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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 02 January 2004 - 04:19 PM

In today’s TES Jonathan Osborne, professor of science education at King’s College, London, claims that the pressure to do well in assessment meant that coursework investigations were now being taught as a set of “receipe-like steps” that have little to do with proper scientific exploration.

Osborne argues that assessment of investigation is dominated by just three experiments: measuring the resistance of a wire, the rates of chemical reaction and the rate of osmosis in a potato. Osborne adds: “How can such a limited set of practicals develop or exemplify the wide range of skills and scientific practices that constitute science… It’s a bit like reducing the teaching of performance in music to three standard scales on a recorder.”

#2 Max dAyala

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Posted 02 January 2004 - 11:20 PM

Haven't read the article, but here are my views.

In today’s TES Jonathan Osborne, professor of science education at King’s College, London, claims that the pressure to do well in assessment meant that coursework investigations were now being taught as a set of “receipe-like steps” that have little to do with proper scientific exploration.


True.

1. Students don't understand the science behind the investigation, so they can't possibly carry out a "proper scientific exploration." At best they will understand the basics of the investigation once they have finished it.

2. After 5 years at High School (and before that at Primary level) of being taught how to do investigations many students still find the basic principles incomprehensible.


Osborne argues that assessment of investigation is dominated by just three experiments: measuring the resistance of a wire, the rates of chemical reaction and the rate of osmosis in a potato. Osborne adds: “How can such a limited set of practicals develop or exemplify the wide range of skills and scientific practices that constitute science… It’s a bit like reducing the teaching of performance in music to three standard scales on a recorder.”


If this was all the practical work they did it would be true. But the Investigations are just the assessment side of practical work. Practical work is (or should be) carried out in the majority of lessons.

The practical assessment should be scrapped, but not for the reasons quoted above.

Max

#3 Guest_Adrian Dingle_*

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Posted 03 January 2004 - 03:24 AM

Like Max, I have not read the article, but here's my related view.

There are two separate threads to my take.

1. The fault lies in the system. If it is true that teachers, schools and students are under ever increasing pressure to produce results, and the system allows them to re-produce utterly uninspirational coursework and still get those excellent results, then the system is broken. I assume that the same old stuff turns up time and time again because it is solid work that scores well against the criteria that have been laid down. If the criteria remain unchallenging there is little or no incentive for under pressure students and teachers to do anything original or different. It's up to the exam boards and ultimately the QCA to change that.

2. My personal views on science lab work are usually extremely unpopular. I am a chemistry teacher who dislikes doing practical experiments. The reason? Well, I only want to deal with experiments that produce "perfect data" and that do not contradict any theory that I am teaching. The students often lack the academic maturity and intellect to understand and interpret experiments that "don't work", and this can lead to horrible confusion over the theory I am attempting to get them to learn. I know this usually upsets other chemistry educators, but this is how I justify it.

In high school we are NOT conducting real life scientific inquiry, we are NOT performing experiments that we do not know the answers to, and we are NOT doing scientific research. Nor should we be. High school is not the place to attempt to re-produce "real science", it's simply inappropriate on so many levels.

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#4 Nick Falk

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Posted 07 January 2004 - 12:02 AM

I am old enough to remember the pre-national curriculum days and the excitement initially generated by the idea that 'process' should drive teaching and learning in science. On reflection the lack of balance between content, context and process was somewhat naďve. The National Curriculum for Science drove the pendulum back the other way while trying to maintain some vision of students as scientists able to apply the scientific method. The result for those who remember was usually a pointless and unwieldy exercise of box ticking.

Some sense may have prevailed and assessment is now a little easier but we seem to have lost any real vision as to the purpose of investigative work. The old 'steps in an investigation model' is now geared to grade achievement without real understanding. It does a disservice to those students who continue to study sciences beyond GCSE.

#5 Maggie Jarvis

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 05:42 PM

coursework investigations were now being taught as a set of “receipe-like steps” that have little to do with proper scientific exploration.

