What about science and the creative curriculum?

One of my challenges this year was to answer this question.

Creative curricula are all the new craze in primary schools and that’s a good thing. It looks like we’ve come full circle away from the 80’s subject led curricula and we’re getting all 70’s and topic based again, but hopefully without those tenuous links or cavernous gaps in learning because of teacher’s subject preferences.

However, science is in danger of disappearing behind a mountain of egg boxes and papier-mache if we’re not careful. If science is to maintain its integrity, schools following a creative curriculum must get out their magnifying glasses and look at little closer.

To begin with, they must ensure the National Curriculum Programme of Study for science is covered by the whole school curriculum. The school science leader will need time to do some ticking off and gap checking by comparing these two against each other. (Remember, whatever you think about our NC, which is about the change, you still need a lineage of coverage for your school.)

Alongside this, for every creative topic taught the learning objectives for science must remain explicit. For example, take a topic called ‘Set the Table’. It’s pure genius, the kids are going to love it. The children are going to write menus, persuasive adverts, add up bills, manage a budget and more, more, more.It’s all fantastic! For DT your going to do some cooking too and then you’ll get your science links in too for solids, liquids and gases by doing some cooking (imagine all that boiling, melting and cooling!)

Now all of this is great, but get hold of those level descriptors for Sc2 Materials and their Properties and be clear about the children’s learning outcomes. Make sure the children are clear about what success in achieving these outcomes is too. This is because learning is a process, a journey if you like, a movement from one point to another. So when did you last set out anywhere having no idea where you wanted to go? Unless teaching finally got to you and you walked off out the school gates like a possessed zombie, not recently. So like this, teachers need to make sure they know where all that colourful, creativity will take the children. If you do this, the children will learn science in a meaningful context, but importantly you will know what they have learnt and so will they! Hurrah!


Why mark science?


I’ve got a sneaking  suspicion that marking science is not at the top of every primary school teacher’s agenda. And here’s a thing (I’ll only whisper) it’s pointless to mark the children’s work if:

1) The children will never see that piece of paper again.

2) You don’t plan to address any of the science misconceptions you find in their work.  (Are you happy  with that?)

3) The children are not given the opportunity to address their errors or build on new knowledge using the marking.

Therefore, you need to decide why you are marking science recording. You need to avoid marking work to please parents or even ‘the management’ if it is no benefit to the children’s learning. (You’d be more effective spending that time planning an interesting investigation instead!)

If you are really swamped, whizz through what the children have recorded, note any misconceptions, and then use the start of your next lesson to discuss and clarify. Or better still, build five minutes into each lesson for the children to read your responses to their work and edit and improve.

Never bother writing a comment they won’t use, let alone see! If you don’t have time to mark science, then what is the recording really for? Is it good enough to record just for evidence of teaching?


Why ask a question?

I always go back to Dylan Willam’s idea that questioning should cause thinking. Questions made in order to create engagement (you there at the back) and check  behaviour (pay attention or I’ll ask you a question) are only class management tools, rather than learning tools. If you also only ask questions they know the answer to, what are you achieving except some straight forward summative assessment (low impact because that’s merely regurgitating old learning).

Memorable learning.

Think back to school and remember  a time when you learnt something that you still remember  today. What were you doing?

Well,  I can bet you it involved watching and listening (a little) but there was predominately a series of your own practical trails and errors, with some help here and there, until finally, ‘ah ha! You got it!’

Then why do all the Govian suits in their grey tower seem to forget what we all intuitively know: that memorable learning is active with a  practical content.

The academicisation of the new curriculum will set learning back a great deal.

The secondary divide?

I had a conversation with another parent today about her fifteen year old son. According to her boy, one of his teachers had told him off in front of the whole class, nothing unsual I thought, get over it. But what the teacher said had upset her son a great deal. The teacher had told her son the following: that he was arrogant, that he looked arrogant and was arrogrant and had an arrogant attiude. My ears pricked up at this point, especially at the word ‘looked.’ I listened and mumbled something to her about, seperating a child’s behaviour from who they are, and not making things personal; the teacher should have tackled it another way.

Later when I got home, I thought to myself about it again and realised that I hear these kinds of stories a lot from other parents of secondary school children; I’ve had a little bit of that with my son here and there too. I wondered to myself why secondary schools sometimes appear not to hold dear the same things we take for granted at primary school, namely seeking to protect a child’s self esteem during episodes of poor behaviour and using restorative justice as a means to resolve troubles. The bottom line is this: (and I’m more sure of it every year I teach) you will achieve nothing by demoralising children or using a critique of their persona as a punishment. What you will certainly achieve instead is a complete switch off, and perhaps even war. You get far more out of children if you agree punishments during harmonious times and then follow through, sticking to those when they behave poorly. Never ever make it personal. For example,it might go something like this:
“Remember as a class we agreed that if anyone disrupted the class they would get a warning, and if they did it again, they would have to stay in and write an apology letter. You interupted me three times and I gave you a warning too, so sit back down and get your pencil out.’ This business like approach works and no one is pulled to pieces either. I’ve never had it fail me…and nobody gets away with anything in my class either.

So just think back, when did you ever want to do anything for anyone or listen to a word they said after they’d given your character the once over? As soon as it becomes personal, you’ve lost as a teacher. So I wonder if this more enlightened approach to behaviour management is taught as a matter of course to new secondary teachers? Why do we seem to get the more old fashioned, military dressing downs in secondary schools? Is it because secondary school teachers have a harder job and so deal with behaviour differently?

I don’t understand? My intuition tells me you need to be even more thoughtful when dealing with the behaviour of children (young adults really) who are hormonal and where their feelings about themselves are probably the most complex they’ll ever face. So, that’s a piece of research: how do approaches to behaviour differ between primary and secondary schools and what are the effects of those differences. Someone please explain.