Hope from the Twilight Zone;Opinion

1st May 1998 at 01:00
A few of my colleagues in other secondary science departments don't want to know their feeder primaries. They make the valid point that the part of the P7-S2 section of environmental studies done in P7 should be prescribed rather than negotiated, and hence common to all schools across the country.

There are probably more points in favour of this argument than against.

Personal experience has, however, convinced me of the benefit of having to get together with associated schools - see, I know the right words, I didn't say the politically incorrect "feeders".

For years secondary teachers have been beat about the head with a statistical stick which claims that pupils stagnate in S1 and S2. Well, if we have to start at the beginning and go over stuff that kids have already done at primary, pupils are bound to switch off.

Of course there are doubtless other, chiefly hormonal, reasons for the S1-S2 switch-off. But short of putting something in the water there is not a lot that can be done about that.

"But how can we be sure the primaries will teach them properly?" cry the dissidents. For three years I have worked in the Twilight Zone, helping with after school in-service courses in science for primary teachers. Admittedly the audience is one whose members have chosen to be there, albeit in some cases from fear rather than enthusiasm.

I have nevertheless been happy with the level of understanding. It is not true that most primary teachers have never done science before. The majority have at least been through the Curriculum Paper 7 course that was past its teach-by date some time ago.

A number confessed to never having enjoyed science (before). But often the Twilight Zone was a refresher course that proved the knowledge and understanding was there anyway. Not everyone felt that way, but most seemed to.

Heartening proof that it is all starting to work was delivered by my eight year old daughter.

"Have you been doing science in school?" I asked her.

The same question to a child of that age posed two years ago might have elicited "yes, we had to find out about an animal" or "we wrote a poem about a planet".

Instead I was told: "We did an experiment to find out what sort of things were biodegradeable. We buried a slice of bread, an apple core and a plastic spoon. When we checked them the spoon was still there but the apple core and the bread had rotted."

Gregor Steele's daughter has set up a long running experiment on water evaporation in the downstairs toilet.

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