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I was using the 8/30 marks from the practical assessments (8 marks of Obtaining Evidence) as the rough proportion of marks for "hands on" practical ability. Although, all 8 marks are not for practical work but for drawing and labelling a correct table of results etc. But some marks can also be awarded in the Planning stage when preliminary investigative work has been carried out.

As you say, there are many possible ways that the understanding of practical science could be tested and added to or integrated into the current exams.


I am sure you are doing great work with those young children. I've not taught that age range but I don't think different teaching approaches would make much difference to the ability of students by age 15/16 to cope with the current UK practical assessment. In the UK the investigative science method is started on at Primary age range anyway and they still find it difficult.

I recently realised that the principles of scientific investigation apply to just about any subject where you have to research material and then make a judgement on it. It could apply to historical research or just about anything else. Essentially it is about being thorough in your gathering of relevant evidence, analysing it, making conclusions, and evaluating the fairness and worth of everything you have done. I just have to look at the numerous pages of dross I have to search through on the net when looking for information to see that in most walks of life people either are unable or unwilling to apply these principles.


I assume you mean other than the standard ones such as rates, electrolysis, combustion of alcohols etc. One interesting investigation I carried out (just once a long time ago!) was the one about growing crystals. It requires a lot of time and experimenting to get good results but can work well. I'd have to look up the name of the crystals, but I found that if you melted them and put them between two sheets of glass (to constrain them to growing in 2 dimensions) you could get some very nice results. Not a straightforward 5 results repeat 3 times and draw a graph investigation, but probably all the better for that.


8886 GCSE Science Coursework : www.8886.co.uk

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Atkins Diet

There was an interesting Horizon program on BBC2 last night (22 Jan) about The Atkins diet. Lots of good ideas about the principles of scientific investigation in a topical context. (E.g. having identical twins in sealed chambers for a week. One on a low fat diet, one on the Atkins diet. Taking lots of measurements and then making conclusions and evaluating the experiment.) Selected highlights could be useful as a classroom resource for discussion.

Maybe you could get them to plan an investigation into measuring the phenomenon of "Atkins breath" ?????


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I'm a sixth grade teacher (11 and 12 year olds) in the states and am reading your discussion with interest. In my school we have done a lot of thinking and talking as science teachers about what real learning in science looks like.

Some realizations we have had about science, hands-on experiments and assessment

1.There are too many topics in science for any one teacher to fully teach any student. We have divided our year into trimesters, where we look at matter one trimester, life the next and energy the last. We use FOSS kits, which follow national standards. They have their drawbacks, but definitely focus on challenging student thinking and forcing them to back up their thinking with experience. :rolleyes:

2. Perhaps dealing with one idea in-depth as opposed to many ideas in small ways is important. We try to look at content through the ideas of systems thinking and make a point of giving students experiences with changes in scale and time.

3. The lower grades are places for students to acquire some of the fundamental ideas about their world and how it might work. These fundamentals are the foundation of the work you do at the higher grades. I'd love to hear what concepts/skills you wish students have more experience with in order to better prepare them for your classes/content.

4. <_< Hands-on labs are a pain for teachers, but they are of value to students. Those learners who take in ideas best kinesthetically gain here, while those who aren't "doers" don't suffer that much. Many of my students who are identified with learning difficulties excel at lab work and are some of my most creative thinkers.

5. Finally, thanks to whoever nodded to the creative thinkers. They have contributed the most to science and scientific thinking, and may not have done that well on their higher level science exams! Ingrid

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Do you think that one trimester allows the students to apprehend about the contents? Energy is the topic,you write, of the last trimester.Every phenomenon in science (physics or chemistry) implies the use of energy and so the life. What about to put this topic at the last?

How can they build their knowledge logically?

In relation to the laboratory activity,it is very important in science and helps the pupils to understand better the theoretical concepts acquired, besoides the fact that they are more stimulated mentally.

In my opinion the knowledge must be built gradually accompanied with the lab pratice. :rolleyes:

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We seem to have moved away from the necessity and relevance of coursework in examined subject and now has some focus on experimental work as a vehicle for effective learning and understanding of scientific concepts.

How to maximise the benefits of experimental work has been a challenge since the introduction of Nuffield Science Courses in the 1960’s. Then learning by doing was the recommended approach. This from our perspective now, was destined to fail. Courageous steps were taken by the educational pioneers but much appeared to be done without a real understanding of the nature of learning.

