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Required practicals

Required practical work (practical work that is set by examining bodies), can sometimes be seen as a practical where students need to set-up, undertake, record and analyse the results. Going through every stage of an experiment could be departmental policy or a lack of experience in expectations of what specifically you are looking for in the practical. In these cases, the purpose of practical work appears to be only to meet examination criteria and that doesn’t inspire students in the subject.

Another challenge of required practicals, is that they are seen in isolation, unconnected to other parts of the curriculum or real-world contexts. Being able to provide a novel context for a required practical will support students to transfer their learning and engage with the activity a lot more.

As this week progresses we look at independence, resilience, different learning outcomes, as well as contexts. Within the specifications produced by exam boards there are helpful pointers to assist with bringing more purpose to required practicals. The apparatus and techniques (AT) criteria are something to focus on and build the activity around that.

For example in England the AQA Biology Required Practical 3 (Use qualitative reagents to test for a range of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins) suggests AT2 - safe use of a Bunsen burner and a boiling water bath. If you decided to focus the purpose of this practical work on these skills, how might this be assessed? With certain groups would you need this emphasis on apparatus be a focus, or would you look more at the working scientifically skills, including health and safety implications?


Choose a required practical on your curriculum. Identify the key skills required for this practical. If you have taught this practical recently, how did you focus your students’ development on one or more of these key practical skills? If you are teaching this practical soon, what changes might you make to the way you structure the practical lesson to emphasise development of a specific practical skill.

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre