Having an effective understanding of science is incredibly important both for the individual and society. Children are entitled to know how the world works – without this knowledge their lives aren’t as rich. A good understanding of science will allow them as adults to make informed decisions on important matters, such as voting, or receiving a vaccination as has been seen recently. And it opens doors to numerous careers in a huge range of fields, not just the ‘traditional’ science professions.
Our approach to teaching science is different from some schools, as they will use an inquiry-based learning approach, which involves minimal guidance from the teacher and pupils designing their own experiments to check their own hypotheses. For example, this could take the form of asking the children to look at a bug and see what they can find out. However, an increasing number of studies show this is ineffective as, without having the right knowledge in place, children won’t know the questions they need to ask to get the most out of the approach.
To teach science effectively we, and all Paradigm schools, use a ‘knowledge-first’ system instead, which focuses on teaching children the scientific knowledge before anything else. The teacher breaks problems into manageable parts and shows the solution to each, before the children practice using similar problems. By doing this, the children then have the foundation they need to be able to do the inquiry-based learning effectively. It also helps the children develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.
Another way we improve science outcomes is to meet regularly with teachers from the other schools in Paradigm Trust to share ideas. A large proportion of time is spent discussing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 9. We have found by doing this there is now less disruption when pupils move from Year 6 to Year 7 and their learning experience is far smoother. Much of this work is led by Ben Rogers who is on the Education Committee at the Institute of Physics, and on the editing panel for the Association of Science Education journal. He is also part of the Ofsted Science advisory group, with a particular focus on primary schools.
Since we have been working this way it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject. We are always looking for more ways to enthuse our pupils, and this year we have a wealth of exciting activities planned to celebrate Science Week, including a workshop with Dr Mandy Hartley, author of The DNA Detectives series, in which she’ll explain how understanding DNA helps us with everything from knowing how our Stone Age ancestors lived to developing life-saving vaccines.
Despite the current challenges around the majority of our pupils learning from home, we have started the term on a high by ensuring children both at home and in school experience the same quality-first teaching and learning they would get in the classroom.
This is as a result of the extensive planning and preparation we had done before the start of the year. We took the findings and insights we gained during the first period of lockdown last spring and summer, and with other Paradigm Trust schools built a robust plan of action which we could apply should we need to close and engage in remote learning again.
Our preparation continued when children were back in school, introducing blended learning during the autumn term. This helped children get used to the new system and learn the technology’s full functionality, while our staff became adept at teaching remotely.
So when, with barely twelve hours’ notice, the official notification that schools would be closed to all children (apart from vulnerable and key worker children) was received, we were able to move swiftly to remote learning with a minimum of disruption. Now around 75% of our remote lessons are taught live, including daily for English and Maths, and live registration takes place twice a day.
Other lessons, including Science, Geography, Computing, Art and Design, DT and PE, are taught using bespoke video lessons created by curriculum leads from across the Trust.
One of the major challenges during the first lockdown was the digital divide, with many families unable to access the online resources available due to a lack of appropriate devices and/or a reliable internet connection with sufficient data allowance. To overcome this challenge we have issued school laptops to any children who are learning from home and don’t have access to suitable technology. Where families don’t have access to WiFi, we’ve purchased dongles and data for them. We are also providing non-digital resources, such as glue, paint and materials for Art which can be picked up from school.
We want to ensure all our pupils continue to get the support they need, so teachers and teaching assistants work together as they would normally to provide bespoke support to small groups of children, using virtual breakout rooms via Google Hangouts as lessons are being taught. Where needed, pupils also receive one to one support. These methods have been particularly successful with the children in our SEN unit, who are flourishing.
We are also reaching out to families with weekly phone calls and house visits where necessary, and we offer the voucher scheme for families eligible for free school meals.
Lockdown is a challenge, but one we are meeting head-on. It is an opportunity to adapt and improve our teaching and learning, both in the classroom and remotely online. As we would do in normal circumstances we are seeking the most effective ways to teach, testing different innovations and then sharing those that have been proven to be effective with the rest of the school and the entire Trust. It is our goal to always deliver an effective, challenging and interesting remote learning experience for our pupils, so they can all achieve their best.
Pedagogy may not be a familiar word to many, but it is simply a technical term which refers to the method and practice of teaching. Having a well-thought-out pedagogy improves the quality of our teaching and the way students learn, helping them gain a deeper grasp of fundamental material. Being mindful of the way we teach also helps us better understand how to help children achieve deeper learning.
At Murrayfield Primary Academy, and every other school in Paradigm Trust, our pedagogy is about teaching the right things effectively. It’s about how we know what to teach, how we teach it, how we know what has been learnt and perhaps most importantly, what we do if learning hasn’t happened. The time we have with children to educate them is limited so if we have an ineffective pedagogy that time isn’t used as efficiently as it should be.
We teach with an ‘I do, we do, you do’ approach: pupils get quality instruction and modelling, followed by a chance to practice with their classmates and talk through their learning (both new and reviewed), and then finally apply that learning. This structure prevents mental overload, and ensures Murrayfield pupils master key knowledge and skills in order to independently learn outside the classroom in new situations. Throughout every lesson staff circulate, check and react to any errors and misconceptions; helping where needed in the most appropriate way.
As children grow we build upon their prior knowledge and skills to help them master new learning. As they get more confident with the pedagogy we use, children are able to become more independent, resilient learners. This allows teachers to focus on removing misconceptions and errors rather than teaching things pupils already know.
Having the same pedagogy across every Murrayfield class ensures there is consistency in the way we teach, in the way we behave and in the way we apply our rules, from Early Years right through to Year Six, which hugely benefits both pupils and staff. And when children move to Ipswich Academy, another Paradigm Trust school which uses the same pedagogy, they will already be familiar with the way things work, allowing them to settle more quickly and resume effective learning sooner.
However, we understand every class and every child is different, so our pedagogy is designed to be flexible, giving our teachers the tools for each individual situation and the ability to adapt the strategies to fit their circumstances, while still adhering to the underlying rationale of the Paradigm pedagogy.
A consistent pedagogical approach also leads to continuous improvement. When one teacher makes an adaptation which proves to be successful it is easy to put it into practice not just across Murrayfield but at the other Paradigm Trust schools. In the same way we benefit from improvements made elsewhere in the Trust so we can be sure we are doing the best for every child at Murrayfield Primary Academy.