Science in the News

By Adam Little

Here at the National Science Learning Centre we have been looking at bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Heat Pumpclassroom. Often as science teachers we look at ‘Science in the news’ and take recent news stories and use them as a way of engaging our students when they ask that fateful question…’How does this apply to me and my life?’

Recently there was a story about how a city in Norway uses ice cold water from the local fjord to provide heat for the inhabitants.

Now, as the story says there is nothing really new with heat pumps, as they have been around since the 19th Century, but with recent advances in technology we can now make something that is efficient and useful. The story also highlights the worrying trend that occurs when people holding the purse strings don’t fully understand the science. All too often people see the technology and jump on board without it being fully researched and place big orders for inefficient services. If we can get our students to understand this idea better, then we will see less stories of people being misled and buying solar panels or wind turbines to power their homes, only to see it makes little to no difference to their bills.

When you read the story you may think the science behind it is quite high level, but here is a resource from the National STEM Centre e-library which can be used with KS2 students on how a heat pump can heat a lifeboat station. It also helps build up students practical skills and gets them thinking scientifically.

With the changes to the curriculum we are now able to integrate cutting edge science more and more into our courses so teachers and technicians can take these ideas back and use them with their students. We will have researchers doing talks to participants, something which was demonstrated at the recent Alumni conference where Sparsh Navin who came over from CERN did a talk on the Medical Applications of Particle Physics. This  talk was linking in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and how the principals behind it are used in PET scans and MRI machines. It has also led on to the possible future of cancer treatment, Proton Beam Therapy. Once again it was discussed is this the best option, in terms of cost effectiveness and patient numbers….only time will tell and that is the key message to get across to our students.

Working alongside the National STEM Centre with researchers and teachers we will soon be introducing a wealth of cutting edge science resources that teachers can use in their classrooms. We have looked at areas as diverse as Nuclear Fusion, Nanotechnology such as using viruses as wires and Quantum Key Distribution for security. Even last week (20 April 2015) I was involved in the #asechat with teachers discussing ideas of how to bring cutting edge science into the classroom. This is an area we will be very keen on developing and assisting teachers with. If you have any suggestions then please do contact us at the National Science Learning Centre.

Find out more about our Cutting Edge Science programme in York and across the UK.

Bring Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom

Science Teaching and Learning Conference (NY220)

Concept cartoons to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in science

by Faye Beecroft

Faye Beecroft is from Camps Hill Community Primary School and is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their school as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.throwing angles-RR science prize

I plan to implement the use of concept cartoons to hopefully raise the standards of teaching, alongside giving children practical hands on activities to practice the use of discussion and reasoning skills to embed science vocabulary.

By using concept cartoons to begin a science investigation, teachers will be able to see what the children currently understand about a particular topic and be able to plan future opportunities to secure their understanding or clarify any misconceptions before a topic is over. Using concept cartoons after children have taken part in a science investigation will show immediate feedback as to what the children now understand and can articulate.

The use of concept cartoons will benefit staff as it is a method of assessment for learning and can be used to inform future planning. By ensuring the cartoons are used before and after an investigation, the use of problem solving is embedded into every science unit/topic (supporting the school’s development plan). This will also allow staff to think about making science practical and hands on, enabling children to take ownership of their learning and investigations rather than just being told an answer.

snowman-RR science prize Children benefit from undertaking regular investigations, which allows them to practice using their communication skills effectively through group discussion and reasoning. These discussions help secure their understanding of a topic as they articulate why/how something has happened or changed. The Concept Cartoons approach also supports our school development plan of children using adventurous vocabulary. In this case it is the use of scientific vocabulary correctly and in context.

The £1000 will benefit the quality of teaching around the school as the concept cartoons purchase will allow staff to focus on altering the resources to meet the needs of their children and topic, rather than making resources from scratch. This will give staff time to plan and use them to match individual needs such as SEN or pupil premium children.

