Why do we teach science?

19 September 2018 By Hester Binge - Education consultant and trainer, specialising in science and wellbeing

Boy with magnifying glass

Why do we teach science? Ok so it’s on the national curriculum but we teach it because it helps us understand and connect to the world we inhabit. We have, at some point in our busy lives wondered about the world that surrounds us. Why does the sea come in and out? How do the trees know when to lose their leaves? How come we lose our sense of taste when we get a cold? That’s why science can be truly cross–curricular. It can be the language we use to access other learning. Many other subjects need science to help them be understood.

Sir Paul Callaghan said, ‘Mathematics is the hand maiden of science’. Maths is needed to help quantify science investigations and English is often needed to help explain scientific findings and present them in ways we can access.

Most of us are confident in using maths and English to support in other lessons, but how many of us can confidently see the links between science and geography or science and history for example?

During my time as a teacher I taught all year groups and so have been at the starting point on many occasions, of working out the best way to organise subjects for the year ahead. As science is my favourite subject I always started with the science objectives. One of the reasons for starting with science is because some science lends itself to being taught at certain times of the year. By that I don’t just mean going outside in the summer term, as the national curriculum makes it clear that we should be accessing the outdoors throughout the year. For example, in the Year 3 plants topic there is the objective of: Explore the part that flowers play in the life cycle of flowering plants, including pollination, seed formation and seed dispersal.

To make this real and exciting for the children, they need to experience these different parts of the lifecycle when they are happening outside.

In the autumn term keep an eye out for when the fruits and seeds are ready to disperse, this can be any time from September to the mid–October. Go outside and be seed hunters, perhaps taking grid references for where the best conkers can be found. Once the science of how the different seeds can be dispersed has been explored, art and DT can be combined, and the children can create their own fantasy seeds, whilst others guess if it is dispersed by wind, animal or perhaps explosion. After doing this activity with children in the past, I have had some great descriptive accounts of their fantasy seed and its special powers in English lessons!

Then in spring time remember to go outside to see the blossoms and the bees working away to pollinate them.

Science and history
In my role as a science consultant I often support teachers to write plans for their science topics and I encourage them to split up the science units of work to suit whatever they are teaching. The pressures of the school timetable often leave teachers with very little wriggle room so the idea of combining a history objective alongside a science objective with some English thrown in to just one lesson, helps relieve the pressure.

Some of the staples I like to combine are:

The Stone Age and rocks (Year 3) through the story of Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura. The children need to find the most appropriate rock for the jobs that Stone Age Boy has to carry out such as cave painting, spear making, den building.

The Egyptians and digestion. This can get a bit yukky, but the children love it! Let them know that the canopic jars have been messed up so when the pharaoh arrives in the underworld no one is too sure what order to put his organs back in! The children are tasked to learn about the digestive system to help put the organs back in correctly.

Keep an eye on the news
Another way to find cross–curricular opportunities is to keep an eye on the news and world events. There was some great science around friction and forces to be taught during the Winter Olympics and the World Cup had many opportunities to link to science, including looking at the materials of the footballers’ kit and their equipment, and investigating forces such as air resistance and the drag of the football.

Annual celebrations
Annual celebrations hold some ideas to help place your science objectives within RE. For example, by looking at the Christingle candle as part of the Year 5 materials topic or linking Hanukkah or Diwali as part of the light topic in Year 4. Bonfire night and Halloween are a perfect setting to teach about burning by observing indoor fireworks or looking at bicarbonate of soda reactions by creating a zombie hand. You can access a free lesson plan for this here.

With a little imagination and knowing what will grab your children’s attention, this type of approach can be very rewarding both for the teacher and the children. Preparation time may take a little longer but when you are hitting objectives from three areas of the curriculum in one lesson rather than three separate lessons, you are freeing up time in your hectic timetable.

About Hester
Hester has had a variety of roles from science subject leader, senior management team member, behaviour manager, associate lecturer for primary science teacher training and primary science teaching & learning consultant for Bolton LA. She has a wide range of experience including creating bespoke support for schools, delivering teacher CPD courses across the country, working with local authorities and alliances to support teachers’ science knowledge and providing wellbeing and mental health training. She runs her own consultancy business, Education Guru. For a copy of a useful cross curricular planner or if you just need some ideas, visit educationguru.co.uk or on Twitter @education–guru

Hester is a new YPO CPD course tutor for 2019.

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Categories: Education

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