Reports from pilot centres in the North-East
Here are some reports from pilot centres on their experiences of the pilot courses.
In Core Science, what students liked most was the flexibility of the case study, having a choice of topic and way of presenting their work. They liked not having to write many notes. They particularly enjoyed working with cars in Air quality.
Core Science was generally enjoyed more by Foundation Tier students.
In General Science, Higher Tier students enjoyed the challenge of some of the more difficult concepts, such as electrolysis of solutions.
In Applied Science, students enjoyed doing practical work and seeing the relevance of what they were doing.
The big change from the course we were doing is that it's more relevant to students. Lower ability students have now been 'switched on' to science.
The greatest challenge has been having to think and explain things more.
What the pilot was like
Did we only start Twenty First Century Science twelve months ago? Old style Science double award seems so flowery ties and big lapels!
Settle College is a 13-18 Technology College in rural North Yorkshire with about 580 students on role. Last year, when we were just plain Settle High School & Community College mixed comprehensive, all 172 of our Y10 students started the pilot. The cohort was split into seven classes: four Core and Additional Applied and three Core and Additional General. Each group was taught by a biology, chemistry and physics specialist.
Looking back, even only a year (the first year of the pilot course), it seems naively brave and I’m still not sure I could explain how we timetabled all the units and shared our limited ICT resources. I certainly wouldn’t have missed the experience and none of the six other science staff resigned so it can’t all have been too bad.
So what kept us going? Well, the resources helped, as did our students’ application and their trust and appreciation that what we were trying was new for all of us. There was also a strong feeling of involvement fostered by the training meetings we attended and the help offered by Ted Willet, the field officer for our region. We really felt our views and experiences were valued and notice was taken of what we had to offer. Above all, as promised, the courses, particularly the Core, really do address science issues of relevance and importance to citizens rather than simply being the first step in a scientific training that the vast majority wouldn’t continue. It was rewarding but hard work and we were a very tired department by July.
The results of the first module tests were a great relief and allowed us at last to answer the Head’s frequent questions about current level of attainment. The students’ successes gave the department’s confidence a boost and eased us into year two of the pilot and yet more change. Y11 students continue with their complex mixture of modules but we made a decision to take all of the current Y10 through the Core only, intending to finish this in one year and offer the students a “guided” choice of Additional Applied or General GCSEs to be taken in Y11. This certainly looks simpler on paper and we’ll monitor and evaluate this arrangement before year three of the pilot.
Although the last 18 months or so have been scary and unpredictable they have also been the most stimulating, exciting and rewarding time I have experienced in teaching. I for one am glad I dragged myself across a frozen Birmingham in January 2003 to find out more about the pilot, and made the decision to ditch the flowery ties and big lapels and take a step into the future.
Hugh Williets, October 2004
See what Hugh Williets said in January 2006 below.
Changing specs in Sept 06: comments from Hugh Williets
We have been a pilot school for Twenty first Century Science. It has been such a success I'm not in a position to compare it other GCSEs available in 2006 as we have not even considered changing.
The philosophy is sound, and works in practice. The support materials are excellent and will be even better post-pilot. If you haven't seen them you should take a long hard look. They have all been thoroughly trialed and improved in the process of the course being piloted, and they really are a risk-free option.
Internal assessment is varied and stimulating, definitely not a set of arbitrary hoops to be jumped through. It is even interesting to mark! At the end of their Case studies students have written completely unsolicited comments to the effect they feel they have learned something new and enjoyed doing so - I never had this experience when marking investigations into the resistance of a wire or osmosis.
In a genuine comprehensive, lately a Technology College, no student has asked me since the pilot started why they need to do science/know this.
Our A-C grades went up by slightly more than 10%.
We have detected no problems with transition to A-levels in any of the three sciences. A-level uptake has been sustained and in the case of Biology doubled.
Do I need to say more?
Twenty First Century Science has been the best thing to happen to my science teaching since I started in 1989. I urge you to consider it very carefully. This change may be being forced on us, but let,s choose the best course for our students and grasp the opportunity to revitalize science teaching, after all that is why the specs are changing, let's embrace the change, we have and we haven't regretted it for a moment.
Hugh Williets Head of Science, Settle College
In Additional Science (called General science in the pilot), the more traditional approach helps 'Higher tier' students. Comments from Higher pupils were that the exam allowed them to show what they had learned.
In Applied Science students liked having a choice in their work-related report.
The big changes from the course we were doing are
- improvements in students' thinking and discussion skills
- the much improved use of ICT
- the coursework which allows pupils to express themselves.
The greatest challenges have been
- the organisation of resources
- the dissemination of ideas to staff
- getting the ICT to run on the school networks.
Thanks for a most inspiring course - together we will all make this the model for future science education.
Peter Dodds and Geoff Brown
What students liked most about Core Science was the ICT and the textbooks.
In Applied Science they enjoyed they enjoyed the outside visits.
The big changes from the course we were doing the greater use of ICT, and emphasis on thinking skills.
The greatest challenge has been working with new resources.
What students liked most about Core Science was the chance to research areas of their own choosing for coursework, rather than being given a limited 'investigation'.
In Applied Science, students liked researching Accident & Emergency procedures and talking to real paramedics etc.
