Science APP – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Followers of my blog know that I like APP.  That’s not to say that I don’t realise its limitations and problems, and I know it has got a lot of bad press because of the way some schools have chosen to implement it.  I still maintain that APP has a lot going for it – especially when it comes to developing students as scientists, and for consistency of assessment data between primary and secondary.

However I’d recommend schools to maintain familiarity with the statutory level descriptors and their use.  Teachers will have to use these descriptors at the end of each key stage, and therefore be confident in any judgements they make.  APP levels will provide evidence of the general level that a student is working at and their development as a ‘scientist’ but they are not statutory.

My advice would be for teachers to use the National Curriculum level descriptors to assess some of their work, or to be conversant with the statements and how APP descriptors work alongside them.

The importance of science induction sessions for the KS2-3 transition

Induction days are an important part of the academic timetable for science teachers.  They provide an opportunity for science teachers to weigh up the scientific ability of prospective students (and to map it to teacher assessed levels if these have been provided in advance).  Our new intake recently spent the morning with us and the ensuing practical work gave me a very good indication of their science skills.  I saw students manipulating equipment, working in new groups, recording results and interpreting their results.

Induction days are also a good opportunity to excite students about science and to have them looking forward to starting science lessons in September.

My favourite induction activity involves using red cabbage juice as an indicator to classify unknown chemicals as acid, alkaline or neutral.   We also made fridge magnets (laminating student drawings and sticking magnetic tape on the back) which gave me a good idea of each student’s skill with a pencil (handy in a special school!).

Red cabbage indicator.

Is offering free GCSE lesson plans (Edexcel) good for science teaching?

I picked up a nice big glossy folder of GCSE information from Edexcel as I left school today.  Having heard the Chief Examiner speak at a conference recently, the pack offered no surprises as I flicked through.  However my attention was drawn to the following information (which I snapped with my phone):

lesson plans

Free plans for every lesson.  Yes, FREE PLANS FOR EVERY LESSON.  Whilst I can see that this could be a godsend for the busy teacher, I can’t help but feel that this is a bad move for the quality of science education as a whole.

When the QCA published schemes of work years ago, departments followed them for a variety of reasons.  Common reasons for following the centrally produced schemes included saving time, schemes safe from criticism from Ofsted, and having an inexperienced department.  Few schools followed them because they liked them.  Their main effect was to stifle creativity and push teachers towards delivering identical lessons regardless of area, school or setting.

My concern is that by publishing GCSE lesson plans examination companies are appealing to the same inexperienced, time pressed departments who want to play safe.  I worry that this will snuff out what little spark of creativity we have left in science education and mark a return in teaching centrally produced lesson plans (except this time they will be from the examination board rather than the QCA).

I hope that schools will take the opportunity to flick through the lesson plans and steal all the best bits for their own lessons, but will continue to embrace the opportunities for creative and individual teaching that our science education community badly needs.

I’d be interested to hear views from current science teachers, either for or against.  Please leave a comment below (no registration required) with your opinions.