Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coursework need not be dreadful

This may come as a suprise to some but whenever anyone asks me what the best part of our Physics A level course is I reply "the coursework". Coursework was first introduced to science in an attempt to promote the sort of higher levels thinking skills and manipulative skills that are not easily tested within a paper based examination. However, as most science teachers will recognise, this original vision has been eroded over the years: Coursework has become too formulaic and lost most of its original value - a chance for pupils to gain good marks, but little more. Girls usually love coursework, because it rewards diligence; boys hate the hard work involved; teachers dislike the marking, moderation, paperwork and mundane nature of it. This combination has probably been as much a factor in the shift of many independent schools towards IGCSE as the deterioration of the science specifications (ironically AQA Physics actually has significantly more scientific content than Edexcel IGCSE Physics).

The thing that, for me, makes our A level difference (OCR B: Advancing Physics) is the nature of the coursework: In the upper sixth it consists of a practical investigation and a research task. The coursework is by its very nature open ended and requires pupils to use their initiative. They are able to choose their work from an almost endless range of topics and, because of this, can choose topics of interest to them which they pursue with enthusiasm. The work, by its very nature, is educational: the pupils must analyse, evaluate and apply; they also need to be creative - this stuff comes from the top of Bloom's taxonomy, if you are into that kind of thing!

I am a great believer in the teaching of thinking skills, and coursework of this nature delivers those kind of skills. For me coursework does not involve two week without teaching - it is actually one of the most intense things that I do - but it is also one of the most rewarding! I am very excited by recent initiatives such as the level 3 Extended Projects and am very much looking forwarded to more involvement in them. These initiatives are nothing new however - extended project work has always been a part of some of our more forward looking qualifications and is, in fact, what coursework was originally supposed to be about.