Science, as a subject is very dear to my heart. As a child, I was very excited by things scientific, which led to a chemistry set for one Christmas and a microscope on another. I received, from a relative, a book called Chemistry Experiments at Home for Boys and Girls, by H.L.Heys (1959), which had the kitchen cupboard style experiments, eg drop vinegar onto baking powder, among many others.
Looking up the book, a copy can still be bought via Amazon and I’ll let the following review state the case:-
This is the book that 'turned me on' to a study of chemistry. It's pure nostalgia - you can't do this sort of thing anymore. When I was a teenager (back in the late 1950s) you could walk into a pharmacy and buy chemicals over the counter. I can remember going home on the bus with bottles of concentrated acids and all manner of substances. Today the H&S people would have a fit if you tried this.
CEAHFMAG sets out the sort of 'safe' experiments that you could do, with largely home-made apparatus. You are shown how to carry out basic chemical operations (distillation, filtration, crystallization, etc). You can perform simple chemical reactions that are interesting and illustrative of what can be done with a minimum of fuss and also fairly cheaply. The prices of chemicals in those - now - 'far-off' days are measured in terms of £sd (and I don't mean lysergic acid diethylamide either). Most were a few pence ('old' pence) per ounce (metric measurements were not used back then).
No, you can't use this book as any sort of laboratory manual any more - but it's enormous fun to read through and see what could be done. If you studied chemistry before the descent of the National Curriculum on our heads, then this book will appeal to you in so many ways.
So I got used to looking around me, trying things out, posing questions and seeking some kind of solution that satisfied me. It may not have been truly scientific at every stage and I may not have had the requisite knowledge beforehand, but it got me hooked into the potential of science which I have kept throughout my life. Spending a year in a science lab as a lab assistant, counting worms and bivalves did dent the enthusiasm a little; but it meant that I took that experience into teaching, where I did, expectedly take a science based Primary course.
One major resource on every staffroom shelf, was the Nuffield Science 5-13 series. This was an investigative series, full of interesting ideas to support exploratory approaches, with very clear teacher guidance on what to do, how to do it and the essential background knowledge to share. They were thematic, so fitted with classroom activities well. Some, such as Holes, Gaps and Cavities, were sufficiently broad to enable them to incorporate many other curriculum areas over a sustained topic.
Science topics, like others, were blocked, to ensure quality time was available to the teacher to organise any fine-tuning necessary. It seems very possible, to me, that if science is timetables for a couple of hours each week, that, in itself could be the squeeze, especially if on the “science afternoon”, something else happens. It can also mean that practical science is purely demonstration, with little time allowed for child exploration.
Practical science can and should be a significant and important catalyst for high quality writing, of lists, contemporary notes, instructions and reports.
In many ways the precursor to what eventually became the spine of the school T&L policy, developed from the thinking into science processes. We developed an investigative approach to History and Geography too, with the over-riding principle of children making sense of the experiences that they were having.
In many ways the balance between knowledge and skills is in sharp relief in a subject like science. A certain amount of knowledge enables questions to be asked. The asking of the question can lead to an investigation, either through observation of through looking up possible answers, in books or the internet. The outcome of the investigation will hopefully add to the earlier knowledge. Science had to start somewhere, and I’d hazard a guess that it was likely to have been some kind of observation or a happy accident that caused some surprise, followed by follow up thinking.
Over-focus on just the knowledge will not produce scientists. Showing children that it is possible to undertake investigations for themselves might. It starts early, for example in the bath, pouring water from one vessel to another, higher to lower. Asking the question; what do you think will happen if we … ?
John Cridland may well be right. Just having a “world class” policy does not necessarily translate into practice in every classroom. Perhaps we need Primary teachers with questing, investigative mind-sets, prepared to develop thinking approaches in their classrooms.
Science from the Postman…. Materials…
I looked out some ideas that I used in the classroom, to develop science related activities.
Get the children to make a collection of as many different types of paper that they can from within the school (and from home) Use a magnifier, microscope or visualiser to look even more closely at the papers. Sort, classify, display. Explain similarities and differences, as well as uses.
Devise a fair test to find the best paper to send a parcel through the post. (Think of the journey of the parcel)
Devise a fair test to find the best writing tool to write the label. (What will happen to the parcel)
Design an envelope or a parcel to send a delicate article through the post.
Devise a fair test to find which is the best material for a bag to keep the letters dry.
Devise a fair test to find the best materials to keep the postperson, cool, warm or dry.
The postie often starts work in the dark. What is the best colour for a coat to be seen?
Fair testing is possible, guided, with very young children, who have an idea of what fair means, so this can be translated into the practical activity.