The Science of Teaching Science
By focusing on teaching scientific knowledge and working collaboratively, Paradigm Trust is changing the way science is learnt, resulting in pupils achieving improved results and greater engagement with the subject in all their schools.
To ensure science is taught effectively there are several challenges which need to be overcome. The first and perhaps biggest of these is the way the teaching of science is implemented at the different stages. It is noticeable in the UK education system science is often taught in a completely different manner in primary schools than it is in secondary schools. This disconnect causes issues as the skills and knowledge embedded during the primary years are not the ones valued at secondary school, so time needs to be spent at the start of Year Seven teaching the pupils what they need to know to be able to learn effectively at Key Stage 3 and beyond.
Science often has less classroom time than other core subjects such as maths, reading and writing, so it is essential that this precious time is maximised. However, many primary schools across the country use an inquiry-based learning approach, despite a growing number of studies showing this teaching method to be ineffective in its current form. It generally fails because significant scientific knowledge needs to be in place before the enquiry begins so the correct questions can be asked. Due to lack of time or lack of understanding children usually aren’t primed with this scientific knowledge and so do not have sufficient comprehension of what they are looking for to get the most out of this approach.
Exacerbating the challenges which face many UK primary schools is the lack of specialist science teachers working at that level. While there are some teachers with science qualifications who work in primary schools, the majority of teachers who are qualified in science choose to work in secondary schools. The one or two days that teacher training spends on science come nowhere near to filling this gap.
When children reach secondary school, the focus often shifts almost exclusively to teaching what the pupil needs to know to pass the GCSE, rather than exploring the full uses of science, so students can be left with a narrow comprehension of the subject that is more weighted towards succeeding in an exam than having a good understanding of science.
Paradigm Trust is working to overcome these traditional challenges and raise student attainment levels in science using a number of different strategies. The first is ensuring all six of its schools are working from an effective science curriculum, using consistent, evidenced-based teaching methods. This ensures there is continuity across the board, and teachers are using techniques which are proven to be effective to deliver the material.
The Trust makes sure that children are taught the necessary scientific knowledge first, whatever the age of the child. It is only with this as a pupil’s foundation that they are then able to get the most out of any enquiry activities, maximising their learning time and gaining a better understanding of science. Without this scientific knowledge children won’t be able to develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.
This goes some way to draw together the two different cultures of primary science and secondary school science, but Paradigm schools ensure the gap is as small as possible by communicating regularly with each other. In subject groups a large proportion of time is spent discussing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 9. In this way there is less disruption when pupils move from Year 6 to Year 7 and the learning experience is far smoother. Much of this work is led by Ben Rogers who is on the Education Committee at the Institute of Physics, and on the editing panel for the Association of Science Education journal. He is also part of the Ofsted Science advisory group, with a particular focus on primary schools.
Since Paradigm began working this way more students have been successful in science GCSE, and more high grades are being achieved. The number of students choosing to study a science subject at further education level has increased, and at every level of schooling it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject.
Having an effective understanding of science is incredibly important for the individual and society. Children are entitled to know how the world works – without this knowledge their lives aren’t as rich. A good understanding of science will allow them as adults to make informed decisions on important matters, such as voting, wearing a mask or receiving a vaccination as has been seen recently. And it opens doors to numerous careers in a huge range of fields. For all these reasons Paradigm Trust will continue to work and innovate to ensure it gives its pupils the best science education possible.