Science in perspective
In the opinion of the chief inspector of schools, quoted in The TES almost exactly one year ago and repeated in the introduction of this book, teachers learn little from the "wisdom of the professor of professional development", most educational research being "irrelevant and impenetrable".
Understandably uncomfortable with this view, Martin Monk and Jonathan Osborne, both lecturers at King's College, London, have brought together a range of writing about science education in schools, aiming to put the record straight by showing that educational research can and does contribute to improving practice in schools, in respect of this curriculum area at least.
The 14 chapters in the book are grouped into three sections concerned with science classrooms, science departments and science in the wider world. Like any classification, this one doubtless has its uses, although chapters such as that by Philip Adey on "Science teaching and the development of intelligence" surely belong as much in the classroom as in the science department, where it is placed here.
Organisation aside, anyone with an interest in science education should find some part of this book provides them with thought-provoking reading.
Many will turn quickly to Rod Watson's chapter on the role of practical work in science, in which the efectiveness of practical work and science investigations are examined. With the present curriculum emphasis on investigative work, this is just the kind of area where science education research can have a direct effect on classroom practice, highlighting the importance of encouraging pupils to think carefully about the relationship between evidence and theory.
Elsewhere, Paul Black and Christine Harrison write engagingly about the use of formative assessment as a vehicle for improving the effectiveness of science teaching, providing evidence from a variety of studies to show how certain kinds of curriculum and learning experiences can enhance pupils' progress.
Julian Swain's perspective on the use of summative assessment is a good complement to this, containing insights into the use of national test data to raise school standards.
There is probably no school science department which would not benefit from discussing these and the other chapters here. No collection of writing is likely to satisfy everyone who reads it, but this book is a good general introduction to current thinking in science education research, and contains much that will challenge more experienced teachers too. A sound basis for professional development - just what the chief inspector ordered.
PATRICK FULLICK. Patrick Fullick is lecturer in science and technology education in the Research and Graduate School of Education at the University of Southampton.