Meeting 4 of the Inclusive Science Group (practical work)

Meeting 20th April 2021

Focus – Practical work for SEND learners (episode 2)

The notes don’t identify the contributions from members of the group unless they specifically request to be identified.

Opening comments

Rob opened the meeting with a video from Teachers TV. This was an old recording, but showed a teacher introducing a practical lesson. The purpose of showing the video wasn’t to criticise the video but to consider how learners with SEND might find this introduction and to suggest ways of improving it (including any materials you might use alongside)

Those present were quick to make suggestions

  • Don’t forget to link to prior learning and make clear to learners why they are doing a practical activity. Isn’t just a task – we hope they will learn something.
  • Learners with SEND need precise instructions, so telling them to get inro groups or decide who will test what won’t help them to do the practical work. The roles badges, promoted by the IoP, could help with larger groups
  • If it’s a complicated practical there could be lots to remember – how will students remember the steps?
  • Show the equipment set up rather than just referring to names
  • If you use instructions on paper, think about how you will use them. Don’t just read over the students reading them.
  • Try to be interactive and engage learners in the opening.
  • Learners could miss out on important messages as they could be anxious about the practical or who they will work with.

Rob reminded the group about cognitive science and the summary in the EEF Improving secondary science report.

The split attention effect comes to mind when thinking about practical instructions. We know that integrating labels into a diagram is better than using a separate key (in this diagram of the heart, the diagram on the left is easier to follow because you don’t need to flick between two sources of information). Dave Paterson has written extensively about integrated instructions and others have followed his lead and created/shared resources for key science practical activities.

Integrated instructions work well with primary phase and secondary phase learners

Rob shared this photograph he’d taken at one of Jane’s inclusive science festivals where students were investigating the chemistry behind bath bombs. As an observer, Rob watched learners with SEND work independently and all were able to complete the practical activity (although some got further than others)

Jane explained that her technician (Pam) had taken photographs so that students could see what they should be seeing at each stage of the practical. The equipment was colour coded to stop students mixing up the chemicals and no students used two lots of one chemical. The symbols were to help any students who might be colour blind.

There is also merit in the group working together. Rob has always followed this approach because it is easy to see students who haven’t got things right, for example one blue Bunsen flame stands out in a sea of orange flames. It also can reduce cognitive load as students don’t have to remember lots of instructions and it lets students compare what they are doing to other learners. There are many names for this approach – the slow practical, lock-step practical, guided practical and paced practical work. This approach also allows for deeper discussion and questioning of learners as you go through the practical. This approach can develop self-esteem and build confidence in doing practical work.

Jane reminded the group that we are going to apply for funding to trial microscale practical work for our SEND learners. Anyone who has not expressed an interest can still do so to Rob or Jane.

Other top tips from the group

  • One technician produced pictures showing how the equipment needed to be put away, showing photographs of the equipment fitting neatly in the tray. Others have used a similar approach with shapes cut out in foam or polystyrene so it is obvious where the equipment should be placed.
  • Labels on trays and cupboards showing what’s inside
  • Routines are extremely powerful and can help with setting up and clearing away equipment.
  • Simple tweaks to practical like using indicator to make acid clearer to see, or dry-wipe marker or an elastic band to mark where to fill up to. One top tip was that loom bands work well for this purpose too!
  • One teacher recommended Makaton signs for electricity which are very visual and can help learners when used in science lessons, for example the signs for conductor and insulator could help students grasp the meaning of the keywords.
  • It was suggested that it is possible to make simple adaptations to the equipment used for teaching electricity to make the practical work more accessible. To remove the problem of connecting tiny wires, simple adaptations like a space connector or giant crocodile clips made fiddly equipment easier to use. Rather than using fragile incandescent bulbs, wired LEDs could be used as a replacement (supergluing the contacts makes them more durable) and experienced a low failure rate. Correx boards with circuit diagrams and velcro provide a cheap and effective tool for learners to build circuits. A knife switch is very visual and helps learners understand what a switch actually is. Finger switches were also a good tool for students investigating circuits.
  • An ‘energy stick’ or ‘energy ball’ is quite noisy but visually appealing and students can make simple circuits with their bodies. 
  • The Ogden Trust offers funding for physics related CPD which might be worth investigating. 

Links from the chat:

Videoclip from Teachers TV –

Dave Paterson – Integrated instructions

Chemix website (for science diagrams)

Makaton signs for electricity

Ogden Trust

The finger switch


Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.