Primary School Science
By Helen Spring
Are you about to start your first year as a primary school teacher? I’m sure you are currently both excited and terrified at the same time! Many NQTs are daunted by the prospect of teaching practical science lessons. Primary science needn’t be a scary concept; in fact, it can be one of the most enjoyable lessons to teach.
Here are some top tips to help with teaching practical science lessons:
Top tip number one
Keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much in one lesson. Pick one or two objectives and think carefully about how you are going to ensure that your children can meet those objectives. It is usual to ensure that you cover one objective from Working Scientifically and one objective linked to subject knowledge. Make sure that you start from the objectives and choose your activities to suit these, rather than thinking of a really cool activity and basing your lesson around that. It sounds like common sense but it is quite an easy mistake for even experienced teachers. Keep the success criteria clear in your mind. What do you expect most children to know or be able to do by the end of the lesson?
Top tip number two
Plan properly. Take the time to think about the logistics of the lesson. Chances are that you are going to want children to be moving around the room. You need to decide how to manage this. Do you want to spread resources out so that children don’t all run for the same cupboard at the same time? Do you want to set the experiment up for the children? This isn’t ideal as promoting independence is an important part of child development. It also takes an awful lot of time if you have to set up every lesson.
Keep thinking, do you have all the equipment you need? Does your activity work? Do you know what results to expect?
Top tip number three
Make sure that every child understands your expectations. To that end, know what your expectations are. Depending on your individual style of teaching, this may be something that you want to agree with the children in advance. You may wish to have an agreed set of rules. You may wish to allocate the children with role cards. Remember that your expectations for behaviour in science shouldn’t need to differ massively from your expectations during the rest of the curriculum.
Top tip number four
Make assessment easy for yourself. There is an excellent book which I would recommend to any teacher – The Lazy teacher’s Handbook, by Jim Smith. There are some brilliant tips in this book. Think back to your objective(s). What do you want the children to know or do? How will you know that children have achieved this? Make sure that this is the only thing which you are assessing. Do you really need to mark diagrams and methods if your lesson objective focused on writing predictions? Remember you are assessing their science, not their English skills. Can the children assess themselves? Train them!
You are a good teacher. You need to know which children can do XYZ at the end of the lesson so that you can decide what needs to be focused on in the next lesson. You don’t need to cover every piece of written work with red pen (or green or pink or purple!). In fact, this is a science lesson – do the children need to write anything at all?!
If they’re not writing, can you assess everyone by asking a particular question? By observing? Could you use an app such as Plickers to assess the children’s subject knowledge? Could you record comments? Could the children record their own comments?
Make sure you plan how you are going to know that your children have met your objectives.
Top tip number five
Get the children to ask the questions. What do they want to find out? Can they design their own investigations? Set a problem (my pet rabbit gets too cold at night; how can I keep it warm?). Ask the children to design their own investigation to solve the problem.
Don’t worry if it all went wrong! Science is about enquiry. Have the children thought of questions that they want to know the answers to? Have they started to try and find things out for themselves? Then you are starting to create little scientists!
Here are some resources that might get you started:
Differentiated Primary Science
Encouraging Primary Science
Ideas for the Primary Science Curriculum
Practical Primary Science
Teaching courses that are related:
Working scientifically in the new primary curriculum
Primary science conference
Teaching key areas of primary science for Y6 teachers
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