I wholeheartedly agree with this view of the current so called 'scientific investigation' that we are all having to put our GCSE students through. It has become a totally meaningless exercise that takes up vast amounts of time and energy on the part of both staff and students, and I agree with Max that it should be scrapped in its current form. :D
However, I do feel that practical work is a vital part of a science teacher's work as it has such a hugely motivating effect on many students. If all science was taught by 'chalk and talk', reading text books and the like, the response from classes I teach would be 'it's boring'! What would that do for the future of science? Equally, would useful scientific advances be made if there was no lab work carried out to test the theories? Our future scientists need to have practical skills don't they, so surely we are the ones who must lay the foundations for these.
I am very well aware that it is easy to complain that 'scientific investigation' isn't worth doing but at the same time we, as science educators, have to decide on a more useful type of exercise to replace it as it should, surely, be considered an extremely important part of science teaching.
So come on colleagues, lets do some positive thinking instead of whinging. Perhaps we might have some influence on changing the system!
What about a short 'skills' examination .... ? Any thoughts (positive ones please!)? :D

#6 Max dAyala

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 10:52 PM

As I see it the assessment system fails because it causes too much distress to many students. I've never seen a well motivated student complete an investigation in class. They all spend hours at home writing them up. The whole process is repeated again and again until they have enough good marks for their portfolio. This is usually towards the end of the assessment period in year 11. As much as I like the principles of science coursework the current assessment it is just not effective in terms of student or teacher time.

If you look at the assessment criteria most of the marks are for "theory" in either planning, analysing or evaluating scientific information. So this could easily be assessed in a traditional written exam. In terms of student and teacher time this would be much more effective.

Personally I would prefer a "practical" assessment to be made and assessed internally by individual schools, with moderation of the work as at present. So in effect a single practical exam. At the moment most students work in groups so the coursework is often not a very good indicator of an individual's practical ability.

Investigative work is currently 20% of the GCSE.

So a single in-house practical exam would be worth about 8/30ths of this.

A single theory paper on practical theory would be the other 22/30ths.

Max

#7 Max dAyala

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 11:04 PM

There is one other thing I was going to add. The current assessment system fails to give any marks for being inventive or original. This is a great shame.

So the "coursework" is not really individual coursework so much as individually assessed practical tasks, where each task has a limited set of practical options that will produce "good" results.

Max

#8 Giuseppa Mauro

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Posted 12 January 2004 - 07:49 PM

I am graduated in Chemistry and teach Chemistry.
It looks that Chemistry everywhere represents a problem for students. We teachers year by year try to apply different methodologies and different approaches, hoping that the results will improve,
but often they are not what we expect.
The students,whatever the age or the level school, do not orient themselves well in the scientific field and particularly in Chemistry that is an experimental science.

I agree with the colleagues who consider essential the experimental activity to comprehend Chemistry. But the experiment must give reliable results otherwise the students get confused.
So it is important to select,in relation to the instruments we have, those experiments whose results contribute to make clear and consolidate the theoretical Knowledge.
Even the use of the informatic instruments,in my opinion, should be realized only when the students have become conscious of the mechanism of the process.

In my opinion the primary cause of this frustrating condition originates from the fact that the scientific education of the students should start since when the children initiate their school life.
The children should not look but act, experimenting themselves,understand the cause/effect of a phenomenon or of the coursework and they must be stimulated mentally.
It is essential to build in them the logical process.
The children,I think, have to use their head.
What your opinion?
Giuseppa Mauro

#9 Guest_Adrian Dingle_*

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Posted 13 January 2004 - 03:28 AM

I have to reiterate what I've said above.

1. As long as the whole educational system places so much emphasis on exam grades, and those grades can be achieved with bland, recipe book labs, then there is no incentive for the masses to change.

2. If we attempted to teach real research type science in high school the result would be kids with no fundamentals to back up their stunning problem solving, making them as useless to the scientific world (but in a different way) as the kids who are coming out of school now.

My argument would always be for putting the fundamental learning first (in school) and leaving the problem solving to be learned later.

#10 Max dAyala

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Posted 13 January 2004 - 12:46 PM

But the experiment must give reliable results otherwise the students get confused. So it is important to select,in relation to the instruments we have, those experiments whose results contribute to make clear and consolidate the theoretical Knowledge.


In my experience this is what most teachers do.

The children should not look but act, experimenting themselves,understand the cause/effect of a phenomenon or of the coursework and they must be stimulated mentally.


In theory this would be good but not all students have a liking for investigative work. Some will get bored after ten minutes while others could keep going for several days if you left them. So in a typical teaching environment investigative science that is student led is difficult. On top of this most of the students don't have enough science knowledge to understand what they find out. By the start of A level (16+) I find that students just about have enough knowledge to carry out investigative work. A few exceptional students seem to get to grips with the principles by Year 8 (13), although they usually do not have enough basic knowledge to explain things.


1. As long as the whole educational system places so much emphasis on exam grades, and those grades can be achieved with bland, recipe book labs, then there is no incentive for the masses to change.


Adrian, for UK GCSE shouldn't this be:

As long as the whole educational system places so much emphasis on exam grades, and 20% of those grades can be achieved with bland, recipe book labs, the other 80% with bland recipe book theory, then there is no incentive for the masses to change.

I would have thought the theory would be much more "recipe book" than the practical, because the "theory" always works.

Max

#11 Guest_Adrian Dingle_*

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Posted 13 January 2004 - 03:12 PM

Max

I think the point is this.

Theory will inevitably be (relatively) bland stuff, like you say, that's its very nature, but it's up to the exam boards, and ultimately the QCA or the NC, to force students and teachers into making the other 20% more creative. Without specifically penalizing students for lack of inspiration nothing is likely to change. There HAS to be an incentive for change otherwise it's all "mouth and no trousers", so to speak!

#12 Maggie Jarvis

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Posted 13 January 2004 - 05:56 PM

it's up to the exam boards, and ultimately the QCA or the NC, to force students and teachers into making the other 20% more creative.


Oh dear, more prescriptive stuff from the exam boards is not what we need! WE are at the daily chalk face, WE should try to be a bit more creative in our thinking of what our teaching is really about.

[Personally I would prefer a "practical" assessment to be made and assessed internally by individual schools, with moderation of the work as at present. So in effect a single practical exam. At the moment most students work in groups so the coursework is often not a very good indicator of an individual's practical ability.

Investigative work is currently 20% of the GCSE.

So a single in-house practical exam would be worth about 8/30ths of this.

A single theory paper on practical theory would be the other 22/30ths.]

A more workable idea indeed. The 'skills' teaching allows students to become competent in using a wide variety of scientific apparatus and making accurate readings...surely basic 'tools of the trade' for any scientist at any level?

I am unclear about the 8/30ths - how did you arrive at this figure?

I believe that 'skills' should be given a higher proportion of marks to demonstrate that they have significant importance within science study and research.

'Practical theory' is already tested in many terminal GCSE papers to some extent. Do we really need an additional paper for this alone?

Perhaps we should consider getting rid of some of the purely mathematical questions that are often worth an inordinate number of marks at GCSE, and don't test scientific understanding at all but simply the ability to manipulate figures and formulae!

#13 Guest_Adrian Dingle_*

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Posted 13 January 2004 - 06:06 PM

Oh dear, more prescriptive stuff from the exam boards is not what we need!  WE are at the daily chalk face, WE should try to be a bit more creative in our thinking of what our teaching is really about.


Well, that's all well and good if you are;

a. A motivated and competent teacher, and
b. A motivated and competent teacher that has a real interest in developing inspirational ideas related to labs and coursework.

I have met quite literally dozens of teachers who do not fit into category a., and I certainly don't fit into category b. It may be argued that as a person who does fit into category a., I ought to be in category b. too, but I'm afraid I'm not. If this is such an important aspect of scientific education, then perhaps I should be forced into b. by the QCA, the NC and the Exam Boards, via the syllabus.

#14 Nick Falk

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Posted 14 January 2004 - 10:52 PM

Getting back to practicalities. I have spent sometime thinking this evening about a suitable chemistry investigation for year 11 that can be easily assessed and that meets the grade criteria. Remember - if it is too creative it's hard to mark. No real learning here please! :rolleyes:

#15 Giuseppa Mauro

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 08:10 PM

Dear Max,
when the children start their school life do not have any idea about scientific concepts, manipulation of materials,use of scientific instrumets or other subjects. The knowledge they have is only the spontaneous one;what they have listened (sometime) in the family or through the T.V. .

It is six years (year by year in the same class) that a colleague of mine and I work with the children (age 41/2-5 ) and the results are surprisingly positive.
The spontaneous knowledge is substituted gradually by the scientific knowledge,not only in relation to the concepts,but also in the practical work that actually helps to understand better the context. They become more and more confident with the manipulation of the materials and the use of the scientific instruments.
The kids comprehend and apprehend more than what we suppose and/or expect.
These children later will not have the problems we face in the junior high and high school..
Obviously in every class some pupils learn easily,others do not and the last ones do not have to be let behind.

Giuseppa Mauro




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