The CASE Face – What CASE Has Taught Me

CASE Face (Abed)CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education) has been around for over 20 years and has a reasonably strong body of evidence to support it.   The apparent effects on student progress are encouraging, but teaching CASE has also had an impact on my teaching.  Teaching lessons planned by others has forced me to develop strategies in order to teach the lesson how it was meant to be taught, and reflect on my own teaching as a result.

Something to do with getting the kids to think

While studying for my PGCE, I observed a lesson as part of my preparation.  My mentor told me it was “A CASE class.  Something to do with getting the kids to think in Science.” I was interested, observed the lesson, paying particular attention as to how you could teach kids to think.  They were sorting out cards, trying to discover who a murderer was given a selection of clues.  I could see the students discussing, debating even, but I could not see them being challenged to think in a particular way.  I was further confused when I realised there was not a right answer to the puzzle.  I was not sold on CASE.

Fast-forward five years and I am now a new teacher in an international school.  During my first week my Head of Department explained excitedly about CASE and I tried to hide the internal sigh.  I did not want to teach murder mysteries as part of the Science course.  However, as I started to look through the materials I realised something, what I had previously observed was not CASE.  The teacher had just picked out an activity and labelled it ‘thinking skills’.  Through teaching CASE was to discover that it is a hugely valuable programme.  Not just for the students, plenty has been written about that.  CASE has been hugely influential for me as a teacher.

What CASE has taught me

The CASE lesson plans are quite prescriptive and planned around 5 ‘pillars‘:

  • Concrete Preparation
  • Cognitive Conflict
  • Construction
  • Metacognition
  • Bridging

Teaching, and subsequently reflecting on, each of these has significantly changed my teaching style. I must stress, when I started teaching the programme I was relatively inexperienced. Some might seem obvious to the experienced teacher, but I found it very useful to be reminded of these fortnightly, and force myself to think about them properly.

Concrete Preparation

This is effectively making the vocabulary explicit so that the students can access the rest of the lesson.  While this in itself has not had a huge effect on my practice, planning for it has made me aware of the importance of preparing accordingly for bilingual students.

Cognitive Conflict

For me, this is where a teacher can have the most fun.  Cognitive conflict is that surprise the student experiences when the mental model they have constructed does not hold up to reality. It uses the idea of a zone of proximal development, setting problems which are just out of reach of the students and helping to structure their thinking in such a way as to guide them to the answer.

One activity, looking at control variables, asks the students to find out which factor affects the pitch made by a pipe.  The students can pick up to two pipes to compare at any one time, but many fail to isolate the variables.

Now, an inexperienced teacher may be tempted to set the students on the right track, so they can happily carry on with the activity.  The CASE programme encourages teachers to plan carefully probing questions to illuminate the flaws in reasoning; “how do you know it was the length and not the material?” “What tubes could you pick to see if it really is width?”.  These type of questions inevitably lead to the ‘CASE face’ where a student slowly realises that the model they have been developing has been knocked down by a simple query.


Due to planning these questions, and spotting places where they may be needed in the lesson, I have learned the power that “cognitive hand grenades” can have.  Simple questions which can blow apart a student’s model and force them to build up a new one.  These are tremendously useful in science education.


Construction allows the students to rebuild their improved ideas from the rubble.  This often takes place in a social context, usually group or class discussion.  I have learned the importance of circling the classroom, listening carefully, and continuing to test any idea.  I have also learned how carefully managed group and class discussions can bring those who are finding the ideas difficult forward.  It also means that every student is responsible for the information in their groups, and must ensure that everybody is up to speed.


This word has become a bit of a fashion recently.  Metacognition is effectively thinking about thinking;  asking students how they arrived at an answer, what issues they faced and how they resolved them.  Again, I had not realised how powerful this can be.  Metacognition places the students in a position where they have to reflect on the process as well as the ideas.  This is often stressed as the focus of the lesson in CASE, and asking kids to put their thinking into words is intentionally difficult, but often appears to have stronger links afterwards.

This focus on metacognition has helped me to develop my understanding of what metacognition is, and what it is not.  I have learned to lift up the rock of student thinking and encourage them to look underneath, exposing any misconceptions which may be still lurking there.

This process is especially interesting to watch in bilingual students, who can often struggle to put their thinking into words in English.


