I have just watched this video from the Nuffield Foundation and Alom Shaha about different pedagogical approaches to practical activities in Science.
It’s got me thinking…
Do the practical activities I plan and implement with my students focus on meaningful learning and understanding?
I know that I often run out of time in the discussion/making meaning phase of the lesson after the “practicalities” of the practical activities. By the time you introduce the activity, outline the safety, get the equipment, set up, do the experiment, pack up the lesson is all but over. As Alom was describing this process I was cringing… but I also thought of the ways I overcome this… which were later addressed in the video. These strategies include using demonstrations in place of whole class activities or focussing on a particular aspect of the practical activity to promote thinking and discussion about the concepts. My favourite way of doing this is similar to the suggestion of making predictions and confirming understanding. I use an Inquiry Learning model – POE (Predict, Observe, Explain). This model ensures that students think before, during and after the practical activity and promotes discussion and questions within student groups.
How often do I plan practical work just as “something fun/interesting to do” or “busy work”?
Honestly it happens sometimes. But I also kind of think this is ok, as long as it’s not the only reason to do practical activities. I want students to look forward to and enjoy my Science lessons and these kinds of activities definitely contribute this. I also think that students can experience joy in these activities. Watching my Year 9s total surprise and huge smiles when they tested the gas produced by the reaction of magnesium and hydrochloric acid. The cries of “do it again” were infectious.
Are the practical activities meeting the intended learning objectives?
My Year 11 Chemistry class has just finished an Extended Experimental Investigation on the Hardness of Water in different water sources. The students planned the investigation and completed around 60 (yes 60) titrations to determine the hardness of water. I have just finished marking their reports and it is clear to me that the majority of students only have a very superficial understanding of what they were trying to do, why they were doing and what their results actually mean. Watching this video confirms to me that this task needs to be reviewed and modified to ensure it is meeting the learning objectives that we want. This will mean interesting conversations with my colleagues over the next few days.
Watching this video has definitely made me think and reflect on my own practice and I am looking forward to exploring the readings and resources on the Nuffield Foundation website