Science is a core subject (isn’t it?)

Gary Wood

Gary Wood

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26/04/2018


Dr Fran, Author of Love to Investigate, explores ways to put science at the heart of a crowded curriculum. Here she sets out some of the things you can do to ensure science remains the third core subject in your school.

With the emphasis in primary education on the subjects of English and maths, you might be forgiven for thinking that science is not a core subject. But guess what? It is. So, why is there so little time devoted to it, and how can we make sure that this important subject is put back at the heart of the curriculum?

Time

The timetable is a crowded place. Fitting all the subjects of the national curriculum into your weekly or even termly plans is not easy to do. Many schools have a timetable hour of science a week; some are more flexible and do more. If we look at the common ‘hour a week’ model, then, on the positive side, these children are getting a regular helping of science in their school week, On the negative side, the constraint to an hour can hinder the natural progression of an investigation and leave pupils and teachers feeling frustrated if it can’t be completed.

Recommendations for making the most of the time you have

Work scientifically

If an hour a week is all you’ve got, reserve it for ‘working scientifically’. This will ensure that children develop the skills for planning, carrying out and analysing an investigation. Revisiting the skills on a weekly basis will consolidate their skills and improve their confidence. If possible, embed the required scientific knowledge into your investigations. By doing this, children will observe the knowledge first hand, which will help them to recall this knowledge at a later date. Children are innately curious. By teaching them science skills, we give them the tools they need to develop curiosity.

Teach content across the curriculum

Science can give a range of excellent contexts for cross-curricular learning. Take, for example, opportunities to look at science in the media. News stories can offer a brilliant starting point for ethical debate such as the recent controversy about plastic waste and our oceans.

Science can also be an excellent way for children to use and apply their literacy skills. For example, scientific reports and science-themed non-fiction books can provide challenging reading material that introduces children to a range of technical vocabulary.

Finally, every day, natural phenomena can provide plenty of serendipitous moments for scientific discussion. For example, questions such as ‘Why is the Sun bright orange?’ or ‘Why are the leaves falling off the trees?’ are excellent starting points for scientific debate.

Resources

If you are science lead, you are probably a bit of a hoarder. This is often something science leaders learn out of necessity. I am no exception. I can often disgust or bemuse my friends, family and colleagues by collecting the most unusual items (even from bins and skips) that I think could be used in some investigation or as a talking point. I even have my granny’s old nicotine-stained false teeth in case I find myself in the position of having to demonstrate the impact of smoking to a class of Year 6 children (I’m not kidding).

If you don’t want to build an extension to your science cupboard, I would highly recomment using your contacts in local secondary schools, university science departments or your regional STEM centres for help with resources of which most of us could only dream. Over the years, I have borrowed X-rays, anatomical models, skulls (including a real human one), beautiful glassware, data loggers, stethoscopes and a hair-raising Van der Graaf generator.

Find an expert

If you feel a little light in the knowledge of a specific aspect of science and don’t have the time or means to track down some valuable CPD, then it’s worth noting that you can also borrow actual, real scientists too.

Most university science departments have an obligation to do some outreach with schools in their area – contact the university outreach office near you for details, And if you haven’t heard of STEM Ambassadors, these are volunteers, with a background in science, technology, engineering or maths who will deliver sessions on a theme of your choosing – contact your regional STEM centre to find out more. It’s also worth putting a call out to parents, to find out if any of them work in scientific industries and are willing to come and talk to the children; or local healthcare providers, as they will often offer their time for free.

Subject specialism

In 2014, more challenging topics such as ‘Evolution and inheritance’ were added to the primary curriculum. This resulted in some teachers feeling somewhat lacking in the necessary subject knowledge to tackle these topics effectively. Whilst a degree in science could be beneficial, especially when children ask questions that take learning off on an entirely different tangent, in my experience, it is more important for a teacher to be enthusiastic about science rather than being a science super-brain. If you can’t answer a question, say so, then find out together, set it as a home learning task!

Science weeks

Many schools use National Science Week as an opportunity to have an extended and often whole-school focus on science. These focus weeks can be used to concentrate on a particular theme, investigation skills or ‘big questions’. Obviously, you don’t need to wait until March to have a ‘science week’, but there are many free resources, workshops and lectures available during this week from a whole range of providers.

Conclusion

Science teaches children about themselves and the world around them. It fosters curiosity, uses literacy and numeracy skills in context and is ‘play with purpose’. What’s not to like!

Dr Fran Barnes, 26th April 2018