Well after a long academic year I thought I’d sit down and put together something I’d been planning for a while.  My school teaches AQA GCSE sciences, and one difficulty I have encountered is the initial opening planning discussion.  AQA provide a “Candidate Record Sheet” for individual pupil work, but I have been looking for something a bit more student friendly that can be used for some group work.

I’ve been a big fan of @TeacherToolKit‘s #5minplan which is available here. In school we use our own version that best suits our needs and priorities.  So I’ve produced my own plan for science investigations to add to the #5min series.

This is my original version:


It is also available as an editable PowerPoint presentation here.


This post is mainly intended for teachers embarking on AQA ISAs for the first time, but I’m sure there are others out there who will find it useful.

One of the AQA ISAs in Set D is Polymer Strength for Core science.  So here is a collection of ideas and resources to help you in your delivery.

It is crucial that any context is one the pupils can relate to.  The obvious context for this investigation is carrier bag handles.  I suppose other situations where polymer strength is important are: tennis racket strings, shoulder straps on school bags, trampolines etc.  Feel free to contact me with any other suggestions!!

So what skills are required for pupils to be successful?

Who would use this science?
The manufacturer of tennis racket strings would find this science useful

Why would it be useful?
They could work out the width of string that is the strongest, or perhaps find the thinnest width that is within a tolerance of strength needed.

How would they use it?
They could use a graph that shows width vs strength to identify the width to begin their own testing.  Less material also reduces costs.


I always train pupils to remember this weird phrase – If I I the I it will I/D the D

Seems a bit odd until you realise it means If I increase the independent variable it will increase/decrease the dependent variable.  This will guarantee 2/3 marks in Section 1 of the ISA.  The third mark will usually come from explaining why.


For any ISA pupils are required to plan their own approach from sources provided/found and they also need to be able to compare the usefulness of two sources.

I prefer to have control over the reliability and credibility of the sources the pupils use, so I tend to have class sets of 3/4 printed sources for them to use.  I shall post the sources at a later date for others to use.

I also like to throw in a good video clip as a starter.  Her is a clip I plan to use that shows testing for the tensile strength of a strip of fabric.

As mentioned earlier, pupils are required to compare two sources.  An almost guaranteed strategy is to get them to use the word whereas in their comparison.

Identifying variables

Usually a simple brainstorming activity where pupils come up with a list if anything they could possibly change.  Once their independent and dependent variables have been identified the rest must be their control variables.  Show them Mr Edmond’s variables song!

The crucial next step is working out how these variables will be changed or kept constant.  So make sure pupils can state exactly how they will change the independent variable and how it will be measured and what with.  Similarly the same applies for the dependent variable.  They also need to be able to clearly state how they will ensure control variables are kept constant.


Before students write their plan get them to play around with a selection of equipment in conjunction with their selection of sources.  They may be asked a question later about how their preliminary work informed their planning.  A past example of this was a viscosity of oils investigation – “the oil poured through the viscometer too quickly, so we worked out the size of hole required to give a time of….”.

The Planning

I’m not going to say too much about this as its quite easy to follow the prompts along the side of the space for writing the draft planning notes.

However here are the usual pitfalls that prevent pupils getting 6/6 for their plan.

They are often very good at outlining the hazard and risk, but often fail to mention how to minimise the risk.

Pupils often forget to be very specific about exactly what to measure and what it will be measure with.  For example a measuring cylinder for volume of water because it has a resolution of 1cm3.

I hope people find this useful.  Please contact me of leave any comments if you have your own tips and advice you’d like me to add to this post.

Example of a #5minprac from the whiteboard


6 Responses to #5minprac

  1. Pingback: Education Panorama (August ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

  2. Pingback: #5minprac Investigation Plan | Ian McDaid

  3. Lisa says:

    Do you use this instead of the sheet provided by the Aqa? And if so have they okayed it? I really like the look of it but worry it’s too much information yo take into the exam

    • ianmcdaid says:

      I use it generally for any investigation. For an ISA they fill this in as a group (A3 size) and then get the AQA candidate record sheet once they’ve tinkered and done some preliminary work.

  4. L says:

    You mentioned that you were going to post the example sources at a later date.Have you done this yet as I cannot see it?If not, can you post it as it would be much appreciated.

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