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Science Education in Primary School Years Essay

Introduction The importance of science in the education of schoolchildren goes beyond just providing the first steps in producing the next generation of scientist. Since science is becoming a large part of political debates – such as in global warming, nutrition and energy (DeBoer, 2000) – at least a basic understanding of how science works and what conclusions it can draw needs to be appreciated by the general population.

The scientific literacy of a nation is therefore becoming a key element of some very important social and political questions that have to be answered by a population most of whom don’t have a scientific background (Nelson, 1999). The Nutt scandal demonstrates a recent example of the clash between what science informs us and the impact it can have on social and political debates. The Nutt scandal centred around a number of remarks made by David Nutt, the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

(Nutt, Governments should get real on drugs, 2009) Nutt published a journal article in 2007 discussing how the current classification of drugs in the United Kingdom was neither consistent nor transparent. He made recommendations to the government to change the classification so it was based on scientific research rather than by social pressures (Nutt, King, Saulsbury, & Blakemore, 2007). However the impact of his review on the classification which said ecstasy was “no more dangerous than horse riding” eventually led to him losing his job (Nutt, Equasy– an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms.

, 2009). The lack of appreciation for the scientific research was deemed to be less important as the socio-political climate surrounding the issues of drugs (to send a message to drug-users) (Easton, Ecstasy: Class A drug? , 2008). However, a more scientific rationale may have helped introduce a less emotionally heated-debate about drugs, in turn dissipating more information and educating the wider public by raising greater awareness and openness (Easton, Scientists v Politicians: Round 3, 2009) while at the same time dealing with drug use and possession in a more proportionally manner (BBC News, 2009).

It is in these and other debates that an appreciation of science is needed by those who do not have a strong scientific background, but the teaching of science has a greater impact than just in Page 5 of 37 increasing the scientific literacy of a nation. Science is also an important tool in allowing pupils to utilise skills taught in other parts of the curriculum such as in literacy and numeracy (Hammerman & Musial, 2007); science provides a way to apply what may otherwise be abstract aspects of mathematics, for example.

As it stands, the curriculum in Scotland is based around four main principles and is called the “Curriculum for Excellence”. These are to produce children who are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (Education Scotland, 2011). It would appear that integration of one subject into another to develop these attributes is an important part of the government’s aim to develop good learners and citizens.

CfE has been the curriculum for Scotland in two iterations; one that began in 2004 and the other in 2010 (Education Scotland). The reasons for the implementation of CfE included the feeling that teachers were only touching on topics rather than going in-depth as the previous curriculum had a lot of material to teach in it, pupils weren’t as engaged with the content, pupils were spending too much time preparing for exams and they weren’t actually learning new things, and also that some lessons were out of date (MacKinnon, 2009).

From the beginning, the curriculum had established the importance of science and in a review from 2006, the CfE defined its aims for science as “to stimulate, nurture and sustain the curiosity, wonder and questioning of young people” (Curriculum Review Programme Board, 2006). Alongside CfE, there is also a supporting network of science specialists called Glow which allows further embedment of science into the curriculum. Through Glow, there are events in which students can ask questions to these specialists called Glow meets (School Science Summit, 2009).

Some of the barriers to gaining the most out of science education include social factors such as class and gender (Oakes, Ormseth, Bell, & Camp, 1990). The reason for these having an effect on accessing science is many-fold but includes the perception of science as being male-dominated (Steele, James, & Page 6 of 37 Barnett, 2002) as well as factors such as the location of specialist schools, many of which are often in areas that are less deprived (Assessment of Achievement Programme, 2005).

Research suggests that there is a difference in response between males and females when in an environment that appears to be oppositely gender biased; while females are more likely to feel vulnerable in these situations, men are less likely to be (Murphy, Steele, & Gross, 2007). Many females also state that they are not interested in science (Hill PhD, Corbett, & Rose, 2006), this, however, may stem from a variety of other factors including the belief that they won’t be able to succeed in that environment (Eccles, 2007).

