The skills children need to develop to do practical science independently
An important aspect of learning science is the development of an understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science:
- sharing ideas and asking questions
- planning investigations
- making and recording observations
- drawing conclusions and evaluating practical work
Teachers should facilitate opportunities for children to develop these skills in science. Very often this is done through children’s written work: children are asked to write down what they will do, what they have done and what they found out.
But be aware: not all children have writing skills that match their science skills.
Evidence of children’s thinking and reasoning in science can be done orally and a record of children’s ideas can be kept in a floorbook. You can find out why & how to use floorbooks in science here.
Here are some examples of children’s practical science skills recorded in a floorbook:
This teacher asked the children to talk in pairs/small groups to share their ideas at the start of a topic to assess their existing knowledge.
While the children were talking, the teacher has visited some children and written their ideas on sticky notes which were stuck directly into the floorbook. Older children could write their own ideas. Targeting a few children in this way enables teachers to gain insight into children’s learning which might otherwise be missed. Children were then given the opportunity to feedback to the class.
Be aware: not all children like to share their ideas in a class discussion so by scribing the comments of the “non-utterers” beforehand, the teacher has evidence of these children’s ideas.
In this class, the children had been learning about separating mixtures using sieves and filters. After carrying out investigations, the children were asked to think about how gas masks worked in World War II. Pupils were encouraged to write or draw a diagram on their white boards to explain their ideas. During the class discussion that followed, the teacher has photographed some of the white boards (often those of the quiet children) to create a record of their thoughts.
This teacher has used sticky notes to record some children’s predictions before starting an investigation.
This teacher used a formal planning frame with the whole class to plan an investigation. Children made predictions on sticky notes and these are included in the frame.
planning with and without templates
This child has used a planning sheet to explain what his group will investigate. The teacher put two different examples in the floorbook which all the children could look at. Some children needed adult support to complete their plans – the teacher made a note of this on the lesson plan to assist with assessment but has not stuck them in the book.
This child was asked to draw a diagram directly in the floorbook to explain their investigation. On this occasion the teacher asked a child with strong science and writing skills. On other occasions, different children have been asked.
What are the advantages in allowing children to write in the floorbook?
- It avoids the need to photocopy children’s work and stick in after the lesson, saving time for the teacher
- It reinforces the message that the book is a record of the children’s learning and not the teacher’s
- Children’s work is valued
observing and measuring
These children were 'observing' the properties of gases: using their sense of smell to locate a volatile gas and investigating the volume of a gas. Photographs were taken during the investigation as the teacher visited each group. The pictures were printed immediately after the lesson and stuck into the floorbook. Captions were not necessary – actions speak louder than words!
Note that the teacher has written questions next to each picture. The floorbook was available to the children between the science lessons and they were encouraged to consider the questions and add a response if they wanted to.
Using microscopes to observe mould on bread, these children were asked to 'observe closely' and record what they saw. Most of the children have drawn what they can see magnified by the microscope but there is a wide variation in the outcomes. The teacher could have asked the children to draw their diagrams in their individual exercise books but the advantage of using a floorbook here is that everyone can see the differences in the pictures raising the question, 'How closely did we observe?' Another advantage of the floorbook approach to recording is it saves time: this was one of four activities in a carousel that the children visited within a 2 hour lesson. If they had been required to present their work in exercise books, presentation becomes an issue (writing the date, a title and underlining correctly) and fills time that could be for learning science.
These children were measuring how far toy cars had travelled in their investigation. The teacher took photographs of some children during the lesson as evidence that they could measure length accurately. No comments or further captions were needed.
These children were working as a class, observing six egg shells over time in different liquids (classic teeth investigation). Every day, two different children recorded what they saw in a table. After 2 weeks, all the children had helped to record some data and were able to provide feedback to the class about the observations on ‘their day’. The teacher made a booklet from the results which was stuck into the floorbook showing evidence that all the children can record scientifically.
It is not always necessary for children to record everything in their own books.
drawing conclusions and evaluation
There are many ways that children can show that they have drawn conclusions from their findings. After a lesson exploring different solids (sugar cubes and jelly cubes), children were asked to draw diagrams on a sticky note to show what they knew about the structure of a solid. Some children wrote in sentences, some drew diagrams. All are valid conclusions.
These children had explored lots of ways to make sounds in the classroom and then used pictures from I Can Explain! to talk about the sounds. Having decided which sound they thought was the loudest, the children were asked to justify their decision. Many children took part in a lively discussion but not all children want to do this. A few of the children were asked to write their ideas on sticky notes and place them in the floorbook during the discussion providing a record of their ideas.