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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.

Developing skills for assessment

Practical work in science is great for building students skills within working scientifically. It helps develop their scientific thinking, experimental skills and strategies, how they analyse and evaluate their work, introduces them to new scientific vocabulary and mathematical skills can also be developed and assessed.

When it comes to practical work it’s important to specify which skill(s) we want to be assessing them on, and why this practical suits those skills. A common example that can be used in physics which is mentioned elsewhere in this course is calculating the speed of a wave. The focus could be how they calculate the speed with the focus on their mathematical ability, or it could be using a measuring device such as a metre rule to measure the distance the wave travels in the tray.

A long time ago, students used to be assessed on all practical skills within a single experiment, quite a few teachers used to mould their practical work around this so their students were doing it on a mini scale. The hypothesis was written, then the method, the experiment undertaken, perhaps an improved method, more results then the conclusion and evaluation. It often tended to be a case of students rather skimming over each area, rather than developing skills in a certain area.

This has changed a lot recently, with more of a focus on a specific skill or a small set of skills, which has been clearly defined and shared with the class. Students are showing more appreciation of scientific skills such as peer review of results, and also now seeing more everyday and technological applications of science which could sometimes be overlooked in the past.


What skills do you think students struggle with the most?

Bear this in mind during the week as identify what approaches may support your students with these skills.

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre