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6th January 2006 at 00:00
What do you think of the new key stage 4 specifications? The TES asked four experts

No school subject has slipped more steadily down the popularity league table than science. The number of students taking physics A-levels has halved since the 1960s.

For teachers, a heavily content-focused curriculum at key stage 4 has led to quite restrictive styles of teaching and related assessment models.

Memorising facts, even if they are fascinating, is not the best way to excite learners or capture their imagination.

We at Edexcel have found that encouraging students to question the implications of science for society and look at its impact on their lives could make lessons more interesting and enjoyable. Students would need to adopt a much more critical and questioning frame of mind. And surely this will help in developing the sort of skills that UK businesses look for.

We've called our new offering 360Science, reflecting its student-centred nature. This includes GCSE science, GCSE additional science, GCSE biology, GCSE chemistry, GCSE physics, entry level certificate in science and the vocational BTEC first certificate in applied science. The content is based on relevance to young people, providing a scientific background to meet their aims and aspirations at the end of key stage 4. 360Science considers "how science works" in a range of scenarios and challenges students to reflect on implications and applications of science in their daily lives.

Practical work is a key feature throughout.

The aim is to bring science back to life. During the summer months, for example, students could discuss why sunscreens are easy to rub in and no longer leave your skin white, or whether eating a barbecue increases your risk of cancer. These are still scientific facts, but with wider appeal.

Science might even creep its way out of the classroom and become a talking point outside the school day. Edexcel's own topics will include "Why is my phone wireless but I have to plug my hairdryer into the wall?" Teachers in London, for example, talking to their class about "smart materials" could look at how London's Oyster card works to cut costs and time when travelling to school.

Sue Howarth is science portfolios manager at Edexcel

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