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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Helping our children develop their enquiry skills is important and should be planned for, much as we plan for the development of their knowledge and understanding of science concepts. In order for the children to work as successful scientists, they should be taught a wide range of essential enquiry skills. These skills should build upon opportunities for them to play, explore, create, and engage in active learning. It’s important that there’s a progression of skills over year groups and across a year. When this isn’t planned for, children could potentially be practising the same skills over and over again.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds If they can measure, using whole number standard units, at age seven, then by age ten, they should be looking at ranges and intervals in their measurements. Likewise, if they’re grouping objects at age five, then by age seven, they should be able to justify their groupings using prior knowledge. When enquiry skills are not pre-planned, then situations occur such as in one school where the same plants investigation was happening in multiple year groups. This might not have been an issue if different skills are being developed. Sometimes it’s a lovely thing to do, to see progression across the whole school, but this was not the case.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds As the children were even recording their observations in the same way, bar charts across the whole school. When you look at the requirements for Working Scientifically, there are a number of generic science enquiry skills common across the entire primary school age. Asking questions, observing and measuring, planning different enquiries, performing tests, using equipment, identifying and classifying. Gathering and recording data, and reporting, presenting, and communicating data and findings. Looking carefully at the statutory requirements of the Working Scientifically aspects of the English National Curriculum, it’s possible to see how each skill is described for each age group. And how they progress as the children move through the primary school.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 seconds It’s important that you as teachers understand this progression of skills to enable you to plan effective science lessons for your children. CIEC, the Centre for Industry Education Collaboration, have put together a very helpful document that sets out, in grid format, the progression of science skills from EYFS, age 4, to Key Stage 3, age 11 to 14. This can be very helpful to identify where the children in your class should be working. They have also made some excellent posters that separate these statements into child-speak and into age phases. These could potentially then be displayed in either the classroom or your children’s books, to be used by you to highlight skills to focus on, or find your children have mastered.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 seconds Or, potentially as a target for your children, so they know how to work as a scientist. An excellent feature of these posters is that statements that reflect the same skill are in a similar position on each of the posters. For example, questioning is at the top on each poster. This helps you and the children keep to track of which skills they are practising. Opportunities for children to practise these skills should be given whenever possible. If you’ve assessed your class, and the children are finding a particular skill tricky, then I would suggest practising this in as many different contexts as possible.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 seconds For example, if they find choosing correct equipment for their enquiry challenging, then give them lots of short opportunities to practise this outside of complete enquiries. Perhaps as part of a maths lesson on capacity. Which measuring cylinder for measuring an egg cup full, a mug full, or a litre? Or as part of your design and technology lesson, I’ve made a mistake when I was adding my ingredients. Which sieve could I use for separating the flour and oats to make my biscuits? We should also be working to develop our childrens’ vocabulary to support them in their talk and reporting.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds If a child has the words to explain their thinking, then they’re able to talk more fluently about what they’ve discovered and take their learning forward. By upper key stage 2, age 11, children should be a lot more independent. And if we’ve worked to develop their enquiry skills carefully, they will be able to ask and answer their own increasingly more complex questions with less support from you, the teacher.

Progression of enquiry skills

The English National Curriculum aims to ensure that all children:

  • develop scientific knowledge and conceptual understanding through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics.
  • develop understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science through different types of science enquiries that help them to answer scientific questions about the world around them.
  • are equipped with the scientific knowledge required to understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future.

Source: Science National Curriculum for England

To do this children need to work as successful scientists. This requires them to have the necessary skills for enquiry. These skills should build upon opportunities for them to play, explore, create and engage in active learning.

It is important that there is a progression of skills throughout school. This ensures that children are not simply repeating the same skills again and again. As your children progress through school, they need to be able to use progressively more challenging skills to tackle the scientific problems they encounter.

To guarantee this happens, enquiry skills need to be carefully planned for.

As discussed in the video, CIEC (The Centre for Industry Education Collaboration) have produced a very helpful document for the progression of enquiry skills (PDF).

We should also be working to develop our children’s vocabulary to support them in their talk and reporting. The following diagram shows the vocabulary which should be taught in the Year 4 (age 8-9) Animals Including Humans topic. Other vocabulary resources can be found in the STEM Resources collection.

An example vocabulary map showing definitions in a glossary, diagrams such as food chains and classification trees and images with questions
Example vocabulary map with definitions in a glossary, diagrams and images. Source: Quality, Improvement and Support Service, Sheffield City Council (view full version via the STEM Resources collection).

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Teaching Primary Science: Getting Started

National STEM Learning Centre