The devil is in the detail
Infertility and "designer" babies will be among the topics used in an effort to give science teaching a more personal and relevant touch, under reform plans published today. The guidance represents the first concrete example of what a subject area in the new curriculum will look like.
The reform of science, now open to consultation, provides 33 examples of how sustainability, biodiversity, astronomy and topical science can be developed across the five levels of A Curriculum for Excellence, covering the ages from 3-15.
There is to be an emphasis on contemporary areas of science, such as IVF treatment and "designer" babies, which the writers hope are important to young people and will hook them into it.
Walter Whitelaw, one of the six professional advisers for ACfE, who also chaired the original science review group, told The TESS that all the outcomes, not just for science, should be completed by June 2008. However, schools will be given a year for familiarisation and preparation and will not begin to implement the new guidelines until the session 2009-10.
A series of regional seminars is being held over two weeks to give 1,200 teachers (from early years to secondary) the chance to comment on the guidance.
The first, in Glasgow at the beginning of this week, asked participants to "traffic light" each outcome - as pupils do under Asses-sment Is For Learning. Mr White-law said the number of "ambers" and "greens" was "on the positive side of neutral".
While many teachers may find the guidance too wide, even too vague, Mr Whitelaw insists that the emphasis in the descriptions on "I can... " will help pupils see the relevance of what they are learning.
Thus, one of the outcomes in the "topical science" strand for Level 3 (S1) is: "Through research and group discussion, I have contributed to an evaluation of a media item with regard to its scientific content." In the sustainability strand, for Level 4 (S2-3), the outcome is: "I can research a major environmental or sustainability issue of national or global importance and report on my findings."
He said that, while the majority of teachers had been quite positive in their initial reactions, some were unsettled by the new format. Early years practitioners were quite comfortable with broad outcomes, and primary teachers could see them as helpful, but secondary teachers were more likely to ask: "Where is the learning in each outcome?"
However, the "big concepts and big ideas - energy, force and motion, and the cell - are still there", Mr Whitelaw says.
Frances Gilpin, headteacher of Notre Dame High in Greenock, who attended one of the first conferences on the science outcomes, said that she could now envisage how the curriculum would be modelled for other subjects.
She welcomed the curriculum's greater relevance to pupils' lives and said:
"I don't think A Curriculum for Excellence is about curriculum content - it's about learning and teaching and what teachers do in the class.
"Teachers are concerned about the lack of detail but, once they get to the stage of seeing the learning outcomes, discussing them with colleagues and relating them to what they do at present, I think they will feel more reassured."
THE NEW APPROACH
Early: nursery to end of P1.
I have experienced the wonder of looking at the vastness of the sky, and can recognise the sun, moon and stars and link them to daily patterns of life.
Level 1: P2-4
I have observed and recorded the position of the sun and moon at various times. I can make connections between the shapes of shadows and the sun at different times of the day.
Level 2: P5-7
By creating simple models, I can demonstrate the effects of the relative motion of the earth, planets and sun. I can communicate my understanding of the size and scale of the solar system to others and describe features I find fascinating.
Level 3: S1-plus
I can use my knowledge of the solar system and the essential needs of humans to compile a reasoned report on whether we can colonise space.
Level 4: S2-3
I have researched a current space programme and, using information and data from it, I can describe how space probes use new technology to make observations and measurements that increase our knowledge of the universe.