5 Reasons Why ‘Improving Secondary Science’ isn’t just for Science Teachers

30 September 2018

The recently published Improving Secondary Science guidance report is a treasure trove of evidence-informed recommendations for secondary science teachers, heads of science departments and senior leaders. But to limit the report to science teachers would mean that the rest of us have to miss out on a fantastic exploration of many important concepts in teaching. Here are five reasons you should read the guidance report – even if you’re not a science teacher.

Memory

The explanation in the guidance report of cognitive science and memory is one of the clearest we have read. There is one diagram of the heart to demonstrate the split attention effect, but everything else is a simple primer for all teachers about key principles so support retention and retrieval of knowledge. If you don’t want to read the whole of the guidance report, then just read pages 24-27. You’ll learn about memory, schema, cognitive load, spaced review, retrieval practice and elaborative interrogation – you might even understand what a ventricle is…

Metacognition and Self-regulation

As pointed out in the recent Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning guidance report, “it is very hard to have metacognitive knowledge about how competent you are in a given subject domain, or how best you can learn, without sound subject knowledge.” This is why a subject-specific guidance report is welcome, because it can place the concepts of metacognition and self-regulated learning in a concrete context. Improving Secondary Science obvioulsy looks at the implications for science but, in doing so, helps to illuminate these concepts for all teachers. For example, we see some generic suggestions in the Metacognition guidance about metacognitive talk, then we get science specific examples, which then give us a model to apply to our own subjects.

Modelling

All subjects have concepts that need to be explained using models: “Reality is complicated and models can help to simplify things and make them easier to manage and understand.” In the report they consider the idea of exploring and discussing different models. For example, they refer to three models for electric current: the water circuit model; the rope model and the delivery van model. By looking at the benefits and limitations of each, we can consider when and how to use these particular models. All subjects have equivalents, and this approach of considering which model to use when is important.

Preconceptions and Misconceptions

The first recommendation concerns preconceptions and how these can often develop into misconceptions. The guidance discusses how we can identify misconceptions in our students before teaching. If we diagnose effectively we will see whether students hold misconceptions and sometimes that they do not hold the misconceptions that we often assume they do. They suggest that one possible way of doing this is through carefully designed multiple choice questions. Science is not the only subject with a predictable set of misconceptions and strategies to address them.

It helps us to see that pedagogical content knowledge is key

Looking at lots of elements of teaching that might be seen as generic approaches e.g. modelling, memory and literacy (one of the other areas of focus) through the lens of a subject is important. We see that modelling might have some things that apply to many subjects but modelling in science is very different to modelling in P.E. or music or mathematics. In reading the guidance report, we can see where the recommendations move from general to specific and begin to do that for our subjects. We can see the exemplified principle and see where our subject must branch off. The Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 guidance report also has a subject specific approach which offers ideas for non maths teachers too.

This year we will launch our Improving Secondary Science training course based on the recommendations. (This we do recommend just for Science teachers!)

Posted on 30 September 2018
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