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One of my favourite things about my own school days was the presence of a ‘nature table’ in several classes, and this is something that children in my class still enjoy today. It’s bright, colourful, changeable and interactive. With so many colours appearing and nature changing daily, Spring is an especially good time for this. One nice idea can be to provide some spotter cards or scavenger hunts for children to follow if they want to, either at playtimes or with a TA perhaps. You could even use such an activity as a stimulus for art or writing perhaps. Here is an example, focusing on some of the commonly seen signs of Spring present in many school grounds. Feel free to use as you wish; I’ve laminated some and keep them on my nature table.


‘Working Scientifically’: Encouraging Science Talk

The ‘Working Scientifically’ strand underlies the entire new Science Curriculum.

The closest comparison to the familiar outgoing curriculum is the erstwhile SC1 knowledge and understanding’ unit. With the new dawn comes a more explicit intention to develop pupil’s methodical and investigative thinking skills. For KS1, this involves plenty of chances to observe and experiment, working up to designing investigations, collecting data and reporting back on findings. In a new curriculum that can seem top-heavy on subject knowledge at the expense of wider skills, this is welcome relief. Over the next few weeks, we’ll deliver a series of posts on how to integrate these skills, and how to make them seem more engaging for children. Today’s post deals with the proposed use of ‘science talk’ to this end.



A key tenet of the new curriculum is talking about Science. Indeed, it is mentioned on the very first page of the curriculum documentation:

The national curriculum for science reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum – cognitively, socially and linguistically. The quality and variety of language that pupils hear and speak are key factors in developing their scientific vocabulary and articulating scientific concepts clearly and precisely. They must be assisted in making their thinking clear, both to themselves and others, and teachers should ensure that pupils build secure foundations by using discussion to probe and remedy their misconceptions.

Such use of language is clearly of especial revelance to this idea of ‘working scientifically’, allowing time to share, discuss and compare ideas for scientific investigation. Even though the new curriculum is so full of facts, facts and more facts, it is important to allow a breathing space for children to discover these facts themselves through the use of talk and exploration.


The use of talk partners and ‘talk time’ has been widely recommended in schools for some time now, and science lessons can provide an excellent forum for this. In my Y3 class, I’ve taken this one step further with the introduction of specific ‘Science Partners’. This is hardly a revolutionary idea; lab partners are widespread further up the key stages, and mixed ability pairs can work very well in any lesson. What having specific science partners at lower levels does provide is an excitement in class, as well as all the established advantages of mixed ability pairs. It also gets the children into a mindset that, with their science partner, they will be required to investigate, talking and working scientifically. I make sure I use these phrases in class, and the children have started to use them too.

Of course, to get the most out of Science talk partners, it is necessary to establish spaces in planning and in lessons for it. Many schools explicitly include ‘talk time’ and specific questions in their planning, and this is a good idea for Science too. (I have begun specifically marking ‘Science Talk’ in colour on my Science planning. Future planning available here will show this).

To make talk as productive and focused as possible, talk prompt cards can be helpful. These could include sentence starters (“I predict that…”, “I’ve noticed a difference…”, “I’m wondering if…”) or could simply be key words for types of talk (“prediction”, “observation”, etc). Organisations such as Sheffield’s ESCAL have produced such resources aimed at guided reading, and adapting and tweaking for Science could be very useful.

Making space for so much talk can lead to lessons becoming a bit elongated when times is of the essence. Cross-curricular lessons can be helpful to kill more birds with one stone. Especially helpful is incorporating Science Talk into Speaking and listening aspects of English/Literacy. let’s not forget that NC quote above… science talk “reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum”. The transition from spoken to written language could be a focus for an English lesson, especially if an explanation text of a scientific experiment or process was being written. If patterns or data are being looked at, the science talk could provide a useful link into discussing mathematical relationships.

Why not give science partners a try? I’ll be posting some examples of talk prompts and planning incorporating talk time in the next few days.

Ideas of your own? Please drop us a line in the comments box below. Happy Talk times!

Springwatch! The Red Admiral and the Snowdrop

red admiral snowdrop

(Image by Butterfly Conservation)

Springtime’s here again! Well, nearly. To start a series of seasonal posts, here’s a picture that made headlines when taken a few years ago. The image, taken in mid February, shows a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atlanta) visiting a snowdrop on a sunny winter day. What’s the big deal? Well, this photo, beyond its colourful and cheery veneer, is actually a strong visual reminder of the extent of climate change.

The Red Admiral, is one of our most well known butterflies, but it is traditionally a non-resident species. Originating in North Africa and South Europe, each year they would traditionally migrate to our shores from May onwards. Our winters have always been too cold for the butterflies to survive, and autumn stragglers would always either perish or attempt to return to sunnier climes. In recent years, the warmer winters have led to handfuls of the species surviving overwinter, but this phoograph is one of he first times that this symbol of summer was able to wake up and fly around amongst the first tentative flowers of spring. Food for thought, indeed.

When will he first butterflies and bees be seen this year? Or maybe they are appearing already! Drop us a line and let us know.