The majority of well known scientists are still mostly male which may diminish interest from females who may have the impression that there is a ceiling over how far they can take a career in science (Richardson, 2011). The effect of class, as previously mentioned, also plays a large part in the access of science by school children. Pupils in schools in England which teach science as three separate subjects at GCSE in more deprived backgrounds do better at A-levels though there are fewer schools in these areas providing the triple science option as described (National Audit Office, 2010).

The reason for this maybe that the teacher training required and other changes needed to modify the curriculum are harder to justify financially for these schools. The impact of this discrepancy may also mean that children from poorer areas won’t have the same chance to succeed and therefore not be able to break out of their class.. Other barriers include factors such as the quality of teachers, both by way of confidence and knowledge (Harlen, 1997) . Teacher confidence has a direct impact on the uptake of science.

It appears to be in science that teachers have the least confidence when compared to other parts of the core curriculum (Harlen, 1997). Many teachers have a background in degrees other than science (Holroyd & Harlen, 1996). That primary educators do not have specialist knowledge in science means Page 7 of 37 that they struggle to portray the same confidence as they can in numeracy, literacy and art. Female teachers have less confidence in teaching science than their male counterparts and this does not help to relieve any of the pressure on female pupils who will struggle to relate even more to females in science (Harlen, 1997).

Studies also suggest that teachers have more confidence in teaching biology than physical sciences and this is probably due to the ability to relate the material to real life; which is easier with biology than other sciences. However, a lack of knowledge and confidence in teaching science can be overcome with greater teaching experience and therefore the teaching of science to those who lack confidence should be able to be taught to primary educators. As with the lack of visibility of female scientists, another component in the difficulties found in promoting science education is the visibility of science as a career.

The role models of young people are often in the entertainment industry such as musicians and actors. This may mean that children are therefore more likely to talk about what is going on in a TV show than they are to discuss science and therefore their interests are constrained to just within science lessons (Dindia & Canary, 1998). If discussions could be opened up to include science into the everyday life for pupils, then they would probably be better at finding their own interest in science.

Primary science is often too general and doesn’t give much way to the discovery of one’s own strengths and interests in science, something the CfE is trying to change. Moreover, practical work is often not employed as a teaching method for reasons that include financing, and health safety (House of Commons Science and technology Committee, 2011). However, practical work is very important in building skills providing a way for pupils to find excitement in science (Wellington, 2007).

It also helps to provide a greater classroom dynamic where pupils can talk to each other and their teacher more which is an important in the teaching of science at this level (Atkin, 1998). Groups work furthers this too allowing pupils to discuss the content and be more engaged with it, however, as well as a lack of practical work, science lessons often lack group work focussing more on worksheets as an alternative. Lessons are often taught in a one way direction – from teacher to pupil – with very little interaction with the Page 8 of 37

content itself (Assessment of Achievement Programme, 2005)This project looked at teaching of science in primary education by visiting a school, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Finnieston, Glasgow as part of the Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme which is itself part STEMNET. Here, it was possible to observe the teaching of science as well as assist in the coordination of science and teach genetics-specific modules to a P7/6 class. . Page 9 of 37 Methods Through working with the science coordinator, the curriculum could be looked at as well as the teaching methods that were used.

Discussions with pupils would provide information about their needs in science and what they may be lacking from their current education. It would also be possible to observe the classroom dynamic and consider what ways in which this could be improved to engage pupils more and enable better learning of science. It was anticipated that genetics would be a difficult subject to teach and therefore careful consideration had to be taken to ensure that it would be pitched at the right level for the P7/6 class.

Due to the small number of students, many of the year groups were mixed so there was a combination of ages; more able P6 students and P7 students. Their exposure to science was quite limited and the curriculum itself did not appear to provide them with the knowledge and skills that would have allowed the lessons to be pitched at a higher level. Therefore, starting at a molecular level would have been a poor choice as their grasp of molecular ideas would not have been very strong.

It was therefore decided to start with broader ideas that they may be more familiar with such as adaptation and habitation which are already part of the curriculum and then move into more molecular details. By going through the history of genetics through some of the key experiments and having the pupils do these experiments or a variation thereof, it was hoped that the scientific skills of hypothesising, testing, collecting data, analysing data and concluding could be built. It was more important to pass on these skills as the knowledge may not be useful to them in their career paths.

St. Patrick’s RC Primary School The link to the primary school, St. Patrick’s RC Primary school, was set up as part of the Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme. The aim of this scheme is to encourage and assist in the teaching of science and related subjects in interested institutions using undergraduates as part of their Honours projects. The UAS is run as part of STEMNET which runs a number of other programmes in primary and secondary schools across the United Kingdom (STEMNET, STEMNET: Page 10 of 37 Vision and Purpose, 2010).

They are also involved in running activities outside of educational institutions such as in museums and in running science festivals. STEMNET has 45 local contract holders to which ambassadors are assigned; the West of Scotland has its local contractor based in the University of Glasgow and is called Science Connects (STEMNET, Local contacts: West of Scotland) which is the local contractor that helped with this Honours Project. Dr Rob Aitken was in charge of allocating places for students interested in the UAS and it was through the School of Education at the University of Glasgow that he was able to find interested schools and set up links.

Once a school was found, arrangements were made to establish a footing in the establishment. A meeting was set up with the head teacher of the school, Susan O’Donnell. With her, the science education as well as other aspects of the curriculum was discussed. It was decided that a Friday slot at 0930 would be used to teach a genetics module to the P7/6 class. Wednesday was the only day that science was taught to the pupils and this was done by Tom Fabling so it was decided that assistance could also be provided to him to embellish the science curriculum at the school.

On the same day as the meeting with the head teacher, an arose to shadow the P7/6 class opportunity while they were learning literacy. Unfortunately, this was on a Friday so shadowing of science wasn’t possible. A seat was placed on the side of the class to allow for observation of the ability of the pupils as well as to watch the rapport between the class and the teacher. From this session it was also possible to see the lesson structure and the teaching techniques that the teacher felt was most comfortable with the class. Page 11 of 37

The science coordinator, Tom Fabling, had collected data about the students by way of short questionnaires which he provided copies of. He also provided copies of the original questionnaires. As well as teaching science modules on a Wednesday, Fabling was also in charge of the science resources and having a hand in the discussions around the curriculum. Later in the year he would also set up a science club for which he would be able to utilise the materials. Returning the next Wednesday of term allowed both shadowing and assisting in the teaching of science.

Through speaking with the pupils their needs in science were better elucidated and this provided a number of things to consider when teaching and assisting teaching in science and allowed for a better observation of the science in action in the school as the teaching of science is very different to that of literacy. From this, the scientific literacy of the pupil’s could be surveyed and enquiries could be made into what they wanted from the science curriculum. Assisting in science teaching would take place every Wednesday and would include both teaching and providing resources from the University to aid in the teaching of science.

For example, the first Wednesday looked at static electricity. Science Connects kindly made available a van der Graaf generator as well as a number of other teaching resources such as confetti and balloons. A lesson was then planned around the van der Graaf generator to teach static electricity as well as the molecular ideas behind it. Every Friday, a module of genetics would be taught to the P7/6 class to enable them to understand a discipline of science that they were previously unaware of.

The lessons were planned beforehand and would take the journey from classical genetics to molecular genetics with the aim of allowing the pupils to delve deeper and deeper into what a gene is. For example: looking at speciation through Darwin; pea plants and breeding through Mendel; DNA extraction through Miescher; and the DNA model through Crick/Watson. It would conclude with a look at some of the applications of genetics as a career such as in forensics and human genetic diseases. Unfortunately, Page 12 of 37

the project was cut short and so only one module of genetics was taught to the class focussing on Charles Darwin and his voyage with the HMS Beagle. The class was made up of pupils from various backgrounds. A number of children were known to frequently misbehave and disrupt the teaching in the class. The class was made up of ten boys and eleven girls so there wasn’t much of a gender bias in the class. It was expected, however, that friendship groups would be mostly single-sexed (Graham & Cohen, 2006) and therefore interactions with groups would have to take this into consideration.

Similarly, friendship groups are often mostly single-“raced” and this would also have to be taken into account. While this may not be good for social dynamic, it does make teaching easier if it is thought that certain teaching methods are better for one group over another. Another distinguishing factor was how well English was understood in the class. However, apart from one pupil, the pupils understood it well. Genetics lesson plan: Charles Darwin and Evolution This lesson began with a quick questionnaire to gauge the knowledge of the pupils.

The questions covered various aspects of science and, with the rest of the lesson, were displayed by an overhead projector linked to a computer. The class remained in their usual groups and were provided whiteboards and pens to answer multiple choice questions such as: Which of the following is a famous scientist? A. Isaac Newton B. Dawn French C. Mahatma Ghandi. It was thought that if the pupils didn’t have an individual worksheet then they wouldn’t feel as self conscious about their answers. It was also hoped they wouldn’t feel as much pressure if they didn’t get any right answers as there was no way to know if that was the case.

Page 13 of 37 After this, a portrait of Darwin was shown and then the lesson moved into his life, his career, voyage with the HMS Beagle, and his impact on science. To demonstrate how certain features evolved, a spot the difference was done between similar looking animals which were one of either a shark, a bird or a horse but with subtle differences as can be seen in a completed version in Figure 1. The activity was produced to open discussions about these differences that may make some “species” more adapted to one environment over another, much like with Darwin and his finches.

These were drawn by hand, photocopied and edited without using a computer. Figure 1: One pupil’s completed Darwin’s spot the difference A map with different habitats was created prior to the lesson. The map had various islands and water features that were described as such: • • • Not much grass Small bushes Some fruit. These were associated with the features of the animals and so allowed them to think about which habitats would encourage the selection of which features. To round off the lesson, a picture of a ten pound note was shown, as in Figure 2, which shows Darwin on the right hand side alongside his work on the left.

It was thought that this was a very good way to summarise the lesson and give the pupils something they could tell others about. Page 14 of 37 Figure 2: An “English” ten pound note [source: http://www. thednastore. com/images/coins/scan0034m. jpg] Questionnaires Unfortunately, the time spent at SPRCP was cut short due to a lack of positive chemistry with the P7/6 teacher and therefore data was collected to gain further insights into the teaching of science at primary level. An email-based questionnaire was sent to fellow undergraduate ambassadors and a Google Docs(r) form was passed to Primary Education students.

The questionnaire to other ambassadors (as in Appendix A) looked at their experience with the primary schools they were in. Of particular interest was the rapport between the pupils and teachers especially in terms of interaction and activity. The questionnaire that was sent to the Primary Education students at the University of Glasgow (as in Appendix B) looked at the knowledge and attributes that they could bring to teaching science at primary education as well as their expectations. Analysis of the questionnaire’s included judging the content of responses and categorising them so that responses could be compared.

Page 15 of 37 Results Charles Darwin and Evolution lesson At the beginning of the first lesson – to gauge the ability of the pupils – a questionnaire was presented on different aspects of science. Unfortunately the results from this weren’t recorded, however it appeared as though the knowledge of general science was good in the class. Questions on the solar system, and people in science were answered well (see Appendix A for questions) but genetic and more specialised aspects of science were less well understood.

Such aspects of science as the definition of evolution and the evidence which supports evolution was poorly answered. Also, the pupils did not know what a gene was, which was not surprising considering the age group. Shadowing and assisting Tom Fabling allowed for a rapport to be built with the pupils and therefore they seemed more interested and engaged with the content. Though the lesson was quite lecture style in some parts, it was intersected with activities which meant that the pupils had to be focused throughout the lesson.

During the more lecture style parts of the lesson, the pupils were also able to ask questions. These questions covered a vast amount of topics such as about the process of fossilisation, how “monkeys” became “man”. The quality of question were overall quite good and this allowed for pupils to gain greater insight into aspects that they were finding difficulty with. The questioning also showed that they were engaged with the material. The questions would also have allowed for furthering tailoring of future lessons by considering the demands of the pupils.

The command “thumbs up or down” would be used to allow the gauging of how well the pupils understood the material. Looking at a ten pound note at the end of the lesson which has printed on it Darwin alongside his work seemed to summarise the lesson really well. It also provided the pupils with something they could tell others about as they could describe the different aspects of the work and relate it back to the ideas from the lesson. Page 16 of 37 At the end of the lesson, feedback was requested and some of the pupils definitely found it interesting even if they hadn’t fully understood all the content.

