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Secondary School Science

How can we improve our secondary science teaching and learning?

The quality of science teaching and learning continues to be an area of concern. When it is inadequate, it is often the lack of a sufficient number of highly-qualified and dedicated science teachers that is cited as the problem.

Subject knowledge is important. However, we should not neglect the need to be able to get a subject across. Primary school science teachers may not always have the subject knowledge but they are generally adept at using the knowledge that they have to enable pupils to understand the concepts. The teacher who knows the student or the teacher who knows the subject, it’s finding the balance between the two.

In this knowledge bank we provide ideas for improving your science curriculum and teaching methodology to enthuse and motivate your students.


It is vital that your curriculum motivates and inspires the scientists of the future. With careful planning and a measure of rigour, integrated learning can be particularly motivating. Bringing subjects together to address a problem that students see as ‘real’ can enthuse them as well as helping them see the role of the scientist in society. The ‘Specialist Schools and Academies Trust STEM Pathfinder Programme’ enabled a network of specialist schools to design and deliver integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities. Evaluation of the programme suggested that integrating the subjects was successful and improved engagement and the development of problem-solving skills as well as improving attitudes towards these subjects. (1)

One way of improving the attitude of students towards science is through the use of IT. Although a slightly older article, ‘Science then and now’ does highlight some ways in which IT might be used to heighten understanding of the basic concepts. Although practical activities remain a priority, IT can enhance the understanding that pupils have of how results are obtained and what has actually occurred during the experiment. (2)

The links between IT and science are probably more self-evident than those between PE and science. And yet some schools are increasing interest in science through using PE as a channel. Adrian Oldknow describes how the links have been explored in Hampshire through investigating activities such as kicking, hitting, jumping, firing etc. IT also has a major focus here with the use of video analysis systems and data capture from sensors. (3) 

Further information and ideas about a cross-curricular approach to science teaching are covered by Professor Oldknow in ‘How to run a cross-curricular STEM project. In this article he describes a number of projects taking place in different schools designed to inspire and enthuse students and make their learning relevant. He also make reference to the British Science Association’s list of STEM activities (4)

Good principles for science education

Pupils need to be enabled to share and discuss science-based issues. This requires a level of scientific literacy. Lisa Barratt argues for the importance of developing a scientific dialogue in ‘Scientific Literacy Through Dialogue’ (5)   

The Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) project includes a range of techniques designed to improve thinking skills around science that ultimately have long-term effects on attainment. The project is grounded in some sound teaching and learning principles. For example, that students are more likely to remember and apply something when they have discovered it for themselves. It also emphasises the importance of providing students with some facts and knowledge or ‘concrete preparation’ which allows them to explore the real problem with more freedom. (6).  

Field trips and practical ‘hands on’ experience are as valuable to secondary-age students as they are vital to primary. (7) Taking science out of the classroom can bring students into the laboratory. That’s when you know your teaching has taken effect.

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MS Word

Specialist Schools and Academies Trust STEM Pathfinder

The STEM pathfinder programme, funded by the DCSF and managed by SSAT, enabled and supported networks of specialist schools to design and deliver integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities through a programme of continuing professional development, and provision of resources, consultancy and advice to schools. This is the evaluation of the programme by NFER to assess the effectiveness of different activities and approaches to delivering STEM and provide a set of recommendations for the future. Leadership Briefings Issue 4.07 (43)


DARREN POWNER looks back at the days of teaching science before the widespread use of technology and compares this with today’s science learning environment.

Bringing sports into the classroom (open access article)

If the ‘leaning a ladder against the wall’ example has failed to set your students’ passion for Pythagoras alight, show them how maths affects something they love - sport! Professor Adrian Oldknow explains how PE is being used to get students interested in maths and science in Hampshire.

How to run a cross-curricular STEM project

Professor Adrian Oldknow was commissioned by Becta to produce a series of articles about using ICT in subject teaching. After researching STEM cross-curricular projects in secondary schools around the country, he shares his practical advice on software, kit and lesson plans.

Scientific Literacy Through Dialogue

Lisa Barratt gives advice about how teachers can develop scientific literacy at key stage 4.

CASE Proven

Andrew Raw reports on his experiences of using materials and classroom approaches in secondary science teaching.

Technology In The Wild

For a group of Year 9 students last year, a unique science camp in the Lake District allowed the natural world to meet high technology head–on to provide an action–packed learning experience. Folder: Interactive Issue 65