Welcome to the UYSEG blog
This blog is written by members of UYSEG for the UK school science education community.
Lynda Dunlop and Kerry Knox post on the latest UYSEG network meeting
Recent changes in the assessment of practical work in schools have resulted in considerable interest in the role that independent research projects (IRPs) can play in school science.
What benefits does undertaking such projects offer to pupils? What impact can participation have on pupils' interest in science? These were some of the questions that were explored during the UYSEG network meeting on Friday 11th December. The meeting was attended by a range of stakeholders representing several institutions from York and across the region, including teachers, curriculum developers, university teachers, educational researchers and providers of professional development.
Professor Sir John Holman introduced the meeting, identifying some of the purposes of practical work and reflecting on an international review of practical science that is currently being carried out for the Gatsby Foundation. Following this stimulus, we shared our experiences of practical IRPs before Professor Judith Bennett (University of York) and Professor Michael Reiss (University College London Institute of Education) presented the findings of a recent research project funded by the Wellcome Trust (report to be published in 2016) which explored evidence and experiences relating to IRPs within the United Kingdom and beyond. Key findings of the research include:
The meeting was concluded with a discussion of the implications of the findings for practice. The next UYSEG network meeting is on 4th March 2016 at 5pm, on the theme of genomics education. Sign up for a ticket here here.
It’s not often you will find me saying this … but some moments really are best shared with 300 primary school children, such as the blast off of the UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s launch into space on 15 December. The excitement, compassion, inquisitiveness and bouncing anticipation of the 9-11 year olds from York schools, who were packed into a lecture theatre at the University of York based National Science Learning Centre to watch the live launch, was contagious for all ages.
The young people were on campus for a morning of learning about space flight through hands-on activities such as making rockets, investigating materials such as UV activated bracelets, marshmallow satellites, viewing the universe in the cosmodome, experiencing bangs and flashes from York’s Department of Physics’ supremely talented outreach officer Katherine Leech … And if that wasn’t enough, next was a brief virtual tour of the International Space Station by Dr Gerhard Gritner from the European Astronaut Centre, who has spent the last couple of years training Tim and the rest of the crew to be ready for the space mission.
The afternoon saw 120 secondary school 11-14 year-old students arrive for more space-themed demos, practical experiments and a talk on the human body in space from Dr Paul Genever, an expert in bones from the University of York’s Department of Biology. This was followed by an evening for the general public which included more try it yourself cosmic experiments, robotics, investigations, space quiz, a talk from Gerhard about the astronaut training process, including close up and personal photographs of the astronauts going through the process, then a screening of the live first press conference with Tim from the International Space Station.
So why, other than the fact we have many space enthusiast amongst our colleagues, did the University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG), in partnership with the National STEM Centre with (ESERO-UK), organise this outreach event? Well, researchers in UYSEG are investigating if human spaceflight inspires 9-14 year-old school students to take science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. The team is led by Professor Judith Bennett and the three-year project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Space Agency. UYSEG wants to see what impact the mission has on young people's engagement with STEM subject,and the space event, part-funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, was a way of raising awareness of the research.
Did it succeed in getting people to think more about space and STEM study? From the queue that formed outside the video confessions booth on the evening, the early indications are that it at least did get people sharing their views. The event and research project have also been featured by BBC national news online, York Press and BBC York radio. Thanks to everyone who supported the event.
If you would like to know more about the space flight perceptions project, or if you are a school wanting to join the research, please contact Judith Bennett at email@example.com.
If you are a teacher, did you know about our Science Education early evening meets on subjects such as how to get girls involved in physics? Our June 2016 event will focus on the findings of the Human Spaceflight research. Free tickets and more information are available here.
Hannah Hughes – University of York Department of Education External Relations Manager
Liz Swinbank posts about the latest UYSEG network meeting
On Friday 16 October, the latest in a series of Network meetings hosted by the University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG) took girls in physics as its theme, with a presentation and discussion led by Rachel Hartley, the Improving Gender Balance Project Officer at the Institute of Physics.
I did wonder whether the event would attract an audience comprising mainly female physicists but was pleased to note that the 35 or so people present, only about half identified as physicists and over a third were male. Diversity of occupation and professional background was apparent too: the audience included school teachers, education researchers, professional development providers, curriculum developers, and staff and students from the university Physics and Education departments.
