Thoughts on the Biology Bit (part 3)



So we turn to Y3. Less here to make the jaw hit the floor but still some weird quirks.

For example this is first point in the programme of study where we meet the phrase ‘Pupils should be taught to explain … ‘ In this case they should be taught to explain that animals including humans need the right type of nutrition and that they cannot make their own food; they get nutrition from what they eat.’  Now this ‘taught to explain ..’ bit turns up many times. It seems an odd form of words. I thought as teachers we found out their ideas, got them discussing and comparing others’ points of view with their own, gave them activities, showed them things, offered other perspectives etc.  all of which were designed to take their learning forward so that in the end, they turned round and explained to us what they had learnt. Pupils must do that explaining bit for themselves. It is how they construct their learning. The explanation has to be in their own words and make sense to them. We cannot do it for them.  In the previous versions of the National Curriculum we were just given the science that pupils should be taught. But in this version we must teach them how to explain much of it.  Once again, horrid visions rear up of pupils chanting back explanations that a teacher has told them without it ever really being processed through their brains.

Y3s also have to describe the ways in which nutrients water and oxygen are transported with in plants and animals. It is interesting this sudden introduction of oxygen into the curriculum. It comes from nowhere. These children have not done anything on gases. They haven’t even been asked to think about the fact that air is stuff and that it actually exists even though we can’t see it. And that is a hard idea for most children to get their heads round, before we think about air as a mixture of gases, one of which is called oxygen and that this gas is important for life. We can tell them this stuff easily enough and they can parrot it back at us but it will not mean anything and it will not lead to retention of the knowledge and understanding. Curriculum for empty showing off with long words or curriculum for understanding?

And on to Y 4. Hold onto your hats – I quite like some bits here. I like the teaching point that asks Y4 pupils to use classification keys to assign living things in the local and wider environment to groups and to give reasons for the way they do this. This sounds more like it – children being given the chance to decide things for themselves. It’s important though that you do not take too much notice of the non-statutory guidance which wafts off into the world of ferns, mosses, gills, lungs and a mass of other detail; some of which may be relevant to the living things studied by the children in your class and some of which may not.

Here we also see teachers being advised to support this work by using the science biographies of Charles Darwin and Carl Linnaeus. Again I am all for children finding out about scientists, especially if they are not always white, male and dead but I think to ask 8 yr olds to do this from their original biographies is suggesting something at a somewhat inappropriate level – not so much over their heads as over the school building. Much mediation will be needed for this to work.

The digestive system and teeth come in with Y4 which if you are going to do body systems is no bad place to start. Children know about putting food into their mouths, about biting and chewing, about saliva, about their stomachs and about the poo comes out at the other end. So they will have some sense of parts of this system (though few of them will know anything about intestines).  There is, though, an interesting difference in the two statements in this section with pupils being asked to identify and name basic parts of the digestive system and identify the simple functions of the teeth and different types of teeth in humans.  This seems to imply that the only thing you do with the digestive system is identify and label parts (on diagrams one assumes) but that the functions must not be encountered – ‘Now label this intestine please – But what does it do Miss? – No time for silly questions like that.’

Next comes evolution and inheritance. I find the inclusion of some parts of this odd at this level. You need a sense of change over long periods of time to gain any understanding of the way the human skeleton has changed from four legs to two. If you have only lived for eight years your appreciation of huge timescales may not be that well-developed. At eight, a week is an endless stretch of time. 

For once, in this section, the notes and guidance pitch things at a more reasonable level – you will be pleased to know that you do not have to do genes and chromosomes with 8 yr olds . What a good job that was there in the guidance because I’m sure lots of lower key stage 2 non-specialist teachers would have been dying to do that … NOT. However one part in the notes and guidance section  – quite amazingly for this document  – verges on the far too easy. It asks, in the only bit of practical work suggested in this section,  that children compare and record  similarities and differences amongst themselves such as – wait for it – eye colour, hair colour and hand spans. I think this just may have been covered already in KS 1 and the level of scientific skill required to meet this requirement is unbelievably low. They have, according to the working scientifically section for Y 4, ‘to draw simple conclusions from their work’. Well, the conclusions drawn from this work will be amazingly simple – along the lines of ‘We don’t all have the same colour of hair.’ Wow! Good job we did an experiment to show that!


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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