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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsSo I did a seed dispersal lesson, where you model seed dispersal using little paper models. And I set two outcomes, actually, over two separate lessons. The first one was looking at their ability to be able to plan and recognise variables. But the other one that we did was graph drawing. Now, because the main skills that we were looking at was, in the first lesson, variables, and in the second lesson, graph drawing, actually collecting the results wasn't the thing that I wanted to spend the most time on. So in terms of the results that we collected, we got them into groups, depending on the variables.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsAnd then, they only did a few drops of the seed first and measured it on the floor. I mean, it's quite a common practical. Lots of people have done it. And then, once they've done that, then what I looked at was thinking, right, so they all need to meet this outcome at different a level. So rather than spending the time on collecting the results, it was more giving them a lot of time to be able to show that they could do the graph. So we started by saying, if you are low ability, you can use a graph frame to just write your numbers on.

Skip to 1 minute and 15 secondsSo that allowed the lower ability people to meet a line graph drawing outcome, despite the fact that possibly, in terms of maths, the level of a line graph is much higher than they're able to do. So it just allows them to meet that first assessment outcome. If they wanted to have a go at it themselves, they could. Medium ability, they got to have a look at one, and then go back and try and draw it themselves. And then, higher ability didn't have a chance to look at it at all. And then, they would bring them all up to the front for me to an assess, check what they'd done wrong.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsAnd then, if they haven't got it right, they have to go back and do it again, until they've got it right by the end of the lesson. That probably took about half an hour to get that. So actually, it was important to spend half an hour on it. Because that was the skill that I was assessing. All of the other part of the practical wasn't important, in that instance. And then, when we go on to do another practical in the future, where we're doing graph drawing, then hopefully what they can do is they can move up the level.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsSo they'll move from using a frame to having a look at the frame or having a look at the frame to drawing it independently. So that's the plan, so that you can assess them, and then move them up the scale for the next time.

Example from a teacher

In the last step you identified three possible learning objectives for the same practical activity.

In this video, Emma explains how she sets up an experiment so that students gather just one piece of data in each group. They then combine their results so that more time can be spent on the key learning objective – graph drawing.

Emma ensures that all students are able to achieve the success criteria by providing differentiated support, such as pre-drawn axis for some students. Whilst we are not looking at this specific teaching approach here, you can find out more in the Differentiating for Learning in STEM Teaching course.

Millar (2009) makes the point that “the way a practical activity is designed and presented may have a significant influence on the extent to which its learning objective(s) is/are attained.”

For example, if the learning objective is to make a drawing of a specimen under a microscope, if students spend most of the lesson setting up the equipment, preparing a slide and staining a specimen, they may have too little time left to finish their drawing. By having the microscopes set up around the room with the slides pre-prepared and ready, with nothing but an adjustment of the fine focus needed, students can then start drawing straight away. It isn’t always necessary to have students carry out every aspect of a practical activity.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Biology

National STEM Learning Centre

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