Acting Team Leader
In September 2016, the Specification for Junior Cycle Science was introduced in schools. The Specification is based on 46 learning outcomes. This represents a fundamental shift from a listing of specific content knowledge to a description of what the learner should be able to do at the end of three years of learning.
In the Specification, the Nature of Science is central. It encompasses understanding about how science works, investigating, communicating in science and science and society. There is a strong focus on scientific inquiry. The Nature of Science and Key Skills of Junior Cycle permeate the 4 contextual strands of Earth and Space, Chemical World, Physical World and Biological World. Aspects of the Nature of Science will be incorporated in every lesson. The learning outcomes from the Nature of Science strand are realised through the content and activities of the contextual strands
Science will become a more holistic enterprise in which learners engage in the variety of science practices. Learners will develop as more informed citizens, equipped to evaluate arguments related to critical, technical, ethical and environmental issues. Subject knowledge will remain a cornerstone of Junior Cycle Science. However, it will be bolstered by the understanding, skills and values developed through inclusive and collaborative learning activities designed by teachers.
To support teachers in this process, the JCT Science Team began CPD provision for teachers in January 2016. The focus of our core workshops is to support teachers in their engagement with learning outcomes and assessment in Junior Cycle Science. JCT also supports teachers through elective CPD, in collaboration with our partners Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Science Gallery. Resources and supports for core and elective CPD can be found on our website.
The JCT Science Team will develop a variety of onsite, online and ongoing CPD based on the expressed needs of teachers. Our website contains a comprehensive suite of interactive resources designed to support teachers’ enactment of Junior Cycle Science.
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. What has changed in Junior Cycle Science?
The change in Junior Cycle Science is part of the overall reform of the Junior Cycle curriculum. Junior Cycle aims to place students at the centre of the educational experience in providing a broad and balanced education that is both a progression from primary education and a preparation for Senior Cycle and life-long learning. The changes you and your students will experience in the Science classroom will be similar to those in other subjects.
The changes in Science are detailed in the subject specification for Junior Cycle Science. In the specification, the learning to be experienced by students of Science is described in 46 learning outcomes spread across five strands. Four of these are contextual strands:
Earth and Space
The outgoing 2003 Science syllabus made strides in transforming our Science classrooms. Students were given opportunities to develop scientific knowledge, skills and attitudes through scientific inquiry. The new Science Specification aims to build on this. It places a strong emphasis on how science works; carrying out investigations; communicating in science; and developing an appreciation of the role and contribution of science and scientists to society. This emphasis is embodied in the unifying strand, The Nature of Science. The learning outcomes from the Nature of Science are realised through the contextual strands. The Nature of Science should be at the core of every learning experience that happens in our classrooms.
2. What are the changes in assessment for Junior Cycle Science?
The most significant change in the new Junior Cycle is in the area of assessment. A dual approach to assessment, involving classroom based assessment across the three years, complemented by summative assessment elements, will be a key feature of the new Junior Cycle. To find out more about these changes, go to the assessment section of our website.
3. Why have we gone from a Science syllabus to a Science Specification? What’s the difference?
A specification is a broader document than a syllabus. A syllabus contains the aims and rationale for the course, along with a description of the learning outcomes and overall structures for assessment.
The Science Specification outlines how the learning in Junior Cycle Science is linked to particular statements of learning and key skills in the Framework for Junior Cycle. It provides a rationale and aims for Junior Cycle Science, as well as a description of each of the strands and its learning outcomes. It also includes information about and a rationale for ongoing assessment and reporting in Science, including assessment arrangements for the JCPA. The Science specification is designed to be used as a guide for collaborative and classroom planning.
A full copy of the Junior Cycle Science Specification can be accessed here
4. What about Coursework A and Coursework B?
Coursework A and Coursework B cease to exist once the Junior Cycle Science Specification is introduced. For more details on assessment for the JCPA, see our assessment section.
5. How do the Learning Outcomes on the new course differ from what we already have?
The 2003 Science syllabus is based on 188 learning outcomes, elements of which were designated at higher level. These were more topic specific, achieved over the short term and based mostly on knowledge and skills. The 46 learning outcomes in the new Science Specification are broader and apply at a common level. They incorporate student understanding, skills and values and emphasise the Nature of Science throughout.
For example, if we compare students’ learning of ‘density’ in the 2003 syllabus to the new Science Specification:
|Syllabus||Learning outcomes||Focus on|
|2003 revised Science Syllabus (Junior Certificate)||Students should be able to - measure mass and volume of a variety of solids and liquids and hence determine their densities - investigate flotation for a variety of solids and liquids in water and other liquids, and relate the results of this investigation to their densities||Knowledge and skills|
|2015 Science Specification (Junior Cycle)||Students should be able to - identify and measure/calculate mass, volume, density1 .. - investigate patterns and relationships between physical observables2 - select and use appropriate measuring instruments3 - produce and select data4 - appreciate how scientists work5||Understanding, skills and values including Nature of Science|
1.Part of Physical World Learning outcome 2
2.Physical World Learning Outcome 4
3.Physical World Learning Out 1
4.Nature of Science Learning Outcome 4
5.Nature of Science Learning Outcome 1
6. The old course had more learning outcomes…is this course shorter?
Science in the outgoing course typically had a time allocation of 240-270 hours. In the new Junior Cycle, Science is to be taught for a minimum of 200 hours. Within each strand, content areas and skills have been selected that all students should engage with while maintaining a balance between depth and breadth. Some content that was explicitly stated in the outgoing Science syllabus is not explicitly stated in the Specification. However, ‘Science develops by people pursuing their individual interests and this specification affords a reasonable degree of freedom for teachers and students to make their own choices and pursue their interests’ (Science Specification, p.17).
