Practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11- to 19-year-olds.
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Why do practical work in school science?

By 'practical work' we mean tasks in which students observe or manipulate real objects or materials - for themselves (individually or in small groups) or by witnessing teacher demonstrations.

Practical work can:

  • motivate pupils, by stimulating interest and enjoyment 
  • teach laboratory skills 
  • enhance the learning of scientific knowledge 
  • give insight into scientific method and develop expertise in using it 
  • Develop 'scientific attitudes', such as open-mindedness and objectivity

(This list is based on Hodson, D. 1990, "A critical look at practical work in school science" School Science Review, Vol 70 (Number 256), pp 33-40.)

As with all classroom activities, the effective teacher plans practical work with specific learning objectives in mind. Different practical tasks  have different learning objectives and may be more or less successful in achieving the intended learning outcomes.

For some practical tasks, the learning is about objects and observables. Students are expected to recall what they have observed. Other tasks involve making links between observables and scientific ideas. Students generally find the latter harder, as they involve thinking as well as seeing and doing.

Ideas do not 'emerge' automatically from manipulating and observing objects and materials. Most of the learning comes from students talking about what they have done and seen.

Notes from a talk given by Professor Robin Millar, University of York, March 2004.