Primary Science Task
It is important that assessment in primary science is linked to learning outcomes if it is to be successful (Hudson, 2005). It is therefore important that all primary teachers in science understand the learning outcomes which are appropriate to their year, and that learning activities and assessments are based on that. Most children in year 4 at school would be expected to be working between levels 2 and 5, although most children would only be expected to reach level 4 by the age of 11 (DirectGov, 2008). Here a set of activities based around circuits are discussed in terms of how they allow for development in Sc1 Scientific Enquiry and Sc4 Physical Processes skills.
Assessment of Sc1 and Sc4 Skills
In order to ensure appropriate development through both Sc1 and Sc4, it would be considered preferential to change the order of the learning activities. The first activity which would be approached would be that of the safety session. This would be approached first due to the importance of approaching safety considerations before approaching any practical activities utilising electricity. This activity is not only considered crucial to safety, but presents a good introduction to circuits, as the learning objectives would be considered to be at level 2 (L2) of Sc4. For example discussion of the differences between mains and battery electricity corresponds to pupils being able to compare the way in which devices work in different electrical circuits (QCA, n.d.). The learning outcomes of this activity, being able to record the characteristics of the devices using mains electricity, would also be at L2 of Sc1, which states that pupils should be able to describe observations using simple scientific vocabulary.
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The second activity approached would be that of looking at drawings of circuits. This is an important step before practical work with circuits as it may address some of the gaps in knowledge of circuits which may be present in children of this age (Glauret, 2008). The learning objectives and the activity itself allow for development from L2 of Sc 4 to L3. For example while knowing that a circuit needs a power source means that pupils are able to compare the way in which devices work in different electrical circuits (L2), it could also be developed so that pupils are able to discuss cause and effect (L3). The same could be said of the knowledge that a complete circuit is needed for a device to work. The actual activity itself, in which children look at drawings of circuits and decide and explain which will work and which will not could be performed at L2 of Sc1, where pupils are able to observe and compare objects and events, and say what is expected. It could however allow for development to L3, where pupils are able to use their knowledge and understanding of physical phenomena to link cause and effect in simple explanations. By asking children to design a circuit which will work, record it, and annotate it, this is however only tackling L1 of Sc1 in terms of notation, where pupils are able to communicate their findings in simple ways (QCA, n.d.). Although not specifically addressed in this learning activity, it may also be useful to include some discussion in pairs or small groups. This is due to evidence that vocalisation of scientific concepts may help with development of scientific vocabulary (Mercer et al., 2004). This may then assist in developing from being able to communicate findings in simple ways (Sc1 L1) to using simple scientific vocabulary (Sc1 L2) and beyond.
Using the third activity, in which pupils test their ideas about what make good conductors would allow for further development of Sc1 and Sc4. For example the learning objective about how to find out which materials allow electricity to pass through them could be approached from L1 if suggestions are actively offered to the pupils (Sc1 L1), or could be developed through the L4 if pupils are given freedom to design their own approach with lower levels of guidance. The learning objective relating to the development of the knowledge that some materials are better conductors of electricity than others relates to both L3 and 4 of Sc4. This involves development from being able to use knowledge to link cause and effect to being able to use knowledge to create generalisations. This development is also addressed by the objective that pupils are able to use results to draw conclusions about which materials conduct electricity. This objective also addresses development of L3 to L4 in Sc1 in that pupils develop from being able to provide explanations for their observations (L3) to pupils being able to relate their conclusions to patterns in their data and scientific knowledge. The specific learning outcomes of this activity would be that pupils would be able to use equipment to make observations, by being able to construct a circuit to test which materials let electricity pass through (Sc1 L2) and that they would be able to provide explanations for their observations by explaining that with some materials the bulb did not light because the circuit was not complete (Sc1 L3). This may even be developed through to Sc1 L4, where pupils begin to relate their conclusions to patterns in their data and scientific knowledge, if pupils are able to relate their findings to other sources of information.
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Rather than approach it as a separate activity, it would be better to incorporate the activity of making simple switches here, as it too relates to conductors and complete circuits. As such, it does not particularly offer further development of any of the learning targets, so does not warrant investigation as a separate session.
As a development of the third activity, it then makes logical sense to proceed to discuss the uses of metals and plastics as conductors and insulators. This would lead to the development of Sc1 L4 if pupils were not previously able to relate their own work to outside information. This also includes exploring secondary sources, which can also be developed from L2 of Sc1 to L4, depending on the sophistication of sources used and what is done with the information. For example using the information to explain why metals are used for some purposes and plastics for others indicates being able to link cause and effect in simple explanations (Sc4 L3), although if pupils are also able to make generalisations about physical phenomena and use physical ideas to explain, then this may indicate development to L4.
The final activity in the paper would be included last, as this is generally a culmination of the information gathered to this point, and offers development of Sc1 and Sc4 to L4. For example making predictions about what will happen indicates that pupils are able to make generalisations and use physical ideas to explain simple phenomena (Sc4 L4). Deciding how to change the brightness of bulbs and speed of a motor in a circuit also shows that pupils are able to decide on an appropriate approach towards answering a question and also able to vary one factor while keeping the others the same (Sc1 L4). Designing their own experiment also indicates that pupils are able to describe physical phenomena, for example how a particular device may be connected to work in a circuit (Sc4 L4). This type of self-directed activity may also be essential for some young children in developing scientific confidence (Glauert, 2005). Finally, a self-directed activity at the end of the series of sessions also allows for a better assessment of progress through the levels, as it allows for complete flexibility as to how much assistance is given in the task, thereby allowing for a better assessment of competency.
By utilising the appropriate activities from those given, it is possible to allow for development of both Sc1 and Sc4 right through from level 2 to level 4, which is appropriate for this age group. There is also some degree of flexibility in the levels which the selected activities could be approached from to allow for individual achievement levels within the class. The sessions lend themselves to culmination in a self-directed session, which allows for more accurate assessment of levels within Sc1 and Sc4.
DirectGov (2008) National curriculum teacher assessments and key stage tests. DirectGov. Available [online] from: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Schoolslearninganddevelopment/ExamsTestsAndTheCurriculum/DG_10013041 [Accessed 22/08/2008].
Glauert, E.B. (2005) Making sense of science in the reception class. International Journal of Early Years Education, 13(3), 215-233.
Glauert, E.B. (2008) How young children understand electric circuits: Prediction, explanation and exploration. International Journal of Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/09500690802101950.
Hudson, P.B. (2005) Analysing preservice teachers' rubrics for assessing students' learning in primary science education. Proceedings Australian Curriculum Studies Association. Available [online] from: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/archive/00002102/ [Accessed 22/08/2008].
Mercer, N., Dawes, L., Wegerif, R. & Sams, C. (2004) Reasoning as a scientist: Ways of helping children to use language to learn science. British Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 359-377.
QCA (No date) Attainment targets for science. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Available [online] from: http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-1-and-2/subjects/science/attainmenttargets/index.aspx?return=/key-stages-1-and-2/subjects/science/keystage2/index.aspx%3Freturn%3D/key-stages-1-and-2/subjects/index.aspx [Accessed 22/08/2008].