Case Study 2: Improving the teaching and learning of conceptual scientific content in schools.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
This longstanding research and development programme on teaching and
learning conceptual scientific content has resulted in beneficial impacts
on the day-to-day teaching practices of secondary school science teachers
within and beyond the UK. The programme has resulted in three broad areas
- the content of curriculum materials used by teachers of physics,
chemistry and biology in their practice;
- the initial training of science teachers;
- professional development programmes for science teachers.
The underpinning research has three components: (a) empirical evidence
about science learners' characteristic ways of understanding
newly-introduced conceptual content; (b) a theoretical perspective on
designing teaching to promote conceptual learning in science in
classrooms; and (c) a perspective on teacher-student interaction that is
underpinned by empirical studies of science classrooms.
Since the 1970s there has been an international research programme to
document science learners' characteristic ways of thinking about natural
phenomena. The University of Leeds has pioneered several studies to
provide evidence about learners' explanations of the phenomena typically
encountered in science classrooms, and how these change as a result of
teaching. Areas of curriculum content that are particularly difficult to
teach and learn were thereby identified (component a). Drawing upon this
empirical evidence, a social constructivist perspective on teaching and
learning science content in classrooms was developed. 'Learning demand'
was proposed as a design tool to characterise the precise difficulties of
teaching and learning specific conceptual content in science (component
b). Work from components (a) and (b) are presented in the position paper ,
review article  and book .
Within component (c) the focus is on the ways in which teacher talk in
the school science classroom can support students in developing
understandings consistent with the accepted scientific viewpoint. This
work is presented in a book . This book provides a
theoretically-grounded characterisation of the goals and structures of
teacher talk likely to support the development of students' conceptual
understanding. A particular focus is on the characterisation of distinct
`communicative approaches' involving teachers and students. The framework
presented in this book has been applied in a range of authentic school
settings . More recent studies have extended this work to focus
on the ways in which teachers and students make connections between ideas
during extended teaching and learning sequences .
The research insights presented above were developed through a series of
research grants based at Leeds. [RG1] and [RG3] supported
research which evidenced enhanced student learning when following teaching
interventions designed to address 'learning demands' through
'communicative approaches' better matched to teaching purposes. [RG6]
and [RG8] supported research which evidenced the positive impact
on teachers' practice of continuing professional development (CPD)
activities based upon the practical application of 'learning demand' and
Research  introduces the notion of research
evidence-informed practice, or practice that arises when materials
or training incorporate insights or evidence from research. Materials to
promote research evidence-informed practice were developed for science
teaching [RG1,3,4,5,7,8], initial science teacher training [RG2,7],
and CPD for science teachers [RG2,4,5, 7].
Members of the research team involved in developing these outputs in the
School of Education at the University of Leeds include: Dr Jaume Ametller
(University of Leeds 2003-2012, now a visiting fellow), Professor John
Leach (University of Leeds 1990-2010, now a visiting chair), Dr Jenny
Lewis (University of Leeds 1994-2012), Professor Phil Scott (University of
Leeds 1988-2011), and Professor Jim Ryder (University of Leeds
1994-present). Another key collaborator was Professor Eduardo Mortimer
(based at UFMG, Brazil).
References to the research
 Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E. and Scott, P.
(1994) Constructing Scientific Knowledge in the Classroom. Educational
Researcher, 23(7), 5-12. All University of Leeds authors, with the
exception of Mortimer DOI:10.3102/0013189X023007005.
 Leach, J. and Scott, P. (2002) Designing and evaluating
science teaching sequences: an approach drawing upon the concept of
learning demand and a social constructivist perspective on learning. Studies
in Science Education, 38(1), 115-142. DOI:10.1080/03057260208560189.
Output in RAE 2008 (rated 3 star)
 Scott, P., Leach, J., Hind, A. and Lewis, J. (2006) Designing
research evidence-informed teaching sequences. In: R. Millar, J. Leach, J.
Osborne and M. Ratcliffe, Improving subject teaching: Lessons from
research in science education. London: Routledge. All University of
Leeds authors. Output in RAE 2008 (rated 3 star)
 Mortimer, E. and Scott, P. (2003) Meaning Making in
Secondary Science Classrooms. 141pp. Buckingham, UK: Open University
Press. Mortimer and Scott co-authors. Output in RAE 2008 (rated
 Scott, P., Ametller, J., Mortimer, E. and Emberton, J. (2010)
Teaching and Learning Disciplinary Knowledge: Developing the dialogic
space for an answer when there isn't even a question. In: Karen Littleton
and Christine Howe (Eds.). Understanding and promoting productive
interactions, London Routledge. Emberton local teacher.
