This essay will include reflections on my experiences from Medics in Primary Schools including my initial observation session in the class and my weeks of teaching and will include highlights from my experience, teaching methods I used, and how my teaching method’s changed throughout my lessons and also any difficulties faced throughout the experience.
Before I started teaching, I felt it was important to research and find out information about primary education and how children aged ten to eleven learn to help me plan activities that would be enjoyable, and the pupils would get the most out of the experience. Education can be dated back to the sixth century in the UK when Kings School was established in Canterbury (1), but it wasn’t until the elementary education act was passed in 1870 that primary school education for those aged five to thirteen became compulsory (2,3). This act was passed because the parliament at the time found that over two million primary age children had no access to education (4). Since the Education Act 1870 was passed primary education has remained a fundamental part of education and provides the basis of knowledge for all children which will ultimately be developed throughout their lives (5). The module coordinators informed us at the introduction session that science is no longer part of the core curriculum in primary schools, this is worrying as studies have shown that studying science actually improves pupils problem solving ability and encourages independent learning (6).
There are a number of theories as to how children learn for example Piagets theory and Vygotsky’s theory (7,8). Piagets theory suggests four stages of cognitive development, from age seven to eleven children are in a stage called “concrete operational stage” (8,9). This stage is an important part of cognitive development as it marks the start of logical or “operational” thinking (8,9). In this stage a child has the ability to work things out for themselves in their head (8,9). Piagets theory changed education as it introduced the idea that children learn best by actually doing activities, Piaget proposed that learning should be based around the pupil with the teachers role being to help the pupil learn not to give direct tuition (10). Paiget also introduced the idea of group learning and that children enjoy learning as part of a group and not just individually (10). While Piagets theory believes that children need to develop at each stage before they can learn Vygotsky believed that learning was needed for development (7,9). Vygotsky believed that social interaction and social environment was important for learning and that adults are an important source from which children can learn and develop from (7,11).
When selecting my student selected component for this semester I had put medics in primary school as my first choice. I put this module as my first choice because I felt that it would be very useful for my future career as doctors are often involved in teaching and I also I felt it would be useful as it would give me some experience working with children as I had no previous experience like this. When I found out that I had been selected for the medics in primary school programme I was initially pleased as this module had been my first choice for my student selected component, but I was also extremely nervous. I was nervous because I had little or no experience with children and no teaching experience and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. I found the initial observation session extremely useful as I was able to observe the class learning and I was able to get an insight into what activities worked best for the class. I also found my teacher to be extremely helpful and she put me at ease immediately. From my initial observation session, I seen the children working in groups to try to solve a problem and the children really seemed to enjoy and engage with this type of activity which gave me ideas for the way I should try to structure my lessons.
Before my first class where I was teaching, I was extremely nervous about doing the teaching as I wasn’t sure how long each activity would take and if the class would enjoy the activities that I had planned. I was also nervous as the coordinators of the module had told us that science was no longer on core primary school curriculum and so I was nervous that the pupils would have no basic knowledge at all and possibly wouldn’t be interested in the human body and learning about it. Thankfully both these worries proved to be unfounded as the pupils already had a good basic knowledge of science and were extremely eager to learn about the human body.
I found that once I got started, I began to relax and enjoy teaching as the class were very responsive when I asked them questions and I felt that the children were very keen to learn about the human body and I found this encouraging. From my observation session I realised that the children liked working in groups, so I had planned group work for my first session, I got the pupils to discuss in their groups the parts of a bicycle and how this made a system and then feedback their answers to the class. I felt went well as the pupils all really engaged with the activities by making lots of suggestions for answers and so I continued each week to include at least one group work task in my lessons. The observation that my class enjoyed learning via group work also aligns with Piagets theory of learning as he believed group work helped children to learn (10). While the children were discussing the activities, I was able to move around the classroom and speak to all the pupils individually which I feel the pupils enjoyed and I also feel it gave me a chance to see if the pupils understood and if they didn’t gave me a chance to explain it to them in more depth. This observation fits with Vygotsky’s theory that children like to learn from adults which I found to be very true with my class as I feel they really enjoyed learning and were eager to learn from me (7,11).
