Teachers need to plan clear learning intentions and align these to activities and learning experiences that will help students achieve the goals (Cowie, Moreland & Otrel-Cass, 2013). To achieve bigger ideas, small ideas in a lesson need to be linked over a series of lessons to contribute to the development of skills of working scientifically and of conceptual understanding (Harlen & Qualter, 2014; Scott, Mortimer & Ametller, 2011).
Providing time to observe is important, as is learning how to use aids for observation and data collection. Using tools such as hand lenses and measuring instruments extends the quality of observation (Harlen & Qualter, 2014).
This project was undertaken over one term to investigate how teachers at different levels of schooling used and adapted Science Learning Hub (SLH) resources for their science teaching. Data was collected through videotapes audiotapes, observations, field notes, interviews, student work and teaching materials.
The focus of this research brief is on what happened when Gail, a science specialist teacher, adapted the Observing earthworms activity. She changed the aims and learning intentions from a focus on the physical characteristics of earthworms to a focus on observation.
Gail thoughtfully planned this unit with a main aim of developing her students’ scientific capabilities, especially those concerned with gathering and using evidence through observation. Being the beginning of the school year, she wanted her students to know how to make and record detailed observations and to understand that scientists build knowledge through observation and written information. Over the course of the year, she aimed to build on these foundation ideas.
Linked intentions and hands-on activities
Through altering the activity aim and learning intentions, instead of a major focus on students discerning the characteristics of earthworms, Gail placed emphasis on the skills of observation.
Observing earthworms aim/learning intentions
Gail’s altered aim/learning intentions
To explore earthworm anatomy and the nature of science.
Discuss how students’ observations and experiences in the classroom mirror those of real scientists.
To observe living organisms and appreciate the way scientists gather evidence.
Record observations in multiple ways.
In the first lesson related to observation, students watched the YouTube clip Whodunnit? and answered the question: Why is it important to be good at observation? (We might miss or misrepresent important information.)
Next, in small groups, they observed earthworms and listed what they could see. A few students measured and looked though hand lenses.
As a class, they discussed their observations. Gail commented, “I think you will be able to make more scientific observations if you know more about earthworms.”
They then watched the SLH video clip Physical adaptations for life underground, used the interactive and read the Pasture earthworms brochure. They discussed new or unknown scientific vocabulary (dorsal, segment, clitellum, prostomium) as well as any questions (Do they sleep? Do they have a brain?).
They observed the earthworms for a second time, drawing and labelling an earthworm and recording on an observation worksheet Gail designed. They all used tools such as hand lenses, rulers and the earthworms brochure.
Looking through magnifying glasses, it’s actually really fun, because when you look up close, they look very different. You get to measure them and time how fast they are.
Students talked about the benefits of observing closely. For example, Lucas (12 years) said, “Looking through magnifying glasses, it’s actually really fun, because when you look up close, they look very different. You get to measure them and time how fast they are.”
At the conclusion, Gail commented that she was not satisfied with the observation worksheet as it was too detailed and unfriendly for students. She changed it for her other science classes to have fewer categories.
Specifying clear learning intentions and aligning these with activities and learning experiences assists students to achieve the goals. Writing plans is useful for forward thinking, but planning is an on-going act. Teachers need to recognise when and why they make changes or what they will change if they do the activity again.
Providing time, opportunities to observe and learning how to use observational instruments are important for students to extend the senses and measure change or differences accurately. Sharing observations helps students become more aware of what can be found by careful observation and draws attention to things that might have been missed.
Cowie, B., Moreland, J. & Otrel-Cass, K. (2013). Expanding notions of assessment for learning: Inside science and technology primary classrooms. Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.
Harlen, W. & Qualter, A. (2014). The teaching of science in the primary school (6th ed.). London: Routledge.
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.