GCSE Science: Supporting students with the required practicals

by James O'Brien

After surveying both international schools and almost 400 schools in England, the Good Practical Science report concluded that “in the countries we visited, practical science is alive and flourishing” while in England “the intense pressure to perform in written exams” means “practical science is at risk” with many schools “making too little use of their often excellent practical science facilities.”

The vast amount of content demanded by the new specifications also produces new challenges for some teachers who simply don’t have enough time in the academic year to cover everything in great detail.

Science practicals in school lend great value to a subject that is ultimately grounded in experimentation and research. Experiments give students the chance to figure out for themselves what does and doesn’t work, and why, while performing the experiment in class creates a memory much more powerful than that of reading about it in a textbook.

Yet, despite this, the report claims even the memory of a practical performed in class “soon fades after a day or two.” With students now expected to recall these experiments months later in end-of-course exams, it is no surprise that they are often unable to remember exactly which equipment was used or how different variables affected the results.

So how do we ensure students revise required practicals effectively?

1. Spaced learning: One of the most effective ways to help students get facts into their long-term memory is spaced learning: repeating information periodically in order to remember and then recall that knowledge over time. On Doddle, you’ll find a range of engaging resources to support students with core practicals, which are key to exam success. These include interactive animations enabling you to cover the practicals before the class gets into the lab, and a growing number of practical quizzes to help give students additional practise on these experiments, enabling them to embed the procedures and knowledge into their long-term memory.

Handling the apparatus in a laboratory is very different from having to then recall exactly what you used and why you used it. All our practical quizzes include a five-mark section on a different, but related practical. These unfamiliar situations are introduced in each quiz with a study page, after which the student is asked questions on their scientific technique and the apparatus used. In this way, the quizzes aim to bolster students’ understanding of scientific practice and prepare them to address similar questions in their exams.

2. Ensure students understand the how and the why: Our comprehensive practical quizzes are designed to ensure students not only recognise what they’re expected to know, but why it is so. Our Biology practical quiz on Food Tests, for example, requires students to not only realise there has been an error but also why that error has occurred. You can try out the quiz for yourself here!

Similarly, Q12 in our Specific Heat Capacity quiz describes a situation in which a students’ results differ from the data book. Students must then describe exactly why this has happened and, if they are not sure, a recap slide will explain it to them.

3. Inspiring, engaging resources: One of our fundamental aims is to make our resources as engaging as possible. In the words of one student, “I find Doddle an easy and simple way to learn more about Science. I think it is great!” We know that highlighting notes and repeating key words isn’t always the most effective way to learn, so our quizzes are specifically designed with a range of different question types to keep students motivated.

You'll also find a number of animations and interactives on Doddle, covering some of the core practicals. These will often include step-by-step walkthroughs, and will describe the apparatus used, the methodology, and some of the results.

4. Detailed yet clear explanations: When revisiting something studied months ago, it can be difficult to know where to start. “Was that the experiment with the Bunsen burner?”, “Was that the one where the results were slightly skewed?” That’s why all our practical quizzes include formative recap slides, designed to explain to students why they may have got a question wrong.

Something Year 10 students struggled with in their exams last year was differentiating between different key terms. Doddle quizzes first test whether or not students can identify the differences between terms, and then provide a detailed explanation to ensure they’ve understood. What’s more, you only have to head to the Markbook to see how your students performed on a particular question, enabling you to tailor revision activities accordingly. The Browse function then enables students to search for further resources to consolidate their understanding.

Formerly a science teacher in the UK and abroad, as an Education Adviser I now work with schools who use Doddle to improve the teaching and learning in their classrooms, as well as reducing teacher workload around homework, marking and data management. It’s a pleasure to interact with so many people who share a passion for improving pupils' experiences of education.

– James O'Brien

What's in Doddle Science?

  • KS3 Biology, Chemistry and Physics
  • Working Scientifically at KS3
  • KS4 Combined Science
  • KS4 Separate Sciences
  • Working Scientifically at KS4
  • Mathematical Skills at KS4
  • AQA Separate Sciences 2016 (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
  • AQA Combined Science Trilogy
  • AQA Combined Science Synergy
  • OCR 21st Century Combined Science 2016
  • OCR 21st Century Separate Sciences 2016
  • OCR Gateway Combined Science 2016
  • OCR Gateway Separate Sciences 2016
  • Edexcel Combined Science 2016
  • Edexcel Separate Sciences 2016
  • Edexcel IGCSE Separate Sciences 2017
  • Edexcel IGCSE Science (Double Award) 2017
  • Cambridge IGCSE Separate Sciences
  • Cambridge Co-ordinated Sciences (Double Award)
  • WJEC Separate Sciences 2016
  • WJEC Science (Double Award) 2016
  • Teaching presentations
  • Homework quizzes (including quizzes on the required practicals)
  • Interactive revision activities
  • Animations, simulations and virtual experiments
  • Printable worksheets

The reduction in planning and preparation time, coupled with the increased attention to students is a powerful combination for our teachers.

David Williams, Biology Coordinator, British School of Kuwait