First principles too often overlooked

John Stringer

Before getting down to the attainment targets, take a look at 'Sc0', says John Stringer, who rediscovers the forgotten programmes of study.

At the front of each key stage of the national curriculum science document is a lonely preface that many may have missed. Headed "Programme of Study", it was first published separately from the statutory material, then elbowed aside in the rush to get at the attainment targets.

Yet these four pages - one for each key stage - have content that applies right across the science curriculum, and highlights the very stuff of science, the reasons why we're doing it in the first place.

Are they the programmes of study? Or is the whole document a teaching plan?

In recognition of the legitimacy endowed on the attainment targets by numbers - Science One, Experimental and Investigative Science; Science Two, Life Processes and Living Things, and so on - it seems logical to call this area of the science curriculum Science Nought.

Shell-shocked individuals who have been visited by inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education confirm that they, at least, have read this page and are aware that Sc0 should apply across the curriculum. But it is more than a question of duty. For, in the primary school especially, Sc0 offers real opportunities to put some of the fun back into teaching science.

There are five sub-headings to Sc0. One of them, Science in Everyday Life, changes it wording to The Application of Science at key stages 3 and 4.

The first sub-heading is Systematic Enquiry. This category embraces investigation, the use of secondary sources, and information technology.

Applied across the other areas, it gives the opportunity to encourage children's investigations of their own questions, to use goodpublished and broadcast material, and to use information technology to handle and present information.

Recording and presenting the growth of classroom plants can give a fresh insight into how they grow in different conditions. With the application of skills from Sc1, a familiar classroom activity can become a systematic enquiry.

Science in Everyday Life gives a Science in Society context to the children's learning. The Association for Science Education, through its SATIS projects, is one strong voice that has long been advocating the importance of relevance in science teaching.

Work on materials and their properties (Sc3) takes a fresh importance when it is applied to what wraps your break-time chocolate bar. In this section, too, are the obligatory nods towards caring for the environment. Caring for a wildlife garden links Sc2 with Sc0.

The Nature of Scientific Ideas, far from being as dull as it sounds, invites us to look at the way scientific ideas have developed and are developing; the changing nature of science understanding. Children still think that science is all about answers while we know that it's all about questions.

In this area, we can look at the great stories of science - and the way that discovery and fresh evidence have changed the way people think. It took a 10th-century Arab scientist, Ibn al Haytham Alhazen, to question what all scientists had believed until then, and many young children believe today - that we see because rays are emitted from our eyes. What a great step to "relate simple scientific ideas to the evidence for them", linking Sc4 to Sc0.

The fourth Sc0 area is Communication; surely the primary school has always been about socialisation and the use of language. There is responsibility to teach the right meanings of scientific words - especially words which also have an everyday meaning, such as key, force, gravity - and to help children use them correctly.

The new scientific vocabulary that our children will face at key stage 3 will be larger than that for their learning in foreign languages - including variation, element, compound, static, and linear motion - and words that are wrongly used will have to be unlearned.

Finally, Sc0 includes Health and Safety. but with a new and welcome slant, placing a growing responsibility for their own safety, and later for that of their colleagues, on the child.

The SATIS 8-14 project of the Association for Science Education fits Sc0 like a hand in a glove. A resource, not a course, it offers a wealth of opportunities for investigation and enquiry; and for teaching science in the context of everyday life, as well as through cross-curricular themes.

It addresses the nature of scientific ideas, asking "What does a scientist do?" and setting out to give an answer. Because it embraces a wide range of means of communication, from drama to information technology, it offers great opportunities to extend children's use of language. And, finally, it was written by teachers, for teachers. It's almost as if we saw Sc0 coming.

* Information on the SATIS 8-14 project is available from SATIS, Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7EZ John Stringer directed the SATIS8-14 project.

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