Science often and unfortunately has a negative label that it is too difficult to do, a bit nerdy, and boring in the classroom. The British Science Association talks about changing the perception.
Practical work is at the heart of science, with experimental discoveries having proved vital in shaping Britain’s science community, industry and heritage. I think there’s truth in the proverb ‘Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand’, and it really captures the key value of participatory teaching and learning methodologies.
That is why we strongly questioned the proposed changes to the science curriculum relating to the assessment of practical science, since changes were being hastily implemented without the opportunity for reviewing the potential implications with experts or piloting approaches. The BSA believes that practical science is an essential component in enabling young people to engage with, and gain a greater understanding, of science.
Since then, the changes have been confirmed, so we now need to make the most of the new system. Acknowledging the previous ‘jumping through hoops’ approach wasn’t fit for purpose, there is the potential to look for ways to emphasise the principles and values of practical science at this time of review, whilst teachers look to apply the new assessment requirements.
But it’s not just about assessment. Science demonstrations, particularly ones that have a bit of a ‘wow’ factor or get people thinking about how on Earth something works, are an important part of showing the wonder of science and capturing students’ imaginations. You can all probably remember some of the demonstrations from your school days (including the impressive ones and those that went wrong) which is why they are a fundamental part of learning science.
Not just for scientists
Science subject teachers play a huge role in helping students acknowledge their own abilities in STEM. We offer as much support and advice to STEM teachers as we can, whether that be through activity packs, project ideas or connections with local business and industry. But we also believe that engaging young people in STEM needs to happen beyond just the science classroom.
We believe that investigation is the key to getting young people engaged in STEM – investigation being a skills area relevant to all subjects. If they have a problem to solve, and find their own solution, not only do they get a chance to take ownership of that investigative work, it also gives it some meaning. Subjects don’t appear in silos in the real world which is why we advocate the value of project-based learning applying the scientific process.
We are not forgetting the importance of STEM skills for the future regarding the UK’s economy. In fact we are creatively encouraging this to be addressed through STEM project work in schools. One example is our work with MP Futures where CREST resources bring to life scenarios associated with the quarrying, mineral products and mining sector. Topics challenge students to design a modern day pyramid, or to design a modular hospital building that will be able to withstand specific extreme weather and environmental conditions.
What CREST gives teachers, educators and other learning providers, is a framework they can use with their students to encourage them to make their own project. It’s designed to be something extracurricular, but recognises some of the real world context of the students’ work.
Ultimately, our aim is to give students from any background, at any age, the opportunity to engage with science and STEM subjects.
We want students to feel confident in their understanding of science and comfortable enough to question it, and have views on its direction.
Science should be accessible to all – and eventually, we will break it out of its cultural ghetto.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has published a new briefing setting out the key actions needed to ensure children are at the heart of planning for any future coronavirus lockdowns