Concept cartoons will also support the assessment of science as staff can see what children knew before and ultimately after practical investigations. Gaps can then be assessed and filled where appropriate or extended where necessary. The money will also help to buy quality resources to aid science investigations so children are able to have practical, hands on activities to support learning making for a more memorable experience.

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

The National STEM Centre also has free resources using Concept Cartoons.

The Nature of Learning: teaching in the outdoor classroom

By Vicky Sharkey

Vicky Sharkey  is from  Dr Thomlainson C of E middle School and is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their school as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

Outdoor learning: Year 6 pupils lighting their fires to cook pancakes

Outdoor learning: Year 6 pupils lighting their fires to cook pancakes

I have been a science teacher for nearly fifteen years. I never wanted to be a teacher and came into it by accident when I helped with reading at my sons’ first school. I started teaching as I had a passion to help young people become inspired and motivated by the world around them and want to be scientists themselves.

Our project, entitled “The Nature of Learning” fulfils this passion by taking learning outdoors, not just in science but in other subjects too. As a middle school in Northumberland, with pupils in both KS2 and KS3, we believe it is important to capture the wonder and awe of the world around us. Our newly launched enquiry based curriculum provides many opportunities to incorporate outdoor learning as well as cross-curricular links that enable pupils to see the whole picture when it comes to learning, hence the project title. The Rolls-Royce Science Prize prize money will make a tremendous difference to how quickly our project will develop over the forthcoming year. Some of the projects we are planning this year include:

  • Mini beasts –mega beasts, studying the local insects and their habitats in science and then making models of them using the natural materials around school in Art lessons
  • Geography and science together will look at renewable and non-renewable energy resources, going wider afield to investigate hydro-electricity at nearby Cragside House (first house in the world to be lit by HEP) and a local wind farm. This will finish with pupils designing and building their own wind turbines in school.
  • Make a trail for guided reflection in RE and develop an outdoor prayer space
  • In maths under the heading “Is God a mathematician?” Pupils will investigate symmetry in nature, measure heights of trees using geometry and circumferences of trees in order to look for correlations
  • Linking Literacy, DT and history, we will recreate an air raid and take pupils to a safety zone (Forest School) where they will recreate an air raid shelter using natural materials
  • In Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), pupils will be learning about shops and towns and learning how to follow directions by carrying out a treasure hunt around school using QR codes. This way they will learn new vocabulary in a fantastic environment.
Outdoor learning: Year 6 pupils pond dipping

Outdoor learning: Year 6 pupils pond dipping

Over the past year we have developed our Forest School area and this is proving to be an essential resource in delivering outdoor learning. In science we are rebuilding our pond and wildlife garden to attract our local wildlife including Bob, our friendly woodpecker, who loves the bird food outside the lab windows!

Using science skill to aid the transition from feeder first schools

Part of our project is also getting the younger pupils in our feeder first schools to get involved in a transition project linking science and art. Pupils will be taking photographs of our school environment including the diverse habitats we have, studying the plants and animals that live there and then creating an alien being to live in one of these habitats around school. The idea for this is to encourage them to think of the skills and attributes they need to “be an alien being” in school, such as sense of direction, good communication, respect and resilience.  Pupils will then apply these to themselves in order to cope with transition better.

The project was inspired by the National Science Learning Cecntre course on Leading Science in the Outdoor Classroom:

The first part of the course gave me the inspiration I needed to undertake such a whole -school changing project such as this. It also gave me the confidence to try out new activities and the resources that I needed to get started. If you are thinking of outdoor learning as a way of delivering the new KS2 curriculum or want to develop a more holistic approach to teaching KS2 then these websites have tons of useful resources to get you started too:

If you want to follow what we are doing this year, then here is the link to our website for further details of our project, photos and plans for the future too:

The outdoor classroom: Risk taking and creative thinking

by Bev Fletcher

Bev Fletcher is the Assistant Headteacher and Science Co-ordinator at Brotherton and Byram Community Primary School, North Yorkshire. She is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their school as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

