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What does Ofsted's report, Finding the optimum, tell us about the teaching of primary science?

“Ensure that pupils have a secure knowledge of what has been taught, before moving on to more content. This should include checking whether pupils have specific misconceptions.”

As discussed in the previous blog, the allocation of time for science in the school timetable may contribute to schools having too great a focus on covering the content rather than ensuring that it has been learnt by pupils and checking whether they have specific misconceptions. This can be addressed by breaking down the substantive and disciplinary knowledge for each year-group in the National Curriculum into carefully sequenced pieces of learning that do not cognitively overload pupils. This exercise will help schools and teachers establish how much time is required for pupils to be taught and learn the content for each topic in each year-group. This will vary from topic to topic.

Having completed this exercise, if the time allocated for science in the school timetable is not sufficient, then decisions will have to be made about whether to prioritise coverage or ensure that all children develop secure knowledge before moving on to the next topic.

The PLAN Knowledge Matrices include ‘Common misconceptions’ that can be used by teachers to help them check the understanding of their pupils and establish whether they have specific misconceptions.

“Ensure that, during explanations, teachers regularly connect new learning to what pupils have already learned. This includes showing pupils how knowledge from different areas of the curriculum connects.”

Explorify is a great resource to support teachers with elicitation of prior learning. However, it is important that teachers don’t just establish what their pupils know about the topic they are about teach, but actually explain to pupils how the topic builds on their prior learning from other topics and previous years. The PLAN Knowledge Matrices provide the prior learning for each topic in each year-group and the PLAN Vocabulary Posters provide useful cues for pupils and teachers of the learning from previous years for each topic in each year-group, as well as the associated vocabulary.

“Ensure that appropriate teaching and learning approaches are selected for specific content.”

Teachers should have a range of teaching and learning approaches for science from which they select the most appropriate one(s) for the learning objectives they are covering. However, it is important for teachers to consider using a variety of strategies to cover a single learning objective, as pupils learn in different ways and different strategies will be more effective with different groups of pupils. For example, when teaching air resistance, a teacher might allow pupils to explore how parachutes work. Then, they might do a demonstration where they drop simultaneously a sheet of paper and a sheet of paper crumpled into a ball to illustrate air resistance and provide a clear explanation. They might then show the pupils a video that repeats the explanation of air resistance. They could then take the pupils outside and get them to run across the playground pulling an open umbrella behind them, so pupils can feel the effect of air resistance. Finally, the pupils can be asked to carry out a scientific enquiry activity to explore the effect of air resistance on parachutes with canopies of different sizes.

Our next blog will focus on assessment.


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