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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 When planning practical activities we must always ask ourselves, ‘why are students undertaking the practical, what is the learning objective?’ It is vital to consider this as the focus of the practical could be different, it maybe something other than successful generation of data… is it to learn/know the procedure in which case the focus of the lesson should very much be on the apparatus and technique or is the focus the analysis in which case the focus is on the collecting of the data and then the subsequent calculations. Consider also how the equipment is set up for the lesson, if analysis is the focus do you need each student to complete multiple circuits or can you combine class data?

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds Could you have the circuits set up on the bench filled and ready to go, reducing the time required for the practical procedure and more time to complete the analysis and evaluation?

Same practical, different learning outcomes

In this section we are looking at how the same practical can be planned to allow different learning outcomes to be met. It could be that one class you teach is really good at analysing results, and another different group is good at setting up and using equipment. When this is the case, there is no benefit of one of those groups setting up the equipment again as they have already demonstrated this skill. Instead you want them to get results and analyse them to develop that skill. The other group will need to set up the equipment and gather results, but once these have been recorded you don’t need to spend a long time on analysing the results.

One good way to give yourself more time with both groups would be to get one group to set up the equipment and record results in their practical lesson. You then pass these results onto the other class and get them to analyse and evaluate these results, after demonstrating the set up so they know how the practical was undertaken.

Think about how best to utilise time effectively in these situations, to best support each groups’ learning. As discussed in the video, if you are doing electrical circuits, you might have the circuits set up in trays ready to use. You will need to discuss this approach with your technicians if you have them available to you, but it really helps you meet the needs of your students if you can.

Suggested further development

Our Planning for Learning online course explains how you can use evidence of student learning to inform your lesson planning decisions, setting appropriate learning outcomes and success criteria based on your students’ understanding.

Looking at practical work specifically, the Teaching Practical Science collection of online courses suggests further ideas for practical activities and tailoring them for specific learning outcomes. In particular, this step will support you in writing a specific learning outcome for practical work.

Tip: Right click or hold click (on mobile devices) to open links in a new window.


The photo below shows a standard set up for a titration, an experiment conducted to identify the concentration of an unknown solution by reacting it with a quantity of a known concentration. In this example we are using phenolphthalein to indicate the endpoint of the reaction. Here we use a burette, pipette, clamp and stand, a conical flask and reagents. Typically, students are asked to determine the concentration of acid in the conical flask.

Photo of a titration. A conical flask being held under a burette clamped to a stand.

What learning outcomes might you focus on using this practical work as the basis for learning? Share at least two suggestions in the comments below.

If you do not teach chemistry, you are welcome to choose another experiment, but please describe this in your comment.

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This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre