The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Cinderella Science

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 2, 2010 @ 11:56

With politics going to sleep for the Easter weekend, in advance of the inevitable election announcement next Tuesday, it’s time for me to launch into an ill-informed, out of date, rant on SCIENCE.

I love science. If I was a little cleverer, it would have been my true calling in life. I had the joy of doing separate GCSEs in the sciences, unlike most kids today, who have to make do with the rather bizarre curriculum that squeezes them all into one or two GCSEs, called “Science” and “Additional Science”. Only the lucky ones get to do three.

Even then, they’re not “the sciences” any more. The old curriculum allowed for the independent study of physics, chemistry and biology. There was no waffle about the “impact of science” or, in the immortal words of AQA Additional Science 2009 Specification:

… helping candidates recognise how scientific discoveries and ideas have affected the way people think, feel, create, behave and live, and drawing attention to how cultural differences can influence the extent to which scientific ideas are accepted, used and valued.

No. No. No. And no again.

Science is science. It is not a citizenship lesson. It is not an excuse for some religious or spiritual dimension. We observe data. We consider ways to measure that data. We analyse it, looking for patterns, trends or useful clues meriting further investigation. We write up our ideas. We examine other theories; test them, verify them, then make up our own for others to test to destruction in turn.

We do not need to consider “the extent to which scientific ideas are accepted, used and valued” if we are talking about whether P really does equal I times V. Or if an animal cell might or might not contain a vacuole. These are facts. Verifiable. Demonstrable. Undeniable.

That’s not to say I’m not in favour of children studying the context of the world in which science exists. It just doesn’t need to happen during an actual science lesson. That distracts from the real science, which is supposed to be INSPIRING.

Our future is utterly dependent on science. Advancement, even preservation, of our civilization, and the answers to some of the world’s most extreme challenges – the legacy of a century of abuse of the planet – will be in the hands of the coming generations. But if we aren’t doing the job of getting them wanting to be scientists, by allowing the teaching of science to be truly innovative, creative and, yes, inspiring, then we are doomed to failure.

Teachers should be free to explore what science truly is. Science is the most kinesthetic of the subjects (excluding PE, naturally). It is, or should be, hands on. The sights. The sounds. The smells. That sense of getting your hands dirty, getting stuck in, whether through wiring a circuit, firing up the old Bunsen burners, or dissecting a cow’s liver (urgh!) should be at the very heart of the subject.

But they can’t. They’re hamstrung by regulations, and disastrous specifications such as the AQA one.

Some educational theorists would disagree with me, but I strongly believe that the best way to communicate a message to people is to get them learning by doing. Learning should be a fully active process, immersing all the senses. Science has the privileged position of being able to do that, and yet it’s totally wasted.

Governments have to take the blame for this. They set the framework within which teaching operates.

But there is more to this problem. One of which is also within the government’s remit; the other a fault of society.

Next time, whenever that may be, I’ll be dealing with the former: science being failed by early years education. The rot sets in early.

And if I ever deal with the latter, my brain will probably explode in anger.

More on that story some other time.

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