In the 1980’s just prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum the emphasis became process rather than content. This was an interesting idea that understanding could be achieved independent of a knowledge core.

The National Curriculum for Science addressed this imbalance but resulted in the content being excessive and the process element requiring the implementation of almost impossible assessment mechanisms. Process became divorced from content.

We now live with this legacy.

In the end our priority is to help students become proficient, scientifically aware citizens.

Examination success may be a measure of this?????????

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Make science fun – ditch the SATs !

I have been asked to post some ideas under the "debates in education" thread relating to NUT elections but I am also a science teacher who is very concerned at the lack of creativity / excitement / practical activity in too may schools - or as one colleague put it, "why don't science departments smell like they used to ?" !

I know this might be at a tangent to your current debate - but here's something I contributed to another debate on SATs:

Government Ministers worry that too many school students appear to be turned off science and that there is a dire shortage of science graduates wanting to teach. Yet they are sticking to the KS3 SATs that have helped create the dull and dreary science curriculum taught in far too many secondary schools.

As a science teacher, I admit I might be biased, but didn’t science sometimes used to be fun? Even if you didn’t get every equation, wasn’t there a chance to experiment, to find things out for yourself ?

Now, with the pressure of SATs, the textbook is given far more importance than the tripod. SATs don’t just destroy creativity in English. SATs have forced science teachers to concentrate on cramming kids with facts to be tested rather than taking time to investigate or to pursue things that interest the class and the teacher. No wonder many pupils find it boring; many teachers do as well !

Far from retreating, the Government now say they want to give Key Stage 3 tests even more importance by publishing separate league tables for 14-year olds. That will mean more effort spent on “identifying the target group” for booster classes and coaching for the tests rather than meeting the needs of every pupil. We’ve all got to say that enough is enough !

We mustn’t let anyone get the false impression that KS3 SATs are really only a problem in English. In the NUT’s recent survey over half of Year 9 science teachers thought SATs were a bad way of evaluating pupil progress, over three-quarters that they did not help diagnose pupils’ learning needs.

It's time science teachers spoke up - and in the Unions - about how to make a change in the science curriculum.

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I have to agree that science needs to be fun, which is also an argument for labs that are meaningful. As a student, there is a benefit when labs don't turn out the way you thought they would. You need to re-examine what you thought was true about the world and how you believed it worked.

Shattering misconceptions, broadening experiences, promoting teamwork and encouraging greater literacy with writing up lab procedures, (especially the conclusion section), are also arguments for labs. But let's not forget that labs are also the foundations for basic content building that is essential for greater understandings of huge concepts.

For example, density is a concept that students have difficulty understanding, (I teach 11 and 12 year olds), but when they have a hands-on experience, I can hook back to that lab experience to help them make a connection. When yeast metabolizes sugar in a plastic bag and releases carbon dioxide, making the bag puffy, I can connect it to the carbon dioxide cycle on this planet.

Bottom line- science can be interesting and teach important content. Creativity and knowledge on the part of the teacher are important. An educator must always be able to explain why he or she is doing the lab. How does it connect to the bigger goal of creating scientifically literate as well as just plain literate students? I'm now getting off my soapbox. :rolleyes: Ingrid

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I remember a previous Head Teacher of mine commenting that he had spent the day with other intelligent people working hard at devising ways to do the impossible. The directive, of course, had been initiated in some government department.

Isn’t this part of the problem that although we as teachers have considerable experience and expertise we still ultimately do as we are told? We’re conformists.

Perhaps to counter this, I still enjoy and come back to the job refreshed when I attend a workshop/conference where my existing ideas about teaching and learning are challenged. I don’t always know best but there some people in influential positions who don’t either.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Martin's comment...

"why don't science departments smell like they used to ?" !

...indeed! Of course a lot of the smells came about from experiments that are largely banned now! Many of the smelly ones were done in an open laboratory rather than in the fume cupboard, and there was no hint of problems related to handling offal in biology lessons! 'Health and safety' has a lot to answer for. I sometimes wonder how us old science teachers have survived all the exposure to the hazardous substances that we took for granted as being a normal part of our teaching. :o

To go off on another tangent - we have had a discussion today about the value of using data logging equipment with 11 - 16 year old science students. Is it my imagination or have the 'powers that be' gone rather quiet on this after all the hype that every child should be using such apparatus? Is everyone out there frantically using it in as many lessons as possible? Is it enthusing students? Do they indeed understand what they are doing?

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I sometimes wonder how us old science teachers have survived all the exposure to the hazardous substances that we took for granted as being a normal part of our teaching.

As a young chemistry teacher (a few years ago) attending subject inset courses I often wondered why there did not seem to be many old chemistry teachers.

To be on the safe side I now teach mostly ICT. :D

On the other subject of data logging. 30 students 7 data loggers - even a circus of activities was ludicrous. The principle is probably sound, access to sufficient functioning pieces of equipment is the problem.

Edited by Nick Falk
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  • 3 months later...

It is apparently quite acceptable to use simulation software for aspects of GCSE coursework, negating the need to actually do any hands on practical work. This gem has come from an exam board's training session and has therefore, understandably, been taken on board by some teachers. We have some software that can be used in this way and it is quite good to a limited extent.

Has anyone else used such software to conduct coursework exercises? What sort of feedback, if any, has been received from moderators? :lol:

Edited by Maggie Jarvis
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Like any other coursework you have to be able to work out the contribution provided by the student, and the contribution provided by the software. If the software does most of the work the students are limited to a low maximum mark. The more choice the students have in setting up the simulation the more likely it is that they can gain high marks. You would have to evaluate each piece of software on its own merits.

For example, if the simulation produces near perfect results and automatically generates a graph with best fit line the students have done next to nothing themselves. So you can't give them marks for it. There has to be an appropriate level of data processing and analysis at an individual student level.

Given a suitable program I am sure it could work well. I don't have any first hand experience of any simulations so I can't recommend any. :lol:



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Feedback from moderators for simulations. None yet

I submitted material using Crocadile Chemistry software for a neutralisation investigation last year for the first time.

Incidently, I have noticed that the students skills in using the real thing seem better aftera training session on the simulation.

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We have some software that simulates a limited variety of the usual coursework pieces including resistance, photosynthesis and rates of reaction. We don't tend to use this for whole pieces, rather, as you say Nick, for practice before hand to help with the 'planning and predicting' bits in particular. We have also used it to help provide some data for absentees to work with when they miss all the actual hands on practical sessions.

No moderator has commented on our limited use of simulations to date - perhaps there is so little of it in our submitted sample that it isn't that noticeable.

I don't feel that our software is sufficiently sophisticated to respond to the number variables that a student is likely to introduce into their own work. It is all a bit too 'safe', so results obtained are too perfect. Max is right in saying:

The more choice the students have in setting up the simulation the more likely it is that they can gain high marks.

I do think that it is a potential development area, however, if someone has the time, interest, and scientific and technical expertise!

Anyone out there, maybe? ;)

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Simulations are mentioned in the Reports from last year:

From the AQA June 2003 GCSE Report, Double Award, Spec B

(I downloaded this from their web site.)

Computer simulations and ICT

The changes to the Mark Descriptors this year specifically enabled computer simulations and web searches to be added to the range of techniques which could be used for investigations. However, the moderators saw very little evidence of such techniques being used.

If computer simulations are used, it is important to remember that the candidate must be allowed to make the same decisions that would have to be made in a 'real life' situation, e.g. choice of equipment, the number and range of readings to be made, and the degree of accuracy with which readings are taken. Programmes that introduce random errors into the readings are more suitable than those that consistently produce exactly the same results.

A few centres were using computer simulations as a method of carrying out preliminary work prior to the main investigation. The advice given however is that, if the main investigation consists of a 'hands-on' approach using laboratory equipment, then so should the preliminary work.

Web searches pose a particular problem with regard to preliminary work. In some cases it may be possible for the candidate to review a number of different sites before selecting the one or ones that are going to be used; it may then be possible to classify this as preliminary work. As with all preliminary work, however, the candidate should indicate how the results of the preliminary work have helped to formulate the final plan.

Someone mentioned simulations in another thread, including one available on the web (subscription I think.) The best bet would be to use an existing simulation package if it can be made to work within the GCSE mark system. A good simulation package is a hefty piece of software and would require a considerable investment in money to write it. I'm not sure anyone would consider writing one aimed just at GCSE Coursework because it is unlikely to make much money. If the government overhauls the coursework component, as is rumoured to be the case, then only a fool would sit down and waste lots of time and money on a product that they may not have a market for in 1 or 2 years time.


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