The big changes from the course we were doing are relating science to the real world and looking at current issues.
The greatest challenge has been deciding which activities not to include.
The course has allowed students to show different aspects of their abilities much more positively.
Students said about Core Science:
'It is totally different from any other type of science'
'We study what is happening today in science and are asked our opinions.'
Students liked the textbooks and ICT.
Students said about Applied Science:
' 'Life care' is so interesting and we understand how science is used in real jobs'
'We do proper scientific procedures which we might need in our future jobs'
The big changes from the course we were doing are there is much more variety and it's much more interesting. There is much greater use of ICT. We have excellent support from the project team, OUP the publishers and OCR the exam board.
Madeleine Walton and Mike Heseltine
See also this report on a student activity
What students liked most about Core Science was the role plays and video clips.
The big change from the course we were doing is that it is much more motivating for lower ability students. 'I like this sort of science, Miss!'
What students liked most about Core Science was the animations.
The big changes from the course we were doing are the emphasis on ideas about science and the ICT.
The greatest challenge has been studying ideas about science with lower ability pupils, helping them to form opinions. The first three modules in the pilot course are too dry and hard to start with in year 10. [The project team are working on this.]
In Additional Science (called General Science in the pilot) students liked the ICT and the practicals.
What students like most about Core Science is that it is more relevant, and there are more discussions and group work. There are fewer scientific ‘facts’, and the material on ideas and evidence is interesting. The ICT – video clips and powerpoints are all excellent.
In Additional Science (called General Science in the pilot), students like the practical work. They are already used to this type of science.
In Applied Science, students like having more practical work, and the visits and outside speakers.
The big change from the course we were doing is the introduction of more practical work.
The greatest challenge in the pilot has been the amount of work needed to make the first pilot materials more accessible - the third set of core Science modules were much better). (Ed's note: This issue is addressed in the September 2006 materials.)
In Additional Science, students like the comprehensive notes in the books, so that they can concentrate on learning rather than just copying.
The big changes from the course we were doing are better resources - ICT and textbooks. There's more opportunity for the development of independent learning.
The greatest challenge has been developing the school ICT resources. We have also had to adjust to a new work scheme and understand the course requirements, especially coursework.
Reg Ord and C. Dennison
What students liked most about Core Science is that it's interesting.
It's better focused than the course we were doing before. There is more pupil participation, and the materials are stimulating.
Abbeydale Grange School (AGS) is an 11–16 ethnically diverse comprehensive in Sheffield. All 114 of our Y10 students did the Twenty First Century Science pilot course.
We started the pilot because I saw that the course had the content and approach that followed my own ideas that science is part of everyday life and everyone should have a basic understanding of the science issues that will meet in their own lives.
When AGS started the pilot Core Science course in Twenty First Century Science, everyone, students and teachers, found it very different from the normal way that we had learnt and taught science. The idea that students were to be encouraged to have ideas and opinions of their own on a science issue was difficult to comprehend and so difficult for students to achieve. But as the Pilot has progressed the students have really taken this idea to heart and so become more and more enthusiastic about their science lessons.
I found that, as the course progressed, the group of students who normally become disillusioned about education were attending science lessons. Attendance in Y11 was better than it had been since I arrived at AGS. To ensure that all students got a final chance to complete the coursework, the department set up a Coursework Day for Y11s on the last day of the Easter holidays.
I did think that we would be lucky if 20 students turned up but I was delighted to have 75 students arrive and spend the day working on a variety of coursework. I was even more surprised when students who had been unable to attend the Coursework Day asked if the department could set up coursework sessions after school.
This really does show the commitment that the students have put into their GCSE. But when we made an administrative error and put an extra Applied Science exam on their personal exam timetables, I was astounded to have most of the students who were doing the Applied course turn up for the exam, and that the school reception had phone calls from the rest of the cohort to check if they should come. I apologised to the students who had turned up and several said it was okay, as they just wanted to show what they’d learnt.
I have never before had such a positive response to a GCSE science course. The students have taken on board the new concepts and even found newspaper stories on the way into school and grabbed you as they come in to show you. I’ve been asked if I’ve watched TV programmes and what I thought about the science being discussed. I’ve never discussed so many science issues with GCSE students on the corridor before, and this openness to science has been the mainstay of the course. Twenty First Century Science has introduced the idea to students that science is all around and that they are entitled to an opinion about the science in their lives.
Well done Twenty First Century Science. That’s what I came into teaching to do and your course is allowing me to achieve this personal ambition and students achieve a more full and round science education to prepare them for their future.
What students liked most about Core Science was that it is different, and there are opportunities to use ICT.
In Applied Science, students enjoyed the different practical work and the ICT.
The big changes from the course we were doing are the structure of the course. Students are interested and teachers are motivated. Getting my head round it has been a challenge, but keep working on it and it will become a great course.
Students have a sense of ownership of areas of study. "It's personal" said one student, referring to the work on asthma.
Students said about Applied Science: "Do you think I could be a forensic scientist?"
"I like doing this." A teacher said: "I think these kids are really switched on."
Students connect with what we are doing - they find it meaningful. It's about life decisions, where students meet science.
The greatest challenge has been taking the risk! organising the course and finding resources, especially those not usually found in an 11-16 school.