Experiments in enthusiasm

6th January 2006 at 00:00
The AstraZeneca Teaching TrustTESPrimary Science Teaching Awards recognise innovative teachers. Hilary Wilce talks to the 2005 winners and discovers some useful advice

Louise Culver Loose junior school, Maidstone A suburban school with 360 pupils

Louise, 34, finds it helpful to have done practical science in industry before teaching. She worked for Safeway and a papermaking company before getting a degree and training as a primary science teacher. She is her school's science co-ordinator and has an advanced certificate of primary science, specialising in gifted and talented.

When The TES visited her classroom last term, she was teaching her Year 5 class about the behaviour of gases in liquids by getting them to think about where the fizz is in fizzy pop, and why raisins in a bottle of lemonade will rise and sink. She believes in making careful choices from the range of science materials available to teachers, and has recently founded gardening and science clubs at school.

Observed lesson: "Particulate theory as drama." Her Year 5 class investigated the underlying structures of gases, liquids and solids by acting out each state in turn. The children's notebooks, with stick-figure drawings, show that as gases they floated far apart; as solids they were jammed up tightly together. "The only trouble was it was raining so we couldn't be outside. We had to do it in the library."

Winning formula: "Don't worry if activities go wrong. Even if things don't turn out like they should, children are still learning from their experience."

Rosemary Woodall, St Michael's CE primary school, Bishop's Stortford A church school with 230 pupils

Rosemary, 50, did no science after A-levels but instead took a degree in English and education. However, in the 10 years she has been teaching full-time since raising her family, she has experienced the whole of key stages 1 and 2, and finds it helpful to know how children develop their scientific thinking.

Very often, she says, the very things that you as a teacher think are going to be hard, the children take off with. "The only limit is their imagination." Last term she ran a whole-school science week on materials, with outside speakers and a fancy dress parade. "There was a real buzz about the place that week."

Observed lesson: In her Year 1 lesson on light and dark the children looked at reflective materials, testing out neon paper, tinfoil, wallpaper, sandpaper, bubble wrap and other things in dark boxes and learning that shiny objects need a light source to shine. The subject was linked to road safety, and a wall-sized display of a daytime and night-time street helped link it also to literacy, giving children a context for considering what would show up at night.

Winning formula: "Make science as practical as possible, root it in their experience, extend it a little bit beyond that, and tie it all up at the end by showing them what they have learned."

Cara Cahill Dogsthorpe junior school, Peterborough A 300-pupil school in an area of extreme deprivation

Cara, 26, has been teaching for four years after training as a specialist science teacher and says the primary years are a perfect time for capturing children's enthusiasm for science, provided you are careful to put it into a meaningful context. She say the support of a specialist science college is invaluable, and that sixth-formers who help with lessons widen her pupils' horizons and open their eyes to the possibility of a future in science.

Observed lesson: Her Year 5 pupils learned about sound with the help of a superman, Musicman, who uses vibrations to fight evil. "We set out to design some earmuffs for him and investigated the best material to use."

The class used felt, cotton, bubblewrap, sponge and other materials to cover an alarm, then tested the decibel output using a data logger, loaned by a neighbouring secondary school. When foam proved the best insulator they discussed why. They also discussed National Noise Action Week (May 23-27, 2005), talking about where noise comes from and what is unacceptable noise.

Winning formula: "You can't do science alone. It's not me, it's everyone working together, using the resources that are out there. That way you get the breadth of vision to really make it work."

Sheila McDougal Doonfoot primary school, Ayr A 300-pupil school in a seaside suburb of Ayr, with a specialist languages and communication facility attached

Sheila, 55, started life as a clinical biochemist but has been teaching for 16 years. She has helped develop the science curriculum locally and nationally, and is starting to teach it across the age range and ability in her school. "The children always know when it's science, whereas before it was more like topic work, with literacy as part of it." She says that science is about thinking and doing, but that it is important to encourage children to do more thinking.

Observed lesson: Her Primary 3 class investigated the melting of solids.

They'd already studied how ice melted. In this lesson they tried melting candlewax, chocolate, flour and salt over a candle. "The sugar wouldn't melt because all we had was a night light on a tray." Results were recorded on large blackboard charts, then written up.

Winning formula: "One of the most important things that children need to learn is that 'I don't know' is a legitimate answer. I always plan my lessons through key questions and make sure there is plenty of hands-on work included."

David May Canon Peter Hall CE primary school, Immingham A 230-strong school in a deprived area of north-east Lincolnshire

David, 26, has been teaching for six years after training to be a specialist primary science teacher. As science co-ordinator, he has helped test results rise dramatically at his school. "Last year, 93 per cent of pupils reached level 4 and 39 per cent level 5. Yet 36 per cent of our pupils are on free school meals." His aim, however, is to turn out good scientists, not good test results, and he is delighted when pupils catch his enthusiasm for the subject. One of the school's teaching assistants had two daughters claiming to hate science, he says, but they left the school with top results, saying that they now love it.

Observed lesson: His Year 6 class looked at Archimedes's theory, and at the differing levels of force needed to be exerted on objects in water and in air. The children talked about how water is displaced in the bath, and how water makes things float. "We discussed how the water level in the bath changes when you get in, and how when you're swimming you need a lot less force to move your hand around in the water than out of it, and how if you drop something in the water it floats its way down and doesn't just fall."

The children then measured forces on objects such as marbles, apples and candlestick holders, using Newton meters. "We saw that less force had to be exerted in water because of upthrust. They were predicting it well."

Winning formula: "I believe you have to make science accessible and use plain, simple ideas. You need to give them the theory in a way that relates to their lives."

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