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There are many issues in the news currently related to the teaching of science in primary school, in particular within the topic of 'Life Processes and Living Things' (Sc2) in the National Curriculum. The particular issue chosen for this discussion is that of the dwindling population of bumblebees and the effect this is having on our environment.
According to research in recent years it has become apparent that several bumblebee species are in severe decline (BBCT, 2010) furthermore, since the 1950s three species have become extinct in the UK. Such research is of concern to naturalists and farmers alike due to the bees' role in the pollination across the country, and the effect that their decline is having on our countryside. As pollinatorsÂ of a vast majority of our wildflowers, if this decline in population continues these plants will not be afforded the opportunity to pollinate, resulting in sweeping changes to the countryside, with evidence showing this process is already underway. Biesmeijer (2007), a researcher at the University of Leeds has found that in Britain there have been "declines in 70% of the wildflowers that require insects for pollination..." And states that "the study provides a worrying suggestion that declines in some species may trigger a cascade of local extinctions amongst other associated species." Such changes have the potential to cause catastrophicÂ changes across the countryside, and could lead to problems for other wildlifeÂ dependent on these plants. Bumblebees, therefore, are regarded as a 'keystone species' and they should be a conservation priority.
Within the primary school curriculum, in particular Sc2, pupils are taught about (QCA, 2010):
3. Green plants
4. Variation and classification
5. Living things in their environment
This topic is able to fit into these categories with relative ease, as through the study of bees and their decline in population, it would be virtually impossible to avoid teaching the reproduction of plants and the parts of the flower i.e. stigma, stamen, petal, sepal etc. and their role in the life cycle of flowering plants, including pollination, seed formation, seed dispersal and germination. It would also allow the opportunity to look at the variations and adaptations of plants and animals through the study how animals and plants are suited to their environment. Finally, it can lead to the study of food chains to show feeding relationships in particular habitats, and how nearly all food chains start with a green plant (QCA, 2010).
Outdoors education is a concept currently enjoying a revival within British schools. The Education and Skills Committee (2005) reported its benefits in their 1995 paper 'Education Outside of the Classroom," and suggested that within general education the approach enriches most subjects of the curriculum such as history, art, geography and science.
Nixon (1997) states that using the environment is how humans have learnt for 99.9% of their time on Earth. Suggesting that this approach is the most natural way for children, and adults, to learn, as the classroom is a human invention designed to help control learning. Such an opinion is supported by claims from philosophers and educators throughout the ages. Comenius (1600s) believed that sensory learning an interacting with the environment was the best process of childhood learning. Furthermore, Rousseau (1700s) agreed. He suggested that the curiosity of children about the world around them should be utilised to encourage the child to discover the world for themselves, whilst learning merely from books "teaches us to use the reason of others, not ourselves." And such views are held by educators right up through to modern day. Gardner (1991) states that "scholastic knowing is strictly bound to school knowledge, whilst outdoor education fosters connected knowing, where education is part of rather than separate from life." Outdoor education's main purpose is to provide meaningful experiences within the context being studied in the classroom, allowing the classroom to expand to the outdoors providing context to a topic of subject (Gardner, 1991; Knapp, 1996).
Approaches to Teaching
Former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke, wrote in the Excellence and Enjoyment Strategy (2004):
"What makes good primary education great is the fusion of excellence and enjoyment. Children learn better when they are excited and engaged - but what excites them and engages them best is truly excellent teaching, which challenges them and shows them what they can do."
Which falls in with Larsen-Freeman's statement (2000) that learning becomes even more effective due to it being "facilitated in a cheerful environment", and Resnick's (1989) claim that this method increases pupils' motivation for learning and their level of engagement because they can see the value of what they are being taught and become more actively engaged in the lesson as opposed to the isolated skill learning that other methods offer.
Biskup (1990) believes that this theory works in tandem with the humanistic approach in teaching, emphasising the importance held by the individual characteristics of a pupil and their desire for fulfilment. For science education this would mean a shift towards a more student-oriented teaching rather than teacher-oriented one, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than solely an imparter of knowledge. Fisher et al (2004) says:
"what promotes creativity is a questioning classroom, where teachers and pupils ask unusual and challenging questions; where new connections are made; where ideas are represented in different ways- visually, physically and verbally; where there are fresh approaches and solutions to problems; and where the effects of ideas and actions are critically evaluated."
