11-16 science: making the most of Year 9

Oxford Smart Activate

Strictly speaking, Key Stage 3 lasts for three years: spanning Years 7 to 9. But over the last decade, an increasing number of schools have switched to offering a two- or two and a half-year KS3 programme. This has allowed schools to redress the difficulty of covering the lengthy GCSE specification content in only Years 10 and 11 – largely through avoiding curriculum repetition.

A flexible approach to Year 9

Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2 are to be delivered in Years 7 and 8 respectively, and fully cover the KS3 national curriculum as detailed in the Programme of Study. Those schools then following a two-year KS3 programme can progress directly onto GCSE courses at the start of Year 9. Oxford Smart Activate 3 offers a flexible approach for teachers working in schools who dedicate Year 9 (or part of that year) to studying KS3 content.

Oxford Smart Activate 3 consolidates, applies and extends the core concepts and skills from Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2: ensuring that students begin their GCSEs with the skills needed for success and a secure knowledge of KS3 content. This then frees up KS4 curriculum time which may have been required to reteach KS3 knowledge and skills where understanding is not fully secure.

The key focuses of Oxford Smart Activate 3 and its accompanying resources are:

  • To enable students to develop a greater understanding of key scientific concepts by applying their knowledge to a wider range of situations.
  • To provide opportunities for students to improve their working scientifically and practical skills.

Selecting Oxford Smart Activate 3/Year 9 content

Market research and OUP-commissioned focus groups found that most schools undertaking KS3 over more than two years use the first half of Year 9 to go over the ‘core’ concepts that will be essential for GCSE, and then use the remainder of available time to introduce some GCSE concepts using a KS3 angle. In principle, we agreed that this was the correct approach, but the key to a successful Year 9 course is the selection of which core concepts to study.

Before writing any of the new editions of Activate, we revisited the overall sequence in which the content for Biology, Chemistry and Physics should be taught. This involved identifying the fundamental concepts such as particle theory, forces and cells to ensure that the scheme is based on a logical sequence that builds on prior knowledge and develops students’ knowledge sequentially over time.

To decide which core concepts Oxford Smart Activate 3 should cover, Curriculum Editor Andy Chandler-Grevatt identified which key concepts from the Key Stage 3 Programme of Study occur and reoccur in GCSE specifications. We then based the knowledge and skills content of Oxford Smart Activate 3/Year 9 on these. Examples of these in Biology include plant and animal cells, diffusion and osmosis, and photosynthesis.

Using Year 9 to Reactivate, Apply, Reach

Similarly to Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2, the content in Activate 3 is arranged into Biology, Chemistry, and Physics chapters, with accompanying Kerboodle resources and assessment items, and a Teacher Handbook. However, the chapters look very different! Each chapter is organised into 3 sections: Reactivate, Apply, and Reach, which allow students to consolidate, apply and then extend their knowledge of the core concepts and skills from Activate 1 and 2.

Reactivate: consolidation of knowledge

Each chapter starts with a double page knowledge organiser which summarises the key information that students covered in Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2. Alongside this are a series of retrieval questions with answers, which allow students to check that they have mastered this knowledge and are ready to apply it.

Activate 3 PP20-21
Activate 3 PP20-21

Apply: application of knowledge

Forming the bulk of each chapter, this gives students the chance to recap their knowledge before applying this to new scientific contexts and questions, including extended response questions. They will also consider real-world applications of the concepts. The accompanying Kerboodle resources also introduce practicals that cover the same skills as those at KS3 but in a different context. In some cases, they also introduce relevant KS4 skills, which will help to prepare students for the GCSE Required Practicals.

Activate 3 PP96-97
Activate 3 PP96-97

Reach (extension of knowledge)

In the final pages of each chapter, students can extend their knowledge by studying the same core concept but in a new context – one which will be explored further during GCSE courses. These spreads are intended to bridge the gap between Key Stages 3 and 4 and involve the introduction of new Key Stage 4 content that builds on that covered in the Apply spreads in each chapter. For example, in Biology students extend their knowledge of competition to looking at the effects of different biotic and abiotic factors on an ecosystem, and in Chemistry students develop their knowledge of chemical reactions further by calculating percentage yields.

These pages are designed to be more challenging and will therefore not be appropriate for all Year 9 students.

Activate 3 PP240-241
Activate 3 PP240-241

Like Oxford Smart Activate 1 and 2, each spread in Oxford Smart Activate 3 has been carefully designed to reduce cognitive load to create a more focused approach to learning and greater student success.

A flexible pace through Year 9 to GCSE

Although the lessons have been carefully sequenced and provide a recommended teaching route that schools can follow, a teacher can adapt the pace they work through the chapters to suit their own needs, spending more or less time on concepts according to the needs of their students.

For example, when teaching a lower-attaining class you may need to spend more than one Reactivate lesson recapping Activate 1 and 2 content before moving on to Apply section (and choose not to look at the Reach spreads: finishing the topic after the Apply lessons). In comparison, if you are teaching a higher-attaining class, it may be more beneficial to quickly recap the Year 7 and 8 content, for example through an independent homework to review the content using the knowledge organiser and questions. This approach allows the class to spend a greater proportion of time looking at the Apply and Reach spreads and activities.

The approach taken by the class teacher can also vary chapter by chapter depending on students’ understanding of a prior concept: as illustrated by the diagram below.

Teacher Book Activate 3 page vi
Teacher Book Activate 3 page vi

The number of concepts (and therefore chapters) that students study can be chosen depending on the time a school devotes to KS3. This enables teachers to utilise the resource in the most beneficial way for their class and the teaching time available.

Final thoughts

Oxford Smart Activate 3 offers consolidation and extension of the core concepts met at KS3 through the application of knowledge and practice in the skills needed for success at Key Stage 4. The revisiting of these concepts in Year 9 will help students to secure their KS3 science foundational knowledge more effectively, hence giving a springboard to future success at GCSE level and beyond.


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