The KS3 Strategy

The KS3 Strategy (Standards 2008) considers three levels of planning.

The long-term plans, or programmes of study outline the knowledge and understanding that is to be covered and gained by the KS3 Curriculum. The medium-term or scheme of work outlines a series of lessons. For example, in this essay, I will relate to the 7K and 9J units of work which include short-term lessons such as ‘What is weight?’ and ‘How does gravity change?’. The scheme of work arranges the programme of study into separate teaching units which provide continuity and progression allowing ideas to be built upon over the KS3 curriculum. The scheme of work aids in planning for teaching and learning and is important as enables teachers to perform to their best.

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Child development has been an area of study that has attracted an enormous amount of interest and debate. Jean Piaget pioneered the theory of cognitive development and has possibly been one of the most influential figures within this area. However, the work of Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner has been paramount in discrediting much of the work carried out by Piaget. It should be remembered though, that Piaget has influenced education in many ways. His theories and studies show that knowledge is acquired by active exploration and many of his theories are still being used within the education system today.

Piaget’s theories of learning hold that development leads learning; that is children are only able to learn what is possible for their given stage of development. Piaget suggested that there were four distinct stages of cognitive development:Sensorimotor Stage (0-2 years) – intelligence is demonstrated by the coordination of motor functions (mobility) and the interpretation of information which is received through the child’s sensory organs i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Object permanence (memory) is acquired at around seven months of age.Pre-operational Stage (2-7 years) -intelligence is demonstrated by through the use of symbols, memory and imagination shows development as does the child’s use of language.

The thought process is non-logical and egocentricity dominates.Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years) – intelligence is demonstrated through the development of logical thought related to concrete objects e.g. things that can be seen, felt and heard. Operational thinking develops while the egocentricity shown in the pre-operational stage diminishes. There is no ability to grasp abstract ideas.

Formal Operational Stage (11-adulthood) – intelligence is demonstrated through the ability to develop own theories and to handle abstract concepts.Vygotsky centred on the social environment in which children learn, that the development of cognition fundamentally relies on social interactions. He believed that cognitive development is a result of others transmitting rules and norms to children, that they share ideas and learn from one another.”Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, first on the social level, and later on the individual level. First between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts.

All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.57)Vygotsky also was the role of the more experienced ‘teacher’ as vital to a child’s learning. He believed that a child would develop better if assisted by adults, peers or mentors. Vygotsky claimed, “what a child can do with assistance today, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow” (Vygotsky, 1978, pg 87).Vygotsky’s second aspect of cognitive development is the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) and described it as “..

.the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers…” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.

86). The ZPD is can be summed up as the gap between the learners’ current level of development and what the potential of the learner is.Jerome Bruner’s belief, like Piaget is that children ‘learn’ in stages, or modes of representation. Bruner stated that representation “is the way that we manage to keep hold of our past experiences” (Bruner, 1966, pg.11).

The enactive mode of learning takes place by manipulation of objects and things. The iconic mode objects are represented by visual images. In the symbolic mode, symbols are used instead of objects or mental images. Bruner however does not believe that there are age constraints on the stages, that as long as an idea is presented in such a way as for that person to understand then they would be able to grasp that idea, regardless of how advanced that idea is, “..

.any subject could be taught to any child at any age in some form that is honest…” (Bruner, 1977, Appendix xi).

Bruner also introduced the idea of the spiral curriculum. This is the idea that a teacher should introduce a topic and then revisit it in cycles to build and expand it, increasing the complexity of the topic with each visit. “A spiral arrangement of the subject matter allows an extension of each topic and a periodic revision of what has already been taught” (Bruner, 1977, p.52)It is possible to see the application of these theories throughout the KS3 curriculum. The complexity of the topics is shown to increase in stages, each topic revisited as a more advanced subject i.e.

the spiral curriculum in use. For example, we see in the QCA unit 7K, ‘Forces and their Effects’ an introduction to the basics of forces, asking questions such as ‘what is weight?’ and ‘why do things float’, with the forces being related to things on earth. In unit 8J, forces are touched on in a more complex way, looking at what a magnet is and how it works. By unit 9J, ‘Gravity and Space’ we have moved onto the increasingly more complex of the force of gravity, what it is, how it changes and how it affects not just the earth, but all of the planets and components of the solar system.When communicating scientific ideas in the classroom a number of teaching models should be used to enable those ideas to be understood as easily as possible.