Such theories have allowed to the opportunity for teachers to take learning outside of the classroom and into nature, allowing them to take a discovery learning approach to education. Piaget (1970) believes that this approach is important and suggests that each time a child is taught something that they could have discovered themselves and are not allowed to acquire knowledge on their own, they have been denied the opportunity of 'inventing it' and therefore understanding it completely. These children that receive direct instruction, as opposed to those children who are encouraged to question and discover, are therefore less likely to apply and extend that knowledge (McDaniel & Schlager, 1990; Schauble, 1996; Stohr-Hunt, 1996).
Further positives of such an approach is shown in Dierking and Falk's (1997) research, in which was shown that 96% of students could recall field trips taken during their early years at school; although they also state that "simply recalling a visit does not mean that it was an effective learning experience or that the time could not be more usefully spent in the classroom." More over it has been found that the use of outdoor learning experiences is more effective towards children's development of cognitive skills than learning within the classroom (Eaton 2000; Martin, Falk and Balling 1981). Although further complications with this teaching approach would be that 'teachers need to ensure that students are not distracted by the novelty of the location' (Burnett, Lucas and Dooley, 1996), therefore ensuring that the context of the trip or visit is not lost in translation. Within the context of science, therefore, this particular approach is ideal for teaching about the topics discussed in Sc2. Firstly, as the topic is related to nature, it lends itself to outdoor learning in which children will be afforded the opportunities to discover knowledge for themselves such as that of plant growth, photosynthesis etc. Moments of direct instruction are also possible during such exercises. This can be the ideal way to teach procedures that are difficult for students to discover on their own, and also information that is not readily available at discovery e.g. the names of the reproductive organs of a plant etc. (Anderson, Corbett, Koedinger, & Pelletier, 1995; Klahr & Carver, 1988).
A second approach could be that of thematic teaching. This method of teaching has become more and more prominent within schools across the country due to the previous Government's education review and their proposed new curriculum for 2011. The switch to this method of teaching is intended to help reorganise the traditional subject areas into 'thematic' areas of learning, easing the pressures on schools to teach strictly to the curriculum and give their teachers the freedom they need in order to do cross-curricular thematic lessons.
Shoemaker (1989) states that a cross-curriculum education is one that is set up so that classroom subjects overlap with one another, the method attempts to bring together numerous aspects of the curriculum into various lessons to reflect the 'real world' such that students can gather and manipulate knowledge learned in one context for use in other contexts (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). Shanahan (1995) agrees, he states that:
"thematic teaching is a method of organizing teaching around themes or topics making it possible to integrate instruction across core areas...Thematic units are designed to encourage students to delve deep into topics developing both an awareness and understanding of existing connections across ideas."
Such definitions suggest that thematic and cross-curricular teaching is essential for children to associate that skills learnt in one class are important tools for completing tasks within other subjects in school and tasks outside. Applebee, Langer, & Mullis (1989) report why the change to this method or teaching is necessary "while students are learning the basic information in core subject areas, they are not learning to apply their knowledge effectively in thinking and reasoning" Marzano (1991) and Perkins (1991) build on this; they believe that these methods work towards addressing some 'recurring problems' in education, one in particular being that of isolated skill instruction. Ofsted's report 'The Curriculum in Successful Primary Schools' (2002) in which it was noted that successful schools were the ones in which "The teachers recognised that where links are effective they enable pupils to apply the knowledge and skills learned in one subject to others."
Because cross-curricular and thematic teaching involves the linking of activities that are designed around topics or themes as well as crossing numerous areas within the National Curriculum they "provide an environment that fosters and encourages process learning and active involvement of all students" (Fisher, 1991), this would therefore help teachers address the different learning styles of pupils within their classrooms. A claim that Komorowska (2001) backs up, in their belief that teaching children is not systematic and the methods chosen by the teacher to cover the subject is of a higher significance than that of the results achieved.
Thaiss (1986), Krogh (1990) and Jacobs (1989) all write that children that are able to use investigatory skills to explore what they are learning, and interact with other members of their learning community, whether that's other pupils, teachers or classroom assistants, actually learn more than those children that are not encouraged to ask questions and share opinions with other learners. Vygotsky (1978) gives us an explanation as to why this technique is successful. He pointed out that children, who have different skills, learn from each other. This is because through the encouragement of investigation, questioning and working together, pupils are given the opportunity to see tasks from the point of view of others.