During my initial teaching session, I soon realised that I had underestimated the time that it would to complete the activities so this meant that I had planned to many activities and ultimately, I didn’t get all the activities done that I had planned. Although I felt encouraged that I was able to realise I wouldn’t get all activities done and I felt I was able to prioritise which activities I felt were most important to do and succeeded in completing those activities. After the session I asked the teacher for some feedback and she said maybe explain more at the start of each activity what exactly the activity involved as this would save a lot of questions during the activity and save time. I felt that this was extremely helpful feedback that I took onboard and all the rest of my session went much more smoothly due to this. After the success of my first teaching session I wasn’t as nervous for the next one as a lot of my worries had been settled the previous week due to the class being so responsive and enthusiastic about learning science and about the human body.
At the start of every class I always started with a summary from the previous lesson and also asked the pupils if they had any questions they wanted answered, I felt this was useful as it helped pupils remember what they had learned the previous week and also allowed me to see if the pupils had any areas they particularly were interested in and wanted to study. Also if I had activities that I hadn’t had time to do in class I would give the pupils these to complete for the next week and so at the start of each class I would go over the answers for these and answer any questions I felt this was important to ensure that the pupils understood the material and also to explain where they had went wrong if they had so that they knew this for future. During every class if there was something related to what I had previously taught I always tried to related it back to what the pupils already knew for example I had taught the pupils about types of muscle including cardiac and voluntary and involuntary muscle the first week and when I was teaching cardiac system a few sessions later I made sure to ask the pupils what type of muscle the heart was made of and if it was voluntary or involuntary and why this was. I feel using this style helped to cement the knowledge in pupils brains and ensures they will remember this knowledge for the future.
From reading about Piagets theory of learning before I started the module I was aware that children preferred to be hands on and to learn by completing activities so each week I tried to have at least one practical hands on activity for the children to complete (10,12,13). One of the activities that I feel the pupils particularly enjoyed was an activity which involved cutting out the parts of a skeleton and using clips to clip them together, so the pupils had an actually skeleton that they built. Also depending on how tight the clips where they could make the skeleton move or make it stay in a certain position. I feel that by actually getting hands on the pupils will remember this more and it stimulated their minds to ask lots of questions about the skeleton and what the names of each of the bones were. As the weeks progressed I changed my lesson slightly as I decreased the number of worksheets initially I had two per lesson I decreased this down to one as I feel the pupils didn’t enjoy completing worksheets and increased time spent on practical activities as I feel this is where the pupils gained the most knowledge, enjoyment and were most motivated for these activities. Also as the weeks progressed I tried to do as many practical activities as possible and as much group discussion as possible as studies show that after group discussion pupils retain around 50% of the information taught and after practical activities around 70% of the information taught but after a lecture style lesson pupils will only retain 5% of the information, so I adjusted my learning style to ensure that the pupils got the most benefit from the lessons as possible and also to ensure that the pupils enjoyed participating and so ultimately they enjoyed learning which hopefully will increase their interest in science in the future (12,13).
I feel at times it was hard to get a worksheet or activity that suited everyone in the class because at times some pupils finished a worksheet in five minutes and thought it was easy and other pupils took maybe fifteen minutes for the same activity and thought it was difficult. To overcome this problem, I encouraged the pupils to work together and discuss the sheets and if someone was unsure to try to help each other. I feel that this is important for the pupils as it improves team working skills and also, they enjoyed working in groups so helped them learn more effectively.
Overall, I have found this module extremely enjoyable and I feel that it will be of great benefit to me going forward in my medical career. When I started my medical degree, I never thought that I would end up teaching primary school children as part of it, but I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity. Before starting the module, I didn’t appreciate the amount of planning and preparation that teachers had to undertake before teaching a class. The lesson planning did take longer than I had anticipated and at times it was difficult to find suitable activities but as the module progressed and I become more confident in my teaching I found it easier and quicker to plan my lessons. I feel that this module will be useful in future as doctors have to teach students and this experience has helped develop my teaching skills which I feel will be very useful when the times comes for me to be involved in teaching students. I feel that throughout the modules as each week went on my confidence increased and my teaching improved. I would definitely recommend this module to future students as I feel that while this experience does involve a lot of work and planning if you commit to it and give it, you’re all this experience is extremely rewarding.