The teacher said that the activities and content were pitched at the right level but too much material was covered in too little time and that in the future more concise lessons should be done. Science teacher assisting Input in the teaching of general science was greatly appreciated by Tom Fabling as his own knowledge of science is based around his interests rather than from a degree in science and therefore his scientific knowledge can sometimes be limited. Since he sometimes struggled to teach science, his methods for teaching often revolved around more arts techniques.

This included activities such as drawing equipment rather than asking questions or having more interaction with the pupils. Wednesday is the science day at the school and as such, Tom Fabling teaches each class a certain aspect of science. The theme for one of these days was Guy Fawkes Night and there was very little mention of science. While there is significance to Guy Fawkes Night in a social and political arena, there is little bearing in science and this topic would be better suited to history or citizenship.

During the assisting, it was possible to open the discussion about the Night into science by discussing gunpowder, its composition and how explosions work. Another example of where a citizenship module was used as a science module was with “Drugwise” which looked at the use of illegal substances. The disadvantage of teaching about drugs in schools is that is heavily based on shock tactics and not about providing information (BBC News, 2002). One of the activities involved pupils drawing what they would think a drug user would look like. Most of the pupils drew someone who looked scruffy, had no teeth or hair, bad skin, etc.

ignoring that people from all background could be drug users (Pedersen & Skrondal, 1994). The medical side of the education is also only in the negative effects and the cause-and-effect of drugs, something important in science, is inevitably neglected as it shows what drugs can do in a way which is not damaging in the short-term or at all (Kinder, Pape, & Walfish, 1980). Page 17 of 37 Looking at some of the questionnaires that Tom Fabling had collected from the pupils, there are many questions that did not appear to be scientific amongst those that were.

Questions such as “What planet do you live on? ” are probably too easy and questions such as “Isaac Newton dropped an apple and discovered g______” are based on an apocryphal story. Such questions were probably there to make pupils feel more comfortable as it would be more difficult to get no marks at all but the overall calibre of the questions were not particularly well picked. However, without a good appreciation of the requirements of the curriculum it is hard to make a definite conclusion.

Apart from the older classes, P5/4 and P7/6, there is very little that distinguishes individual students by way of achievement on the test as can be seen in Figure 3. In the older classes it can quite clearly be seen that there are some students who were a lot more challenged by the questions than others. If the individual topics where pupils were struggling with were recorded then it would help in identifying weak points that could be later worked on. 2/10 4% 5/8 19% 10/10 41% 6/8 23% 7/8 27% 9/10 18% 8/8 31% 6/10 23% 7/10 9% 8/10 5%

P3/2 class P4/3 class 15/15 21% 6/15 13% 8/15 4% 9/15 4% 10/15 9% 11/15 4% 12/15 8% 14/19 5% 16/19 5% 3/19 5% 4/19 9% 5/19 5% 6/19 5% 7/19 5% 8/19 5% 13/19 14% 12/19 10% 14/15 8% 13/15 29% 9/19 11/19 14% 10/19 9% 9% P5/4 class P7/6 class Page 18 of 37 Figure 3: Graphs showing the results of science tests from different-aged classes The segments of the pie charts show the percentage of students that got a specific mark. The labels have two numbers; the upper being the mark and the lower being the percentage of pupils with that mark.

Looking at the science topics, there are also points which suggest that the teaching of science As previously mentioned, some of the topics such as “drugwise” would be better placed in other parts of the curriculum. Also some of topics for younger students such as toys, clothes, etc. that are also not strictly scientific. Table 1: Science topics at SPRCPS Primary 1 • Starting school Aug-Oct Primary 2 • Ourselves – Our bodies Primary 3/2 • Dental health Primary 5/4 • Healthy eating Primary 6/5 • Healthy living Primary 7/6 • Substance abuse (Drugwise 2) Oct-Dec

• Light and darkness • Fruit and vegetables • Wheels • Materials • Clothes • Buildings • Trees – Autumn • Toys – Technology • Changes in autumn • The seasons • Electricity • Electricity • The Solar system • Research • Weather • Magnetism • Under the sea • Under the sea Jan-Mar • Friction • Air travel • Research • Birds and minibeasts Apr-Jun • The seashore • Mini-beasts and plants • Robotots – technology • Toys • Robotots – technology • Toys • New life on the farm The lesson on static electricity that was part of the general science assisting was mostly a success.

