Ethics and aesthetics

29th December 2000 at 00:00
John Dexter offers ideas for discussing values in science

There is a fresh challenge for science teachers in the new Order at key stage 3, that of addressing "values" in their subject. They will need to develop approaches and materials for their role in:

* promoting a sense of meaning and wholeness to life * challenging aspects of materialism and self-interest and exploring various moral aspects of science * encouraging pupils to reflect on the role and development of science * developing an awareness of the limits of science * considering the spiritual, moral and social implications of scientific activity * acknowledging that science is not value free.

A group of science teachers has considered these areas in developing some new resources. Our aim in producing Charis KS3 was to provide materials that would help teachers develop the moral and spiritual aspects of the national curriculum that are now often referred to as " values" or, more strictly, as "scientific enquiry" (Ideas and Evidence).

Because pupils come to KS3 with a wide variety of skills and knowledge and because they develop so much at this stage, there will be a need for materials that are accessible across the three year groups in KS3. Our materials use content explicit in the national curriculum but present the science and the values issues in new ways.

What values will teachers want to look at? Here are some to consider, with some examples of the approach taken in Charis KS3:

* Environmental issues. For example, in our "DIY Earth", pupils are challenged to think about what they might need to survive on a planet and why. This is compared with the attempt to "model" the Earth in the gigantic, unsuccessful experiment of Biosphere 2.

* Interpreting ideas - where do ideas come from and how reliable might their interprettion be? In "May the force be with you", pupils look at Aristotle's and Newton's ways of interpreting simple forces.

* Truth in science. "Whodunnit?" is the question we have set pupils who, using the story of Piltdown man, will look at how some scientists were misled and others may have been economical with the truth.

* Science and art. For "Art meets Science" pupils examine some famous paintings, including, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (Joseph Wright, 1768). What do the paintings tell us about science and its implications, for example, is it "right" to use a bird in an experiment?

* Scientific theorising. Our unit "Stories in stone" looks at the basic science involved in the changes and cycles of rocks on the Earth and how scientists try to build up a rock story from the various "pages" of rock fragments as evidence, to see how a scientific theory arises and to question what might limit it.

* Patterns. "Amazing numbers in Nature" examines the occurrence of the Fibonacci numbers. Examples include sunflower heads and finger bone ratios.

* What do we mean by "life"? The Charis materials begin with investigating the chemistry of elements and compounds and asks pupils to consider what we are made of. Are we just a bundle of elements?

* Multicultural issues. In "Just skin deep" pupils look at skin functions, alongside some challenging material on skin colour.

* What is "science"? Pupils examine what "doing science" means. Is something as simple as crossing the road a scientific activity?

John Dexter is head of sixth-form at Trinity School, NottinghamCharis KS3, pound;18.95, is available from The Stapleford Centre, The Old Lace Mill, Frederick Road, Stapleford, Nottingham NG9 8FN. Tel: 0115 939 6270. E-mail: admin@stapleford-centre.orgWeb: www:

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