Monday, September 20, 2010

Science without the Science

After looking through a popular syllabus for year 7 and 8 Science, one thing struck me as odd.

There did not appear to be any Science in it.

There were endless fun activities where children could 'discover for themselves' although why the teacher doesn't just teach them something and then see if they get it by making them answer some questions, rather than let them waste an hour looking for something that they don't understand is a mystery to me. (It's all very well saying that they are 'doing what a scientist does' but we forget that the scientist spent many years diligently studying science first.)

There were 'investigations' into concepts such as force and pressure, but no recommendation that the pupils should practice calculating them. Come to think of it, there wasn't even a textbook!

There were endless opportunities for 'discussion' 'brainstorming' and 'group work'. However I couldn't see any formulas and definitions to learn or tricky problems to apply them on.

Maybe I'm getting old, but all this is just replacing rigorous science with easy entertainment. It might make the lessons more enjoyable but it certainly isn't going to produce any scientists.


J. Wibble said...

Not surprising, since the Royal Society of Chemistry pointed out last year that many science GCSE papers contained no maths at all and some questions contained no science (relying instead on answers being in the question and a bit of common sense, as I saw from looking at the aforementioned papers myself).

Anonymous said...

A quick glance of TV schedules and newspaper stories could lead many people to believe that this country does not need scientists - it only needs entertainers

John Norman said...

It's curious, isn't it, that we trust children to discover physics, chemistry and biology for themselves, but apparently feel the need to drum into them the "science" of climatology. Why can't they discover global warming by means of group discussion?

Don said...

This puts me in mind of the competition the Royal Society of Chemistry ran a couple of years ago, when pupils answered mixed-up questions drawn from GCSE and O level papers set over the last five decades.

When I took O level Chemistry in 1964 I got a Grade 1, but the average mark in the competition for the 1960s questions was just 15% and if this "discover for themselves" trend continues then that would drop still further because no pupils will have been taught how to answer them.

Mr Natural said...

Yesterday, in The Times, the President of GE UK was arguing that immigration controls would deprive this country of the engineers and scientists that it needs if there is to be an economic recovery.

If you take a look at these examination papers for entrance to the Indian Institute of Technology, you will see that he has a point.

Lilyofthefield said...

Not just in Science. This piffly edutainment approach has its moments for children already grounded in the discipline (arrrgghh I said the D word!) of the basics, and who are of an enquiring disposition and above-average intelligence. But for the majority of the spoon-fed, acquired-laziness-syndrome halfwits I have the daily pleasure of, expecting them to discover anything for themselves, much less apply it, is a serious, literal waste of time.

They NEED structure, organisation and discipline imposed upon them because they have no experience of it. They have none of their own. After a "discovery" "activity" they sit there, slack-jawed, waiting to be told what it was they discovered and what the point of it was. A process of twenty questions can elicit a description of what they "discovered" for the purposes of an observed lesson, but it doesn't do anything for independent learning, one of the few buzz-words of recent times that I see a serious need for.

And you won't get it without a much more formal, disciplined, structured approach to learning. And you won't get that because the "clients" don't like it and you can't make them do it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a teacher so keep that in mind - a friend of mine who *is* a teacher makes the point (when I hark back to the mid/late 70s and had the kind of science that did have experiments, graphs, formulas etc.) that it's just not possible to teach kids in the same ways these days (I think he means the teacher telling you things then you getting tested that it's sunk in). I think I can see his point - with all the multi-media, PS3, rapid edit cuts in popular programs etc. etc. I'd be interested to hear what other people think about this.

TonyF said...

When we were taught Chemistry, before we did any experiment, we were expected not only to write down what we were going to do, but also, what we expected to happen, and why.

Then we had to write the experiment up, what we actually DID, and why it went wrong.. Then we had to write a conclusion. My conclusion was that although I got my 'O' level, chemistry was not for me.

In Physics, I managed to electrocute the teacher.... Shocking, I know.

Anonymous said...

"it certainly isn't going to produce any scientists."

Good. This country does not need scientists. There is no shortage. I have proof. My other half is a head of science at a large secondary school. They've recently recruited a lab technician - a not-much-over-minimum-wage job that could be done by anyone with a GCSE in science and some organisational common sense.

EVERY interviewed applicant had a science degree. Admittedly some of them were only sport science, or forensic science, but the point stands.

One they eventually recruited has a 2:1 in physics from Durham, and prior to getting the lab technician job was working in a call centre.

Fiddling with science education is NOT important, because we are DEMONSTRABLY already churning out far, far too many high calibre scientists from our top universities, when there simply isn't the employment for them.

I will accept that something should be done about science education only when the average starting salary for a physics graduate rises above £30k. Right now, you only have to look at the derisory salaries on offer in the jobs pages of New Scientist to know that getting a PhD in biology is, to the job market, viewed with all the respect of your third star on your McDonald's badge.

phatboy said...

"Maybe I'm getting old, but all this is just replacing rigorous science with easy entertainment."

Look just stop moaning and accept that in the modern world you really are just a well paid child minder!

Besides, who needs science nowadays? We all got i-Phones now innit n dems can do ne ting so u dont need no sience or nuttin.

Anonymous said...

For a minute then I thought you were serious, phatboy.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered how we got Homeopaths and Nutritionists and Crystal Healer and Detox crap. Now I know, and as a bonus I also know why they actually believe the garbage.

I'd have some respect if they put their hands up and said "OK, yeah, you got me, it's a load of bollocks to get money out of people"

Pete said...

You whine a lot.

Can you fix it?

Yes or no?

If: "yes", then stop whining.

If not, then just fuckm off and get another job. (Not that I think that you could)