I find it very difficult to get excited by Science Week.
In fact let me just come straight out and say it; I hate Science Week.
Why does it exist? Like so many other great ideas we have here in Ireland, it seems we have one because England has one. And why does England have one? – for the same reason we have one; to let all our young folk know that science is fun. Obvious innit?
Well no actually. Irish students study three years of science at Junior Cert – surely this is enough time to convince anybody that science is fun (assuming it is).
But this is the point – Science as we teach it in school is definitely not fun. The science concepts which the department syllabus tells us must be covered could not be more mind-numbingly boring if we tried. Any hint of a concept which might be actually interesting has been very carefully removed.
How can you teach Biology without mentioning evolution?
How can you teach energy without mentioning the big bang?
How can we teach energy without explaining that it’s not just another chapter – it is the one concept which ties all others together?
How can you teach the atom without reference to the idea that the structure of the atom is such that we are all almost totally empty space?
How can we torture our students with graphs without ever expecting them to know why we use graphs?
How can we teach Ecology without mentioning global warming?
How can we teach reproduction without mentioning overpopulation or homosexuality?
How can we teach about food without mentioning obesity?
How can we teach genetics without mentioning forensic science – one of the few areas which has become ‘sexy’ of late?
How can we teach mass without mentioning that 90% of the mass of the universe is ‘missing’?
How can we teach about size without mentioning the incredible scale of the universe – from the very small to the very large? It’s incredible to think that there is absolutely no reference to astronomical or cosmological objects in any any science syllabus at secondary level – we might as well go back and tell that the Earth is the centre of the universe after all.
Check out this link for an interesting starting point to astronomy.
How can we mention time without giving reference to the incredible age of the earth?
How do we manage to avoid talking about extinction of species, radiation and cancer, the incredible complexity of the biological cell, the jiggling of atoms etc?
At the risk of being totally ridiculous could we not delve into psychology and look at the evidence which is there to suggest that we are very easy to manipulate and that almost all of us could be persuaded to do some very nasty things to our fellow humans given the right ‘persuasion’? Just because psychology didn’t exist when the first science syllabus was put together two hundred years ago is hardly justification for not including it today.
Obviously every teacher will have their own pet loves and hates, but underneath there must me a core set of ideas which are inherently interesting fascinating. Should we not be starting from this point and working out rather than the current approach which obviously doesn’t work?
Do we really need to focus on activities like measuring the density of a stone using an overflow can, plotting a graph of the extension of a stretched string or demonstrating the action of a digestive enzyme?
It’s one thing to blame ‘the system’ for not being able to change anything, but at this level we as teachers must surely have a strong voice, yet rarely if ever have I heard a teachers suggest that we should radically overhaul what we are teaching – indeed I suspect there would actually be considerable resistance to this at teacher level.
So forgive me if I don’t get excited by one more demonstration-lecture on exploding custard and water changing to wine. It’s just that the problem with science education is a bit deeper than this, and one week highlighting the so-called ‘fun’ in science does little more than remind us that for the rest of year it is as boring as dishwater and we’re doing a very poor job of rectifying this.