Thinking, Doing, Talking Science

Thinking, Doing, Talking Science (TDTS) is a programme that aims to make science lessons in primary schools more practical, creative and challenging. Teachers are trained in a repertoire of strategies that aim to encourage pupils to use higher order thinking skills. For example, pupils are posed ‘Big Questions’, such as ‘How do you know that the earth is a sphere?’ that are used to stimulate discussion about scientific topics and the principles of scientific enquiry.

Two teachers from each participating school received five days of professional development training delivered by a team from Science Oxford and Oxford Brookes University. 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 support teachers to be more creative and thoughtful in planning their science lessons. In addition, teachers had dedicated time to work with colleagues to plan and review lessons taught as part of the project. Teachers were also encouraged to link pupils’ learning in science, with their learning in numeracy and literacy.

This project sought to assess the impact of the programme on the academic outcomes and attitudes towards science of Year 5 pupils. 655 pupils from 21 schools across England completed the project. Participating schools followed the programme for the entirety of the 2013/14 academic year. A further 20 schools formed a randomised comparison group and did not receive training in the approach until the following year. 

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. Thinking, Doing, Talking Science appeared to have a positive impact on the attainment of pupils in science. Overall, Year 5 pupils in schools using the approach made approximately three additional months’ progress.

  2. There are some indications that the approach had a particularly positive effect on pupils eligible for free school meals, but further research is needed to explore this.

  3. The programme had a particularly positive effect on girls and on pupils with low prior attainment.

  4. The approach had a positive impact on pupils’ attitudes to science, science lessons, and practical work in particular.

  5. National test data will be used to assess the English and mathematics outcomes of participating pupils and to measure the long-term impact of the approach. In addition, further research could be conducted to investigate whether this result can be replicated in a larger number of schools.

What is the impact?

  • On average, participating pupils achieved higher scores on a combined measure of science knowledge and understanding, compared to pupils in the comparison group. The effect was equivalent to roughly three additional months’ progress.
  • There appeared to be greater effects for girls (+4 months on average) than for boys (+2 months). In addition, it is not possible to rule out chance as an explanation of the positive effect for boys.
  • There appeared to be a slightly greater positive effect for pupils with low prior attainment (+4 months) compared to those with high prior attainment (+3 months). However, all pupils benefitted relative to similar children in comparison schools.
  • Pupils eligible for free school meals made five additional months’ progress on average, compared to similar pupils in comparison schools. However, due to the low numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals participating in the trial, this finding has lower security.
  • 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.
  • In line with the TDTS model, pupils in classes following the approach reported having more discussions and doing less writing in lessons, compared to those in comparison classes.
  • Participating teachers reported using practical work, discussions and time for thinking much more often than teachers in comparison schools. There was little evidence that participating teachers were more confident than teachers in comparison classes.
  • All participating teachers felt that they had changed the way they taught science, and were more positive about their pupils’ science ability and engagement than teachers in comparison schools. All teachers were positive about their experience of the training sessions and resources.
All pupils+0.22+3 months
Girls+0.32+4 monthsN/A
Boys+0.12+2 monthsN/A
FSM pupils+0.38+5 monthsN/A

How secure is the finding?

Findings from this evaluation have moderate security. The study was set up as a randomised controlled trial, which aimed to compare the progress of pupils who received the programme to similar pupils who did not. The trial was classified as an efficacy trial, meaning that it sought to test whether the intervention can work under ideal or developer-led conditions in ten or more schools.

There was very low drop-out from the project (only 1 school out of the initial 42 who signed up), and the participating pupils appeared to be very similar to those in the comparison group. It is unlikely that the observed result occurred due to chance.

In the absence of a nationally recognised science assessment, a test was developed using age-appropriate, curriculum-relevant questions that had previously been used in a similar study. The tests were administered by participating teachers, who did not have access to the test prior to the day that it was taken. The security rating is discussed further in Appendix 9 of the main report.

How much does it cost?

The cost of the approach as delivered in the trial is estimated at £26 per pupil. This estimate is based on two classes of 25 pupils and a group of 21 schools receiving training together. Schools were charged £1,000 each to take part, which included five full INSET days, an in-school ‘launch day’ to begin the project, resources and materials. The estimate also includes the cost of three pilot days, which were used to refine the approach prior to the start of the intervention but were not passed onto schools (estimated at £6,720 in total).

In July 2016, an addendum was added to the report containing the data collected for attainment in English and Maths.