 Scott, P., Mortimer, E. and Ametller, J. (2011) Pedagogical
link making: A fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific
conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), pp.
3-36. DOI:10.1080/03057267.2011.549619. Scott as lead author.
Relevant Research Grants
[RG1] 2000-03: ESRC: Evidence-based practice in science
education: Improving learning through research-based teaching.
Involving Ametller, Leach, Lewis and Scott. £450,000; £120,000 to
University of Leeds.
[RG2] 2002-2004: Institute of Physics (IoP) funded: Supporting
Physics Teaching 11-14. Involving Scott and Ryder, at University of
Leeds, and a consortium of collaborators from other universities in the
[RG3] 2005-07: ESRC: Dialogic Teaching in Science Classrooms.
Involving Scott and Ametller, with Professor Neil Mercer (University of
[RG4] 2007: DfES: Interactive teaching in science classrooms.
Involving Ametller, Leach, Lewis, Ryder and Scott. £55,000.
[RG5] 2008: DfES: Interactive teaching in science classrooms.
Involving Ametller, Leach, Lewis, Ryder and Scott. £11,500.
[RG6] 2009-10: Science Learning Centre Network: Impact of
focused CPD on teacher's subject and pedagogical knowledge and pupils'
learning. Involving Ametller and Scott. £50,000.
[RG7] 2009-11: Institute of Physics funded: Supporting Physics
Teaching: 14-16. Involving Ryder and Scott, at Leeds, and a
consortium of collaborators from other universities in the UK. This
project finished before the planned date of 2012 due to the death of Phil
Scott in July 2011. £45,000.
[RG8] 2009-12: EU funded Project: Science Teacher Education
Advanced Methods (S-TEAM): Dialogic inquiry and science teaching.
Involving Ametller and Scott. £88,620.
Details of the impact
The above research programme has resulted in three broad areas of impact:
1. Content of curriculum materials used by physics, chemistry and
biology teachers in their practice
The Interactive Teaching in Science Classrooms e-learning package
was commissioned in 2007 by the then Department for Education and Skills
(DfES) and made available through the National Strategy for Science in
2008. These research evidence-informed teaching schemes aimed to address
major conceptual areas in physics, chemistry and biology for the 11-16 age
range. The e-learning package incorporated lesson plans, teaching
strategies and video exemplars which were underpinned by the research 
and were funded by [RG4] and [RG5]. Components a, b and c
are evident throughout and the videos include Scott presenting the
research insights. As an example, the Science Teaching Unit `Forces in
Motion' [A] uses the communicative approaches presented in
Mortimer and Scott  throughout (as `Dialogic Hotspots'), to
guide teacher-student dialogue in the classroom.
These curriculum materials were disseminated to science teachers
throughout England by National Strategy consultants and through the (then)
DCSF website. A Senior Adviser for STEM/Science at the Secondary National
Strategies stated: "The launch of `Interactive teaching in science' was
supported by national training for the 220 local authority science
consultants who were in post at that time (...) the materials were very
well received by both local authority and school colleagues and such was
the effectiveness of the dissemination that demand outstripped
Although the National Strategies website closed in June 2011, a number of
the popular teaching resources have remained accessible, and the materials
remain available at the National Archive and the National STEM Centre
2. The initial training of science teachers
The research was also instrumental for the Institute of Physics (IoP) and
its Supporting Physics Teaching (SPT) project. In response to the chronic
shortage of suitably qualified physics teachers in England, the IoP
commissioned [RG2, RG6, RG7] with the aim to develop and
distribute (with training) UK-wide DVDs of materials to support the
teaching of physics to pupils aged 11-16 years, particularly for beginning
Regarding the SPT materials, the significance of the research to their
development and their subsequent impact, the Head of Education (Pre-19)
from the Institute of Physics, states: "The Institute of Physics has used
the expertise of the members of the School of Education for at least the
last ten years...The SPT materials were commissioned by the Institute and
developed by a team that included Phil Scott and was co-led by him in the
early stages....The SPT materials have been distributed to student
teachers of science since 2006 (about 12,000 individuals) and some of the
methods and pedagogy have been widely adopted by teacher trainers." [C].
