Today has been a day of productivity and reflection. Building and tweaking new schemes of work in light of the most recent GCSE and A level exams that have taken place and trying to embed the key knowledge and skills that enable students to be successful, and it really made me think that actually we are at interesting point, but also the most challenging of times for science education. As a fundamental cornerstone of ‘Bucket 2’ and a compulsory subject, the pressure is high for students of all attainment levels to achieve. As predicted many schools have relinquished their courses such BTEC science, OCR nationals and other vocational courses towards GCSE, coupled with the removal of the ISA’s- the specification change really ramped up not only the quantity of knowledge to be covered but also the complexity of the concepts covered.
After working with Karen Collins (PiXL Science lead) on how to best support students in science we had many a discussion surrounding how accessible the new GCSE is for lower achieving students. We then discussed how the Department for Education states that in order to achieve Grades 2 and 2-2 in science at GCSE candidates will need to be able to:
- Demonstrate some relevant scientific knowledge and understanding using limited scientific terminology.
- Perform basic calculations.
- Draw simple conclusions from qualitative or quantitative data.
- Make basic comments relating to experimental methods.
It was clear on embarking on this new GCSE quest that we would really scrutinise the content, number and length of examinations, literacy levels of the questions and lack of resilience and stamina in all learners. This became a real debate within our department, but also I felt the same vibes from other forms of social media. Science leaders and teachers were asking the same questions.
- How can we effectively manage the transition from a largely controlled assessment based curriculum to one which is 100% examination?
- How can we help our lowest achieving students access the language and skills of GCSE?
- How can we increase literacy and data handling levels to enable students to address these questions effectively across all students?
- How can we ensure the acquisition of key knowledge and the elimination of common misconceptions?
- How can we build resilience in preparation for the examination series in Year 11?
Like every hard question there are no easy answers and at the time I can honestly say that the new specification felt incredibly daunting especially for those students who would find science hard to grasp. However revisiting these questions and my one woman quest for personal professional development, I believe upon reflection we are really starting to address this in our learning, teaching and planning across all key stages. Here are some of the most valuable things that I have learned so far that are improving the teaching and learning of science across all key stages based on some of the excellent practitioners research, findings and hard work that our department has and will continue to embed in our daily practice.
Language and literacy: Amanda Fleck
I have seen Amanda present many times, and have worked with her closely for a number of years. I know her passion around language and the language of learning is key, so to listen to her presentation at ‘Meeting of minds’ at Brunel University was fantastic. She discussed and advised many strategies to help make scientific literacy more accessible to all stating how the language and the concept need to go hand in hand. The ability to conceptually link words will enable students to become more familiar with the word and the meaning behind it. Amanda also advised that we need to increase the amount of reading and teach students to decode words, use dual coding and help develop fluency. This was a clearly something that can be implemented quite easily and have immediate impact. I found myself then linking this to the 3 levels of comprehension:
What struck me about comprehension and reading was how they linked to the assessment objectives given by the exam board- so development of these skills would be crucial. To tackle this we developed more opportunities for reading in class with targeted questions to assess students knowledge and understanding of particular concepts. Exam questions with longer text were also embedded in KS3, 4 and 5 lessons so students feel more confident when answering these in a test or assessment. Modelling and working through these were also really important- it allowed for careful scaffolding so students could access, but also through effective questioning, really push students to maximise marks.
How does learning emerge in science classrooms? Mark Hardman
After attending Mark’s presentation I found his talk really refreshing and practical. I enjoyed how he discussed the idea that assessment should be linked to the activity which should have an overall link to concept acquisition. Mark quoted Willingham (2009) stating “memory is the residue of thought” so we must have more of a focus on cognition in the classroom. The research explained was really interesting and centered around expert micro-teaching, verbal protocols and retrospective debriefing all to support the learning taking place. We watched a clip of a lesson in which the teacher was driving meaningful cognition by many different teaching techniques such as feedback, effective questioning, actions, gestures and playing dumb. He emphasised that students learn from specific models that are delivered by the teacher and our job is to give thoughts to develop the narrative and meaning to help build semantic memory, continually develop narrative as to address misconceptions, feedback and correcting and problem solving and ensuring meaning through context, relationships etc. This is something that has been easy to implement just by reflecting on what has actually happened through my own lessons this year and actually addressing whether or not I am creating opportunities for meaningful cognition. This is definitely something that I will continue to develop over the next academic year.
Why science teaching is hard- but wonderful!- Jasper Green
During Jasper’s presentation I found that I was thoroughly engaged from the start. Jasper commenced by discussing the purpose of challenge and how we can make concepts come to life whilst considering the relationships between them. Jasper introduced me to the idea of a schema, and how we can develop synoptic links that can support meaning through relatable knowledge. As an A level biology teacher this is a skill that is pertinent to an A level biologist- so introducing this from a much earlier age will hopefully support more secure learning in the future as students can create links between concepts not only across biology, but science too. However, the crucial piece of the puzzle is that we aid the students development, but the schema is constructed through the eyes of a student so in order to make these schemas fruitful we need to diagnose what students know and what they don’t and provide feedback to them
“If you are not challenged, you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes feedback is useless” Hattie
The most applicable aspect of the presentation was linked to surfacing mistakes and misconceptions. This could be addressed in lessons in many different ways, dependent on what you are trying to do:
Ultimately Jasper’s presentation concluded with the notion that challenge is important because students will make mistakes, this provides us as professionals with a ‘symptom’ in which we can diagnose a ‘treatment’ through effective feedback to develop a fruitful schema.
Top 5 new resources I have used to support learning in lessons this academic year:
- Revision clocks- These have been a great tool for me to use to see what the students do know under timed conditions. (Jo Morgan- @mathsjem)
- Foldables- These have worked really well to aid students in sequencing particular concepts such as mitosis, meiosis, the menstrual and cardiac cycle. Great for revision too as students can cover and recall what they know, then check their answers.
- S.L.O.P booklets- courtesy of Adam Boxer and the cognitive science team, I have really looked into these and the idea of drilling questions to ensure that students know what they need to know.
- Knowledge organisers for KS5- these have been so useful and have been used as an extensive tool over the last academic year by year 13.
- Structure strips- These have really helped me develop extended answers from nearly all students. Through the careful scaffolding students have been able to describe, explain and evaluate in much more detail.
So a massive thank you to the people that have inspired me to be a better teacher this year and I believe the quote below sums it up.