Three ways to teach science terminology to primary pupils

The Tes reports that knowing science terminology is key to effectively writing up experiments, but simply offering definitions will not be enough to secure understanding, says this primary teacher

The national curriculum emphasises the importance of enquiry-based learning in primary science. This means that pupils will have valuable chances to explore and investigate, but it also necessarily means that they will spend a considerable amount of time writing about their enquiries and recording their findings. 

Some terminology misconceptions may be easily addressed with individual pupils through clear, constructive feedback. However, others may need to be explicitly taught. Here are some simple suggestions for teaching three important terms. A word of caution, though: I would definitely not teach all three in one lesson as these are terms that pupils often confuse. Detailed explanations about what they mean can be found on the Association for Science Education (ASE) website.

1. Fairness 

Teachers may lack confidence in their own understanding of what a fair test is and when it is needed. Put simply, if all but one of the variables are controlled, then the test is fair. However, problems may occur when writing about whether a test was fair if pupils have only come across the word in the context of behaviour; they might assume that the test was fair if all members of their group have been allocated an equal role in the investigation.

2. Reliability 

You need to make pupils explicitly aware that they are repeating the process to increase the  reliability of their results. Before asking them to find the average, allow time for them to look at their results. During this time, ask them to consider whether their repeated results are similar and whether they can see a pattern. Are there any obvious anomalies? By looking at results in this way it should be clearer to pupils what reliability is and why it is important. 

3. Accuracy 

Pupils who are keen to add extra details to their write-ups may comment on whether their results are accurate. Address this concept when pupils are selecting the units of measurement or the measuring equipment they will use for their investigation. For example, ask them why using a ruler with millimetres will allow them to obtain results closer to the true value when measuring small distances than if they used a metre stick.

Read more Three ways to teach science terminology to primary pupils

Are these helpful tips? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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