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Centenary celebrations

Original members of the ASE would be delighted at the way their organisation has grown, says Mick Nott

The new year is special because it is a centenary. In January 1901 about 40 English public school science masters met in London to discuss and share common interests in the teaching of science to boys in their secondary schools. They found it to be a worthwhile experience and repeated the event the following January, when they agreed to form the Association of Public School Science Masters (APSSM). There has been a meeting of science teachers almost every January since.

This January more than 3,000 men and women from the UK and around the world will meet for four days to discuss and share common interests in science teaching at the annual meeting of the Association for Science Education (ASE). The ASE can trace its origins directly to the meeting in 1901.

If one of the male, graduate, science teachers from 1901 was able to stroll around the 2001 annual meeting he would find himself mixing with graduates and non-graduates from all kinds of secondary schools. The APSSM became the Science Masters Association (SMA) in 1919 and first admitted non-graduates in 1952. He would be mixing with men and women, as the SMA amalgamated with the 50-year-old Association of Women Science Teachers in 1963 to form the ASE. He would be mixing with secondary and primary school teachers of science. The ASE has always taken a keen interest in primary science and created the category of primary member in the 1980s. And he would be talking and socialising with technicians, college and university lecturers, advisers, inspectors, and corporate members - all of whom belong and take an active part in the ASE, which has 20,000 members across the UK and worldwide.

He might be bewildered by the scientific concepts of genetics, atomic theory, material sciences and polymers and the professional talk of attainment targets, delivery, value-added, and on-task. He might be amazed at the plethora, and format and quality, of science textboks and worksheets and he would be astonished at the displays of the use of microprocessors and computers for experimental monitoring and control, simulations, spreadsheets, interactive displays and the internet. He would be curious about safety goggles but he would find enough with which he was familiar and competent.

He would understand and empathise in the sessions where people discuss perennial concerns about science teaching, such as motivation, assessment that does not distort teaching and learning, providing real-life and cultural contexts that show the roots and use of scientific knowledge, devising practical work that is more than disguised recipes, and developing a curriculum that is worthwhile as a basis for further study, work and citizenship.

He would easily be able to join in the social activities of receptions, lunches, film shows, concerts, chats in the bars, meals out in town, the annual dinner, and the disco!

He would be delighted and proud to see an organisation that has networks of areas, regions and sections across the UK, five journals, an award-winning website with news, discussions, swap-shops of teaching materials and ideas, and a virtual bookshop. He would probably be pleased that his band of brothers had become a heterogenous but cohesive professional voice for all aspects of the teaching and learning of science.

To celebrate this centenary the ASE is holding an exhibition about the teaching of science in the 20th century, the Science Teacher Festival, at the annual meeting on January 3-6 at the University of Guildford. A book about science teaching over the past 100 years is also being produced.

To join and learn more about the ASE get in touch at the address below.

Mick Nott, of the School of Education, Sheffield Hallam University edits the ASE journal 'School Science Review' and has been organising the Science Teacher Festival exhibition. ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA. Tel: 01707 283000. E-mail: Web:

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