Book title: It’s not fair – or is it? A guide to developing children’s ideas through primary science enquiry
Author: Jane Turner, Brenda Keogh, Stuart Naylor, Liz Lawrence with contributions from The ASE Primary Science Committee
Publication date: 2011
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
I first came across this book in 2011. Since then, I have not only used it for myself, and supporting primary teachers during their initial training, but I also keep recommending it to teachers in different countries and even secondary professionals.
The book describes different types of science enquiry and stresses that it is far more than just ‘fair testing’. It is highly relevant in today’s schools as it guides you through the different types of enquiry, with good explanations and examples.
The nature of the book is illustrative of good primary practice, not a rigid recipe to follow. The structure will enable an under-confident teacher to mimic a lesson idea, or a confident science teacher to reflect on and develop their practice.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
While the book states it is for primary teachers, initial teacher trainers and trainee students, I would also recommend it to secondary teachers, especially in the lower end of secondary. For example, they could use it to reflect on their own understanding of enquiry and practice, or it could be built into a transition project as part of understanding and building on primary pedagogy.
The book is set out in a manner that explicitly draws on the five types of science enquiry in the national curriculum:
- Observing over time
- Identifying, classifying and grouping
- Pattern seeking
- Research using secondary sources
- Comparative and fair testing.
Don’t be put off if you are not teaching in England, however. It would be easy to relate this book to any classroom practice and scheme of work as it provides examples that fit topics on ‘Living Things’, ‘Materials’, ‘Forces’, ‘Earth & Space’ and ‘Sound’ etc.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
The tone is easy and accessible without being patronising.
The introduction is well worth reading as this helps you understand how to get the most from the book. You could read it from cover to cover, but you’re more likely to dip into it to plan similar lessons. Every section is clearly tagged to make it easy to re-find a specific section.
The paper quality is good which means it will cope with multiple users. The font size is very clear with black and white illustrations and icons used to guide the reader. Each page is set out clearly, with different images, font sizes, tables, headings and subheadings plus ‘white space’, which stops it being dense and allows you to make notes directly on each page.
It’s also worth noting that health and safety aspects are clearly identified: the book models good practice and gives clear advice where further safety support can be found. Often this aspect is either over-inflated and puts teachers off or totally ignored – this book gets the balance exactly right.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence do the authors use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The book is not just easy-to-read, it is underpinned by good references and a strong bibliography.
The authors take a constructivist approach to pedagogy. This means it promotes the idea that children need to actively engage in a wide range of experiences – including practical activities and time to talk aloud within a collaborative group – to make better sense of their world.
The book also promotes a dialogic approach to teaching and gives examples of good quality questioning to help teachers with this. While the book was first published in 2011, it remains relevant and ‘up to date’ as it is not prescriptive. Instead, it gives well-considered, scaffolded advice and clear explanations alongside examples of how to prompt pupil discussions and tease out their ideas.
The topic ideas have been packaged to match what teachers will recognise as familiar topics in the national curriculum for England, but this does not mean it is not relevant today as they are illustrative rather than a strict plan of lessons or topics.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
I found the book extremely enlightening in terms of broadening my awareness of what ‘enquiry’ is or could be. I now recognise that there is far more to science enquiry than ‘fair testing’ and children in the top end of primary and lower end of secondary could experience a much richer curriculum that involves ‘hands-on-with-minds-on’.
I had not previously considered enquiry as ‘researching’ and now appreciate how this aspect of science could very easily come out of the timetable allocated for English without loss of credibility to either subject.
This book will help address any issues relating to teachers lacking confidence, understanding scientific enquiry or wanting explicit ideas on how to develop a broader range of experiences for children. It takes a sociocultural approach to teaching and learning and builds on the work of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky – where getting learners to discuss their ideas, explore and challenge each other’s understanding is essential to improving understanding of the big science ideas and developing the necessary process skills.
The book clearly sets out each section and gives detailed explanations on how to use it. It gives an example of five types of enquiry, which is the very least that children should be experiencing during the year. Each lesson idea illustrates some ‘typical’ pupil approaches and useful strategies to help the teacher understand and use the ideas.
The role of teacher questioning is also explained with examples of higher order thinking questions, which can be used as a model.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
“A period of exploration is a really valuable lead in to more systematic enquiry.”
7. Please add any additional comments.
The cost of this book is around £25 - £30 depending where you purchase it from. A science coordinator could also do one of the lesson ideas as a staff meeting CPD to introduce colleagues to the book.