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Harnessing Curiosity in Primary Science, or, “The Power of Why?” by Vonni Hardman our Science Lead


The children we work with are curious creatures; we all know that, don’t we? As every parent, grandparent, and educator of early years will attest the most common question they ask is “Why?” and certainly in the case of my own child, they want to touch, hold and often put everything in their mouths. This is the not so secret key to how children learn, simply by being curious. They have an innate curiosity about the world around them which we as teachers should be harnessing by developing learning experiences that link into this need. This approach is the one put forward by Dr Maria Montessori who believes children are inherently curious and driven to learn and therefore education should be in harmony with this premise. Here at ATOMS we agree with this principle and are constantly exploring ways to develop this within both our workshop learning opportunities, our own staff development and also now, our professional CPD offer.


We also note that the theories of learning put forward by Lev Vygotsky lend themselves to this curiosity approach particularly the aspects of social learning around the zone of proximal development. He believed children learn best when working with others doing tasks that are challenging in a social collaborative way.


With this in mind, we set out to see how we could develop these ideas in order to improve the learning opportunities for the children and young people in education with specific regard to primary science.


Science is still a core subject in our primary schools, even though it often seems to be relegated to an afternoon slot with minimal opportunities to really develop what we call scientific literacy in our young people (not the fault of our amazing educators - the system they are working in is at fault and I discuss this further below.)


However, our current primary curriculum is overloaded and knowledge heavy with frankly, in our opinion, too much didactic content and not enough opportunities for collaborative curiosity driven learning and creative play. The unfortunate effect of this overloaded curriculum combines with the current high stakes assessment and accountability regime and the ridiculous need for teachers to “evidence” every bit of learning. The result is our children are losing interest in learning.


Anecdotal evidence from secondary teaching colleagues tells us a stark truth, by the time they get to secondary school our children are ‘bored by science’, have ‘lost their love of learning’ and ‘no longer ask questions’. What a frightening concept; school has become merely a chore by age 11. The truth is that happy children love learning, so what is happening to them during the primary school system to change this? As already stated, the issue is not one of quality teaching, our school system is the home of hundreds of thousands of excellent primary teachers a majority of whom are struggling to teach children under what was described to me by a primary colleague as “a curriculum drawn up by those who have never taught a day in their life, probably on the back of a fag packet…” Combine this with the pressure of statutory testing in our primary classrooms (Reception Baseline Assessments, Year 1 Phonics tests, Year 2 SATS, Year 4 Tables Testing and Year 6 SATS) and anyone can see where the problem begins.


So what is the solution? Teachers are contractually bound to teach the statutory curriculum. There are many creative and wonderful educators out there who are doing a fantastic job delivering wonderful creative and challenging lessons which inspire learning. At ATOMS we want to help by developing tools and strategies for our fellow professionals to use.


Let’s bring ourselves back now from my post-Govian dystopia rant to the subject of primary science. We must always keep at the forefront of our minds the simple truth that science is a creative subject that lends itself as a fantastic fit for the ways that children love to learn, by harnessing the “power of ‘why’?”


To address this, ATOMS Education CIC has developed a CPD programme looking at how learning can be maximised using a creative curiosity driven approach within the confines of delivering the current primary science curriculum by developing a child-led questioning approach to developing skills in “working scientifically” and critical thinking.


If you are interested in working with us to introduce our approach into your teaching and learning please get in touch to enquire about our new Harnessing Curiosity in Primary Science course for education professionals. Contact: atomsvonni@gmail.com for any queries about content, availability and prices.


References:


Mcleod, S. (2021, Dec 01). Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development. Teacher Support Network. https://teachersupport.info/lev-vygotsky-theory-of-cognitive-development/


https://learning-theories.com/Montessori-method-Montessori.html


https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/425618/PRIMARY_national_curriculum_-_Science.pdf



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