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A common topic of conversation in our office these days is practical work – why we use it and how we do it.
The changes at A Level are starting to bed in now, and many of our centres have received their Practical Endorsement Monitoring visit. Our monitors have seen a huge variety of great practical work across the country, with teachers really taking the opportunities provided by the removal of coursework. So, it’s great news that the new GCSE structure also allows practical work to be more focussed on teaching and learning than summative assessment.
The requirements at GCSE are much lighter touch than at A Level. Learners must have the opportunity to complete a minimum number of activities, covering all the required apparatus and techniques, and keep up-to-date records of their work. There is no requirement for direct assessment of their skills and there are no monitoring visits.
However, these are the minimum requirements. I know that many of you will want to use this as a springboard for developing a rich and integrated practical experience for your learners across the GCSE years (and beyond). At OCR, we have simplified our A Level practical model, and adapted all the popular aspects to make them relevant for GCSE. The required apparatus and techniques are divided into Practical Activity Groups (PAGs), which are supported by a range of suggested practical activities, a simplified (optional) tracker to help ensure all learners are getting the right opportunities, and learner record sheets to help learners engage with their developing skills. You can find all these resources, and more, on your subject qualification page.
This is where our flexible model of practical work really comes into its own. If practical work is to be effective, some clear thinking is needed about which activities to use and why. Is the objective to develop learners’ manipulative and observational skills, to exemplify a concept, to investigate a phenomenon, or to motivate learners? No one defined set of practicals can cover all of these requirements, for all learners in all schools. You are the experts in what your learner’s need, so ultimately you are best placed to select the most appropriate activities.
I know that many departments and teachers will want support and reassurance, especially in the early years of a new specification. We are therefore producing a range of suggested activities. You’ll find them on the subject qualification pages under Teaching and Learning Resources/Practical Activities. Rather than completely reinvent the wheel, I have taken inspiration from high quality providers such as the Royal Society of Chemistry and CLEAPSS for many OCR activities. I’ll be showcasing some of these at the ASE Annual Conference 2017 at the University of Reading.
Of course, you can go straight to such sources for your practicals. For example:
And I hope you’ll feel inspired to develop your own practical work to best suit the equipment you have in your school, the learners you teach, and the expertise in your department. If you come up with something great, do share it on the OCR Community to allow teachers across the country to benefit.
So, take this opportunity to really shape the learning experience for all your learners, one that is engaging, relevant and challenging. Make full use of the skills and passions of those teaching and supporting science in their schools, and share your ideas with the world!
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Dr David Paterson - Subject Specialist - Chemistry