Whoo hoo – an answer

Have finally heard back from my MP with a letter from Liz Truss attached. It reads as follows:

Dear David

Thank you for your letters of 16th August and 14th September enclosing correspondence from your constituent Anne Goldsworthy about the draft Programmes of Study for Primary Science.

We appreciate the time she has taken to convey her views by writing to you. the drafts we published on 11th June for primary English, mathematics and science are not the final drafts and are intended to be the subject of discussion with a wider range of stakeholders. These discussions will inform further changes and we will then carry out a full public consultation before the documents are finalised. I will make sure the points Ms Goldsworthy made are fed into those discussions.

Please thank Ms Goldsworthy on our behalf for her contribution to developing the drafts and assure her that the points she raises have been noted.

Best wishes

Liz Truss

Probably about the best we could hope for and, ever the optimist, I am now hopeful that the worst whoopsies will get sorted.

I still get very angry that such a poor document was released in the first place. It is a NATIONAL Curriculum and even a draft/pre-draft copy should be able to stand up to some basic scrutiny. Putting out a sub-standard document is not the best way to give the teaching profession confidence that the curriculum is in safe hands. But perhaps good changes will be on their way. Let’s hope so. Cross every finger – touch every piece of wood.

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Trying to push it along

Wrote to my MP (David Davies; Monmouthshire), back in July about my concerns re the primary science curriculum. Also sent a request that it be forwarded to correct person following the re-shuffle. Know the letter went off. Still haven’t heard back so sent this reminder. Let’s hope I hear soon.

Just trying to find out what has been happening re my concerns about the draft primary science curriculum (England). I originally wrote to David Davies on 26th July. I know there has been a re-shuffle since I wrote – ( I think it is now Liz Truss in charge of curriculum – thought it might be David Laws but looking on DfE website it doesn’t seem like it) – but I was wondering how much longer it was likely to take before I got a response. I know they will be re-drafting the primary science curriculum before it goes out to full consultation so I hoped that my concerns would be considered before that date. We may be running out of time.

 

Watch this space for developments.

 

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Changes ahoy … maybe

The cabinet reshuffle has led to changes at the DfE. Schools minister Nick Gibb (Con) has gone and David Laws (Lib Dem) has replaced him in several areas. This means that one of the key architects of the new curriculum has been moved. But looking on the DfE website it seems that the responsibility for curriculum development is not going to David Laws. This now falls to Elizabeth Truss who is conservative MP for S West Norfolk. A brief look at her background reveals someone who believes in the importance of Maths and Science (hooray) but may need some advice about what helps children’s learning. She sees long division at primary school as good and chunking numbers as bad. See her article in today’s Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/9517706/We-must-shift-science-out-of-the-geek-ghetto.html Children challenged with tough exciting demands is what we all want – children left feeling stupid, perplexed and believing that maths and science is beyond them is not. Politicians who want the best learning for our children are fine but politicians who listen and learn from research about the way children learn most effectively are so much better.

Whatever, the reshuffle provides a really good opportunity for MPs to take a different tack. I am told that it makes a real difference to the way they react if they have a full postbag. It is certainly a good time to push for change. As I said before, feel free to use any parts of the blog (letter to MP/summary of concerns etc) if it helps.

But please support everyone who has to teach and learn about primary science. We need to get some changes to this curriculum.

Do all you can.

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whoo hoo 1000

Well open up the wine – have hit the 1000 views of the blog … gosh. Big thanks to all you followers.

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Letter to my MP – feel free to use/copy if you want to do the same

I have written to my MP, (David Davies, Monmouthshire) expressing my concerns about the draft primary science curriculum. He in turn has written to Nick Gibb – Minister of State for Schools – with a shortened version of my letter together with the one page summary I posted below. I will let you know the outcome.

In case anyone wants to do similar and wants to write to their MP so that they can also put pressure on Nick Gibb to respond and justify, where possible, the errors, poor progression and the lack of pupil voice in the draft curriculum – please feel free to use or adapt  my letter.

