Skip to the tune of big science

24th November 2000 at 00:00
WHEN I got my first cassette recorder I had to bootleg the Top 20 from the radio using a microphone. Thus in a good few Slade and Suzi Quatro numbers you could have heard me padding around my bedroom or my mother calling me for tea.

It mattered little that they sounded as if they were recorded through a sock. A fast beat was everything. Lyrics hardly figured. I didn't care if David Bowie's vocals became so distorted that he appeared to be singing that the Jean Genie kept all your dead hair for the making of underwear.

Actually, as my much less distorting CD equipment now reveals, that is exactly what he was singing. Legend has it that he experimented with creativity by writing out words on separate bits of paper and putting them together at random. Give the man a job in the SQA's data handling department, I say. Ah ha ha ha!

I once thought I had a good analogy for the creative process. Ideas were like high-speed, charged particles in a linear accelerator. You could smash them together and examine the showers of new ones formed as a result of the collision.

Now I think a better analogy is a skip of rubbish where, now and again, you find something you can use for a purpose for which it was never intended. Or you can find two bits of crap that fit together to make something new and exciting. I've had a go at writing a book for kids and have integrated numerous daft ideas I've had in the past 40 years. If anything comes of the venture, I will take it as proof that you should never throw anything away.

So who are the most creative people in a school? If the skip analogy is anything to go by, it has to be the science technicians. My friends at the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre have produced a realistic analysis of the annual cost of maintaining a two-lab physics department. They estimate pound;9,000. Hands up anyone who gets half that. What about a quarter? A sixth?

Meanwhile, our own Q departments use their skill and imagination to fashion projectile launchers from curtain rails and cathoderay oscilloscopes from old washing-up liquid bottles. (OK, I made that last one up, but you get my drift. And it reminds me to cover "Blue Peter science", which I'm in favour of, another day.)

If we believe that science teaching benefits from an approach that is both hands-on and up-to-date, we need to fund it appropriately. Should that happen, I may turn from Aladdin Sane to the Laughing Gnome.

Gregor Steele makes no apology for plugging the SSERC yet again.


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