Let’s consider an example of what this means for you and your students. If your students were experiencing learning linked to eclipses (Earth and Space Learning Outcome 4), then they may choose to investigate the concept of light travelling in straight lines, even though light is not explicitly stated in any of the contextual strand learning outcomes. Further, students may develop investigative skills during this learning that transfer to other areas and are revisited as their learning is layered. This is one of the many examples of the affordances offered by the new Specification for teacher autonomy in the Science classroom.
7. How can we ensure common learning in Science when the Learning Outcomes are so broad?
Whilst the specification in Junior Cycle allows flexibility for teachers, it does not give total freedom. As you begin to unpack the learning outcomes of the contextual strands, you will see that most of the understanding implicit in them is well defined. As such, there is a common level of understanding that all students will be expected to attain and demonstrate through multiple modes of ongoing and summative assessments. The flexibility lies in how you develop students’ skills and attitudes in arriving at this understanding. There is autonomy for teachers to link the contextual strands with the Nature of Science in a number of ways. This is best explained with an example:
In the Earth and Space strand, the 4th learning outcome says that ‘students should be able to develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe predictable phenomena observable on Earth, including seasons, lunar phases, and eclipses of the sun and moon’. From this learning outcome, it is reasonable to assume that students would need to understand the arrangement of the Earth, sun and moon and how the position of the Earth relative to the Sun is responsible for the seasons. But how might they arrive at this understanding? This is where the flexibility of the Nature of Science comes in. You may decide that you want your students to arrive at this understanding through producing data from an Earth/Sun model (Nature of Science Learning Outcome 4), or you may have your students research the reasons for the seasons and communicate their findings on a poster (Nature of Science Learning Outcomes 6 and 7). Alternatively, you may combine both of these, or consider another approach. It is you the teacher who is in control of how you facilitate your students to arrive at this understanding and the types of skills and values they develop as they do. Students develop a common understanding no matter the approach adopted.
8. If the Junior Cycle Science course is changing, what about Senior Cycle?
Students will be coming into Senior Cycle with deeper levels of scientific understanding, skills and values thanks to the learning they will experience in the new Junior Cycle classroom. This will not only support them for Senior Cycle Science, but also help to empower them to become lifelong learners.
Developments at Senior Cycle are also underway. New specifications are being developed for Physics, Chemistry and Biology. As with the Junior Cycle, developments at Senior Cycle will encourage further development of key skills and focus on student-centred learning and new approaches to assessment.
Agricultural Science and Applied Mathematics are currently under review. Other subjects will be reviewed as necessary, in line with developments at Junior Cycle, over the coming years.
9. Where is the link to the Primary Science curriculum?
There is a focus on the continuum of Science education whereby transferability of similar scientific skills is now visible between the primary and secondary curriculum. There is also considerable overlap in terms of strands and strand units between the 2 sectors. Inquiry approaches are being advocated by both sectors as appropriate to Science education. More information about the Primary Science Curriculum can be found by clicking here
10. Will additional classroom resources be required to teach this Specification?
There are no specified new resources required. The specification provides flexibility for teachers to work within a local context, and according to their preferred pedagogy and so the question of additional resources should be agreed through collaboration with department members.
11. What supports are available for Science teachers? Are they available as Gaeilge?
JCT will provide you with a multitude of supports. Our approach to supporting Science teachers is one that will be onsite, online and ongoing.
Core CPD is provided for all teachers. Elective CPD opportunities will also be provided in collaboration with our partners Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Science Gallery. All materials from our core and elective workshops will be available under ‘CPD supports’ in the Science section of our website. We will also endeavour to provide in-school support to Science departments.
The Science section of our website will provide supports for teachers in the following areas:
Resources: a range of ideas around the Nature of Science, contextual strand learning outcomes and guides for developing your students’ scientific understanding, skills and values.
Assessment: up to the minute information and guidance in relation to ongoing assessment in Junior Cycle Science, including assessment for the JCPA.
News and events: information about upcoming CPD opportunities, exciting developments in the world of Science and links to our most recent JCT Science newsletters
Planning: resources and guidelines on planning for Junior Cycle Science
We also aim to engage online with Science teachers in various ways such as webinars, regular email newsletters, live Q&A sessions, social media and others.
Our support for you will not begin and end in an education centre. We endeavour to be responsive to your needs and to continue our engagement with you now, and throughout the process of implementation of the Science specification over the coming years. We are here to listen to your concerns and CPD needs and look forward to working with you to realise the exciting aims of Junior Cycle Science.
