Primary reaction

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Peter Kelly and Steve Waters-Adams look for science resources that are in tune with the way small children learn

Key stage 2 materials reflect hot contemporary debates in primary science.

Some - but not all - of the better resources turn out to be the older ones.

While these may lack the convenience of being closely matched to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) schemes of work, they focus more strongly on children's learning, rather than simply providing a detailed account of what teachers should do.

But many of the newer resources assume that teachers need to be led by the nose, justifying this by proclaiming that they are for "busy teachers".

These are all planned around the QCA schemes of work, but appear to have no underpinning relating to how children best learn science; they are intended to be taken off the shelf and used almost as a lesson script. This results in superficial approaches, with themes such as formative assessment, differentiation and links to other subjects receiving a rather trivial or, in the case of cross-curricular work, forced consideration. This kind of material is not going to enhance teachers' understanding of how and why to teach science. Instead, it is in danger of deskilling teachers and boring children.

Science provides a way in which we can explore and begin to understand our world. Through scientific methods we can make new understandings, and through the insights which science provides we can begin to have some sense of our place in the universe. Thus science is exciting, practical and relevant.

For teachers, it is an area of learning where the process of enquiry mirrors the way children learn - by observing, questioning, building and testing theories, discussing explanations with others, and so on. Teaching science is about enabling children to be scientists.

Attitudes to science are formed early on, and negative attitudes are hard to replace. To develop lifelong learners whose quality of life is enhanced by the insights and approaches of science, we need to catch them young.

Little of the material surveyed here uses such an approach, but perhaps that is because the better texts recognise the centrality of the teacher.

It is through the teacher's example, their enthusiasm and their choice of relevant and appropriate work, that children can be engaged. The better texts act as resources which give support to teachers at the level of practical guidance as well as furthering their understanding of why and how to teach science in the classroom. This kind of approach is much to be preferred.

Creativity is one of the current buzz words, and reflects the current educational climate: as a profession we are challenging initiatives and approaches which fail to fit with children's learning.

By making the same discerning choices in relation to resources such as these, we might encourage educational publishers to do the same - a little less focus on "the busy teacher", and a little more on pupil learning: if science is worth doing, it's worth doing well.

TITLE

NUFFIELD PRIMARY SCIENCE. Collins. Price: Teachers guides pound;14.99 each. Pupil books pound;5.99 each. Tel: 0870 787 1610

www.collinseducation.com

OVERVIEW

Approach to teaching National Curriculum science based on the Science Processes and Concept Education (SPACE) research into children's learning of science.

STRUCTURE

Teacher's guide, with teacher and pupil books for each area of the science curriculum.

FEATURES

Aims to develop both conceptual and procedural understanding. With a little work, the content of the teacher's books could easily be related to the QCA scheme of work, and would certainly liven it up.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Children's workbooks are accessible and attractive. Teacher's books include key subject knowledge.

Assessment is strong, based on the SPACE materials of the early 1990s.

Plenty of examples of pupils' work and exemplars demonstrating different levels of understanding. An excellent professional development resource, not simply a scheme. Although based on the last version of the national curriculum and pre-QCA, this is still a leader of the field.

VERDICT

Approach relates good science teaching to learning. Attractive and well laid out. Accessible and easily useable by non-specialist teachers. *****

TITLE

LET'S THINK THROUGH SCIENCE! nferNelson. Price: pound;72.50 for complete set. Tel: 0845 602 1937

www.nfer-nelson.co.uk

OVERVIEW

A set of materials for KS12 designed to promote children's ability to solve problems and develop their thinking skills in science and in all other areas. Builds on the work of the Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education (CASE) project for secondary ages.

Approach supported by extensive research on thinking skills.

STRUCTURE

Teacher's guide with a theoretical underpinning of the approach, lesson suggestions and photocopiable resources - and a pack of games, boards and other resources for activities.

FEATURES

This is not a "dip into" publication - the activities are designed to be used systematically, each building on the previous one. Contains advice regarding classroom organisation, teaching approaches and pacing.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Flexible and innovative, empowering children as thinkers at a particularly important point in their development. Strong benefits for achievement in science, and meaningful cross-curricular linkage. Will require a wholehearted approach to implement fully, but individual activities could be used as samplers to try. Probably best acquired by subject leaders for in-service training and staff development.

