Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Polls Apart

The BBC recently published an article which happily repeated without question, various claims of an online poll (ie one where you have no idea who is answering the questions)

This article claimed that that 80% of boys knew that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and that more children want to win a Nobel Prize for Science than win the 'X Factor'.

They may well be disappointed however if it is true that a third of them thought that Isaac Newton discovered fire...

Anyway, the important point is that Primary school kids seem excited by Science whereas Secondary school pupils are not. The reasons for this are simple.

Science in Primary Schools is new and interesting, whereas in Secondary Schools it has become extremely boring, due to a dull syllabus and over zealous Health and Safety rules which put teachers off attempting the more interesting (ie loud) practicals. Combine this with endless preparation for tests and a serious lack of new teachers with an in depth knowledge of their subject and you have a recipe for disaster.


Miss Brodie said...

Good point! But I'm surprised because on the French side of the Channel, we always hear that the British/Anglo-Saxons are much more pragmatic and down-to-earth in their approach to teaching than the verbose, theoretical educationalists who dream up the programmes in France. (see latest disastrous ongoing French education reform) You're certainly much better at language teaching....yes, really!

Anonymous said...

I had a disturbing experience the other night. My other half is a head of science at a secondary school, and they're looking for a physics teacher and a chemistry teacher. She roped me in to help whittle 50 CVs down to 5.

It amazed me that there are people out there, people who are coming to the end of a PGCE, who honestly think they're suitable to teach chemistry GCSE when their own chemistry GCSE was a D, their A level was an N, and their degree is in sport science. Of over thirty applicants for the chemistry teacher role, none - NOT ONE - had an A level or even a GCSE in physics. Lots had history, or geography, though. One had an A level in Fine Art. Whoopy frikkin doo.

Every August like clockwork GCSE and A level results come out, and every year without fail results get better. Leaving aside whether that means they're easier, I'm concerned that of the fifty CVs we looked at, only two - TWO! - had more A than C grades, in an era when apparently anyone who can spell their own name gets an A. I've often wondered where all the thick people go. It is now revealed that they do a degree in PE and try to get a job teaching chemistry.

If this is the calibre of people who are applying for science teacher roles, I now understand why there is no shortage of "qualified" science "teachers", and why kids think science is a waste of their time.

(For the record, my minimum expectation of a science teacher would be a degree in their subject or something close to it, NOT "sport science", "forensic science", or similar, backed up by three science GCSEs and at least two science A levels, ideally at high grades. How anyone who got an N in their A level has the brass neck to apply for a job as a teacher is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

I teach English with a science degree (English MA). English was my first love but my A level science(s) teacher said; 'An Arts degree? What's the point of THAT???' So I didn't take up my excellent uni place and did science at a 'lesser' uni. Three years of misery ensued.

Anonymous said...

When I left teaching two years ago , it meant that there was no longer any one who had even a hint of a physics qualification in a department of 10

That's OK though because its been even longer since there was actually any physics knowledge required for GCSE :)


Lilyofthefield said...

I do wonder just how many times you can teach a kid about photosynthesis and expect them to still give a damn.
Juast stick to identifying winter buds and cutting flowers up at primary, and use the time saved to improve literacy and/or fitness.

TonyF said...

I was fortunate, we had a Chemistry department, with cupboards filled with mysterious bottles. Many of which we would become familiar with.
Our Chemistry teacher was a Doctor of Chemistry, and very enthusiastic. I have to say, that I was not good at it, and only scraped a 'C' O level. It was never boring, and often exciting, Thermite leaps to mind...We also had to be able to make our own small items of glassware too.

Physics was similar, again a good teacher and some marvelous old equipment. Some of it possibly lethal, but by gum you learned how to use it correctly.

Biology.. Bleurgh...

edumacated said...

I don't think there's anything that the introducton of secondary school exams doesn't kill. I hated Science. I thought I sucked at it. Then, for the GCSE exams, I sat down and memorised all the information. I recieved 100% in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Wow. And all you need to be a Scientist is a good memory - who knew?

Everything you do in secondary school is geared toward one exam or another. And I don't think there's one exam that gives a damn about whether you appreciate the subject or even understand it. Knowledge isn't worth anything if it's static, but that's all school gives you: facts and figures you can't use. Waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Edumacated - That's the most accurate thing I've read in ages. It was exactly the same for me in my GCSE science subjects. I found it was just all about memorising the stuff.
I agree with everything else you said too.


RosieRunaround said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. Why do we assume that secondary education must be only concerned with rigour and tests and following the curriculum? As a primary school teacher I love the freedom and the fun of teaching subjects in colourful different ways. I can't imagine having to dust off the same worksheets for the same subjects year on year. A boring curriculum makes for boring teaching, which makes for bored pupils.

Anonymous said...

I often trot out the anecdote from a paired observation with our former HT who was convinced he'd seen an excellent (or whatever the official term was then) lesson until I pointed out to him that the actual Chemistry point being taught was wrong. Had a quiet word with the teacher after, but might it have had more effect if I'd corrected him in front of the kids? (I'm so trusting I didn't even check he'd done it later).
Just recently I was marking Chemistry mock exams and found a large proportion of the students had made the same mistake on one question - traced it to the revision guide they'd been using, now I have to go through the whole damn thing checking to see if there are any more.

Cabbage said...

I was lucky; my state grammar was full of intelligent science teachers with degrees in their subjects. Not all were great teachers but none were imbeciles, and there was a good science department with plenty of equipment and technicians maintaining it and experiments were a core part of the lessons.

I hate primary school science, though. It was just the SAME STUFF about photosynthesis and magnets over again every year from year 2 to year 6.

teacher said...

Science is pretty dull at primary level too. Admittedly, the stuff can be taught as creatively as you like, but the children get way too much 'sorting and changing materials' stuff. At least high schools have facilties and resources for the subject. I usually have to trawl my local B&Q before I teach a unit. And the science programme of study for the new Primary National Curriculum hasn't really changed things either. Just lumped it with D&T.

inspectorgadget said...

The thing is Chalk, without wishing to be too philosophical about it, how do YOU know that the fellow who DID invent fire was not called Isaac Newton eh? eh?

I think we deserve to know.