Reflections of a science teacher – ten years on

LinkedIn tells me that it has been ten years since I started thescienceteacher.co.uk. Today the website houses science teaching resources that I hope challenge students to think deeply about science.

Along the way I’ve also been inspired to write some pages on pedagogy, as I’ve wrestled to better understand what works in science teaching and why. And so, to celebrate ten years, I’ve listed ten important pedagogical reflections that have mattered most to me. For those of you keen to implement some of these ideas back at school remember, “everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere“. Thanks Dylan!

My ten reflections on science teaching.

  1. Children don’t think like adults. Understanding is about taking new knowledge and making meaning from it by connecting new ideas to pre-existing ones. (Piaget). It’s hard in science because many new ideas can’t be seen and many pre-existing ideas are wrong and resistant to change (Rosalind Driver).
  2. Great science teaching requires an understanding of progression. Our main goal is conceptual change: start with concrete ideas and move to more abstract ones. Be clear on what you want students to know, do and by when.
  3. Great science teachers explain complex ideas by focusing on big ideas that remove unnecessary noise (Wynne Harlen).
  4. Science is a discipline that explains the physical world – it’s not just a collection of ideas. Start with an observation and go from there. Be passionate and love what you do. Every chemistry lesson should have a reaction, every biology lesson an organism and every physics lesson a surprise.
  5. Whole class practical work is probably not the best way to teach most scientific concepts but it is important. You wouldn’t think much of a footballer who couldn’t kick a ball. Focus in the on the key aspects you want students to learn. Develop don’t just do!
  6. Don’t make knowledge the enemy of thinking. To apply, explore and predict we need lots of knowledge and this knowledge needs to be remembered. (Daisy Christodoulou)
  7. Use challenge to motivate students and find out what they know. Be careful of using challenge to teach novices as this can overload students’ working memory.
  8. Don’t assume behavioural activity leads to cognitive activity. Busy students can be learning little. And students listening quietly to clear explanations can be constructing lots.
  9. Practice is important. Teachers need to rehearse explanations and students need to consolidate through building and applying.
  10. Science teachers can make a difference so “know thy impact” through formative assessment (John Hattie). Formative assessment is most rich when it’s done through a task that makes learning visible so teachers can respond. For me it’s a task that challenges students – if they succeed, we can assume they understand and if they struggle we can intervene. MCQs are useful here.