Many JCT resources, both onsite and online, will be available in Irish. Core CPD for Science teachers from Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna will be provided through the medium of Irish.
12. Will there be additional supports in terms of time?
Science teachers will be provided with 8 hours of time during the first year of implementation of the Specification in 2016/17. This time will be provided through additional paid substitution hours allocated to the school. From 2017 onwards, teachers will be provided with weekly amounts of professional time for Junior Cycle related activities through a reduction in teaching time (40 minutes per school week for a full-time teacher), as outlined in the appendix to the joint statement on principles and implementation of Junior Cycle reform in July 2015.
13. How do I embrace Junior Cycle principles, statements of learning and key skills while I’m teaching a Science class?
The key skills are embedded in the learning outcomes. This means that if you plan and teach from the learning outcomes, you have already begun to develop the key skills. For example, the key skills of ‘communicating’ and ‘managing information and thinking’ are embedded in learning outcomes such as ‘research different energy sources; formulate and communicate an informed view of ways that current and future energy needs on Earth can be met’ (Earth and Space Learning Outcome 6).
Key skills really come to life in the methodologies you use. For example, while ‘working with others’ is a key skill, the techniques we use to get students working together; the extent to which students have clear guidance on what they’re expected to do; how long they have to do it; acceptable behaviour etc. will all contribute to how well they develop the skill of working with others.
There are 24 statements of learning in the Framework for Junior Cycle, which are underpinned by the 8 principles for Junior Cycle. The school must ensure that students have opportunities to access all 24 statements across their Junior Cycle education. Of these 24 statements, 8 are set out in the specification as being specifically relevant to the subject of Science. These 8 statements of learning are realised in the 46 learning outcomes of the Science specification.
14. How can we communicate changes to parents?
15. Do I really need to unpack all the learning outcomes?
The learning outcomes were explored as part of CPD Day 1 where it became apparent that “unpacking” the outcomes into understanding, skills and values assisted teachers in bringing the learning outcomes to the classroom as well as making the planning process more manageable. It also helps you monitor your students’ progression towards achieving the learning outcomes. This is a process you might consider approaching collaboratively as a department. Remember it is crucial that you keep the explanations of the action verbs (develop, classify, describe etc.) at hand when unpacking. Why not start with unpacking those learning outcomes you might hope to include early in first year including those Nature of Science learning outcomes that you will address? Remember – there are a number of supports available for you under Planning in the Science section of our website (click here).
16. Where can I get ideas for the new science course?
The new specification provides an opportunity to explore new ideas and teaching methodologies. Ideas are often developed in collaboration with other teachers in your school as you are the experts on your student cohort. Opportunities to share ideas with teachers from other schools are also valuable. You will have the opportunity to network with other teachers at your CPD days and elective opportunities also give an opportunity to both network and gather ideas. The JCT science website also provides links and ideas.
This section contains supports and information related to ongoing planning for Junior Cycle Science.
All Science teachers are entitled to 8 hours of professional time in 2016/17, and a reduction in teaching time from September 2017 onward as outlined in DES Circular 0024/2016. Here, we provide some suggestions for things you might consider as part of the range of collaborative professional activities you will engage in during this time.
In 2015/2016 JCT worked with teachers on CPD Day 1 to develop ideas in how to plan using the learning outcomes of the new Science Specification. In 2016/2017 the Specification is introduced in schools. Planning with the learning outcomes is very new to teachers so JCT Science have developed this resource which shows the first steps in planning by a group of science teachers. It provides an example of subject group planning and 5 individual teacher plans. Later in 2017 the resource will be developed to give greater focus on the evidence of learning.
Introduction to JC Science Planning
Planning Video 1
Planning Video 2
Planning Video 3
Planning Video 4
Planning Video 5
The documents below have been designed to support teachers and Science subject departments. You might like to use these in planning for the introduction of the Specification for Junior Cycle Science.
Starting Collaborative Planning
Download Word version here
Starting Collaborative Planning
Nature of Science
Download Word version here
Subject Action Plan
Download Word version here
In 2016/17, eight hours professional time is available to teachers of Science, of which a maximum of 6 hours may be delivered via school closure and the balance through paid substitution hours. Some of this time can be utilised for teacher-led CPD sessions for junior cycle Science planning.
In this section, you can access a guided presentation on working with the learning outcomes of the Junior Cycle Science Specification. There are a number of indicated points at which you can pause the video and engage with the suggested activities. This video can be viewed individually or, if you like, you can watch and carry out the activities as a subject department. The video also comes with a facilitator’s guide and the associated PowerPoint slides.
Working with Science LOs - Guiding principles
This section contains information related to the ongoing and summative assessment of Junior Cycle Science
Assessment for JCPA - Video
This section contains some initial information and resources to support you in engaging with the Learning Outcomes of the Specification for Junior Cycle Science.
Introducing the Junior Cycle Science Specification - Video
Introducing the Nature of Science Strand - Video
Thoughts on Inquiry Teaching and Learning - Video
A guide to the modelling process - Video