According to the back of my envelope, across England about 200,000 science lessons are taught every day. Some will start with very little fanfare: students might file in, open their books and begin answering a list of questions written on the board. Others might begin with a bang – perhaps literally if their chemistry teacher is trying to pull out all the stops.
At ResearchED last year, I asked the audience about the best way to start a lesson. Specifically, I asked for a prediction about whether starting with a quiz recapping prior learning would beat starting with a discussion, for example linking the topic students were about to study to the world around them. My clearest takeaway was… that there was no consensus.
So, we are doing a trial to try and find out some answers! And we need you. We started this trial last year but, unfortunately, COVID closures cut it short. We are, therefore, looking for curious and reflective science teachers to take part in the re-run of “A Winning Start”, an EEF Teacher Choices trial, launching next term
What does A Winning Start involve?
The trial will involve pairs of Year 8 science teachers teaching two different topics, using different starters. For the first topic, the one teacher will start each lesson with a quiz that requires students to remember material that has been covered in previous lessons (see Figure 1., below). The second teacher will start their lessons with a short “think-pair-share” discussion based on an engaging prompt. The teachers will then swap over in the second topic, so that each teacher uses each approach for one topic.
Of course, there might be no clear winner. Perhaps an engaging discussion is helpful at the start of the unit, but not thereafter? Maybe quizzes are particularly helpful for low attaining students, or in particular topics but not others. But this information would be incredibly valuable too, and through the trial we’ll start to find out.
Why should you take part?
For me, there are three reasons why you might want to take part.
First, I think it might make you a better teacher. By deliberately varying the way in which you teach – even only for a short time – you’ll expand the range of strategies in your teaching repertoire. Even if you ultimately decide to stick with your usual approach, you will be clearer about why.
Second, we’ll tell you what we have learned about impact of each starter type across different schools in the trial, as well about the views and experiences of other teachers. For leaders considering changing or introducing a whole school policy on starters, this knowledge could be invaluable.
Third, by collaborating with colleagues in your school, and indirectly with other participants across the trial, you will have helped generate new knowledge that can benefit all teachers. For choices we make every day, like how to start our lessons, investing effort as a profession to investigate what works really feels worthwhile.
If you are interested in taking part, we would love to hear from you. You can find out more here and register your interest here. The deadline to sign up is December 3rd 2020, and the starters will be delivered by teachers from after February half-term until the end of May 2021.
And, if you aren’t a science teacher, but like the idea of investigating teacher choices in a rigorous way, then watch this space – we haven’t forgotten you!