As an independent primary consultant, I now provide training for primary teachers on how to develop their teaching of science. During each course I ask teachers to outline the positives and negatives of teaching this subject. There are often many positive comments about science, especially on how it engages young children. The negatives prove very interesting. Other than worries about subject knowledge and finding resources, teachers often say how much they and the children dislike the recording or writing up of their work. Here are two typical comments:
“The poor way in which experiments and results are recorded kills enthusiasm”
“Marking books and having to give written feedback takes too long but it’s our OFSTED target”
I believe this over reliance on writing hinders not just the enjoyment of the subject, but also the development of other science skills such as argumentation. Furthermore, what about dyslexic children who struggle with writing? Will the writing process truly reflect what these children know? Finally, remember our younger scientists, whose recording skills will be hampered by their age.
Talk in science
Talk for writing is becoming increasingly popular in schools, so what about talk for science? Teachers are often encouraged to illicit children’s ideas at the start of a science topic to find out what misconceptions or understanding they have, but what happens to this talk? As Robin Alexander points out:
“Talk is temporary and, unless particularly interesting, it soon fades with participants often forgetting what has been said.”
In a busy classroom with lots of ideas and thoughts being produced, how can the teacher and even the children reflect on the discussion? During this process, do we as teachers really know what each child understands? In addition, what impact is our questioning having on the children’s ideas? As part of my MA I am researching how technology can help. Here are some initial ideas.
This can be used both at the start of a topic and as the topic develops. By placing the video camera so that it can pick up the whole class, the starter question and initial ideas can be recorded. This recording could be used for the teacher to truly reflect on what the children know and identify any misconceptions they may have. It can also be returned to during the work so that the children can reflect on how their ideas and knowledge have changed. This is also a valuable opportunity for a teacher to reflect on their own questioning skills.
There are now a variety of mp3 audio recorders available to be used in classrooms that are excellent for recording discussions in small groups. They are fairly simple to use and some can record up to four hours of sound. The recordings can be played back and stored on your computer. The main problem is the files can build up quickly, so a good system for naming and filing these is essential. Children can go on and edit their work using free software such as audacity then post their discussions into other digital applications.
Podcasts are digital media files, mainly audio, but can include video. I currently use Audioboo, but an alternative is Soundcloud. Subscription to both is free. They give the children the chance for their science work to reach a wider audience. They can post directly to the site or upload their work from their recordings after editing. Needless to say, they would still have to write and plan for this. Having a real audience for their work would make that writing process far more interesting and relevant.
Whether you decide to go for some of these options or incorporate all of them I do not think you will be disappointed. Not only will your children become more enthusiastic about their science work, but you as a teacher will have a greater understanding of what your children know, making your assessment more reliable. This is going to be extremely relevant when the new curriculum commences in 2014.
Does this article match up with your own experiences? Let us know in the comments.