Monday 27 February 2012

Working with Science

Over the past several weeks, I have been reminded why I became a professional librarian and why I love working a in a school (yes - I really do!)  I was asked by the science department to collaborate on the case study coursework element of the 21st Century Science GCSE which is a controlled piece of assessment, meaning the students prepare for their coursework, research, learning critical thinking skills during low control period and then write the actual coursework under exam conditions (high control) using only their notes etc.  I was asked to provide support and teaching for the critical analysis/evaluation element of the coursework and have I enjoyed myself!

Having scrutinised the marking criteria, both myself and the two science teachers I was working with were surprised to see that more marks were awarded for selection of information sources, referencing and critical evaluation of sources than the actual science itself.  For example marks are given as to how well the student compares the evidence used and how it supports or disagrees with different views.  Such a commentary must then link into relevant recommendations with the conclusion being clearly linked to the information presented.  Having taught AS and A2 Critical Thinking for five years, I was initially daunted by how to teach such high level thinking skills to GCSE students; Unit 1 of the OCR Critical Thinking AS course recommends that at least 7 weeks are need to teach the Credibility of Evidence element and I had two lessons.

Having  jointly planned the low control period of the assessment alongside the science teachers, the part when the students are researching, using the stimulus material and preparing their notes, I then began to focus on the two lessons when I would actually teach the critical thinking skills; the first one would aim to teach the critical evaluation skills with the second looking at how to write strand c(a), comparing opposing views and evidence.  An added bonus was arranging a session in the LRC for a referencing/Dewey treasure hunt which the students really engaged with, although the LRC Manager bemoaned the state of her shelves afterwards!  Using the example given by ther exam board, I designed a RAVES sheet to help the students to effectively analyse and evaluate information sources.  Using the acronym RAVES (credit to OCR AS Critical Thinking RAVENS), I asked the students to consider each source found on Reputation, Ability to see, Vested Interest, Expertise of Author and Science as well as application of data and how it was collected.  Having taught this method of critically evaluating information sources, I also took time to focus on Internet searching skills as marks will be applied for finding sources which cover a range of conflicting ideas with supporting evidence.  I then remained with the classes throughout the low control period, supporting them with their research and applying RAVES to all the information found, before we (myself and the science teachers) moved onto to how the case study should be presented.  Section B focuses on the science content of the case study and which I left to the science teachers, but I spent a second lesson teaching students how to write up section C which required them to weigh up the balance of evidence (i.e. work out which sources supported which 'side' of the study) and critically compare them using a writing frame to adapt. 

Moving into 'high control' was relatively easy after that with my responsibility being to 'invigilate' alongside the science teachers as the students wrote up their coursework, answering the question they had written themselves, based on their research findings.  Being involved in such an important curriculum 'event' as this controlled assessment case study has really reminded me of why I do what I do.  Previous blog entries have shown how my role has chanhed fairly dramatically over the last year, having taken on Assistant Head of Sixth Form, and I have felt as if this element of my role had taken over somewhat.  However having such an influential role in how the science department planned and carried out the new case study has made me reconsider how I plan my week so as not to 'forget' all that my professionalism stands for.  Initial feedback from the science department has been very good with my contribution highly appreciated and respected.  I hope that I will be asked to work with other science teachers when it is the turn of their GCSE students to undertake the case study coursework element.  

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