When teachers select teaching and learning materials, they should consider the requirements of students as well as “content, format, methodology, evaluation, assessment and treatment of social issues” (Evaluation and Selection of Learning Resources: a Guide [ESLR], 2008). This paper aims to provide a summary and critical analysis of a series of six physical science lessons designed for Year 4 students in Australia. The lessons are from the Primary Connections resource program and were designed to align with the Australian Curriculum (Primary Connections, 2014). The lessons provide a variety of science activities, ideas and safety information.
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This series of lessons relies heavily on constructivist learning, which requires students to form their own knowledge based on their experiences and reflections. Primary Connections is based on the 5E (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, Evaluation) model of education, which provides a suitable educational setting for developing process skills in science, including the abilities to observe, process data and communicate ideas (Choirunnisa, Prabowo & Suryanti, 2018). The individual lessons identify which activities correlate to the different stages of the 5E model. Research literature is rich in evidence supporting the importance of developing hands-on activities for enacting meaningful learning, and for motivating and engaging students in both science and science classes (Holstermann et al. 2009).
Each lesson starts by offering a summary and focus, followed by a brief on opportunities for assessment within the lesson. Key outcomes and objectives for both science and literacy are offered in every lesson, and more detailed teacher background information outlines the main scientific ideas presented in each lesson. Necessary equipment and materials are organised into two boxes: one for the entire class and one for each group/student. A concise preparation section indicates what the teacher must read or organise before the lesson commences. The main body of each lesson provides step-by-step directions to conduct the science lesson. Throughout the steps, there are bold boxes that highlight opportunities to focus on literacy and symbols next to individual steps that signal diagnostic, formative and summative assessment opportunities. Lastly, each lesson closes with a list of cross-curricular links that connect lesson content with other learning areas. These connections are optional but expand on science content while incorporating learning opportunities in other disciplines. Some of the cross-curricular links are simple and could be done without much preparation while others are more time-consuming and require more thorough planning and preparation on behalf of the teacher.
Lesson one is called Games Galore and is designed to stimulate students’ interest and engage them in the topic of forces and motion using various games, like marbles or bowling. This lesson focuses on diagnostic assessment to ascertain what students already know and believe about forces. Marganoff (1998) suggests that the inclusion of opportunities to determine students’ prior knowledge and experiences is essential when evaluating the pedagogical appropriateness of curriculum materials. By the end of the lesson, students will have played a collaborative game and created a drawing to describe forces and motion, as well as observed different-sized forces’ effects on objects. Literacy is incorporated in the form of captions to accompany students’ illustrations of the activities.
The second lesson, Making Moves, allows students to continue to explore the effects of different-sized forces and discuss the representation of these forces with various-sized arrows. As a part of the Explore phase, students explore different ideas, gather and record evidence and discuss it with their peers.
Friction is the focus of the third lesson. Feeling Friction emphasises experiencing friction in a collaborative way, including how it occurs between different surfaces. Students continue to use arrows to represent different-sized forces. This lesson involves formative assessment as a part of the Explore phase. At the end of the lesson, students should be able to describe ways to increase and reduce friction.
Faraway Forces is the fourth experience in this series of six lessons and introduces students to the abstract concept of gravity. This is a continuation of the Explore phase and includes opportunities for formative assessment. Students will explore and discuss gravity, relating it to their lives and describing it using both oral and written language. As gravity is not concrete, this lesson also provides multiple opportunities for critical thinking.
Students enter the Explain phase in lesson five, developing a literacy product to represent their developing comprehension of how different-sized forces affect movement of objects. The lesson Figuring Out Forces requires students to produce a game to display their understanding and create a role-play to further explain how forces move objects.
The penultimate lesson, Catapult Capers, moves into the Elaborate phase of the 5E process and supports students as they plan and conduct an investigation. Assessment in this lesson is summative as teachers monitor students’ enquiry skills. Different-sized forces are the focus of the investigation and students record and plot data on a graph. The words table and graph are the literacy focus and are used verbally in discussion. Students also explain and evaluate their investigations in written form.
It is important to note that last lesson in the series, Forces Finale, shifts into the 5E Explain phase and is a consolidation of concepts from this physical forces unit. Students review all of the vocabulary words from the unit and create a game to reflect and represent their understandings from the unit.
When examining curriculum materials, the first step should be to identify the curriculum standards that serve as the basis for the analysis (Marganoff, 1998). This series of six lessons embeds all three strands of science contained in the Australian Curriculum: science understanding, science as a human endeavour and science inquiry skills (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority [ACARA], n.d.). Additionally, the lessons cover various strands and sub-strands for both English and Mathematics and this information is also clearly displayed. Each sub-strand is listed in a table along with corresponding codes and content descriptions. Every lesson covers different curriculum content, and the table clearly identifies which sub-strands each lesson covers. This coherent layout is easy to understand and navigate, ensuring teachers are aware of the content descriptions they are covering. However, no elaborations are included for any of the content descriptions. While this may be less of an issue for experienced teachers who know exactly where to find this information, pre-service or less experienced teachers who are more likely to rely on prescriptive resources such as Primary Connections may benefit from having the elaborations at their fingertips within this series of lessons.
One reason Primary Connections exclude elaborations is because states and territories in Australia enact the Australian Curriculum differently. The slight variations between the curricula make it impossible to create a universal educational science resource. Furthermore, the ongoing additions made to the Australian Curriculum mean that teachers who use this resource meticulously without variation may be providing science instruction that is not compliant with the standards in their respective state or territory.
