Recent years have seen substantial improvements in the teaching of reading and early arithmetic based on rigorous analysis of the component learning skills involved in these areas and of the ways they are developed. Despite the importance attached to science, there has been very little comparable work that might provide a steer to primary school teachers on how to help put in place key early skills in this area of learning. In this lecture, Professor Andy Tolmie explores what lies behind recent research findings in science learning that have shown how pupil discussion during group work plays an important role in promoting conceptual understanding and reasoning in science. Professor Tolmie looks at evidence from neuroimaging and behavioural studies, which show that when accurately anticipating outcomes separate neural systems are used to those involved in language-based ideas about causal principles. He highlights the implications of this for primary science education. The author argues that we urgently need a better understanding of the core skills that underlie scientific thinking and of how it is learnt.
He suggests a research framework that would provide a crucial foundation for a scientific approach to pedagogy and curriculum design in this key area, especially during the primary school years.