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Online Home Learning and Investigative Science

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

You have begun your journey with Sammie Allen Tutoring, are you starting to wonder what practical based subjects will look like when your child’s learning moves to online and out of the classroom?

I’ve worked in education for 15 years and as a science teacher for over 12 of them. When my own diagnosis took me out of the classroom and science lab, I had doubts that I would ever do investigative work with students again, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Joining the SAT team in September 2022 my teaching and learning methods have adapted somewhat. The tools we use for online learning have been such a success in the transition to online learning. For example, the use of BitPaper, an online workbook, allows us to do so many activities such as; drawing & labelling scientific diagrams, making detailed notes, practice exam questions, drawing results tables & graphs, plus these can all be done collaboratively between the student and tutor.

In this post I am going to share some of the investigations I have done so far as part of the SAT team. So, what makes an investigation purposeful for effective learning online? These are the criteria I consider when planning a practical session for a pupil.

  • Are there clear variables; independent (cause), dependent (effect) and control(s)?

  • Can the pupil make a hypothesis/prediction?

  • Can observations or data be collected?

  • Does the student have an opportunity to practise their mathematical and graphical skills?

  • Can the student make scientific conclusions?

  • Can the student evaluate the method and suggest improvements?

  • Is it safe? Are they any possible risks and how can these be reduced?


The Asteroid Investigation

This is a great KS3 practical to get pupils thinking about methods, hypotheses, predictions and variables. It allows the tutor to pass the control to the student. All they are given is a list of equipment and are allowed free reign to design their own method and test their ideas by collecting data at home independently. N.B.When I complete this practical I let the student and parents know a week in advance so that the equipment needed can be prepared. The video here shows how effective it is to demonstrate asteroid impact on craters. Pupils can decide what variable they want to test, whether it be; size of asteroid, mass of asteroid, type of terrain or height the asteroid is dropped from. And then there is so much data that the pupil can analyse, I have used this as an opportunity to assess a student's graphical skills too, which is an excellent opportunity for feedback and improvement. This investigation also has the potential to extend pupils to KS4 skills, such as; data validity. Pupils need to assess how valid their results are and then consider the limitations of their investigation that may have caused this and how this can be improved within the method.

Diffusion and Osmosis investigations with root vegetables

Transport in and out of cells is something lightly touched within the KS3 curriculum and then fully explored in all KS4 exam specifications. It teaches the importance of the cell's functions to carry out respiration, waste removal and other fundamental processes in animals and plants.

Diffusion can be demonstrated perfectly with beetroot, and although some quantitative data can be collected it’s mainly observational (qualitative). Here is a photo of the investigation me and a year 10 student did.

We both completed our own set so we could compare the results at the end. In this investigation we tested the effect of temperature on the rate of diffusion. And allowed us to discuss the importance of control variables (size of beetroot, mass, volume of water etc) on the validity of the results. What do you think we concluded? Both beakers had a same size piece of beetroot, the right had boiling and the left room temperature water of the same volume.

You can also investigate Osmosis using potatoes, which is a KS4 required practical.

Paper Chromatography

Chromatography became TikTok famous thanks to the humble skittle, making a rainbow of videos online. Chromatography simply is a method used to separate mixtures, and the skittle experiment shows both this and diffusion. It has many applications such as; food testing, drug testing (in athletes and race horses) and forensics. In a traditional classroom a note is left at a setup crime scene and the students must use paper chromatography to determine which pen the culprit used to write the note. This can be replicated with online learning too. In one instance, I posted the student some chromatography paper and a piece of the culprits note. We were able to do this as we used the same brand of pens for our testing so should get the same results. Here is an example of one of our samples, you will also see the measurements noted to calculate rf values, a key part of the KS4 curriculum.

Chicken wing dissection

Even dissections are not off limits with home learning. It is discussed with the pupil if they would like to participate before planned and all safety checks must be done as the pupil would be using a scalpel/knife. By conducting the dissection students are able to explore the structure and function of muscles, bones and joints. The chicken wing is comparable to a human arm as they have many of the same structures, most importantly a pair of antagonistic muscles like our biceps and triceps. Where pupils can manipulate the joint to see the contraction and relaxation of muscle pairs to move joints.

Credit: Credit: Xochitl Garcia via

Field Investigations

Ecology is a huge part of both the KS3 and KS4 curriculum, and provides so many opportunities for field investigations outside. This can be counting daisies in your garden to setting up insect traps, that can be set as homework or done during learning time. But even when the seasons are not on our side we can complete some of this work using simulations. One of which I made myself on BitPaper, here is a screen video on how me and a year 11 student collect random data sampling using quadrats on the number of daisies in a given habitat.

So why is investigative work so important for our students? At SAT we aim to make our learners inquisitive about the world around them, to evaluate theories & evidence and to question their learning. In the future this is going to support them with making their own informed decisions and opinions. It trains them to think critically and creatively as well as observantly and analytically. All key skills that can be broadened to any subject.

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