Investigating mini beasts in the outdoor classroom

Investigating mini beasts in the outdoor classroom

Leading teaching and learning

Having always loved learning science and maths, I feel very lucky to not only teach it but to have the opportunity to see children feel the same excitement and enthusiasm for both subjects.  I have attended several courses at the National Science Learning Centre, York, including ‘Essential science for children’, ‘Science and creative arts’ and now, as my role as Science Co-ordinator, ‘Leading science in the outdoor classroom’.  All of which have been very useful for professional development and improving science across the school.  I have responsibilities for teaching and learning as well as science across school; the courses and subsequent action plans have helped me lead these areas in driving the school development forward.  My philosophy of taking a risk and thinking creatively when facilitating learning experiences to engage and excite children’s curiosity is reflected in my action plan, which aims to develop outdoor learning areas that showcase active teaching and learning.

Developing the mini-beast village for our outdoor classroom

Developing the mini-beast village for our outdoor classroom

We are very lucky to have a wooded and outdoor areas for use by both key stages, however, these areas were undeveloped.  Teachers will use the areas for discrete teaching of science and maths as well as a challenge based approach to active learning across the curriculum, using maths and science as the core subject to teaching a creative curriculum.  As a result, children will improve independent learning, problem solving, critical and reasoning skills whilst improving the rate of progress in all areas of learning.  Finally, because key skills learned in maths and science, are transferable across the curriculum and in life beyond school, children will be more equipped and ready for the next stage in their learning and more able to deal with situations outside and beyond school.

Developing outdoor learning zones

The project is ambitious and very exciting.  So far children and staff are working on zoning their outside classrooms, and have put forward ideas to improve the woodland area.  They have already started developing a learning zone in the woodland areas which they are all very enthusiastic and excited about!

Planning outdoor learning area

Planning outdoor learning area

Putting the Rolls-Royce science prize to good use

Winning the £1,000 award has meant that we can make the proposed actions a reality, allowing us to develop the outdoor provision so that quality teaching and learning can take place.  It has been a massive bonus winning the award and just what the school needed to kick start an exciting project.  Teachers are really looking forward to seeing the children enjoying their learning as a result.

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

The National Science Learning Network runs a variety of subject-specific professional development courses, including those mentioned above, other courses related to these include:

Teaching science in early years and foundation stage and key stage 1

Pupil Premium: Ensuring Successful Outcomes

by Helen Spring

Last week I attended The Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference, with the aim of ensuring that we are as up to date on how the pupil premium can be used most effectively. Here is my conference report;

The pupil premium helping primary pupils

The pupil premium, helping primary pupils

Sir John Dunford started the conference last week by declaring that one can never ensure anything, so he’d like to change the name of the conference. This made me a little unsure of what I had signed up to.

“A girl from that estate is never going to go far” should be a disciplinary offence

Sir John, who had started being referred to as Saint John by the afternoon, outlined the need for a whole school ethos. “A girl from that estate is never going to go far,” should be a disciplinary offence, John declared. How often have we heard, “well with a family like that, what else would you expect?!”

High expectations of every pupil are the only way every pupil is going to succeed. Understanding the difference between equality and equity is paramount; this means we need to do more for some youngsters than for others. “There is no such thing as a typical pupil premium child,” announced John.

 What will Ofsted say?

We are always worried about what Ofsted will say. That’s the nature of the education system at the moment. ‘Saint John’ made the point, several times, that we must focus on pupil premium children for the sake of the children, not to tick a box. For some children, school and their teachers are providing the only chance they have to succeed, and their only opportunities to experience the wider world.

Each school should have someone, preferably on the leadership team, who has responsibility for pupil premium. Saint John is the governor with that responsibility at his local village school. I’d like to have seen the Ofsted inspector’s face when she asked the school about pupil premium and then recieved a grilling from the Pupil Premium Oracle himself!

Pupil premium strategies

A number of strategies for supporting pupil premium children were outlined at the conference. These ranged from buying laptops and having broadband installed into children’s homes, to employing a Counsellor, or subsidised school trips.

