, before outlining what the actual answer was, and also the reasoning behind why it was correct.

Blake Harvard wrote this post, which includes a useful form you can use to encourage pupils to think about MCQ options in more depth, and I wrote this a few years ago.

James de Winter suggests ranking tasks as a way of slowing pupils’ thinking down, and getting them to really engage with the question, as in this example (found here):

2b: Model your thinking to help pupils develop metacognitive/ cognitive knowledge

This is something that has had a big impact on my teaching. One of my aims for this year is to really make use of the visualisers that my department has bought.

Rosalind Walker (Ruth Ashby) wrote an excellent post about tacit knowledge, and how Science teachers (as experts) need to make this explicit for novices (our pupils):

Procedural knowledge in Science Subject Knowledge often has many steps, many of them often invisible to us as teachers as we have automated them as we have become experts…

I wrote here about how even for something relatively simple (to me), like the working out the charge on the ions in magnesium sulfate, my thinking would be along the lines of:

  • There are two ions that I need to take into account
  • One of those is positive, and one negative
  • I know that magnesium is an element, and it’s a metal, so it’s likely to be the positive one.
  • Which group is it in? Ah yes, group 2. So it’s mostly like to lose electrons and form a positive ion.
  • Okay, so it loses 2 electrons. This means its ion will have a charge of +2. It’ll form Mg2+.
  • Now, I know that sulphate is a compound ion that’s made up of sulphur and oxygen. It has a negative charge.
  • I know the formula and charge for sulphate is SO42-. I know this because I learned it off-by-heart when I was doing my GCSEs over 20 years ago, and it’s held up there in my brain alongside all the (latin) lyrics to Carmina Burana, which I was forced to learn at the age of 8 for a performance at the Albert Hall. They are still there now!

Some steps are tacit and others are now completely automatic, but this isn’t the case for the pupils I teach. They will have done all the individual processes associated with each step many times before we come to do this. Yet, in general, they don’t put them together easily. So it’s important that I model this process for them first.

If you want to do something really terrifying, model your thinking for a question (especially a calculation) that you haven’t previously prepared. You will have to think aloud, you’re likely to make a mistake (or maybe that’s just me!). Your pupils will see you realise you’ve made a mistake, and observe how you resolve it.

If you’d like to explore these ideas in greater depth, with support to embed and implement the approaches effectively, do consider joining us in January on our Secondary Science training course, based on the report and put together by a team of teachers from around the UK.

Further reading and resources

Do please let us know if there are any links we should add to this page. Here’s a few extras to keep you going until the next post…