Lisa Migliari is head of science at Atlantic Academy, Portland. In 2021, with support from Elevating Chemistry, she and her colleagues introduced resources to support practical skills and revision for their students.

Tell us about the project you carried out with support from Elevating Chemistry?

We wanted to support our year 10 and 11 students who had missed a significant amount of learning time, and who were being taught outside of specialist science labs at the time. To do this, we used the Elevating Chemistry grant to purchase revision guides for our students, as well as lab books and an online resource that allowed them to do virtual practicals.

The revision guides were used by students for homework and revision. Because every student had one, we could use these as a whole class which was really useful. There’s something about having a physical book that makes students feel supported, and this made a big difference in terms of their homework engagement. Every week, I set homework from the books with my year 11s, and each time there’s maybe one or two who haven’t done it, whereas before it would be about half the class . So, they’re engaged and really proud of the work they’re doing.

The other resources from the grant (the lab books and the software) were used to support practical skills. When the project started, we were teaching out of labs, and we could use the online software to look at the required practicals in a more normal way than would have been possible otherwise. The students could use the software to carry out the practicals in groups, including being able to change variables, make measurements and record results. They could practise skills such as using thermometers, making observations and timing. This meant that when we got back into labs, students had retained more of their lab skills compared to younger students who hadn’t been using the software as much. They can still access the software at home, so now it helps them to revise and remind themselves of the required practicals.

The structured nature of the lab books helped to save time on the required practicals which meant we could get through them despite the disruptions of the year. Everyone had the same method and had access to linked exam questions. We could be very focussed with the required practicals, leading to more time for revision.

Did you make any changes to your original plan?

We pretty much stuck to our original plan with our year 10s and 11s. The one difference was that we used the online software with younger years more than expected, as there were practicals on there that suited Key Stage 3, as well as the GCSE required practicals.

How did the project benefit your students?

Firstly, it’s encouraged students to take ownership of their homework and engage with it much more. We’ve also noticed that the current year 11’s, who’ve been using the books, seem to be higher in their attainment at this point in the year than last year’s cohort, who hadn’t started using the books at this stage. You can’t draw conclusions directly from this comparison, but it also seems this year’s group have achieved higher attainment in science compared to other subjects. So we think the resources have given them the scaffolding and support to continue learning effectively – even through disruptions such as students or whole classes being sent home to isolate.

The impact of the lab books and software is harder to show, but it feels like we’ve gained more class time, and there was also a continuation of practical skills when we weren’t in labs.

How did you and your colleagues benefit from the project?

The lab books and software meant we were able to give students access to practicals outside of labs and this was really valuable. Having these resources improved how we could approach teaching the content, as students were able to see and apply their learning in a more practical way.

The revision guides allowed us to use homework more effectively. Before using the guides, the homework set for year 10 and 11 wasn’t consistent, depending on which teacher set it. With the revision guides, while the homework tasks still vary from class to class, there’s more consistency as they’re all based on the same material.

Will you be continuing with any of the interventions beyond the project?

To be honest, we’ve carried on with everything. It’s been working and is making a difference, so why stop?

What was the most beneficial part of the project?

Last academic year, having the virtual practicals was the number one thing for students and staff. It allowed for a bit of normality when we weren’t in labs.

Now we’re back in the labs, I’m going to have to be 50:50 – the lab books save so much time, but the revision guides are such a brilliant resource.