We are all aware that the upcoming changes to the science GCSE curriculum, and the move towards ‘life without levels’ is a big challenge for teachers. However, it is also a massive opportunity to improve how we deliver the curriculum. We are taking the chance to develop a new scheme of work for science to take students from year 7 to success in their GCSE exams by developing a science curriculum based on the concept of mastery.
There are a lot of differing interpretations of what is meant by a mastery curriculum, so I want to be clear on what we are trying to do. The aim is to first identify the skills needed to be a top GCSE scientist, and then to ensure that students develop all these throughout their school career. By clearly identifying the key concepts that need to be understood we can check not only that students have learnt these, but that they have remembered them, and that they can apply these concepts to solve challenging problems. What we have developed is based on 10 mastery statements, a restructured curriculum and frequent, low-stakes testing. These three aspects are explored below.
From the GCSE National Curriculum, we have identified 10 ‘mastery statements’ which are the key skills that if students can master they will be able to reach the top grades. These 10 all fall under the three areas of scientific experimental skills, scientific mathematical skills and understanding scientific processes. Embedding these skills when planning the curriculum will ensure that students are developing skills in a structured way. The next step is to think about how students can reach this level of mastery, and the different skills and techniques that are required to reach mastery in this area. This was done by attempting to harness the structure provided by the SOLO taxonomy. The aim is that these statements will be used as part of our ‘life without levels’ reporting as well as being the foundation that planning is based upon. Figure 1 is a list of the Mastery Statements, whilst Figure 2 below gives examples of how this looks in practice.
We are taking this opportunity to restructure the order that we are teaching. By integrating KS3 and KS4 we are giving ourselves the freedom to delve deeper into each topic. In my teaching experience, especially at KS3, I have found the ‘spiral curriculum approach’, moving quickly between topics that were not interlinked, leads to students not developing a deep understanding of key concepts and struggling to remember topics. The aim of a mastery curriculum, as defined by Joe Kirby is that it is designed to delve more deeply into key concepts, and give students time to not only become proficient in these areas, but to then spend the time consolidating this understanding, which will lead to long term memory. To do this, we are working to plan a scheme of work that moves away from touching on many topic areas during each year, but spends a longer period of time on each topic area. Due to the high amount of content this is an extremely challenging step in science. At present, I am not sure how the finished version of this will look, but I will be writing about it when I do.
Frequent, low-stakes, testing
Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of ‘knowledge’ that students need to be successful in science. This includes (but is surely not limited to) vocabulary, equations, definitions, diagrams and processes. If we want our students to be able to apply, analyse and interpret science to a high level, they need to have a solid foundation of knowledge to apply. I feel that frequent low-stakes testing is a way to do three things. Firstly, it encourages a culture of valuing learning and remembering in students. Secondly, the act of remembering things for tests helps the process of moving knowledge into long-term memory, and thirdly it gives us as teachers a clear picture of what the students have remembered of our teaching.
The model that we are using for this is based on the excellent work done by William Mackintosh, Head of Science at Ark John Keats. At the end of each week, students will sit a short, 10 question assessment and these are then peer-assessed. The questions are designed to be quite closed, so that it is easy for students to accurately mark these. There is then a pre-prepared follow on task that students complete depending on their result (10/10 students will attempt a new challenge, while students who scored 6-7 will do a more appropriate task). Teachers collect and record the results during this time, and can mark the follow-on task during their marking cycle to give specific feedback to each student. To adapt this to our new curriculum, we will ensure that these questions are not only testing work completed during the week, but that we are finding out if they have recalled the key features from other weeks as well.
I am excited about this methodical approach to the science curriculum, and feel that through this cohesive approach students will have strong scientific approaches embedded and they will have the knowledge required at their disposal, enabling them to apply their understanding to the most challenging of GCSE questions. This should mean our top students will thrive moving to KS5, but I also feel that spending longer on each topic will mean that weaker students will have more time and support to develop the skills they need.
Please let me know below or @Mr_Gillett what you think of this approach; if you use or have heard of better structures, or if you would like a copy of all the mastery statement steps to success.