More effective practical work

Ian Abrahams and Michael Reiss (eds)
2016 | 240pp | £24.99 (PB)
ISBN 9781472592279

Book cover: Enhancing learning with effective practical science 11-16

In the UK, practical coursework has recently been scrapped in school qualifications and replaced by a compulsory participation model. The merits (or not) of these changes has been much debated. Regardless of where you stand in the debate, it has been useful for educators to reconsider the outcomes of practical work in their classroom laboratories, and as such this book is both timely and useful.

The majority of this book is dedicated to descriptions of practical work for biology, chemistry and physics for 11–14 and 14–16 year-old students. Each practical is usefully presented as an off-the-peg lesson plan complete with learning objectives, procedure, diagrams, lists of practical equipment and health and safety considerations. For the inexperienced or non-specialist teacher this in itself is useful, but the ‘effectiveness matrix’ included with each practical makes it invaluable. The matrix links the domain of observables to the domain of ideas; or more simply — what students are doing with what they should be thinking about while carrying out the practical. There are also discussion points teachers can use to stimulate pupil thinking to help them fully complete their learning objectives.

While many excellent, experienced teachers may pick up this book and find nothing in the lesson plans that will make them change their classroom practice, that doesn’t mean this book is without value to them. Inevitably these teachers are the lead practitioners in their departments and the chapters that bookend the practical guide will help them understand the pedagogical research that has stimulated this book and how they can incorporate these ideas in their own schemes of work.

My only minor gripe, given the recent changes to GCSE practical endorsement, is that a small number of required practicals are not included. While it would still not have been an exhaustive list of practical work, it would have been useful had all these mandated practicals been covered. Nevertheless, this is a useful book that has, in the few months I’ve owned it, had a positive effect on my practice and the learning of my students.