Top Tips for teaching DATA & ANALYSIS SKILLS in science
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Dear David Saul

We hope you enjoyed the holidays and we wish you a very Happy New Year!

Below you will find the next in our series of Top Tips designed to help you meet some of the challenges faced when teaching science skills under the new national curriculum.


Top Tip

Data and Analysis – Identifying Patterns in the Data
Identifying patterns in data is a key skill in science, and one that may take pupils some time and practise to master. For numerical data gathered, this is simply done by joining statements about the independent and dependent variables together e.g. The longer I heated the water (independent variable, time) the hotter the water got (dependent, temperature). It can be condensed to two questions:
  1. What did I do? (I heated the water over a period of time – independent variable)
  2. What happened when I did it? (The water got hotter – dependent variable)
The INDEPENDENT variable is the thing I can change, the DEPENDENT variable is the thing that depends on the thing I change. Follow this formula and you can’t go wrong!

An Investigation for Identifying Patterns in Data
  1. Context:  An investigation is carried out to measure the effect of different amounts of bicarbonate of soda (reacting it with vinegar) on the time taken for a sealable bag to explode.
  2. You need: Small Ziplock bags (freezer bags are good); Baking Soda, Warm Water, Vinegar, Measuring Cup, a Tissue, a Teaspoon
  3. What to do:
    - Go outside!
    - Put 1/4 cup of fairly warm water in the bag
    - Add 1/2 cup of vinegar
    - Put 3 teaspoons of the baking soda in the tissue and wrap it up
    - Half zip up the bag - but leave enough room for the tissue...
    - FAST NOW - get the tissue into the bag, seal completely, place the bag on the ground (or in a sink)
    - STAND BACK!  If it works - the bag will pop!
  1. Identifying the Pattern:
The more/less bicarbonate of soda there is in the bag, the quicker/slower the bag explodes. 
  1. National Curriculum Assessment Match:
Skills: setting up simple practical enquiries, comparative and fair tests
Knowledge: compare and group substances together, according to whether they are solids, liquids or gases

Note: You can do this demonstration with open cups and simply watch the bubbles overflow. Try it with some food dye. However, the exploding bag gives you an example of the SCIENTIFIC METHOD by choosing an independent variable [The amount of bicarbonate of soda] and a dependent variable [Time to explode].  Measuring and analysing these data changes it from a DEMONSTRATION to an EXPERIMENT. 

From the National Curriculum 

The national curriculum for science aims to ensure that all pupils:
  • develop scientific knowledge and conceptual understanding through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics
  • develop understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science through different types of science enquiries that help them to answer scientific questions about the world around them
  • are equipped with the scientific knowledge required to understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future.


Forming a Question
Identifying Variables
Making Predictions
Justifying predictions
Writing a method
Equipment lists
Risk assessments


Identifying what data to collect
How to present data
Designing a results table
Identifying patterns in Data
Drawing Graphs
Identifying ‘dodgy’ data


Checking if results match predictions
Explaining how results match / don’t match predictions
Identifying Anomalies and explaining them
Explaining how to ensure reliability
Using precision, accuracy, and reliability with confidence
How to ensure ‘Validity’ of data
Designing alternative experiments to test predictions

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