some more thoughts

The new draft is out. You have until the 16th April 2013 to comment. I know Brenda Keeogh and I were partly responsible for what is before you but I don’t think either of us would say it is perfect – so get commenting if you possibly can. We did the best we could in a very very tight timescale but I would still make some changes.

My thoughts are as follows:

1. Working scientifically is loads better – children can ask questions again (whoo hoo) and there is a lot of very useful guidance about different ways of finding out. (Big cheer for Brenda on this)

2. KS 1 has a lot of emphasis on living things. I want young children to get outside more but have we swung too far with this and left not enough work on early ideas in chemistry and physics?

3. Y3 – lots on rocks and nothing on soil. Still think this is serious omission. To quote from a previous blog

Getting children to think about what is beneath their feet is a great way of getting into rocks and soils. ‘For most children soil (aka earth, mud, etc.) is the thing they will come across more than rocks (in their natural state). But what is it made of? How did it get there? Is there soil everywhere beneath our feet/roads/buildings? How far down does it go? Children’s ideas when you ask these questions are fascinating and it is a great area for making them think again and to recognise the links back to the rocks. Soils is one of those overlooked materials but it is vital for the growing of plants and hence food for living things. It is a shame it has gone’

I also believe that classifying rocks as igneous or sedimentary can be fraught with difficulty when you use anything other than very obvious samples.

4. Y 4 We still have the bit that says ‘observe that some materials change state when they are heated or cooled, and measure the temperature at which this happens in degrees Celsius (°C), building on their teaching in mathematics’

What substances other than water can they measure the change of state from liquid to gas  – if we are just doing water then the dot point should say this. Also still very unhappy about asking children to measure the temp at which this happens for the reasons I gave in the blog before as follows: ‘I suspect that all they want here is for children to say that water melts at 0°C and that it boils at 100°C but the PoS stresses repeatedly that measurements are important. And, yes, measurements are absolutely vital in science but there are a couple of points about using them here. First our normal tap water does not do what it’s supposed to in this respect – it will be somewhere near those temperatures but because of impurities/pressure/vessel it is in etc. it won’t be exactly right and is usually out by quite a bit. (If you don’t believe me have a look at this paper  where a Prof goes on at some exasperated length about the way the boiling point of water can vary and his frustration at the way the ‘myth’ of 100°C is perpetuated.) Now, if children are taking those measurements, and don’t forget in Working Scientifically there is that line that says that everything we do must lead to substantive scientific knowledge’ I suspect many teachers will say to the children ‘your measurements are wrong’ and the ‘correct’ science is the one you need to believe i.e. don’t believe your own evidence just believe what I tell you.

Second there are a few practical issues here – putting a normal thermometer in a block of ice is a tad tricky so we have to start with crushed ice – that is fine – but heating it up to 100°C with the children taking measurements is fine in a properly equipped school lab, but could be a bit tricky safety-wise in your average primary school. Suppose we manage to deal with all that we now have the interesting issue of how we tell the boiling and the melting point of each liquid. Do you take the temperature when the first bit of crushed ice melts or the last or somewhere in the middle? And when do you know it is boiling? Plenty of steam/water vapour will be visible before boiling so just when do you say you have reached the boiling point? The only way you can really tell what these points are by plotting the graph and seeing where the graph goes flat. Now if I am 8 or 9 and I am plotting the line graph (which I won’t have met in maths yet – comes in at Y6 – but we’ll gloss over that one because I don’t really think that was what was intended) I will be very perplexed/interested/downright curious as to why when I am heating up the crushed ice so it melts and I continue to heat it up, never removing the heat source, it stays at the same temperature. If I have half an ounce of questioning left in me I will ask what on earth is going on. Now where do we go? Not I think into the following – temperature is a measure of how much particles are moving and that when the temperature increases the particles move more but that during a change of state the bonds between the particles need to be broken down and so the extra energy from increased heat goes into that rather than into more movement between the particles. Don’t think that will help.

So we are left with an approach where children are told the melting point and boiling point of water and then they heat it up and dutifully take measurements. The teacher will say ‘Does your thermometer read 0°C – ah well it must be melting. Does it read 100°C – now that’s your boiling point.’  Starting from a known outcome and confirming it through a prescribed and predetermined route. No thinking required from the children. No using the evidence to work things out for themselves.  No proper science.

5. There is a lot on magnetism – they meet it in Y 3, (Forces) Y5 (properties of materials ) Y5 (Forces). Are there enough activities to go round?

So in summary my questions would be:

Is there enough on materials and physical processes in KS1?

Can we add in something on soil in Y3?

How do we get primary children to measure the temperature at which changes of state take place for several different materials?

Is there too much on magnetism?



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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