Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsIn physics, we often get students to measure the resistance of different thicknesses of electrical wires and for each wire investigate how the resistance changes with the length of the wire. For students to set up a circuit with a wire, complete with all components in the right place, and fault find so that everything works, takes time. This often means they get limited sets of data. It can be far better to split the activity into two parts.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 secondsIn the first lesson, the outcomes are: "to construct a circuit to measure the voltage and current for different lengths of a wire".

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsWith success criteria: "you will be able to set up your circuit safely so all components work and you can make several readings of voltage and current". This means that fault finding and skills of circuit building are assessed in this session, but only limited data is gathered. In the next lesson, sets of different wires within a test circuit are set up, pre tested. Students can quickly move around and obtain large data sets with repeat measurements as required, for a variety of different wires.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsHere the learning outcomes are: "you will be able to make a set of voltage and current readings at different lengths of wire, and be able to analyse how resistance of the wire changes with length; you will also investigate different thicknesses of wire and how affect the resistance".

Skip to 1 minute and 30 secondsThe success criteria would be: "you need to show by means of a table of length, voltage, current and resistance, plus a suitable graph, how the resistance of a wire changes with its length." This way, in the second lesson, students are not having to set up the equipment and spend ages fault finding - this has been done for them. The key focus is on gaining a set of data and analysing it. The graphing part could be a homework or as an assessment activity. Within schemes of learning, having robust reasons and suitable learning outcomes for carrying out an activity can focus teachers on what needs to be learnt, rather than the practical being done just because it’s in the scheme".

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsThis will also help students with final assessments if they understand the reasoning behind practical work and why they need to do it. This is very typical of how I would set up an activity with my students in the classroom, with tightly focused learning outcomes so students know why they’re learning it and with success criteria so they know if they’ve achieved those learning outcomes.

Planning clear learning outcomes

We have all observed practical lessons where it takes all lesson to set up the equipment, and for students to obtain a few results before having to pack away and go to the next lesson. Or, where students have to carry out the same practical for several lessons in a row in order to get a full set of results, by which time they have forgotten the learning objective and are thoroughly bored!

Mark describes how a practical can be broken down by using focused learning objectives. By having the equipment already set up in the second lesson, students can focus only on obtaining and analysing results, having practiced their technical skills in the previous lesson.

Within schemes of learning, having robust reasons and suitable learning outcomes for carrying out an activity can focus teachers on what needs to be learned, rather than the practical being done “just because it is in the scheme”. This will also help students with final assessments, if they understand the reasoning behind practical work and why they need to do it.

Discuss

What other ways are there for dealing with long practicals in the scheme of learning?

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Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science

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