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Metallic glow

Janet Woodman of Ashill Community Primary in Somerset tells Carolyn O'Grady about a day devoted to a single topic

This school is a two-class, rural school. We are working towards being an inclusive school in which all the children's strengths and weaknesses are recognised. Several of our children have special needs, including hearing impairment, severe learning difficulties and specific learning difficulties.

Once a term we devote a whole day to trying to see a topic through. On this day we chose to investigate metals. Communication was a priority with a lot of emphasis on the pupils' ability to talk about what they were doing, what they wanted to find out, how to investigate it and how to record their findings.

First, the class was given five minutes to make a collection of metal objects, for example using scissors, screws or music stands. They discussed what they had found and came up with four investigations: Do metals conduct electricity? Are metals magnetic? Are there many different metals? Are metals heavy?

The children worked in four groups of five. I chose the groups carefully so that each child had a strength that could be demonstrated and appreciated in his or her group. Before they started we discussed as a class each group's plans to make sure they had thought things through. Each group was responsible for planning one investigation and organising the equipment.

One group decided to use a circuit to test metal objects; another to use reference books to find out about metals. The group studying magnetism used magnets with a collection of metal objects. To judge if certain metals were heavy, the last group put objects in a small tank of water to see if they would float or sink.

Each group worked on each project in turn, using the equipment and materials that the initial group had set up, and all the children were responsible for recording their results in their rough books. Then we discussed as a class how the groups could present the information, whether they would use formal scientific explanation, diagrams, drawings andor written information. The written outcomes varied depending on the age and ability of the child and they received varying amounts of assistance. For the younger children or those with specific learning needs, I supplied word lists, including some lists with symbols. A list of headings was also available to encourage some children to organise and present their results.

Amy, aged 11 (who has severe learning difficulties and has an education support assistant working with her), was presented with information in a way that was meaningful to her. So, for example, in the "Are metals heavy?" investigation she stuck pictures of the objects that floated and those that sank on to a drawing of the tank.

The children loved it. It was noisy and busy, and the talk was relevant: they were helping each other, discussing and sharing ideas.

They went home with some questions to investigate and discuss with their parents. For example: Why did the tin float? Why do big ships made of metal float? What is different about mercury? What colour is it? I also left the metal objects in the tank, so that we could discuss rusting later. I knew it was a success when the next day the children came in with loads of books, information, questions, more objects, and they'd all done their homework!

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