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How to do practicals...

Discussion in 'Science' started by JennyK90, Dec 15, 2015.

  1. JennyK90

    JennyK90 New commenter


    I started my teacher training in September and I'm really struggling with practicals. There are so many things I am finding difficult ranging from: explaining what to do at the start right; getting the students attention during the middle; and through to making sure everything is tidied away at the end.

    I've spoken to my mentor about it but am still really struggling with keeping control, especially of low ability or young groups.

    Any tips on how I can improve would be fantastic, thank you!
  2. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Firstly, know why you're doing a practical learning activity rather than something else.
    Secondly, make sure the groups know that they have to listen / read while the instructions are being given out. If they won't listen pack the stuff up and don't even try to do the practical.
    Thirdly - many teens can only carry one or two instructions in their heads - don't overload them. Get them to repeat instructions back to you.
    Fourthly make sure all distractions are removed.
    Remember that classes will always use all the magnesium and all the splints - even if you were to chop up the whole of the Sherwood Forest. Keep spares in your pocket.
    Build tidying time into the time allowed for the practical. Children of all abilities will try to spin tidying out until the bell to evade plenary. Sometimes, it's best to do the plenary "while the apparatus is cooling down".
    Unless the building has caught fire or zombies are invading, it is very very difficult to interrupt practical work.
    Good luck,
  3. applecrumblebumble

    applecrumblebumble Lead commenter

    Spot on phlogiston while I might add spread out consumables to stop big huddles of kids and as mentioned anything the kid fancy playing with dish out yourself. Maybe have people you can trust to count items in magnets, spatulas etc. come to mind.
  4. msuxg

    msuxg New commenter

  5. Quartermaster

    Quartermaster New commenter

    As mentioned before, break it down into stages. Eg for making salts, give them the instructions for adding metal to acid. Then make them stop, regroup and listen to you explain the filtration stage. Then when all done, regroup again and explain evaporation. I tend to keep all the instructions given to that point on the IWB to reduce the number of unnecessary questions a bit!
    Don't be afraid to stop and pack up if you're not happy with the way they're responding.
    Remember that although for us a practical is a stage in a learning sequence, something to tackle the subject content being studied from another angle, to many kids it's a lesson off and they miss the point that this is an important lesson in the topic they're studying! I've no doubt some are it as just an easy lesson.
  6. JennyK90

    JennyK90 New commenter

    Thank you all for the help!! I'll hopefully be able to try some of these things next term.

    If I were to give out the instructions in stages, would I stop everyone even if only some of the class have got to that point?

    Merry Christmas everyone :)
  7. Quartermaster

    Quartermaster New commenter

    If your steps are sufficiently small and you're equipment well spaced out to avoid crowding, you shoudnt have people too far apart. If you do have a group working quickly however, they are probably more able and you could give them instructions to collect the next pieces of apparatus or maybe have an extension question lined up.
    Merry Christmas!
  8. oHelzo

    oHelzo Occasional commenter

    Firstly, can you use some free lessons to observe other practical lessons in the school - both Science and other practical subjects such as art and DT? See some best practice :)

    As above, the most important thing is to decide what you want the students to gain from the practical. Alongside reinforcing the theory you are teaching, there are many practical skills involved and focusing on one of these skills per practical session - or building up one skill over a series of sessions means you and the students can focus on doing one thing well. So if you want to work on results, give them a simple method and set-up so you can spend time talking them through tables and graphs. Or giving them an outline of the question and ask them what equipment/ accuracy they might need for measuring and how they might use it ie. method writing.

    What do they know so far, do they have a good grounding in these skills? What do they need to know next to take them towards GCSE and practical assessments?

    The complexity of the experiment, skills/ behaviour of students and quantity of equipment can also make a difference. It might be everyone sets up together, then stop and run through the 'doing', then stop and run through the tidying/ results. Or written instructions. Or they write their own instructions. Can you run it as a 'circus' if you have a few small tasks to do? If the school has a technician, they can be a fount of knowledge. Do you have a TA in the class you can utilise? Can you map out how long the work should take as part of your lesson plan and use clocks/ timers/ verbal instructions/ going round to keep everyone on track? Can you work with the class teacher to identify working groups?

    Sorry loads of thoughts, maybe not all relevant but hopefully gives you a starting place :)

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