I’ve been arguing about the content of the primary science curriculum; not so much with primary teachers, but with secondary colleagues and academics. It’s helped me think through what I want from a primary science curriculum. Here are three big questions to ask.
Does primary science support later science learning?
There is evidence (e.g. Schalk (2020), Mellander and Svärdh (2017)) showing that when pupils are taught certain topics at primary, they make better progress in secondary science. Some knowledge seems to make strong foundations for later learning.
A knowledgeable primary teacher may also be able to reduce the flaws in these learning foundations by reducing and preventing misconceptions through careful language and well designed tasks. A curriculum designed to build solid learning foundations is a good justification for valuable curriculum time.
Do pupils enjoy primary science?
The answer is yes (ASPIRES), but is enjoyment justification for taking time from other subjects? The role of primary science is not to fill a store of enthusiasm which can be drained in the march to GCSEs. Young learners enjoy science, but that’s not the reason to teach it. Teach it because it’s important.
Aren’t they just entitled to know?
Some secondary colleagues have reservations about primary colleagues teaching complex scientific concepts, especially if they don’t have a science background. My response is that primary teachers teach many complex and abstract concepts to very young learners. There’s not much they can’t teach given sufficient training and support.
So, is it right to hold back on the knowledge learners need to make sense of the world we live in? My list of ideas which can’t wait would include:
- that the Universe is made up of galaxies, which are made up of billions of solar systems like ours and that everything began with an explosion;
- that the Sun is a star;
- that our bodies are made from billions of cells;
- that viruses reproduce by turning our cells into factories producing copies of themselves;
- that every substance is made up of just around 100 types of atom and
- that we are just one stop on an evolutionary journey stretching back billions of years, with billions more to come.
… but yours will be different.
Thank you to everyone who’s engaged with me on this on Twitter and Zoom over the last six months.
- Mellander and Svärdh (2017), “Three lessons from an effect evaluation of the Swedish Science and Technology for Children Programme” https://doi.org/10.5617/nordina.2469 (In Swedish – I read via google translate).
- Schalk (2020): online lecture: The Benefits of Early Physics Instruction: Selected Results from the Swiss Mint Study: https://birkbeck.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=4352298d-c0db-4458-bcd2-abf4008ea18f