Skills Lists

I’m going to keep this brief in the hope it actually gets (a) finished and (b) published. Because I’ve several drafts that I’ve just not found the time or motivation to finish off. In context; I have a small child, a shortage of caffeine and a grumpy temperament. This may be because not one new blogger built on my #aseconf session and contributed a post. Humph.

Recently, the skills vs knowledge debate has kicked off again. Not that it ever really went away! I think like many teachers, I actually stay away from both extremes. Of course kids need to know (ie recall with fluency) some facts. The question is where you draw the line. Do I expect my GCSE students to remember that Carbon has a proton number of 6? Of course I do. Do I expect them to memorize the entire periodic table, with or without the song? Of course I don’t. This could be applied to the reactivity series, the equations of motion, geological era or pretty much any other part of science. Knowing some is vital, knowing them all is unnecessary. But discussion online – perhaps especially on twitter – tends towards the argumentative.

So arguments about what should and shouldn’t be in the national curriculum, exam specifications or whatever are doomed to end unresolved. And, let’s face it – as teachers we don’t often get a say in it. We just have to make the best of what we get.

Instead, I was kicking some ideas around with colleagues and ended up with the bastard offspring of APP for younger kids and logbooks as suggested for AS, via ‘loyalty cards’ which I blogged after stealing the idea from @ange01. Hold on, it makes sense. Kind of.

Why not, I reasoned, put together lists for the students to use to record their various competencies? (I did something like this for teacher standards, although I’ve stopped keeping track of it. When I get around to it I’ll create a version for RSci and CSciTeach recording categories and wave it at @theASE via twitter.) This fits in well with the new approach to practical work at post-16, something else which has divided teachers and politicians alike. I made several deliberate decisions for the sample below, but I was very much thinking this would be better put together collaboratively, exam-board agnostic and perhaps led by expert/subject associations. (It would be interesting to have input from universities too, although I’ve a post brewing about university involvement in curriculum design too…)

click for .pdf

  1. These are solely hands-on skills for the school lab – no analysis, no maths. There is no content. (Although it might be interesting to produce a paired list, with knowledge on the left and skills on the right. Hmm. Notes for later.)
  2. I ignored exam specifications and instead flicked through the relevant pages on PracticalPhysics. I’ve probably missed something, suggestions welcome.
  3. Instead of a ticklist, my idea was for students to add a date each time they demonstrated that skill. I suspect teachers would have varying ideas of how many times are needed. The only thing everyone will agree on is that once is not enough.
  4. This is for students to use themselves for tracking, not teachers to use for assessment. I hope HoDs are paying attention to this point.

It would be easy to use this approach for GCSE and AS/A2, one checklist per topic area. (I’m sure many colleagues and departments already do.) But why not spend a little time putting together a good list, based on agreed best practice? I do similar things for content revision, but it’s the first time I’ve done it for specific hands-on skills. I’m going to have a play around with a ‘minds-on, thinking scientifically’ version too.

I’d happily run a project producing high quality versions, based on wider consultation, for all subject areas. It would need more of my time and the time of colleagues. That means money, so let me know if you know where I could submit a proposal for funding…

4 thoughts on “Skills Lists”

  1. Date columns for KS3, GCSE and A level? Helps pupils see importance of previous work and where science could lead. Also gets over problem of list length if lists for each topic in bio, chem and physics. For teacher begins to show progression and why certain practicals do not need to be repeated year on year.

  2. Lists! Tick lists arghh! Coursework is clearly out of favour with the decision makers but for all the wrong reasons. Coursework puts the focus clearly on the student but is a flawed assessment tool. The consequences of the latter are rather a case of the tail wagging the dog with exam boards dumping coursework. An imaginative assessment scheme should have a suite of assessment tools not just a rather drab written paper with the same old questions Michael Gove was set. GCSE courses need to find some way of encouraging teachers to do class practical work, or we are in danger of producing a generation of uninspired non-scientists. Funding issues in maintained sector make practical work less and less routine. Demonstrations seem to be the norm now, very little proper student experimentation seems to take place.
    We are crying out for a highly skilled workforce in the UK, Schools need to offer opportunities for students to acquire practical skills. In the 80s we had Microelectronic for All (mfa). A chunk of government funding intended to kick start a culture change in technology teaching with a view to offer an insight into modern electronic design. Things have moved on, the kit that was developed is now probably gathering dust in a cupboard but the principle was right. We now need a similarly massive injection of cash specifically earmarked for science. Dare I say what we need is a new Nuffield Science Project for the 21st Century.

    1. Thanks for the comment – but I’d be even more pleased if you’d read the post first. I wasn’t writing about policy, or even exam specifications. I wasn’t writing about assessment. In fact I specifically state this is for the student to use to keep track of what skills they have gained.

      I encourage the teachers I work with to do practical work, mixing demonstrations with activities where kids get hands on with the experiments themselves. But they’re not an answer to everything. You can’t appreciate Shakespeare simply by attempting to write sonnets yourself. Are you a science teacher yourself?

      Fancy reading my actual words and trying again?

  3. I like this Ian, last summer I started writing myself a list of practical skills and experiences that students should have by the end of key stage 3. I included things like using scientific diagrams for glassware, but my list was a lot shorter before I gave up and got distracted.

    I think that a self check list like this could be really useful for students to identify their progress in practical work along side them building their theoretical knowledge. If we are to test practical knowledge in exams this is something that we should start to develop right from Year 7 (and before where possible).

    I do wonder if the tick list example you provide could be more concise. I can see a lot of pieces of paper being stuck into books: key word lists, traffic lighting list of objectives, and a skills list too. I would also wonder how to develop this into the practice of students to refer back to. I have worked in a school that had a booklet of competencies for students get signed off and I don’t think that any teacher used them. This is a blog post with my thoughts on a similar theme:

    I think that it is commendable that teachers like yourself are trying to find ways to ensure that practical work does have a high profile within the teaching of science and can be recognised as an important aspect to learn about even if the assessment of it will be paper based. I do like the idea from viciascience of dividing the statements into their respective levels so that students can see progress.

    I would love to see students develop an online portfolio of practical skills to have alongside their examination grades. I have been influenced by Richard in this. However, I can see that this is a distant dream as education systems become more diverse and the vast majority of schools would not sign up to the same systems these days. I can’t see a group of external companies getting it right, see any VLE for details!

    I think that the national curriculum has tried to give some examples of scientific experimentation that students should be exposed to, but I do think that it could have gone further and skills lists that make experiences and skills explicit are welcome.

    I hope all that makes sense!

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