Last week I was lucky enough to attend the first part of a four day residential course, at the National Science Learning Centre in York, all about extending more able and gifted children in primary science. It was an intensive two days with lots to take in, but at the end of it I came up with a four point action plan that I’m going to try to implement in my school. I tried to take the line of least resistance because let’s face it, I know all the staff at my school are working their socks off already so I wanted to make it do-able and effective. I’m sharing the ideas below because hey, you might want to implement some of them too. Let’s start with a revelation:
Providing for your gifted and talented children in science is NOT about creating extra or different activities for them. The whole idea behind behind the course is that G&T provision in science should be inclusive. It’s not about stretching these children by doing more, but instead by doing things a bit differently for all your children.
I felt a little relieved by this I must admit. Here’s the action plan:
#1 Plan for your most able children
That’s right. When planning an investigation or challenge, plan it with your most able scientists in mind. Throw tough challenges with a real-life context out there and see who rises to it (you may well be surprised). Children will respond to the challenge according to their depth of understanding. Also, don’t be afraid of differentiation by outcome. That little nugget felt good to hear. I don’t know about you, but often I feel like differentiating by outcome can be made to feel like a bit of a cop out? Well in science investigations at least, it’s really not. Of course that’s not to say you will never have to differentiate but still plan for your most able initially and then differentiate once or twice downwards rather than planning for your able children and then differentiating up and down. I’m certainly going to be trying this, apparently it really helps.
#2 Focussed recording
Writing takes up way too much time in the average science lesson. We need to cut it down and make it more about doing rather than recording. It’s useful to point out that your most able scientists may be shocking at literacy and terrible at recording. So how can we do this? Focus the recording. That means recording just one part of the investigation in any given lesson, e.g. ask the children to write a prediction or results and conclusion. Other parts could be done as a whole class; you might decide take in the results, create a graph on the whiteboard and print it out for the children. However you do it, you should aim to have no more than about 20 minutes recording in a two hour science lesson. Obviously you can adjust that to the time you have available, but the ratio needs to remain the same.
#3 Bright Ideas slots
In ancient Greece, scientists and philosophers were one and the same. Science is not the search for a right answer and we need to get that across to our children by promoting thinking skills in science. For those of you that are P4C trained, you will notice some overlap and familiarity here. One way to do this is include a 10 minute Bright Ideas slot into your science lessons. They work particularly well as mental oral starters, but you could also use them as a mini-plenary or plenary. Here’s four ways of running Bright Ideas slots:
- Odd one out: present the children with an image of three objects (or better yet the real thing) and ask them to think about what object is the odd one out. On the course, we did this challenge with a bar of chocolate, a glass of water and a sheet of paper. The point is that there is no right answer and the children must know this. The important part is that they must give a reason for their choice. You should try to pick three objects that relate to your current science topic, e.g. images of the sun, the moon and Earth if your topic is Space. After some time, children could start making ‘odd one outs’ for each other.
- Big questions: ask your children a big question, e.g. how do you know the Earth is a sphere? Explain that photographs taken from space are not a valid argument as they could be fake. We want them to think outside of the box. Another one could be, what would happen if everyone on Earth jumped at the same time?
- P-M-I: aka Positive, minus, interesting. This is an Edward De Bono technique. Give children an odd situation such as the government have decided to make all door handles out of chocolate. The children must think of positive, negative and interesting thoughts that would arise from this situation. Another idea could be a world without electricity.
- Concept cartoons: a cartoon which shows children discussing the science in a real life situation. Some of the opinions should be right, some wrong. The children have to think about what one they agree with and why.
Whatever activity you decide to do it’s important to follow the think-pair-share set up. We really need to give children that first minute or so to think independently. If you need any more examples of odd one out, big questions or P-M-I ideas, then just leave me a comment with your email address below because I have lots to share.
#4 Big Questions board
This is another simple way to encourage thinking skills. I remember once on the way back from swimming, one of my girls said to me, “Miss, do you know I could lift you up in the swimming pool?”
“Could you?” I said. “Could you lift me up now?”
“Hmm, no,” she said and pondered for a bit. “How come I can lift you in the pool but not outside the pool?”
What a great question for a science investigation. All too easily lost or forgotten about though. However, a big questions board in your classroom stops this. Encourage children to write their big questions on post-it notes and put them on the big questions board. The children can try and answer each other’s questions and you could even try to find time to investigate some of them as a class.
Hopefully these ideas are do-able and I really hope to see a positive impact in science. In May, I’m going back to York to make a presentation on how the implementation of my action plan went and what kind of impact it had on science in my school. If you do take any of these ideas on board, it would be great to hear how you get on and for you to share any evidence with me as I could include that in my presentation as well. If you need any further information or help with any of these ideas, please just yell, tweet or email.