Rather than focus on possible reasons why girls don't choose physics, Rachel took a much more constructive and practical approach, mixing various 'did you know? ' snippets with hints and tips for raising awareness of, and hence avoiding, gender discrimination.
For example, did you know that, while A-level physics attracts lower entries overall than maths or any of the other sciences, it is one of the most popular choices for boys? Girls, on the other hand, opt for A-level psychology in large numbers – but universities regards physics as a much better 'facilitating' subject so students choosing psychology are unwittingly limiting what they might be able to do post-A-level. So one thing that is needed in schools is some well-informed advice about subject choices.
A simple way to monitor your own unconscious gender bias, when teaching or presenting, is to prepare a set of lolly sticks painted in two colours e.g. yellow and green ones (not pink and blue) to represent male and female. Place them in a cup, and each time you interact with a member of the class (or audience) take a stick of the appropriate gender colour out of the cup.
I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the entire meeting, but here are just a couple of things that might help break down some of the barriers and stereotyping that deter girls from doing physics, and positively encourage them to consider studying the subject:-
A few days after the UYSEG meeting, the IOP launched its report 'Opening Doors: a guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools'. The report is based on visits to schools and aims to raise awareness and to share good practice. While not specific to any subject, it is obviously highly relevant to the issue of girls and physics. It's available from the IOP website: www.iop.org/genderbalance.
The next UYSEG network meeting will be on the 11th December at 5pm (with refreshments from 4.30pm), and the topic will be independent practical research projects in science. This will be based on the recent research project based at York, and will be introduced by Professor Sir John Holman, Emeritus Professor in the Chemistry Department and Senior Advisor in Education at the Wellcome Trust. Anyone who has an interest in science education is very welcome to come along.
To register, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/university-of-york-science-education-group-network-tickets-17960395025.
Thanks to the Institute of Physics for supporting this network meeting.
I first wrote this blog post in 2013 on the York Science blog. Unfortunately we lost that blog, but several people have asked about the resources that were there, so I have decided to revisit some of those posts.
I wrote earlier about Diagnostic Questions. A good diagnostic question can reveal a lot about a student’s thinking. When preparing diagnostic questions for GCSE classes there are two rich sources of alternative answers that have been given by students – the Mark Scheme and the Report to Centres. I have spent some time with science teachers developing diagnostic questions in this way.
Here is an example of how the Mark Scheme and Report to Centres can be used.
This question part of question 2 on the OCR GCSE Science Gateway B711/02 (higher tier paper) in June 2012.
In the Report to Centres the Principal Examiner for the paper wrote :
The mark scheme for the question was this:
The guidance column in the mark scheme identifies some of the answers that candidates were writing and indicates markers whether or not to accept the answers.
So from the examiners’ report and the mark scheme we now know the sort of things that students were thinking in answer to the question ‘How can a very high temperature lead to death?’
We could put these into a ‘talking head’ presentation and ask students to choose which answers they think are good and which are wrong.
Or you could put the answers into a confidence grid:
Notice the headings for the columns. The question is looking for an explanation, so there may be statements that are correct, but are NOT a scientific explanation.
This item could be used to check out students’ understanding after a sequence of lessons about homeostasis. Or it could be seen as a teaching activity to improve exam technique - a discussion of why some answers are not acceptable can help students to understand what makes a good answer.
The UYSEG network is a termly meeting for teachers, researchers and those involved in science education to engage in discussion about the relationship between science education research and classroom practice.
At the latest meeting, Mary Whitehouse led us in thinking about assessment for learning, and in particular, how questions can be used in low-stakes situations to improve student learning in science.
As in medicine, questions can be used to diagnostically, i.e. to identify problems on the basis of evidence. Mary explained that in science education, diagnostic questions can be used to give teachers information about what children have understood, so that informed decisions can be made about what to teach next. Using examples from particle theory and drawing on work done by Phil Johnson and others, Mary demonstrated how carefully designed questions can help teachers get to the crux of what children understand about scientific ideas.
