Eleonora Crovato revels in those lightbulb moments when students make connections with their previous learning. In this unusual year for year 6 to year 7 transition, Elenora shares what she will be doing to prepare for September.
Every September I ask my new batch of year 7s the same question: what kind of science experiments did you do in primary? I’m always staggered at the variety of answers I get: the full spectrum is covered, from looking at grains of rice to discuss states of matter to a full heart dissection.
It’s a simple question but it provides a great insight into what the children have done (or, should we perhaps say, have retained) from their previous science lessons. Although I teach in a secondary school, my QTS was gained in primary, so I have experienced first hand what the children do within their primary science curriculum; primary teachers have a vast body of knowledge to cover in what is often a limited amount of time and they mostly do a fantastic job of it.
A surprising shift in prominence
However, my concern as a secondary science teacher is that science in primary seems to be relegated to a space crammed with loads of others things such as history, geography, art, DT, and so on, and then becomes a prominent subject in secondary school. Science SATs were scrapped in 2009 and an article from TES discusses the fact that following that, science lost its previously held status. (You can read the article here.)
I put out a tweet a while back asking any primary teachers to share the amount of time they dedicate to science; the trend seems to be that science is done in around two hours, or an afternoon, every week. This mirrors my own experience of KS2, where we had a dedicated teacher covering science, which also provided the classroom teacher with their PPA time. However, my own experience of KS1 was much different, and I felt that science had been mostly forgotten; again, I need to stress that this seems mainly the consequence of a very crowded primary curriculum, rather than a conscious decision.
Preparations for September
Yet here we are with a new incoming batch of year 7s who will have to take science at GCSE level, whether they like it or not (and some definitely don’t.)
And this batch is different from the previous ones: lockdown has impacted not only their year 6 learning, but their year 5 too. It’s inevitable that there will be knowledge gaps due to an array of reasons, including access issues and remote learning provision. Moreover, it’s hard to distinguish between the knowledge that children might have genuinely forgotten (the dreaded forgetting curve) or never heard of, so how can we bridge the gap between KS2 and KS3 successfully? This is important especially now, with our schools slowly coming out of COVID measures.
At my school, we included a couple of topics from the UKS2 curriculum as part of our own scheme of work for this year. For example, we made links between the heart and the circulatory system and levels of organisation in a living organism. But was that enough?
As I always tell the children in my classroom, every year we study science we go over many of the topics we’ve seen previously, but in more depth. In that sense, science is a fantastic subject for linking across topics and adding to existing schema and , often enough, the children themselves make those links with some truly wonderful ‘lightbulb moments’. I want to harness as many of those moments as I can.
A good place to start
Christopher Such (@suchmo83) has put together a remarkable document which I can only rightfully label as a labour of love and devotion for science in primary teaching, where he identifies ‘The big ideas in science’. He has then linked them directly to the NC learning objectives. (You can find all you need here.) This is an amazing document which I have used in my lesson planning in term 1 and term 2 this year. I will use this resource again this year, only this time I will be looking at the year 5 science content as well as year 6. In practice, I will use some of the year 5 content on forces and materials and I will still use year 6 content on the heart and circulatory system to link new knowledge from year 7.
I hope that this will achieve two purposes. Firstly, the chance for children to revisit their knowledge and add to their existing schema, especially if they have been able to take advantage of their school remote provision. Secondly, the chance to experience those ‘lightbulb moments’ where a child realises where they might have encountered similar information before; after all, every teacher I know does an inner air punch every time something like that happens.