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This assignment will look into the effective teaching of science in the foundation stage and key stage 1 by reflecting upon a science activity undertaken during Autumn Attachment. It will discuss the important points in science teaching such as elicitation, practical activities, differentiation and the importance of assessment.
The great importance of teaching science in schools can be made clear by looking at the following points. The schools in general should teach children the basic information and skills of the sciences as well as the essential principles of scientific thinking and problem solving. The aim must be to engage the children, to get them interested. Teachers should try and avoid children from having bad experiences of science and as a result disliking it. Primary school education is especially important. When teaching lessons that cover the basic scientific concepts it can form the basis of what could turn into a permanent interest in science. The children need to be excited and motivated by science in order for them to learn.
One scientific project that explored young children's understanding of science was the SPACE project (the science process and concept exploration project). Working within a constructivist framework it explored 12 different areas of science. The children's understanding was investigated before a 6 week gap, it was then looked at again to see if there had been any changes. The results obtained from this study led to 8 major research reports and a set of curriculum materials (Nuffield Primary Science) being published and developed. SPACE was a classroom-based project. It's aim was to establish the ideas that primary school children had in particular science concept areas and the possibility of children changing their ideas as a result of relevant experiences. The joint directors of the study were Doctor Wynne Harlen and Professor Paul Black. The project was based upon the idea that children develop their ideas through the experiences they have thus the aim was to establish the above points.
During Autumn Attachment I led an activity involving the use of the senses and testing theories. The children were shown 5 different balls. They were asked to touch and look at each ball one at a time and give a brief description of how the ball looked and felt. They were then asked to give an estimation of how many times they thought the ball would bounce, based on how the ball looked and felt. The balls were then dropped from the same height and then children counted each of the bounces. The actual number of bounces was then written down next to the children's guesses so the children could compare their guesses to the actual number of bounces. This activity involved the children having to use their senses, both touch and sight, to come up with a reasonable guess of how many bounces there would be. They had to use their prior knowledge of balls they had experience of bouncing in order to come up with their guesses.
When planning for this activity it would have been useful to perform an elicitation activity. It is very important to determine what stage the children are working at and to teach them according to their ability. Elicitation is a precondition to changing the children's different conceptions. There are three conditions that are necessary for important learning to take place. The material that is presented must make sense or match experience. The child must know enough relevant information and they need to be able to learn meaningfully. I unfortunately did not present such an activity. If I had it would have allowed me to plan the activity more effectively and gain better responses from the children as I would have better understood the children's levels and had a better idea of what the children already knew. 'Scaffolding' is an important aspect of child development. Vygotsky defined it as the "role of teachers and others in supporting the learner's development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level". The scaffolds allow a student's to build on prior knowledge and remember new information. This is just what is so important in the teaching of science. Children should be able to build on the prior knowledge they have with support from the teacher and the experiences they are offered. This is why elicitation is so important. In order to build on a child's prior knowledge we must first learn what their prior knowledge is.
I did however, consider differentiation. Differentiation provides opportunities for children of all abilities to demonstrate what they know, what they understand and what they can do. It involves offering the children tasks which enable them to show some evidence of what they are capable of at their best. There are two ways to differentiate an activity; differentiation by outcome and differentiation by task. Differentiation by outcome involves all children undertaking the same task and the differentiation is based on the quality of work or response given by the children. Differentiation by task involves the children being set a specific task based on their ability levels. The tasks may be differentiated on the basis of difficulty, the amount of structure or the amount of guidance given or it could be all three. The activity I led was differentiated by outcome. The children were all asked to participate in the same task but the quality of the answers and responses given differed based on the ability of each child. There are both advantages and disadvantages for each type of differentiation. In differentiation by outcome the task can be used by each child and a comparison can be made between their abilities. It avoids having to judge which pupils would be suited to which task. It is however, quite difficult to come up with a task that will offer guidance and support for lower level children whilst not holding back the higher level children. In the case of my activity it was not necessarily designed to cater for all ability groups in the class. The lower achievers found it quite difficult to come up with suitable words to describe each ball as well as reasonable estimates when guessing how many times the ball would bounce. Again, an elicitation activity would have been incredibly useful as it would show what level the children are at for that particular area of knowledge and understanding. It may also have been better to offer slightly different tasks covering the same area of learning for the different abilities of the class. Differentiating by task allows the task to be matched to the ability of the child so all levels of ability can experience some success. Although the lower ability children may have taken away something from the activity they may have gotten more from it had it been catered for their specific ability. It may have also helped to push the higher achievers further by offering them an activity that was a little more challenging than the one set.