The National Trust has produced a list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ and John described schools who have taken this list, adapted it for their own context, using pupil premium funding to promote these activities.   It was refreshing to see strategies that would support all subjects, not just English and Maths.

Sir John emphasized time and time again that there is simply was no substitute for quality first teaching. This supports the findings of the Sutton Trust Education Endowment Trust who have produced a Teaching and Learning Toolkit. The toolkit summarises educational research about improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. This document is essential for anyone involved in pupil premium. In fact, I would recommend that every teacher has, at the very least, a quick look at the Evidence and Data chart, which outlines the effectiveness of different interventions to support pupil premium children. If I had known about this when I was in the classroom, I believe I would have been in a better position to support those pupil premium children I worked with.

Pupil premium: effective interventions

The most effective two interventions, according to the toolkit, are feedback, and meta-cognition and self-regulation. Does this mean sort out our marking policy and meta what?! Meta-cognition is basically about learning how to learn. It is about teaching children strategies that can help them to succeed in school. Feedback, as any good teacher will tell you, is not simply about marking; feedback is much more than that. It is sitting down and talking to children, it is letting them know that you care about their progress and well-being.

In addition to the toolkit, I would recommend that all senior leaders read through John Dunford’s ten point plan for spending the pupil premium successfully.

Teachers looking for further support on getting the most out of the pupil premium should also consider;

Effective use of the pupil premium in science

Why formative assessment should be an enduring priority for every teacher

By Dylan Wiliam

“We’ve done AfL.”

As I travel around schools in the UK and elsewhere in the world, many teachers feel that Assessment for Learning is

Dylan Wiliam on Formative Assessment

Dylan Wiliam on Formative Assessment

rather “old hat” — something that they did a decade or more ago — and they are now looking for the next big thing: educational neuroscience, lesson study, mindfulness, academic resilience, or whatever.

The idea of being at the “cutting edge” of new developments in education is attractive, exciting even, but the fact is, there is as yet little evidence that any of these new ideas will have much impact on how much students learn. They are promising to be sure, and may, in the future yield important insights into student’s learning. But right now we simply do not know whether these new ideas are worth pursuing.

Now of course if teachers had exhausted the possibilities for assessment for learning—or formative assessment as I prefer to call it—then looking for “what’s next?” might be appropriate. But in most schools and colleges, formative assessment is neither widespread, nor deeply embedded. What is more puzzling is that all over the world teachers are under enormous pressure to improve the attainment of their students and yet, they are under-using something that we know, from our work with science and mathematics teachers in England and elsewhere, has the power to improve student achievement, even when achievement is measured with standardized tests and national examinations.

Formative Assessment – the heart of effective teaching and learning

However, there is a far more important reason that teachers should be developing their use of formative assessment, and that is that formative assessment is at the heart of effective teaching and learning.

As every teacher knows, students do not learn what we teach. Even in a new topic, where students might start out with relatively similar knowledge about the topic, within minutes, students are at different levels of understanding. In addition, particularly in science, students come to classrooms with a range of ideas about scientific phenomena that are incomplete, or even inconsistent with what they need to learn. David Ausubel pointed out almost half-a-century ago,

The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.

This is why assessment is so central to good teaching. Assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning. It is only through assessment that we can find out whether our students have, indeed, learned what we hoped they would learn by engaging in the activities we organized for them.

And that is also why a focus on formative assessment will never be “old hat”. As long as teachers reflect on what they have done as teachers, and on what their learners have learned as a result, and the relationship between these two, then they will always be able to develop their practice. That is why formative assessment should be an enduring priority for every teacher.

Now of course, what we can do in a short online course will be rather modest, but we hope that by participating in this course, you will be able to get some ideas about how you can work with your colleagues to develop your practice of formative assessment further. The work will never be finished—no matter how good you are as a teacher, you can always get better—but as I and my colleagues have worked on the course, we have become convinced that this is an excellent place to start.

