The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment have revealed their new syllabi for senior biology, physics and chemistry. The concurrent release of the syllabi is no coincidence and marks a new direction for senior cycle science in Ireland, or so they promise. The NCCA have also formally opened a consultation process on the new syllabi, asking teachers, parents, students and members of the science community to comment on the content and approach outlined in their documents.
There has obviously been changes to the content of each of the syllabi but the biggest change in approach to senior cycle science is the introduction of a practical component in the assessment procedures for each of the subjects. Twenty percent of a pupils total mark in each of the subjects will be awarded based on the completion of mandatory practicals throughout the two years of study (5%) and a 90 minute practical test (15%) where pupils will be asked complete a series of three or four short set tasks, assessing their practical skills and ability to analyse data and draw conclusions. Some of the material within this practical assessment will be beyond the scope of the syllabus.
A brief look at the syllabi reveals plenty use of "copy and paste" between them (the most obvious of this is in the assessment procedures of each syllabus, which are so alike they all are entitled "ASSESSMENT IN LEAVING CERTIFICATE BIOLOGY"). The key skills targeted in each syllabus are appropriate and laudable (the key skills are identified as information processing, being personally effective, communicating, critical and creative thinking and working with others). I applaud the use of terms like "design", "apply knowledge", "interpret", "discuss" and "analyse" in the learning outcomes of each syllabus but I am concerned that the syllabi is still very teacher driven and exam orientated.