The children were very engaged with the lesson that was taught. However, the van der Graaf generator did fail for a period of time which was unfortunate but other activities were also available such as picking up confetti with a balloon that had been charged up by rubbing against the pupils’ hair. Due to a misunderstanding it was not known how much time would be spent on teaching this topic; a short demonstration of the van der Graaf generator turned out to be a whole lesson on static electricity. Tom Fabling highly praised the lesson and commented that he had learnt

Page 19 of 37 from it too. Other members of staff were also provided an opportunity to view the demonstration and were as enthusiastic as the pupils. Questionnaires UAS questionnaire The general consensus from other students who were on the UAS was that they and the schools they worked with had a very positive experience. The questionnaire was completed by five UAS students. Most of the students (4/5) shadowed the teacher before starting their own teaching. This would have given them the chance to evaluate the confidence, knowledge and lesson styles, etc. of the teacher.

As can be seen from Figure 4, more of the teacher’s were confident than weren’t. The reason for this was either down to the science background of one of the teacher’s (they had a degree in science engineering) or down to a large amount of teaching experiencing (one had taught for 25 years). The teacher with the degree in science engineering was quite apt when it came to science knowledge, as was one other teacher; two teachers were judged not have a very good knowledge of science. The teaching techniques for most of the classes didn’t vary greatly with most teachers opting to use paper-based (e. g.

worksheets, books, etc. ) and computer-based (e. g. looking up articles/videos on the internet) activities over practical activities. This also shaped the lesson structures which was described in one school as being “very lecture style”. The lack of practical work – which would have been hands-on and exciting for pupils – also meant that there wasn’t much group work involved. Another disadvantage of this is that group work encourages pupils to help other pupils and allows them to appreciate each other’s ability in a subject area opening discussion between pupils rather than limiting it to between the teacher and pupils.

It can often be daunting to ask questions in front of classmates and therefore it is often good to develop the chemistry of groups to encourage information flow between pupils. Page 20 of 37 Since most of the science lessons were not taught in a practical manner, it is not surprising that the science resources of thes schools need not contain more than books though one school these books, did have a dedicated “science cupboard”. There were a lot of resources at SPRCPS but they were poorly organised and therefore difficult to locate equipment.

Figure 4: UAS students’ perception of the normal teacher’s qualities This figure summarises the responses to the questionnaire about how the students who shadowed the usual teacher felt about their certain characteristics and the availability of resources. Confiden and science Confidence knowledge were measured mostly by responses that had a “yes” or “no” answer. Teaching techniques were judge by variety therefore mostly paper paper-based lessons would be considered negative. Lesson structures were also . judged by variety and science resources by availability.

ce As well as bringing subject expertise, and ease with teaching the subject that they were (Murphy, Beggs, Carlisle, & Greenwood, 2004) another advantage of having a student from UAS was 2004), that some financial support was provided towards the cost of teaching resources. This meant that inancial pupils who may have been less familiar with practical activities were given that opportunity and this would have effected not only the structure of lessons, making it easier to focus, but also the easier enthusiasm of the pupils towards science.

One of the important things to note is the difference in having a younger person or a student teach pupils. Pupils may relate more with students than teachers as they are both young and in education (Goebel & Cashen, 1979) and therefore will be happier to ask question Students also questions. don’t possess the same authority as teachers and therefore the divide between themselves and students is not as vast. Additional the generation gap is also not as wide, thereby creating the Additionally, , potential for a rapport to be built faster or more strongly. Figure 5 summarises how the pupils responded to the UAS teacher.

Page 21 of 37 Figure 5 How the pupils at each of the UAS student’ schools responded to their presence As in Figure 4, the responses were judged to be either positive or negative. For the “using different teaching techniques”, negatively indicates that either it was unknown as to how the normal teacher teac teaches or that different techniques were not used. Also having teachers that have backgrounds in the fields they are teaching would make the interaction easier too. Not only can questions be aimed at the UAS students but, due to the background in more general science , questions in bro


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