Boiler suits and buns: Using modelling in science to develop independent learning
What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?
The development work described in this case study was undertaken for three reasons:
- To encourage pupils to develop positive attitudes towards Science to support engagement in lessons and effective learning.
- To improve pupil attainment in Science, initially at Level 6 and beyond at Key Stage 3 and subsequently at Key Stage 4.
- To encourage teachers in the Science team to be confident about developing ideas and practices to improve teaching and learning.
Who might find this case study useful?
- Head of school improvement
- Middle leader
- National Strategies consultant
- Subject leader
The effective use of models supported the development of independent study
Better teaching and learning was achieved by teachers valuing and developing their own ideas
What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?
How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?
The intention of the development was to find ways of getting pupils more involved with their learning in Science. The decision was made to explore the use of models. It was felt that by incorporating the effective use of models into schemes of learning it would make pupils’ experience of learning in Science more consistent.
It was also felt that if pupils had the opportunity to use models and were able to manipulate them and develop models of their own they would be more engaged in their learning and that the effective use of models would lead to the use of a wider range of lesson activities.
What were your success criteria?
- Pupils scoring higher marks on tracking and summative assessments
- Pupils with a positive attitude and disposition towards Science
- Pupils feeling able to explore ideas and take the risk of responses being wrong
- Teachers being able to adapt any model to use with any teaching group
PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches
What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?
- Observation outcomes
- Periodic teacher assessment
- Pupils' work
- Test results
What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?
- Assessment for Learning (AfL)
- Collaborative group work
- Self assessment and peer assessment
- Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching
- Use of thinking skills
Describe the teaching approaches you used
The Science department decided to participate in the 'Level 6 & Beyond' project running in Surrey LA. Of the possible themes, the one of 'modelling' was selected as it was felt that improving practice in this area would have a positive impact on a number of outcomes.
Teachers in the Science team were encouraged to identify instances in which they used models in lessons and reflect on their effectiveness. Schemes of learning were reviewed by pairs of teachers and a greater variety of learning activities incorporated; one of the outcomes of this review was to identify and share good practice by building it into plans, thereby reducing the variation between lessons. A number of the activities were designed to facilitate outcomes at a range of levels. Examples included the particulate model of matter, cellular processes in plants and the oxygenation of blood.
As well as being incorporated in the lesson plans, staff were encouraged to use models in response to questions arising in lessons and where additional explanations were needed. This therefore developed a 'toolkit' that teachers could draw upon to respond to pupils’ needs and interests.
An example of a lesson that was enhanced by using a modelling activity was a Y10 lesson on genetic engineering. Part of this lesson had a focus upon pupils understanding how genetically modified insulin is made. This involved them in using scissors, donuts and strawberry laces to represent (respectively) restriction enzymes, plasmids and the insulin gene. As the pupils have to physically insert the insulin gene into the plasmid it is an effective way of learning how the process works. Furthermore it then allows questions such as:
- Why was this a good model?
- What did you learn from it?
- How is it unrealistic?
- In what ways can you improve it?
This enables the lesson to have a focus on the process of modelling as well as on genetic engineering.
The lesson plan and the presentation used with the pupils are included in this case study.
As the development has continued, a great range of models has been added to and integrated with the department's schemes of learning. This now includes:
- 'Tails', in which pupils gather tails from each other to show what (or who) they have eaten, progressing from year 7 (showing how habitats works and introducing the idea of competition by acting out different scenarios) to year 11 (depicting the predator/prey relationship which brings the graph to life. They also then devise their own scenarios to show "what happens if…").
- Particle model by looking at pictures of a football stadium and seeing how the particles relate to spectators at a football match, or, thinking about a shopping centre to model the idea of density (on a hot summers day not many shoppers – low density but on Christmas Eve when no-one has done their shopping – high density).
- Circulatory system, which uses coloured boiler suits and hats to represent oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. Pupils are then encourage to take the route of blood around the body going from the heart to the lungs and to the muscles. At each stage pupils are to swap their boiler suits to model the process of gaseous exchange occurring at the different organs.
What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?
- Lesson observation
- Lesson study
- Partnership teaching
Describe the CPD approaches you used
The development work on the scheme of learning was undertaken by pairs of teachers, who were nominated by the subject leaders to combine complementary strengths and build in quality assurance. The revisions were designed to identify and share a range of active teaching strategies.
