Einstein - rock 'n' roll daddy of physics

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Gregor Steele likes his Kia too much to drive it into the swimming pool

Not long after starting work as an education support officer, I went to the Association for Science Education's annual Scottish conference. To my surprise, I was housed overnight in a hotel. This doesn't usually happen with physicists. In the rock and roll world of education support, we are the equivalent of The Who, notorious for driving cars into swimming pools and throwing TV sets out of the window.

As the song says, "People try to put us down Just cos we wear grey and brown". When I wasn't trashing my hotel room, I was often to be found at a talk or workshop. Unsurprisingly, the new curriculum was a recurring theme.

At one seminar, we were introduced to some of the "I can... "

statements that will describe Science 3-15. Around a week or so later, some commentators began to raise concerns about "content-free" science courses.

Now, I am assuming that those who expressed these worries had attended a talk like the one I heard. If so, I am confused, because "content-free" was not something that I took from it. Maybe if I had recorded the presentation and played it backwards, the message would have been there - though I doubt it.

Certainly, the phrase "specific learning outcome-free" could be used with justification. This is not something that worries me. It wouldn't even worry me if I was still a classroom teacher. The "I can" statements cannot surely be overtaken without the children being exposed to content, both knowledge and skills. As to learning outcomes, there are plenty of those around as it is, to build a modern science course upon.

My hope is that if learning outcomes are not strictly prescribed, the science that is taught will be skewed towards understanding rather than recall. How, then do you assess the pupils? This is not a trivial issue, but when the 5-14 gig is finally over, wouldn't it be great if we could smash up some of our not-so-subtle instruments of assessment?

As Einstein said: "Not all that can be measured is important and not all that is important can be measured" - and he was the greatest rock and roll physicist of them all.

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