How shall we teach Science? stems from the frustration of delivering a curriculum that practicing Science teachers had little hand in the making of. A healthcare system without asking for doctors' opinions? Never! A legal system without asking judges? No way! An education system without asking teachers…?
We aim to constructively criticise current policies, specifications and examinations, and, wherever we can, create alternatives that sit better with the Science teaching profession. In the shorter term, these may prove to be useful to teachers in their own classroom. In the longer term, perhaps government and awarding bodies can also take on board these ideas.
Who are we?
How shall we teach Science? was started and is maintained by three currently practicing Science teachers working in state comprehensives in England and Wales. They are invaluably supported in this by a growing number of site members (themselves Science teachers) who contribute where and when they can.
…teaches science at an 11-18 comprehensive in Cambridgeshire. He has a special interest in evidence-based practice and has been teaching for 10 years.
||The 2006 reforms to the Science curriculum, have, it seems to me, backfired and had the opposite effect from the one intended. The aim was to create two strands in science teaching: one for future scientists and one for "educated citizens".
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, it was decided to have Core Science as a common strand. This has many of the abstract ideas removed (and taught in yr 11). Now future citizens have a watered down version in fact-form, which does not make sense to the pupil, and future scientists have to mark time for a year before they are taught the theories which hang the whole thing together and let the learner see the bigger picture.
I want to work on and share a "proper" science course, aimed at future scientists, which will take them step by step through the main theories of science so that understanding can happen. I believe that, while we can have a common year 7 course which provides concrete foundations, from year 8 future scientists should follow a different course. Experiments show that our more able pupils, in ordinary comprehensives, are capable of much higher order learning than is implied by the KS3/Core process. When the theory is taught alongside the knowledge, this provides the framework on which the brain "hangs" the new ideas.
Learning can also be significantly improved if we use teaching techniques which have a proven track record. As scientists we need to apply the same sorts of criteria to "how we teach science" as we teach the pupils in planning a valid investigation.
…has been a Science teacher since 2000. He is currently Head of Physics at an 11-18 state comprehensive in the North West of England.
||I’m worried about the state of Science education at GCSE level in England and Wales and know that I’m not alone.
Don’t get me wrong – there are excellent, world-class aspects to the Science education available in this country and schools throughout the land are littered with truly excellent and inspiring teachers who are doing things that I am left simply aspiring to.
But there are also, in my opinion, long-existing deep faults that have repeatedly been passed over by successive reviews of the subject. While curriculum change has been rife in recent years (indeed, some of it for the better), too much of it has been superficial, ineffective or even harmful.
The most recent reviews have been by Ofqual and SCORE (separately), into the quality of assessment, and by the QCDA and the DCSF (separately), into the fitness for purpose of the subject criteria. The former seem likely to produce little change for at least the next five years. The latter were poorly advertised to the profession (did you know?), poorly executed in the QCDA case (multiple surveys, avoiding asking important and difficult questions, without promise of the publication of raw responses) and seem (at least) to reflect an attitude of nothing more than going through the motions.
In addition to this, many good proposals and offers of involvement and help put forward by organisations such as the IoP and the ASE have been rebuffed by organisations such as the QCDA. It seems to me that government lays out its own agenda and then determines to follow it through, without due regard to the opinions of those professional bodies that are more knowledgeable about the day-to-day issues of the classroom.
Now, you may scoff and say that it has always been like this. I don’t know. Maybe it has. But is that an excuse to continue to accept it if it seems wrong? Most people would think it ludicrous to run the National Health Service without a huge input of opinion from doctors, or the judicial system without the input of opinion from judges and lawyers. And yet our education system (in the sciences, at least) is apparently run by regularly not acting on the advice of the teaching profession – indeed that advice is often not widely sought in the first place. Even in those rare occasions when organisations that represent science teachers (the ASE, the IoP, etc) are consulted, it is still true to say that it is not often practicing science teachers that reply.