Many teachers were making some use of models in their lessons so progress could be made by identifying good practice. They were often using approaches they’d developed themselves, so there was the opportunity for the sharing of effective practice and strengthening collaboration and a sense of shared enterprise in the team.
Draft plans were circulated for comment; staff were encouraged to feedback on ideas and make suggestions having tried out the scheme. They were encouraged to “drop in” to each others’ lessons and the (joint) subject leaders modelled this approach. At each team meeting effective practice was shared and at a whole school CPD event a group of Science teachers led an input, exemplifying how the team worked to develop and implement active learning approaches.
It was considered important for the meetings to have a positive ethos and to focus on what was working well.
What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?
Progressing to Level 6 and beyond in science: http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/182090
Who provided you with support?
- External agency
- Middle leader
- Senior management
- Subject leader
How were you supported?
The LA Science Consultant supported the developments by providing feedback on classroom practice, encouraging the sharing of effective practice and referencing the work with parallel developments in other schools.
The 'Progressing to Level 6 & Beyond' materials were used and good practice shared at the local network meetings. At these meetings teachers from schools brought along examples of effective practice and discussed how they had implemented change.
Impact on Pupil Learning
What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?
- Pupils are more engaged with lessons and therefore with the overall process of learning.
- Lessons are enjoyable as well as challenging.
- It is significantly more likely that pupils will talk to each other about positive experiences that they have had in lessons.
- Lessons are much more likely to be 'high challenge – low stress'; pupils feel more able to offer their own ideas and less worried about whether they are 'correct'.
There are now an increasing number of opportunities for pupils to use, modify and devise models in science lessons in order to develop key concepts and processes. Pupils feel more able to ask questions, suggest changes and offer ideas. Learning activities are more varied in style and pupils feel empowered to become involved and respond.
Critical to making this possible and practical has been developing an appropriate climate for learning; one of the ways in which this has been achieved is by engaging pupils in developing 'ground rules', which they then have ownership of.
Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning
Setting an appropriate climate for learning is central to developments such as this. Pupils have to be confident that their ideas will be valued and considered. At the same time the structures have to be in place to support effective group work so that questions such as "Have we explained this well?", "Does this get the point across?" and "Would it be better if we …" can arise, be explored and dealt with.
It's also important for the lesson structure to support an effective sharing of ideas. Pupils will make a better job of developing models if they know that they'll be shared and evaluated. A clear and well managed time scale is also important.
Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning
I liked running around outside with a tail on!
– by a pupil involved with a group activity on food chains.
I like being a Science geek!
– by a pupil who had previously taken no interest in science.
Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning
- Test results
Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning
- Learning walks / study visits
- Observation outcomes
- Pupils' work
Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning
- Lesson observations showed how participation and engagement had increased.
- Pupil questionnaires showed how attitudes and satisfaction had increased.
- Interim test scores showed how attainment had improved.
One of the principle ways of tracking pupil progress is by means of topic test. It was arranged that in each of the tests there would be two or more questions that involved the use of modelling. Question level analysis then indicated pupil performance in that aspect. As the sample sheet from Y9 shows, pupils generally cope well with questions on summative tests that involve modelling, these marks make a positive contribution to the pupil's overall level of attainment and that pupils are, as a result, performing well against their predicted grades.
This particular group is one whose rate of progress prior to this year had, in some cases, not been as good as expected. As the sheet shows, by the end of the year none of the pupils had underperformed, many had exceeded their predicted grades by one level and some by two.
Impact on Teaching
What has been the impact on teaching?
Teachers now use a range of models to support the development of ideas in lessons. They do so by drawing on plans and sets of resources which make the practice easier. The models often involve the teachers in using active learning strategies and in asking a range of questions, such as "Is this a good model?" "What's good about it?" and "How can it be improved?"
Pupils are likely to suggest modifications to models and may be challenged to devise and present models of their own; this may involve them in group work, discussions, practical work and making presentations.Teachers use the opportunities to challenge pupils to reflect upon and evaluate models and in so doing support their movement to higher order thinking skills.
Pupils comment on the strengths and areas for development of their own models and those of their peers; hence the development of self and peer assessment has been supported. The developed use of models has supported a variety of other aspects, such as group talk and effective writing.
Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching
As a teacher you have to be able to respond appropriately to ideas in development. Pupils mustn't feel that there's a single correct model that they have to arrive at, but at the same time they have to see that some work better than others. As a teacher you have to be able to ask questions that will guide and challenge as well as support; those questions have to be personalised.
A key aspect of the development was for the teachers to consider how access to courses such as GCSE and A level would be enhanced not only by key models being used effectively with younger pupils, but also for the skill of modelling to be developed. As a result of this pupils are confident to introduce ideas, ask questions of each other, evaluate their ideas and present them with confidence.
Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching
Teachers in the department may express the view that we, as leaders, have made a real difference. In fact, they've made the difference, and we make a point of saying that.
We always try to find a way forward with pupils. If one approach doesn't work, it was the approach that was wrong.
Evidence of impact on teaching
- Evidence from observation and monitoring
- Teacher perceptions
Describe the evidence of impact on teaching
- Level of enthusiasm in lessons as evidenced by "drop ins".
- Pupil responses to questionnaires.
- The sharing of effective practice, as evidenced by collaborative lesson plans.
- Confidence of pupils in suggesting ideas and responding to questions, as evidenced by lesson observations.
Impact on school organisation and leadership
What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?
Leadership in the department has developed by teachers feeling able to develop effective practice by drawing on their own ideas and expertise and collaborating to develop and validate these.
Effective practice is enshrined in schemes of learning so that it becomes an entitlement for pupils but teachers also feel empowered to draw upon and adapt approaches to personalise the curriculum for pupils; leadership has successfully supported this approach by modelling it themselves and recognising it across the team.
Improvements have been led by focusing upon the pupils’ experience of learning as the prime determinant of the quality of work. By so doing the subject leadership has influenced the view that teachers have of themselves, their work and their impact.
The senior leadership has recognised the significant impact this has had and has been instrumental in validating this across the school to support the approach.
Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership
Setting an appropriate climate for learning is a whole school issue – pupils are more likely to be creative and reflective in their use of models if they are used to exploring ideas in lessons and having them valued.
Effective quality assurance should be a shared enterprise: having pairs of teachers collaborating and critically appraising each other's plans was a useful development.
Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership
"Ideas about effective teaching and learning are easy to come by – the more difficult thing is to adapt them so that they can be used in different subject areas."
"Teachers from other subject areas are sometimes surprised by the quality of work produced by pupils of a particular age – it shows what can be achieved given effective planning and teaching."
Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership
A greater emphasis upon effective teaching and learning has led to a more effective use of Teaching Assistants.
Developmental work in Science has encouraged the effective use of peer observations - teachers want to see how plans are being used to support engaging teaching.
Members of the Science team have played a significant, and significantly greater role in whole school CPD activities.
What is the crucial thing that made the difference?
Making development a collaborative venture and not an imposition.
What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?
- Progressing to Level 6 & Beyond in Science: http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/182090
- Models & Modelling, reference DfES 0703-2004 G, download from Teachernet by searching on: Strengthening teaching and learning in science through using different pedagogies.
- See article 'Buns, Scissors & Strawberry Laces – a model of science education?' in the November 2009 edition of Education in Science, published by the Association of Science Education. http://www.ase.org.uk
What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?
Team meetings where staff worked in planned pairs to identify current practice and develop opportunities in the schemes of learning.
Providing a clear rationale for changing practice, so that team members knew not only what was expected but why.
Providing quality feedback to teachers, recognising developments that have occurred and the impact of these.
If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?
- Where would they start?
- Identify current strengths in their team.
- Encourage effective practice in a variety of ways.
- Develop partnerships with lead practitioners in other schools – become an ambassador for the team.
- What would be the essential elements to include?
- Develop effective behaviour management strategies.
- Develop a variety of learning activities so that pupils are engaged.
- Provide pupils with an overview of the “learning journey” so that they can see how lessons serve to develop an overview of an aspect of science.
What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?
- Develop the effectiveness of the schemes of learning for higher attaining pupils.
- Develop the approach more in Key Stage 4, so that it informs the type of curriculum pathway, and the provision within those pathways.
- Strengthen opportunities for pupils to devise and develop their own models.
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