Subject under threat;Reviews;Cross-phase;Books
A lot of practical, useful research is done in science education. The difficulty is in getting good ideas into the classroom.
The Association for Science Education (ASE) has been pre-eminent in developing policy and spreading ideas in science education for much of this century through, for instance, its publications and annual conference. These guides supplement and update the ASE science handbooks of five years ago. They comprise chapters written by many of those who contributed to those handbooks, grouped into purposes of science education, learning, teaching and managing science.
Science is now a core subject between the ages of five and 16. Satisfying the requirements of the national curriculum occupies many writers' attention. This is, of course, necessary but we must also be sure that close-up work does not blind us to the threats to the subject.
For instance, in primary schools, science time risks being squeezed as efforts are directed to maths and English. Perhaps third place is its due, but I suspect that vigilance will be needed if it is not to slip.
Vigilance is also needed if practical work is not to become mindless work, as one writer wisely warns. Understanding can only come from mental engagement. While practical work is potentially valuable in learning science, teachers must not adopt a passive role. The need for children to think about the science has to be paramount.
The ASE Guide to Secondary Science Education is a rich source of ideas for improving science teaching, mainly centred on supporting students' learning. Support for thinking in science is a necessary but insufficient condition for bringing about learning. We all know students who do not want to learn science. How are we to turn them on? How are we to halt their flight from science in our sixth forms and universities?
It is naive to think that good support for learning alone will produce students who want to pursue science. A wider view of the learning environment and motivation in particular could, I feel, benefit secondary science education. There is never a time when you can catch breath in science education. It is fatal if you do and fatal if you don't.
Overall, the primary guide offers useful tips, but it may not add enough to the handbook and existing materials for the practising teacher. The secondary guide does better. Student teachers, however, will find both books enormously helpful when doing their essays as they deal with all the popular assignments. ASE members will find that some topics are also touched on in the annual conference.
Douglas Newton is professor of education at Newcastle University