Thoughts on the Biology Bit (part 2)

So the main points from my fist look at biology were that

1)      There was a heavy emphasis on biology throughout the document

2)      In Y 1, there was a heavy emphasis on the low level skill of naming

3)      In Y1, there was little emphasis on comparing contrasting and sorting

4)      In Y1, there was little conceptual demand

5)      Schools would find it impossible to get their Y1 children to learn this curriculum from first -hand experience

Looking back at the first point, it seems odd that this government has produced a curriculum which emphasises the biological sciences so heavily. These are the areas where all the analysis of tests responses shows children do well. So in order to increase the level of demand and raise standards they fix on the one aspect that is done best already. That seems a tad counter-productive.

And if you want to know why naming things really isn’t that important refer to the great Richard Feynman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05WS0WN7zMQ&feature=youtu.be and his central theme in that clip which is that knowing the name of something of something is not the same as knowing something or to quote him ‘You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts.’

And so to Y 2. The notes and guidance section is non-statutory. That comes as a massive relief because it suggests that Y2 children can be introduced to the idea that all things are made up of living cells. This has come down from the KS3 curriculum – something that was introduced to 11/12 yr olds and is now being suggested for 6/7 yr olds. It is quite bizarre. There is no evidence that says this will help children later on but common-sense says that it will be counter-productive. The best KS 1 science teaching involves getting them to talk about and think phenomena that they can experience first-hand. Bit tricky for this one – Imagine the scene –  ‘Now gather round class – I’m going to pass round something very special. At the end I’m going to ask you to think of something interesting you have noticed about it. Here it comes. This is a living cell.’ No – I don’t think that one will quite work. So children at Y2 will simply be told the following ‘ All living things are made of cells – that these cells are so small we can’t see them –  I can give you no evidence to back this up because you are only 6 yrs old and can’t use high resolution microscopes. You just have to accept and believe what I say. What’s that? You don’t get it? Never mind. Science is hard. You’re not meant to understand it all. So let’s stop asking questions shall we? Just repeat after me– living things are made of cells.’

Oh dear – those notes and guidance. They are not helpful. These two statements come quite close to one another in the same section on growing plants. ‘It is not necessary in Year 2 to carry out tests on plants or measure their growth.’  And ‘Ensure pupils practise measuring length in mm, cm and m using rulers.’ So that looks as if they will have to practise their measurement without measuring how plants grow. Just imagine they conversation in school ‘Yes I know – those plants have really shot up since last week haven’t they? No – you can’t measure how much bigger they have grown – sorry. Let’s practice measurement on something else entirely shall we?’

The notes and guidance also suggest that teachers ‘Ensure that Y 2 pupils use the local environment regularly throughout the year to observe and record the weather, using measurements where possible: rain (ml), temperature (°C) and wind direction.’  There is nothing wrong with observing and recording what the weather does – in fact it would be hard to find a KS 1 class that doesn’t look at what the weather is doing and talk about it. However it only really becomes science if we do something with that information. So what is being suggested? There is, thank heavens, no mention of starting the notoriously difficult science of meteorology in Y1 so we are not asking children to look for patterns in their weather over time and to predict what weather might come in future. No, in the document, the sentence comes opposite the part where children are studying living things in different habitats and seeing how animals are suited to that habitat.’  It is the only place where information about the weather could possibly connect with the programme of study. And the key thing they need to know about the local habitats they study is how they differ from each other. If it’s been hot and dry for several days both areas – e.g. under the log and in the grass – will be drier than they were but the area under the log is still damper than the school field.  And that is likely to affect the animals found there. The records of the weather changing over time that you have been working so hard to collect all through the year, will not help you decide why woodlice are more abundant in one place than another. So once again the notes and guidance suggest something that isn’t going to help our budding scientists develop their thinking.

 

More on Y3, Y4, Y5 and Y6 will follow. I find I have to let the steam out of the ears a bit at time – all at once and I might be permanently damaged.

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About annegoldsworthy

Primary Science specialist. Going for more independent thinking and less being told what to think. And that goes for teachers as well as children. We need to change that draft curriculum for science. Follow me on twitter @afgoldsworthy
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