Chemist with a Conscience

Action Research

“I was introduced to action research as part of a session run by Zoe Elder at my school a few weeks ago (for a quick summary see her blog post This then linked in nicely with a session that I attended last week with the Teaching Leaders programme on action research and Building Learning Power by Bill Lucas ( In both sessions action research was described as practitioner led enquiry with the aim of ‘becoming a better noticer’. Zoe Elder kindly stated that as long as you base your action research on your values as a teacher then you should be doing it right!

I’ve detailed the outline of my action research plan below using a combination of the ‘Teacher Enquiry Action Plan’ by The Expansive Education Network ( and the documents that Zoe Elder provided at our session. ”


3 case studies to stimulate your own thinking and reflection about science learning in your school.

The Science Leaders Innovation Cluster in Stockport provide insight into enriching the primary science curriculum. Read 3 case studies of the impact of outdoors, responsive assessment and developing personal capabilities on children’s learning in science.

How can we encourage the development of scientific enquiry skills in primary schools?
Stockport CS All Saints.pdf

If we focus on improving personal skills in science lessons, will it improve learning outcome?
Stockport CS Orrishmore & Bradshaw.pdf

What does a responsive, child-focused planning and assessment framework for Primary Science look like?
Stockport Great Moor Infants School.pdf

An A – Z Guide to Primary Science Active Teaching And Learning Approaches In Science

by Dr Lynne Bianchi & Rosemary Feasey
Sheffield Hallam University – Centre for Science Education

This booklet has been produced to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the original Active Teaching and Learning Project (ATLAS) which drew upon the expertise, experience and advice of teachers and educators from around the country in 1986. Much has changed in science education since then, yet many things have stayed the same.

Click here to preview

To obtain a full copy please e-mail Dr. Bianchi –

Hearing about scientists’ struggles helps inspire students and boosts their learning

Science suffers from an image problem. Many students see the subject as too difficult and they think scientists are aloof boffins with big brains. A new study out of Taiwan tests the benefits of teaching high-school physics pupils about the struggles of eminent physicists – Galileo, Newton and Einstein.

Over the course of three computer-based lessons during one week, 88 low-achieving students were taught not just about the relevant theories developed by these characters but also about their frustrations and perseverance. For instance, they heard about Newton’s hard work and inquisitive nature (including his comment “I keep the subject constantly before me, till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into the full and clear light.”), and they heard about Einstein’s efforts, but ultimate failure, in seeking to develop a unified field theory – an endeavour that he spent the last 25 years of his life working on.

For comparison, a further 93 students completed the three computer-based lessons on the relevant theories but without any background information on the scientists, and 90 more completed a version in which they heard achievement-based background information on the scientists, including their key discoveries and dates.

Learning about scientists’ struggles had several important benefits versus the other two conditions. Students in the struggles condition developed more rounded, less stereotypical images of the scientists, seeing them as people who worked hard. For students who had no initial interest in science, the information about struggles boosted their interest in the subject. Struggles-based background info also improved students’ delayed (a week later) recall of the theoretical material, and it increased their success at complex open-ended problem solving tasks based on the lesson material.

Huang-Yao Hong and Xiadong Lin-Siegler, who made these findings, think the benefit of struggle-based background info for students’ recall may have to do with helping the students to build connections between different key concepts, and with increasing their emotional and cognitive reactions to the course material. Similarly, the researchers think that the struggle-oriented background information helps students see the interconnections between theories, which aids complex problem-solving.

Future research is needed to differentiate the effects of struggle-based information related to the scientists’ work and their personal lives. Also, the findings need to be tested in a different cultural context and over a longer time period.

“By helping students see the real human struggles behind science, we can inspire greater interest and learning to benefit future generations of scientists,” Hong and Lin-Siegler said.

Read the full article

How learners can use analogies to help them learn abstract science concepts

This month we feature a research paper by Kirk Dorion (University of Cambridge) exploring how learners can use analogies to help them learn abstract science concepts.

When learners try to explain difficult concepts – perhaps in relation to materials or systems –  they often ascribe human motivations and characteristics to those phenomena. In science, for example, students talk of particles ‘dancing’, ‘jumping’, or ‘battling’.

The idea that nuclei are the ‘brains’ of an atom, or particles ‘want’ to move around, are examples ofanthropomorphic analogies. But despite a tendency for educators to avoid encouragement of anthropomorphic thinking, evidence suggests that such thinking is useful.

Summary of the research

The trend in education has been to caution against teaching that promotes anthropomorphic thinking because it has been considered indicative of immature thinking in learners.

Recent research suggests, however, that it is degree of knowledge – not age – that is linked to learners’ tendencies to use anthropomorphism.

An expansive view of education would believe that:

·         Our focus is on enhancing learning.

·         Anthropomorphic thinking can help learners when they are faced with lack of understanding or inability to recall prior knowledge.

·         Encouraging its use is, therefore, a positive step teachers can take.

·         Rather than avoiding using anthropomorphic causal explanations through fear that students may embrace errant anthropomorphic thinking rather than scientific reasoning, anthropomorphic models should be embraced as valuable tools for helping learners.
This study – focusing on 11-15 year old chemistry students in the UK – found that students used anthropomorphism in the initial stages of learning about a concept. Rather than being a cause for concern, this type of thinking then reduced naturally as students’ understanding of a science topic improved.

Carefully considered anthropomorphic thinking may help:

  • promote conceptual development in secondary students.
  • engage girls in ccience by humanising approaches to scientific reasoning.
  • when availability or accessibility of knowledge is limited – such as when students have less time to think and give more scientific explanations.
  • as an initial explanation (‘first heuristic’).
  • learning of abstract concepts.
  • as a ‘placeholder’ expression for a gap in understanding. Rather than stumbling over aspects of a concept that they don’t fully understand, it allows students to ‘live with’ gaps in their knowledge by allowing their own narratives of a process to flow until they were able to piece together the entire concept.

In practice:

·         some teachers use drama, mime, imagination, or role-play simulations to create dynamic models of such phenomena as electric   circuits or neurons.

·         This approach, and others, that allow students to draw on their own personal experience is beneficial because it enables students to co-construct their own initial scientific models.
Read the full paper
The full paper “A learner’s tactic: how secondary students’ anthropomorphic language may support learning of abstract science concepts” is available to read on