back to article Boffins to Don't muck around with science teaching

A group of prominent UK scientists is warning that changes to the way science is taught in schools are being made too fast, and without proper consultation. The Science Community Partnership Supporting Education (Score)* says the planned changes should be piloted before being rolled out on such a massive scale. Its report was …


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  1. Paul Murray

    Why do we trust science?

    Kids need to know not just the content of science, but how science as a human activity works - why we trust it. Peer review and all that. Something to answer those bought-and-paid-for scientists that say global warming isn't hapenning, or nicotine is not addictive.

  2. Greg Nelson

    ain't never gonna happen

    The complexity inherent in education effectively bars any line of attack meant to resolve problems perceived in teaching one or more subjects. Generally education is a winnowing process testing for failure. The requirements of science education are such that success requires, at minimum, native aptitude and an affinity for the subject matter. Any programme meant to overcome a lack of native ability or affinity for science will face the barriers put in place to protect perceived minorities from politically incorrect stigmatization.

    Overcoming learning limitations requires that students be taught how to learn. Learning how to learn is an abstraction that requires on the part of the student motivation and the ability to 'get on top of the subject matter'. It may well be that the native ability required to master science or any other complex field requires the ability to self correct, to learn how to learn, and, as such, is closed to the majority of those who don't natively exhibit the ability.

    Politicians wanting to keep their jobs aren't up to stating many students might be natively barred from learning science because the subject matter is out of reach. T.S. Eliot once said of poetry, "it's a mug's game". Most of what we do is a mug's game. The potential of computers and networking to hijack the existing education system and allow an average student to gain access to higher learning only happens when the student has the ability to plot h/is/er own course. The majority use technology for social interaction. It's a mug's game and, very likely, the majority of students who pass on science are smart enough to know their not going to make it, and, alternatively, go for social skills.

    Changing teaching methods and/or changing curriculum will likely have little impact. If we utilize technology to micro manage the education of each student, identify learning disabilities, take corrective measures and teach students how to learn; then, we might get somewhere. That ain't never gonna happen.

    just my loose change

    Gravity, as Dr. Johnson pointed out, is no more than a peculiar carriage of the body to hide the defects of the mind.

  3. Scott Harman

    Mmmm things that make you go ...b0oom..m

    ah science - those were the days, lithium, sodium, gunpowder - can't really remember much else!

  4. David Urmston

    mucking around with science teaching ?

    What, you mean, they haven't started yet ?

    My daughter in year 10 at an Oxford, designated "science school", has been receiving the new GCSE "Additional Applied Science" teaching material, introduced in 2006. The introductory letter from the school says,

    "Due to the nature of the material covered, the course is not suitable for students who wish to go on to study science at "A" level."

    You may be interested or perhaps horrified to learn that amongst the other stuff in curriculum, she has been taught that the "Sixth Sense" is "Balance".

    Please tell me that teaching them this kind of practical science is for everyone's benefit, right ? Like using MS applications to teach Computer Science at university ?

    This is "knowledge" for the lower orders, and quite rightly, it shouldn't lead the pupil towards a GCSE "A" Science, or the bastards will be making pipe bombs, short range tactical nuclear weapons and their own Tasers to make them more efficient when they go out mugging folks with jobs or fronting the police.

    Please tell me that I'm dreaming !


  5. Simon Day

    Alf, you are dreaming

    I'm afraid you are dreaming Alf,

    Its probably been 20 years since they taught you enough science to make your own taser in science classes.

    Electronics courses however fare a little better!!

    (9v battery, lots of caps and a few transformers will just about do it)

    The problem with schools is that there is now an opinion that every child should be capable of an A - which is purely nonsense, only the top 5-10% should be getting an A, and not even that if not enough come up to the standard, the more you water the qualifications the more worthless they become.

    The simple fact is that in the same way most people can't run 100m in less than 11 seconds, most people cannot reach a high level in any given accademic subject.

    It needs to be realised that this is not a problem, but a simple fact of life, school should be there to help people reach the maximum of their aptitude and then provide suitable tests to clearly separate those that can, from those that can't, and to which level the achieve.

    No wonder most employers ingore qualifications these days and concentrate on previous experience.

  6. Maverick

    too many cooks?

    I wonder . . . will kids be taught to understand the difference between an unproven THEORY (that's global warming Mr Murray) and a FACT (something scientifically proven), unlikely I'd say . .

    so they will then in later life swallow pathetic interviews with 'experts' (normally another journalist who also failed all their science GCSEs) or quotes from unnamed "scientists" - a mythical creature known only to the journalist concerned who is trying to justify regurgitated reports from other journalists

    . . . . come on, you've all seen it, one journalist interviewing another on TV (our "court correspondent" etc.) and passing it off as investigation or meaningful reporting . . utter rubbish

    and scientific experts bent on self publicity do REALLY worry me as well - they assume that their specialised knowledge in one narrow field means they are omnipotent - look at that Prof. Sir Roy Meadow - if single person on the defence team had been taught a basic understanding of statistics then that "expert" would have been exposed a whole lot sooner & a lot of parents saved much distress

    to my way of thinking that's why education in England is going down the pan - too much meddling by civil servants & politicians



    PS I'm not a teacher or a scientist by profession but thanks to my parents I did have a sound and broad education :)

  7. A J Stiles

    Science just is

    That's the problem with science; it just *is*. You can't change it. It just obeys certain iron-fisted laws that can't be got around by licking someone's behind.

    No doubt it would be nice if acids and bases (especially carbonates) could coexist peacefully, instead of getting all heated. It'd be cute if light didn't insist on travelling in straight lines (which sounds rather masculine and a bit fascist if you ask me) but travelled in gentle feminine curves instead, or if particles with like charges could just overcome their differences and get on with one another ..... ain't gonna happen, though. Not even if you slip Mother Nature a few quid to look the other way.

    Worse, you can't prevent science from revealing itself. You can deduce any true fact by means of careful observation and deliberate experiments. Study enough fossils and you'll find more evidence for evolution than intelligent design. Add some yeast to a bottle of sugary water and you can watch as they consume all their resources, pollute their environment and die off. Once you've sussed out that there's obviously some force that causes a nucleus not to disintegrate from the mutual repulsion between its protons, you're already on your way to developing The Bomb.

    We have a government that habitually bend the rules, deny evident truths (like the abject ineducability of some kids), conceal information and cover up ineptitude. It's no wonder they don't like science!

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Always the same

    Politicians make a lot of noise (or not so much) about education, but actually teaching people to think would interfere much too strongly with their reelection chances, so it's all talk and as little act as possible.

    Dumbing down the whole process is obviously the option reserved for when too many people start realizing just how little is actually done. When that happens, it is time to appear to do something while actually not doing anything constructive, such as help people decide how to forge an opinion based on fact.

    It's hopeless anyway, so just order another beer and make sure your taxes are properly paid.

  9. Graham Bartlett

    Sixth sense?

    Yes Alf, I know we all learnt at school that there were only five senses. In this case though, this is an example of teaching catching up with known and proven facts.

    Consider the ability to balance with your eyes closed. Taste, smell and hearing clearly aren't relevant. Your eyes are closed so sight is cut out. And touch (from your feet) will only tell you when your weight shifts and you're already off balance. So how do people do it with the existing five senses? The answer is that we have a further sense (handled by the inner ear) which tells us our body's orientation. With suitable stimulation, blindfolded subjects feel that they're on a wild roller-coaster, while they're actually sat in a stationary chair. This is also the major candidate for the cause of motion sickness whilst reading or in a cabin on a boat - your eyes tell you that your surroundings are stationary but your balance sense tells you that you're moving, and the conflict causes disorientation.

    There are other senses/abilities out there too. Proprioception is another, for example - the ability of your mind to create a model of how your body moves, such that you can accurately move your limbs without needing the feedback of seeing where they are and how much further they need to go. (Consider being blindfolded and told to pick up an object that's 18" forward and 6" right of your hand - if you can do it, how did you know how much to move your hand by?)

  10. Andy Walsh

    sixth sense

    Balance as sixth sense makes a lot of errrr......sense. You are able to tell your orientation to gravity through sensory apparatus that is independent of all the other senses. Probably overdue for inclusion.

    What about proprioception which is how you know where your body is in relation to itself?

    Or were you suggesting that it is the ability to see dead people is the correct answer. ;) ?

  11. Geoff Gale

    The Method To My Madness

    So much of the problem with science teaching/learning is that science is hard. It requires all sorts of abstract and conceptual abilities, skills at detailed analysis and technical knowledge, traits which others have already pointed out, don't exist in everybody. So from the beginning, there are limitations on how many people will be able to benefit deeply from whatever teaching is offered.

