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What good CPD taught me about teaching STEM

Good professional development can build your confidence and increase children’s enjoyment, says Carla Wallington…

Carla Wallington
by Carla Wallington
Gravity KS2 lesson plan
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! Gravity KS2 – STEM pendulum experiment

Professional development is important not only to teachers but also their pupils. A study by Wellcome published in January found that pupils enjoyed science much more when the subject leader had undertaken CPD.

Good CPD comes in many forms – from undertaking a Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) to a free STEM learning course.

Access to a rich variety of CPD helped me to pinpoint where the attention was needed in my school. Here are my biggest learnings.

Be creative

My PGCE at Oxford Brookes set me up for teaching science with a very hands-on approach. The ‘Thinking Talking Doing Science’ programme, developed by Helen Wilson and Bridget Holligan, aims to get pupils to use their higher-order thinking skills through a range of creative activities.

Start your STEM education journey with an activity like ‘Odd One Out’. You could show the pupils a picture of an igloo, a tree house and a tent, and let them discuss which of the three is the odd one out. They’ll soon realise that everyone has a different opinion and reason for their choice, and that all opinions are valid. This activity also gets them to think about the properties of materials, as well as shape, light, seasons and even habitats.

Spark debate

Encourage pupils to think beyond the realms of topic objectives. Stimulate curiosity, discussion and debate.

Explorify, for example, is a free resource that takes an enquiry-based approach to science. There’s no right or wrong answer – all opinions are valid, which builds everyone’s confidence.

A ‘What if…’ activity could give the children the scenario that they could only eat chips for a month. The pupils will say what’s good about it (they like chips), as well as what might be bad (chips are very unhealthy).

They will learn about the importance of making an informed decision about something, and everyone contributes.

‘The big question’ is great as a starter activity, or for when there are ten minutes to spare.

I’ll put a question on the board (such as ‘Do you need big seeds to grow big plants?’) and we’ll have a discussion, using related vocabulary.

Often, the children have already developed links about science and the world; an activity like this uncovers those links in a way that builds their confidence.

Present yourself as a scientist

Remember that first impressions count. By doing activities that open up discussions and debate, you are sharing your passions and areas of expertise.

This will elevate you from ‘a teacher who has to teach topics’ to ‘a scientist exploring the wonders of the world with their class’. And if you’re presenting yourself like a scientist, you’re encouraging your pupils to start thinking like scientists, too.

Let them explore

Pupils learn by touching, feeling and observing. Practical work lets you pre-assess their knowledge and gives the children the opportunity to discuss their initial ideas with one another.

This will support their speaking and listening skills (which will make your literacy leader happy!) and will help you to guide the rest of the topic to meet the objectives. Hands-on activities also ensure that everyone is contributing.

During the Y1 topic on everyday materials, lay out a variety of materials for the children to freely explore. This will help you to establish their level of understanding, and you can hone-in on certain topics in greater detail. Set up mini sessions during the topic to address and target the children who need more support.

Play to their strengths

Science is a bespoke, creative and personal subject that is taught most effectively when you’ve identified the individual needs of the class.

If the children are interested in particular areas of science, use these as a catalyst within assemblies or science weeks to spark their interest and curiosity.

Find out what companies and charities operate in the local area – some may provide free resources or workshops.

Don’t worry

Teachers fear being asked a question they might not know the answer to. But don’t be afraid. Being honest and suggesting that you research this question together shows the children you are human and always learning, too.

The main thing is not to panic or worry – everyone will have a different way of teaching and promoting science in their schools. Trust yourself and the vision you have created.

Carla Wallington is science leader at Brookfield Primary school in London. She has been teaching for over five years and is currently taking part in the STEAM project pioneered by Camden. Follow her on Twitter at @carlface.

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