How Paradigm Trust is Supporting Teachers’ Primary Science Subject Knowledge

Teachers at Paradigm Trust have developed a knowledge rich EYFS-KS3 science curriculum which we have been running (and developing) for four years. It is a challenging curriculum which demands strong teacher subject knowledge. This post describes some of our strategies to support class teachers and TAs develop their science subject knowledge.

The Medium Term Plan and Resources

The medium term plan is designed to be supportive rather than a script for teachers. To help teachers prioritise, we’ve indicated the essential knowledge (which is likely to be assessed).

The MTPs include the following:

  • a list of relevant learning from previous years and an outline of where the topic is taken in subsequent years (including KS3);
  • learning intentions based on the Teach Like a Champion 4Ms (made first, most important, measurable and manageable);
  • lesson outcomes which lead on from the learning intention. These may be short pieces of writing, completion of a graphic organiser, a discussion, labelling a diagram etc.;
  • model answers to highlight ‘what a good one looks like’ – so that teachers across the trust are pushing for a similar high standard;
  • suggested activities which guide pupils thinking and learning towards the learning intention.
  • suggestions for hinge questions / formative assessment opportunities;
  • key vocabulary and subject specific sentence types (e.g. “The closer the magnets, the stronger the force.”
  • core common misconceptions to look out for and challenge and
  • advice on how to support pupils with additional needs.

Increasingly we are adding:

  • videos showing ‘how to do it’ – for practical work, demonstrations, using scientific models (e.g. the rope model for current) etc.
  • lesson packets (and completed teacher copies to support teachers at each point of the lesson).

Initial Teacher Training

We supplement our ITT provision with teacher subject knowledge enrichment. Over the three years of our early career programme, we spend a considerable amount of time supporting teachers’ scientific knowledge – both substantive (forces and motion) and disciplinary (how models work in science, how enquiries work). We also spend time developing early career teachers’ pedagogic knowledge for science.

SKE meetings

Each subject has a 30 minute meeting each half term (usually online) to explain the essential knowledge coming up in the next half term. We record these for new colleagues. Each time we loop round the curriculum (we are on year 3 of our SKEs) we are able to include richer content.

The Annual Subject Knowledge Bonanza Day

This has taken the biggest hit during Covid. In October 2019 we had our first annual Subject Knowledge Bonanza – a day where every teacher across the Trust comes to a central venue for a day of subject knowledge seminars and networking. It runs like a ReasearchEd day, but with a focus on subject knowledge. 2020 and 2021 are on hold, but we are optimistic about 2022.

A Science Specialist in Each School

Each school has a science specialist. We meet each term to discuss, and prepare for the coming term. We analyse assessment data to find out where we need to support pupils and teachers more effectively. In previous years, each lead has attended the ASE conference.

The science network is very supportive – the email group is well used and we know each other well. We have year group specialists (our Early Years specialist has been incredibly helpful supporting the EYFS team to prepare younger pupils with foundational experiences and vocabulary (“This dinosaur eats meat – you can tell by the sharp teeth”).

Classroom teachers and TAs in each school have a first port of call for questions on hand (corridor conversations are the best CPD!) – and if that fails, we share with the network group.

The Results?

We have a growing list of anecdotal evidence that our science lessons are richer and more effective now than they were four years ago. Recently I have chatted to EYFS children about the diets of dinosaurs, model volcanoes (‘is that real lava?’) and why astronauts need space suits (to be accurate, they did the chatting, I just listened). Our KS1 lessons are rich with pupil questions and discussion about germs, camouflage and materials. I’ve seen Solar System models used very effectively at KS2, including a year 3 teacher working out (correctly) with the class what the Moon’s orbit looks like if it is orbiting the Earth while the Earth is orbiting the Sun. Practical work is also increasingly effective across the Trust – now that pupils’ and teachers’ knowledge is more secure, we are re-emphasising enquiry skills.

You can see there has been considerable investment of teacher time to reach this stage. I don’t know how smaller groups of schools could do it, but there are advantages to being small. We have six schools (five primaries) and we all know each other. Our network is tight knit. We collaborate well.

I’d be happy to discuss this further.

Ben

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