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As the exams regulator prepares to abandon the assessment of coursework counting towards the grades for science A Levels, OCR is seeking an alternative approach to encourage more, not fewer, experiments in the classroom.
With the mid-January consultation deadline on A Level reform looming, OCR is urging more practical work to be done in Biology, Chemistry and Physics A Levels to embed learning, so pupils are ready to go into industry or higher education with robust practical, as well as theoretical, scientific knowledge.
Based on feedback from teachers and academics on its forums, OCR has found widespread agreement that the current method of ‘controlled assessment’ of coursework is not fit for purpose; it can have a detrimental impact, such as narrowing the curriculum, limiting students’ practical experience and putting teachers under additional pressure.
OCR believes there are better ways to encourage and assess practical skills that can enhance the teaching and learning experience and outcomes. It has piloted an approach that involves students carrying out a wide range of work to develop essential practical skills, and at the same time assessing their understanding of the practical element by an externally assessed written paper.
The alternative approach would see more experiments in the classroom ‘endorsed’ by the teacher to confirm that the pupil had undertaken the work specified. OCR believes this would provide more opportunity for a wider range of practical work to take place.
OCR’s Chief Executive Mark Dawe says:
“Universities and employers need confidence that A Level science qualifications deliver the practical skills that young people need in the workplace or higher education. We want students to do lots of practicals and, most importantly, to learn from their successes and mistakes.
We want to reward them for fulfilling a wide range of practical activities during their two year A Level course and demonstrating their understanding of the fundamentals of practical investigative work in science. This is the difference between knowing how and why to do something in a certain way, rather than just following instructions.”
OCR’s new Biology, Chemistry and Physics A Levels will be submitted to Ofqual for accreditation in late Spring 2014. Practical skills handbooks for each subject will set out what is expected and what additional resources and guidance will be needed to inspire teachers and students to do more practical sciences in imaginative and exciting ways. The new A Levels will be taught in schools from September 2015.
Tim Oates, Director of Assessment, Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment, OCR’s parent organisation, has reviewed a range of options for assessing practical work across all subjects at GCSE and A level. He will make the case for more practical work in the classroom when he delivers a keynote speech at the Association for Science Education Conference in Birmingham on 9 January.
Tim Oates says:
“For many years we have been stuck in a quagmire of coursework so that it now counts for as much as 33% of the marks for some science A Levels. But although it is widely recognised that the current system of coursework assessment does not work, we should not promote approaches which may also abolish science experiments in the classroom. There is unequivocal evidence from many years of research that shows that children and young people acquire understanding of vital aspects of biology, chemistry and physics far more effectively when programmes include learning grounded in experiments in the classroom. Just as in medical education, a rich mixture of practice and theory results in the deep, secure learning we all seek.”
To visit OCR at ASE (8 -11 January 2014), find out more via our events page.
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