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A valuable curriculum resource should be composed of content that strongly aligns with the learning goals and objectives. Marganoff (1998) asserts that the content of learning materials should be of a level of sophistication appropriate to the learning goals and address all parts of relevant curriculum standards. These Primary Connections lessons clearly identify the standards to be covered and contain a variety of interesting activities to effectively engage students with the curriculum content.
Research has indicated that many Australian primary teachers have low self-efficacy in science instruction, lacking competence and confidence (Palmer, 2001). Science has been found to be one of the least-taught subjects in primary school (Petersen & Treagust, 2014). This series of lessons forms a small part of a very large body of science teaching and learning materials, and research has shown that the implementation of Primary Connections can improve the confidence of teachers in science instruction, as well as improve students’ interest in science (Hackling, 2008). Teachers are further supported by the inclusion of background information pertaining to forces and motion as a whole unit, as well as specific background information within each individual lesson. These sections offer an explanation of the science content underpinning the knowledge required to teach the curriculum material. Additionally, the series of lessons provides a section outlining what students’ conceptions of scientific ideas might entail, along with common misunderstandings. By knowing what to potentially expect ahead of time, teachers can be better prepared to address the needs of their students.
A goal of modern science education is to develop enlightened and knowledgeable citizens capable of critically examining the world as it relates to them, and making considered, responsible decisions accordingly (European Commission, 2004). The Australian Curriculum states that students should develop critical and creative thinking skills as they make predictions and use investigations to answer questions (ACARA, n.d.). Williams (2017) posits that teachers should view critical thinking as a disposition to be developed. The ability to think critically is an essential prerequisite to that, and frequent opportunities for students to exercise their critical thinking skills will facilitate the development of such a disposition. In order to develop students’ critical thinking skills, teachers should recognise that the “challenge is to get students to think about their understanding of the context they are working within and the ways they think they are thinking” (Spendlove, 2017). Critical thinking is listed as a “general capability” in the Australian Curriculum and is covered throughout this series of lessons, indicated by an icon of interlocked gears. These annotated sections include questions and thought-provoking statements for teachers to pose to students.
Inquiry-based learning has long been promoted as a strategy for improving student outcomes in science (European Commission, 2017) and has the potential to have a positive effect on students’ interest in science (McConney, Oliver, Woods-McConney, Schibeci & Maor, 2014). Effective investigation and driving questions are essential characteristics of project-based science education and vital to facilitating inquiry-based discourse (Krajcik & Mamlok-Naaman, 2006). These stimulating questions encourage students to derive questions from phenomena (Forbes, 2011). This physical science unit encourages the use of “why” and “how” questions by providing relevant and appropriate examples in every lesson. These six science lessons focus on concrete experiences for students to explore phenomena and develop students’ conceptual understanding over a period of time. Teachers who are not accustomed to manipulating curriculum resources to foster inquiry-based learning may perceive these examples as beneficial.
Some teachers deem concepts contained within Primary Connections as being too complex or advanced for primary-aged learners (Skamp & Peers, 2012). Various objectives and tasks contained within this series of six lessons will likely present a learning challenge for many Year 4 students, including drawing graphs and comprehending abstract concepts like gravity. However, no single teacher resource is all an all-inclusive, one-size-fits-all tool for every student. Historically, teachers were seen as passive transmitters of curriculum content (Forbes, 2011). However, in modern education, teachers should aim to know their students well and be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, contextualising material to meet the needs of their students.
These lessons recognise the connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as a cross-curricular priority as identified the Australian Curriculum. This is significant because learning resources should respectfully consider Aboriginal peoples’ perspectives (ESLR, 2008). However, most references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and perspectives occur only in the foreword and general cross-curricular information listed before the lessons. Within the actual lessons, the only suggestions for inclusion of Indigenous perspectives involves playing Indigenous games and developing narratives and roleplays about those games. Quality learning materials should also promote equality by developing students’ awareness and appreciation of a “multicultural and
diverse society” and recognise the contributions that people from minority groups and different ethnic backgrounds make to society (ESLR, 2008). People from diverse ethnic backgrounds and different cultures are rarely mentioned in these lessons; the only reference occurs adjacent to that of Indigenous people and very little distinction is made. Primary Connections does offer an Indigenous perspectives framework through an external website, but even this information is general in nature and very little cultural connections are actually embedded in the lessons.
Students’ perception of inherent relevance is based on how they perceive something as being “connected to themselves, their relationships, interests, future goals and aspirations” and young students are particularly inclined to be self-centred when determining the relevance of something (Kotkas, Holbrook & Rannikmäe, 2016). Relevance of lesson content may be a catalyst for stimulating students’ intrinsic desire to learn (Rogan, 2017). Therefore, the worldview of students should be considered when developing or altering educational material. These lessons have a strong hands-on focus, enabling students to play and explore objects that they may encounter on a daily basis. Students are encouraged to examine phenomena they are probably already familiar with and to ask questions, investigate and draw conclusions with their classmates. This inquiry-based style of learning presents a relevant and genuine opportunity for students to form their own knowledge, which is a stark contrast to an educational focus on the acquisition of knowledge that does not hold familiarity or relevance for learners (Osborne & Dillon, 2008).
Alsubaie (2017) asserts that teachers play a significant role in curriculum development when aligning the curriculum with the requirements of their students. However, research has indicated that some teachers lack the understanding of the nature of science (Dekkers & Mnisi, 2003), and as a result, lack perception of the very understandings they are expected to teach. Overall, meeting students’ needs leads to improvement of students’ learning and curriculum development is a process that can facilitate this (Alsubaie, 2017). This series of six physical science lessons from Primary Connections constitutes a comprehensive and prescriptive unit for teachers, including those with less experience. Confident and seasoned teachers may find these lessons useful as a base for their teaching, with opportunities for cross-curricular flexibility built into lesson design.
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