Going on a science trip

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Have passport, will travel takes on a whole new meaning for pupils in Scotland

The divide between science teaching at primary and secondary schools could be closed with a "passport" carried by pupils from P7 to S1.

The idea is being developed as a response to concerns that enthusiasm for science is often lost when pupils move up to second-ary school.

It comes as Jack McConnell, the First Minister, made a plea for introducing pupils to science at an earlier age. In his speech at the recent Scottish Labour Party conference, he said a Labour-led executive after the May elections would ensure specialist science teachers were introduced into primary schools "to catch youngsters while their minds are at their most inquisitive and inspire them to follow a science career throughout their schooling".

The latest research on the subject is being undertaken by Susan Burr and Frances Simpson at Strathclyde University. They are also investigating the attitudes of P7 and S1 pupils and teachers towards science. They hope the passport will help overcome "entrenched ideas" they have identified among staff.

The passport would be used throughout P7 to provide a summary of learning which would then be taken with the pupil into S1. It is designed to act as an aide-memoire for pupils and give them a sense of continuity. In addition, it would be used for formative assessment during P7.

The passport should give secondary staff a feel for what has been covered; the researchers believe that, unwittingly, secondary teachers often go over old ground.

They presented their ongoing work to the annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association in Perth last month. "We feel there is a lack of communication between primary and secondary," said Mrs Simpson, who has a background in primary teaching. "For example, teachers ask if the pupils have done something before. The pupils say 'no', but they have - they just don't realise it."

Research is being carried out in four secondaries and 10 primaries in four central belt areas. Initial data has shown that primary teachers thought their secondary colleagues did not hold primary science in high regard. It was also found that primary teachers lacked confidence in teaching the subject.

Dr Burr said their initial research showed that P7 pupils looked forward to secondary science, based on the expectation that it would be about experiments. It also showed that more girls at this age hoped to be scientists.

Mrs Simpson felt that a disparity in teaching methods at primary and secondary level could diminish enthusiasm for science. She said that some of the early work in secondary schools - such as learning how to turn a Bunsen burner on and off - was "very mundane".

"I have avoided the written aspect of science in primary because, quite often, the kids who struggle with writing are the ones who are getting something out of science," she said. "They blossom when they do science, because they immediately have a weight lifted off them but, as soon as they go to secondary, it's writing exercises - and it's complete shutdown."

In his party conference speech, the First Minister pledged to make science more exciting. He said he would call on Scottish scientists to sign up to a national science outreach programme, so they would be "advocates and ambassadors and inspire a whole new generation of young Scots in science, taking new and real science into every school in the country".

Universities would also be asked to open up their laboratories to secondary school students, Mr McConnell said.

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