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Investing in investigative skills

A new teachers' pack from Wakefield aims to develop pupils' understanding of the method of science. John Stringer reports.

The Science Investigation Pack, Pounds 8.00 (cheques payable to WMDC) from Science Investigation Project, Ref: ADV433YF, County Hall,Wakefield, WF1 2QL. Discount price to Wakefield schools.

The three core subjects encompass essential concepts, knowledge and skills without which other learning cannot take place effectively. Competence in language, numeracy, and scientific method is needed through the curriculum and in all aspects of adult life."

This quote comes from National Curriculum, from Policy to Practice, published by the Department for Education and Science in 1989, one of the first documents to set in train the national curriculum for England and Wales; and what's interesting about it - apart from its historic value - is its emphasis on the method of science, rather than its content. That, together with language and mathematical skills, was seen as the purpose of science education. One of the problems teachers face is that, while they may see science as a method of investigation, the children they teach are more likely to see it as the accumulation of facts; unless the skills of scientific investigation are made overt, they are in danger of being lost.

In the face of this emphasis on facts comes the Science Investigation Pack. Developed from the successful science investigations poster, which encouraged primary children to "plan, do, and record", the pack from Wakefield takes pupils through the states of whole investigation through cards, sheets, prompts, and a recording booklet. All the material can be photocopied by the purchasing institution; but much of it can be used as a focus for discussion and planning - by an individual or by a group - with teacher help if appropriate.

The Wakefield approach is through planning, doing, recording, evaluating, and reporting. Experience would suggest that some important stages precede these - those of observation, hypothesising, and forming a testable question. For ideas on this, there is no better book than the Association for Science Education's Making Sense of Primary Science Investigations.

The Wakefield pack includes process cards, planning sheets, results sheets and evaluation sheets, as well as teacher support and an optional booklet for individuals to record the whole of an investigation. As a structure, it bears no relation to the "method, observations, results" approach. The materials are illustrated with cartoon school children who are too secondary in style.

The tricky bit, as any teacher of science knows, is the identification and control of variables. Here, the ASE's What am I going to change - what am I going to measure? really scores.

While the Wakefield pack provides an excellent overview, and with teacher support should lead to some practical investigations, it wouldn't hold my hand tightly enough if I felt unsure of how to plan an investigation - or what an investigation looks like.

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