Is there a best way of teaching the NoS in the curriculum?
The inclusion of the NoS in the curriculum has a long history in science education, but there have always been arguments about the best way to teach it. Research documents early attempts to teach it using hands-on approaches, real-life experiments and incorporating inquiry-based pedagogies (Abd-EI-Khalick, Bell and Lederman, 1998). However, it appears that many of these approaches achieved limited success as they assumed that pupils would passively assimilate elements of the NoS through engagement in these activities (Abd-EI-Khalick, 1998). As an intervention strategy, some science curricula (for example the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual, 2015) in England), are increasingly integrating the assessment of pupils' understanding of elements of the NoS with the assessment of content. How Science Works is the term commonly used in England to refer to learning and assessment activities related to the NoS, i.e. activities allied to the collection and processing of data, and making conclusions (Abd-EI-Khalick, Bell and Lederman, 1998). Some elements of the NoS included in England’s 11-16 Science National Curriculum are:
- 1. Scientific attitudes, for example objectivity and concern for accuracy and precision
- 2. Experimental skills and investigations, including making observations, predictions, identifying variables and the correct use of equipment
- 3. Analysing and evaluating, including identifying patterns, sources of error, applying mathematical concepts and drawing conclusions (Department for Education (DfE), 2015, p. 43).
Tasks 14.2 and 14.3 identify some specific views of a beginning teacher that can support them in focusing on NoS in their teaching. Moreover, as a mentor, it is important to ensure that a beginning teacher has a clear understanding of the elements of the NoS that are in the curriculum that they teach in your country. Task 14.4 asks you to support a beginning teacher to audit the NoS in the science curriculum.
Task 14.4 An audit on the presence of NoS in the science curriculum
Ask a beginning teacher to conduct an audit of the presence of NoS elements (such as: scientific attitudes, experimental skills and investigations, analysis, evaluations and conclusions) in the curriculum they are teaching (or planning to teach) by answering the questions below:
- 1. Which elements of the NoS and its practices are included in the curriculum?
- 2. What elements of the NoS do they (beginning teacher) think should be included in the curriculum and why?
- 3. How do they approach teaching the NoS in their lessons? What has influenced this approach? What practical-based lessons would they include to embed elements of the NoS?
- 4. How do they assess pupils' understanding of these elements of the NoS?
In answering the above questions, encourage the beginning teacher to highlight NoS elements provided in the science curriculum's recommended units of work. You could support them in mapping these elements to different units of work in order to ensure a comprehensive coverage of the NoS with their pupils.
The discussion points in Task 14.4 would probably help a beginning teacher to acknowledge the significance of practical work as one of the effective ways of promoting the inclusion of NoS elements in science lessons. You then need to support the beginning teacher to incorporate these into their lessons. The next section provides you with some mentoring strategies that can support a beginning teacher to teach NoS elements using practical work.
Supporting a beginning teacher to reflect on their existing practical work mediated teaching practices using the nine elements of the NoS
Practical work is an important aspect of teaching and learning science. It offers many opportunities to develop pupils' understanding of the NoS, such as the reliance of science on empirical data, testing predictions and hypotheses, and fair testing. As a mentor, it is important to help a beginning teacher with building their attitudes by thoroughly reflecting on what elements of the NoS can be conveyed within certain practical activities, and demonstrating their wider applications. You need to support a beginning teacher to plan practical work in their lessons that not only promotes enjoyment among pupils but also enhances pupils’ learning and scientific skills development, for example, by focusing on reasons why scientific concepts are continuously tested and validated. The beginning teacher should include the nine elements of the NoS in planning for a practical activity, that is:
- • Making hypotheses
- • Making predictions
- • Identifying variables
- • Accurate use and handling of equipment
- • Making careful observations
- • Making inferences
- • Tables and graphs
- • Drawing conclusions
- • Evaluations.
You could ask the beginning teacher to first evaluate their current lesson plans by mapping these nine NoS elements. This can be achieved by asking them to complete Task 14.5, which invites a beginning teacher to reflect on the elements of the NoS and its implication for a classroom-based practical activity.
Task 14.5 Reflecting on what aspects of the NoS can be taught through a given practical activity
Ask a beginning teacher you are mentoring to plan an investigation for 13-year-olds on either whether or not a sample painting by Frida Kahlo is genuine or fake using the technique of chromatography or any topic they are about to teach.
After teaching the lesson, ask the beginning teacher to reflect on the nine elements of the NoS that were covered (or not) and why (or why not).
Then ask them to answer the following questions:
- 1. How can they more effectively address NoS elements during this lesson?
- 2. What other considerations can they make before deciding which elements to cover?
- 3. What are the positive outcomes for pupils?
Then discuss the answers to these questions with the beginning teacher and mutually agree on the next steps.
One of the next steps from Task 14.5, could be to encourage and support the beginning teacher to use, revisit, adopt/adapt Table 14.3, which presents a NoS mediated lesson plan pro forma, before they teach future practical lessons. Moreover, it is desirable that you keep monitoring and supporting the beginning teacher's (practical-based) lesson plan and teaching gains/setbacks throughout their time with you in order to develop their pedagogical practices, utilising the NoS elements, in a gradual and sustained manner.
As this chapter advocates the use of practical work to teach NoS elements, the associated feature for planning and performing practical work is the consideration of health and safety. The next section identifies mentoring support you can give to promote health and safety training for a beginning teacher you mentor.