Organising and managing the science lesson
Primary teachers employ a variety of methods for organising learning and teaching. These range from children undertaking individual tasks to wholeclass lessons. During the science lesson the teacher may adopt several approaches, such as group work, wholeclass work and individual work. The methods the teacher employs to manage the science lesson will depend on the number of children in the class, the resources available, the space available, the activities that are planned and the teacher's own methodological preferences. Different methods of organising the science lesson are outlined here.
Many teachers work with the whole class at different stages during the science lesson. This method is effective in
- introducing a new science topic or concept
- demonstrating new methods of working
- preparing and discussing with pupils different methods of investigating
- providing background information that may be required for an activity
- directing children's questions and hypotheses
- drawing the lesson to a conclusion, encouraging different groups to report on their investigations
- helping children identify further scientific investigations.
Many teachers organise the science lesson so that children can work together in small groups. Different methods of managing small groups are outlined. These include:
- several small groups working on similar activities
- small groups rotating around different activities (circus of experiments)
- small groups working on independent activities that contribute to the overall theme
- one small group working on a science investigation.
Individual work on chosen topics or projects
Children pursue their own studies and carry out investigations that allow them to pursue their own interests and ideas. This method allows children to work at their own pace and in areas of immediate interest and relevance to them, but it is demanding on teachers' time and resources.
A variety of approaches
The use of a variety of approaches and methods will facilitate the efficient implementation of the science curriculum. The nature of the strandsand strand units themselves necessitates the use of a variety of teaching methods. The methods chosen should facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the unit of work as well as taking cognisance of the content and context of the lessons. The effective teacher will use a combination of approaches to meet the needs of the pupils and to suit the objectives of the unit of work. The approaches chosen by the teacher should enable the children to work scientifically in a variety of contexts, to undertake practical activities and to tackle open-ended problems and investigations.
Selecting appropriate methodologies and approaches
The methodologies and approaches chosen by the teacher should accommodate the different learning styles of the children and should:
- allow the children the excitement of finding out for themselves
- enable the pupils to work on their own problems as far as possible
- encourage children to pose their own questions
- use children's ideas as a basis for activities. Children should be encouraged to use their own ideas, test and perhaps change their ideas.
Among the approaches that are particularly appropriate for facilitating practical work in science are
- the investigative approach
- the teacher-directed approach.
Science investigations provide children with opportunities to use and apply concepts while solving a problem that has been set for them by the teacher or posed by themselves. Most teachers will use a combination of closed and openended activities.
Activities and problems that help children discover or learn a pre-determined idea or procedure are referred to as closed activities. This approach can be used when the teacher wants to guide the children through the processes and content of science. Teacher-developed worksheets and commercially produced workcards and textbooks may provide a valuable resource for teachers when planning for closed activities and experiments. These materials provide comprehensive instructions that tell the pupils what to do, the equipment required and the measurements to be taken. These closed activities can be an effective way of illustrating aspects of conceptual understanding.
This approach involves the teacher in providing opportunities for the pupils to undertake open-ended activities. These activities or investigations encourage the pupils to work scientifically and to raise their own ideas and questions, which will then be tested or investigated. Teachers who ask broad or open questions will encourage children to develop an investigative approach to solving problems. Broad or open questions are designed to place the responsibility for thinking on the pupil. They foster divergent thinking.
The extent to which teachers choose to adopt an open-ended investigative approach to science will depend on the age and maturity of the children, the number of pupils in the class and the teacher's willingness to work in an unstructured environment. Exemplar 10 illustrates the stages involved in developing a problem-solving or investigative approach to science with primary pupils.
The teacher-directed approach involves the teacher telling or showing the children what to do and in observing their progress. The teacher makes most or all of the decisions concerning the content of the lesson, and the child responds to instructions. This is a useful approach when the teacher wishes to demonstrate skills of using thermometers, separating substances, heating materials or other activities that may involve potential hazards or require the use of delicate or expensive resources. Certain aspects of the science curriculum may not lend themselves to investigative work by pupils; in these instances a demonstration by the teacher would be an appropriate form of practical work.
Direct teaching is appropriate for use when clarifying concepts being investigated and ensuring that safety practices are being applied. It can feature, therefore, as part of the teacher's approach in a wide range of lessons.
Exemplars are included throughout this section of the guidelines. Many of these contain lessons or units of work illustrating
- how the children may work scientifically
- the detailed content of the lesson orunit
- some methods of assessment.
In some of the sections the examples used are linked to particular classes in the school. However, this is by way of illustration only; most of the techniques described can be adapted for use at all class levels. The activities suggested in these guidelines offer a range of possibilities, but individual teachers will have to use their professional judgement to decide which methods and approaches are best suited to the needs of their pupils.
EXEMPLAR 10 - Approaches to planning open-ended investigations