How do you remember science lessons at school? Mine were mostly fun – how about yours?
If you are passionate about science, you may have been worried about an article published by the BBC recently highlighted a potential danger in schools – science lessons are being too theoretical and practical skills are being lost.
The Council for Science and Technology warned that exam pressures are squeezing out laboratory experiments, saying that without them, science lessons will become little more than “studying literature without reading books.”
I think I’m going to have to agree on this one…
I remember, back at school, there were few things more interesting in my lesson timetable than a science lesson with a practical element to it. Acids and alkalis, the pipettes and the Bunsen burners… Those were a few of the joys of the lab. Of course, you had to keep safe in those lessons, but it was immensely enjoyable.
Sadly, I do remember there being not enough of these lessons, especially when I studied for AS Chemistry, but also Physics to some degree too. Chemistry lessons in years 7-9 did at times have a nice practical element to it. Maybe it was the school’s plan to get kids inspired and interested in chemistry (or increase numbers at A Level…)
At GCSE I did begin to note more and more exercises from books and gap filling. By the time I got to AS Level, the practical work was nearly non-existent – practical lessons were nothing more than a token piece to prepare you for when you had to do one under controlled conditions as part of your course. That I did find slightly depressing – you can talk about different ideas and theories but it was limited to a textbook and a pre-prepared workbook.
Physics had far less practical work to it. Obviously, you were able to do circuits and electricity at a younger age but at GCSE and A Level it was almost non-existent. This I can to some degree understand; physics is perhaps the most maths-based discipline of the sciences and that clearly showed. Rules of motion were dealt with pretty well, but I can see why there wasn’t so much hands-on experience (science teachers: it’s probably safer to look at quantum mechanics in a theory-type manner!)
I never really did much biology at school though we did get demonstrations. Probably not the most enthralling thing in the world but then again schools are so obsessed with child safety that the idea of letting kids loose with plants and animal samples is probably too much for some head teachers to bear!
So what’s the big fuss about? Well, I think the report has a point to it. Science never grabbed me at school, especially in the later years. The theory doesn’t entertain kids anywhere near as much as the practical.
Put it this way: give a classroom full of schoolchildren the option of some exercises out of a textbook or let them experiment with what you are learning. I guarantee you, the burners and fume cupboards will be out and used. It’s a far more interesting way of demonstrating what is going on in science and I think the more practical work that is done, the better.
The Department of Education has responded to claims that focussing on exams and grades is “pushing inspiring practical work back into the margins” by saying this:
“By scrapping modules and January assessments, our reforms will end the constant treadmill of exams leave more time for experiments and practicals in science.”
Sounds encouraging, doesn’t it? That said, I’m not sure students and teachers are too thrilled with the reforms anyway.
The practical lessons will have to be spectacular. Make a bang, if you will.