Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Backwards planning

When we look at what practical skills we want our students to achieve by the end of their compulsory science education, it is then possible to work backwards to see what skills they need to develop and plan this into our curriculum.

For example, if a student in chemistry is expected to perform an acid-base titration to calculate the concentration of an unknown alkali solution, what skills do they need to have before they can successfully carry this out?

They would need to be able to physically use burettes, pipette, pipette fillers and have the skills to perform a titration. They would also be required to read scales precisely. They would need to know how to set up a boss, clamp and stand. How much (and what type) of pH indicator to use.

All those skills need to be developed before they can carry out a successful titration and get meaningful results that they can use to demonstrate their understanding, or to be able to get concurrent results.

The research evidence is that students need to have the physical practical skills and the theoretical knowledge to be able to carry out a task such as a titration successfully. Trying to teach the skills as well as the subject knowledge at the same time is often too cognitively demanding for most students and they will not succeed at either.

Does the scheme of learning embed all the skills required and give a variety of opportunities to apply these skills? This is an important question to consider when planning a curriculum.


Here are three practicals which a 14-16 year old student might be expected to do in science:

Biology: Observing mitosis under the microscope.

Physics: Using circuit diagrams to set up and check appropriate circuits to investigate the factors that affect the resistance of an electrical circuit.

Chemistry: Identifying an unknown inorganic salt.

Choose ONE of the practicals listed above and suggest three technical skills students would need to have mastered before they undertake the activity.

Which topics in earlier years could be used to develop and practice these skills?

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: