The lesson I observed was part theory, part practical demonstration and had a qualified teacher, one PGCE Science student assisting and myself observing.
The lesson began with a starter activity (DCFS 2008) where the teacher asked the students what they thought the aim of the lesson was going to be, what an investigation was and from drawing on knowledge they gained from their previous lessons on how elements react with water and how they thought the same elements would react with oxygen. The pupils were asked to discuss within their set groups of 2-3 pupils and come up with a few ideas while the PGCE student walked around the class asking the pupils what they had come up with. The importance of pupil-pupil interaction is stressed by Lemke (1990) as a way for pupils to share their own ideas and to gain a better understanding of those ideas. While the pupils were discussing the task, the teacher used the interactive white board to put up a number of key words; reactivity, risk assessment, element, hazard, safety, variable and constant which the pupils were again asked to brainstorm before the practical demonstration took place. Although I didn’t pick up on it at the time, this was to be scaffolding for a task set later in the lesson.
The main part of the lesson was a practical demonstration. The teacher asked for five volunteers to take part in the demonstration. The teacher had a Bunsen burner set up with five different metal filing samples. These were placed onto a spoon and each pupil was allowed to burn a different sample. After each sample was burned, the teacher asked what they had observed, ie if there were sparks, the colour of the burning flame and the colour of the residue. The pupils filled their observations into a table . I saw this as a good scaffolding technique for the pupils next task which was to design their own firework and to state which element(s) they would use to produce the colours and sparkles, Bruner (1985) “The tutor in effect performs the critical functioning of ‘scaffolding’ the learning task to make it possible for the child to…internalise external knowledge.” This task again, gave pupils the opportunity to share their own ideas and knowledge.
The class was handed over to the PGCE student to give the plenary. During the plenary, the main points were put up using Powerpoint and the interactive whiteboard. The trainee went over the points asking the pupils what they had learned, and then putting emphasis on their answers which were right. The ‘design a firework’ task was to be finished as homework.
If I were to have been a pupil in this lesson I believe I would have enjoyed it. There was a range of teaching styles used, helping to keep the class motivated and focused on the lesson. Kyriacou (2001) stated that “an awareness of different learning styles can help teachers to sustain motivation by encouraging and facilitating pupils’ use of preferred styles but also providing support when using alternative approaches.” The practical session not only made the lesson more enjoyable but also aided in the understanding of the concepts being studied and acted as a good scaffolding for the written task.
I had the opportunity to observe the same topic being taught by a different teacher to the same age group. This lesson relied solely on the interactive whiteboard being used by the teacher to effectively ‘ream’ off the information required. There was much less interaction with the class, and although questions were asked and tasks given, these were to be completed and thought about by the pupils on their own, with no pupil-pupil talk. The practical was demonstrated by the teacher, again with no pupil interaction. This class was much rowdier than the first class I observed and I think this could be attributed to the lack of variation within the classroom environment. I think that if I was a pupil in this class I would have been less inclined to pay attention and more inclined to keep myself entertained.
The way the starter was presented, positive, encouraging and interactive has given me some good pointers to use during my professional year and from observing a teacher who varies his teaching styles and a PGCE professional year student I now feel more comfortable in the way I will approach teaching.
Bruner, J. (1985). Vygotsky: An historical and conceptual perspective. In J.V.Wertsch (Ed.), Culture, communication and cognition: Vygotskian perspectives. London, Cambridge University Press.
DCFS (2008) The Framework for Secondary Science
Kyriacou, C. (2001) Essential Teaching Skills. Nelson Thornes
Lemke, Jay L. (1990) Talking Science: Language, Learning, and Values. Ablex Publishing Corporation
Year 9 Lesson – Physics: Electricity in Circuits
During a Year 9 class I was able to observe a lesson where a common misconception was voiced and dealt with by the teacher in a way which I feel cleared up the misconception while not putting the pupil down.
The lesson was carried out using a Powerpoint presentation on the interactive whiteboard and began with the starter (DCFS 2008) which was a number of keywords such as voltage, current, flow, transfer, heat, and light. The teacher asked random pupils what the keywords meant and then moved on and asked them to work in pairs to build a simple circuit consisting of a 1.5v battery, a bulb and a switch. He went around the class assisting with any problems which they had until everyone had a working circuit. Throughout, there was a circuit diagram on the whiteboard up to enable the class to see what they needed to make.
Once the class had completed their circuits the teacher moved on to the following question and the subsequent addressing of a common misconception which was raised:
T: Ok, who can tell me where the electricity in the circuit you’ve made comes from and goes to?
P1: It comes from the battery and goes to the light blub.
T: Right, but what do you mean it goes to the light bulb, what happens to it there?
P1: It gets used up as light.
T: Sort of, but it doesn’t get used up does it? What can energy never do?
P2: It can’t be created or destroyed. Um, it can only be transferred to a different type.
T: That’s right, so what does the electrical energy get transferred or conserved in the circuit as?
P1: Um, light.
T: And what else? What else is given off from a bulb – you can feel it remember?
P1: Oh, heat sir!
T: That’s right. Now, one last thing before we move on. Can anyone tell me where the energy COMES from? You’ve already said the battery, but what energy transfer is going on there?
P3: Is it chemical sir?
From listening to the way the teacher handled the misconception I felt confident that the whole class, especially the pupil who had first raised the problem had gone away with a better understanding of the way circuits work and how these concepts link in with other topics which they had studied. With regards to the learning demand, this was clearly established; that everyday the pupils see that energy is used up, whereas in science, energy is only conserved and transferred through different systems. Leach and Scott (2000) use this topic as an example of identifying the learning demand of a group “…a comparison between everyday and scientific notions of energy will provide insights to the nature of the learning demand (for example, in everyday discourse
energy is something which gets ‘used up’; in science, energy is ‘conserved’).” (Leach and Scott, 2000, p8)
After addressing the misconception, the teacher went on to describe how the current flows through the circuit, using visual and descriptive aids, likening the flow of current to the flow of a river. By building on previous topics and introducing new ideas in the way he did, I think it enabled the pupils to grasp the topic more thoroughly. I also believe the way the misconception was handled along with the knowledge gained during the starter, the pupils left the class with a better understanding of the way circuits are used in everyday life.
DCFS (2008) The Framework for Secondary Science
Leach, J and Scott, P. “The concept of learning demand as a tool for designing teaching sequences” Paper prepared for the meeting Research-based teaching sequences, Université Paris VII (2000)
Practical Demonstration and Evaluation
“Many consider practical work to be central to teaching and learning in science. Good quality practical work helps develop pupils’ understanding of scientific processes and concepts, and is high on the list of what pupils enjoy about science, promoting engagement and achievement”
The Royal Society, 2008
The above quote sums up Millar (2004) who argues that practical work is very effective in augmenting other forms of communication in science teaching and that it can increase a pupils understanding of a scientific concept more than just verbal, graphical and pictoral.
During my placement I was lucky enough to observe a number of practical sessions. One which I particularly enjoyed was where I was given the opportunity to assist in performing a practical demonstration. The lesson was not a KS3 lesson, but a Year 10, Set 2, KS4 Chemistry practical. The learning objectives were placed on the board :
1. To know that a solution containing transition metals form coloured precipitates in sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution.
2. Be able to work out which metal is present in solution from the results of a reaction with sodium hydroxide solution
The pupils had already been given a worksheet with the materials and method and were asked to produce a table which they could later fill in with their findings, ie the colour of the precipitate formed with the relevant transition metal. The table was set out as below with my one of my groups findings filled in.
Colour of Precipitate
Blue – slowly turns grey
Dark green – turns orange/brown when left
The class was made up of 32 pupils and I was given a group of 12 to demonstrate the first metal (cobalt) to. After this, the group split into three’s and continued with the rest of the practical. I continued giving guidance to my groups, answering any questions or assisting with the practical side. It was also my role to go through the reaction equations to help the pupils work out what metals were present in the solution as a result of the reaction. I found this much more challenging than the actual practical side. During the practical most of the pupils were comfortable in what they were doing and seemed to have a firm grasp of the practical. When it came to explaining the reaction equations it was evident that there was a greater learning demand as some students were able to build on their previous knowledge and grasped the concepts fairly easily. Others however, had a harder time in understanding how the equations worked and I found myself spending more time with these pupils.
By giving the demonstration to a small group I feel more confident speaking in front of more than just one or two people and I am now looking forward to taking on a bigger role in lessons when we return for the two week placement. Working with the group has also given me an insight into what I will be doing when I work on my curriculum enrichment project. Overall, for a first attempt at giving a practical demonstration and working with different groups, I think I performed quite well and I look forward to improving my teaching techniques, especially when it comes to managing the time spent with pupils of different abilities.
Millar, R. “The role of practical work in the teaching and learning of science” Paper prepared for the meeting: High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision (2004)
The Royal Society, SCOPE, Practical Science (2008) www.royalsociety.org
School and Science Department Report
14/11/08 – 28/11/08
AVA is a voluntary aided Church of England School which caters for students between the ages of 11 and 18. The school is situated in the borough of Enfield and currently has 1099 pupils from over fifty primary schools. With regards to the admissions policy, priority is given to those who regularly attend Church service and approximately half of a year’s new intake is represented as such.
For pastoral purposes, the pupils are grouped into forms which are of mixed ability. They are placed into forms on arrival and stay in those forms until they finish their final GSCE year. With regards to academic groupings, the school puts pupils into sets for Science, Mathematics and English and this occurs at the end of Year 9, with the exception of Mathematics in which the pupils are put into sets in Year 8. Interestingly, with mathematics, although they are placed into sets corresponding to their academic ability, once a week the pupils have one mixed ability class which they take in their normal pastoral form groups up to Year 10. The school has special status as ‘A Specialist School in Mathematics and Computing’ which was awarded in 2004 and is currently undergoing a major programme of refurbishment and new building work.
The number of students from ethnic minority backgrounds is three times the national average and nearly all the students are from areas where there is a higher than average level of social deprivation. The number of ELAs is forty-seven whilst the number of pupils on the SEN register is under fifty, well below the national average percentage.
The Science department consists of 11 staff, 8 permanent teaching staff that are supported by three full time science technicians. The school timetable changes over a two week period and in any given week, Years 7, 8 and 9 will have 3 Science lessons while Years 10 and 11 will have at least one 45 minute lesson of biology, chemistry and physics. The GCSE exam board followed is EDEXCEL and all students study the GCSE in Science with the option to also study for the GCSE Additional Science, leading to two GCSE Science qualifications. All courses are taught in the purpose built labs and all teachers teach all areas up to Year 10 when they move to teach their specialist subject. There are two teachers in the department who teach both chemistry and physics up to A-Level. All subject teachers report to their head of subject and every teacher and technician report to the Head of Science. There are no classroom assistants who work in the department, although in some classes the Head of Science is available as a second teacher.