Meet the teacher: Ben Thwaites
Ben is an Assistant Headteacher and Science Co-ordinator in his Primary School. We spoke to him about highlighting science across
the wider curriculum and across his local network of schools.
Science can bring new and exciting energy into the classroom, and it’s a subject that can spark interest and encourage questions like no other. But in a world where English and maths can often be seen as the priority, it is important to take every chance you can to highlight science.
As well as being an Assistant Headteacher, I’m a Science Co-ordinator at Swalecliffe Community Primary School. I face the issue of highlighting science across the wider curriculum, as well as across our local network of schools. We were looking for ways to boost staff confidence and subject knowledge, as well as increase interest in science, when we came across Explorify.
How can we provide more time to develop scientific thinking skills? How can we encourage staff to demonstrate English and maths skills in science books? How can we uncover and record greater depth thinking? I’ve found that Explorify has helped us do all of this, and more.
Explorify for scientific thinking
I have been amazed at the level of conversation and the use of scientific language that Explorify promotes. One of the most valuable aspects of Explorify activities is that there are no ‘expected’ answers. Children are free to think, express and explore.
The real magic of Explorify lies in its ability to encourage questioning and observation. Early on in my use of Explorify I showed my class a video, without commentary, that showed an octopus moving through its environment. I was using this as an introduction to a series of lessons on animal adaptation and the thinking skills that the film encouraged among the children wildly exceeded my expectations. The very first question asked was ‘what is that?’ and this opened the floor to children sharing their knowledge and experiences. They continued by asking very simple questions about events in the film but went on to discuss the reasons for the animal’s behaviour. As the questioning deepened, so did the sharing of vocabulary. In using Explorify, descriptive language is used, questioning skills are sharpened and the validity of arguments and views will be challenged.
Once the class were sure of what was happening they quickly became interested in how and why the octopus was changing its appearance. As the discussion opened up we covered the concept of adaptation, we discussed predators and prey, the mechanics of movement and the class had the chance to discuss a misconception concerning breathing underwater. My favourite question was ‘how does an octopus know what it looks like to another animal?’
This single video gave life and excitement to the start of a topic and quickly generated a wall of questions that informed my later teaching. I also find it very useful to actively explore the concept of scientific questioning during every Explorify session – reminding the children that they are utilising real scientific skills such as comprehending, analysing and evaluating.
Explorify for assessment
Many of the teachers across Swalecliffe have used the activities on Explorify to assess children’s understanding of a topic at the beginning and end of the teaching sequence. Explorify activities have also been successfully linked to ‘Big Questions’ within the children’s books to create a valuable method of assessing and collecting evidence for learning and greater depth of understanding.
One key challenge is how to determine pupils’ current understanding of specific topics, particularly where areas of the curriculum rely upon abstract ideas or knowledge of real world scientific processes that may be beyond a child’s own experience. When thinking about measuring this, it’s easy to be bogged down in traditional recording methods… does every experiment need a formal write up? Should we be happy with children drawing diagrams, and annotating them, to explain a scientific process? How can you compare the level of work in one school to another?
It was with this challenge in mind that the Coastal Alliance of schools that we operate in decided to look into these issues. The alliance sees a number of local schools collaborate to improve teaching standards and we often meet with colleagues to share ideas and to plan projects. We decided to try a moderation exercise that would use Explorify as its starting point.
Our ‘Trapped!’ project was inspired by the Explorify video What’s going on? Snowflake, which was shown in whole-school assemblies across all of the primary schools in our local alliance. It acted as a simple, real-world hook to engage children, leading into schoolwide projects where unfortunate toys had become trapped in blocks of ice. Children were faced with the challenge of either saving the toys from their frozen state, or ensuring that they remained locked in their icy prisons for as long as possible.
The children made predictions, tested theories, developed solutions to these scientific problems, recorded data and reported back on their findings in the form of extended pieces of work to show relevant science, maths and English skills. The results of this project then formed the basis of the alliance’s science moderation meetings. The Explorify clip was brilliant to fire up the enthusiasm of teachers and children, and it certainly helped to inspire some pupils to focus on recording their thinking and understanding with increased detail.
The moderation meetings themselves provided a valuable insight into the work being carried out across the alliance and enabled teachers to compare the understanding and scientific skills of children from Year 1 to Year 6 – and all from the central starting point of an Explorify activity that inspired the children’s passion for science!
Explorify is quick and simple to use. The fascinating on-screen resources help to create dynamic, exciting additions to the main lesson, which every class can use.
Like any new system there are ‘early adopters’ within our staffroom and these people have proved valuable in encouraging others to include this resource into their planning. We are also currently working on ways to incorporate the questions that Explorify poses into the planning and assessment tools used within the school.
I would recommend any school looking to enhance science teaching to build Explorify into their weekly schedule. The stimulation that the activities provide for the children’s thought processes and use of scientific language amazed me and has helped to re-inspire my own love of the subject. Children love exploring the world around them and Explorify will help to bring this excitement into your classrooms!