Dear Mr Davies

I work in education and have been specialising in primary science for the last 20 years. www.annegoldsworthy.co.uk

As you will know, there has been a review of the National Curriculum and the draft curriculum for primary science was made available earlier this year http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum/a00210036/sosletter

I am extremely worried by the draft curriculum. It has several errors, very poor progression and it mitigates against good learning and teaching in science.

The attached document will give you a quick flavour of my concerns. There is far greater detail should you wish to look into it further at www.annegoldsworthy.wordpress.com

I am not alone in my concerns – I know of no colleague (teacher/provider/researcher) who is feeling positive about the proposed science curriculum.

Yours sincerely

Anne Goldsworthy

 

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One page summary for MPs or interested others

The Draft Primary Science Curriculum – Some Concerns

The proposed orders for the primary science curriculum in England are now available from DfE. Key stakeholders are being invited to comment over the next few months and the document will go to full consultation with the teaching profession at the end of this year for implementation in schools in September 2014.

It is pleasing to see that primary science has increased status but the document raises some serious concerns.

The document has been put together for initial consultation without proper control and editing. There is an error on page 15 in the Chemistry section on Everyday Materials which looks at magnetic attraction and floating and sinking. Here, in the notes and guidance, teachers are advised to do tests ‘for gaining knowledge and evidence about the effects of exercise on the human body’ by measuring ‘the rate of breathing and the number of heart beats per second’.  Progression in learning is also haphazard. If you look at the mention of gases through the whole document you find considerable anomalies as shown in the table below.

Year Reference to gasses
3 Oxygen specified (Programme of Study – Biology)
4 Oxygen mentioned in parentheses (Notes and Guidance – Biology)
4 Specific Gases in air NOT to be introduced (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)
5 Human gaseous exchange studied but no reference to specific gasses (Programme of Study – Biology)
6 Carbon dioxide and oxidisation referred to (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)

 

There are a number of scientific errors in the document. In Year1 (p6) pupils ‘describe the movement of the Sun across the sky’. The notes and guidance refer to the rotating Earth and that pupils of this age do not need to learn about this but it seems strange for a National Curriculum to contain a scientific misconception.  In Year 4 (p23) the notes and guidance suggest that pupils ‘can set up and perform comparative and fair tests on the temperature at which water boils and freezes.’ Leaving aside the practical difficulty involved in finding the boiling point and freezing point of water in primary schools, the test carried out will not be a fair test. In a fair test, we change something to see the effect on something else whilst keeping other variables the same. In this instance, we have just one thing sitting in front of us and we observe and measure how it changes over time. It is not a fair test.

There are also significant concerns about the implications for children’s learning. Nowhere are teachers encouraged to start from children’s questions or ideas and all investigative work ‘must be delivered through substantive subject content’. This will give impetus to the confirmatory experiment where children dutifully use equipment to follow a prescribed route though to a known outcome. The chance for children to think for themselves and to learn from their mistakes is lost. There are also many concerns about the level of demand suggested in the document. Sometimes it is far too demanding for the age group concerned and sometimes far too simple. Year 2 pupils (p 7 Notes and Guidance) can be introduced to cells but Year 4 pupils (p22 Notes and Guidance) simply have to compare and record similarities and differences amongst themselves such as eye colour, hair colour and hand spans. Added to this there is a great deal of emphasis on learning scientific words and naming things but without any emphasis on the necessary background experiences to add meaning and understanding. The science education community is extremely concerned about this document and the future direction of Primary Science.

Anne Goldsworthy anne.goldsworthy@btinternet.com

A fuller analysis of concerns about the document can be found at www.annegoldsworthy.wordpress.com

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a question to ask

sometimes when you stroll down a beach you can’t help the primary science curriculum coming to mind … yes I know … sad isn’t it … but this was the thought …

 

The PoS requires all parts of working scientifically to lead to substantive subject knowledge but in the knowledge sections there are several examples where no understanding of science is required, just the observing of effects e.g. electrostatics Y6 (no explanation required), making a magnet Y3 (no explanation required), describe movement of the Sun across the sky Y1 (real cause not to be taught). How can this inconsistency be justified?

