Discovery channelled;Briefing;Document of the month;Curriculum 2000

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Science review aims to recapture the wonder factor, reports Sarah Cassidy in part five of The TES guide to curriculum 2000

The review of school science set out to make the subject clearer, more modern and relevant to everyday life.

Although other subjects have had large amounts of content cut, science, a core subject, was always unlikely to emerge much slimmer under the review of the national curriculum for 2000. The main changes were prompted by concern that teachers were neglecting investigative science and failing to stress the excitement and relevance of the subject.

The applications of science to everyday life, the importance of scientific investigation and the potential hazards of working with materials and living things are already compulsory under the national curriculum.

They are currently listed in an introduction to the national curriculum orders for each age group. But research by the government quango responsible for the review, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, found that teachers were failing to integrate all these themes across the full curriculum.

The proposed new curriculum for 2000 will integrate this introduction into the other sections particularly experimental and investigative science, which has been renamed scientific enquiry.

This is intended to broaden the kinds of investigations done in schools because of fears that the current curriculum had unintentionally restricted the types of experiments used by teachers - who tended to stick to conventional experiments investigating the effects of altering variables.

The new curriculum should make it clear that there are many alternatives, for example biological investigations into animals and their habitats or examining previously published data.

Other changes will streamline the science programmes of study to ensure better transition between the key stages. Some topics are included twice and QCA monitoring revealed that primary pupils consistently failed to grasp some science topics.

Primary science remains largely unchanged. The infant curriculum is almost identical in content while some difficult topics have been scrapped for juniors.

They will no longer have to learn about balanced and unbalanced forces or about saturated solutions. Juniors were found to struggle with these concepts in national tests, and will now only be introduced these topics at secondary school.

Meanwhile, subjects which were considered to be well understood by juniors - such as reproduction of flowering plants, use of keys for classification and shadow formation - will no longer have to be taught a second time in secondary schools.

The GCSE curriculum also benefits from a reduction in content, particularly in the single science programme which was thought to be too content-heavy. Evidence from schools had shown that teachers were unable to focus on contemporary topics and applications because of the race to cover a vast amount of content.

All non-essential themes have been removed from single science. Forces, exothermic and endothermic chemical reactions are scrapped to allow more emphasis on materials, applications and everyday science.

Topics felt to have already been well-covered lower down the school - such as rock formation - have been dropped from compulsory double science study while elasticity of materials has also been scrapped as non-essential to the programme's main themes.

Science also includes sustainable development explicitly for the first time. However, many environmental topics are already compulsory under the current curriculum but are now made clearer and given more emphasis.

New schemes of work reflecting the changes to science will be sent to schools next spring covering key stage three and any changes to the existing primary units. There will be slight alterations to science national texts for 2001 onwards to reflect the changes.

The full version of the proposed new curriculum is available from the QCA's website on www.qca.org.ukncr or by phoning their orderline on 01787 884444. You can take part in the consultation on the proposals by returning the questionnaire included in the pack by July 23.

CHANGES TO SCIENCE

Key stage 1: Pupils observe, explore and ask questions about living things, materials and phenomena. They begin to work together to collect evidence to answer their questions, to link evidence to simple scientific ideas and to evaluate it, including considering whether tests or comparisons are fair. Pupils also use appropriate reference materials to find out more about scientific ideas. They share their own ideas and communicate these in different ways using appropriate scientific language and drawings, charts and tables.

Key stage 2:Pupils learn about a wider range of living things, materials and phenomena and are encourage to make links between different ideas and to use simple models and theories. They begin to apply their knowledge and understanding to familiar phenomena, their personal health and things they encounter every day.

They begin to think about the advantages and drawbacks of scientific and technological developments. They investigate questions more systematically working together and making individual contributions. They use a range of reference sources, make systematic measurements where this is appropriate, discuss what they have done and the significance of what they have found.

They communicate ideas using a wider range of scientific language and conventional diagrams, charts and graphs.

Key stage 3: Pupils increasingly make connections between different areas of science. They use accepted scientific ideas and models to explain phenomena and events and to understand a range of familiar applications of science.

They think about the advantages and drawbacks of scientific and technological developments, considering developments from other people's perspectives and recognising how opinions may vary in different contexts.

They continue to investigate ideas individually and with others, working more quantitatively and paying more attention to evaluating their work, in particular the strength of the evidence they have collected.

Pupils consider how some scientific ideas are supported by experimental evidence and how this may be important to present-day scientific developments, and the ways in which scientists work.

Key stage 4: Single science and double science: Pupils use a wider range of scientific ideas and explore how technological advances relate to the scientific ideas underpinning them. They discuss the power and limitations of science in addressing industrial, ethical, social and environmental issues, and how groups in different social and cultural contexts may have different views.

Through contemporary and historical examples, students see how scientists work together to develop scientific understanding, how new theories may give rise to controversy and how the social and cultural context in which such theories are proposed may affect the extent to which they are accepted.

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