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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second [PETER] I think the biggest thing for teachers is actually overestimating what the capabilities of the students are with practical skills. You always get one or two who are really good. But the majority of students really need teaching in the very fundamentals that you would maybe take for granted. Like how to put a clamp onto a stand and it’s important to spend a bit of time at the start getting really well-embedded so that when you revisit the subjects it’s the practical skills are in the background. You can really concentrate on getting the content and the understanding there. [LISA] I try to look at the actual equipment that they’re using.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds Pipettes used quite a lot, a dropping pipette, across all of the different disciplines in science, and it’s something that I think kids tend to struggle with, so early on, say, when they’re about 11 to 12 years old we’ll play with the pipettes and explain the difference between a full pipette versus a drop. What is the size of a drop? What’s a reasonable size of a drop? And I do this through a drop’s rate. So there will be about 50 circles on a piece of laminated paper.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds They’ll have a small beaker of black, inky water, and then they can time each other to try and get as many dots full and accurately placed as they can in a minute, which is quite a tricky thing. And the kids tend to, they start to merge together, or they run out of pipette. Or they realize that by actually letting go the liquid is sucked back up. And it’s about how improving the control of the pipette as you go through. And then I tend to start every year with this. So one’s 13 or 14, okay let’s do the drop rates again. 15, 16 do the drop. I’ll do it again with the 17 and 18 year olds.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds They love it, because then they by that point, really improve the manipulative control of the pipette to a point that we can start talking about precision and accuracy in a far more detailed way. Another thing that we can do is introducing the use of a burette early on, we do talk about measurements and different measuring equipment that you can use when children are 11, 12 years old. And they’ll be familiar with things like a measuring cylinder or a beaker purely from their cooking classes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds But what we could do then is introduce something that’s a little bit more sophisticated, like a burette, and ask them just simply to read the scales on that, and you can bring that back through the years. And so when they are introduced to a burette when they are doing a titration, say when they are 15, 16, 17 years old, it’s not a scary piece of equipment anymore. They are used to seeing it and they understand how to read it properly. You don’t end up wasting time when they get to about 17 or 18 years old reteaching them how to do that. They are used to it and it’s takes the fear away from the science.

Teachers' examples: progression with equipment

In this video Peter and Lisa share how important practical work is at age 11-14 years to prepare students for later studies.

Peter reiterates the idea of going back to basics early on with students to avoid technical skills being a barrier to learning. Lisa explains how she uses the same equipment across a wide range of age groups to both build up manipulative skills and enable students to become familiar with specific pieces of equipment early on.

What equipment do you get your students to develop their skills in over different years?

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Chemistry

National STEM Learning Centre