In addition, training courses are provided nationally for PGCE tutors and
for other Continuing Professional Development (CPD) providers in the use
of SPT materials. The IoP reports that the SPT materials form the basis of
the approach of the Institute's Stimulating Physics Network (SPN), which
has involved over 20,000 teacher-days of CPD to June 2012. Independent
evaluation has shown that over 90% of participants in SPN training have
modified their teaching as a result [C].
3. Professional development programmes for science teachers
`Interactive approaches to teaching and learning forces' is a series of
CPD workshops for practising teachers provided at the National Science
Learning Centre (NSLC) in York, an organisation which engages with over
60% of secondary schools and post-16 colleges across the UK. During
2008-2010 there were six workshops involving groups of about 30 teachers,
drawn nationally. In evidencing the role of the research insights drawn
from the research projects [RG1 and RG3] for these
workshops, an Associate Director from the NSLC stated, "The research from
the University of Leeds has not only informed the CPD experiences, there
has also been direct input into courses and evaluation." [D].
As evidence of the research changing practice, the evaluation of three of
these workshops [RG6] indicates a significant and lasting impact
on participant teachers' pedagogical content knowledge and a positive
impact on pupils' learning in comparison with outcomes from normal
teaching [D]. As an example, in a `Leading Assessment for
Learning' course in 2010, the NSLC reported that "the teachers were very
impressed with what [Scott] had discussed with them...Dialogic teaching is
now being implemented more in schools as a result." [D]
Furthermore, the impact from this programme of research also has global
reach. [RG8] (S-TEAM: Dialogic Inquiry and Science Teaching) is an
EU funded project to develop effective CPD approaches to support
interactive dialogic teaching of science concepts, and associated workshop
materials are being disseminated internationally through the S-TEAM
network and beyond.
During 2008-2011, the research team made 16 international key-note
presentations to disseminate research findings and associated research
evidence-informed materials to mixed audiences of researchers and
practitioners (with 11 by Scott). In addition, Mortimer (co-author of
outputs ,  and ) has made several
presentations of the research (components b and c) to audiences of science
teacher educators and teachers in Brazil. Arising from these
presentations, various projects were started outside the UK, including,
- Finland. An initial teacher education programme on teachers' talk in
- Norway. Approaches to analysing interactions in Norwegian classrooms.
Components (b) and (c) of the research programme have led directly to 6
doctoral studies, 4 of which completed during the assessment period. The
doctoral students were based in 5 different countries and three of these
former students now occupy positions of influence on in-country reform of
school science education as government officials or teacher educators:
- Mohammed Alzaghibi, supervised by Leach and Lewis, completed a study
on teaching/learning about plant nutrition in Saudi schools, 2010, and
is currently working as a government officer in Saudi Arabia. Since
returning to Saudi Arabia after graduation, he has held various senior
positions where he has used work from strands (b) and (c) in the initial
and in-service training of many hundreds of teachers. [E]
- Nur Jayhan Ahmad, supervised by Leach and Scott, completed a thesis
examining a teaching sequence in the area of electrochemistry in
Malaysia, 2010. She now works in the Regional Education Centre for
Science And Mathematics (RECSAM) in Malaysia, which serves teachers in
Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand and other countries in the
region. She has drawn upon insights from strands (b) and (c) in her
development work with science teachers from the region.
- Gultekin Cakmakci, supervised by Leach and Donnelly, completed a
thesis on the design and evaluation of a teaching sequence on chemical
kinetics in Turkey, in 2005. He is now Associate Professor of Science
Education at Hacettepe University, Turkey. He has drawn upon strands (b)
and (c) to develop and evaluate teaching approaches in the area of
chemical kinetics at university level in Turkey. He is now involved in a
research study funded by the Scientific and Technological Research
Council of Turkey which draws upon perspectives on teacher-student
interaction (strand c) to support learning about the nature of science
amongst students at grades 6-8. [F]
Sources to corroborate the impact
[B] Testimonial from a Senior Adviser for STEM/Science at the
Secondary National Strategies, available on request
[C] Testimonial from Head of Education, pre-19, Institute of
Physics, available on request.
[D] Testimonial from Associate Director, National Science Learning
Centre, available on request
[E] Testimonial from former doctoral student, now at the Ministry
of Education, Saudi Arabia, available on request.
[F] Testimonial from Associate Professor of Science Education,
Hacettepe University, Turkey, September 2013, available on request