Prompted to consider our students’ likely responses when asked what the bubbles are made of when presented with a video of boiling water and multiple options, Mary demonstrated that the design of diagnostic questions requires teachers to know not only the correct answer (and the reasons why it is correct), but likely incorrect answers and the reasoning that leads students to respond in this way. Provided with different diagnostic question formats: PEOE (Predict Explain Observe Explain) focused cloze exercises and talking heads, we were charged with creating diagnostic questions that could be shared via a google group.
Teachers interested in creating and sharing examples of diagnostic assessment items under a creative commons are invited to join the group by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Sharing high quality questions may be the most important thing we can do to improve the quality of student learning”
Wiliam, 2011, p.104
Look out for the next meeting on Friday 16th October (4.30 refreshments for 5pm start).
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
RISES, Research Into Students’ Engagement with STEM, will help further understanding of young people’s decisions to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), space-related or otherwise.
In November 2015 the European Space Agency is sending its first British astronaut, Tim Peake, to the International Space Station for his six month Principia Mission. A host of educational programmes have been developed surrounding these events, in order to engage young people, and to inspire the next generation of UK scientists and engineers. Our team at York will be evaluating these educational efforts, investigating students’ attitudes to, and engagement with, STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), in particular in relation to human spaceflight. We invite you and your schools to take part in our project.
The research project is funded by the UK Space Agency and the Economic and Social Research Council, led by Professor Judith Bennett and conducted by a team of researchers of the Department of Education at the University of York. The team includes Dr Jeremy Airey, Dr Lynda Dunlop and Dr Maria Turkenburg. The research has been approved by the Department’s Research Ethics Committee.
Data collection involves a survey of a range of schools in a variety of contexts, before and after the launch of Tim Peake’s Principia mission. We will be using questionnaires and interviews with children, young people and their teachers. The purpose of the questionnaires is to gauge young people’s attitudes towards STEM subjects, while the interviews will explore the reasons and explanations for these attitudes. In addition, we are looking to make a connection between the information the interviewed students provide, and their background and attainment data from the National Pupil Database.
Taking part in the pilot phase
At the moment we are urgently looking for schools, both primary and secondary, to be part of our pilot study (although we would also be delighted to work with you in the full research project, if you prefer).
The pilot study would involve at least one group of year 5 or year 8 students (preferably all of them) to fill in our online questionnaire, which asks them about their attitudes to STEM subjects inside and outside the school context, specifically in relation to their learning about space. This should take no more than 45 minutes (and most likely considerably less), and will help us inform the design and use of the survey, in order to be ready to administer it to a larger sample for the full project.
Taking part in the full project
In case you would be more interested in joining the full research project, we would look to recruit your current year 4 or year 7 group.
What we would like from your school:
● for a single year group of students to complete a 45-minute (maximum) online questionnaire three times (Autumn 2015, Summer 2016 and Summer 2017), following the same group of students as they move up the school, at a time convenient to you and your school. Paper copies would be available on request;
● on a follow-up visit to a subset of the schools soon afterwards, for one of our researchers to have interviews with the year group’s teacher(s) and a group of the students who completed the questionnaire (around 30 minutes each). We would like the focus group students to be diverse across all categories of social difference, if possible, including gender, ethnicity and ability;
● to make a link with focus group students’ data in the National Pupil Database, for which we will require their full name, date of birth, home postcode and, ideally, their UPN/ULN. Procedures are all in full compliance with Data Protection legislation.
Photo: ESA-M. Alexander
Benefits to your students, you and your school
A summary of our final project report as presented to the UKSA and ESRC might be used by schools to inform practice. You will be recognised as a “University of York Science Education Group Research Partner School”.
For more information about the project or to sign up, please contact Maria Turkenburg, the project’s Research Officer, by email at email@example.com or by telephone at 01904 323444.
We are looking forward to hearing from you, and hopefully working with you in the near future.
It's York Pride on Saturday 20th June, and this year the theme is 'Raise your Rainbow'. The University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG) will be running some hands-on, rainbow-themed experiments on the University stall and explaining the science behind rainbows.
Salters Horners Advanced Physics (SHAP) is a context-led, A level physics course developed by UYSEG. The course has been updated and relaunched for the new A levels in 2015.
The SHAP course provides a context-led approach to the Edexcel specification, and is now in its third edition. It has been revised and updated by writers able to draw on their own experience of teaching SHAP.
