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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds TEACHER 1: You light the Bunsen burner in year 7, but you still light it the same way in year 11. So you’ve been doing it for five years, but it seems that you do making circuits in year 7 and 8, and then you never touch it again– and then you’re expected now, to do measuring current voltage, resistance, putting in all other types of components, working out Ohm’s law, and you’re just expected to remember what you did two or three years ago. And then just do it then, and then that’s the end of it.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds TEACHER 2: Students really struggle with the concept of identifying, like, a variable. Something that they could investigate, and then sort of– they’ve struggled with the concept of identifying variables and then controlling certain elements of an investigation. If something has gone wrong of if something hasn’t worked, I find they don’t necessarily have the resilience to try and work out why, or to come up with a solution, or even just to try again.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second TEACHER 3: Yeah.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds TEACHER 2: So it’s always “it hasn’t worked, why not, what should I do”?

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds TEACHER 4: And I think linking a little bit more with vocabulary it’s more the idea of, do they know the names for all the different pieces of equipment.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds TEACHER 3: Equipment, yeah.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds TEACHER 4: “So what’s that thing?” “Miss, this thing”. “Have you got the things, which ones?” “You know, the ones you were using.” “Which?”

Skip to 1 minute and 18 seconds TEACHER 3: “What’s it called?”

Skip to 1 minute and 19 seconds TEACHER 4: “Which ones did I use?” “OK, what was it called?” “If you tell me a name, I can tell you where it is”.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds TEACHER 3: Yeah.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds TEACHER 2: Our curriculum is quite flexible, and it does allow to revisit certain skills and certain bits of content as well. I think for us, the key to it is to show that there is a progression with that skill over the years. Train them how to use Bunsen burners, and to do the chemistry stuff, but it’s always just finding ways year on year to them improve that skill slightly, rather than just repeating it.

Progression in skills

By the final year of school, students should be confident in selecting and using a range of equipment and techniques. However, it takes time for students to develop their practical skills, and the scheme of learning needs to provide multiple opportunities to practice them.

For example, here are the stages of development a student might progress through when learning how to measure a volume of liquid:

  • Does not know what equipment is needed to measure out a liquid, and needs help to choose some equipment.

  • Chooses to use a beaker to roughly measure out a liquid.

  • Chooses to use a measuring cylinder or pipette to measure a volume of liquid.

  • Understands how to choose the most appropriate size of measuring cylinder for the volume needed and accurately judges where the meniscus is.

  • Can use a fixed volume pipette confidently.

In the video above, teachers discuss some of the struggles their students have through practical work. They touch upon some of the skills and understanding required and the need to design in progression across years of study.

Reflect and suggest

Which practical skills do students in your school seem to struggle with still by their final year?

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Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre

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