Early Career blog: Working Scientifically for early career primary

By Chris Catto posted 09-03-2022 15:04


Read the blog - then share your experiences in the Primary Early Career Club and Primary STEM groups.

I hope you're feeling settled and are continuing to enjoy your first year of teaching at primary school. This blog post addresses one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of the primary science curriculum – Working Scientifically. This section of the science curriculum helps children to develop an understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science through different types of science enquiries that help them to answer scientific questions about the world around them.

Firstly, let’s address some misconceptions about Working Scientifically:

1. It should not be taught as a set of standalone skills. We don’t say to the children, “Now we’ve finished the science content for this topic we’re going to work on the Working Scientifically skills!” No, they must be embedded into the science content. For example, children in Year One might develop their understanding of waterproof materials by creating shelters from fabric, foil and kitchen roll, and pouring water on a toy, or hiding underneath each one as a comparative test!

2. Another misconception is that you must address every Working Scientifically skill in every topic. This does not need to be done either. It is good practice to address all skills and types of enquiry at some point over each year , to give children time to develop and embed these skills, but there is no need to address every skill in each topic. When children revisit a skill there should be some progression so that they are doing something more with that skill than previously. For example, children in Reception may sort toy animals based on how many legs they have. Children in Year One may choose their own sorting criteria and represent this as pictures in a Venn diagram, and children in Year Two may sort and display their findings as a bar chart and be able to discuss what that shows.

3. Investigations are always about fair testing. This isn’t the case, despite what we remember from being at school ourselves. There are five types of science enquiry for children to explore and it’s important that children learn to recognise which will be most useful to help them answer their question.

The ten Working Scientifically skills are best taught through the five types of science enquiry.

There are five types of science enquiry as different types of questions need different approaches.

1. Comparative and fair testing
This finds relationships between factors. One factor is changed while keeping the others the same. Any differences are said to be the result of the changed factor. Although this may be obvious to us as adults, it is a concept that the children need to be taught carefully. For example, if they want to find out the effect of light on a plant’s growth by comparing a plant grown in the light and the dark, the amount of water, warmth and soil must all be kept the same. Another misconception is the word “fair” itself which can have a different meaning. One teacher asked the children how a test was fair after they had carefully set up and completed their investigation. They answered that it was fair because the teacher had distributed out the apparatus equally and they had all had a turn! A great example of where a very simple every day word takes on a different meaning in a science context.

2. Pattern seeking
This involves recording and observing natural events, and carrying out experiments where the factors can’t easily be controlled, or using secondary sources of data. For example, looking at the number and/or type of weeds growing in a field, light intensity around the school grounds, noise volume in a room at different types of day. This can be a great opportunity to do some outdoor learning!

3. Research
This involves the children finding out information that they may not be able to investigate for themselves. Popular topics to do research on include space and the Amazon rainforest. Research can involve books or websites. If using websites, you will need to plan the lesson carefully and ensure that examples of websites are given in advance, and that the task doesn’t allow for children simply copying and pasting information. Questions which test the pupils’ comprehension of what they’ve read can be good so there is avoidance of copying things they don’t understand.

4. Identifying, grouping and classifying
Sorting samples or events into groups, coming up with distinguishing characteristics, creating and using classification keys. This might be devising a system to identify an animal or object from a given list or stating what is similar and different among a group of plants or tools.

5. Observation over time
This involves the careful observation of something over time, recording changes and taking measurements over time. As well as popular examples, such as seasons, the phases of the moon or growth of plants a good EYFS example is changes to a gingerbread man biscuit when placed in water over time . And what a great excuse to link science learning with stories, but that’s a blog for another time.

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16-08-2022 09:34

Thank you veey much. I will even print this. Excellent content.

08-04-2022 10:48

Thanks Chris. This is a brilliant summary of working scientifically at primary school. Another resource I find really useful is the Ogden Trust Working Scientifically sheets. There's some lovely little videos explaining each of the enquiry types too. You can find them on their resources page or through the link here. ​

11-03-2022 08:29

Thanks Chris, love this summary, it will be a really helpful aid when for designing future STEM ambassador activities.