Offering the students opportunities to link the topics to new ideas.  Again, this is something that I had neglected in my teaching.  More accurately, it is something that I had done for the students.  Once students are more confident in the processes through which they arrived at a solution, they can often apply it to newer situations.

I have found the CASE programme to be considerably good training for me.  It has put me in a position where I have had to consider student thinking and how the lesson design should spread from it.  It taught me, as an inexperienced teacher, that getting the kids to think hard about a topic is a good thing.  A new report is due next year on the effects of the programme on student learning, but I would encourage Heads of Science to consider the possible impacts on teacher, as well as student, development.

My Pedagogical Aims for 2015

After reading Tom Sherrington’s excellent post outlining his teaching aims for the next year, and Helen Rogerson’s equally excellent follow-up, I was inspired to write my first ever blog post.  It is particularly exciting for me because I will be changing my school, hemisphere and position of responsibility in July. So, here is my pedagogical to-do list for the new school year.


Work towards more low-stake testing

I have been experimenting with low-stake testing this year.  While I have taken a similar approach before, I was keen to combine it with interleaving too.  The results are still to be borne out, but my observations suggest that those students who struggle to apply the theory to new situations are benefiting from this approach.   Next year I hope to introduce a weekly mini-quiz, where I spend some time afterwards sharing the way I would answer the question before giving students an opportunity to note down the mistakes in their logic and note the steps I took when modelling.

I will also start developing IB definitions from the beginning, rather than waiting until the second year of the course.  I have realised that it is so much more than memorising, but actually gives students a peg to hang their understanding on.  I would be interested to find out if asking students to write out the definitions before the topic may be used as a way of pre-testing.

Continue to work on questioning

Questioning is one aspect of my practice that I will never be happy with.  The recent Future Learn course for AfL in STEM subjects has made me aware of the bad habits I had slipped into.  I allow more thinking time than I used to, but for students with English as their second language they sometimes need a bit of extra time to translate their ideas. I will also need to stop subconsciously pointing at the correct answer!

Develop more hinge-point questions

The AfL course has also made me realise how weak some of my hinge-point questions are.  Too many of them may not highlight misconceptions, while others may open up a dialogue instead of allowing for a quick formative assessment.  I have realised that these are best developed collaboratively and I will work with my new colleagues to develop a bank of quality questions.

Continue with Lesson Study

Perhaps more a professional development focus, but I have found it really useful in my lessons.  I first came across Lesson Study when reading for my Masters, before finding out that many schools in the UK were already trialing it successfully.  I have found the whole experience incredibly useful, and it has made me really analyse what good teaching is, where the evidence comes from and why we do particular activities.  This year I have been working outside of my subject area and am currently designing a Music lesson with a Music teacher and an English teacher.  This has been more powerful in many ways, as any preconceptions about which activities ‘must’ be done can be cast aside.  I want to continue with this and hope I can find a new pair of teachers who are willing to give it a go.

Refine my practicals

For some time now I have been developing a practical programme that encourages students to engage with the scientific ideas, rather than confirm what they have been looking in class.  I have started designing some practicals which provide cognitive conflict and makes the students address their misconceptions.

My current head of science has also convinced me of the power of evaluations.  Previously I had considered the conclusion to be the most important part of an experimental write-up, but often a consideration of the variables and how they may have contributed to the results allows for a much greater consideration of the physics behind the investigation.  With the IB programme moving towards one Internal Assessment this should also improve the students’ ability to design an investigation as well as cement the theory a little more.

With this in mind, I need to develop more practicals which encourage discussion and expose students to their misconceptions.  This will be a challenge as I have been very fortunate to have access to an incredibly well-equipped department in my current school, and my new school will not have the same resources.

Develop more on-line resources

I have been experimenting with Edpuzzle and Quizlet recently.  I have never been one for trialling an idea blindly, and am still to be convinced that the flipped classroom model will improve on the learning in my lessons, but I can see potential in some particular concepts.  My 6th form Physics class have taken competition to a new level, using the Quizlet games to developtheir definitions.  The nature of these activities should also lend itself to interleaving the topics, as the homework can be quick and structured.


The competition is heating up

There are so many more I would like to focus on, but I will have a new system, a new school and a new department to consider for the time being.