Each model of teaching, be it practical, verbal, visual, or graphical should be used to augment the others.Practical work is an invaluable aid in the classroom and it is widely accepted that good quality practical work promotes the engagement and interest of students as well as developing a sound scientific knowledge and aiding a pupil’s conceptual understanding of the subject. The Royal Society (2008) puts is as, “Many consider practical work to be central to teaching and learning in science. Good quality practical work helps develop pupils’ understanding of scientific processes and concepts, and is high on the list of what pupils enjoy about science, promoting engagement and achievement”In support of this view, Millar (2004) argues that practical work is very effective in augmenting other forms of communication in science teaching and that it can increase a pupils understanding of a scientific concept more than just verbal, graphical and pictorial.Leach and Scott (2002) argue however, that although there is no doubt that practical activities are interesting, are able to motivate and are extremely useful in getting scientific ideas across, they cannot speak for themselves and that it is only through talk around the practical, between the teacher and the pupils that science teaching and therefore science learning can effectively take place.

Mortimer and Scott (2003) argue that teacher and pupil talk in the classroom is central to communicating science. Talk is the way in which scientific ideas are introduced into the classroom and it is through talk that the teacher is able to support the students in making sense of that view.Scott and Asoko(2006) suggest that a combination of ‘telling and discussing’ will help enable pupils to use and comprehend scientific language and this is related to Mortimer and Scott (2003) where the authors suggest that there are two types of talk in the classroom, ‘authoritative’ or the ‘telling’ and ‘dialogic’ or the ‘discussing’. ‘Authoritative’ talk involves the teacher focussing on the school’s science materials and ‘telling’ the pupils the scientific point of view. In the ‘dialogic’ talk the pupils are encouraged to put forward their own view points and discuss their ideas, regardless of whether it is in line with the school scientific view.

Pupil-pupil dialogue, as a class or in small groups will bring about the opportunity for the pupils to ‘talk into existence’ (Ogborn et al., 1996) their own understanding of new scientific concepts and removing their everyday misconceptions. Wellington (1998) goes on to promote the necessity of pupil-pupil dialogue and suggests that group work where a topic is researched and presented to the class, where groups discuss their own ideas and give a short talk or the use of role-play would be ideal aids for communicating scientific concepts. Ross et al (2000) goes on to further the place of role-play or acting out in the classroom, suggesting that it can be a powerful way of helping pupils to grasp scientific ideas and concepts.For communicating Science at KS3 it would be preferable if specialist language presented (Barnes, et al., 1969) – language which is recognised to be potentially problematic as it is unique to the subject and so is presented and explained to the pupils – be used as a means of introducing and teaching topics as much of the language used will be new.

When approaching Science at KS3 it is suggested by Wellington (1998), that strategies to develop language skills are used for those pupils who classroom dialogue proves too much for, especially when using specialist language, even of it follows Barnes’ rules. These ideas tie in with the use of visual aids such as having a ‘Wordbank’ on the wall, having a glossary of terms displayed for the pupils to consult, using news cuttings, having problematic words displayed in a familiar way either in work books or on the wall.Simply put, ‘learning demand’ (Leach and Scott, 2002) is the difference between the everyday views a pupil has of a particular topic or concept and the school or scientific view of that concept. Relating to the KS3 Curriculum and how the topic of forces and gravity is approached an excellent example of learning demand can be shown. Scott (2003) looks at the familiar occurrence of a child dropping a ball. If the child is asked the questions ‘Why does the ball fall to the ground?’ the answer in everyday terms could be that ‘it falls to the ground because you let go of it’.

On the other hand no explanation, however misconceived may be given. The answer could be simply: ‘it just does’. The scientific view of why the ball falls is due to the act of gravity, that there is an invisible force pulling down on the ball, just as it pulls down on everything.The first concept which the pupil must grasp is the fact that gravity can act on an object without physically touching it and this could be demonstrated through a number of different activities of natural phenomena. By Year 9, it would be possible to explain that gravity is responsible for the an Apple falling from a tree (as in the case of Newton), for the flow of the tides and how the moon is kept in its orbit around the earth and how the earth is held in its orbit around the sun, eventually building up to the motion of the whole solar system.

Using this example, it is easy to see where the gap between the everyday view and the scientific concept is, creating a ‘learning demand’ and how this learning ‘demand can be closed’, using scaffolding techniques and relatively small steps, building up the pupils knowledge.