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Forgot password? This seems a broadly reasonable assumption: The workings of a scientific phenomena are often invisible or even abstract and cannot be learned inductively from practical work Leach and Scott, quoted in Wellington, , also Wellington, In my own experience of teaching, I have found that unless carefully guided, most pupils do struggle to think about practical tasks in terms of scientific principles.

For example, from a year 8 class of 30 pupils, none could answer the question why are we doing this experiment [burning magnesium in the presence of oxygen to create magnesium oxide]? The link between ideas and observables, it seems, needs to be made very explicit for most students to use those ideas to think about the phenomena they encounter during practical work.

Brian Woolnough - Google Scholar Citations

Without access to the authors notes, the reader has no choice but to trust that excerpts used by the authors to support their conclusions are indeed typical. Researchers own priorities can affect what they consider noteworthy in their observations Weinberg, Augmenting observations with interviews can strengthen the evidence base Denzim, also Robson cited Cohen, Manion Morrison, However, the interviewer will inevitably have some affect on the interviewee Briggs, and Gicanel, cited in Holstein and Gubrium, Given that at least one of the two authors has previously published work criticising the implementation of practical work Millar, , there may be some unintentional bias.

Although only one teacher spent significant time discussing scientific ideas with the whole class, the authors quote another teacher discussing scientific ideas with small groups. It seems likely that other teachers would offer similar scaffolding during practical lessons indeed most teachers I have observed teaching practical lessons do so.

It also seems likely that observers would struggle to record all such events, especially given that they did not video the lessons.

Teaching secondary science

Issues of regional bias could also affect the results of the study, given the sample size Cohen, Manion Morrison, The limited extent of and weaker evidence base for the conclusions about medium-long term learning p. Effectively, the study equates pupils can discuss the science of a practical task during or immediately after the lesson with the practical was effective. Lessons in school do not exist in isolation, but as part of a sequence. Students rarely assimilate scientific concepts instantaneously Driver et al. Practical tasks can have purposes other than the teaching of substantive scientific facts: As illustration of phenomena predicted by theory or as an exercise to develop one or more skills essential to scientific practise Wellington, Practical work can help students to build a lexicon of experiences to give meaning to concepts such as force , expansion , vigorous reaction , less vigorous etc.

Millar, Perhaps one of the most important aspects of practical work is the affective Parkinson, Even critics of the practical science in schools such as Millar and Wellington note its capacity to inspire and enthuse. In the paper itself, the authors note that many of the practical tasks recalled by students were spectacular demonstrations such as the Thermite reaction. Such demonstrations are designed not to teach the students a specific set of scientific facts, but to capture the imagination and perhaps instil the idea that there are exciting things in science which they might more fully understand if they continue to study.

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Most teachers in the study had, however, intended for their students to gain substantive scientific knowledge from the practical lesson and in nearly all cases, this was not achieved. If practical work is to be used to teach students substantive scientific knowledge, an appropriate degree of scaffolding must be planned. However, there are different types of practical task with different aims Gott and Duggan, Woolnough and Allsop break them down into exercises, experiences and investigations.

The authors assert that using their own model of analysis would help teachers determine the degree of challenge in practical lessons and hence the level of scaffolding needed to ensure that most students learn what is intended. I would further offer that thinking about the type of practical task would enable teachers to plan and implement an appropriate practical task to achieve the learning objectives for the lesson and also the best way to support students in achieving those objectives Frost, , Parkinson, This paper has been useful to me: When I first applied for teacher training, my idea of a great science teacher was of someone using practical work as much as possible to bring scientific concepts to life, exciting and inspiring pupils as they learn.

While I still think practical work can do all these things, I will be more aware of the difficulties students encounter in relating observations to science ideas and think about the ways I can appropriately scaffold different types of practical task. Reference List: Abrahams, I. Cohen, L. London: Routledge.


Driver, R. Frost, J.

Turner, T. Gott, R. Duggan, S. Investigative work in the science curriculum. Holstein Gubrium, Qualitative Research Methods.