I see Science as in decline in this country and I view the government response to this as being to make GCSE Science courses 'funky' (they would say 'contemporary') and the examinations easier.
I think that it's time that teachers had a larger say in what they teach.
…is a Science teacher at an 11-18 state comprehensive in North London. He also works as a science writer and film-maker.
||I am a part-time science teacher at a comprehensive school in North London. I returned to teaching in January 2008 after a 7 year break working in the TV industry. Many things have changed in that time - interactive whiteboards have gone from being a novelty few schools could afford to a basic fixture in every classroom. I too have moved on from being a "young" teacher to being virtually an old fogey. These changes were easy to get used to - interactive whiteboards are an amazing teaching tool and being older doesn’t seem to have had a negative impact on my teaching.
What has been difficult to adjust to are the changes to how science is supposed to be taught and assessed. Frankly, I think something has gone awry. And I'm not the only one to think so, but, as a good scientist, I'm not going to recount anecdotal evidence for the "dumbing down" of science. Instead, I'll point you towards a report published earlier this year by the government's regulator of qualifications and exams Ofqual which concludes that there are "significant causes for concern" with the way that science is taught and assessed at GCSE level.
If you’re a teacher who really cares about how we teach and assess science in the UK, then get involved. Moaning about these things in the staffroom is not enough.
…is Head of Science and Technology College Manager at a large state comprehensive in Devon. Prior to that he was Head of Physics at comprehensives in Sussex and Northumberland. He has been teaching for 20 years.
||I have no problem with constantly looking at how we teach. It’s the changes to what we teach and what we assess that has gone badly astray.
I feel strongly that science is a body of self consistent and coherent knowledge and that to teach science effectively it is vital that the framework of knowledge comprises the backbone for the structure of the curriculum. This blindingly obvious statement has not been questioned until recently.
The implementation of How Science Works has been badly implemented and largely counter productive. The explicit change of assessment focus from concepts to skills has produced a curriculum which devalues scientific knowledge, obscures theoretical coherence and has imposed a huge bureaucratic burden on hard pressed classroom teachers, already suffering from long standing ‘innovation fatigue’.
The target setting requirements of the new regime, coupled with the pressure from the standards and accountability agenda is pushing teachers into ‘hoop jumping’ to fulfil rather dubious assessment criteria, further damaging a clear comprehension of the science being taught.
The less able are also badly served. In my experience, these students have a strong desire to learn science in a hands-on way. Instead of benefitting from teachers who can concentrate on effective methods of getting over scientific ideas in a concrete way such as ‘why can’t you hear explosions in space?’, ‘how do wetsuits keep you warm in the sea?’ or ‘why are the identical twins you know always the same sex?’, these students are faced with a dispiriting bureaucratic target setting system constantly asking them what they can do to improve in abstract skill areas they can’t understand, let alone relate to or be motivated by.
I am very concerned that the absence of the above pressures on the independent sector could lead to a two tier system of science education viz: IGCSE to Pre-U to Russell Group University versus increasingly ‘applied’ GCSE to a confusion of semi academic ‘relevant’ A-levels or Diplomas to less academic degrees at less prestigious HE institutions or the need for remedial science and maths courses for starting undergraduates.
How should we teach Science? began in 2009 as a project of Alom's. The QCDA was surveying teachers prior to revising the statutory criteria for Science, but teachers were largely unaware of this opportunity to offer their opinions. Alom collected viewpoints and ensured that the QCDA received them. Soon after, Alom was joined by Stuart and Mike and the project expanded considerably, establishing a collaborative space (this wiki) to propose, discuss and develop improvements. Andrew became a major contributor a couple of months after it launched.
The collaboration began in August 2009 and was largely conducted online, with occasional telephone conversations. In October, however, we felt it appropriate to begin meeting face to face. This has proved to be extremely productive. These meetings are briefly minuted here.
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Since it's launch in October 2009, HowScience has gradually been attracting like-minded members. A full membership list is available here.