 

… perhaps one to put any DfE person/MP/anyone who could help/passing stranger.

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And finally for the summer …

…. that’s it for now. 13,500 words later and I am awarding myself a nice glass of chilled Pinot. Have a great summer everyone and let’s come back ready to get this thing changed if we possibly can.

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The Summary

What follows is a summary of many of the concerns that I have written about at more length on previous blogs. Feel free to share any of this blog around wherever you like.

Pulling everything together into the summary has served to confirm my worst thoughts – this curriculum as it stands is going to have a devastating effect on primary science. We have come so far with our subject over the past 30 years and know how primary science at its best matches perfectly with the way primary children learn i.e. through, thinking up, trying out and developing their own ideas. It would be a tragedy to see it go backwards. I was hoping that this document would give science extra status within the curriculum again. But not this way.

Key stakeholders are being invited to comment over the next few months and the document will go to full consultation with the teaching profession at the end of this year for implementation in schools  in September 2014.

Please help to change this document.

List of concerns about the draft Primary Science Curriculum

Errors

There are several errors in the document

Error

Page & section

Comment

Describe the movement of the Sun across the sky 6 PoS

Y1 Physics

Not scientifically correct – insert ‘apparent’ before movement
‘It is not necessary to carry out tests on plants or measure their growth’ followed by ‘set up a comparative test to show that plants need light and water’ and ‘ensure pupils practise measuring length’ 7/8 N & G

Y2 Biology

Contradictory statements
Opposite the Chemistry section on Everyday Materials which looks at magnetic attraction and floating and sinking, the notes and guidance are about   ‘gaining knowledge and evidence about the effects of exercise on the human body’ by measuring ‘the rate of breathing and the number of heart beats per second’. 15 N & G

Y3 Chemistry

A typographical error presumably
Pupils ‘can set up and perform comparative and fair tests on the temperature at which water boils and freezes.’ 23 N & G

Y4 Chemistry

Not scientifically correct. In a fair test, we change something to see the effect on something else whilst keeping other variables the same. In this instance, we have just one thing sitting in front of us and we observe and measure how it changes over time. It is not a fair test.
Pupils record their data using scientific diagrams & labels, tables, bar and pie charts or models ..’ 31 N & G

Y5 Physics

(see also on p 24, Y 4 Physics)

Investigations suggested will lead to line graphs which are not included in list of ways to present data

Progression of Ideas

The development of ideas is sometimes haphazard. For example, if  you consider the development of work on gases through the whole document you find considerable anomalies as shown in the table below.

Year Reference to gasses
3 Oxygen specified (Programme of Study – Biology)
4 Oxygen mentioned in parentheses (Notes and Guidance – Biology)
4 Specific Gases in air NOT to be introduced (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)
5 Human gaseous exchange studied but no reference to specific gasses (Programme of Study – Biology)
6 Carbon dioxide and oxidisation referred to (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)

 


New additions which have little science content.

There are new additions to the curriculum which do not seem to build towards any deep conceptual thinking. Many of them are there because they have accompanying practical activities or demonstrations but they do not help children develop their science ideas.

Addition

Page & section

Comment

Ensure pupils use the local environment regularly throughout the year to observe and record the weather, using measurements where possible: rain fall (ml), temperature (°C) and wind direction. 9N & G

Y2 Biology

No link to any part of the accompanying PoS
Pupils should be taught to make a magnet 18 PoS

Y3 Physics

Technical not science – no development of ideas
Pupils should be taught to… name some constellations 15 N & G

Y4 Physics

Naming of constellations does not develop scientific ideas
Pupils should be taught to describe the effects of static electricity and show that they occur when two materials are rubbed together 32 PoS

Y5 Physics

Just describing effects not developing understanding of the cause of the effects – why is it materials behave in this way when rubbed together?

