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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds This week we will be looking at the purpose of practical work and how to foster positive attitudes towards practical science. As scientists we understand the benefits of practical work, and this has been backed up in recent years with the publication of the ‘Good Practical Science’ report by Gatsby, which was authored by Professor Sir John Holman. This report references ten benchmarks, which should be addressed within the science classroom when it comes to practical work, and this week has a focus on many

Skip to 0 minutes and 34 seconds of these, such as: ‘Planned practical science’, ‘Purposeful practical science’, ‘Laboratory facilities and equipment’ and ‘Frequent and varied practical science’.

The purpose of practical work

Last week we looked at departmental processes for practical work with a focus on room layout, how that impacts on how you undertake practical work and how students behave. We also addressed health and safety in the practical classroom, which can sometimes be overlooked and lead to avoidable issues.

This week we will be building upon these ideas as we look at classroom culture for practical work. As we discuss in the video, a good place to start is the ‘Good Practical Science’ report from Gatsby which can help you prioritise one or two areas of developing your practical work.

By the end of this week you will feel more confident in:

  • Establishing the purpose of practical work within lessons
  • Creating a climate for learning: behaviour, respect, attitudes.

Focusing practical work

Practical work can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Often we overburden ourselves with trying to cram too much into a lesson and getting the students to perform a variety of tasks such as planning a method, recording results, analysing these (often with a graph drawn) and then evaluating the work. What this can lead to is a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ type student that can do these skills, but lacks an understanding of them, and can’t transfer them to alternate scenarios.

Classroom task

To start this week, we’d like you to ask your students what they think the purpose of practical work is. You could ask students to share their thoughts verbally or use sticky notes.

With many schools closed in the UK and around the world, please feel free to draw on your previous experiences, or you can set up your own virtual pinboard using Padlet to gather student opinion.

Share a summary of your findings to this step and identify anything that surprised you.

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This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre