Karen Thornton reports from Leeds on the annual meeting of the Association for Science Education where delegates discussed recent classroom research
CHILDREN miss the group discussion work of primary classes so much that it sours their attitude towards secondary science.
The finding could help explain the dip in pupil attainment in the early years of secondary school, which Education Secretary David Blunkett has identified as the Government's new priority.
Pat Bricheno, a research assistant at Hertfordshire University, has been monitoring the attitudes of more than 2,000 Essex children as they move from late primary into early secondary classes.
She identified declining levels of enthusiasm for both science and school in 10 to 13-year-olds and a correlation with their perceptions of what classroom activities were used in science lessons.
Speaking at last week's Association for Science Education conference, Mrs Bricheno said: "Children who became more negative on transfer were the ones who got less chance to talk with each other and the teacher about their ideas."
The decline was particularly marked among less affluent pupils, but by Year 8 all pupils had similar and lower levels of enthusiasm.
The correlation held in reverse, with attitudes improving among pupils who moved to secondary schools that encouraged more discussion thn their primaries.
"The important thing is the level of discussion and the change between the two schools. Secondary teachers need to be aware of that in order to move pupils forward," said Mrs Bricheno.
The conference heard that another research project showed that the introduction of compulsory science up to 16 has improved pupils' scientific knowledge.
But the researchers claimed that pupils still have misconceptions - particularly about light and vision - despite the extra years of study.
These initial findings, from a longer-term study of the effects of introducing compulsory science, could have implications for what primary children are taught.
Researchers from Queen's University and St Mary's University College, Belfast, asked student teachers to sit a key stage 2 test paper. Undergraduates who had studied science to 16 did significantly better than postgraduates who stopped at 14 - scoring an average 66 per cent, versus 60.
They outscored the postgraduates in all areas, but all students showed weaknesses in the topics of circulation, light and sound.
Dr Colette Murphy of Queen's said: "The results could lead to a re-think of what science we can expect primary children to understand. In addition, strategies can be advanced to enable more effective teaching of difficult concepts at primary and secondary level."