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Has Covid-19 changed good practice in the teaching of science?

Updated: Feb 9

My short, and not surprising, answer to this questions is no. However, please read on because Covid-19 has had an impact on the teaching of science and this blog will attempt to identify that impact and provide some advice on how to respond to it.

To my mind, Covid-19 has had four major impacts on the teaching science, but none of them have changed the essentials of good practice. The major impacts are:

  • gaps in learning from lockdown

  • use of practical resources

  • social distancing between the teacher and pupils

  • remote education.

Before dealing with how we respond to each of the above, we should remind ourselves of the key aspects of good practice in the teaching of science, following such an extended period where it has been challenging to implement it.

First and foremost, we need to have a clear understanding of the knowledge that we are teaching in our lessons. The start of the new academic year, particularly if you are changing year-groups, is the perfect opportunity to go back and look at the National Curriculum (England). The knowledge statements for each topic need to be covered in sufficient depth over a period of time to ensure that they are fully understood and remembered. This may take a series of lessons or require revisiting in different contexts throughout the year. The PLAN Knowledge matrices provide further detail about the content that the pupils need to learn in order to be secure, including key vocabulary and common misconceptions.

Next, pupils need to have the opportunity to learn the knowledge or apply it through engaging in enquiry work, and this should constitute the vast majority of science lessons. Enquiry work involves gathering data to answer questions. The National Curriculum specifies the following five types of enquiry, including researching, which is not practical in nature.

  • Comparative and fair testing

  • Observing over time

  • Classifying

  • Pattern seeking

  • Researching

Some topics in the National Curriculum lend themselves better to some types of enquiry than others. It is not expected that pupils will carry out all five types of enquiry during each topic, but they should have experienced them all over the course of a year. Our Science Enquiry: Supporting the Curriculum - Year 1-6 provides suggestions for enquiry activities that can be included in each topic. For more information on how to support pupils to understand the types of enquiry, you might find our video on the subject useful.

Finally, it is not sufficient for pupils to simply learn the knowledge content from the National Curriculum through enquiry work. They also need to develop their working scientifically skills which are also set out in the National Curriculum. Our video on the difference between the types of enquiry and the working scientifically skills may be help clarify this distinction. The PLAN Working scientifically matrices provide more detail about each of the working scientifically statements.

The National Curriculum working scientifically statements are what we assess pupils against. However, they are too complex to be shared with them. To help pupils understand the working scientifically skills, we have distilled them into 10 science skills that can be used to talk about how pupils work as scientists when carrying out the five types of science enquiry. In this document, we have mapped the 10 science skills to the National Curriculum working scientifically statements.

OK, enough about the essentials of good practice. Now we need to consider how we respond to the things about Covid-19 that have had an impact on teaching science.

Gaps in learning from lockdown

If you haven’t already done so, you should review the science teaching and learning that took place during the spring and summer terms to identify any gaps in learning that have occurred. You will then need to adapt your curriculum map to ensure that any gaps that are identified are addressed. You may find the CALM approach to curriculum catch up produced by Science Across the City a useful guide on how to do this. It suggests that, by distributing catch-up over two or three years, it is possible to continue to adopt the good practice described above rather than the "quick-fix cramming of facts".

Use of practical resources and social distancing between the teacher and pupils

“From September 2020, we’re finally returning, as far as possible, to life as usual. One where schools deliver a broad, balanced and full curriculum. For practical subjects like science, D&T, and art, this means getting back to doing hands-on activities, investigations and enquiries. Using equipment is allowed because it’s essential for delivering the curriculum and to support learning in practical subjects. Planning and delivery of activities will continue to be different but much closer to normal. Thankfully, there isn’t a single set of rules that have to be slavishly followed. Instead there are guidelines that give you the freedom to structure your lessons in such a way that you are not forced to limit the learning of your children." Practical activities in a bubble, CLEAPSS

The above guidance from CLEAPSS makes it clear that schools can get back to doing hands-on activities in the classroom, such as practical work in science, as long as they follow the guidelines. Check out the rest of the document, on the link above, for more detailed guidance. There are a few changes to how practical work has to be managed in the classroom, but nothing that stops us doing the vast majority of practical work that features in our existing curriculum maps.

Remote education

If your school is affected by a local lock down and some pupils are still in school and others at home, the expectation now is that provision should be in place so that both groups continue to be taught the National Curriculum. There are a number of resources that are freely available that support this.


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