Investigative Science lesson plans for Northern Ireland pupils based on TIMSS 2015

By Hazel Griffin

Monday 3 December 2018

Back in 2015, a representative sample of pupils from primary schools across Northern Ireland participated in the major international research study, TIMSS. For the first time we have used the results from the 2015 study to inform a series of exciting new science lesson plans on investigative science.

TIMSS is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and is conducted in a range of countries across the world every four years, providing valuable comparative information. It allows us to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the participating countries’ education systems and to track changes over time. NFER is currently recruiting schools to participate in the next cycle of the study.

Northern Ireland took part in the grade 4 assessments (for pupils age 9-10 years) in 2015 alongside over forty other countries across Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia, and showed strong performance in mathematics. Although performance in science was not as strong as in mathematics, it was above the TIMSS international average and:

  • A higher proportion of pupils from Northern Ireland reported they liked and enjoyed science learning compared with the international average.
  • Pupils reported high levels of confidence in science; and
  • Pupils experienced engaging teaching in science lessons to a greater extent than most other countries in TIMSS.

To build on these positives the Department of Education for Northern Ireland asked NFER to produce a series of lesson plans to help develop the areas in which pupils’ performance could be further improved. There are four lesson plans each consisting of two lessons based on four different science topics. The topics have been carefully chosen to cover areas in which Northern Ireland performed less well.

The TIMSS science assessment is divided into three content areas – Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Earth Science. Investigative Science is assessed across all these areas. Pupils in Northern Ireland performed significantly better in Life Science and Earth Science topics as compared with Physical Science. They performed least well in questions assessing the content through investigative skills.

For these reasons three of the lesson plans are covering a range of Physical Science topics – Electricity (physics), Dissolving (chemistry) and Evaporation (chemistry). One lesson plan covers a Life Science topic – Ecosystems (biology) as this topic was a weaker area within life sciences.

Each lesson plan is based around an investigation or investigations that can be carried out in the classroom without the need for specialist equipment. They aim to provide a  real life meaningful context to engage pupils and encourage exploration allowing pupils to develop their own ideas and evaluate their findings.

Dissolving Ecosystems Electricity Evaporation

The Northern Ireland Science and Technology Progression Guidance emphasises the “doing” nature of science - how pupils need to experience the excitement and process of doing in order to learn as scientists do in the real world. These lesson plans are aimed at supporting teachers to further develop the skills of doing investigative science and to build on pupils knowledge and understanding of important science concepts. They also aim to make science fun and interesting to stimulate interest in the world around us.

Although they are written for the Northern Ireland curriculum, the lesson plans would be suitable for any countries taking part in TIMSS.

The next TIMSS cycle will be carried out in 2019 and selected schools are currently being invited to take part. If your school is contacted by the NFER research team then you have an exciting opportunity to contribute to further improving education in Northern Ireland, so please do sign up!

Further information about TIMSS can be found here.