Omissions

There are several surprising omissions

Omission

Comment

No encouragement for children to ask their own questions The tenor of the document is towards practical work that confirms a known outcome (with little thinking about the scientific process required) rather than children deciding for themselves how to answer a question that they have asked
No requirement for KS 1 to say what they found out The essential point of doing any science experiment is omitted
No work on Chemistry (materials) in Y1 An opportunity to explore everyday materials is missed
No mention of pushes and pulls in Y 2 work on Forces All the changes in motion are due to forces (pushes and pulls) acting on them
No work on soil in Y3 Work on rocks is carried out but nothing on what soil is, where it comes from, how soils differ from each other and why all plant life (and thereby animal life) depends on it
No mention of day and night caused by the Earth spinning on its own axis Time taken to complete a revolution is mentioned but not the effect it causes
No direct mention that Newton is the measure of Force All forces (pushes and pulls ) are measured in Newtons
No mention that light is reflected from surfaces Difficult to understand how we see objects without first grasping that the light from the object is reflected (and then goes into our eyes).

Level of demand

There are numerous instances where the level of demand is either too high or too low. The following is a selection:

Too hard

Page & section

Comment

Children can be introduced to the idea that all living things are made of cells 7N & G

Y2 Biology

Y2 pupils need to be able to see/touch/experience for things to make sense to them
Pupils should use the Biographies of Darwin and Linnaeus 20 N7 G

Y4 Biology

Pupils will be unable to use the biographies meaningfully
Pupils should be taught to describe respiration as the activity that releases energy from food as a fuel to maintain the body’s activity, and identify that plants also respire. 29 Y5

Biology

Energy and fuel not yet covered. Concept found difficult at KS 3
Pupils should be taught explain the idea of speed and determine the distance travelled based on the speed and time of travel. 36 PoS

Y6 Physics

A tricky concept at KS 3 – more maths than science

Too easy

Page & section

Comment

Pupils can apply their knowledge and skills by identifying, comparing and recording similarities and differences among themselves such as eye colour, hair colour, hand spans 22N & G

Y4 Biology

Very simple demand – usually done in KS 1
identify the four seasons and the regular changes in sunlight and weather associated with them in the UK. 25 PoS

Y4Physics

Very simple demand – usually done in KS 1
Pupils should be taught to use simple optical instruments. 35 PoS

Y6 Physics

Just using the instrument shows nothing about your understanding of how it works


 

General Comments

  • There is a heavy emphasis on Biology. If you look at the areas pupils should study on the front page of KS1, Lower KS2 and Upper KS 2 they divide up as follows:

KS1                         3 Biology, 1 Chemistry, 3 Physics

Lower KS 2          7 Biology, 3 Chemistry, 5 Physics

Upper KS 2          5 Biology, 3 Chemistry, 4 Physics

Totals                    15 Biology, 7 Chemistry, 12Physics

This emphasis on Biology is surprising as this is the area in which children always do well in science tests.

  • There are many new areas of the curriculum where practical work will be impossible such as inheritance and evolution, respiration and other functions of internal organs, studying biographies of scientists.
  • The document discourages pupils from exploring their own interests scientifically.
  • There is a prohibition on teaching the practical and intellectual skills of scientific enquiry except to support the learning substantial content, which is counter to the developments in science education over the past 50 years. (see AKSIS Project amongst others)
  • There is a strong emphasis on learning words for things, a low level attainment which has little to do with progress in scientific understanding.
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Thoughts on the Physics Bit (part 4) Y 5 & 6

I’m feeling like the end is in sight – this is the last bit of the blog looking at the new curriculum in detail. After this, I’ll try to pull it all together into one précis of all the whoopsies/concerns/daft bits and then I am going off to enjoy the summer sunshine. WOMAD festival, Olympics, Grandsons and Gower beaches here we come … nearly.

