AN innovative approach to learning which encourages children to think about science has attracted attention from Europe.

Specialist teachers at Carmel College, Darlington, have been working with students for the past 18 months using CASE – Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education – a programme which concentrates on the thought process rather than simply delivering the curriculum.

The novel methodology aims to develop children’s learning by opening a neural pathway that can be applied to all subjects.

And the approach has attracted interest from educational researchers from the Netherlands who have been in school seeing the programme in action.

Teacher Educator Chemistry and co-ordinator of the Masters Programme Susan Dirks-Trommelen and Mandy Stoop, the Teacher Educator Science and Technology and co-ordinator of the Bachelor Programme at Fontys University of Applied Science, Tilburg, spent the week fact-finding in the region.

At Carmel College they observed Year 7-9 CASE lessons, talked to students and staff and were briefed by Carmel Education Trust’s Director of Research and Development David Bailey and maths and science lead Alan Edmiston on ‘Let’s Think’, a Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) project, supported by the DfE, being delivered across the country.

“We are trying to develop students’ thinking so when they are 16 and sitting their GCSEs they will have a better understanding of more difficult concepts,” Mr Bailey said. “It isn’t about the content, it is about the approach, the thinking, the ability to problem-solve.

“Eleven-year-olds are keen to learn about the world and this approach gets them to question, understand and explain their thinking so we can understand how best to help them improve, rather than reach the exam stage only to find they haven’t grasped the subject.”

Mr Edmiston added: “The children use their own language to help each other understand the topics. The approach then encourages responsive teaching and a sense of responsibility among students to what they are doing.”

Science teacher Rachael Hardcastle said she had taught a class on the theory of osmosis and had not even used the term right until the end of the lesson. Instead, she had let the students figure out the concept themselves. “This gave them ownership of their learning,” she said.

Ms Stoop said: “This has made me rethink deeply about the levels of children’s development. If you look closer at how the children think then you can adjust your lessons to the level they need.”

Ms Dirks-Trommelen added: “This makes thought explicit which allows them to be more confident in their own thinking. Systematic thinking helps them realise which actions are needed and they will be able to use these skills everywhere.”

Carmel College principal Mike Shorten added: “The world is a complex place and we are trying to move away from simplistic thinking so students can cope with multiple ideas and variables at the same time.

“We are working with schools across the Tees Valley and are delighted it has attracted attention from Europe. Thanks to the SSIF-funded programme we are managing to engage successfully with students who are realising the many benefits of thinking things through.

“What is unique about this project is that we have been able to work with leaders and governors to help the school embed these approaches. This ‘Leadership Lite’ approach is also being funded by the Education Endowment Foundation charity and the Wellcome Trust as part of a trial across 140 schools.”