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25 March 2005

Taking the fun out of Science...

Taking the spark out of science
Health and safety fears are squeezing practical experiments out of the classroom.
by Josie Appleton

Health and safety concerns are putting a dampener on school science practicals. A survey of teachers and scientists finds that everything from keeping snails to swabbing for cheek cells, running model steam engines to burning peanuts, is now being avoided because it is seen as too risky. The result is that children are being turned off science - with experts fearing for the next generation of chemists and physicists. Julian Wigley, who has taught science at a Birmingham comprehensive for the past decade, says that he has noticed a 'move away from experiments considered too risky'. When practicals are carried out, they tend to involve kids observing the teacher rather than doing it for themselves. According to Tony Ashmore, head of education at the Royal Society of Chemistry, 'experiments are more often demonstrated than carried out - and teachers are more cautious about what they might demonstrate'. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has noted a decline in science practicals, and an increasingly 'narrow and mechanistic' approach, with teachers doing the bare minimum to fulfil national curriculum requirements (1). Risk assessment procedures encourage teachers to stick to standardised experiments rather than try anything a bit different. Children's curiousity is curtailed, says Wigley. 'In the old days, when kids asked "what happens if...?", teachers could often say "try it out". Now they might say "I will tell you what happens", and draw a diagram on the board.'


How does one teach Science without practical experiments which are one of it's basic tools?

1 comment:

mike7 said...

I am suprised to find no comments about this. It seems to me to be true and important and worrying.

I provide private tuition for science students. One prospective client phoned me, said he needed help with "A" level physics. He said he was fine with Quantum Theory, that was sorted, but he needed a little help with other stuff. So I visited him. I didn't check him out on Quantum Theory because I personally don't have that one quite sorted yet. But I did question him closely on electricity and magnetism, for example I asked him how he would magnetise a nail, and whether the electricty available from the wall socket was AC or DC, and what voltage it might be. He knew nothing about this, but was clearly an able, intelligent student.

I didn't get the job of tutoring him, I think he felt I was likely to go off-topic. But here is my question. Is it really possible to pursue "A" levels in Physics without ever having magnetised a nail or discovered what the household voltage is?