I really dislike the new controlled assessment. Here is a description of how it works.
Part 1: research.
The students get several questions they have to research and write up in class. This is under low control.
My main issue here is students who are absent: they don't get the questions, they don't do the work. So when the group meet the write up the questions what do you do? You can supply the students with some sources... So why get them to research at all? Why don't the exam board supply the students with a comprehension activity in the exam?
The worse bit about this part is that part 3 relies on the students collecting data in the research in some of the tasks, but the paper work does not make this explicit to the student. As a teacher we have to tell the students to do this. In the piece of controlled assessment we have just done with year 10 for additional science the questions to research do not lead the students to the information they need for section 3 at all. Should we tell them what to look up and write, or stop the students from reaching the top marks in another part even if they are an exceptional student?
Part 2: planning and carrying out the investigation
In core science the students are given a hypothesis to investigate, in additional science they have to make up their own. They are able to work in groups to plan and carry out their investigations, but must write their own procedure and results tables.
I can give the students generic, non-specific advice, but not a writing frame... I don't understand the difference? So what am I allowed to give them? A list? I am supposed to have trained them, but there are so many more steps than previously and the students get confused.
This part is completed under low control. The students can work in groups and discuss their work. This has advantages, as you would hope that between them they can work out what to do. A mixed ability class maybe advantageous at this stage.
The students have to
A) write a list of equipment, with justifications for sensitivity for higher marks
B) write abut fair testing
C) write a method that can be followed by someone else, and detailed
D) write about repeats, how many and why using the word repeatability
E) write about reducing errors, in detail for higher marks
F) identify and describe the dependent and independent variables
G) state the values for the independent variable, for higher marks they need to be appropriate
H) a description of variables that cannot be controlled
I) write about modifications made to the plan during the carrying out phase.
J) few spelling or grammar mistakes
To be fair, I can give them the generic mark scheme. But it is actually quite difficult for some students to understand and follow.
Before the students can do the experiment they also have to complete a risk assessment. This is something that the students should be able to get six marks for... If they remember to do it and some don't.
The practical activity should last between one and two lessons according the the guidance given by OCR. On completing a chemistry controlled assessment we found it took A LOT longer. Particularly for lower ability students who struggle with doing more than one experiment at once. If you are measuring a rate of reaction over ten minutes and have to do five values and 3 repeats then the experiments will take 150 minutes without considering the set up and packing away.
Remember that we can only give generic, non-specific advice. So as a teacher I can't tell my students to do two repeats and if they agree not to do the third, I have to let them get on. Of course I could probably ask "how long will this take you? Do you think this is OK?" But this would rely on another student in the class realising.
The students are also marked on the quality of their table. I find that students forget the units or use the wrong number of decimal places and end up getting low marks for this section when they don't need to. This despite giving the "generic, non-specific" advice to ensure "you use the correct units and appropriate number of decimal places".
It is really important here that the teacher does check that the students can obtain useful results. How they do in parts 1 and 2 dramatically affect how they can do in part 3.
It is possible to give students the results of others and the plan of others, but not one written by the teacher. This is because the board wants to ensure the practical activity occurs. They were finding schools who were using the fall-back data with all students instead of doing any practical.
Part 3: interpreting and analysing
This is completed under "high control": test conditions. It is a 3 sided test paper with 6 questions.
The first asks the students to draw a graph. The second question is about analysing the graph and drawing conclusions. It is poorly worded, but by using the phrases with classes, I would hope to train them in the meaning. However, this would take time. The current year 10 are not properly prepared.
The third questions relies dramatically on the students ability to collect good research in part 1. It asks students to compare their results to secondary data. This is an area the students really struggle to manage. They tend to compare superficial things instead of whether the conclusions say the same thing.
The fourth question ask the students to evaluate the experiment. The students have to do this in three sections: the data, the experimental techniques and the risks. Miss one section and the marks available are limited. It is at this point that the students have to use the terminology correctly.
Then the students have to describe how well the their data and conclusion matches the hypothesis, either their own (in the case of additional science) or the one provided (in the case of core science). Again this relies on how well they have done in part 2 for additional science. If they are unable to write a good hypothesis, then the marks in this section would be weak.
The last questions is more particular to the topic of that controlled assessment item. It will ask the students to relate the experiment to scientific ideas. They have to use their own thinking skills here.
In part 3 there are marks in four sections.
1) processing data - which involves drawing the graph and also requires the students to process data in two ways, e.g an average and working out a rate or drawing error bars.
2) analysing and interpreting - identifying trends and relating what they found to secondary data, ie their research.
3) evaluating - the data, the experiment and the risks. If they fail to do one of the three the students lose marks.
4) justifying a conclusion - here the students have to related the conclusion to the hypothesis and decide how well the experimental results back up the hypothesis. They also have to show an understanding of the underpinning science.
All these things sound reasonable, but the level of understanding required by the students seems to be equivalent of what I would expect of A-level.
My students and I are finding these tasks so very difficult, time consuming and are putting us all off GCSE science.
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