Thoughts on the Physics Bit (part 3) Y 4

Onto Y4 where there are three sections on Physics – Light, Earth and Space and Electricity. The light part has two statements – ‘Pupils should be taught to explain how shadows are made when a light source is blocked by something that is not transparent’ and ‘Pupils should be taught to investigate the size of shadows’.  Once again we have that strange expression in the first of these …’pupils should be taught to explain…’ (see previous blogs Biology Y 3 &4 and Chemistry Y5 & 6). But passing on from that we are looking at two relatively straightforward areas and the activities suggested in the Notes and Guidance will look reassuringly familiar. The only slight quibble is that if pupils investigate the size of shadows and look for patterns in shadow size as suggested, they will be changing something such as the height of the puppet measured in cm or more probably the distance between the puppet and the light also measured in cm. They will be finding out the effect this has on the length of the shadow measured in cm. Both what they change and what they measure in their fair tests will therefore be represented in numbers. This means that they will end up with a line graph. But this is not listed as one of the possible ways of representing their data. Oops!

Next comes the section on Earth and Space. This has been extended over the first three points to include our Solar System and our galaxy, the Milky Way. I suspect there may be a number of teachers who will be whooping at the thought of this – a unit on space and the planets always seems to go down well. In fact many KS 2 teachers include it anyway under the present curriculum and it certainly fires up enthusiasm all round. There is also a familiar statement looking at the time the Earth takes to move round the Sun, the time for the Moon to move round the Earth and the time for the Earth to complete one revolution on its own axis. Oddly the spin of the Earth on its own axis is not related to day and night. This seems a strange omission and was one of the simpler bits of Earth and Space to understand but I expect most teachers will continue to include it anyway. And by the way, the suggested scale model for the Sun (beach ball) Earth (football) and Moon (table tennis ball) in the notes and guidance is so way off as to be completely misleading. Don’t use it.

There is another point in this section that says ‘Pupils should be taught to explain that there are other planets around distant stars and name some constellations as observed by the Earth’. Once again, I stutter at the ‘taught to explain’ strap line. In this instance what exactly are they explaining? When you explain something you generally say something along the lines of ‘I think it’s like this BECAUSE….’ The ‘because ‘ is the vital little word that indicates an explanation is on its way. In this instance children won’t be explaining. There is nothing for them to say ‘because’ about. We are certainly not expecting them to go into how we know there are planets in other solar systems and methods of detection like radial velocity or gravitational microlensing (no I haven’t got much of  a clue either) So really all we want them to do here is ‘know about the existence of planets around distant stars’.  If that’s all we want, then it would be wonderful to have a curriculum that just said it clearly and simply. The second part of the statement – naming constellations makes a weird partner to the first part about planets. Quite how naming a constellation will help you understand something about planets round distant stars is beyond me. The two have nothing to do with each other. Naming constellations is fun and it helps you find your way round the night sky but it doesn’t really show any scientific understanding. The stars in any one constellation will be of different magnitudes and be different distances from Earth so there is nothing, other than their apparent closeness to each other when viewed from Earth that links them. It is also a tad difficult to do a lesson with all your class at night time so they can see the constellations first hand. And if your school is an area with significant light pollution – which is the case for most of England – then star-gazing is particularly tricky and frustrating. Once again it will be down to boring old bookwork. Unless of course you try to follow the suggestion in the notes and guidance that pupils take photos to show the movement of planets against the fixed stars. I feel the spirit of the young John McEnroe welling up in me ‘You cannot be serious!’ I can just imagine all the delighted parents trudging out with their children night after night, weather permitting of course, to try to photograph a tiny speck in the night sky from exactly the same spot. Not going to do much for home-school relationships there. This one really is best left to astronomy clubs and the like.

And so to the final point in Earth and Space ‘Pupils should be taught to identify the four seasons and the regular changes in sunlight and weather associated with them in the UK’ I am really confused. This statement seems very very easy. There is no linking the change in seasons to the tilt of the Earth, (thank heavens – it’s a tricky one to teach) so why is it here? Oh well – I don’t suppose any one will come to much harm drawing their winter/spring/summer/autumn pictures but I’m not sure it should be part of a challenging science curriculum for Y4s.

Next comes the section on electricity. Yeah! I like it. Good practical stuff where children can test out their ideas. That’s it. No complaints or moans or anything. Golly gosh.


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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