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  • Sadler (1989) argued that the indispensible conditions for improvement are that students are active participants in their own learning and assessment. It is therefore important to find out what students think about their learning experiences. Self-assessment provides a means for students to reflect on and evaluate their developing understanding of and expertise in the practices that are valued in their classroom community (Cowie, Moreland & Otrel-Cass, 2013).

    The research

    This case study research was undertaken over several weeks to investigate how a primary teacher used the SLH in her classroom with her 25 year 4 students (15 boys, 10 girls). The study investigated how Mary (a pseudonym) used the SLH and the Harnessing the Sun resources with students. Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with Mary and her students before, during and after the unit. Data presented here was from semi-structured individual student interviews at the end of the unit. Each lasted approximately 30 minutes. Thematic analysis of the data was guided by these research questions:

    • What science ideas did the students talk about?
    • Were students able to link their science learning to their lives out of class?
    • What did students think was memorable and why?


    Students talking about their learning provides opportunities to sum up what science has been learned

    The interviewed students clearly explained how a solar cooker worked using the concepts of insulation, reflection and absorption. Their explanations were based on their experiences of the experiments they undertook and linked to the simple solar cooker they had made and used. They were able to reflect on the lessons and explain what they had learned.

    We put the newspaper in the cooker because we’d put newspapers on the bottles to insulate them so we knew it worked.

    Jamal said: “I learned about reflecting, like the tinfoil. The Sun touches the tinfoil lid and it goes in a different direction. The angle of the lid was important to bounce the Sun in the right direction. The box was black because it absorbs the Sun best and it stays warm.”

    Amala said: “We put the newspaper in the cooker because we’d put newspapers on the bottles to insulate them so we knew it worked. We put it around the edges to keep the cooker hot and stop the hot air from going out.”

    Students linked their in-school science learning to their lives out of class

    When they reviewed their learning, the students made links between the science ideas they had learned and their everyday lives. The foundation experiments leading to making and using a solar cooker provided opportunities for them to make direct links between home and school.

    Colin said: “I asked Dad why don’t we wrap our house in newspaper? Dad said why? I said because we did an experiment at school where we put newspaper around bottles to insulate them so no heat gets out. It will keep our house warm.”

    Alice said: “The best bit was making the solar cookers because it really showed you how to cook more. I made one at home with my brother. We cooked a mousetrap and s’mores. My brother melted his Easter egg onto bread. It worked.”

    Science experiences are memorable when students make and use a functioning artefact as the culminating activity

    By far the most talked about aspect of the unit was the making and use of the solar cooker to melt s’mores. This was a memorable event. Students reasoned this was because it was fun, challenging, they had made a cooker themselves and it worked. Some had suggestions for improvement if they made a solar cooker again.

    Gina commented that she “liked making the solar cooker best and eating the s’mores was next. If I made it again I would put black at the bottom underneath so more heat could get trapped it. I would put the cooker on black ground or on black polythene. The Sun would really be attracted and absorbed then because there’d be so much black.”

    Noel said: “It was great but it was a bit hard to get it positioned where we should put it. We tied the lid to someone’s bike wheel, but that was a bit of a bad idea because we thought they might come and ride their bike away with our cooker tied to it. So then we jabbed the peg in the ground at the right angle. If I made it again, I would make the bottom with stilts underneath the box to get it closer to the Sun. It would get even hotter. I would also make the sides higher to cook more food.”


    Taken together, student reflective comments on what they learned during a science unit are encouraging. They indicate that the students had developed a view of science as having links to their lives, which was supported by their producing an artefact that worked and had relevance and use in their families.


    Cowie, B., Moreland, J., & Otrel-Cass, K. (2013). Expanding notions of assessment for learning: Inside science and technology primary classrooms. Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.

    Mercer, N. (1995). Guided construction of knowledge: Talk amongst teachers and students. United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

    Sadler, D.R. (1998). Formative assessment: Revisiting the territory. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 77–84.

    Related content

    Students made and used a solar oven. This activity, Making a solar oven, contributed to the students building their ideas about solar energy and cooking.

    These articles were part of this case study:

      Published 12 December 2013 Referencing Hub articles
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