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Development of The Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology Curriculum (SNAB): the importance of evaluation


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Title: Development of The Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology Curriculum (SNAB): the importance of evaluation

Development of The Salters-Nuffield Advanced
Biology Curriculum (SNAB) the importance of
  • Jenny Lewis
  • Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics
  • University of Leeds
  • UK

Salters Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB)
  • An Advanced Level biology course for students
    aged 16-18
  • Development began in 2000
  • Piloting began in 2002 (52 schools 1500
  • Approved qualification available from 2005

Advanced level courses in England
  • The full A Level is designed for students aged
    16-18 and takes 2 years
  • Each year ends in an exam which leads to a
  • Year 1 leads to AS (a stand alone
  • Year 2 builds on AS and leads to A2
  • AS A2 give the full A level qualification
  • Only some of the students who take AS will go on
    to take A2
  • But students cannot normally take A2 if they have
    not successfully completed AS.

The traditional A level biology course
  • Content is organised around broad subject areas
    and processes, for example genes and genetic
    engineering, microbes and disease.
  • The full concept is usually taught once, to the
    required depth.
  • Social and ethical issues are often treated as an
    add on, if there is time.
  • The approach is teacher led and content driven
    with an emphasis on factual recall rather than

The SNAB A level biology course
  • Content is organised around real world contexts,
    drawing biological content from across
    traditional areas, supplemented with additional
    content, to provide an integrated explanation
    for example
  • a forensic investigation of 2 dead bodies draws
    on pathology, physiology, immunology and
    microbiology to determine whether or not there
    has been a murder.
  • Biological concepts are only taught to the depth
    required to understand the context this means
    that the full concept might be developed across
    several contexts for example, meiosis.
  • Relevant social and ethical issues are routinely
    integrated into the teaching of the context.
  • The focus is on the development of conceptual
    understanding through the active engagment of
    students in their own learning this has an
    impact on the SNAB approach to practical work.
  • There is a reduction in traditional content to
    allow time for a more student centred approach
    to make room for more relevant and up-to-date
  • There is an extensive range of resources and
    activities to support this novel approach, mainly
    ICT based ICT is integrated across every aspect
    of the course.

Approach to Evaluation
  • To implement SNAB as intended, teachers had to
    make substantial changes to their usual classroom
  • To take this into account 2 different approaches
    to evaluation were used
  • A broad approach, drawing data from as many
    sources and participants as possible
  • An in depth approach which looked explicitly at
    implementation in the classroom.

The broad approach
  • Monitoring of the e-networks (for teachers, for
    students, for technicians)
  • Queries and questions from individual teachers
  • Group feedback during training workshops and
    feedback meetings
  • School visits
  • Questionnaires (teachers, students and

The in-depth evaluation of implementation
  • Sample
  • 3 centres 8 teachers
  • Approach
  • 3 phases
  • Each teacher was interviewed and observed in
    each phase their students and technicicians were
    interviewed to provide supporting evidence
  • Phase 1 the start of the pilot
  • (baseline data usual teaching approaches
    understandings and expectations of SNAB)
  • Phase 2 at the end of the first year
  • (development of understanding and actual use of
  • Phase 3 at the end of the second year
  • (teachers, own perceptions of the changes in
    practice which they needed to make).

Outcomes the build up of concepts across contexts
  • Biological concepts are built up across topics
    and across the the two years
  • Teachers needed to teach the whole of the course
    before they could see how these concepts were
    built up and to get a good understanding of the
    correct breadth and depth needed for each
    particular context.
  • Without this the teachers tended to over-teach -
    to provide too much in depth explanation too
    early in the course
  • Most of these teachers shared the teaching of the
    course so never got the full picture.

