I have been busy for several weeks in following up a discussion that two of the teachers at MMHS have embarked on: namely, to explore how subject teachers can make a link between the work the learners do in BtL and their own specialist teaching. Two teachers – Science and Modern Languages – came down to Birmingham for the day to discuss this with me. I had already been working with one of the Science teachers, as I was concerned that the way BtL models the writing up of experiments is not what is required by at least one of the exam papers.
To try to make explicit what is going on in Science learning and teaching, I applied to two exam papers the discourse model (Michael Hoey’s) that is taught in Book 3 of BtL (Part 2 of the Fasttrack). It proved very powerful. Hoey offers three discourse structures which make sense of how academic (and other) discourse is constructed:
1. problem / solution 2. general / particular 3. compare / contrastThe third is crucial in the conduct of any science experiment. Here is a section of the Science paper with the comparative words underlined::
Case Study 1 Some students took some beakers of different sizes. Each beaker had a different diameter. They put the same volume of boiling water in each beaker and measured the temperature drop after 10 minutes.
Case Study 2 A manufacturer of paper cups wanted to find out which size of cup would keep tea hotter for longer. Scientists at the company tested 5 different sizes of cup. They put the same volume of tea at 80 degrees C into each cup and measured the temperature drop after 10 minutes.
Case Study 3 Some students took a number of beakers of different volumes. They filled each one to within 1cm of the top with hot water. They recorded the temperature of the water at the start and 10 minutes later.
Case Study 4 A company that makes glass flasks wants to find the best shape for keeping liquids hot for as long as possible. Scientists at the company tested the five different shapes shown below. Each flask has the same volume but has a different surface area of glass. They filled each flask with boiling water, put in a stopper, and measured the temperature drop after thirty minutes.
In both of the exam papers I analysed, information was often given and demanded in the form of tables (and graphs) – much easier to read than continuous prose.