    Sadly, most people, let alone students, lack the self-discipline and motivation to approach such a daunting task when the competing interests available to them are so tempting. There are those pesky creatures of the opposite gender walking around; sports, music, cars, etc; and then of course you've got to stay up wth ur m8s on txt. Back in the days when I haunted the hallways of my local schoolhouse, there was a concerted effort to teach students the scientific method early and often. The idea was to put in place the scaffold and framework upon which scientific knowledge hangs and hopefully, in those students with the tools and interest, science learning will occur.

    Oh, and a couple of comments to Paul Murray:

    a) aren't most boffins bought and paid for these days? Exactly who is doing pure bias-free science now? Being smart people, said boffins aren't oblivious to the potential funding benefits that accrue to them if they politicize and commercialise their research.

    b) I hear almost no one claiming that the mean global temperature isn't rising. A few dunderheaded Luddites off on the fringes might say such rot, I suppose, but in recent years the debate hasn't been about global warming, it's been about whether observed global warming results from man's activities or whether it's attributable to other causes.

    Don't be afraid to dive a little deeper into the content of those articles about the topic my good man.

  12. Emmett

    Science teaching

    Teaching children techniques to develop their thinking skilss directly-esp imagination,and visualization,pattern recognition,as well as computing and reasoning ,rather than emphasizing facts would do science alot of good. Taking children out into the world instead of keeping them in classrooms and stuffing their heads with gacts and abstractions for which they have no reference points in 'real life' would help many of them maintain and devlop curiosity,and wonder ,necesarry attributes for doing good science.

    The overemphasis on nrrow specializations means that scientists often know little if anything about fields other than our own. This contributes to the problems we're having at integrating science and technology into our human societies in a functional healthy way. Business people with no science educations per se are the generalists making decisions about how scientifically obtianed knowlegde,and esp technicl capabilities are applied inthe world. This is contributing to much environmental and cultural destruction.Never mind the global warming debate,we're drastically changing our world with no way to forsee consequences ,not what I would call enlightened.

  13. James Penketh

    I doing my GXSE exams in the next few weeks...

    and I'm glad I taught myself a lot.

    I mean, I learned at age five, a lot of the stuff they're teaching in Year 10 (fourth year) now.

    Education (as well as the rest of the country) has gone down the pan.

    I'm very glad that I can correct the teachers (happening less and less now, thank God.) because it actually gives the other students a chance to learn something right.

    I get a B or better in my Science and I'm in 6th form. (Currently on an A. So whoo!) studying Physics and Chemistry.

    But, if I actually want to learn something new, I'll immerse myself in the internet. I can learn from there, rather than listening to teachers who panic when you know more than them.

    Slightly (more) off topic: Guess which level of science the person who asked this question was: "Is it possible for the sun to catch a disease and die?"

    That's right. Top set Yr11.

    Saints preserve us if they're going to be the ones choosing who runs the country in a few years time. They'll believe any random sh*t they're told.

  14. the Jim bloke

    no hope

    Living as we do in an "age of progress", no one gets any glory for keeping the system running, or even getting the old system to work with modern information and values.

    No. Every new Minister or head of whatever department is responsible, has to make "improvements".. kind of like a dog marking out its territory..

    and with all these improvements we have been afflicted with, there would presumably be some noticeable difference in output, like for instance, more students passing high-brow subjects.

    What we are seeing is an attempt by educational progressives to validate their ideology by moving the goalposts.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The big question is...

    How the hell does Science Community Partnership Supporting Education make Score?

  16. Anthony Bathgate

    'Bout time

    It's about time you Brits joined the civilized world with your equivalent of No Child Left Behind. I mean, really, you guys can't possibly believe you're up here in the top echelons of the world unless 100% of your students will be passing every class by 2008.

    The one true path to national prosperity is to strategically position the achievement bar such that EVERY child, from a rich genius to a drooling impoverished downs syndrome child achieves at the 100% level and receives every academic accolade available.

    That'll show their Japanese with their absurdly high graduation rates.

    In all reality, I suspect that a pre-university education is about to become significantly more devalued than it already is, but of course their jobs will continue to rise in pay because we have to make everyone equal.

    I've worked numerous technical jobs. I've made from between $6.75 and $24/hr over the course of this career, and experience isn't an issue - I've worked alongside $220/partial hour consultants and made them look dumb. But they don't work for our company - so we can pay them more. But it's not a matter of consultants vs. regular staff, in reality. Consultants are just lucky - I'll join their ranks eventually.

    What I really have a problem with are the people who work at pet stores and retail chains and warehouses who make $15-40/hr starting. So, there isn't much money in the short term if you do well and succeed. But there's craptons of short-term money for doing crap work. And after all, the only thing that REALLY matters to society is how much money you have NOW.

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