Insight into working scientifically

We recently hosted a free CPD event, Insight into Working Scientifically, in partnership with the Sheffield Institute for Education at Sheffield Hallam University. Experienced primary teacher and author of Switched on Science in the Early Years, Jane Winter guided us through what is meant by ‘working scientifically’ and how to create a 'questioning classroom.'

For those of you who couldn’t join us, have a read of this blog which covers the main themes from the session, as well as some easy activities to use in the classroom.


First question of the afternoon, what do scientists do? How do scientists do science?
Well we know that they:

  • Ask questions and investigate

  • Explore and observe

  • Hypothesise

  • Try to prove or disprove theories

Scientists ultimately work to answer their own questions about the world around them and the new curriculum supports this approach to science. The programme of study for science states:

“[Children] should be helped to develop their understanding of scientific ideas by using different types of scientific enquiry to answer their own questions, including observing changes over a period of time, noticing patterns, grouping and classifying things, carrying out simple comparative tests, and finding things out using secondary sources of information”    

By enabling children to answer their own questions, they are engaging in the scientific process of:

  • Asking a question

  • Researching

  • Predicting

  • Testing hypothesis

  • Drawing conclusions

This is a different model than other subjects and it gives children the opportunity to ask questions that they really want to know the answers to. But asking questions is a skill in itself and one which children need to practise. Remember, asking questions requires some understanding and can be a good way of gauging children’s grasp of a particular topic.

What’s in the box?

A great exercise to encourage children to ask questions is What’s in the box? Simply grab a box, place a hidden object inside and set the children the challenge of guessing what’s in the box!
You could hand out a selection of items and ask each table to ask you a Yes or No question.

Some example questions our group came up with included:

  • Is it wrapped?

  • Is it savoury?

  • Is it a fruit?

Why not challenge the class to guess the object in just 5 questions? Children must then think carefully about each question they ask.

Observing and recording change

A fun and simple activity to encourage children to ask questions and develop their scientific enquiry skills is the Skittles test.

Using a petri dish or an upside down jam jar lid, place a different coloured skittle in four corners of the dish. Pour water over the skittles (just enough to cover them) and watch as the sugar solution dissolves!

The learning objectives covered in this experiment could be any of the following:

  • Ask questions

  • Plan investigations

  • Carry out tests

  • Record data

  • Present finding

  • Use equipment

  • Take measurements

  • Make predictions

This experiment is a great lesson starter as it will spark children’s interest as they will naturally ask questions and want to understand what is happening. It is also an opportunity for children to practise observing changes and recording these changes.

These are just a few activities we looked at during the workshop but they provide some really useful ways to nurture a questioning classroom where children are asking questions and working scientifically!

Looking for more science activities? Take a look at Switched on Science which is full of hands-on experiments and creative investigations to help you establish a questioning classroom.

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