Assessing pupils progress is another important aspect in order to gauge progression. For this particular activity I chose to perform formative assessment. This was due to the nature of the activity. The children did not produce any written work that could have been assessed. Formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning (AoF) is all about assessing progress, analysing the information and feeding back in a positive way. This is so that any actions to be taken can be agreed by the child and the teacher. It also allows the teaching methods to be changed so that any needs, of the child, that have been identified can be met. Assessment for learning involves sharing any learning goals with the children, self-assessment and peer review. Assessment for learning or formative assessment is an ongoing process and encourages the children to take more responsibility for their own learning. It also involves the children being aware of what they are learning and the purpose of it. In hindsight this is something that I should have implemented in my activity. Although they children appeared to enjoy it and get involved, all offering their own opinions and views, they probably did not know or understand why they were doing it. Giving feedback to the children is an important aspect after assessment. Research has shown that giving feedback on errors and offering the opportunity for the children to identify their own strategies for improving their work in the future is directly linked to significant improvement. It is vital however, not to compare one child to another or make reference to children's ability. It is also thought that grading work can have a negative effect on performance and should therefore be avoided. During this activity I made sure to encourage children to think of new descriptive words and offered praise for any original or "out of the box" thinking. I also offered verbal praise for things that certain children did that were good for them; this was different depending on the ability of the child. Due to the nature of this activity there was no written assessment involved, this is however, another form of formative assessment. It assess each child's progress and offers constructive feedback. Written feedback can include teacher-led assessment and child self-assessment.
I decided to plan a practical activity as the children in this particular class had little experience of science activities and it was important to capture their attention and excite them. Practical activities are one of the main features of teaching science. There are 4 main roles of practical activities. They are used for gaining information, concepts and principles; for developing process skills; to enhance learning of the nature of science and for improving attitudes towards science. Although learning about scientific concepts is considered to be one the most important aspects, there is little evidence to suggest that practical activities add to the learning of these concepts. What there is little doubt about however, is that practical activities change peoples views of science, that they almost always improve children's enjoyment of science and that process skills are more effectively taught. They provide a common set of experiences for the children that can be used in discussions with the whole class or with individuals. It was certainly the best choice for this group of children. They were engaged and excited about the concepts they were learning about and this helped them to be engaged for a prolonged period of time. It is also more likely that the children will remember the experience of physically bouncing the balls to solve the problem rather than just discussing it.
Scientific enquiry is thought to be a very important aspect of teaching science within the National Curriculum. It gives teachers the opportunity to push the students forward and to enhance their understanding of the subject. By allowing the children to take part in investigations it allows them to ask questions, use their observational skills to come up with reasonable explanations for why things happen and investigate aspects of the world.
I have to agree that scientific enquiry is a very important aspect of teaching science. Children need to be able to ask questions and figure things out for themselves. In order for this to happen I feel that practical experiences of scientific concepts is something all children should get the chance to take part in during science lessons, especially in primary schools. Children need to have strong, positive experiences of science for a solid foundation for the future. People of all ages remember more of what they do that of what they hear, therefore, I feel to teach science effectively there needs to be practical activities offered to children. This is not the only important aspect of science teaching, nor is the only thing needed in order to teach science effectively. Elicitation activities need to take place so that the children's abilities and knowledge can be noted and the lessons differentiated accordingly. For the children to have truly meaningful experiences they need to feel like they can join in. Therefore the lessons need to cater for all. Assessment, too, is vital. It is needed to keep track of the children's progress and their abilities. In short, children need to have solid, positive experiences that are catered towards their needs in order to have a positive outlook on learning the sciences.