The “So-What” in science explanation

My kids just finished their mid-year examinations. Looking at the science scripts, we always have the issue that “pupils are not explaining their answers correctly.” So, exactly , what is that they are not explaining? Is is that we are not articulating the criteria clearly for them? Or is the criteria too vague? This is something that we have to seriously interrogate ourselves.

Perhaps, it is time for us to really scrutinize the scripts and see if we can see any general pattern.  I do a sample check on some scripts and these are my preliminary rise-above observations. For these scripts

I decide to term it as the “so-what” in explanation questions:

(1)  There are two components to the “so-what”.  The “so” and the “what”.  Some students miss out the either so or what in their question.

(2) In writing about “what”, students are typically quite good at that. The “what” can be classified in the three categories:

  • What is being observed or described in the question
    • Students to use their own words to describe. In essence, there must be “value-add” to the answer”.
    • Weakness: Students use the phrase in the question stem
  • Process
  • Property/Characteristic of what is being observed

(3) The “so” part is missing in the students scripts. They would need to use the relevant science concepts to explain.  Looking at their scripts, they might lack some answer frames to frame their answers. Such answer frame are specific to the topics. Here are some of the “so-part” necessary for some of the topics:

  • Heat :  Heat Transfer [e.g., Object X gained heat more quickly or slower than other]
  • Evaporation : Heat Transfer [e.g., My body loses heat to the mist]
  • Respiration  and photosynthesis : Conditions needed and the end product
  • Adaptation : Function of the adaptation
  • Energy : Energy conversion at the other poin

This list is not exhaustive. I would continue to add on this. Guess  we really need to unpack what is meant by “clear explanation”. No point always lamenting “My students does not know how to explain”. Perhaps, we need to reflect on our teaching practice and ask ourselves this hard question “Have we been giving them opportunities to explain or do I just “expect them to know it”?




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