Dylan Wiliam will be leading the National Science Learning Centre’s free online course Assessment for Learning

Other related courses you may be interested in:

Regional, non residential courses

Assessment for learning in science (RP203)

Assessment in the new primary curriculum (RP102)

Triple science: Preparing for linear assessment (RP788)

National, residential courses (York)

Leading assessment for learning in science (NY703)

How to assess primary science (NY032)

Outstanding Schemes of Work (NY205)

Assessment for Learning – Making it stick

by Ursilla Brown

Ursilla Brown is the KS3 Science co-ordinator at St Bernadette Secondary school in Bristol and is one of 50 teachers to win £1,000 for their school as a result of their entry in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize. In this article she outlines her entry for the prize and the effect it has had on her school.

Assessment for Learning – making it stick

Research is clear about the impact of assessment on pupil progress – Dylan Wiliam summarises this eloquently in this video clip.

Teachers’ time is being stretched in so many ways that it is crucial that every hour they labour over their students’ books is time well spent.

Assessment for learning cartoon. National Science Learning Centre

Assessment for learning

I attended the Leading Assessment for Learning Course (NY703) at the National Science Learning Centre to gain inspiration for ideas on how to make this fundamental aspect of classroom practice less onerous and more meaningful.

Embedding best practice

One message I gained from the course was the importance of embedding practice across the Science Faculty so that all pupils had a consistent experience of assessment.  When I developed my action plan I was mindful of being realistic in terms of what I could achieve within a given time. In my experience many a plan falls by the wayside due to being over complicated and overwhelming in its expectations. In the Leading Assessment course I was introduced to a plethora of assessment techniques – it is easy to feel that everyone apart from you is already well versed and competent in the whole gamut of strategies. To embed formative assessment in our Science faculty I decided to focus initially on Year 7, since we are in the process of developing Schemes of Work in line with the new framework. I prioritised a specific range of strategies which are being integrated into our existing schemes of work at KS3.

My aims were to:

  1. Develop feedback that requires the pupils to engage and respond in relation to the criteria.
  2. Make assessment less time consuming, as this would be appreciated by all staff and therefore more likely to become practice.
  3. Ensure that feedback promotes stretch and challenge.

With this in mind, the assessment strategies I decided to focus on were:

  1. Use of feedback grids (p112)
  2. Three questions (p129)
  3. Comment strips (p130)

All these strategies and many more can be found in ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam. I have referenced the page numbers.

The development of the schemes of work is ongoing, and by the end of this academic year all science staff should feel more confident about marking with a purpose and will be routinely using these strategies with their classes. This should improve pupil engagement in the process of learning and ultimately allow them to develop ownership of their progress.

Another area I am developing is in the improvement of questioning techniques. Again, I have made the targets in relation to this very specific: to have our Year 7 schemes of work furnished with a bank of questions which have been generated using SOLO or Blooms levels. Teachers will refer to these when developing ‘rich questioning’ in lessons to build understanding and gauge where pupils are.

The phrase ‘you can’t eat an elephant all at once’ has informed my planning – without the support of my colleagues and their belief that my intentions are relevant, manageable and worthwhile,  my action plan remains just that.

Putting the Rolls-Royce Science Prize to good use

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize award of £1000 will be put to good use in relation to the targets, initially in purchasing:

  1. Consumables such as paper resources for students to record their responses.
  2. Resources such as the above mentioned text for staff to familiarise themselves with the range of strategies that can be deployed.
  3. Funding faculty time for group planning and peer observations of the strategies in action.

The Rolls-Royce Science Prize is an annual awards programme that helps teachers implement science and mathematics teaching ideas in their schools and colleges. The awards programme is open to all schools and colleges in the UK.

The National of Science Learning Network runs a variety of subject specific professional development courses, including those mentioned above, others related to these include:

Outstanding Schemes of Work

Assessment for Learning – a free online course with Dylan Wiliam


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