Back to the future;Science

8th May 1998 at 01:00
A planned festival of science teaching aims to celebrate the achievements of teachers past and present, writes Mick Nott.

Whatever the future holds for school science, secondary school lessons are likely to remain largely unchanged. Teachers and pupils will gather in laboratories and use printed sheets and apparatus to do practical work or "experiments".

And what of the past?Most secondary science teachers could take the lesson shown in the photograph on the right, from a boys' secondary modern school in Lancashire just after the Second World War.

They would know how to do the inverted cylinder experiment (second boy on the left) and the glass tube experiment (the two boys on the right).

I imagine the teacher demonstrated the paint tin experiment. (You cool a closed steam-filled can and as the pressure inside the can drops, it is crunched.) I can only guess that the pupil on the left is doing something with an evacuated glass vessel.

We may no longer let pupils experiment with evacuated glass vessels, or we would insist on goggles and safety screens. And we probably wouldn't allow pupils to suck liquid up a tube any more, but we still teach about air pressure in similar ways.

To celebrate this tradition of science teaching, the Association for Science Education is organising a Science Teacher Festival for January 2001 to coincide with the Association of Public School Science Masters, from which the ASE grew. This knowledge should be empowering and raise science teachers'' self-esteem. It can also help new teachers realise there are traditions and cultures of science teaching and that classroom practice has roots in the teachers themselves.

The lesson in the photo may have been unusual at the time - the teacher, Ron Hutchinson was commended by HMI for his innovative teaching and schemes of work - but it shows the kind of science teaching possible then. The focus is on children doing things to experience phenomena first-hand and learn skills.

When you do practical work with your Year 7s and Year 8s, you are part of a tradition of innovation and development largely created by teachers. The question to ask is what part can you play in developing the science curriculum in your school and elsewhere - or are you content to imitate Hutch?

Mick Nott

* If you want to know more, be involved or have any items about science teaching or teachers to offer the festival, contact Mick Nott. Fax: 0114 225 2324; e-mail:

* Mick Nott is a lecturer in science education at Sheffield Hallam University

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