Thursday, 10 April 2014

Why Getting Rid of Practical Assessment Might not be the Disaster Organisations Believe.

I see the RI, Wellcome Trust and the Physiological Society responding to the announcement that there will not be internal practical assessments in A-level qualifications. and and They are not happy.

I can see their points of view I really can. But I can't agree with them.

I am an educator absolutely determined to create future scientists and prepare them for this career. I am determined that all my students will understand the nature of science. I want them to understand that science is a practical activity as it is the study of the world around us. Even as a theoretical physicist myself, who spent the end of my degree working at a computer, knows that ultimately we need to take observations of the real world to compare our hypotheses/theories to.

I really wish Wellcome, the RI, the members of SCORE and the other organisations and universities that have concerns spoke up before now. I wish they had stopped controlled assessment. This is what destroyed practical work in secondary schools.

I remember the free investigations that our edexcel candidates used to do at the end of Year 12. Some struggled, but most students really got into it. I remember talking to a more experienced colleague about it as you could tell that these investigations often caught her imagination too. She told me of a student who worked out an equation to relate the number of clubs he could juggle with and the height he'd have to throw them. Real science. I remember helping students to clear up after a leak of the oil she was using after school as she was putting in a lot of extra time to complete the investigation to the standard she wanted. Her friends were helping and the passion and enthusiasm were obvious.

That is gone now. All of this was destroyed by controlled assessment. The exam board set a list of practicals, and everything has to be done in class without communication between candidates. It isn't scientific investigation. It is awful. It isn't science, it's hoop jumping.

I didn't want to do an experimental physics degree. I did practical exams for my A-level physics practical assessment. I was put off by the practicals. I must preferred the chemistry project. I used the labs and took responsibility for the way I worked and when I worked. This is what we should be encouraging in our students.

Controlled assessment destroyed all this. Wellcome, RI, Physiological Society where were you when this was happening?

It is obvious that we are not allowed to go back to free investigative work. The government don't trust teachers. Yet, it is also obvious to teachers that the status quo with respect to controlled assessment is not acceptable either.

I say to organisations such as Wellcome, RI and the Physiological Society put your energy into ensuring we have GCSE and A-level curricula that lend themselves to being learned through access to high quality practical work, and support teachers through spreading the message of good pedagogical approaches to practical work.

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