EEF publishes new guidance on improving secondary science

A new report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests that teachers can harness common scientific misconceptions to improve pupils’ learning.
Almost all pupils develop their own explanations for science concepts before they learn about them in lessons. But their ideas about things like ‘how plants grow’ or ‘how we see things’ don’t always align with scientific understanding, according to new guidance for improving science teaching.
According to the report, teachers should have a clear understanding of the common misconceptions in the area they’re teaching so that they know the issues that are likely to be problematic for their pupils. Teachers should also work to uncover the specific misconceptions their pupils hold through class and group discussion, before moving on to challenge these.

While these preconceptions can be hard to shift, presenting pupils with compelling evidence that contradicts them can be a good way to move thinking on. For example, many pupils find it hard to understand that the space between gas particles is empty and will often say it is filled with ‘air’, ‘dust’, or ‘bacteria’. However, showing that it is possible to compress a gas, for example by pushing down a syringe, is a good way of opening a discussion about what this means about the spaces between gas particles.
Building on pupils’ preconceptions is one of seven recommendations in the report designed to support secondary schools to provide every pupil – but particularly those from disadvantaged homes - with a high-quality and well-rounded grounding in science and an interest that may lead them to further study.

A second recommendation in the report focuses on developing pupils’ scientific vocabulary to support them to read and write about science. According to the report, “learning science involves learning a whole new language and it is important that you develop pupils’ fluency in that language.”

While pupils need to learn scientific words like photosynthesis or carbon dioxide, they struggle most with familiar words that have a different meaning in science. The report recommends that pupils are explicitly taught words that have a different meaning in science - like valid, random or spontaneous – so that they can understand and interpret scientific texts.

The other five recommendations focus on using models to develop understanding; developing children’s abilities to self-regulate aspects of their learning; Supporting pupils’ memory skills, so that they can retain and retrieve knowledge; Using experiments purposefully; and Using structured feedback to move on pupils’ thinking

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