Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Moving from aims to implementation

In a previous blog post here:http://geordiescience.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/what-is-science-education-for.html I talked about the aims of science education.

I settled on three sentences from the ASE Guide to Secondary Science Education and they are:

1. A grasp of the "big" ideas that enable active participation in decisions involving science and technology 
2. A basic understanding of what science is, how it works and what are its strengths and limitations 
3. The ability to continue learning

My new Head Teacher had asked: "What is it that we are delivering? And what do we need to change/move forward? What it is that we could do better if we could" on her first meeting with the staff.

I think that I would like to remove "big" from the first sentence. It is vague, and while I want to keep the aims unspecific and therefore able to move with the times, I also don't want to highlight it.

Do the science GCSE courses we offer seek to achieve all these aims? Certainly the policitcal edge to the topics we teach in year 10, crude oil, plastics, diet, endangered species, generating electricity, using chemicals from the Earth and such like would indicate that we have a course, at GCSE at least, that meets aim 1.

The OCR gateway core science course is described in the specification as emphasizing explanation, theories and modelling in science along with the implications of science in society. So in fact we have bought into an intended curriculum that should meet aim 1 and to some extent aim 2. Meeting aim 2 fully and aim 3 at all will depend on how we deliver the curriculum as well as other factors.

At post-16 it is less clear that what we do and teach that reaches any of the aims above. In physics we only cover a few of the developments of ideas, such as the photoelectric effect and event then we might not mention the issues around it. I used to teach the context-led approach, in which the accompanying textbook had applications of the physics and discussion around the development of ideas. But mention of these were left to the students' reading or passing comments. Perhaps, that is enough?

Which leaves what we do at key stage 3. This is both the most practical key stage at which to make changes to achieve the aims above, but also the most difficult. As an independent school I don't need to consider the upcoming changes by Michael Gove to the the key stage 3 curriculum, but I do need to prepare my students so they are ready for their GCSEs.

(A colleague in a previous school once said the students don't learn anything at key stage 3, so it didn't matter what we did - I would say that is a massive concern and should have been addressed!)

Even though key stage 3 is the most practical and a good time to develop the learning skills we want to see in our students, it is a long time between the end of year 9 and the end of year 13 when the students go off into the "real world". Adapting what we do at key stage 3 is important, but it isn't enough.

Of course I have missed an important part of the curriculum: the extra curriculum. It is in this time that it is possible to develop a lot of the inter and intra personal skills students need for life. I will always remember fondly doing the STEM challenges with a group of students who came together from across the school and produced a fabulous presentation. Time for these things are always squeezed, but it would be great to spend the next few years developing an extra curricular programme that will enhance the development of the students to the three aims above.

NB: extra curriculum doesn't need to mean a "manned" club, it can be recommending books or events for the students to join in during their spare time. Alex Weatherall and Sarah Pannell's Science Teaching TV Guide is a great example, it is hosted along side Alex's Science Teaching Library recommendations. http://scienceteachinglibrary.wordpress.com/

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