An exact science?

Dan Sullivan looks at ways schools can monitor the progress of their key stage two pupils in science subjects

It was my frustration at the lack of basic science understanding among children moving up at the age of 11 that made me determined to make science teaching in primary schools fun, not just for the children but for teachers as well.

And when I sat down to consider this challenge I quickly recognised that everything done in the classroom for KS2 must have multiple benefits, particularly for progression in literacy and numeracy. Time and resources are limited; teachers are, in the main, non-scientists and youngsters are demanding in their hunger for interesting lessons. And, importantly, all this must be measurable.

Empiribox provides practical science lessons for KS2 pupils in years three to six, including experiments for physics, chemistry and biology. We take this approach quite deliberately, determined to meet the performance monitoring and recording challenge head-on.

My view is that if a science teaching system is delivered in a modular, flexible way, it fits comfortably into a school’s planning and timetable requirements. It can be introduced at any point in the academic year and simple bench-marking means it’s measurable from day one.

There are essentially two types of progress that require tracking and progress monitoring in science.

The first is science methodology. This covers the understanding and application of planning, obtaining and analysing results and evaluating investigative methodologies. This is the so-called Sc1 skills to meet the requirements of exam boards.

The second is science knowledge. This covers the comprehension of the various ‘facts’ and key terminology of the physics, chemistry and biology covered in the NC, the so-called Sc2, Sc3 and Sc4.

In order to best assess and track progress, it’s good practise for teachers to test pupils before the start of a unit. In the case of Empiribox, this would be at the start of any given 12-week cycle. This test comes in two parts, and teachers then assess pupils at the end of the teaching cycle for that unit.

Part one is the levelled knowledge test (LKT). This could easily use questions on the key terms and principles drawn from the suite of Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) test-base papers. From this exam question resource it’s a relatively simple task to write – for example – a ‘forces’ LKT that would then generate a mixture of percentages for levels and grades and point scores equivalents, depending on what your school prefers.

Part two is the levelled investigative test (LIT). As with the Badger levelled assessment ladders, a grid scoring system for each investigation conducted in class from each scheme can be created by the class teacher using the learning objectives for each lesson – or others as the teacher may wish to define.

An LIT would be issued at the beginning and end of each 12-week cycle and will show natural progression in pupils’ ability to plan an investigation, record and analyse data or evaluate an investigation.

In each subsequent termly assessment, pupils will be assessed on their science methodology and new science knowledge in addition to the science knowledge they have previously covered. In each academic year, pupils build on their science knowledge, with questions in each term drawn from the previous year in addition to the new knowledge they learn in each new scheme of work.

There are a number of ways performance can be measured and managed and that schools record data using other science teaching methods, but I know that by using a modular approach that’s easily bench-marked, the amount of relevant data is improved.

Dan Sullivan is director of Empiribox www.empiribox.org

Twilight tasters

If you’d like to understand more about this approach Dan Sullivan is happy to offer any school a free science twilight taster session. The session includes experiments covering topics such as forces, sound, light, particle theory, chemical reactions, photosynthesis and human biology. It also explains how progress can be assessed and measured across the school curriculum. 

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