Practical Assessment: Circuit Building

I love this set of lessons. They are fun for me (now I have mastered the classroom management of it) and instill a confidence boost to the kids early in the year, whilst also ticking lots of management boxes. 

It goes like this:

At the start of their electricity unit, I like to find out what level of prior knowledge my year 6 group have. They were previously taught this topic in year 4 but much of that information whittles away because it is not something an average  9/10 year old comes across in their everyday lives. 
I start by asking them to draw a circuit at the start of their very first lesson. They tend to look at me like I’m crazy. I can actually see their panicked thoughts, ‘You haven’t taught us anything yet!’, ‘I don’t want the first thing in my book to be wrong!’ and ‘What’s a circuit?’ all flash through their eyes. Yet, they persevere, take on the challenge and draw something. I then tell them no one got it correct. Firstly, because they didn’t and secondly, so they all know they are in the same boat. We then celebrate the fact that their book WILL show progress and learning the next time they tackle that task. 

Here are some of the fruits of their 4 minute (timed) labour. 

During the next lesson, I break out the surprise circuit building assessment. (Cue the groans and moans). 

 There is skill in how you handle this task to make sure the rest of the class don’t riot while you assess 4 pupils at a time. 

1. Give everyone their electrical safety comprehension sheet which they will do, independently, while others are tested. 

2. Go through the answers (verbally) to electrical safety comprehension very quickly. 

3. Ban anyone from asking questions during the assessments. This is VERY important or you will be mobbed by questions whilst trying to assess the kids and ensure that one kid is not doing something they shouldn’t at the back of the room. 

4. Give the whole class the practical assessment sheet and ask them to write on their chosen level; easy, medium or hard in ballpoint pen. They are not allowed to change this.  I have this rule to prevent the first wave of kids who are assessed from saying, ‘Don’t do hard! It’s sooooo hard!’ and causing others to self doubt. 

5. Turn on the chill out music and/or digital noise meter. I prefer the chill out music as I find they get more work done,  and stay calm(er) under pressure. 

6. Set up 4 stations, each with a basket of components. Make sure dividers separate the stations so no cheating can occur. I set the desks up so the assess-ees have their backs to the rest of the class. Therefore, I can see the rest of the class while I make progress notes on the assessment and the kids building the circuits are not distracted. 

7. I choose my first 4 students, sit them down and set up their books so their practical assessment sheets face me.

This allows me to make notes on their progress while they build.  

8. I have 4 laminated copies of a task sheet which tells them which circuits to build. There are 3 different versions, hard, medium and easy. In truth, they are the same circuits but presented differently. I look at the level they chose in their books and pass them the appropriate task sheet each. No one else knows what level they chose. 

9. I start the timer for 3 minutes and 10 seconds. (I LOVE MY MEGA TIMER!). Ready, set… build!

10. When a circuit is built, I tick off the child’s sheet. If they ask for help or build incorrectly I make a note of it. 

11. After the time is up, each child reflects on how they did and how they could improve. 

12. We will reassess (in exactly the same way) in 4 weeks and see a dramatic improvement. 

I love this activity because:

  • I know exactly what level all the kids start at. A bit of prior knowledge assessment will never set a teacher wrong. 
  • Everyone has to get involved. With teaching girls I find some shy away from the practical side because they aren’t as confident as others in their group. They can’t do that here!
  • Kids, parents and SMT all love to see progress and self reflection. This is on the second page in their books and will scream progress when we reassess in 4 weeks. It’s a huge confidence boost for the kids to be reassured they have learned something. As it is at the front of their books they will see ‘I can improve and learn!’ whenever they open their books. 
  • Not all kids are great at written tests. The nature of this test allows those who may not always shine to do so. Another confidence boost right at the start of the year. 
  • Knowing that the re-assessment is coming up everyone is on task when it comes to any circuit building practical lessons. They all want to improve. This makes my follow up lessons a lot easier to manage. 

Love, cuddles & death states,


Team Building & Treasure Hunting

In my first lesson of the year I like to include at least some activities which get the kids out of their seats and engaging in the essence of what I see our Science lessons being like for the year.

I managed two activities this year.

Firstly, there was the annual treasure hunt. This is where the class have 4 minutes to find all 9 objects on a displayed list. These are all items they will use in practical sessions during the year. They are allowed to look everywhere in the room except for inside my handbag. Everywhere? Yes. Everywhere. The main safety precaustion is not to move boxes or shelves higher than eye level as they may fall on their heads. This is a great activity to build trust, take away some of the innate curiosity which can detract from a later lesson and get the kids used to their surroundings.

They are also tasked with finding items which are unfamiliar during the treasure hunt. I take 10 minutes to discuss anything unknown or interesting they find. It’s great to see them puzzling over what a pooter is for or posulating why I have 5 slinkys in a cupboard with a box of broken pens!

I love this activity because if I am ever absent the kids can assist the cover teacher, it allows the children to feel more ‘at home’ in their surroundings, it builds trust between us and it takes away some of those moments during a lesson when you find a child focusing on the classroom decor rather than the subject at hand.

The second activity is our team building activity and is changed annually. This year, teams of 2-4 people had to draw a stick-person by each manipulating one of the 4 stings tied around a pen. After, we discussed the main requirements for good teamwork and had a look at the finished products. The drawings aren’t exactly pretty but they are certainly to be proud of as they are the product good teamwork. In the discussion the kids came out with some lovely ideas for good teamwork ranging from being supportive to one another to listening to everyones ideas to involving everyone in the activity. I hope they take these ideas forward and implement them in every practical session we have this year!