But first let’s have a look at Y5. Two sections here – one on Forces and one on Static Electricity and Magnetism. Let’s look at Forces first. The statements in the PoS are all OK. I’m not sure why they added the words ‘to a greater extent’ to the line that goes ‘Pupils should be taught to explain that drag forces tend to slow things down, including air resistance and, to a greater extent, resistance in liquids’. True if it is the same object moving at the same speed in both air and water.  But what about the drag force from air resistance acting on a massive lorry batting along the motorway compared to the water resistance acting on a smooth pencil moving slowly over a dish of water?  Better just to leave the words ‘to a greater extent’ out.

I would also like to see a line that says that forces are measured in Newtons. As it is the notes and guidance say ‘Teachers should be aware of the relationship between the force of gravity, mass and weight. For the purposes of primary level work, pupils should measure mass in grams and kilograms, and the difference between mass and weight should not be addressed.’ On the whole it is sensible advice  i.e. that teachers need to be familiar with the tricky bit that mass is the amount of stuff is whereas the pull/push on the stuff from the Earth is called gravity (or weight) and that pupils do not need to deal with this bit. But somewhere it would have been good to see the units identified – i.e. grams for mass and Newtons for force including gravity (weight).

Once again in the parts of the notes and guidance that talks about investigations we have suggestions for variables that will be represented in numbers – Newtons, cm², grams, centimetres etc, but no mention of line graphs in ways in which data is represented. This has probably been done so that there is a close tie in with Maths as line graphs are not introduced there until Y6. Whilst it is good to see a link-up between the two subject areas it should not come at the expense of bad science. As it is, according to the guidance, children can only record using diagrams, tables, bar and pie charts or models. All that is needed is a line saying ‘… and line graphs with support.’ Then we will all be happy.

The next section is on static electricity and magnetism. This seems an odd addition to the primary curriculum. It is obviously done in preparation for some work on electro magnetism later on but at this stage there will be no obvious link for the pupils between magnets and static electricity. Also the section on static electricity only asks for pupils to describe the effects of static electricity and show that they occur when some materials are rubbed together.  Cue lots of classrooms doing the classic static electricity bit of balloons stuck on walls or hair standing up or deflecting a stream of water or picking up tissue bits with a comb. But we are not going to do anything to get children thinking about what causes these things – electrical charge and electrons would be just a bit too much at this stage so it’s back to what I call ‘Coo–er’ science again. Children look, say ‘coo-er’ and move on. No thinking required.

And finally to Y6. Three sections here on Light, Forces and Electricity. The Light section has the important point that we see when light enters our eyes. There is no separate point about light being reflected from surfaces which is a shame. I sometimes ask children to order a range of surfaces from shiniest (most reflective) to dullest (least reflective) and then ask them to decide at which surface the light stops being reflected. The ensuing arguments usually result in recognition that everything is reflecting some light. Once they have appreciated this then it makes sense to consider that we see only when light from a light source or light reflected from an object enters our eyes. I often try to get pupils to think about the light’s journey – where it started, where it went to where it ended up. It seems to help and gets across the idea of eyes being the receivers of light in the same way that ears are receivers of sound. The work on reflection would also help when children start to look at children to look at mirrors and other shiny surfaces and to use them to make periscopes and the like and to think about the light’s journey through the periscope.

There is though an odd suggestion in the Notes and Guidance – that pupils study the story of how Isaac Newton built the first reflecting telescope. Now if they are going to make sense of the story and the telescope Newton built they will need to know the following:- “A reflector, or reflecting telescope uses an arrangement of one or more curved mirrors to gather light and return it along an optical path to a point of focus. The most critical element of this type of telescope is the major light gathering source – the primary mirror. Light strikes the parabolic, reflective surface of the primary and returns to a point of focus called the focal plane. Because each spherical or parabolic shaped primary mirror is slightly different, the distance the light needs to travel to achieve focus is called the focal length. At its focus point, the image (in a simple reflector telescope) is collected on another mirror surface called the secondary. The secondary mirror is then aimed towards the viewer who uses a series of lenses called an eyepiece to magnify the image and send it to the eye.” http://www.universetoday.com Perhaps I just don’t like a challenge but I suspect that may all be a bit beyond our primary pupils.