Outcomes the teachers own subject knowledge
  • In a traditional curriculum, related concepts are
    presented together within topics such as
    inheritance, biochemistry etc.
  • In SNAB each context required teachers to draw on
    a wide range of biological concepts, including
    some which were new to them.
  • Mostly they coped well with this, but when the
    concepts were very removed from their area of
    expertise they sometimes felt stressed.
  • we cant be expected to be all-singing,
    all-dancing biologists . Im a biochemist

Outcomes reduction of traditional content
  • To make way for new, topical, content and to
    allow students time to take more responsibility
    for their own learning, some traditional content
    was dropped
  • Some teachers found this very difficult to accept
    it offended their sense of what it meant to be
    a biology teacher
  • I thought  Oh, theyll have to know (colour
    vision).. How can you teach biology without
    teaching that? 
  • Others found it very helpful
  • Although there is less content overall, SNAB
    students are better equiped to find additional
    information for themselves.

Outcomes selection of resources
  • SNAB provided extensive resources, with the
    expectation that teachers (and students) would
    select as approrpriate to their needs.
  • Initially, most teachers didnt know they needed
    to be selective and tried to use everything.
  • Initial selection of resources was pragmatic
    based on cost, time and availability.
  • With more experience, teachers began to take more
    account of educational purpose and to recognise
    that the way they presented an activity
    influenced its effectiveness
  • I think Ive used the Carbon Cycle sheet much
    better this year We got into discussion much
    more the first time, I didnt make enough of the
    activity, I was in a bit of a rush and then I
    was back to my traditional, on the board,
  • When teachers couldnt identify the intended
    purpose they were reluctant to use the activity
  • some activities seem to lack a clear
    educational purpose they may be fun but they
    feel likeadd-ons and leave you with a sense of
    so what?.

Outcomes approaches to practical work
  • Traditionally, practical investigations had
    become routine, with an emphasis on getting the
    right answer in SNAB the emphasis was on
    critiquing the methodology and explaining the
  • Initially this was challenging for teachers,
    but especially for students, who were unused to
    having to think about their work in this way.
  • With more experience, teachers developed more
    effective ways of supporting and encouraging
    their students
  • we dont waste time on write-ups students now
    refer to the details one line were
    referring to the method on Sheet X (attached)
  • I dont mark their practicals, I give them
    feedback youve done this well next time,
    think about this question
  • Most teachers appreciated this change in
  • its great to see them doing individual
    projects rather than just jumping through hoops

Outcomes the use of ICT
  • SNAB produced an incredible range of ICT
    resources, particularly to support student
  • Many schools were poorly equipped to support
    these state of the art resources but those that
    teachers and students could access were extremely
    well received
  • the ICT is really, really good to do
    something in September, to be revising it in June
    and to have it on the screen, just as it was in
    September is amazing!
  • I keep saying to them you know, you should be
    using these for revision going back through the
    activities, using them like a resource, just as
    you would a book.
  • I know Ive taught that section nerve
    impulse/action potentials much better than Ive
    evertaught it before
  • Because ICT was such an integral part of the
    course, biology teachers found they were treated
    very favourably when new resources were being
    allocated, often ending up with excellent

Outcomes approaches to teaching and learning
  • SNAB requires teachers to change their usual
    classroom practices, and this presented teachers
    with some challenges.
  • Discussionmost teachers were unclear about the
    purposes of discussion and uneasy about enaging
    with social and ethical issues there was little
    recognition of the need to structure a discussion
    and anxiety about losing control and losing
    respect when they couldnt give the right
    answer many teachers foudn ways to avoid or
    contain these areas of the curriculum
  • ICT when integrating ICT into whole class
    teaching, teachers had to re-learn how to manage
    the class in this new situation.
  • Active Learning some teachers felt quite
    threatened by the idea that students should take
    more responsibility for their own learning even
    teachers who explicitly wanted to make this
    change found it more difficult than they

  • Trusting that students will take responsibility.
  • Developing monitoring and management strategies
    to support students.
  • Giving the students time to think things through
    for themselves.
  • Extending their questioning technique giving
    students time to think encouraging students to
    explain their answers asking extension
    questions not responding when students say just
    tell us!.
  • One teacher described it as a process of
    evolution, not revolution 4 years later he felt
    he had finally evolved!

  • Lewis, J. and Scott, A. (2006) The Importance of
    Evaluation During Curriculum Development the
    Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB)
    experience School Science Review 88 (323)
  • Lewis, J. (2006) Bringing The Real World Into The
    Biology Curriculum Journal of Biological
    Education 40 (3)