Exploring Science with Young Children: A Developmental Perspective

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Terry Russell & Linda McGuigan

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    Author biographies

    Terry Russell is emeritus professor at the University of Liverpool. He is a psychologist by background and training with a special interest in cognitive development as applied to the learning of science at all ages, but especially the younger age range. He taught in primary and secondary special needs schools and worked as an educational psychologist before finding opportunities to move into research. He has worked in South-East Asia, Africa and in the UK at King’s College, London, and directed the Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology at the University of Liverpool for over 20 years. He has directed national and international projects and published extensively. This book reflects his commitment to evidence-based activity that improves teachers’ and pupils’ educational experiences, where theory informs practice through practical and accessible applications.

    Dr Linda McGuigan has an established record of research into the emergence and development of science understanding in the early years. Formerly a primary teacher and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology at the University of Liverpool, Linda has conducted and managed research into children’s conceptual development in science, assessment and curriculum development. Attracting national and international interest, her work has been funded by national assessment and curriculum agencies. She has co-authored a number of books, reports, articles and digital and hard copy materials to support early years practice. Focusing on children’s conceptual progression, she brings a developmental perspective to science learning, teaching and assessment. Linda’s PhD investigated the impact of multimodal approaches on children’s science learning. Multimodal learning continues to be an important feature of her research and professional development activities.

    Acknowledgements

    We are extremely grateful for the many ways in which children, staff and parents have supported our research over many years. Without their permission and goodwill our understanding could not have been furthered. We also thank the reviewers who kindly offered comment on our earlier drafts and staff at SAGE who helped us to realise the completion of this book.

    How to use this book

    There are a number of recurring features used within this book and this brief introduction indicates what they are and how to make use of them.

    Chapter overviews

    Each chapter uses a brief overview to set out the ground to be covered and acts as an ‘advance organiser’.

    Reflections

    The invitations to reflect are more direct than the ‘Pauses for thought’. Occasionally, you might find them challenging. They are not onerous and you may find it useful to use them as discussion points with a colleague or in small groups as well as individually. The invitations to reflect are intended to promote the kind of thinking that will make it easier for you to engage with the text. The more effort you put into these reflections, the more you will benefit from them.

    Chapter summaries

    Each chapter ends with a bulleted summary of the main points discussed as a digest of the main features of the chapter and to help you to recap what you have read. These summaries are not intended to stand-alone: the substance is in each chapter.

    Appendix: science activities and subject matter referred to in this book

    We appreciate that educators of younger children often seek support for decisions about the science subject matter that children should be learning about and how to assess it when they wander ‘off piste’. Throughout the book’s chapters there is advice (both explicit and implicit via the examples discussed, some very fleetingly) about what might be taught and how to assess it. In the Appendix, we summarise the content mentioned throughout the pages as well as providing a succinct summary of how to assess any and every subject matter that might be touched upon. This Appendix is therefore not constrained by any curricular regime. It is applicable to curricula anywhere in the world and describes a procedure that is transferable to any age group.

  • Appendix: Science subject matter for 3–7 and its assessment

    This book has throughout focused on pedagogy, with suggestions about how to approach science teaching and learning of ‘emergent’ science. Educators of younger children tend to have concerns about what subject matter these children should be learning about and how to assess relative success across a group of children. Throughout this book there are many illustrations that refer to the subject matter of science, the concepts with which children might engage. These possibilities for teaching and learning around particular content are listed and cross-referenced by chapter below in the expectation that they may prove useful in stimulating further activity. However, we appreciate that it is likely that some readers will ask, ‘What quality of understanding should I regard as acceptable?’, or ‘How can I decide whether children have “met”, “exceeded” or “not yet reached” expectations for their performance?’. What we cannot (and do not intend to) offer in response to such queries is a set of test questions and performance benchmarks. The danger of following that route is of narrowing curriculum experiences to conform to what can be tested.

    The breadth invited by the relative lack of specificity in the science content for children aged 3–7 years offers a freedom that should be grasped wholeheartedly. The means for educators to carry out their own assessments as an integral part of practice have been described in earlier chapters of this book. Such practice will enable educators to build up for themselves and their organisations a practical, evidence-based view of the different qualities of understanding of which children are capable as well as of developmental progressions or ‘trajectories’ in that understanding. So what we offer here is not a set of tests and performance outcomes, but something far more useful. We describe the steps in a formative assessment process that can be used continuously to build up your awareness of the different qualities of understanding that children reveal so that you can respond to their needs and support their progression. It is a process that can be used recurrently in all the contexts and referring to all the content summarised below. In fact, the process is a summary of what has been described throughout the book, in succinct form.

    The steps (as part of habitual daily practice, using a formative pedagogy) proceed like this:

    • Actively listen and take note of the range and quality of science-specific understanding expressed by children as they engage with your provision. This will enable you to build a picture of ‘differentiation’, meaning the span of different qualities of understanding across the group, both successes and confusions
    • Use your growing awareness of different qualities of understanding to fine-tune tailored support
    • Where possible, discuss with colleagues to compare outcomes, checking how representative your group is of performance more generally (in effect, an informal ‘moderating’ process)
    • Try to identify some of the key foundational understandings along the typical pathway (or ‘conceptual trajectory’) towards the big science ideas so that you can respond flexibly and effectively to children’s needs
    • Use those descriptions drawn from the range of differentiated performance to describe individual children’s current position in the range and needs for formative purposes (feeding back to children, reporting ongoing progress to parents, etc.)
    • When required (e.g. at transition), use that same range or scale of differentiated performance to describe individual children’s achievements for summative purposes against external requirements.

