Back on Track: adapting and enhancing the primary science curriculum post lockdown

    Published: 17 July 2020

    Since the end of March, we have been releasing weekly subject leader emails to support schools with planning science home learning. We wanted to support subject leaders in navigating the world of free resources to support children to engage with science learning at home. Those emails can still be accessed here:

    Email 1, 25/03/2020

    Email 2, 02/04/2020

    Email 3, 21/04/2020

    Email 4, 27/04/2020

    Email 5, 06/05/2020

    Email 6 13/05/2020

    Email 7 20/05/2020

    Email 8 02/06/2020

    Email 9 10/06/2020

    Email 10 18/06/2020

    Email 11 25/06/2020

    Email 12 01/07/2020

    Email 13 09/07/2020

    Email 14 14/07/2020

    When deciding what to include in these emails, our key priorities were that the content should encourage children to be curious and think scientifically about the world around them but importantly the ideas needed to be easy to engage with. Many schools have shared their science learning during this period with us and for some children, there has been a real buzz around science. I think it is important to reflect on what has worked well during this period and consider how we can build on this momentum and continue to develop the science curriculum in schools.

    Enhancing the curriculum

    Feedback from schools has shown that one of the most successful features of the weekly emails has been the ideas for engaging with nature. This seems to echo one of the frequently discussed unexpected positives of lockdown: the increase in time to get outdoors and spend time in nature.

     

    Bumblebee

     

    Engaging with the outdoors and nature is great for the science curriculum. It presents children with the opportunity to explore, providing real first- hand experiences to develop their understanding. When given time outdoors to really look and explore, we tap into children’s natural curiosity and we can encourage authentic child-led enquiry as we support them to ask and develop questions. As Sir David Attenborough said ‘You only have to show a child a snail or a spider to see that he or she is captivated by it.’ Captivation and curiosity often come hand in hand so as science leaders I think now is a great time to think about how to build on this engagement with nature and design more opportunities for this into the curriculum.  

    There are a number of organisations who have some great ideas and resources including RSPB, The Woodland Trust, Tree Tools for Schools, Plant Life, and the Wildlife Trust.

    I also stumbled across this fantastic booklet from Countryside Classroom. It features a range of activities which encourage engagement with nature covering many different curriculum areas. Some of my favourites include: making acrostic poems about precious things in nature, sound maps and framing nature where children find something interesting or special in nature to frame.

    The Primary Science Teaching Trust has developed and shared several new initiatives and great ideas including Science Fun at Home, Science for One and Science at Work. Science at work is great as it provides children with the opportunity to hear from real scientists about how they use science in their jobs. Some, like Florence Nightingale, are no longer with us so are played by an actor but others are real and current doctors, engineers and astronauts. These would be great to build into the curriculum and some examples may provide some good links to History.

    Another great set of resources that could be used to provide context to science learning in class or as part of enrichment is from Practical Action, who provide FREE STEM resources to engage children in real-world issues including climate change, renewable energy, food security and disaster preparedness.

    A time for reflection

    It is worth taking the time to reflect on engagement with science home learning in your school and consider what has been successful. What have you had high levels of engagement with, positive feedback about and what have children and parents enjoyed? It might be that some of the ideas and activities could be developed into home learning activities that enhance the curriculum and help children and parents enjoy more science moving forwards.

    Reflecting on what has been successful with teachers, will also be useful as it is likely to highlight that engaging science activities do not have to be resource heavy and they don’t have to be the ones that go whizz, pop and bang. Sometimes the most engaging are the simple activities that make us wonder such as growing vegetables from vegetable tops, making dinosaur shadows or watching as tadpoles change into frogs.

     

    Frog, Carrot, Dinosaur

     

    We are excited that enhancing the curriculum through greater use of nature and development of science capital will be a focus of our digital Primary Science Conference on November 11th.

    Adapting the curriculum

    What can we do about the science learning that has been missed during this period? This is something that we have been carefully considering. This is not an easy task and, as with many of the challenges leaders face, there is no quick fix.

    One of the challenges schools find with science, in ‘normal’ circumstances, is finding enough time for the depth of learning needed to develop the full range of understanding and skills in the National Curriculum. To lose a term of what we might call ‘normal’ learning will no doubt add additional pressure.

    One suggestion for tackling gaps in learning to be cautious about, is asking teachers to cram in missed learning and there are a number of reasons for this:

    • Adding additional knowledge into science topics often means that children are given less opportunity to develop their working scientifically skills though enquiry. This would mean that one of the over-arching aims of the National Curriculum is not being met.
    • Adding in too much knowledge sometimes means that teaching moves at such a pace that children are not given enough opportunity to grapple with knowledge, apply learning and make connections leading to insecure or superficial learning that is likely to be forgotten.
    • We don’t want teachers to be left with the impossible tasks of squashing lessons or spending lots of time planning for prior learning they are not familiar with. This could lead to greater use of worksheets which many subject leaders and schools have worked hard to move away from.
    • We may lose the engagement of children right at the time when we want to reignite and rekindle their science flames!

    The points above highlight what not to do but what can leaders do to adapt the curriculum?

    Leaders will firstly need to identify what learning has been missed or may be insecure before creating a plan to revisit and cover this learning throughout the key stage. To do this, they will need to unpick the curriculum and identify what is crucial learning and what could be left out to make room. They will need to look at where there is repetition of key areas, such as plants, or where there are natural links and plan how this learning will be integrated into the curriculum. They will also need to provide support and guidance for teachers to do this. Finally, but crucially important, leaders need to make sure that teachers are confident in using a wide range of formative assessment strategies to unpick the starting points of their children and build on these.

    To achieve this subject leader expertise and time is needed and we are very aware that schools may need support. To help with this we have put together our Back on Track: Science training and packages.

    We also have a range of digital training courses to meet a wide range of needs.

     

    Science subject leader cluster

    15th September 2020, 14th January 2021, 21st April 2021

    ‘Back on track’ with primary science assessment (3 part training) 1st October 2020, 4th November 2020, 19th January 2021
    Becoming a highly effective science subject leader (3 part training) 6th October 2020, 25th November 2020, 28th January 2021
    Primary science conference 11th November 2020

     

    Why not sign up to receive our regular subject leader emails to keep up-to-date.

    For further information about any of our Back on Track support, please contact info@hertsforlearning.co.uk.

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