Helen Wilson outlines the 'Thinking, Doing, Talking Science' project and how it can stimulate children to better understand scientific concepts.
The Thinking, Doing, Talking Science project was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. Oxford Brookes University and Science Oxford carried out the project and the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York was appointed as the independent evaluator.
The aim of the project was to work with teachers to make primary science lessons more practical, creative and challenging and to measure the impact on pupils’ attainment and attitudes towards the subject. The project involved two teachers from each of 42 primary schools in Oxfordshire, including all teachers of Year 5 pupils, aged from nine to ten.
In a randomised controlled trial, half the schools were allocated to the intervention group and half to the control. The teachers in the intervention group received training in 2013-14 and the impact on their pupils was measured and compared with the pupils in the control group. All the Year 5 pupils (more than 1,200) in both the intervention and control schools took a science test at the beginning and end of that academic year, and also completed a survey of their attitude to science at the end of the year. The control schools received the training in 2014–15, after all the comparisons had been made.
The results showed that the pupils in the intervention group made about three months more progress in science attainment compared with pupils who were taught as usual. The children were also more enthusiastic about the subject and their teachers reported that they enjoyed teaching it more: a win, win, win scenario.
During the main stage of the project, there were five days of teacher training spread out over one year. The key features of the training were focused on the three main elements of thinking, doing and talking science.
This included the use of a dedicated discussion slot, “the Bright Ideas Time”, with specific prompts to stimulate pupils to talk. For example, pupils selected the odd one out from three objects, such as chocolate, water and paper, and explained their reasoning. Pupils were also asked “big questions”, such as: “How do you know that the Earth is a sphere?” or: “How do you know the person next to you is alive?” There is no single correct answer to these questions, so the pupils were encouraged to think deeply and creatively.
Another strategy was the use of “Practical Prompts for Thinking” – short teacher demonstrations that are designed to intrigue pupils and act as discussion starters. An example is holding a balloon partly filled with water over a person’s head, putting a flame to the balloon and explaining why it does not burst.
The teachers also planned for challenging science practical work, including investigations and problem solving. The pupils focused their recording on the key learning objectives, rather than writing down everything they had done in a lesson, thus trimming the time spent writing and releasing the time for thinking, talking and doing.
The results are exciting. All the participating teachers felt they had changed the way they taught science, and were more positive about their pupils’ scientific ability and engagement. The pupils enjoyed science more and their attainment increased.
The full report can be found at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects/science-oxford/