Earth and beyond

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Primary Science: Knowledge and Understanding Edited by Jenny Kennedy Routledge Pounds 14.99

Jonathan Osborne on bringing knowledge and creativity to science lessons

The two major problems in primary science today are defining progression in key stage 2 and the lack of subject knowledge among teachers. It is the second of these issues that Jenny Kennedy addresses in her collection of articles by teachers and science educators to explain the science in primary science.

Together they provide a comp-rehensive treatment of all the major aspects of the science nat-ional curriculum in a lucid, un-patronising style, supported with a good range of black and white diagrams and photographs.

This is the latest in a succession of books which have all tried to help primary teachers who are under pressure to become experts in all subjects. It offers explanations of the basic science required to answer the many nagging questions that arise: what is electricity? What are forces? How do mirrors produce images?

There is a useful glossary if you need to know the difference between an arthropod and an arachnid or an igneous and metamorphic rock. And, although the book lacks an index, the clearly marked chapters are well-signposted with familiar national curriculum themes. If you're in a hurry and want to know what to teach about shadows, turn to the chapter "Earth and Beyond" and you'll find it instantly.

What is missing is any attempt to go beyond the basic science - to explain why floating and sinking is hard to teach; to answer the question "how we know" rather than "what we know"; to explain what difficulties children might bring to learning science; or to signal to the teacher the depth of explanation it might be reasonable to give an eight to 11-year-old.

Any book that sets out to tackle this amount of science within 200 pages inevitably sets boundaries, which in this case lead to an over didactic style. Those in search of the joy and wonder of science and an understanding of it will have to look elsewhere.

There is also a failure to give any sense of purpose. Science in the national curriculum is like a ship without a compass. A little more overview of the subject and its component parts would help teachers and their pupils to know where they are going and why. But, within its limits, this book offers useful reference and support.

Jonathan Osborne is a lecturer in science education at King's College London

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