Students' chance to think about life, the universe and everything

Have you ever wanted to probe ideas in the history of science more deeply but felt constrained by the curriculum, despite the keenness of your students?

Now there will soon be an opportunity for students to discuss and research philosophical and ethical questions further.

The perspectives on science AS course, which covers themes in the history and philosophy of science is to be piloted next year. We in the project team have received a substantial grant from the Wellcome Trust to develop the course. We hope it will appeal to scientists and non scientists alike and allow students to think about the science they have learnt at GCSE in a new light.

It should also help bridge the science-arts divide. Our materials are designed to give maximum support to teachers who are entering uncharted territory.

In our preliminary trial with the support of the Royal Society we produced teacher and student guides for three lessons on "Philosophy and the Big Bang", "The meaning of 'Life'" and "Seeing into the past".

To give a flavour, here are the learning outcomes from "The Meaning of Life": "Students should appreciate how to test and refine a definition of life by considering a list of test cases, appreciate how difficult it is to draw up a satisfactory general definition of life, recognise why the question of life is crucial in some ethical debates, understand some of the implications of different definitions for ethical questions about the beginning and end of life."

We have had very positive feedback from these preliminary trial materials and are now developing the two content and the coursework modules of the AS. There will be scope for teachers and students to follow specific areas of interest within the course.

We feel it will be a refreshing and stimulating addition to the syllabus and will appeal to many students as an opportunity to think more deeply about life, the universe and everything.

Any school wishing to take part in the official pilot or just wanting to be kept informed should contact me.

Becky Parker is head of science and physics at Simon Langton Girls' School, Canterbury, and on the steering committee of the new AS courseEmail: bparker@particle.demon.co.uk

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