    We strongly advocate treating formative and summative assessment in tandem, as drawing on the same underlying information about a child’s performance. Whatever the science subject matter decided upon for teaching and learning, this general method for determining needs, next steps and outcomes can be applied.

    Science activities and subject matter referred to in this book

    Science context and subject matter content

    Chapter

    Page

    Animals: observing frogs outdoors

    1

    20

    Animals: using a fictional story to explore adaptation and change

    2

    34–5

    Animals: visiting a farm

    3

    49

    Animals: encouraging whole body movements to explore the lifecycle of a frog

    4

    72

    Animals: using a ‘road map’ to tell story of dinosaurs dying out

    4

    74

    Animals: observational drawings of aphids collected from fallen leaves

    4

    78

    Animals: using different sources of evidence to draw animals

    4

    79–80

    Animals: making 3-D models to show features of animals

    4

    81

    Animals: sketching ideas about the changes going on inside an incubating egg

    4

    82

    Animals: sketching how an animal might have changed into a fossil

    4

    83

    Animals: observing incubating a hen’s eggs

    5

    99

    Animals: observing tadpoles, butterflies and stick insects changing

    5

    99

    Animals: observing and talking about hens

    6

    115

    Animals: creating imaginative environments for dinosaurs

    7

    136–7

    Animals: finding information about animals using computers

    7

    138–9

    Animals: using probes to help children observe frogspawn and tadpoles

    7

    140

    Animals: visiting an aquarium

    7

    142

    Animals: observing a butterfly emerging from a pupa

    7

    145

    Animals: visiting a zoo

    7

    144

    Animals: observing incubating eggs at home and at school

    7

    145–6

    Humans: role-play involving ‘doctors and patients’ to explore health and parts of the body

    4

    73

    Humans: finding out about similarities and differences between themselves and others

    5

    99

    Plants: germinating seeds

    3

    56

    Plants: walking through leaves and expressing ideas about them

    4

    69

    Plants: using drama and actions to consider how tree seeds germinate and grow

    4

    73

    Plants: making a ‘memory stick’ to show plant parts collected during a walk

    4

    75

    Plants: sketching ideas about what is happening inside a seed

    4

    82

    Plants: finding out how far away the seeds fall from the tree

    5

    86–8

    Plants: exploring growing seeds

    5

    98

    Plants: investigating and comparing plant growth

    5

    101

    Plants: investigating growing tomatoes

    5

    103

    Plants: exploring ideas about fruits and vegetables

    6

    120

    Plants: observing the opening of a flower

    7

    141

    Plants: exploring conditions for growing bulbs

    8

    153–4

    Plants: observing and comparing seeds

    8

    166

    Plants: observing germinating seeds

    8

    167–8

    Plants: investigating and comparing growing plants

    8

    171

    Living things: observing plants and animals

    8

    156

    Living things: exploring life cycles and predator–prey relationships through narrative fiction

    2

    33

    Living things and their habitats: observing living things in the woods

    3

    5

    Living things: picture strip drawings of ideas about how fossils may be formed

    3

    56

    Living things and their habitats: making models to explore what snails need to live

    3

    59

    Living things: asking questions, handling, observing and identifying living things

    4

    66–7

    Living things: drawing and discussing ideas about ‘What’s alive’

    4

    68

    Living things and their habitats: combining evidence and ideas to make a group drawing of where and how moles live

    4

    79–81

    Living things and their habitats: investigating the light and shade in different habitats

    7

    141

    Materials: exploring colour mixing and painting

    2

    29

    Materials: using a fictional story to explore properties of materials

    2

    31

    Materials: exploring how to make water travel through pipes

    3

    49

    Materials: handling clay to observe changes

    3

    50

    Materials: outdoor kitchen to explore properties and changes in natural materials

    3

    51–3

    Materials: exploring ice outdoors

    3

    53–5

    Materials: picture strip drawings predicting changes to ice

    3

    56

    Materials: drawing washing drying on a line

    3

    56

    Materials: making sounds and exploring sound travelling through materials

    3

    57

    Materials: handling, discussing and classifying sand and stones

    4

    67

    Materials: exploring changes by squashing, stretching, pouring and sieving

    4

    71

    Materials: cooking as a reversible change

    4

    73

    Materials: role-play involving ‘builders’ to explore materials

    4

    73

    Materials: sketching ideas about what happens to the water left in a cup

    4

    82

    Materials: making bubbles

    5

    96

    Materials: observing and extinguishing a candle flame

    5

    99

    Materials: dissolving a sugar cube

    5

    99

    Materials: exploring a melting ice cube

    5

    99

    Materials: exploring dissolving jelly

    5

    99

    Materials: observing and exploring evaporating puddles

    5

    99

    Materials: observing and recording a bonfire burning

    5

    99

    Materials: observing and recording changes in wet clothes drying

    5

    99

    Materials: exploring which materials let light through

    7

    141

    Materials: interviewing the school cook

    7

    143

    Materials: exploring and discussing how materials are used

    6

    122–5

    Environment: expressing ideas about cars

    1

    9

    Forces: using a fictional story to investigate how to move and lift objects

    2

    32

    Forces: drawing how clockwork toys work

    3

    56

    Forces: sketching ideas about why objects children are playfully exploring start moving

    4

    82

    Forces and weather: classifying objects that can and cannot be moved by blowing

    5

    92

    Forces: comparing the movement of toy cars

    5

    104–8

    Sounds: making an outdoor musical instrument

    6

    125–7

    Time: creating a class museum

    6

    118

    Night and day: drawing ideas about how night and day happen

    3

    56

    Seasonal changes: exploring and talking about natural changes

    8

    158

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