The move to terminal assessment means that we have been able to restore much of the original structure of SHAP (we are no longer constrained by modular assessment requirements), as well as updating the contextual aspects and revising the materials to match the new specification.
The new requirements for practical assessment fit in well with SHAP. The directors of SHAP and its sister project, Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB, also assessed by Edexcel), have devised a coherent framework for the development and assessment of practical skills, and all the new .core practicals. are an integral part of the SHAP course.
New course materials
Thanks to a splendid team of writers, the Salters Horners Advanced Physics (SHAP) course materials for the first year of the new A-level are now published. The second-year materials are going through the editing process and are on schedule for publication in the autumn.
Click here to find out more about the SHAP course materials.
SHAP is fortunate in being sponsored by the Salters and Horners companies, and both offer grants to centres to help with the purchase of SHAP course materials. The deadline for Salters applications has now passed (sorry!), but Horners offer grants of up to £250 to centres moving to SHAP in September. The application deadline is 15 June 2015. Click here to begin the application process.
I write this as I prepare for researchED New York, the latest in a line of conferences that provide a forum for teachers, education researchers, and others interested in evidence-informed practice to meet and exchange ideas.
My presentation at this conference is here.
Teachers who want to engage with research evidence will already be reflective practitioners; their reflections may lead to questions that they turn to research to answer. During their PGCE course trainee teachers use the research literature to help them reflect on their practice, but once they become classroom teachers it is difficult to continue this level of interaction with current research findings. Many teachers struggle to find time for reflection, as one class leaves the room another almost group almost immediately arrives and it can be difficult to access current research papers, although there are some routes which I have described on the researchED website.
All our projects are a collaboration between researchers, science writers, educators, and teachers in schools; the team draws on research carried out at York, but also, of course, research from the wider community.
In thinking about the approaches we will take to developing new resources we will consider where we can support teachers to make the most difference to their students' learning. There is a large body of research evidence to support the effectiveness of formative assessment, including the work of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam (1998, 1998, 2003).
These three publications together show how putting research evidence into practice can work. Following the publication of their original research paper in 1998, Black and Wiliam wrote Inside the Black Box, a booklet that summarised the key findings for teachers. Then, together with colleagues, they worked with science and mathematics teachers to show how formative assessment can lead to significant improvements in students learning.
For formative assessment to be effective, there need to be high quality assessment items available to teachers; that was the motivation behind the York Science project – developing assessment items that would provide evidence of students’ understanding of key ideas in science.
Many of the assessment items that we are developing for York Science are ‘diagnostic’ questions of the kind described earlier. These kinds of questions can help focus the teacher’s thinking on the ideas and skills that really matter if students are to make progress in their studies.
Even where research indicates an intervention is capable of leading to student improvement, it may not be implemented well enough to bring about any visible improvement, as Smith and Gorard (2005) showed in their case studies of the implementation of Assessment for Learning.
For this reason one of the strands of work at UYSEG is to develop professional development materials which will support teachers in implementing the resources we publish. Currently we are offering training to teachers who will be teaching our revised A level courses from September 2015. See the Events page for details.
Our A level Science courses, Salters Advanced Chemistry, Salters Horners Advanced Physics and Salters Nuffield Advanced Biology are context-led courses. Similarly Twenty First Century Science helps students how to think about the science they will meet in their everyday lives.
Clearly it is essential for these courses that that not only is the science we teach correct, but also up to date. So our collaborations go wider than the education research community, we also work with scientists and engineers not only here in the University of York, but also in other universities, in research institutes and in industry.
We will write more about these collaborations in future blogs.
It is often said, in a pejorative tone, that teachers spend too much time ‘teaching to the test’. Teachers might argue that it is their professional duty to prepare students for the tests they will face, and ask what else could they be expected to do. Given that these ‘tests’ are high stakes assessments that not only affect the futures of students, but also provide accountability data about the teacher and the school, you would not expect anything else of teachers.
Over the past few weeks I have been involved in discussions about assessment of school science both in the UK and US. This has led to me reflecting yet again on the purposes of assessment and how we can ensure that assessment supports good teaching and learning.
But what is relevant to all discussions about assessment is that unless an assessment is valid (that is assesses what it claims to assess), and reliable (the outcomes truly reflect the competencies of the students) then it is not worth using implementing that assessment.