In a humanistic classroom, such as the one that uses thematic and cross-curricular methods, the teacher is not only a supporter and helper but also a learner. This is because the work is based on themes that the teacher may not be used to, it brings the teacher down to the same level of the child and the pupil almost takes charge in investigating by asking questions. The teacher's main role is to create a relaxed atmosphere in which learners can forget about their inhibitions allowing the learners' talents to be exploited and utilised fully during the learning process.
This resource (see Appendix A for unit plan) aims to encourage discovery learning through educational field trips, the practice of other curriculum skills such as literacy, numeracy and design etc. through thematic and cross curricular education for year 5 classes at Key Stage 2.
Through investigation of pollination and the study of diversity of flowers etc, children will understand the nature of flowers and their relationship with pollinators, in particular bees. Furthermore, children will be able to use their knowledge of flower diversity to design and develop a wildflower garden on the school grounds in order to encourage bee pollination in an attempt to help conserve the bee populations, as well as helping maintain the diversity of wildflowers within the UK.
Upon the completion of the unit of study, the garden will become a sustainable resource for use throughout all of the school within all subjects of the curriculum.
Opportunities for Learning within Primary Science and Suggestions for Cross Curricular and Thematic Links
Sc1 - 1a, 2a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k,l,m.
Sc2 - 1a,b,c; 3a,b,c,d; 4a,b,c; 5a,b,c,d,e,f
Within the unit, pupils will visit a local wildflower centre, and learn through discovery about the life cycle of a plant and their reproduction. Discovery learning will be encouraged by teachers allowing pupils to look at flowers and encouraging questioning about what can be seen.
By the end of the trip children should be able to, either with or without key vocabulary, explain how plants reproduce, how plants produce 'food' and the physical characteristics of plants i.e. roots etc. and their importance to the life cycle. During this educational trip pupils will also be able to observe how mini beasts, in particular pollinators such as bees, interact with the flowers and the relationship between them as pollinators and nutrients. Upon returning to the classroom, pupils will be encouraged to draw on their observations from the trip and to discuss their findings with the class, whilst also being introduced to key vocabulary etc. (see Appendix B for resource to facilitate learning).
Pupils will use their knowledge and understanding of bees and their relationship with flowers to help and facilitate the designing of a wild flower area on school grounds, upon the completion of the garden further outdoors learning can take place within science to help secure knowledge through further observations. Furthermore, cross curricular and thematic teaching would be possible with the class (see Appendix A for examples of work):
Area and Perimeter - considered during the design process of garden
Data Handling and representing data
Art and Design
Designing the garden
Sketching plants and insects observed in
Inclusion and equality
It is essential that all pupils are able to take part in the outdoors activities and that no one is denied any opportunity to join the class through any act of discrimination such as race, disability or gender. It is therefore important to recognise the potential of such issues being raised, to allow planning such activities to run smoothly.
According to the QCA website (2010), in order to help teachers overcome any of the barriers to learning that may fall into those sections mentioned above "some pupils may require:
support to overcome difficulties with mobility or manipulative skills so that they can participate as fully and as safely as possible in experimental work. Support could be provided (for example, by adapting or using alternative activities, adapting equipment or by using specialist items, including ICT, or providing adult or peer support)
additional time to compensate for difficulties in managing visual information, particularly when making observations and accessing information in experimental work or through the use of microscopes
support in lessons about light so that despite their visual impairment pupils are able to gain as much access as possible to the activities (for example, by use of ICT, by using their knowledge that many light sources produce heat)
support in lessons about sounds so that despite their hearing impairment pupils are able to gain as much access as possible to activities (for example, by the use of oscilloscopes and sound level meters to provide visual demonstrations)."
Recognising achievement and attainment
Assessment in 'outdoors classrooms' provides opportunities for immediate and constructive feedback to be given directly to the pupils, allowing for immediate reflection by the pupils on their own work whilst the subject is still new and interesting to them.
On the other hand, however, the formal assessment of pupil progress outside of the classroom may be difficult to collect. By merely observing children we may not achieve the full picture of their progress and achievement in the tasks. Pupils may be purposefully avoiding group discussion etc, although they have understood and have the knowledge to do so effectively. Therefore, the use of other techniques to collect further detail of a pupil's attainment is required. In such contexts learning portfolios or learning diaries would allow the teacher to asses through observation and verbal questioning, however, the more formal type of assessment in which written work is completed is also available to the teacher (see Appendix C for examples of portfolios).