We then come to the statement that ‘Pupils should be taught to explain that light can be broken into colours and that different colours of light can be combined to appear as a new colour’.  I always have huge difficulty doing this bit with children. Not with the nice effects that you can get when breaking up light or combining colours – that bit is easy. But how you set about getting them to think about why it happened. We could just tell them that white light breaks up into colours but that will only reinforce the idea in their minds that light is some sort of stuff rather than a form of energy which travels as a wave and that different colours are different wavelengths and that certain materials like glass will break up light into these different wavelengths as long as the white light hits it a certain angle.  I don’t think I am alone in having trouble with making sense of light and the way it behaves and I have spent many hours pestering obliging physicists to take me through it just one more time. This bit is hard. So once again we will be asking pupils to accept an explanation without real understanding and in doing so almost inevitably planting misconceptions for the future. And by the way you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to explain the difference between mixing light and mixing pigments but I bet you will get loads of children who when asked what they think will happen when you mix red and green light will reply, using their knowledge of paint mixing, that it will be a kind of browny colour. When it then turns out to be yellow how are you going to deal with that? Oh it’s another one to leave until later is it? Think I might be getting a bit fed up of this response if I was 10 years old and wanted to believe that science could help me make sense of the world.

The final line here says that pupils should be taught to use simple optical instruments. The guidance suggests mirror, magnifying glass, telescope and microscope as the instruments they should use. I can’t quite see the point of this. They are not thinking about what happens to the light or how they get the effects that they do – they are just using the instruments. So the conversation might go something like this. ‘What did you learn in science today?’ ‘I learnt how to look in a mirror/telescope’ ‘Did you know how to do that before?’ ‘Yeah, I did’.

Next we come to the Forces section. It has probably the most peculiar bit of the whole curriculum – two statements introducing speed. There seems to be no reason for its inclusion in the section on Forces as nowhere do we look at the way changes in speed are caused by forces. We just simply do calculations to do with distance, time and speed. I fail to see how this is anything other than maths and at this stage is unlikely to have any application to activities done in the primary classroom. There is nothing in the notes and guidance which links it to practical work mainly because it would be impossible to find examples that would work in the primary school. Where is the science in this section? Why has it been moved down from KS 3? And why is it so badly written? This was the judgement from a physicist and curriculum expert ‘… the section on speed is appallingly written, saying the same thing about speed in several different and sometimes misleading ways.’ Oh dearie dearie me!

And finally we come to the bit on Electricity. I suspect it’s the same person writing the section for Y6 that did the part for Y4; because once again it is helpful, makes reasonable but challenging demands and is full of practical activities.  Yabba dabba doo! Please could the person who wrote the electricity sections give a lesson to some of the other writers.

And as I finish off the detailed look at the proposed science curriculum, I don’t want to come across as totally unsympathetic to those who had the task of writing it. It is hard gruelling work that takes huge amounts of time. You need to keep checking and cross-checking. You need to look at progression within your subject, matching progression in other subjects, and all the research about children’s learning and what is appropriate at what stage. And then, of course, you have to try to balance the sometimes conflicting demands of all those things. Even when you think you have done it all, you will always find wrinkles and bits that could be misinterpreted. It was a while back when I was on the team that wrote the curriculum after the Dearing Review in 1993 but I remember meeting after meeting, headache after headache and late night work for all of us. It is not something that can be put together by a disparate group of people. It is not an easy task.  And it was certainly not something we could have achieved without the leadership of the hard-working subject specialists at QCA all of whom had a background in science education.  At that time the politicians, by and large, were content to let the experts from the classroom set the agenda.  I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that may be in sharp contrast to the way this curriculum was devised. Sometimes quangos give you quality.

And for those of you who are interested I have smashed the 10,000 word total for the blog – it is now at over 12,440. That’s a lot of writing and I wish it wasn’t that way.

 

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