February 23, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
September 2014 will see the first teaching of the new KS3 curriculum in Science. It seems to be a common complaint heard from teachers that we are constantly rewriting schemes of work. Every couple of years there seem to be changes occurring to one key stage or another. Every time you think that you have got a handle of one scheme of work, it is necessary to rewrite them and start learning a new set of objectives and outcomes.
That said, since the DfE first announced the changes to KS3, I saw this as an incredible opportunity. Granted, this was primarily because of my role within the department I work in (2ic with particular responsibility for KS3 Science). I did however also see this as an opportunity for our whole department to really take true ownership of what we do in our classrooms.
For the last few years the department has been teaching adapted versions of the Wikid schemes of work published by the ASE (see here for more information). Each topic follows a particular theme/story, with different areas of scientific knowledge being taught and linked together by these themes. There has been a growing feeling amongst teachers in the department that these schemes of work are not fit for purpose. Some topics take up a large amount of curriculum time and yet cover a relatively small amount of core scientific knowledge. Too much emphasis was placed on the development of ‘skills’ to the detriment of the learning and understanding of basic scientific knowledge. Some themes for topics are also guilty of reinforcing common misconceptions about particular areas of science. This new curriculum is being seen by the department as an opportunity to get back to one of our main aims as science teachers; teaching science!
The first stage of our work involved mapping the new programme of study to the old. This was a useful exercise as it helped us to put in to perspective the size of the task ahead of us. We were surprised to see some high level Science dropping down from Key Stage 4 in to Key Stage 3. There are some significant changes being made that will require careful consideration during the writing of schemes of work, and also may require extra support and CPD for non-specialists within the department.
The next stage in our work involved sorting statements from the published programme of study in to discrete topics. We currently teach one topic per half term in Years 7 & 8 ( therefore 6 topics per academic year). In Year 9 pupils do the same until the Easter holidays, after which they start their KS4 courses. We needed therefore to create 16 topics. I worked on organising these statements in to topics and presented this first draft to the department for critique. During a department meeting, the topics and the curriculum ‘map’ I had designed were laid out and the department and I discussed and annotated the documents with suggested changes. I took these changes away and redesigned some topics. I also made some changes as to which year in KS3 each topic would be taught. The final version of our topics can be found here. Our road map is pictured below:
Our final decisions were made with a number of factors in mind. These factors included; our school’s annual assessment timetable, ideas we had about the cognitive demand of particular topics and the current set-up of our KS3 curriculum. I feel like we have created a strong general outline of our curriculum. The topics closely resemble the 2000 QCA KS3 Schemes of work in terms of subject knowledge, but not necessarily in terms of the types of activities etc. that are going to be used to teach this knowledge.
Once the details above had been decided upon, we could start writing the schemes of work for each topic. We have to start our focus on the Year 7 topics as these will be the first ones taught in September. As there have been so many issues with our current KS3 schemes of work I decided it would be best to meet as a department and discuss what we want our new schemes of work to look like. I decided that if we are going to create schemes of work that provide for the needs of both pupils and teachers, it would be advisable to decide on a ‘checklist’ of features that every scheme of work should contain. As a group we discussed and debated the individual and collective ideas we had and came up with our checklist which can be found here. These ideas are very particular to our department, our school setting etc. but someone may find something of use!
After creating our checklist, we then discussed how best to work on writing the individual schemes of work. Every individual teacher has a particular preference for the way they teach their own classes. This can often affect how schemes of work are written. With that in mind we decided it would be best to work in pairs when writing. This is difficult as we will have no extra time given to us to complete this work. We will have to find time to meet up in our non-contact periods and lunches, breaks etc. The benefits however are that we will have someone to bounce ideas off and to critique the work that we do. The department split up in to pairs and we picked the Year 7 topics that we wanted to write. We tried, as best we could, to have one specialist and one non-specialist (i.e. a Biologist and a Chemist working on the ‘Cells and Reproduction’ topic) in each working pair. By doing this we are hoping that a better final product can be produced for both the teachers in the department and our pupils.
We have set a deadline for finished drafts of each topic for a few months time. Once these drafts are finished we are going to hold a TeachMeet style meeting. During the meeting each pair will present their topic. They will discuss common misconceptions we need to be aware pupils may have, particular activities that may prove challenging and any practicals that have been written in to the schemes of work. This gives the department (teachers and technicians) a chance to ask questions about the scheme of work before it goes live and it also gives us a chance to demo practicals that we will have to deliver.
Having the whole department involved in the creation of our new curriculum has meant that we, as a department, are enthused about Key Stage 3 again. After years of dissatisfaction with how we are doing things we have a chance to really make a difference. EVERYONE is involved in the creation of this programme and so EVERYONE is responsible for the final outcome. I truly believe that by involving the whole department from the very first stage of this work we are going to create an outstanding KS3 curriculum.
I am sure I will update this blog once that curriculum is finalised!