With concerns having been raised by the school in terms of the progress and engagement in science for children, a project to measure and improve Thinking Skills in Science took place between April and July 2016. The project involved two teachers from the school and support from an external Science Consultant.
Description of intervention
The whole cohort of year 7 pupils were pre-tested using a Science Reasoning Test Task II. This tested their ability to understand and apply scientific principles in unfamiliar contexts.
The 6 classes in year 7 were divided in two halves, which had very similar profiles on the basis of the pre-test. Three classes were part of the intervention, the other half acting as a control group. The choice of the intervention groups was constrained somewhat by restrictions of the timetable to allow for the pattern described below.
The intervention group were taught nine Science based ‘Thinking Skills’ lessons based on the Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education (CASE) materials. This took place over approximately three months in place of 9 standard science curriculum lessons. One of the classes was taught by the external consultant and this was used as a model lesson, watched by the teachers of the two groups. Some additional training was given on the use of questioning and the approaches around the model lessons.
After completing the lesson, the whole cohort was retested using the same test SRT Task II. For comparison, only matched pupils (105 in total) were included, i.e. pupils who completed both the first and second test. The tests scores were corrected for pupil age. It is important to note that lessons are not designed specifically to teach to the items on the test. The items tested require the pupils to reason from information provided and an improvement in test scores is suggestive of an improvement in reasoning.
When comparing the cohort tested in the pre-test to national comparisons from children tested using the same test in the early 1980s (see figure 2a), the whole cohort had a significantly lower starting point in terms of their Piagetian Thinking level. Before the intervention, the average child at the school in the cohort was thinking in a similar way to a child age 6 or 7 years old. This is much lower than the results of the national tests carried out 1981, suggesting that the average child was approximately 4 or 5 years behind in their development.
The CASE intervention would appear to benefit the intervention group at the school. It would satisfy ethical concerns if the control group also received the intervention in year 8.
It is reasonable to assume that further gains would be made by the intervention group (based on this trial and multiple sources of supporting evidence) if the intervention continued for a further year.
Further intervention would likely require further training of teachers – recommended as three full days equivalent over each of two years for full training.
Appendix – graphs
Figure 3: Box and whisker plots for each group
Figure 4a: Test level distribution for pre-test (class 1 is the intervention group)
Figure 4b: Test level distribution for post-test (class 1 is the intervention group)