Douglas Newton on bringing knowledge and creativity to science lessons
This is a book about being creative in science teaching. Its aim is to encourage primary teachers to devise strategies that engage children in science and also support their learning.
Six case studies from six different schools with children aged five to 11 show the way and make up the bulk of the book. They relate to teaching about parks, woods and wastelands (Years 34), a rabbit's house (Year 12), ourselves (Year 2), the channel tunnel (Year 6), the River Thames (Year 4), and seeing and light (Year 1).
Some serve the author well as models of imaginative planning that capture children's attention. For example, the first study involved brain-storming, early explorations and generating questions, focused activities, book research, practical investigations to collect evidence, and consolidation. These will be familiar to most teachers, but it is what happens in each that reveals the creativity. At one point, for instance, there is a story about Professor Question to clarify the nature of a scientific question and stimulate such questions in children. Later, the children sent their questions to Professor Question and carried out practical investigations to answer them. There is also a detailed description of the assessment of the children's work.
Although primary science teaching does not have a long tradition and some teachers feel they lack skills in it, they will recognise and value the creativity shown in the case studies. Many will be creative in similar ways in other subjects and the examples illustrate how to transfer these skills to science teaching. Student teachers will also find the studies very helpful because of their detail and may gain the confidence to risk trying some imaginative ideas of their own. Science co-ordinators wanting to encourage a more adventurous approach will find the book makes the point well for them.
Those who want a source of ideas for teaching topics will need to remember that each approach is only one teacher's response. As such, they illustrate imaginative planning and teaching, but it would be unfair to expect perfection. Some thought should also be given to matters that are implicit in the studies, such as safety in using equipment.
My heart always sinks when I pick up a book that the author describes as "a celebration of..." This often suggests an undisciplined ragbag of vaguely connected ideas. This book begins with those words, but it is not undisciplined or vague and has a worthwhile point. The case studies are sandwiched between chapters on science education which include a readable review of some relevant research (and some rather sweeping generalisations about the extent to which some areas have received researchers' attentions).
Jenny Frost describes the need to share practices and approaches among teachers to reduce their isolation and spread good practice. This book is a useful contribution to that. Being creative in teaching and seeing ideas work have their own rewards and make the task a more satisfying and interesting one.
Douglas Newton is reader in education at Newcastle University