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In the primary classroom, even though teachers and students generally spend the day together, it cannot be assumed that students will experience their learning as coherent, connected or cumulative. Students need help to see and build connections within and beyond any immediate interaction or activity. It is essential that students understand how a specific teaching task and idea fits within and contributes to their learning in the longer term and across the whole sequence of unit/topic tasks. Scott, Mortimer and Ametller (2011) propose pedagogical link-making as a key aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. They argue that both teachers and students need to be engaged with link-making – the teacher to make the link available and the students to actively make connections. If link-making is not addressed through teaching, it is unlikely to emerge naturally as part of students’ learning.

Mary used resources from the Harnessing the Sun resources with her year 4 students. They explored solar power and made pizza box solar cookers.

The research

This case study research was undertaken with a primary teacher who used Science Learning Hub resources in her classroom with her 25 year 4 students. The teacher, Mary (a pseudonym), had 10 years of teaching experience, but this was the first year she had taught such young students (aged 7–8 years). This study investigated how Mary used the Harnessing the Sun resources. Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with Mary and the students. Analysis of the data was guided by the research question: How did Mary make visible the links between the ideas, activities and lessons so her students experienced their learning as a coherent whole?

Results

Mary used talk

Mary began each lesson with a plenary session to recap the previous tasks and ideas. She asked students questions that helped them remember and connect to what had happened previously. Opening plenaries were also used to signal and develop the goals for the current lesson. Mary concluded each lesson with a review of that day’s learning and sometimes foreshadowed what would happen in the following lesson. In her talk, she made explicit the links between the ideas that travelled across lessons. This linking talk helped her students keep track of the multi-layered nature of the science learning they experienced over time.

Mary used artefacts

Mary set aside wall space for a cumulative display of the students’ work. She posted student work on the wall display between lessons. The display provided an evolving record of the tasks the students had undertaken and their thinking. The wall display expanded the time students devoted to thinking about the science ideas as they spent time viewing and talking about what was displayed. Student comments indicate that they understood both the purpose and worth of a wall display of their learning.

A wall display is good because it helps you remember what you did in the past.

Mary used worksheets to focus and resource interaction as students moved between small-group and whole-class activities. In the photographic sequence that follows we see (from left) a group designing an investigation, sharing this with the whole class, undertaking an experiment using the method the class developed and recording the results on a class display.

The use of materials in this way helped students to connect ideas over contexts and time.

Mary was alert to opportunities to build science connections in other curricula

Mary taught the students how to write play scripts so they could write a play about solar cooking. She provided time in art for students to design the costumes and props for characters in the play, which was part of the class presentation of their learning about solar energy to other classes. When students came to school and told her about how they had made pizza box solar cookers and had been doing solar cooking at home, she set aside class time so they could share these experiences with everyone.

Conclusions

Mary concluded that teaching science over time provides students with space to think over ideas, to deliberate on developing ideas and to generate new ideas. However, for students to form links and build coherence, she noted she needed to plan and provide opportunities for her students to make connections and see continuity – she could not leave this to chance.

Related content

Students made and used a solar oven. This activity, Making a solar oven, contributed to the students building their ideas about solar energy and cooking.

These articles were part of this case study:

References

Scott, P., Mortimer, E. & Ametller, J. (2011). Pedagogical link-making: A fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), 3–36.

 

    Published 19 February 2014