Science lessons trial ‘improves year five scores by three months’

A science lessons trial that asked “big questions” such as “how do we know the earth is a sphere” improved year 5 scores by three additional months, says new research.

The trial of Thinking, Doing and Talking Science (TDTS)  is one of 10 trials published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) aimed at finding the most effective ways to raise attainment for disadvantaged pupils.

The evaluation of TDTS found pupils eligible for free school meals made five additional months progress on average, compared to similar students in comparison schools.

But the evaluation concluded this number has “lower security” due to the low number of pupils eligible for free school meals.

The randomised controlled trial involved 1,500 year 5 pupils across 42 schools. All primary schools in Oxfordshire were eligible for recruitment. Both groups – the intervention group of 21 schools and the control group of 21 schools  – were tested before and after the programme.

The programme costs £26 per pupil and the training sessions for teachers are aimed at helping them to deliver lessons that include more creative investigations and class discussions.

The trial appeared to deliver greater effects for girls (four additional months progress) than for boys (two additional months progress).

Funded by the EEF and delivered by Science Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, the trial also concluded there appeared to be a “slightly greater positive effect for pupils with low prior attainment compared to those with high prior attainment”.

Independently conducted by the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York, the programme provided five professional development sessions to two teachers from each school.

According to the report, the training “did not aim to provide participating teachers with a set of ‘off the shelf’ lesson plans to be delivered in schools – rather it sought to signpost teachers to be more creative and thoughtful in planning their science lessons”.

It said that pupils in classes following the approach “reported having more positive attitudes towards science on the vast majority of measures, and were more likely to believe that it was important to learn science”.

Other new findings from the latest set of 10 trials include the results of Improving Numeracy and Literacy – an EEF funded trial focused on effective teaching. This programme of teacher training and teaching materials is accompanied by a series of computer games designed to help engage the pupils with their learning.

It focuses on promoting children’s mathematical reasoning and according to the EEF “the evaluation found it to have a positive impact on primary pupils’ numeracy skills, with their attainment in this area improved by three months”.

Changing Mindsets, a programme run by the University of Portsmouth that seeks to improve attainment by helping children to believe that intelligence is not a fixed characteristic and can be increased through effort, “showed promise”, said the EEF.

Oracy, Curriculum, Culture and Assessment Toolkit (School 21 and the University of Cambridge), a programme to develop spoken language skills, “showed some potential promise”, according to the EEF.

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