I have recently returned from a conference at Stanford University discussing the assessment of science in schools. Currently in many states in the US the assessment of students’ ability in science at each grade is through the use of multiple-choice tests. However the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are being introduced across many states; science educators and others are considering how best to assess students against these standards.
There seemed to be general agreement that a broader portfolio of testing tools should be used than just multiple choice tests. However, in deciding what tools to use the purpose of the assessments of the assessment must be clarified. These purposes may include:
Whilst many kinds of assessments could be used for each of the purposes, it becomes complicated if the outcomes from an assessment are used for more than one purpose, Stobart (2008) suggests that “in accountability cultures with frequent high-stakes testing, making headway with formative assessment will be more difficult” (p159)
Designing assessments of understanding that are used formatively by teachers requires efficient ways of capturing the information they yield, so that teachers and learners can use it to good effect. If there is a significant time delay between the assessment being taken and the outcomes being available, it is likely that the teaching will have moved on – and those students who did not understand the previous lesson may now be struggling with the later ideas. For this purpose multiple choice questions that incorporate common misconceptions are often ideal. Our 'cupboard under the stairs' question is such an assessment item.
The question can be displayed by the teacher and the information collected can be acted on immediately.
The new NGSS not only lists the science ideas that students should know and understand, it also describes the science and engineering practices that they need to develop.
Teachers in England will recognise these as being very similar to Working Scientifically in the new National Curriculum Programmes of Study for Science. These Practices are not easily assessed by multiple-choice questions, much better to set them in the context of more extended tasks, including practical investigations. It is possible to write workable marking criteria (rubrics) for such investigations, indeed we (UYSEG) have done this with OCR in developing the coursework tasks for Twenty First Century Science where Investigations, Data Tasks, and Case Studies have been part of the assessment since 2006.
Using these rubrics with students provides an opportunity for formative assessment – the students can see for themselves what they need to do to improve their work. Encouraging students to mark their own work, or that of their peers, with the oversight of the teacher, would reduce the marking load for the teacher and develop students’ understanding of the requirements of the Practices.
The same kinds of tasks, using the same rubrics could also be used for summative purposes, with the marking being carried out by teachers. There would need to be some form of moderation to ensure that teachers in different schools were marking to the same standard. There is a precedent for this in the UK from the 1970s and 1980s when science teachers in local consortia of schools worked together to produce Mode 3 Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) courses which were locally assessed and marked, with the local Examinations Board ensuring that the standards were comparable with other similar qualifications. More can be read about developing such assessments in Nuffield Secondary Science Examining at CSE Level (Nuffield, 1972).
I would suggest that encouraging teachers to work together to develop suitable tasks, which they then mark against commonly agreed rubrics would help them to engage with the detail of the NGSS and support the planning of their teaching. This would be excellent professional development for those teachers and so benefit the students they teach.
However, if we consider the use of assessment for accountability purposes, teachers marking their own students’ work bring its own problems. The problems have been such that in England, after over 30 years of teacher-marked work counting towards qualifications in science, new science specifications at GCSE and A level will no longer include such marks. This has been the result of many consultations by the regulator, Ofqual. In 2013 they reported
A possible way to remove the pressure on teachers is to organise local clusters of schools to work together to moderate each other’s marking, as in the CSE model described above. Ofqual felt this could not be imposed in England where there are currently five different science suites being taken across the country (2014. p. 14). However, in the US where the same assessments are taken across a state, it might be possible to develop such a system. I look forward to hearing how these developments progress, and shall probably refer to them when I speak about research-informed curriculum design at researchED New York in May.
I wrote about the Ofqual’s decision to remove teacher assessment of practical work when their report was published, and my colleague, Alistair Moore wrote about it on this blog.
Mary Whitehouse is a member of UYSEG with an interest in secondary education and particularly in the relationship between teaching and learning and assessment. You can follow Mary on Twitter.
Nuffield (1972) Nuffield Secondary Science Examining at CSE Level. Longman downloadable from the National STEM Centre Library.
Ofqual (2013) Review of Controlled Assessments in GCSEs
Quinn, H., Schweingruber, H., & Keller, T. (2012) A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas
Stobart, G. (2008) Testing times: The uses and abuses of assessment. Routledge