14-21 February was National Nest Box Week.. However, as Spring approaches, any week is good for putting up nest boxes. If you have trees in your school grounds, why not give it a go?  As the NNBW website explains, “Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. Taking part in NNBW gives you the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box”

Science-wise, you could do a good investigation into habitats with your class, studying habitat requirements and choosing the best location in the school grounds to place a nest box. Designing and building nestboxes could even be a cross-curricular DT project.

Although NNBW is over, BTO are actively encouraging continued interest in nest boxes, and their website is still active here, with lots of great resources.

In the meantime, we’ll be bringing you more Springtime science ideas soon!


We’ve been absent for a little while due to personal circumstances, work commitments and the generally hectic Christmas season. Fear not, Primary Scientists are in abeyance no longer! We’ve got lots of new ideas and posts coming for the new year, including trialing the new curriculum, and some ideas for Science clubs. Our New Year’s Resolution is to actually get around to posting them…!

Is there something you’d especially like to see covered? Subject knowledge puzzling you or the new curriculum got you in a tizz? Drop us a line in the comments box or to our email address,

In the meantime, here’s an awesome Science picture of a meteor shower in Wyoming…

Perseid meteor shower seen from Snowy Range in Wyoming.

For more awe and wonder, check out 2013’s most awesome Science pictures on Buzzfeed.


IMG_0677So then, on to identification of some common leaves… Today we’re tackling some species that belong in the same genus and are often confused: the Norway Maple and the sycamore.

In fact, our heading is really a trick question; these are both technically Maples, sharing the genus Acer. They are also relatively common, frequently planted in school grounds, and you are likely to come across them during your Autumn leaf searches.


Norway Maple

The picture above shows a Norway Maple leaf on the left and a Sycamore leaf on the right. The main difference is that the Norway Maple has a significantly more jagged edge, and a glossier surface. In fact, although not the same species, it looks very similar to the Maple leaf on the Canadian flag. In looking at the full trees, Sycamores also tend to grow higher.

In Autumn, the leaves become much easier to tell apart. Norway Maple leaves are some of the first to change  colour, turning a blazing scarlet that illuminates streets, parks and woodlands. There’s a dark side to this beauty; actuall,y this red pigment is produced as a side-effect of something called allelopathy. This is the scientific name for a sneaky trick the tree has up its sleeve to fend off competition for resources from nearby trees. Norway maples produce and release chemicals to hinder the growth of nearby saplings. The blood-red pigments are merely a by-product of this.

Sycamore leaves never turn red. They usually go a blotchy green-yellow. This sample is also adorned with black spots; rather than a consequence of autrumn colour changes, this is actually a fungus that becomes an increasingly common sight. Although it doesn’t look so nice, and the trees probably aren’t too happy about it, spotting this is actually a positive sign. The fungus can only flourish in very clean air, so it’s a great environmental indicator for air quality.



(OPAL have some tree health surveys based around this that you can do in your school grounds).

So, in summary; sycamores grow taller, and their leaves turn yellow. Norway maples turn red, are a bit selfish, and have glossier leaves. Both trees share the ‘helicopter’ keys beloved by children and so useful when teaching seed dispersal, so it;s worth getting to know their names.

Before we go, there’s one more maple tree to be mentioned: the Field Maple is smaller and less showy than both of the others. Sometimes it is used as a hedging plant. It’s leaves are smaller and more rounded, and turn yellow rather than red. It too produces ‘helicopter’ keys, but they are much smaller.


Field Maple

Autumnwatch # 2: Falling leaves


The Autumn colours are starting to appear, and autumn activities are starting to appear in school. Artwork, songs, poems and the like can all benefit from a little bit of subject knowledge. We’ve mentioned the new curriculum’s focus on plant identification before , and the preponderance of leaves in autumn activities provides a great opportunity for embedding some of this. Sending them on a hunt for colourful leaves, for instance? Well, why not give them a leaf ID sheet to throw in some science to the mix. In our Autumnwatch posts we’ll help you identify some of the most colourful, popular and frequently seen leaves, and provide some info and trivia about them. First of all, though, a bit of background to the science behind Autumn leaves…


Leaf fall, or to use its scientific name, abscission, is a result of several factors. Mainly, this is due to trees cutting their losses as winter approaches; it takes a lot of energy to maintain leaf production, especially in the face of cold weather and long dark nights. There is relatively little time for photosynthesis anyway at this time of year, so basically deciduous trees just give up. (Wind and insect predation are also contributing factors).


Leaves are green because of chlorophyll, the pigment used in photosynthesis. There are also yellow xanthophyll pigments and orange beta-carotene in the leaves, but these are masked by the bright green colour. When photosynthesis stops and leaves die off, there’s no need for the chlorophyll either, and it degrades into colourless chemicals. Now, the yellows and oranges are revealed in all their glory. Red colours are a little different; these are actually synthesised as new pigments once about half the chlorophyll has degraded.

Brown colours are not pigments, but the dead cell walls of the leaves.

The colours vary depending on different trees and their different pigments. More info on the different trees and their leaves as Autumnwatch continues…

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