Science - Be a BTEC champ

18th November 2011 at 00:00
Reluctant students respond well to a highly practical course

Teaching a compulsory subject such as science to key stage 4 pupils - half of whom probably wouldn't choose to do it - has always been a challenging task, particularly when GCSE was the only option.

In the past, I've taught GCSE science to mid-to-low ability pupils, and getting them to try to understand scientific concepts and ideas has often been an exercise in frustration.

But five years ago, with the introduction of the BTEC, something positive happened. Though the content was based at GCSE level, the pupils only had to produce a portfolio of evidence to show their understanding, without having to sit formal exams.

BTEC wasn't easy on the teacher at the beginning, because it's evidence- based and you have to be the one who provides the evidence. Mentally, the pupils switch off, so I had to learn how to vary the tasks in the assignments to keep them motivated. A good example is biology, where I might use a PowerPoint presentation or video followed by a worksheet. My approach would be highly practical. For example, when teaching about the five groups of vertebrates I would present five pictures and ask pupils to list the differences within each group, then the similarities.

On several occasions pupils have even asked me if they can take their folders home to show their parents - and remember, we're talking about 16- year-olds! In my school, more than half the students are taking BTECs. If they were phased out, I don't think a lot of parents, or pupils, would be too happy.

But, most of all, I think you would have many more pupils going back to the days when they "switched off" in science because they couldn't cope with the GCSE class.

Kirsty Biggar is a science teacher at a secondary school in inner-city Liverpool

WHAT ELSE?

Resources

Cmmarshall113 has shared helpful resources for getting started with BTEC first certificate or applied science - they are getting great feedback, too.

If you or your colleagues are dealing with BTEC for the first time, try adkeele's PowerPoint introduction.

Maximise the benefits of the BTEC without getting bogged down in record- keeping or assessments - try Glen Gilchrist's workbook.

In the forums

BTEC vs GCSE - join the debate.

And how would you make the BTEC more interesting for a low-ability set? Experiments? Podcasts? Share your ideas.

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