VERDICT

An excellent resource, designed to engage teachers with professional development, not merely "follow the QCA". *****

TITLE

ACCESS TO SCIENCE: Curriculum Planning and Practical Activities for Pupils with Learning Difficulties. Price: pound;16.00. Tel: 020 8996 3610.

www.fultonpublishers.co.uk

OVERVIEW

A book relating theoretical understandings to practical ideas. Covers KS12, with suggestions for work in KS34.

STRUCTURE

Extremely useful, but not instantly accessible. There is a tension between this kind of material and the "instant lesson" resources which promote dependence. This is a welcome book for reflective professionals.

FEATURES

Considerable theoretical underpinning but also planning and prompt sheets. Provides differentiated teaching approaches and examples of children's responses. Much holistic thinking, with strong cross-curricular links. Some very useful exemplification of P-levels for scientific enquiry.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Well-written by authors who clearly have rich classroom experience and know what they are talking about. Will appeal to teachers in mainstream schools and those in early years settings.

VERDICT

An extremely useful resource, probably best used by Sencos and subject leaders to support colleagues in continuing professional development activities. *****

TITLE

NEW STAR SCIENCE. Ginn. Price: Teachers guides pound;34.99 each. Pupil books pound;4.50 each. Tel: 01865 888020

www.myprimary.co.uk

OVERVIEW

This science scheme consists of an overall guide, teacher notes for each unit and children's activity books.

STRUCTURE

Units are closely related to the QCA scheme of work, but better than QCA materials because the activities are more interesting. Approach not as prescriptive as some materials. Reference is made to learning objectives and the lesson purpose.

FEATURES

Some task sheets promote observation and procedural work; some appear to be simply about the recall of knowledge. Assessment tasks, self-assessment monitoring sheets and a skills ladder (which confusingly goes down, not up) are provided. References to assessment evidence are realistic.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The children's books are attractive and useful, and an attempt has been made to use task sheets to promote investigative work. There is a degree of flexibility in the way children can respond to tasks. The flexibility needed to address local and individual needs is acknowledged in these materials. However, considering that the scheme is written by some of the "big names" in primary science, the result is not what you might call inspirational, and in all it is a little disappointing.

VERDICT

A teacher who is looking for something to enrich the QCA materials might look here. ****

TITLE

EXPLORE SCIENCE

Heinemann. Price: pound;210 for complete KS2 pack. Tel: 01865 888080

www.myprimary.co.uk

OVERVIEW

Linked to the QCA scheme of work and also to the curriculums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

STRUCTURE

Nicely presented. Teacher's book with lesson suggestions and worksheets for each QCA unit: one book and CD per year class, separate book for co-ordinator. Curriculum links clear and central.

FEATURES

A strong focus on ICT throughout including the use of interactive CD-Roms for planning and assessment, individual record sheets, proformas, images for stimulation, and PowerPoint presentations.

Writing frames are also included. All can be downloaded and edited by the purchaser.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Although the suggestion is made that assessment is integral to teaching, there is little evidence that this is taken seriously. Assessment largely test-based with little recourse to diagnostic assessment. The scheme allows some flexibility in the approach adopted, but remains accessible to the busy teacher.

VERDICT

Nice to see the strong links with ICT and links to the curriculum, although the latter are a little trivial. ***

TITLE

SCIENCE PRACTICE and SCIENCE BOOSTER. Letts Education. Science Practice pound;4.99; Science Booster pound;5. Tel: 020 8996 3333

www.letts-education.com

OVERVIEW

Unashamedly SATs revision and booster materials.

STRUCTURE

Comprises SATs practice and booster books together with a teacher's manual for the accompanying tests.

FEATURES

Attractively presented revision books; booster books a little less so. The text is dense for Year 6, especially as those involved in booster work may also have difficulties in other areas of the curriculum, including literacy.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The materials attempt to focus on enquiry, but need augmenting and key points need highlighting. Useful starting points. Practice investigation sheets are helpful. Booster books include nicely presented graded self-assessment materials, but these require a lot of reading which may be a problem for some students.

VERDICT

Does the job of revision well, but limited to this. Pragmatic and useful in these terms only - but no substitute for good science teaching. ***

TITLE

CURRICULUM BANK. Key Stage 1 and 2. Scholastic. Price: pound;17 each. Tel: 01926 813910

www.scholastic.co.uk

OVERVIEW

Structured lesson plans, with built in differentiation, activities for assessment and photocopiable worksheets. Separate books for each of life and living processes, materials and physical processes.

STRUCTURE

A bit dated, and not related to the QCA schemes of work. Nevertheless, as a teacher resource it provides good starting points for teacher planning, including assessment opportunities.

FEATURES

Good ideas and links to teachers' scientific knowledge. Cross-curricular links are made explicit. Consideration of assessment, differentiation and ICT are a little thin - each is referred to, but not in detail.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

A resource which can be used flexibly.

VERDICT

Despite being a little dated, these books still provide useful starting points for science planning. ***

TITLE

SCIENTIFIC ENQUIRY ACTIVITY PACK. Practical Tasks for Years 5 and 6. Edited by John Stringer. David Fulton. Price: pound;15. Tel: 020 8996 3610.

www.fultonpublishers.co.uk

OVERVIEW

A set of 10 A4 cards supporting the teaching of the range of skills expected in investigative work at Years 5 and 6.

STRUCTURE

Work cards provide separate tasks covering a range of investigations related to the QCA scheme of work.

FEATURES

Little obvious structure - the cards appear to be "stand-alone". Headings seem to be designed to focus children on key aspects of investigative work.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The pack falls between two stools. The cards appear to be for children, but their structure precludes this. Best used as support for lesson planning, but no real rationale offered for the content.

As a set of activity cards to help teachers interpret and put practical work into the QCA structure they could be useful.

VERDICT

Would have benefited by some overall structure, explaining choice of activity and progression. **

TITLE

THE LCP SCIENCE RESOURCE FILES and CD-Rom Based Assessment Activities. LCP. Price: pound;74.95 per file. Tel: 01926 886914.

www.lcpuk.co.uk

OVERVIEW

A complete package: units of work and detailed lesson plans closely related to the QCA scheme of work. Ring-bound file for each of Year 34 and Year 56.

STRUCTURE

Each unit has a medium-term plan, teachers' background information and a series of linked detailed lesson plans with specific learning intentions and links to other areas of the curriculum and thinking skills.

FEATURES

Completely prescriptive approach with only a cursory allusion to differentiation. Most of the children's work is based on photocopiable sheets. Presentation uninspiring and dense.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Assessment is completely separate from the teaching programme in the form of CD-Rom-based tests and summary records. This would appeal to the busy teacher who dislikes planning science. There is little focus on learning, and the role of the teacher appears to be purely to implement the programme, following the instructions and giving out the worksheets.

VERDICT

There is little here to stimulate an enthusiasm for science. *

TITLE

KS2 Science Data Interpretation. Edited by Jim Merrett and Kevin Byrne. Curriculum Press. Price: pound;14.99. Tel: 01952 271318.

www.curriculumpress.demon.co.uk

OVERVIEW

One of a series; contains around 165 photocopiable worksheets on data interpretation suitable for class work and homework.

STRUCTURE

Each worksheet presents a graph, chart or table followed by a range of questions (answers provided).

FEATURES

Worksheets grouped under QCA headings, but as it is a data collection and analysis resource, it might have been more helpful to structure in terms of these skills. Poor presentation.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Photocopiable resources always go down well, but this really could reduce teaching to mere technical activity. With the answers provided, teachers hardly have to engage with the content. The sheets could be used profitably, but this would need focused planning by the teacher, cross-referencing with key skills and progression. Slight overkill with 165 worksheets - one worries about the poor children having to suffer work such as this.

VERDICT

Another "keep them busy'" resource for busy teachers. Removes the need for gathering your own data (an important and enjoyable aspects of scientific enquiry). *

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now