Let's think about science

15th November 1996 at 00:00
Douglas Newton puts science teaching under the microscope - and asks how one scheme works in the classroom. PRIMARY MATTERS SERIES Edited by Leone Burton and Henry Pluckrose. CHILDREN LEARNING SCIENCE By Lyn Sylvester Bradley. CHILDREN AND TECHNOLOGY By Katrina Blythe with Richard Bennett and Andrew Hamill Nash Pollock Publishing Pounds 12.95 each.

Children Learning Science describes how to think about teaching science in the primary school. Its guiding tenet is that learning is construct-ed by the child and it is this pro-cess that needs support. Learn-ing, of course, is not confined to the classroom and children bring in facts and theories with them. This means that support involves identifying what children already know, starting with their ideas, challenging them and facilitating further learning with appropriate experiences.

This is a popular theme in more recent books on elementary science teaching and some make the point through intermin-able and, in the end, tedious quotations of children's talk, at the expense of practical substance. This book, however, is written in clear, plain language and shows a sound understanding of children and class-room practice.

It describes the science-related learning that children engage in before they attend school, how to provide further opportunities, formal learning in science, evidence of learning, starting points and organisation for learning. The book's particular strength is in its practical and undogmatic advice and in its account of classroom strategies for identifying children's ideas. It gives the feeling that the writer has been there and done it.

This is not to say I agree with everything. For instance, I think that at one point there is a confusion between kinds of learning and evidence of learn-ing. I would also have liked to have seen more discrimination of children's prior knowledge. Not all such knowledge needs to be refuted and not all is difficult to change. But this does not materially detract from a book that is worth reading, particularly by those who worry about science teaching and how to put theory into practice.

Children and Technology aims to prepare primary teachers to teach design and technology. This relatively new subject in the primary curriculum has given teachers a few problems, not least being defining what it is. In essence, Blythe describes it as problem-solving through the process of invention. She is at pains to avoid over simplistic models of technological processes and also includes a brief account of how a professional designer sees the task. The basics of structures, mechanical and electrical control, pneumatics and hyd-raulics are provided and there are sections on planning design and technology activity in the class-room and the school as a whole.

I found the book to be at its best when dealing with the practicalities of classroom DT. For instance, charts like those to do with working and joining different materials, and the description of a range of activities in which children are "product detectives", examining technological artefacts such as the structure of a toy figure of a person and various fastening devices, are very useful.

In my experience, what teachers are struggling with at the moment is the planning of DT activities so that children progressively increase their technological capabilities. They will also welcome the detailed plans for five to seven-year-olds on puppets and for eight to 11-year-olds on textiles and the mechanics of bread making. Well thought out, these could be used in the classroom, and make good models for planning other DT activities. A really useful book to dip into.

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